All day long, in response to Mukasey's insistence that patent illegalities were legal, that Congress was basically powerless, and that the administration has no obligation to disclose anything to Congress (and will not), Senators would respond with impotent comments such as: "Well, I'd like to note my disagreement and ask you to re-consider" or "I'm disappointed with your answer and was hoping you would say something different" or "If that's your position, we'll be discussing this again at another point." They were supplicants pleading for some consideration, almost out of a sense of mercy, and both they and Mukasey knew it.
I long ago stopped blaming the Bush administration -- at least exclusively -- for what has happened to our political system. They were responsible in the first instance, but the rest of the country's institutions -- its media, its Congress, the "opposition" party, even the courts -- all allowed it to happen, choosing to do nothing -- or to endorse it -- once it all began to be disclosed.
We live in a system of government where the President seized the power to act without restraints and we allowed that to happen, and so Bush's signing statement and Mukasey's defiant posture are all now normal.
This is why Congress, when they learn of Bush lawbreaking, ends up doing nothing other than voting after the fact to legalize it. They learn Bush has been illegally spying on Americans with no warrants and they enact The Protect America Act to legalize it. They learn Bush has been systematically torturing detainees and imprisoning people with no process and they enact the Military Commissions Act to legalize it.
They learn that telecoms have deliberately broken the law for years -- laws which the Congress passed specifically to make it illegal for telecoms to cooperate with warrantless government spying on Americans -- and they are about to provide full retroactive immunity for the lawbreakers. When they do pretend to investigate, they meekly allow the administration literally to ignore their Subpoenas. Congress does that because we live in a system of lawlessness -- we have decided that the President has the power to break the law without consequences -- and because legalizing the President's lawbreaking is the only way they can be relevant.
Don't get me wrong here – as the kids say these days, I love me some Tovarich Feingold. I've always voted for him and am proud that he is my senator. So please pardon my angry skepticism when I say that it's too little, too late. Bush's ratings are at horrendous lows, polls show that the majority of the country wants out of Iraq, we're veering into a recession if we're not already in one, and on and on. But none of this stops Bush or stops Congress from kowtowing to his every whim. Greenwald also points out that Bush recently told Congress to go fuck itself in one of those signing statements:
President Bush this week declared that he has the power to bypass four laws, including a prohibition against using federal funds to establish permanent US military bases in Iraq, that Congress passed as part of a new defense bill.
Sure, I'll jump on the Go Russ bandwagon – go Russ! – but this video doesn't do squat. With Congress bound and determined to bend over and drop trou whenever the President asks, a viral video will do very little. Trust me, I'd love to get excited about this and convince myself that spreading it around will do something positive, but I don't. Maybe I'm just being a Negative Nelly, but I read the following last week:
In discussing the fiscal 2008 defense budget, as released to the press on February 7, 2007, I have been guided by two experienced and reliable analysts: William D. Hartung of the New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative and Fred Kaplan, defense correspondent for Slate.org. They agree that the Department of Defense requested $481.4 billion for salaries, operations (except in Iraq and Afghanistan), and equipment. They also agree on a figure of $141.7 billion for the "supplemental" budget to fight the "global war on terrorism" -- that is, the two on-going wars that the general public may think are actually covered by the basic Pentagon budget. The Department of Defense also asked for an extra $93.4 billion to pay for hitherto unmentioned war costs in the remainder of 2007 and, most creatively, an additional "allowance" (a new term in defense budget documents) of $50 billion to be charged to fiscal year 2009. This comes to a total spending request by the Department of Defense of $766.5 billion.
But wait! There's more!
But there is much more. In an attempt to disguise the true size of the American military empire, the government has long hidden major military-related expenditures in departments other than Defense. For example, $23.4 billion for the Department of Energy goes toward developing and maintaining nuclear warheads; and $25.3 billion in the Department of State budget is spent on foreign military assistance (primarily for Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Republic, Egypt, and Pakistan). Another $1.03 billion outside the official Department of Defense budget is now needed for recruitment and reenlistment incentives for the overstretched U.S. military itself, up from a mere $174 million in 2003, the year the war in Iraq began. The Department of Veterans Affairs currently gets at least $75.7 billion, 50% of which goes for the long-term care of the grievously injured among the at least 28,870 soldiers so far wounded in Iraq and another 1,708 in Afghanistan. The amount is universally derided as inadequate. Another $46.4 billion goes to the Department of Homeland Security.
Missing as well from this compilation is $1.9 billion to the Department of Justice for the paramilitary activities of the FBI; $38.5 billion to the Department of the Treasury for the Military Retirement Fund; $7.6 billion for the military-related activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and well over $200 billion in interest for past debt-financed defense outlays. This brings U.S. spending for its military establishment during the current fiscal year (2008), conservatively calculated, to at least $1.1 trillion.
My fellow Madisonian Emily Mills recently repeated Ike's warning about the military-industrial complex. What do you think? Is it a good thing that the U.S. spends more than double the rest of the world when it comes to defense budgets? If not, do you have any confidence in Clinton, Obama, McCain, or Romney actually doing something about it? Personally, I don't. With Edwards out of the race, I tend to support Obama. But he wants to increase the armed forces by 100,000 people and this gives me little hope that he'll do much of anything to tame the military-industrial complex.
Does anyone think that any of the major candidates can affect real fundamental change?
While I am in media res of a post about my latest read, I thought I'd throw this mish-mash out as it pertains to certain ideas that have either come up recently or always somewhere in the back of my mind. Edge recently asked folks "What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" and I've found some of the answers very interesting.
Regular readers here know that I am no fan of the paranormal. I find psychic readers distasteful at best and to be outright frauds at worst. People who disagree with me on this have issued veiled threats and blatant ones; I've recently been called names, had it intimated that I am a foe of diversity, and been pop-psychoanalyzed; and, of course, it was only a matter of time before two commenters proved Godwin's Law by comparing me to Nazis. And so it was nice to read Susan Blackmore's answer to the question posed by Edge:
I joined the Society for Psychical Research and became fascinated with occultism, mediumship and the paranormal — ideas that clashed tantalisingly with the physiology and psychology I was studying…I did the experiments. I tested telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance; I got only chance results. I trained fellow students in imagery techniques and tested them again; chance results. I tested twins in pairs; chance results. I worked in play groups and nursery schools with very young children (their naturally telepathic minds are not yet warped by education, you see); chance results. I trained as a Tarot reader and tested the readings; chance results.
I did more experiments, and got more chance results. Parapsychologists called me a "psi-inhibitory experimenter", meaning that I didn't get paranormal results because I didn't believe strongly enough. I studied other people's results and found more errors and even outright fraud. By the time my PhD was completed, I had become a sceptic.
Race is a big issue in my life. The last time I wrote about it can be found here. The Dulcinea, who is bi-racial, and I argue about what race is on occasion. Biologist Mark Pagel's answer to the question above bears on our discussions.
Flawed as the old ideas about race are, modern genomic studies reveal a surprising, compelling and different picture of human genetic diversity. We are on average about 99.5% similar to each other genetically. This is a new figure, down from the previous estimate of 99.9%. To put what may seem like miniscule differences in perspective, we are somewhere around 98.5% similar, maybe more, to chimpanzees, our nearest evolutionary relatives.
The new figure for us, then, is significant.
…like it or not, there may be many genetic differences among human populations — including differences that may even correspond to old categories of 'race' — that are real differences in the sense of making one group better than another at responding to some particular environmental problem. This in no way says one group is in general 'superior' to another, or that one group should be preferred over another. But it warns us that we must be prepared to discuss genetic differences among human populations.
I fear that we're not prepared for such discussions. What do you think?
In a related vein is the response by Nicholas Christakis who now believes culture can change our genes.
I once thought that we internalized cultural factors by forming memories, acquiring language, or bearing emotional and physical marks (of poverty, of conquest). I thought that this was the limit of the ways in which our bodies were shaped by our social environment. In particular, I thought that our genes were historically immutable, and that it was not possible to imagine a conversation between culture and genetics.
I now think this is wrong, and that the alternative — that we are evolving in real time, under the pressure of discernable social and historical forces — is true.
Evidence has been mounting for a decade. The best example so far is the evolution of lactose tolerance in adults…A similar story can be told about mutations that have arisen in the relatively recent historical past that confer advantages in terms of surviving epidemic diseases such as typhoid. Since these diseases were made more likely when the density of human settlements increased and far-flung trade became possible, here we have another example of how culture may affect our genes.
This has been very difficult for me to accept because, unfortunately, this also means that it may be the case that particular ways of living create advantages for some, but not all, members of our species. Certain groups may acquire (admittedly, over centuries) certain advantages, and there might be positive or negative feedback loops between genetics and culture. Maybe some of us really are better able to cope with modernity than others. The idea that what we choose to do with our world modifies what kind of offspring we have is as amazing as it is troubling.
With our state legislature considering a statewide smoking ban and the groundswells for bans here in Madison of plastic bags and bottled water at public events building, I find myself thinking about Steven Pinker's recent piece in the NYT's called "The Moral Instinct". The following bit really resonated with me when considering all of the bans my representatives in government are considering:
Even when people agree that an outcome is desirable, they may disagree on whether it should be treated as a matter of preference and prudence or as a matter of sin and virtue. Rozin notes, for example, that smoking has lately been moralized. Until recently, it was understood that some people didn’t enjoy smoking or avoided it because it was hazardous to their health. But with the discovery of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, smoking is now treated as immoral.
At the same time, many behaviors have been amoralized, switched from moral failings to lifestyle choices. They include divorce, illegitimacy, being a working mother, marijuana use and homosexuality. Many afflictions have been reassigned from payback for bad choices to unlucky misfortunes. There used to be people called “bums” and “tramps”; today they are “homeless.” Drug addiction is a “disease”; syphilis was rebranded from the price of wanton behavior to a “sexually transmitted disease” and more recently a “sexually transmitted infection.”
Many of these moralizations, like the assault on smoking, may be understood as practical tactics to reduce some recently identified harm. But whether an activity flips our mental switches to the “moral” setting isn’t just a matter of how much harm it does. We don’t show contempt to the man who fails to change the batteries in his smoke alarms or takes his family on a driving vacation, both of which multiply the risk they will die in an accident. Driving a gas-guzzling Hummer is reprehensible, but driving a gas-guzzling old Volvo is not; eating a Big Mac is unconscionable, but not imported cheese or crème brûlée. The reason for these double standards is obvious: people tend to align their moralization with their own lifestyles.
But the article isn't merely about preferences transmogrifying into moral issues. Instead, it's about where morals come from. Pinker write about five moral spheres and how they potentially form the basis of our moral instinct.
When anthropologists like Richard Shweder and Alan Fiske survey moral concerns across the globe, they find that a few themes keep popping up from amid the diversity. People everywhere, at least in some circumstances and with certain other folks in mind, think it’s bad to harm others and good to help them. They have a sense of fairness: that one should reciprocate favors, reward benefactors and punish cheaters. They value loyalty to a group, sharing and solidarity among its members and conformity to its norms. They believe that it is right to defer to legitimate authorities and to respect people with high status. And they exalt purity, cleanliness and sanctity while loathing defilement, contamination and carnality.
The exact number of themes depends on whether you’re a lumper or a splitter, but Haidt counts five — harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity — and suggests that they are the primary colors of our moral sense. Not only do they keep reappearing in cross-cultural surveys, but each one tugs on the moral intuitions of people in our own culture.
It's a fascinating read about some very nascent ideas of our moral sense.
Three days after she made that post I was up in Portage to attend the 40th wedding anniversary of my friend Pete's parents. Saturday was a hoot and on Sunday I headed over to their home for breakfast and conversation. Oh, and to fix Pete's mom's computer as well. We sat around eating, chatting, and reading the WSJ. It wasn't the Sunday paper and, although I cannot recall, I do believe it was the edition from the previous day, 19th. I read through the front page and was surprised to find that it was completely bereft of any news on Iraq. Admittedly, I was out on the over hang but I perused the main section as best I could but found nothing about the war in which people are dying everyday and which is costing us – the U.S. taxpayer – billions and billions of dollars. With the stakes so high, I thought that at least acknowledging the war was appropriate.
When I left, Pete's dad thanked me for having fixed the computer. He hates those "contraptions" and I relieved him of having to hear any complaints about it not functioning. These comments got me thinking about something Foley had written at her blog post linked above. Here it is:
"I ask again (as I have in recent posts), do you really want 24-hour-old news that you can get on the web yesterday in your newspaper the next morning?"
The comment was directed at 30-somethings like me. But what about people like Pete's father who doesn't go on the Internet? Foley said she had heard from several folks of retirement age but, from my experience, the AARP crowd is not particularly Internet savvy. While some certainly are, my experiences owning a computer repair company lead me to believe that the vast majority of older folks aren't Internet savvy, don't get on the Net, or don't even care to do so. There were countless times I was hired to help a senior citizen with a new-fangled computer that they got from or at the behest of one of their children or grandkids. Pointing and clicking were difficult for some of these folks; often times they were scared of clicking on the "wrong thing" and ruining their investment.
My tales here are, admittedly, mere anecdotes and I say none of this with statistics in hand. But Pete's dad cannot be alone. How many people shun the Net? I honestly don't know. How many people cannot afford Internet access? I don't know. Still, there are people in the communities served by the WSJ who are perfectly happy to have 24-hour-old news that was available on the web yesterday because they couldn't get on the web yesterday nor any day before that nor will they any day in the foreseeable future.
And so Foley is courting we 30-somethings. Presumably we have disposable income that the WSJ advertisers want and we were around during the tail end of, shall I say, the newspaper era, i.e. – before the web attracted such a large audience for news – so we don't dismiss newspapers out of hand and, presumably, will continue to be readers for decades to come. I wonder if Foley is gently telling the poor, the old, and those who don't want to get on the Net that the WSJ is no longer interested in serving their needs as it once was. It sounds like at least some of the content of the WSJ is being determined by what was available on the web the previous day instead of by "importance" or "relevance". Vetting the news in this manner plus a greater emphasis on local issues combines to send a message to various readers: Get on the Internet and, when you do, go somewhere else for national and international news. The WSJ seems to be turning into just another organization going after a niche market.
I'm not trying to vilify Ellen Foley – she's not some Bond villain sitting in her office stroking a cat. But what about those people that politicians are so proud of – those folks that workmultiple jobs? Is the WSJ turning its back on the Luddites, the poor, and the people who just have work multiple jobs to make ends meet? Not everyone here in the Madison area is in their 30s with disposable income, is connected to the Internet constantly, or has the time to surf. But we all need news.
I’ve been working on the west side of town for over a year now and I’ve eaten at Asia Express over in that mall on High Point Road on several occasions. A couple runs it and they are both super-friendly. The wife works out front while the husband does most of the cooking. I am greeted when I walk in and the cook always waves to me from the kitchen when he sees me leaving. I’ve been in there enough that they both know I like spicy food and I am always asked if I want my meal made with extra heat. During the week it seems that most of their lunch time customers are cube farmers like myself and their menu is pretty typical Americanized Chinese food. The food comes in large portions, is generally above average in flavor, and you get great service to boot. You can read what Eating in Madison A to Z has to say about the joint here. (Too many onions? Not possible.)
I took lunch there earlier this week and noticed the menus on the tables which advertised a new and exclusive Saturday menu and the "Crispy Pig Bung" caught my eye. As I was leaving, I struck up a conversation with the woman behind the counter and she talked with me about the new Saturday offerings as well as the changes being made to their weekday menu and which items were more authentically Chinese. I brought up dim sum and she said that they've had many requests but don't want to buy the frozen stuff. The only option would be to make everything by hand but they don't have the time and personnel to make it all. But the Saturday menu looked tasty. There was beef noodle soup, Vietnamese lemongrass chicken and pork, et al. Unable to resist, I asked about the Crispy Pig Bung – was it fried pig intestine? Yes it was. She offered a sample but I was too stuffed to eat any more. However, like MacArthur, I vowed to return and eat pig intestine.
And so I did. Yesterday. With The Dulcinea and M in tow, I drove 17 miles to try out the Saturday menu. We arrived around 12:30 or so and the place was packed. Madison's Asian community was out in force to sample food less Americanized. There were whole families there in addition to groups of younger folk who might have been grad students at the UW. We were the only non-Asian folks there and I the lone white person as The D and M both have African-American heritage. "Now you know what I feel like most of the time," The D quipped to me afterwards. And as we were preparing to leave, two African-American women came in. It was a pan-ethnic scene all-too infrequent here in Madison.
M got the sweet & sour shrimp while The D ordered the lemongrass pork which they had run out of so it was lemongrass chicken for her. While sweet & sour sauce is, in my opinion, essentially junk food, the stuff as Asia Express is better than most. Sure, it's syrupy sweet but it's not so bad as to instantly give you diabetes. The lemongrass chicken came with a heaping pile of fried onion to which I was graciously given access. They were tasty as was the chicken which was tender and lightly seasoned. Now, here's my order:
I didn't notice but the soup was on two-for-one special and so we ended up with two bowls. It was simple and delicious and I wish they made it during the week as it's a perfect winter meal in a bowl. The pig bung? It was fantastic. Imagine if cracklin were made like M&Ms. You've got the crispy shell of pig goodness on the outside and tender, creamy pig goodness on the inside. It tastes great but I can imagine that the slimy mouthfeel and knowledge that one is eating intestine turns off most modern American palates. If you like pork and can overcome our bias against organ meat, do try this stuff because your taste buds with thank you for it. The dish comes with what appeared to be pickled cabbage with an option for edomome which I gladly took advantage of.
Our order slip asked for comments and I left some. I am fairly certain that this was the first time the new Saturday menu was given a run. Regardless, it's still new and is, no doubt, a work in progress. So far, so good. I take it as a positive sign that the restaurant was bereft of the normal mall denizens.
Krishan Singh recently had a piece published at Dane101 called "Madison and Alternative Medicine in 2008" in which he wrote: "Let’s make 2008 the year we take alternative medicine to the next level." Let's not.
Some of the most interesting info I have seen around this date have to do with the photon belt. Which is essentially a band of energy that goes round the universe. In my opinion through this belt new rays of energy will start to influence humanity, those more sensitive to these rays are already feeling the effects.
A Galatic alignment process could bring all sorts of interesting energies upon the earth.
Well Mr. Miller, we get hit with photons everyday – it's called sunlight. What is this photon belt he's going on about? From Wikipedia:
The photon belt (photon ring, manasic ring, or golden nebula) is a fringe belief largely linked to some parts of the new age movement that a belt or ring of photons is going to, depending on the source of the information, fully envelope the Earth in 2012 and possibly cause massive failure of electrical equipment with 2-3 days of total darkness or total daylight, and/or initiate some kind of spiritual transition (usually referred to as "a shift in consciousness", "the shift of the ages", or just "the shift", with the time period leading up to the shift as "the quickening"; it has also been referred to as "zero point" and ties in to various prophecies, the Mayan calendar, extraterrestrial life, etc).
H~ also tells us he is "a believer in past lives" and was once a "Powerful Dream Shaman". (Capital letters are his.) He refers to himself as "a person of science" with a link to a list of articles on consciousness as if merely linking to it proves anything. If he were a person of science, he'd know that alternative medicine = quackery, 2012 will be just another year, and that there is no evidence to show the existence of a soul which can give a person past lives. You throw any New Age bullshit about having your consciousness "evolve" or "ascend" and he is on it like white on rice.
And so he is out dispensing medical advice. I'm certainly not disagreeing with him that exercise, changing one's diet towards the healthier, yoga, or taking a cold shower are good ideas. But "Get a Reiki Session" and "Try Ayurvedic Medicine" alarm and annoy me. Reiki is bullshit and I read this today:
Dangerous amounts of lead have also been found in ayurvedic medicines, which are used in India and commonly found in South Asian immigrant communities in New York, Chicago and Houston. These medicines include ghasard, a brown powder given to relieve constipation in babies, and mahayogaraj gugullu, for high blood pressure.
Traditional medicines may account for up to 30 percent of all childhood lead poisoning cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a 2004 study that found high concentrations of lead in ayurvedic medicine, Boston University researcher Robert Saper bought 70 different ayurvedic remedies at 30 stores within a 20-mile radius of Boston City Hall. One in five contained potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury and arsenic.
Let's make 2008 the year when alternative medicine goes on the decline. Have you ever noticed how the Willy Street Coop does its best to let you know about the vegetables you buy there? They tell you where it comes from, who the farmer was that grew them, nutritional value, et al. But, when it comes to their herbal remedies, it is caveat emptor. We know that vegetables are good for you but we don't know the risks of taking herbal concoctions that, say, claim to enhance your libido. They are happy to sell you a $25 bottle of pills that may or may not work and may or may not be safe for you. Let's hold the Coop accountable for this glaring inconsistency. Instead of giving someone $50 or $60 to align energy paths that no one has ever proven to exist, how about going in for a checkup with a legitimate doctor who is accredited by legitimate organizations. Perhaps use your critical thinking skills this year instead of believing any claim that contains the word "natural" in it or supposedly comes from an "ancient tradition" of healing. How about giving some credit to medicine and science which is based on evidence and has helped millions live longer, healthier lives.
Let's make 2008 the year when alternative medicine becomes commonly called what it really is – quackery.
So far this year I've read three books. The last one I finished was this:
I got it nearly half a year ago when I went to see Rothschild speak but didn't sit down with it until last week. The book is really just a compilation of stories from Rothschild's McCarthyism Watch up the The Progressive's webpage. These are mostly stories of the abrogation of citizens' rights here in post-9/11 America presented in a Joe Friday just-the-facts-ma'am manner. We are told what happened and given statements, where possible, from the repressee and repressor. There are 82 stories in all with each being given 2 or 3 pages.
The incidents portrayed here range from the relatively minor, such as when three teachers in Oregon were ejected from a political rally for simply wearing t-shirts that read "Protect Our Civil Liberties", to the fatal, like the case of the death of Balbir Singh Sodhi by goon violence. Just a sampling:
Brett Bursey went to protest a visit by Dubya in South Carolina. While standing on public property holding a sign that read "No More War For Oil", he was arrested after refusing to withdraw to a "free-speech zone" a half mile away. "Bursey said he was already in a free-speech zone: the United States of America." He was arrested for trespassing, though these charges were later dropped. Then Bursey was indicted by U.S. attorney Strom Thurmond, Jr. "for violating a statute having to do with presidential assassinations, kidnappings, and threats."
Brothers Yasser Ebrahim and Hany Ibrahim are Egyptians who were in the States when 9/11 happened. Nineteen days after the attacks, The FBI, INS, and NYPD came to their apartment and arrested them. They were denied the right of an attorney and spent 24 hours at a holding facility during which even the right to use the bathroom was also denied. They were moved to the Metropolitan Detention Center where they had their faces slammed into walls and were forced to walk around in leg chains so the guards could get their kicks by tripping them. When Yasser asked about their human rights, he was told, "Three thousand people died in the World Trade Center. You have no rights." The brothers were eventually deported without ever having been charged of a crime.
However, not all the stories involve visits from the authorities. Take the case of Muammar Ali, a student at New Mexico State University in 2005. He was their star running back. But that fall he was released from the team, as were the two other Muslim players, by head coach Hal Mumme. Mumme supposedly questioned Ali about Islam and its relation to Al-Qaeda. The coach also had players give the Lord's Prayer after practice and before game time. Mumme refused to even give a reason for cutting Ali.
The stories here are quite disturbing. Exercising one's rights can earn you a visit by men clad in trenchcoats and sunglasses or, even worse, land you in jail. Honestly, though, I am not surprised that G-men and Secret Service agents are out knocking on people's doors looking to follow-up on reports of things "un-American". Disturbing, yes; shocking, no. If the book has a flaw, then it's that one group here has virtually no voice – the snitch. I would have liked Rothschild to do a little bifurcation and devoted one half to the short stories such as those above and the other to examining one tale in-depth.
To illustrate, there's the story of Mark Schultz of Atlanta. In June of 2003 he stopped to get a cup of java at a Caribou Coffee before work. Schultz worked at a bookstore and had a long shift ahead of him as the new Harry Potter book was being released. While in line at the coffeeshop, he read a print-out of an online article given to him by his father. It was called "Weapons of Mass Stupidity: Fox News Hits a New Lowest Common Denominator". As Rothschild writes: "Another customer at Caribou Coffee evidently saw Schultz reading the article and called the FBI on him."
I fully expect those in power to jerk people around and to get all jumpy when someone dares question them. But what's so sad here is that Schultz was ratted on. It wasn't Big Brother watching, it appears to have been a member of his community – a fellow citizen. And it's the stories of these snitches and the Coach Mummes that I'd like to hear more. I want to try and understand why an article that is critical of Fox News is so terrifying to someone that they'd call the Feds. What kind of person would do that? What are his/her views on free speech?
Many of the stories in the book involve Joe Six Pack sitting at home only to get a knock on the door from a G-man and/or Secret Service agent. These stories often end with a quote from an official at one of the agencies saying something like, "We received a report and we followed up on it." I believe these officials most of the time and so what interests me is who exactly is being a tattle-tale? Are any of them just trying to get back at a neighbor by calling the FBI? Imagine the fear that must be engendered when you get a visit from the Feds. Now imagine how it must feel to know that you were visited, not because the government is spying on you, but because your neighbor reported you to them. That is, perhaps, even worse.
Somebody please go to this page and tell me that I'm not hallucinating. Tell me that my representative, Tammy Baldwin, did not vote in favor of House Resolution 847. I keep going back to that page and refreshing it but it always shows "Aye WI-2 Baldwin, Tammy [D]". Why is my representative aiding right-wing Christians in their attempt to impose their dogma on everyone else?
To be sure, the text of the resolution is banal and almost identical to H.R. 635. As far as I know, the resolution is non-binding, but it's very symbolic and troubling. First of all, the government should not be going around passing feel-good legislation for religions. Secondly, it is the leading edge of a new wedge strategy seeking to displace the secular nature of our government. I am shocked that Ms. Baldwin voted aye considering that this resolution is for people who would just assume have all homosexuals shoved back into the closet at best and stoned to death at worst.
These people must be stopped at every turn because they will never cease their crusade to have themselves recognized as being special, being given privileges by our government which ought to be impartial, and, most disturbingly, have their views imposed on everyone else. What makes this resolution insidious as opposed to H.R. 635 is that Muslims here in the U.S. are a small minority and do not have the clout to impose their religion on others. On the other hand right-wing Christians do and they have been actively seeking to do so for some time now.
The next sortie is House Resolution 888: Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as `American Religious History Week' for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith. It is in committee and will hopefully die there. And this bit of atrocity has a Wisconsin sponsor – Rep. Paul Ryan. I agree with Chris Hedges:
This is an insidious attempt by the radical Christian right to rewrite American history, to turn the founding fathers from deists into Christian fundamentalists, to proclaim us officially to be a Christian nation. If you want to know why Mike Huckabee is dangerous, why his brand of right-wing Christian populism is so frightening, you should read this resolution.
The resolution is staggering for its sheer volume of falsehoods about our history, our system of government and our democracy…The resolution may never work its way out of committee, and even if it does, it may never be passed. But it is important because it expresses an increasingly influential ideology…It is a mistake, despite the seeming implosion of the Republican Party, to count these people out. The Christian radicals have, as the Huckabee candidacy illustrates, broken free from the fetters of their corporate and neocon handlers. They have unleashed a frightening populism that, in the event of an economic meltdown or period of instability, could see the movement ride the wave of a massive right-wing backlash.
Check out this entry over at Talk To Action for some debunking of the text of the resolution. I would also point readers to Positive Liberty (a – gasp! – libertarian blog) to read some of Jonathan Rowe's discussion on the faiths of the Founding Fathers. Rowe endorses the work of Gregg Frazer, a self-described "evangelical, born-again Christian" who has said:
…that those most responsible for the Declaration (Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin) and for the Constitution were theistic rationalists and neither Christians nor deists. The Right and the Left are both wrong.
So Ms. Baldwin, please tell us why you voted aye. Were you seeking to give Christians comfort? Perhaps you were afraid of coming across as anti-Christian. Whatever your reason, please tell us so we can understand why you see fit to abet the Christian right. And, should H.R. 888 come to a vote, please assure us that you will vote against this atrocity of lies and distortions instead of for giving Christians the warm fuzzies and yet another foot in another door in their quest to reshape the nation in their image.
"Well, at first I thought it was a very inappropriate question, you know, for the presidency to be decided on a scientific matter, and I think it's a theory, a theory of evolution, and I don't accept it, you know, as a theory, but I think [ it probably doesn't bother me. It's not the most important issue for me to make the difference in my life to understand the exact origin. I think ] the creator that I know created us, everyone of us, and created the universe, and the precise time and manner, I just don't think we're at the point where anybody has absolute proof on either side. [So I just don't . . . if that were the only issue, quite frankly, I would think it's an interesting discussion, I think it's a theological discussion, and I think it's fine, and we can have our . . . if that were the issue of the day, I wouldn't be running for public office."]
Asking about a candidate's stance on the teaching of evolution is not deciding the presidency on a scientific matter. What kind of nonsense is that? Gauging scientific literacy and willingness to deny fact are perfectly valid criteria for judging the fitness of a candidate. And it's not "a theory", it's "The Theory".
~~ Ron Paul believes women’s bodies are the property of the state. ~~ Ron Paul will use federal power to prevent families that don’t match the structure of his own from living in freedom. ~~ Ron Paul would rather orphan children than allow them to have two loving parents. ~~ He may not talk about it openly, but Ron Paul is carrying out the agenda of fundamentalist Christians. ~~ Ron Paul opposes individual rights for anyone who has a different cultural background than his own. ~~ Ron Paul opposes the protection of individual rights through the courts. ~~ Ron Paul will allow state and local governments to violate any individual rights in the name of protecting “federalism” and the sacrosanct Constitution.
I haven't seen any Ron Paul signs being held up on the Beltline pedestrian overpass lately. Where have the supporters gone?
Huckabee Wants a Christian Nation (Or Why There's Not a Cat in Hell's Chance of Ron Paul Getting My Vote)
Because I'm profoundly irritated, I need to say this:
Fuck you, Mike Huckabee!
That's better. The last thing we need to have done to our Constitution is have it in "God's standards", as he he would have it.
"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."
What a complete scumbag. Are we going to have an amendment banning the consumption of shellfish and the wearing of polyester-cotton blends? One that puts unruly children to death? Yeah, our contemporary mores on these issues are woefully lacking in comparison to those of desert tribes a few millennia ago who gave the big thumbs up to slavery and subjugation of women.
I give Huckabee credit, though, for acknowledging that the Constitution doesn't give quarter to his imaginary friend Yahweh. This stands in stark contrast to Ron Paul who reads our founding document only to find it "replete with references to God". Is Paul that stupid or was he just lying? Look at the original or peruse a transcript and you'll see Yahweh is not given credit for or seen as a source of the legitimacy of our government. Indeed, the Bible had little or no direct influence on the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution:
In a May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, Jefferson identifies his sources for the Declaration’s principles. He names as sources: Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and (Algernon) Sidney — he does not mention the Bible. Then again, the terminology in the Declaration is not specifically Christian — or even biblical, with the exception of “Creator.” The term “providence” is never used of God in the Bible, nor are “nature’s God” or “Supreme Judge of the world” ever used in the Bible.
In the hundreds of pages comprising Madison’s notes on the constitutional convention (and those of the others who kept notes), there is no mention of biblical passages/verses in the debates/discussions on the various parts and principles of the Constitution. They mention Rome, Sparta, German confederacies, Montesquieu, and a number of other sources — but no Scripture verses.
In The Federalist Papers, there is no mention of biblical sources for any of the Constitution’s principles, either — one would think they could squeeze them in among the 85 essays if they were, indeed, the sources; especially since the audience was common men who were familiar with, and had respect for, the Bible. The word “God” is used twice — and one of those is a reference to the pagan gods of ancient Greece. “Almighty” is used twice and “providence” three times — but neither is ever used in connection with any constitutional principle or influence. The Bible is not mentioned.
If you follow politics, you no doubt have heard the brouhaha surrounding the contemptible excerpts from Ron Paul's newsletters recently published in The New Republic. UW Professor Lester Hunt defends Paul in his latest blog entry. He takes the author of TNR piece, James Kirchick, to task for exaggerating:
It seems to me that the evidence he cites, though it may be decades old, isn't decades long…But as near as I can determine they are all from a time period of four or five years, from some time in 1989 to some time in 1994. That is also true of all the offensive comments that libertarian journalist Dan Koffler cites here.
Sure, that Paul's underlings printed patently odious commentary for 5 years is better than it having gone on for 20 but at some point something like a law of diminishing returns must kick in. Had it gone on for a few months or, since I'm feeling charitable, a year, it would be one thing. It would be excusable to me. But 5?! Five years is still a long time. At best, Paul is guilty of exceptionally gross negligence. Did he ever personally pen a retraction in his newsletter once he found out what was being printed in his name?
Hunt also quotes Paul on racism:
Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than as individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups.
And, you know, libertarianism is the enemy of all racism, because racism is a collectivist idea is that you put people in categories. You say, "Well, Blacks belong here, Whites here, and women here." Well, we don't see people in form-- or gays. You don't have rights because you're gays, or women, or minorities. You have rights because you're an individual. So, we see people strictly as individuals. And we get these individuals in a natural way. So, it's exactly opposite of all collectivism. And it's absolutely anti-racism, because we don't see in those terms.
Hunt appears to buy this notion that libertarians are some über-moralists for whom it is just impossible to be racist. What a load of bullshit. Perhaps Paul and Hunt simply define libertarianism is a very narrow way but, more likely, they set up a false dichotomy where you are either a collectivist or individualist with no middle ground, no potential to have leanings in both directions. Does anyone else find this "either you're one of us or one of them" mentality to be disturbing? I also find it to be hypocritical in light of the quote above about the Constitution. It comes from a screed defending Christians from that evil straw man seeking to destroy Christmas. Is Paul really oblivious to the fact that Christianity is a collectivist institution and that churches and religious holidays are instruments of it?
One of the things that irritates me about the way Paul and others formulate libertarianism is that they ignore how all of their talk about rights and the primacy of the individual are propped up and enforced by collectivism. When you say you want a limited government, you are also saying that you want collectivist institutions (a law enforcement apparatus and a judiciary) to ensure your individual rights. Here we see freedom being preserved by collectivism.
I use "collectivist" and "collectivism" because Paul has. But surely they are loaded with the baggage of the Soviet Union. Semantics aside, I think that communitarians such as Robert Bellah have some interesting critiques of rather extreme individualism. While I'm not a full-blooded communitarian, I appreciate it that the philosophy acknowledges that we are more than individuals and that we don't come into existence in a vacuum. We are born into a form of collectivism known as the family. In case the people who have pictures of Ayn Rand on their mantelpieces have forgotten, we're apes. We evolved into a very social(tribal?) creature. Ants have colonies and we have metropolises like Tokyo and Chicago. No one is or ever was born into a position where they could peruse a social contract. Look around and you'll see members of homo sapiens constantly striving for contact with other members – social networking sites, personal ads, taverns, union halls, cafes, clubs, social organizations, the family, communities, states, counties, countries – we live to be with others. This is not to say that the concepts of individualism and autonomy aren't important because they most certainly are. Human beings getting together and forming groups is almost our raison d'etre. We build our identities, in great measure, by associations with other people. This is not to say that every instance of identifying someone as a part of a particular group is good. Take racism, for example. But for Ron Paul to speak as if people coming together and forming groups is a priori horrendous is just absurd.
While I agree with some elements of Paul's platform, I think he has some truly awful bedfellows, is untrustworthy, and adheres to a philosophy which I find unsound and unsatisfactory.
The past several months I've been washing myself with fine handmade lavender soap made by my soapstress, Iris Hutchings. She is the proprietor of Lady Fox Soaps which opened its virtual doors here in Madison to the public last year. While normally found hunched over a vat keeping watch on the saponification process, Iris took a break and answered some questions that I posed to her recently:
FS: When and why did you start making soap?
Iris: I started about 5 years ago, after I graduated from college. One day I was eating a chocolate bar, and some of it melted on my finger. I licked my finger, and instead of tasting the chocolate, I could only taste the soap I'd used earlier to wash my hands. That's when it hit me that we put tons of chemicals on our skin (our biggest organ) every day, and those chemicals sink in. Right then and there, I decided that I'd never use store-bought, chemical-filled soaps ever again. I started by buying natural soaps, but soon decided that I could make them and be happier with my scent choices and ingredients.
FS: How did you learn to make it?
Iris: A lot of research. I bought quite a few books, and went from there. My base recipe was taken from one of the books (The Natural Soap Book: Making Herbal and Vegetable-Based Soaps, by Susan Miller Cavitch), but I've since tweaked it so it makes a soap I like better.
FS: Your website says you use the "cold process". What is this mysterious method and how does it differ from other ways of making soap?
Iris: There are various ways to make soap. All of them are explained very well here: http://www.teachsoap.com/soapmakingmethods.html. I prefer the cold process method because it has more versatility, and can produce the type of soap that I love.
FS: What's the difference between your product and the stuff on supermarket shelves?
Iris: Well, for starters, mine is actually a SOAP. Most of what's on supermarket shelves are technically detergents. They have preservative chemicals and they tend to be more harsh. My soap is made to be gentle and moisturizing. I've also noticed that the scents I use in my soap are nice and strong while you're using it, but once you're dry, it tends to fade away. I think that's a lot better because I don't necessarily want to smell like my soap all day long...much less taste it when a piece of chocolate melts on my finger.
FS: How can folks buy your soaps?
Iris: Go to my website! It's www.ladyfoxsoaps.com. I use PayPal, which accepts PayPal accounts, credit cards, and automatic bank withdrawals. Come, browse, and contact me if you have any questions!
So how does soap clean your biggest organ (ahem)? If you follow the link above describing the cold process, you discover that soap is made by combining a fatty acid with an alkali. I'll let Uncle Cecil take it from here:
This compound has two vital components--a water insoluble (hydrophobic) part, consisting of a fatty acid or a long-chain carbon group, and a water soluble (hydrophilic) part, generally an alkali metal. The hydrophobic part attaches to the fabric or dirt, the hydrophilic part snuggles up to the water. The result is that you force an electrically polar wedge of soap and water between the fabric and the dirt. The slime is then removed by mechanical action--"scrubbing," to put it in layman's terms.
Presumably you can replace fabric above with skin. And what does she mean the stuff in supermarkets is mostly detergents and not soap? Well, both soaps and detergents are surfactants which means that they reduce the surface tension of water so that the water molecules spread out instead of clinging to one another. Surfactants also help loosen dirt and suspend it in solution until you rinse it all away. The difference is, generally speaking, that detergents replace the fatty acids with petrochemicals that have similar hydrophobic properties and other chemicals such as sulfuric acid are used to make the hydrophilic component.
It had been a few years since I'd watched the series on the old VHS copies from Bongo so having the entire series on DVD was a real treat. That I had forgotten so much was also really nice as quite a bit of the second season was new once more. Plus I fell in love with Mädchen Amick as Shelly Johnson all over again. One thing I noticed this viewing was how certain scenes stuck out and engendered a really visceral reaction from me. There were the usual creep-inducing ones such as Ronette's flashbacks to Laura's murder or when Sarah or Madeleine would see Bob in the Palmer home lurching about. But there were others such as this one of Windom Earle:.
It looks like he had started to take off his makeup/costume but didn’t finish. His teeth are black and it appears that there are traces of white grease paint on his face. Nothing surreal happens in the scene; it's just Earle talking to Leo. But, goddamn, was it spooky. And there's this one too:
This is the Giant waving his arms and mouthing "No, no!" to Cooper just after Annie announces that she has registered to be in the Miss Twin Peaks contest. There's just something about him. Instead of being calm, deliberate, and stoic, the Giant is now showing some emotion. It's not that this was truly a scary scene but his appearance just took me off guard. The show is winding down, Earle is looking unstoppable, and the mystery of the Black Lodge feels like it's reaching a peak. And out of nowhere a big lanky klaxon in a bow tie appears yet is strangely silent. I don't exactly know what it is about his visage that put the spook on me, but it did.
Being in a Twin Peaks frame of mind, I recently discovered an audio drama that's very much in the vein of TP. It's called Wormwood.
When a strange vision of murder sends him to a small town to investigate, Dr. Xander Crowe discovers that Wormwood is no ordinary town. Secrets lurk within every resident, from the innkeeper to the town librarian to the waitress at the diner. The seemingly idyllic surface of the town hides a mystery unlike anything he’s ever experienced. Navigating through this tiny, isolated town in the foothills of Northern California, Crowe finds himself drawn into a web of dark conspiracy, strange romance, and arcane mysticism. And now, as Crowe begins to unravel the mystery at the heart of Wormwood, he finds that his very presence there may not be a coincidence at all…
There's a lot of Twin Peaks just in this description. There are others such as Crowe working with the sheriff, the naïve & cowardly deputy, and a man named Hank having an affair. However, there are also lots of differences. For instance, Crowe is an unlikable misanthrope which stands in stark contrast to Special Agent Dale Cooper. Our "hero" also happens to have a deformed hand with some powers of its own. Twin Peaks begins with a murder but Wormwood begins with only a premonition of one.
Wormwood is a pro-am production. While it's not all professionals recording in a modern studio, it's also not merely some folks in their basement with a laptop either. The acting ranges from mediocre to great with most of it being good. I've mostly listened to it in my car so I'm unwilling to pronounce judgment on the sound quality but I will say it's been a bit tinny. My only substantive complaint so far is that certain parts do sound as if they were recorded in a basement. Exterior scenes are problematic as characters sound like they're in a room. Perhaps some padding on the walls would help. Unlike Twin Peaks, there is very little incidental music here. This isn't an issue most of the time but there are scenes which could use a bit of music to add some dynamics to them. Overall, though, Wormwood is a pretty smooth listen.
The plot (so far) is a fun and beguiling mix of soap opera, drama, and horror with a bit of police procedural thrown in for good measure. Episodes run about 20 minutes with #24 having been posted today. I, however, have just started 9 and am getting worried because of these LOST-like voices.
Bill of Rights Powerless Against National Archive's Goons
I'm currently in the middle of reading Matthew Rothschild's You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression. The book chronicles countless incidents where people have been denied their rights in the wake of the Patriot Act and 9/11, more generally. One person gets fired for having a Kerry bumpsticker while a woman gets a visit from the Secret Service for an anti-Bush yard sign. Disturbing stuff.
In a telephone interview, one of the participants, Susan Serpa, age 56, told me she was looking at the displays when a female security guard approached her and said "You need to go speak to that man over there" indicating a burly security guard. When Serpa asked why, the woman said: "Your shirt." Serpa's shirt reads on the front: "Impeach Bush and Cheney, Change History." On the reverse it says: "MaineImpeach.org."
Other security guards then approached Serpa and told her: "You need to leave because of your shirt."
So you can be in a public building funded by your tax dollars looking at the Bill of Rights and be thrown out because someone disagrees with your politics. This is relatively minor when compared to someone being thrown into Gitmo, to be sure, but the difference is of quantity, not quality.
I began last weekend at the cinema with a group of friends. It's amazing how quickly my gamer-dork friends can be corralled together when there's a new Uwe Boll film to be had. Yes, we went to an opening night showing of In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.
Boll is best-known for adapting video games to the big screen with Alone in the Dark, Bloodrayne, etc. Not only this, but his films are just awful and this is, of course, why we watch them. In the Name of the King is a bit of an odd duck in the Boll canon as it has big name actors and lots of them: Jason Statham, Leelee Sobieski, John Rhys-Davies, Ron Perlman, Burt Reynolds, Ray Liotta, and Matthew Lillard. Having such names proved to be a mixed blessing as, the film was so bad, my mind couldn't help but wander and think about the actors' previous efforts. With the exception of Rhys-Davies and Sobieski, folks pretty much walked through this movie without trying too much.
Liotta was downright hilarious as the evil Gallian. I kept waiting for him to wander outside his infernal fortress over to a wagon and start poking around in a trunk only to pull out a satchel or a bag of white powder. That for him to start swearing profusely, which he never did. I don't think Boll actually directed any of his male leads to use a voice other than their normal speaking voices. Gallian saying, "Fine! We'll accelerate" in his Jersey accent is one of my favorite moments in the whole film. Rhys-Davies seemed like he was having fun with the part though, considering his Merick is a magus, I had to wonder why there was such a paucity of magic until the end when he and Gallian have their showdown. He was a pretty useless magus, if you ask me.
Matthew Lillard played Duke Fallow, the nephew of King Konreid, who was looking to usurp the throne. I don't know if Fallow is a character from the video game or whether Boll just wanted some Hamlet-like persona, but he is just terrible. He's a whiny, snively, little git portrayed with way too much histrionics by Lillard. Some great facial contortions, I'll grant you that, but otherwise just plain annoying. I don't mean simply that he was evil and I longed for his comeuppance; I mean Fallow was irritating and I couldn't wait for him to be off-screen. There are some villains that I love to watch – Darth Vader, for instance – and steal the show. Fallow just needed to steal away into the night never to return.
Burt Reynolds played the king and I don't feel there's much to say about his performance other than I imagine he couldn’t wait for shooting to be over so he could go pick up his check. By far the best element of the film was seeing Leelee Sobieski in scale armor.
As Muriella, she did a decent job. She's Merick's daughter and is beginning to learn to wield magic. By the end of the film, she's a fully-armed and operational wizard but we never get to see much of the progression. She goes from being alright at it to kicking ass and taking names at the end. In between she doesn't do much except stumble upon a group of hottie dryads who know how to hold their own in battle.
Perhaps the best scene was during the siege when Gallian's minons, ogre-like creatures called Krug, began lighting themselves on fire and launching themselves in catapults at the good guys. Now, that was funny.
Sid showed me some pictures of his trip. Both his hometown of Rabat as well as Casablanca are gorgeous. He also has graciously provided me with a couple of photos of some of the food from his home country.
He cannot emphasize enough the importance of tea and eating with one's hands. That's the neat thing about the tajines - you touch the spices you're putting onto your food. A much more intimate affair than the knife & fork. Plus that red sauce is supposed to be very, very spicy and I'm getting really hungry right now...
A couple months ago The Dulcinea and I had dinner at King of Falafel. A few days later my co-worker Sid headed back home to Morocco to visit family and friends. With him was an order for some Moroccan tea cups to give to The D for Xmas. A week or so ago Sid returned bearing these:
OK, so the spoons are from Ikea but don't they look nice? They are kissane d'atay or teacups. "Kass" is a cup and is "kassane" in the plural. "Atay" is tea. He also brought back a couple tajines:
These are the equivalent of salt & pepper shakers. You lift off the lids and find stashes of spices waiting for you. From what Sid says, they generally hold salt and cumin. One of my weekend projects is to find a Moroccan dish to cook so we can run the tajines through their paces.
While I'm on a culinary jag, I'll mention that last weekend I made Rinderschmorbraten and chai. Rinderschmorbraten is German pot roast. I thought it turned out pretty well and was especially pleased with the gravy. Here you can see it cooking as well as the beefy plate I used to hold the roast which conveniently informed me from where my roast was cut.
Straining my chai could have gone smoother.
Luckily my chinois and cheesecloth were up to the task.
It turned out OK. I need to use more cardamom seeds next time and get some cinnamon sticks that are less than a century old. However, I was pleased with how the use of cubebs instead of peppercorns turned out. They gave the tea a pleasant citrus-like sharpness.
To round out my blatherings about food, I found some pictures of a venture to the Eplegaarden in the autumn which prompted apple crisp.
A new ethnic foods market is soon to open on Monona Drive - Viet Hoa. As of last weekend when I took this picture, folks were working on the interior. It will make a welcome addition to Fraboni's and Super Tienda Latina on that street. Who would have thunk Monona Drive would become a mecca for ethnic grocers? Add to this Alex Polish American Deli and the Indian grocery store next to Maharaja over by East Towne and the east side's culinary possibilities seem ever-expanding.