Thursday, September 27, 2007

Verizon Lets Freedom Ringtones

Thanks for finally getting with the program:

Sports: Safe outlet or opiate from intellectual debate?

Sports are an important part of any society. They promote health, exercise, teamwork, camaraderie, but in some cases, they bring out the worst in people. And nowhere is this more true than at the actual sporting events, where large numbers of people gather, and a sort of mob mentality quickly takes over with those who are most susceptible.

Sports is a generally safe environment for people to openly discriminate (I love my team and I hate yours, and all others). Say things you'd never say in a professional setting, and do things you wouldn't necessarily do in general public. And this is (mostly) a healthy exercise. Hating a team for no real discriminatory reasons, other than they beat your favorite team ten years in a row, doesn't affect the world in the way that genuine discrimination on the basis of gender or race would. And that's all good. But sometimes, it's worth wondering just why so many people, a number larger than probably all those in this country who vote, pay attention to politics, or volunteer for causes they believe in, instead get so emotional and oftentimes irate about sports.

Will the world change if your team wins? Will there be a threat to our livelihoods if they lose? Other than the euphoria or despair we might feel at the ultimate end of a game, there is no truly life-shattering effect on the fans. And that is both a beautiful and disturbing aspect of sports - win or lose, you can wake up tomorrow with new hopes, and no fear of consequences, except for the occasional ribbing from the imposing teams fans (unless you lost a bet - but that's not really sports anyway - that's just stupidity). Sports have created a safe little world where the players (warriors) are real, the money spent (and gained by the leagues) is real, and the games themselves are real - but what the fans make of them - that is completely translucent, like trying to catch the wind flapping the flags hung around the arena.

People have complained many a time, why bother voting, why pay attention to politics or important world issues, because my vote counts for fractions of almost nothing and I can't change the world. Well, for one, it's good that one person can't change the course of politics with their one vote - that's called tyranny. But then, we have to ask, why bother with sports? Why pay to go to games, why cheer for a team, if you're advice, shouted from the upper deck, will never be given the slightest consideration? That's easy you say - it's entertainment, its fun to watch, it makes you happy. It is the blissful oblivion and disappearance of responsibility that you must be seeking. And sports are a powerful tool to free your mind from the mundane, and dream. But whats the point of all that shouting, dreaming, and exercise, if it's all for naught?

Maybe it's better to see the world as one great sporting event, except this game has real life consequences. Battles are won and lost, and people are irrevocably affected. It's time to flight the coin, and call a side. It's time to run flat-out for the ball, and not be caught offsides. It's time to channel our energy into sport that matters, and helps the teammates that cannot help themselves, and respect the rights of opposing teams to compete.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Guess who

Yes, Guess Who this post is about. Here are some clues:

HE is a president
He is in New York at least part of this week
He will address the UN
He has no problems referencing God in his speeches
He also has no problems calling certain groups vermin or rats
He refuses to see reason when it comes to war and the atrocities incited therewith
He can't speak English well, if at all
He's obsessed with nuclear weapons, and his claims of their existence and purposes are widely agreed to be lies
He believes that no one, unless married, should be having sex
He also believes that all that sex which should be taking place is heterosexual, and to do otherwise deserves flat-out legal discrimination

If you guessed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, well you'd be wrong (Although all the above do apply) The correct answer is G.W. Bush. Oh, this doesn't apply, you say - let me elaborate:

HE is a president (Though most didn't vote for him)
He is in New York at least part of this week (he is in NYC today)
He will address the UN (he will address the UN today)
He has no problems referencing God in his speeches (He has a problem being secular- in public policy and prose)
He also has no problems calling certain groups vermin or rats (He'd like to thank the "democRAT majority" ... even though that's improper grammar)
He refuses to see reason when it comes to war and the atrocities incited therewith (Um, can you say IRAQ?... and his most recent opinions on the Vietnam war?)
He can't speak English well, if at all (one word: Strategery)
He's obsessed with nuclear weapons, and his claims of their existence and purposes are widely disregarded as lies (Where are those weapons again?)
He believes that no one, unless married, should be having sex (He supports Abstinence-only Sex Ed)
He also believes that all that sex which should be taking place is heterosexual, and to do otherwise deserves flat-out legal discrimination (Can you say "don't ask, don't tell"... and the refusal to support gay marriage, etc.)

Okay, but what is really upsetting is Bush's latest Congressional fight. This time, it comes in the form of the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). He has already said he will veto it if it reaches his desk. And what would he be vetoing? A bill that would increase funding to the program by $35 billion dollars. Now, I could mention how the US has spent almost $500 billion dollars with the war in Iraq, (almost as much as we spent during TWELVE years in Vietnam, inflation adjusted) but that really isn't the most disturbing part of Bush's rationale for a veto.
No one claims that the lack of health care for America's poor is a problem. Bush would probably admit that more people should have coverage. But what Bush claims is that this increase spending, and increase in the number of children eligible for the program is equitable to a move towards national sponsorship of health insurance. Now, Republicans have a right to fear a National Health Insurance Program if they want to - it goes against their platforms and beliefs, and they would rather people have the choice to choose health care in a market controlled system. But Bush is only using this Republican fear of National Health Care to try and frighten anyone on the fence about this bill. And it might be pointed out that this is not a "DemocRAT" program, but an idea that has been supported on both sides of the aisle, Democrat and Republican alike. Yes, they probably lack the support to override a veto, but it's closer than some of the bills that have been introduced before.

Republicans do have some legitimate claims when opposing government controlled health care - claims like it forces people to have no other options, it imposes undue stress on the economy and government which increases taxes for all, etc. But the people helped by this program do not have employers whom they could buy health care from, they are not members of families who can afford health care. These are CHILDREN. And poor, disadvantaged children at that. Does the government argue over school lunch programs for low-income families? Would you hear Bush say that children don't deserve to eat government food because it lessens their options and leads to socialist tendencies. Children need to eat, and children need to have access to health care. These aren't bouncing society babies with a silver spoon engraved with "Bush" permanently stuck in their mouths, they need our help.
And what about Bush's claim that this bill will raise taxes? Well, it will raise one tax - the tax on tobacco and cigarettes. It seems fine to most - increase the tax on something which causes known health problems (which will hopefully deter some people from continuing the bad habit), and filter that money into something that actually provides a calculated public good. But Bush is friends with too many Tobacco Texans, it seems. What must he be smoking, to not understand the truth and the benefits of this bill? And how about the fact that the war in Iraq itself is like a little self-generating machine of state-sponsored health care already? Who's taxes do you think helps to pay for all those injured soldiers, and keep the veteran's hospitals running (although running below par, i.e. Walter Reed)?

Anger doesn't usually eminate from this blogger (other than the witty, satirical kind made in jest), but this time, it hits home. Bush can say what he wants, but he doesn't have his priorities straight. Let's say, collectively: "Don't mess with our nation's children."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stand for Nun of it.
This is the story of a group of nuns who have quickly found themselves in the middle of a problem they have absolutely nothing to do with. Because of some priest's illegal and completely sinister actions, they are going to find themselves without a home. Poverty, Chastity, and... unobjectioned acceptance of heightened real estate value? Yes, those were the vows they took. This story seems far-fetched, but it's standard fare for a religious group that consistently asserts its over-arching, sexist, patriarchal foundations. We should pray for these devout women, who have been unknowingly victimized by the church the moment they took their orders. Always to be subservient, to be an unnoticed and easily discarded rib in the grand scheme of the church's ruling body. The sister's work is perhaps the most noble, and most uplifting, but also, the most grinding and unappreciated. They teach our children, assist our poor, and aid our feeble and ailing people much more than any group of priests. They are the troops on the ground. Because of their actions in the face of papal undervaluation, they are heroes. It is unfair to generalize, and there are many in the church, good priests included, who value the work of sisters. But the establishment refuses to recognize them, or give them greater responsibilities. And the insistence of the status quo is what makes the church recreant to it's female devotees.

In another story (, Yale Law School lost it's legal battle to keep military recruiters off its grounds (without forfeiting its right to federal aid), its argument being that the military/pentagon would not sign the nondiscrimination pledges, due to the military's don't ask, don't tell policy. If Yale lost its federal aid, many research facilities would go dark, possibly the cancer research or heart disease studies. And that cost outweighs the benefit of moral right.

But really, what chance did Yale Law have? They have the most brilliant legal minds on their side, but the circuit appeals court was dealing with the Pentagon, and the military as a whole, on the other. Academic freedom is trumped by military might, yet again. The military policy is so obviously discriminatory, that the ruling will be seen through like cellophane in coming years, hopefully, as the tides of public opinion eventually turn towards the acceptance of such a large and vibrant population. Gays currently in the military (and there definitely are many) are more valiant, because they are laboring inside a group that openly fears them, and yet continue to place themselves in the same life-threatening positions for similar convictions. That kind of patriotism is on par with a slave picking up arms by his own choosing, for the South during the Civil War - noble, yet completely inadvisable - because what exactly are you fighting to defend? A corrupt system, that is fighting to keep you in slavery, or in this case, keep you closeted. Not the best of comparisons, but it accentuates the problem.

Yale Law School may have to allow recruiters onto their campus, but they don't have to make it easy for them. They can enjoy the glorious right to free speech that the military claimed in court, and set up a base camp of protest right beside them. They can organize gay rights groups on campus to coordinate protests. In other words, they can make it extremely uncomfortable for recruiters representing this homophobic group.

It truly is sad, because if the military openly accepted gay recruits, more people would join the military, and many forward thinking, knowledgeable people would help contribute to greater military success and strength. Just look at the caliber of soldiers that are kicked out of the military once outed - they are translators, tactical people, important people. And with the present shortages and strain on the military, shouldn't it be more accepting? What are we fighting for overseas... shouldn't someone remind us?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Erratication of Immolation

"There were signs that it was an exquisite relief to her to hear the impatient exclamation, though she had resolved so intrepidly to let generosity make one bid against herself. That was now done, and she had not the power to attempt self-immolation."
- Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Tess's despair runs deep, but apparently not as deep as many women in Kurdistan, and in many parts of the world, actually. In India, they call it Bride Burning, Dowry Killing, etc. But in Kurdistan, as a Newsweek world reporter explains, ( the multiple pressures on young women have compacted so tightly, they have reached the breaking point, and quite literally, have combusted outwards.

The Kurds, who have luckily been able to avoid the extreme brunt of the war in Iraq, are feeling its effects in different, and more insidious ways than the general upheaval of areas like Baghdad or Diyala providence. Women are being admitted to the hospital everyday with suspicious burns all over their bodies, burns that are almost impossible to receive by accident. Now, Kurds have been known to have a "fire obsession" for many years, but the war, along with the introduction of new technologies, such as cell phones, has lead to an increase in tensions, conflict, the ability to spy or record women's behavior, leading to an increase in burning. Kurds blame the technology, saying that casual relationships are made easier in a Westernized world, and has disrupted old tradition, which has then kicked into a sort of overdrive, where people use the immolation and murder to try and veer back onto the traditional course. And yes, the introduction of these new technologies do contribute to some of the sad stories of death by burning. But they are not the epicenter, or the cause of the smoldering ashes. The true problem is one that has existed since the beginnings of many cultures, all the way back to examples in ancient times- such as Egypt and in India, where wives were burned on the husband's funeral pyre, or sacrificed in some way because of tradition. The collision of Westernized society and tradition is not to blame - it may cause the initial spark, but the fuel to ignite the actions has been embedded into peoples mind for more generations than can be counted. Wherever there is a culture which values the sanctity of the virgin, or the "respect" of a man over the life of a woman, there is a major problem that cannot be fixed, or made much worse by the intro of new technologies. It is a mindset that needs to change to extinguish the flames, not an outer source.

To most Western, developed countries, this practice of burning is unimaginable - in both incarnations -- as either punishment or suicide. To us, the idea of suffering has been separated with our concepts of premeditated deaths - our capital punishment is usually via drug overdose, and for that matter, so is our suicide. This is definitely not the "quick and easy" method. And to some extent, that is why the practice is so horrific - it does not only promise death if committed properly, it promises one of the most painful, lingering ones. How bad must a society's outlook be, when a woman feels she has committed such a sin, or deserves to suffer so much that she is willing to end her life in a slow agony, and lie about the cause to the very last, excruciating, end? We shake our heads in sadness and disbelief, but are we that much better? Why is Joan of Arc a hero of the Christian faith? Don't we too have a history of burning women becuase of their supposed heretical actions or beliefs? Does Salem ring any bells? And how can we claim to be so superior -- when everytime domestic violence occurs, or a women is abused or raped, or a woman is denied equal rights, we are burning a part of her -- and whats worse, the scars are internal and deadly.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

It's about time, Times.

Many enjoy the satisfying early morning thwack of the newsprint to wood, or pavement, and for good reason. The printed newspaper business, a dying art that combines all that is good in life, might be in it's initial death throes. But newspapers themselves are not the ones that should be too worried. Reporting, and some metamorphose of the paper will exist, even if merely online.

The New York Times has finally decided to get with the times, and starting Tuesday at midnight, the online edition of the paper will be completely free to all those who wish to cruise it's oceanic website. Has the NYT finally understood the nature of the market, and the large pool of younger readers who in the majority get their news online? To some extent. But truly, the Times has realized that the opportunity cost of keeping subscribers was killing them, in comparison to the money they could reel in from advertisements. If access was free, the thinking is people would automatically choose the Times over less prestigious papers, and therefore the traffic on the sight would increase exponentially, heightening the ability of Times advertising slots to go through the roof. Also, they get their own self promotion - people might realize the quality and scope of the paper, and wish to order a paper subscription, even though they could read the whole paper online and reduce their corneas to shriveled discs anytime they so desired.

Despite their self-interested reasons for making this subscription product free, it is also one of the great proofs that perhaps our economic system isn't so bad - how can you not be excited about free access to virtually the past twenty years of (mostly) top-tier reporting? And a searchable database with access to old archives of reports spanning 1851-1923? Now if only you could get the same satisfying feeling as that early morning thud of the pages on your doorstep via the computer. They should work on that.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fox and the War Hound.

Two Topics Today: Mukasey and the Emmys.

Seemingly unrelated, yes - but perhaps we'll combine them by the end.
Most people dislike it when celebrities get up on soapboxes, especially when they're not acting. Celebrities are never discussed on this blog either. But there must be a slight exception, because celebrities enjoy the same right to free speech that all of us little people do.
Fox was broadcasting the Emmys, so a few things are expected right off the bat - their shows will be endorsed, and the other networks will be roasted. The agenda of Murdock will be not-so-subtly floating around the theatre like noxious fumes. All that is understandable - he paid for it. But what Mr. Murdock doesn't understand is that the audience of shows like the Emmy's hate it when celebrities win an award and then make a political pitch, as if the award in their hands suddenly transmitts, by osmosis, the intellectual savy of a pundit. That's not why they're there, and most people will strike it from the record. But what Murdoch and Fox decided to do was add validity by purposely expunging anything slightly left-leaning. Sally Field, the flying nun of all people, choose to use the lord's name in vain - there's been court cases outlawing the display of the ten commandments in our courtrooms, so it's quizzical that this should get noticeably bleeped.

One stage, after receiving her trophy, Field said: "Surely this [award] belongs to all the mothers of the world,” she stated. “May they be seen, may their work be valued and raised. Especially to the mothers who stand with an open heart and wait. Wait for their children to come home from danger, from harm’s way, and from war. I am proud to be one of those women ... If mothers ruled the world, there would be no –” (at this point the Fox Emmycast cut off her sound and pointed the camera away from the stage, silencing the rest of her sentence) god-damned wars in the first place.” (see it in full here:
While this blogger doesn't necessarily agree that women are as anti-war and docile as Field would like to believe, she's entitled to her opinion. In fact, technically, she didn't make a direct statement - she never said "Iraq"... although we all got the point.

Canadian viewers got the whole, uncut version of this speech. Canada. Is it that we can't handle the same type of information that Canada can? And why is "god-damned" so much worse than "bitch," or "whore?" Fox was hiding behind "god-damned" and used it as an excuse to censor "war," which although they approve of it, they'd rather not mention it - because Fox choose not to bleep just "god-damned" but the whole sentence. By bleeping it out, Fox called greater attention to it, and caused people to feel like they can't be trusted with a piece of information. And when people feel coddled and uninformed, they go out of their way to oppose such treatment (at least the ones who aren't lazy).

Speaking of coddled and uniformed (see that transition!), President Bush has reportedly chosen a successor to Alberto Gonzales, Michael B. Mukasey - a retired federal judge and large law firm lawyer from Manhattan, who is currently the legal advisor for the Giuliani campaign.
It seems Bush is trying, at least a bit, to show the Democrats a bit of mea culpa and appoint a candidate that even Chuck Schumer has said some kind words about. We'll see if they like Mukasey as much now. Obviously, he's got to be an improvement on Gonzales, but then again a
pinata filled with attorney's pink slips would've done a better job. Although this may be a smoother confirmation process than previous ones, you've got to root for a small showdown anyways. It's what we've all come to expect from this congress in it's dealing with the White House. Its a sad state of affairs when the Emmy Awards platform has more spirited debate than the Senate floor, because face it - a larger percentage of the populous are getting their politics from there, or the John Stewart show than they are from C-Span.

Mukasey is tough on issues like terrorism and national security, which is probably a reason why Bush choose him. Less controversial nominees have gotten through, so early estimates are fairly tame. It doesn't matter, hopefully. If things go well, he'll be out after the next presidential election anyways. All we can hope for is someone who will reestablish a good reputation to our Justice Department, until the new administration comes in. So we have to encourage all parties involved to make this process as quick and painless as possible, because Congress has other, as important (if not more so) issues to redress... maybe like this "god-damned war"?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hooked on Hyperbole Works for... No one.

A lie, or misleading statement is not altogether unforgivable. Even when outright and completely intentional, most can dig deep enough to accept an apology and move on. But the key to healing is an admission, or at least the ability to adjust with the times, and show that one has learned, and intends to continue improving towards a great good.

While some people believe Bush tried last night to reconcile differences, and ask for the country to unite in a common and, what he thought was a mutually acceptable goal for our military, tell-tale signs that Bush hasn't really changed, learned, or even attempted to stop speaking and thinking in distorted realities. And the saddest part is, his words are so thinly veiled attempts at a positive outlook that even the most enthusiastic optimist begins to grimace.

We are bringing troops home because we cannot afford to: a. Extend their tours, and b. Pay them. We have made slight military gains, but that was all a part of a larger diplomatic goal, one of which the Iraqi governance has not come anywhere near meeting, and in fact - the government is right now standing on the precipice of full collapse. Yet Bush never mentions these reasons. I understand he is trying to be a champion of the American cause, and he should be standing up for morale. But troops and the American people's morale's will tip if they sense they are being lied to, or are somehow not worth the effort of straight talk. If we, as a nation, are as brave and wonderful as Bush touts, we can take it.

When dealing with a problem, or talking about the problem, you usually attack the main aspects of the problem, and then work down towards the less prominent ones. Well, no one disputes their are terrorists in Iraq. But the numbers show that clearly the main problem is sectarian violence and general upheaval in a country in the midst of civil war. When Bush mentions Al Qaida and 9/11 for the umpteenth time, we can see the rhetorical lights flashing on the screen -- this time in all the glory of high definition. And clearly, you'd have to be high to except this as the definition of our main issue right now while fighting in Iraq. If we were there solely to eradicate the terrorist cells, we should have moved onto Iran by now (but thankfully we havent yet, because that is definitely not a good idea, anyways).

What really is interesting to analyze from a speech-giving, diction-choosing standpoint is the way in which this war has been described, and the words used in denigrating the opposition's view. All this denigration of the phrase "pull out," or leaving prematurely, and lack of strength against the enemy -- it all sounds like a strange sexually charged rhetoric, as if somehow we, as a nation, will be emasculated. Whenever the president refers to "cut and run," the only image that comes to mind is that of a man ejected from the bedroom, tripping over the unzipped pants still around his angles. Pardon, but what kind of abusive relationship are we involved in here? And how did we read the signals so incorrectly? No one is the Middle East has been giving us the military equivalent of come hither glances. However you define it, this complicated relationship with Iraq and the Middle East is way past couple's counseling.

The seemingly smallest problem with the speech can also be expanded to explain the largest problems. Bush still doesn't understand that their is only one "u" in nuclear. The fact that he is so obdurate, that he can't be bothered to change "nuke-u-lar" to "new-cle-ar" shows his inability to be flexible with anything else. He will not change course unless forced by insurmountable circumstances, and he will not admit mistakes, not phonetically or politically. So how can we forgive, and even worse, how can we possibly heal?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chicken and Rice.

It seems whenever the president needs a little pre-national address confidence, he looks to Condoleezza Rice to bring the goods. Her over-bearing air of intelligence has the ability to knock over even the staunchest Bush policy critics (and her choice of black leather boots matched with a power suit is always appreciated).

Bush will address the nation on Thursday, reportedly for about fifteen minutes, during prime time. There he will explain his take on the reports from Petraeus and Crocker, and explain what his plan of action will be in Iraq going forward. Either he is a blithering dunderhead, or an evil genius (in the fashion of his self-proclaimed favorite villain, Dr. Evil), because it's reported Bush plans on saying he will scale down troops by around 30,000. Now, this means that the levels of troops will be roughly the same as right before the surge. So perhaps the surge was all a careful "strategery" to be able to show the nation that his initial level of troops "wasn't so bad after all," when set in relief. Well, I think people are on the whole still unimpressed, but you can't completely blame the guy for trying.

But back to Rice. It's hard to bash her, because her background and ever-present composure highlights her eloquence and accolades. She finished college quicker than most are able to buy their textbooks, and her knowledge of the world is perhaps the only saving grace in Bush's foreign policy. But what makes all these wonderful attributes so tragic is the fact that they are used by the Bush administration primarily like a corporation seeking to increase it's popularity and assets; in other words, they bought out Rice for her name and brand power. Slap her name on a headline, have her speak to foreign leaders, and we, the national political consumers, feel a sense of brand quality. But sadly, for both Rice and the consumers, all we're really getting is the same old defective product repackaged, to lull us into a false secure complacency. Sadly, the product inside the box with Rice's name on it is unrecognizable, manufactured in some dank bunker, tainted with leaden and overbearing political contaminants.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What you see is what you...

Usually, the blog stays national, but a local story from a newspaper upstate caught some attention, and deserves some attention:

This story talks of a mother who, passing the local Planned Parenthood, sees anti-abortion protesters holding signs with images that are gruesome, distorted, and enlarged many times over, so those in passing cars can see them. This mother, who has young children, was disgusted by the images, and lead her own campaign to try and block them from innocent eyes.

The question at the center of this story isn't whether you believe in abortion or not, but about our freedoms of speech and protest. The fact that most women who go to planned parenthood are not necessarily getting abortions, and are just receiving affordable sexual health care and prenatal care, or the fact that some young girls also go to planned parenthood for health care or various different services and have to be subjected to rathful protests, and often damaging, psychologically abusive language is another story altogether. The real question of this story is: where does freedom of speech end, and the illegal, obscene exposure of unconscionable images begin?

This country is wonderful because of its choices and the ability of people to freely express themselves. We can protest practically anything, and say anything, within limits (remember the old yelling fire in the crowded theatre exception). But as a country we also regulate the general public's access to gruesome or obscene images. Adults can still have the ability to view whatever they choose, but the legislation to protect children from the access to certain images is also an accepted societal good. There are reasons that we have regulations that control the access to certain motion pictures, websites, radio programs, etc. We have rules regulating what can be said on television, and the airwaves. We have age-requirements for buying or renting certain products. All these rules, while they inevitably take away certain freedoms, the overarching philosophy is that the protection of children trumps the ability of children to have the same freedoms as adults. It is easily reasoned that children and adolescents do not deserve the benefit of the doubt as an age group.

The anti-abortion protesters outside the Schenectady Planned Parenthood were part of a conservative religious group that organizes rallies all over the country, using pictures like the ones they held up at this event. If you would like to see the interesting website of this group, go here: If anyone could please explain this website's "abortion buster," which randomly quotes scripture and shows an attack airplane (probably used to dive-bomb women who use birth control), please enlighten. Now, I'm sure, given this group's conservative bent, that they would also be in support of the government's regulation of images unfit for children's consumption. I'm sure they wouldn't want their young children watching overtly explicit sexual content, or extremely violent programing. Heck, they might not even want their children watching Jurassic Park, or reading a bit of The Origin of Species. But seriously, what is the difference between one crude image, and the next? Would it be equally acceptable to these protesters if children and anyone passing were shown images of fetuses that had been miscarried naturally - and to enlarge these images, make them appear even more gruesome by cleverly photoshopping them, and placing them in prominently lit shop windows? I think if they had to walk past them everyday, they might think twice. Or perhaps not.

That brings up this final problem - never mind that these images were obscene, they were actually inaccurate, according to medical officials would viewed them. It is ironic to think that the people who claim to be protesting in the hopes of enlightening people and showing the ills of certain procedures, are themselves being untruthful, or downright deceitful to try and achieve their goals.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What Goes Up...

Almost 170,000. That's roughly how many troops are currently in Iraq, trying to keep the peace, and train up an Iraqi force. The "surge" that began nearly seven months ago has proven to increase security in some areas, including sections of Baghdad. Making the Iraqi people safer, along with our own troops, is always an admirable accomplishment, and the troops themselves really should be praised for all their efforts. (But one wonders why we didn't start out with these numbers in the first place). The problem, however, is that this troop situation is not perfect, they have not contained most areas of Iraq, and the level of troops on the ground is completely unsustainable. It isn't a matter of If Bush will bring some of the troops home, it is when. They have already extended the length of stay, so aside from another extension, or a draft (both extremely implausible), the troop level will decrease in the coming months.

The problem with this heightened security is a deep one. Because almost every military person or politician agrees regardless of their affiliation, that Iraq will be a success only once the Iraqi government is stabilized and starts to take a leadership position in running the of its country, especially its security. Bush assumes that the Iraqis want an American-like democratic system, as evinced from his push for the Iraqi elections and his general fervent and unyielding belief in making Iraq a bastion of strength of Western democratic ideals. But his misguided naivete is quickly digging him into a hole deeper than the crawl space where they found Saddam.

We have to come to terms with the fact that perhaps Iraq and it's people are not quite as ready as we'd wish them to be politically. When Petraeus and Crocker get up in front of Congress this week, they will inevitably report that while troops are giving their all, the political situation is in precarious, and in disrepair. Many reporters, politicians, and Iraqi civilians recognize the precarious nature of their government, and are predicting its fall. Some believe the present government in power might be gone in a matter of months.

People have a tendency to trust generals, and the people on the ground, more than they do politicians, and for many good reasons, one of them being the fact that they are in the middle of the fray. But those commanders are influenced politically, no matter how unprejudiced they might seem, or how much knowledge they have taken from being on the ground. The unfortunate situation we find ourselves in as a nation is that physically, we can force change, but philosophically and politically, we are impotent. The question is now, (and it is not a straightforward one) how do we complete this mission with the least amount of damage to our forces, as well as to the Iraqi people? Discouragingly, our president seems to think the answer lies in a monochromatic answer - it is a matter of black and white to him, and his decisions and policy are dictated thus. But the troops on the ground, and the Iraqi people, they live and toil in shades of gray.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Who Knew? We all did.

A federal judge declared parts of the US Patriot Act unconstitutional yesterday. The bit that the judge took issue with was the section on the demand of personal records by the FBI without any form of judicial review, as long as the FBI could claim that they were investigating some sort of terrorist activity. This section of the law gave them free reign over any company records, and the judge ruled that the FBI's National Security Letters (or NSLs) that demanded these records, amounted to illegal search and seizure, and were therefore entirely an illegal activity/request. The ACLU could not be happier with the ruling, and I think most people would agree that information security is a vital part of a democratic society. If the FBI really needs information, they have many legal outlets, and reasonable judges, like Judge Marrero will grant them subpoenas.

We really shouldn't be too surprised - the system of checks and balances our founders set in place have been disregarded by this administration again and again, and the Congress has willingly helped establish some of the amendments for this disregard and abuse in their blindness induced from the efforts to protect the country. What isn't understandable, is that the FBI would flout the rules they claim to be working for, namely a safe and democratic society. The FBI has many covert operations in the works, obviously - thats what they do. Why, if they want to disrupt the carefully crafted chain of checks and balances, would they do it out in the open? They have spies. Surely sending coercive letters out in the open is beneath them. But this is the problem with the Patriot Act. People in this country want to know they are defended, but they don't want to know the details. And the Patriot Act allows all those spying activities to exist in the public arena, which make many people squirm uncomfortably. To most, no news is good news, and the less we hear, the more melodious it all sounds. So our democratic outlook is highly opportunistic, and not at all utopic, but in most cases, its has withstood time and worked (with some obvious glitches here and there). But when we give our intelligence organizations blank checks and blank law books or non-existent regulations, they feel comfortable enough to come out into the open, and demand things like these records. It seems counter intuitive actually, because if they don't need to seek judicial approval, you would think they would do more covertly- but instead they issue memos and unabashedly demand information openly. And this is a problem. The FBI is supposed to be anything but open and decidedly forthright. If that was the case - they wouldn't exist. So how do we square with all this? Search me.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Persistance of [bad] Memory

MLK Jr., JFK, Princess Diana, 9/11, London Bombings, Madrid Bombings, etc. You reference these people or events, and easily many different images come to mind. Somehow a movie screen clicks to life with dancing images projected in the mind. Maybe it's where you were, what you said, what someone else said, the actual images from the news stories, or something else you associate with a "fear-inducing," or negative emotionally charged event. More often than not, negative emotional memories seem to be burned in our heads, more so than the positive. And it's true what our parents said so long ago, for every compliment you remember, you also remember four insults.

Perhaps you disagree, and claim that you can remember the positively emoted memories of your past, and perhaps you are right. But how clear are your good memories to those of your bad? Are the good memories just a general picture, and the bad more crisp and focused on certain details? Studies show that negative memories, especially those surrounded in fear or anxiety, are remembered with the greatest accuracy, and a lower gradient of distortion over time in comparison to happy ones.

Think of a happy event. The happiness of the event may be overwhelming, but if you then take those memories, and discuss them with someone else who shared your happiness on that date, you will inevitably find discrepancies. Memoirists, biographers, and the general public all suffer from a sort of happiness aphasia. If we all remembered everything that happened to us, if we didn't have the ability to forget, we'd all go crazy, surely. But it seems a bit depressing that what we tend to keep in our minds the most vividly are the negatives.

Negatives can serve some purpose, however. If we harness the ability to remember those events that caused us the most damage, we will be more careful in the future. And the less events in our lives that cause fear and pain, the more we avoid them, the more room our memory sensors with have for those endorphin-spurred happiness neurons. It is when we do not recognize the circuitry of our brains that problems can occur. Take any major climatic event in the past few years. If we are constantly bombarded with images and reminders, however subtle, the memory sensors in our brain will shift into recall overdrive. While these sensors are for survival, to steer us away from dangerous repetition, what happens when not only our memory, but the outside world (including the media and the government) enhance our memory and our drive to prevent the fearful past from recurring? You probably know where this is going - and that would be to the land of overcompensation. The problem is, when we emphasize these huge, overarching fears, not only to we forget to enjoy life because of our focus on these extreme negatives, we also loose our senses of imagination, awe, and the ability to observe the little things. And the little things are where these large, fearsome memories initially grow from. When government officials came back with their findings on the 9/11 plot, they determined that intelligence agencies "lacked imagination." While it is intensely important to protect ourselves, we cannot dwell, because we can be sure that anyone looking to cause fear and pain in the future will not be dwelling, but innovating.

We cannot let our memories get the best of us. By understanding how our brains are wired, we are given the power to recognize why we see the images the way we do, and evaluate them as we should - and not let others try to capitalize on our sense of memory and it's interconnected emotions. J. M. Barrie had it right - it is hard to think of happy memories, but once we do, our imaginations, and future promise, will soar.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

In and Out ... of Senate?

It's usually one topic, then we move on. But today a new report is circulating that Senator Craig is still weighing his options in terms of retaining his Senate seat. He's hired a top lawyer, and decided that given his set date of September 30th to resign, he's got some time to figure out how to restore his seat. Innocent until proven guilty is important, and so are the grave ideas of possible entrapment, and the problems with our justice system that actually make it more feasible or advantageous for one's career to plead guilty despite the actual truth.

This is not, however, the first time that reports of Craig's interesting choices in behavior surfaced. As early as 1982, Craig was mentioned as possibly engaging in "lewd behavior," and possible cocaine use, as well as being a blip during the 1980s page scandal. No findings were ever conclusive, and Craig emerged from the 80s relatively unscathed. It was only with this current arrest and Craig's "wide stance" that his career has been quickly flushed down the toilet. (Sorry, couldn't resist). While homosexuality is a free choice, and is only as illegal as heterosexuality, it is a nail in the political coffin for anyone affiliated with the Republican party - and especially severe for such an outspoken critic of homosexuality as Craig. Truly, Craig could view himself as a straight man and still commit these acts, many men who engage in his alleged behaviors do. But Craig has a decision to make as his case is reconsidered and fought, and it has everything to do with whether he wants to stand up for himself, or for the Republican party. But his actions so far lean towards his own attempts at preservation, and to the hell with everything else.

If Craig quietly recedes into the oblivion of political exile, where consulting firms and lobby groups tinker in the mists, Craig will go softly with the thanks of the Republican party. The Republican mayor of Idaho will quickly appoint a Republican Senator for the last year of Craig's term, and hopefully she or he will prove themself to be a capable worker, and establish themself as the incumbent to beat when elections come around. Republicans will work hard to make people forget about everything Craig, just like what's his name, down in that state, who attempted to diddle those pages. (Ex. Sen. Mark Foley, in case you forgot).

But Craig is looking like he wants to fight it out. Many legal professionals agree that his case is strong for dismissal of charges, and the possibility that Craig could argue entrapment. Also, these "signals" in themselves, if isolated, do not signal inappropriate conduct, so the burden is on the prosecution to prove that somehow these active "codes" that, while isolated - are innocuous, add up to something more illegal. And despite Craig's past, it seems a bit unfair that his case rides on the testimony of what one single witness thinks is a sexual solicitation. While it very well could have been, and Craig pleaded guilty, the admission of guilt was the only way to keep the story quiet, and hope it would go away, which it almost did. This could have been a political plea. While it's likely he did want to engage in lewd conduct, he does deserve a day in court if he wants one. But the Republican party will invariably suffer. The press will continue to cover it, and if Craig refuses to abide by his party's resignation pressure, the Republican base in Idaho will have to square with a completely new candidate in the next senatorial elections along with the still gurgling swill of Craig's disgrace. A moderate Democrat might just have some elbow room.

So the question is, what will Craig decide? Quick suggestion to those awaiting Craig's decision: don't be so eager for a quick response - you don't know what he'd do if he saw us all standing around with arms crossed, impatiently tapping our feet.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Why fight it?

It feels like too long since the last post. Not too much has happened. Senator Craig is resigning (surprise surprise) and Bush made a "surprise" visit to Iraq. The looming report on our situation in Iraq is inching closer, scheduled for September 15. Hurricane Felix has made landfall by Nicaragua and Honduras. So on and so forth.

It's actually been a relatively quiet Labor Day weekend, and perhaps the somber atmosphere is to be expected - the unofficial end of summer is officially a downer for most people. But the hush seems tempered with a bit of apprehension, especially on the Republican side of things. The Craig scandal was not really even approached by the Democrats. Wisely, they decided on the most part to let the problems play themselves out, unabated. All they needed to do was stand out of the way, and let the media and general public make their own judgment calls. The Republicans, however, also seemed to be extremely quiet about the whole thing.

During the height of the Bill Clinton scandal and impeachment proceedings, Senator Craig ranted about Clinton being a "bad, naughty boy." Now, not only does this make him a hypocrite, it raises some red flags immediately. Craig didn't say "he has disgraced himself," or he has "acted highly inappropriately." Craig's diction amounts to a kind of dirty talk, something you'd hear while role playing, or fore-playing. Whether or not Craig "actually" solicited the undercover cop in the bathroom is debatable. But his admission of guilt skews the argument towards the affirmative. And that doesn't bode well for a conservative Republican who regularly denounced and outright campaigned against all things pertaining to the basic civil rights of homosexuals.

The Republican party has quietly pressed down the political pillow over Craig's head, smothering any further chances of his fight to stay in Congress. Now, if one compares this to other Republican scandals, it becomes clear why the Republicans acted so quickly, and coordinated their front fairly seamlessly. One, there is a Republican governor in Craig's home state, so the new appointee will most definitely be a Republican (one wonders what the party would have done to Craig if there was a Democratic governor). Two, there are only a few unforgivables in the Republican party, and it seems secret homosexual behaviors exposed is on the top of that list. The phenomena is an odd one, and seemingly predisposed to the Republican party. The Congressmen in the past who have secretly engaged in gay behavior, and then have been found out, are usually Republican. One theory is that their denial lies so deep that their behaviors and beliefs are cast in the complete opposite mold of what they truly feel deep down. Perhaps their ingrained value systems do align with the Republican platform, but then the question has to be asked: does a group of people actively seek out their own oppression? Even silent opposition without action is better than actively participating in a group's degradation. But this is the very heart of it- perhaps, because Congressman like Craig do not want to identify themselves in a way they believe or have been taught is against nature or religion, they bury it deep inside, keep it secret. In the very same way, by legislating vehemently against that which they are but ultimately have been taught to despise, they hope to either stamp it out, or cover their bases against detection. But zebras can't change their stripes, and donkeys can't become elephants. It is a wonderful thing, to have a world of various people, with different attributes and personalities. To deny ourselves the ability to be ourselves is a crime, and a most serious one when we commit such crimes against our very own being.