Inside the real Iraq

"At 5:34 am, on Thursday, March 20, 2003, the United States began a war of its own choosing, buoyed by grand ambition and perhaps folly. At that moment, its power unparalleled, the American military began its long march toward Saddam Hussein's citadel of Baghdad, across the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and past the cities of Ur and Babylon. Its aim was to conquer and then remake an ancient land in its own brash, confident image. Its expressed intention was to spread democracy throughout the Middle East. It offered the catchwords it used reflexively - liberation and freedom - to a country whose own values it did not understand."

That's the first paragraph in Chapter 3, of Anthony Shadid's book Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War. Shadid was one of many western journalists that covered the war in Iraq, but he was the only one to win a Pulitzer Prize (in 2004) for his reporting. Of Lebanese descent, Shadid was born and raised in Oklahoma and speaks fluent Arabic. That language ability, plus many years of work experience in the Middle East, enabled Shadid to gain access to the opinions and feelings of many Iraqi people. Shadid's articles, and this book, give readers valuable insight into the complexities of Iraq and what is happening to the people in that country.


Wednesday funny

While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75-year old Texas rancher, whose hand was caugh in a gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to former Texas Governor George W. Bush and his elevation to the White House.

The old Texan said, "Well, ya know, Bush is a 'post turtle'." Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a 'post turtle' was. The old rancher said, "When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle."

The old man saw a puzzled look on the doctor's face, so he continued to explain. "You know he didn't get there by himself, he doesn't belong there, he doesn't know what to do while he's up there, and you just want to help the dumb shit get down."


Hip-Hop Hoopla

Prior to this week I had never heard of Cristal champagne. Call me sheltered, or out of touch with current trends, but I know one thing: my income is not high enough to splurge on outrageously expensive alcoholic beverages. I also acknowledge that I am not a fan of hip-hop music. But does that make me a racist? In the eyes of rap star Jay Z it apparently does.

Jay-Z, who gained fame as a rap singer and is now president and CEO of Def Jam Records, has announced a boycott of Cristal champagne after reading what he perceived as “racist comments” by Frederic Rouzaud, managing director of Louis Roederer, the company that makes Cristal.

In a recent issue of The Economist magazine, Rouzaud said his company viewed Cristal’s popularity in the hip-hop world with “curiosity and serenity.” The gist of the article seemed to be that the company wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Cristal being associated with hip-hop music and its fans. The writer of the article, Gideon Rachman, was also asked by Rachman if the association between Cristal and the “bling” lifestyle could eventually be detrimental to sales of the expensive drink. “That's a good question,” Rouzaud replied. “But what can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it.” The writer - but not Rouzaud himself - later used the phrase “unwelcome attention” when summarizing the general feeling that high-end champagne makers had with having their product touted by hip-hop stars.

Those comments were apparently enough to anger Jay Z. “It has come to my attention that the managing director of Cristal, Frederic Rouzaud views the hip-hop culture as ‘unwelcome attention,’” Jay-Z said in a statement. “I view his comments as racist and will no longer support any of his products through any of my various brands nor in my personal life.”

From my perspective the comments in the article certainly don’t paint the Cristal folks as racists. You can call them out of touch, over the hill, or old fashioned, but to accuse them of being racist simply because they aren’t giddy about their product being associated with a style of music that frequently glorifies violence, stupidity, and misogyny, is not fair. I love music, especially jazz, funk, and soul made by Black - or African-American - musicians in the 1960s and 1970s. But what passes for popular black music nowadays leaves me cold. Just because someone isn’t a fan of current rap or hip-hop music, that by no means makes them racist. Jay Z and his ilk need to grow up.


Something is Cooking

Anthony Bourdain has become quite the celebrity in the past couple of years. After his memoir Kitchen Confidential was published and zoomed to best-seller status, his previous career as a restaurant chef morphed into that of a celebrity author and TV cooking show host.

Bourdain, in case you haven't read his books (he has now penned three food-themed titles), is not a reserved individual. A native New Yorker, he's the sort of loud-mouthed "sex & drugs & rock 'n' roll" character that your mother warned you about. A bad influence, for sure. But oh what a wonderfully entertaining writer he is. Bourdain combines humor and outrageous antecdotes with skillfull prose. His latest book, The Nasty Bits, is a collection of essays and magazine articles that he has thrown together; a literary stew, if you will. In one essay Bourdain writes about the continual problem of finding good help to work in restaurant kitchens. But he raves about workers from "south of the border" (Mexicans, Ecuadorans, Salvadorans) as being the best and most dependable of all the ones he has worked with during his three decades in the restaurant business. He suggests, somewhat glibly, that the US should offer unrestricted immigration to those from Central and South American countries.

"It was once said that this is the land of the free. There is, I believe, a statue out there in the harbor with something written on it about 'Give me your hungry...your oppressed...pretty much everybody' - that's the way I remember it, anyway. The idea of America is a mutt-culture, isn't it? We are - and should be - a big, messy, anarchistic polygot of dialects and accents and different skin tones. Like our kitchens. We need MORE Latinos to come here. And they should, whenever possible, impregnate our women."



Beautiful Russian photography, some dating back to the 50s. Click the link under the last photo for even more.


Theocrazie spotted in Brooklyn

Via Really not worth archiving... Really.

American Torture

My America, at least the America of my birth, does not resort to the use of torture. We were taught that fact in public schools, American public schools, schools in which we learned old fashioned American values about family and fairness, values like the presumption of innocence, due process, respect for the law and the rights of man.

Others might resort to using torture, Hitler and his evil Nazi worshipers, Stalin, with his Gulags and purges, Mao and the People’s reeducation camps. Torture, in those days, was for others, the Pinochets, the Batistas, the Perons, the Idi Amins of the world, torture was not an American thing.

Torture was a tool used by our primitive and unenlightened forbears, to extract information, or to punish their enemies, information, which more often than not, was useless, as the information extracted was contrived in the desperate mind of someone whose only thought was to stop the pain, to say anything, confess to any crime, implicate any person, even those he loved to make the pain stop.

We were taught of the Nuremberg Tribunals at the close of World War Two and of the unbelievably bestial behavior of the Nazis in their death camps, of the brutalization of an entire generation of human beings, of wholesale torture and the wanton slaughter of millions that followed.

We were taught that “following orders” was no excuse for participating in, or ignoring the use of methods like torture or reprisal killings, as some orders were unlawful and it was our responsibility to know the difference. We executed many in Germany and Japan who were found to have violated conventions that we and other like thinking nations had established as fundamental rules of human conduct. We imprisoned many more than we executed.

I reached adulthood believing that America had evolved to a point of ethical leadership in a world that had been horribly scarred by those who used torture and terror, who used fear and death as instruments of State policy. I took pride in my belief that we, America, as a nation had risen above such inhuman behavior and had learned to operate on an elevated plateau of conduct. In short I grew to believe that my country could claim to be among the most civilized of nations.

At the age of twenty my youthful naiveté was tested by an all expenses paid trip to Vietnam. I discovered in the process of that experience that much of the negativity being reported about my country was true, the reports of Phoenix programs and other secret and not so secret efforts of my government turned my youthful naiveté into full blown distrust of the American government and it’s intelligence and military apparatus.

After Vietnam we went from one fiasco to another for the same fraudulent reasons, in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and on through Grenada and Panama misspending the flower of our youth, aiding in the brutalization of the poor and politically disenfranchised of other nations and trashing American integrity on remote and largely secret battlefields, in an effort to prop up corrupt dictatorships supported by even more corrupt American corporations.

By the time that George Bush the younger was appointed to serve as regent by the judicial minions of corporate America our government was fully in the control of the plutocrats and oiligarchs, for whom conscience, compassion and national honor had become nothing more than pathetically sad, liberal, loser jokes.


America is not about torture.

Not my America. Not this land of my birth. Not the country that I volunteered to serve when called to service by an idealistic young President.

I have friends who have said to me recently and a government that has told me repeatedly that we can no longer follow the rules because our enemies do not follow the rules, and I say to them all: Bullshit!

I have friends who have said to me recently and a government that has told me repeatedly that everything changed after 9/11, and I say to them all: Bullshit!

One terrorist act or a thousand does not change fifty thousand years of human development, of philosophy and religion, of right and wrong of love and beauty and art.

There is only one America and it is the one that was held up to me by my Parents and Grandparents, by my teachers and my government as a beacon of freedom and justice, honor and integrity, honesty, compassion and justice.

I will permit no other America to exist on this Earth, nor should you.

Repeat after me:

America does not torture.

Bob Higgins
Worldwide Sawdust


Why is it so hard for the neocons to grasp the concept that two wrongs don’t make a right; that someone else violating a legal or ethical standard doesn’t mean that suddenly there are no rules and we can act on any impulse?

There’s a nice little story about two friends, one a Quaker, who went for an evening walk and stopped at a newsstand. The Quaker bought a paper. The vendor was surly and nasty, but the Quaker smiled and thanked him politely. As they walked on, his friend commented that the vendor had been in an ugly mood; the Quaker said, “Oh, he’s always like that.” The friend asked, “So why were you so nice to him?” The Quaker answered, “Why should I let him decide how I behave?” It’s on a different level from torture and murder, but it’s the same principle. We have an obligation to decide what kind of behavior we believe in, then act that way, no matter what.

This is an ugly strain that’s been rising in American culture for a long time; one symptom has been the rise in the popularity of vengeance as a theme in popular entertainment. Seems to me that it coincided with the growth of “me-ism” and greed as an accepted value system in the Reagan 80s, but who knows... it’s obvious that we need to get back to a more civilized set of values.

Save the Internets

Now that an open Internet has become an essential part of our lives, the big telcos naturally want to screw with it, creating a system where bigshots can buy a wider pipe than start-ups, and therefore you, the end user, don't get the choices you're used to. Naturally, their hired tools in Congress are now threatening to screw the Internet up good and proper.

If they get their way, the telcos make money, and everybody else gets a shitty Internet. Which, in turn, might even mean the telcos make less money in the long run.

The fight has currently reached the Senate. Josh Marshall and the fine folks at Talking Points Memo are compiling a list of the public positions of each member. So far, twelve senators (all Democrats, by the way) support net neutrality. Three (all Republicans) are on the record as against it.

Thirty-one senators are listed as "undecided," with no public position, and the remaining fifty-four have yet to be contacted.

Want to keep the Internet the way it is? Here's what you can do:

Visit SaveTheInternet.com. Read the FAQ.

Then write to your senator (find their contact info in the link above) and bug the crap out of them not to screw with the 'Net. I just emailed two of my reps and will mail a letter to the third (since, for some reason, he has no email contact that I can find).

It'll only take a few minutes, and it'll do some good.

Unless, of course, you really like your phone company, and you consider them noble and selfless humanitarians who have your best inteests at heart. In which case, you're not with BellSouth. I can tell you that.


Telnaes 06/12/2006

Quote of the day

"It is difficult for the ordinary voter to come to grips with the notion that a truly evil man, a truthless monster with the brains of a king rat and the soul of a cockroach, is about to be sworn in as president of the United States for the next four years… And he will bring his gang in with him, a mean network of lawyers and salesmen and pimps who will loot the national treasury, warp the laws, mock the rules and stay awake 22 hours a day looking for at least one reason to declare war, officially, on some hapless tribe in the Sahara or heathen fanatic like the Ayatollah Khomeni."
-Hunter S. Thompson on September 14, 1987 describing Bush I


Friday funny

Click here to see a photo of the average Bush supporter

Quote of the day

“Politics is the only field where the more experience you have, the worse you get. It’s time to clean house. How much worse does it have to get?”
—Kinky Friedman

Theocrazie spotted at the mall

I went to the mall yesterday with my wife and daughter. We parked next to someone's company car. I couldn't believe what they chose as the name for their heating and air business. This is absolutely nuts. I was immediately inspired to coin the term Theocrazie.

The graphics were on both sides and on the back. Notice the logo - praying hands with two little stone tablets on either side. The slogan really cracked me up. "Prices and Service from Above". Sorry for the low res photo. All I had was my camera phone.

I'll be on the lookout for more Theocrazies and post what I find. If any of you see something interesting or disturbing, email a photo and I'll post it.


Gay sex on my doorstep

The other day the Senate wasn't able to eke out enough votes to "defend" the sanctity of marriage.

Apparently, heterosexual marriage needs to be defended, and now that the effort has failed, heterosexual relationships are in a lot of trouble. I've been straight my whole life but now we straights are helpless to preserve our own relationships and sexual orientation.

Any time now I will expect the gay sex to arrive at my doorstep and for all of my family and personal relationships to begin changing.

I just wish I knew what to wear.

Maybe FEMA will start handing out some kind of kit.

Photographer Arnold Newman dies

One of my all time favorite photographers has died. Arnold Newman, one of the master photographers of the 20th century who pioneered the environmental portrait, died of a heart attack Tuesday at the age of 88.

He became one of the 20th Century's foremost photographers not only because of who he shot, but how he shot them. His subjects included the powerful and the powerfully talented. He photographed politicians, scientists, and artists, among them John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, and Alfred Stieglitz. His work influenced a generation of American photographers and was the subject of many exhibitions, including a riveting show in 2000 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. that featured 160 of his images made between 1938 and 1998.

This photograph of Igor Stravinsky remains one of my all time favorites because of its unique composition

PDN Legends Online

The GOP Forced Me to Have an Abortion

The conservative politics of the Bush administration forced me to have an abortion I didn't want. Well, not literally, but let me explain.

I am a 42-year-old happily married mother of two elementary-schoolers. My husband and I both work, and like many couples, we're starved for time together. One Thursday evening this past March, we managed to snag some rare couple time and, in a sudden rush of passion, I failed to insert my diaphragm.



Dubya sez...

The "Decider" talkin' about "Suiciders"

"Trying to stop suiciders — which we're doing a pretty good job of on occasion — is difficult to do. And what the Iraqis are going to have to eventually do is convince those who are conducting suiciders who are not inspired by Al Qaeda, for example, to realize there's a peaceful tomorrow."
—Dubya, Washington, D.C., May 24, 2006

Must be an election year - I smell a smokescreen

Dubya insists that a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage is necessary to protect our children and the sanctity of marriage. I'm a happily married heterosexual father of two children and I find Dubya's argument not only ridiculous but also dangerous in that it diverts attention from the real and imminent threats that face my children. Not to mention the fact that, for the life of me, I can't see how same-sex marriage will affect my 20 year old marriage.

Every day, the global warming crisis becomes worse as our government fails to take any real action against it. Every day, HIV infects more of our young people as the government adheres to its failed abstinence-only approach. Every day, al-Qaida recruits more terrorists as our government pursues its imperialist, neocon agenda. If Dubya really cared about the safety of my children, he would address these issues.

Far from being any kind of effort to protect children, Dubya's support of the amendment is a transparent and cynical attempt to improve his percentages in the approval polls.

If you want an idea of what Dubya was ignoring while spreading his hate, go here.

Luckovich 06/06/2006


Asshat Quote of the day

“Facts are stupid things”.
-Ronald Reagan

Another Florida injustice

Wheelchair-confined Richard Paey committed almost exactly the same violations of Florida prescription drug laws that windbag Rush Limbaugh did, with a different result: Limbaugh's sentence, in May, was addiction treatment, and Paey's, in 2004, was 25 years in prison.
Both illegally possessed large quantities of painkillers for personal use, which Paey defiantly argued was (and will be) necessary to relieve nearly constant pain from unsuccessful spinal surgeries after an auto accident, but which Limbaugh admitted was simply the result of addiction. (In fact, if Limbaugh complies with his plea bargain, his conviction will be erased.) Paey's sentence now rests with a state Court of Appeal. [Tampa Tribune, 2-8-06]

Republicans steal 2004 elections

This is a MUST READ!

Bobby Kennedy Jr, writing for Rolling Stone Magazine details the lengths to which the GOP went to steal votes and disenfrachise Ohio voters in 2004. The web version features additional documents and sources.

...and the Halliburton beat goes on

The United States government has always been quite vocal when it comes to telling other countries how to act and what to do. Their reputation at the World's Policeman - if not the Big Bully - has only increased this decade. But, as most observers note, those Freedom-Loving Patriots aren't always consistent in picking their fights. Writing a Letter to the Editor in Bangkok's The Nation newspaper, Shlomo Katzenstein had this observation:
"Interesting to note that the US, an outspoken proponent of democracy in Third World countries, is home of the two big business players in Burma (Myanmar) currently: Unocal and Halliburton."
Hmm, that is certainly most interesting. But not surprising. Apparently making big profits for big business should take precedent over ensuring human rights and safe working conditions for poor Asians.


Truth in photography

"In over his head"

Quote of the day

“For those who wave the flag and support the troops but also consider their own family exempt from service because of the wealth of better options available to them — we suggest they take the magnetic yellow ribbon off their SUV and rethink their position.”
-from an American Legion Magazine article about a book entitled AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service — and How It Hurts Our Country