Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Why Culture Matters

I was reading the comments of an article on politics and cultural wedge issues a moment ago when I came across a number of comments that almost made me spit my tropical fruit flavored Sobe into sweat delicious streaks on my monitor. The gist of the article was that in order to recoup a good portion of the working class vote that has migrated to the Republicans, Democrats should compromise on specific cultural issues like abortion, gay marriage, and prayer in schools etc. And people were agreeing. There was some dissent, and one or two people who didn’t think it would be possible but agreed in principle. But there were lots of comments that were very fond of the idea. I think that anyone who thinks this is a good idea needs to be smacked repeatedly with a rolled up newspaper. It like deciding to go ahead and use that pack of chicken that’s four days over the expiration. Just rub some spices on it. No one will notice. Riiiiight…

I admit, I have some personal stake in this. I’m what the conservatives call a godless socialist. Shit, I’m a Fu-ilm student. When I grow up someday, I hope to become an integral part of the Problem. I mean, I’m just getting started. I still have to make my zombie movie, my deviant sex movie, and my left wing political documentary. I’m pretty sure Spielberg finished his deviant sex movie by the time he was nineteen.

Let’s knock down a few of the easy ones first. The big one being that the culture war is already won. Not exactly at this moment, but say ten maybe twenty years from now just about every one of the big issues will have been settled by consensus. Abortion probably won’t be. But conservatives will probably have found a new host of issues that signal the apocalypse. The next generation of kids are more socially liberal than the generation before them; surprise, surprise. And anyone who tries to pass the idea that being conservative is hip is smoking all sorts of drugs. Just thinking about that makes my brain want to escape.

Its also a terrible strategy especially for Democrats since their current coalition consists primarily of social interest groups. Lets face it. The reasoning behind this strategy is to scoop up some of the white working class vote. In gaining some, if any, real percentage of that voting bloc who would the Democrats loose? How much more similar to the untrained eye would the parties appear? Christ, it might even force some people to join the greens. Or even – shudder – the libertarians.

But most of all – I say MOST of all is that it plays right into Republican hands. I think we can safely say that based on conservative behavior over the past decade a few concessions, however large, won’t satisfy the monster. Its dealing on their terms and on their turf. Gay marriage, abortion, cultural pluralism, church and state are all issues that have a very direct impact on people’s lives. They’re rights that were and are being fought hard for. It would be a hideous mistake to erase all those years of social gains. They’re culture issues that, hey wow, only affect those who participate in said culture. Thankfully rural Kansas isn’t a whirlwind of decadent urban culture. Shit, I live in Southern California and I’m not in the whirlwind. I haven’t even had my bondage session this week for fucks sake. No wonder I’m behind on my deviant sex movie.

And yeah, right now you might be thinking that none of it matters or affects you. Until your girlfriend gets pregnant. And you’re in college or working a job that barely supports you. Shit. Or you learn one of your long time friends is gay and has found someone he or she really loves. Shit. And if it can affect you there are millions of people out there who suddenly find themselves on the other side of the fence for a change.

I have little sympathy for sore losers who would deny others social and intellectual freedom and safety to satisfy their myopic ideology. We are compromised already. I don’t see why any social liberal should compromise further. Its time for the conservatives to compromise, and to realize they’re a shrinking minority only forestalling the inevitable.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Shifting Focus

The Seattle PI:

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Monday the United States is exploring whether Iran had any role in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a scenario discounted by the CIA.

"We're digging into the facts to see if there was one," Bush said in an Oval Office photo opportunity. Bush noted that acting CIA Director John McLaughlin has said that there was no direct connection between Iran and Sept. 11.

"We will continue to look and see if the Iranians were involved," Bush said. "I have long expressed my concerns about Iran. After all it's a totalitarian society where people are not allowed to exercise their rights as human beings.

George Orwell, 1984:

The Speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurrried onto the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speakers hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd, Oceania was at war with Eastasia!

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Why Irony Defines My Generation

Via Digby from The Agonist:

Moscow and Washington are quietly negotiating a request by the Bush administration to send Russian troops to Iraq or Afghanistan this fall, Russian government sources tell Stratfor. The talks are intense, our contacts close to the U.S. State Department say, and the timing is not insignificant. A Russian troop lift to either country before the U.S. presidential election would give U.S. President George W. Bush a powerful boost in the campaign.

Quick, we need the Islamists to get the Russians out of Afgan- I mean, we need the Russians to get the Islamists out of Afghanistan! Russian president Poody Poot Putin was a head honcho in the KGB, and now he's our best friend. Sadam used to be our best friend cause he hated the commies and the Shiites, and now look at him; he looks like a mullah. What the fuck is going on?

In other news DeForest Soaries, head of the Election Assistance Commission, has asked Homeland Security Chief, Tom Ridge to come up with some contingency plans for postponing elections incase of a terrorist attack on election day. There's a little voice in my head that sounds suspiciously like professional finger wagging editorialists across the nation that tells me to not go overboard and think through this rationally. Why Should I?! The Bush Administration has overstepped every boundary, and mismanaged every trust of power given to them. First of all only Congress has the power to set election policy. But you know that might not be clear enough to the Bush people. This is the administrator that thinks the ability to set aside the law is inherent in the president. So that he can order the systematic torture of secret captives in hidden locations. So that’s ok I guess. But what if - and I'm going out on a limb here - what if congress says no, but Bush halts elections anyway because, hey, this is a national emergency, were at war, etc, etc. And once we've stopped them we can't have them until we're free from the threat that they might be disrupted again; whenever that is. I guess he'll let us know. His people will call our people, and everything will be fine, go back to your jobs etc.

How about NO, BITCH! I wouldn't trust George W. Bush with a stapler, let a lone the power to postpone elections. I don't think it will actually happen, but then I didn't think they'd actually TORTURE people either. So while the tally of people tortured by a government, N, is greater than zero my trust of said government is equal to -N, thus forming an inverse relationship, asshole. Why should ANYONE trust a government with the competence and intelligence of Aquaman. And not just any Aquaman, I'm talking about Superfriends Aquaman. We shouldn't be considering this proposal. It doesn't even pass the laugh test. It needs to be known that NO we Don't Want This To Happen. You want to know what was happening last time electoins were suspended? The fucking Civil War. I know the south may rise again, but its probably only to get some more chips and maybe a glass of water. The south loves chips and water.

Of course, this all fits nicely under the unofficial Bush Administration philosophy: In order to save it, we have to destroy it. That’s right, in order to prevent terrorists from disrupting the election, we have to disrupt the election. Its like dad told us to go into the basement and drink all the antifreeze and we're going to run down there first and drink it all so there's none left for anyone else. Take that enemies of freedom!

All this talk of terrorists and elections has everyone chittering about who the terrorists want to win. And while some terrorists have spoken out on the issue:

Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a terrorist group with links with al Qaeda released a statement about the bombings in Spain. The statement said it supported President Bush in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom."

In comments addressed to Bush, the group said: "Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization."

"Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected."

But there are still lots of people who feel that the terrorists want Kerry to win. But why? Is it the hair cut? He's overt "Frenchness"? Or is the illogical dichotomy that if Bush hates terrorists, then his opponent loves terrorists? Or in the similar mindset that if that Bush wants to fight terrorists then logically his opponent doesn't want to fight them? Lets let the head of the Jefferson County Republicans, Jack Richardon IV speak for this crowd:

[The Jefferson County Republican Party] is handing out signs that read "Kerry is bin Laden's Man/Bush is My Man." I put in a call to the head of the Jefferson County Republicans, Jack Richardon IV and asked him if this were true.
Richardson told me that he'd seen a bumper sticker with that phrase on it and agreed with it heartily. "I believe that if you look at John Kerry's voting record in the senate," he told me, "why wouldn't bin Laden prefer Kerry over Bush?"
When I pressed Richardson on whether or not his party organization was distributing it, he acknowledged that they probably were handing it out on their campaign literature tables at recent events. And if it was being handed out, "I make no apologies for it."

"I think it's funny how the truth not only can be amusing but also make a point," Richardson went on. "Why wouldn't Kerry be bin Laden's man? Bush certainly isn't bin Laden's man."

Illogical thinking takes the lead! Again! We must not do what the terrorists want! Forget all the terrible decisions and vote Bush! Bush: Not Endorsed Terrorists! Oh right, he IS the candidate endorsed by terrorists. Must not do what the terrorists want! Vote Kerry! Kerry: "I say to you now: I am not endorsed by terrorists."

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Holy Fucking Shit

Sy Hersh: Seymour Hersh says the US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking," the reporter told an ACLU convention last week. Hersh says there was "a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher."

(I transcribed some of his speech from this streaming site. Hersh starts at about 1:07:50.)

He called the prison scene "a series of massive crimes, criminal activity by the president and the vice president, by this administration anyway…war crimes."

The outrages have cost us the support of moderate Arabs, says Hersh. "They see us as a sexually perverse society."

Hersh describes a Pentagon in crisis... with large sums of cash missing, including something like $1 billion that was supposed to be in Iraq. "The disaffection inside the Pentagon is extremeley acute," Hersh says. He tells the story of an officer telling Rumsfeld how bad things are, and Rummy turning to a ranking general yes-man who reassured him that things are just fine. Says Hersh, "The Secretary of Defense is simply incapable of hearing what he doesn’t want to hear."

The Iraqi insurgency, he says,was operating in 1-to-3 man cells a year ago, now in 10-15 man cells, and despite the harsh questioning, "we still know nothing about them... we have no tactical information.”... The war, he says, has escalated to "fullscale, increasingly intense military activity."

Hersh described the folks in charge of US policy as "neoconservative cultists" who have taken the government over, and show "how fragile our democracy is."

He ripped the supine US press, pledged to bring home all the facts he could, said he was not sure he could deliver all the damning info he suspects about Bush administration responsibility for Abu Ghraib.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Postmodern War

I think this article by Dave Neiwert at Orcinus makes a very good point: that we, too, are subject to the battle for hearts and minds, and that it is in fact a constant battle.

Philosopher Jean Baudrillard predicted that Desert Storm would not actually happen. After the war, he claimed he had been correct, and that no war had taken place. His point was that we would not experience the war as it was on the ground. We would instead be presented with something entirely artificial that had little resemblance to reality but accept as real nonetheless. And he was right. I bet the clearest memory most people have of the war coverage is that cockpit video from a plane using its laser guided bombs to take out some anonymous building. And its not just a matter of what is presented, but also what is kept hidden. I'd say that goes double this time around.

Right wing types are always pissed off about Iraq coverage as overly negative. This emphasis on the tone of coverage is extremely revealing. What exactly have we been shown thats overly "negative"? On what basis are you not supposed to show some piece of "negative" news? What is "negative" news? And even if you have a piece of negative news, it still happened didn't it? Its as though whats reported in the media isn't actually happening, and that the whole point of news as a source of objective information is incidental or irrelevant.

I imagine most people have the perception that events - not the media that reports them - influence what they think, and in order to change their own opinion events have to change. So complaining about Iraq coverage is a symptom of the inverse of that idea. Rather than changing whats happening, change what people think FIRST, and then when you've influenced enough people events change. Change the world in a person's mind, and ignore reality. Another instance of postmodern philosophy as a deadly weapon.

I think this point of view explains a lot of things about neoconservatives and the Bush administration in particular. The whole up is down ism that has been their trademark is indicative of this mindset. There's also the very wide streak of dishonesty on scientific matters many on the right have. The fact that this mindset held by so many conservatives is VERY ironic, and does not give me a lot of optimism about what is going to happen to our politics as we fight the never ending war on terror. The irony comes from the fact that this kind of idealism was very popular with the second favorite conservative punching bag right after The Clenis: those damn dirty hippies in the 60's. There were huge information wars between the communists and anti communists on the left. Quickly the tactics of both sides began to mimic the tactics of Lenin and Trotsky as they formed front groups of activists and magazines and radio programs. Each side producing huge amounts of propaganda made to emulate the great taste of real coke with none of the tricky facts. Eventually some of the anti communists split from the left in the 80's and became Reagenaughts, the first generation of neoconservatives. So in order to beat the commies the future neocons stole all their moves out of Trotsky's play book.

The Bush administration has many similar habits to the Soviets in addition to the media philosophy. They never admit they are wrong, and when someone finally waves a piece of evidence in Scott McClellan's goofy ass face, the story suddenly changes, and yet still stays the same. It has always been the same. The president has ALWAYS supported the Geneva accords. The administration NEVER said we went to Iraq because of WMD, we went to free the Iraqi people. Terrorism has ALWAYS been a top priority. There is also the very disturbing network of prisons for enemy combatants that seem very similar to soviet gulags. For example: once you go in you aren't supposed to be heard from again. What does this symbiotic relationship that seems to form between two rivals mean for us as a society thats battling militant religious terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam? Is there some kind of relationship between the rise of these groups and the rise of religious fundamentalists and the patriot militia movement here at home?

For me this paints the Bush administration and the rest of the neoconservatives as the most extreme kind of idealists with a very - ehem - artistic take on reality. Personal belief is one thing but this country was not built to be run by a bunch of bizarro-world communists. Our government can't function when its people are treated like heaps of clay to be molded into the proper shape - like enemies. Its stupid and dangerous and it has to stop.

Obligatory vote-his-ass-out comment here.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban Review

I love Harry Potter. And ironically I got into it by watching the movies. Go figure. One I had read all the books I realized how insubstantial the movies were in comparison. So when I heard that The Prisoner of Azkaban was going to be directed by the very indie Alfonso Cuarón, I was pretty stoked.

This movie is Good. You can really feel the difference between the previous two films directed by Chris Columbus and Cuarón’s. PoA is much more focused, smaller, and has a number of differences from the book, and definitely benefits from that. Instead of wasting time on gee-wiz cool stuff and trying to cram every possible thread from the book into the film Cuarón spends a lot of time building character and atmosphere. And what an atmosphere. Although this is a kids movie, it’s the most sophisticated and dark kids movie I’ve ever seen. The Knight bus scene is practically insane. Even the scoring has changed with John Williams bringing a much more Medieval sound to the music this time.

All the cast is back reprising their previous roles. The kids are a little older this time and all the guys are taller more gangly as only the British can be. My favorite actors were Alan Rickman, in the smartest casting EVER, as Professor Snape, and new guy David Thewlis as Professor Lupin. Gary Oldman is great as Sirius Black. Its too bad that he doesn’t get to show up and do his crazy thing more often. I wish Warner Bros. would put out extended versions of the movies like Peter Jackson does with The Lord Of The Rings, and especially for this movie since Alfonso Cuarón did such a brilliant job.

Fahrenheit 9/11 Review

Apparently the words “Michael Moore” are media code words for kicking commentary into bat-shit crazy fecal flinging mode. People who proudly proclaim that they haven’t seen the movie are on the warpath calling Moore un-American, a liar, a hater, a propagandist, a shameless self promoter, etc… There are even campaigns to keep the movie out of theaters.

So is the movie biased, partisan, unfair, and angry? Yes, and enthusiastically so. The movie grabs you and bombards you and manipulates you with a strong narrative story that takes you through a huge amount of documentary evidence and footage interspersed with very powerful personal stories. Like any good movie should, and yes even documentaries. And the movie makes a very strong case that George W Bush is an incompetent president. You may disagree with that conclusion obviously, and there is plenty of room to criticize the movie for the conclusions it draws; for me specifically the insinuation that Bush is a tool of Saudi Arabia. Other than that the movie stays away from conspiracy theories, and there is a large amount of evidence that is very solid and very persuasive. You can’t dismiss the movie without also dismissing all the footage and documents Moore presents. Lila Lipscomb’s personal account of her family’s experiences was particularly devastating. There’s no denying the loss of her son, who died in a Blackhawk helicopter crash, and the grief and anger she feels over it. I don’t know what it is about Moore that makes people open up to him this way and share their feelings, but for me its the greatest thing about his movies.

There’s also the infamous footage of Bush sitting in the class room reading My Pet Goat on September 11th. Its incredible to watch him react for those seven minutes. Other than that, I didn’t see a whole lot that was new to me. If you’re a news junkie there will be lots of familiar bits, like John Ashcroft singing and a simple, (not) easy to use parachute for leaping out of buildings. But some the friends I saw the movie with don’t get past A1 let alone 15 minutes of Dan Rather, and they were definitely surprised at how much they didn’t know. And that’s really the point of the movie. Fahrenheit 9/11 is the super concentrated 2 hour ADD version of the “other sides” story. The one most people never heard. Its biased and partisan because the movie was made by one very opinionated man. Its angry and unfair because the views of this one very opinionated man were ignored and dismissed as objectively pro Sadaam. ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, Fox, The NY Times, Post, and LA Times, had their chance to give a calmer, more objective and evenhanded voice to the facts Moore presents, but they blew it. And now we have Fahrenheit 9/11.