Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mmm, good...Mmm, good

The Food and Drug Administration closely regulates the amount of filth allowable in our canned and processed food. For example, the FDA allows no more than 30 insect fragments in every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of peanut butter, no more than 35 fruit fly eggs in eight ounces of boxed raisins, no more than 11 rodent hairs in every 1.8 ounces of ground cinammon, no more than five fruit fly maggots in every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of canned mushrooms, and no more than five milligrams of rodent droppings in a pound of sesame seeds.

Source: The Brunching Shuttlecocks.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Ah Sugar Sugar

An editorial on the LA Times op-ed page last Sunday (8/28/05) provided a quick lesson in the ways “free trade,” as enforced by the World Trade Organization, is free for rich manufacturers and exporters while at the same time enslaving third-world workers trying to make a decent living.

The WTO has ruled that Mexico must repeal a tax levied against Mexican soft drink and juice products bottlers that use American-made high fructose corn syrup. The 20 percent tax on the imported syrup followed President Vicente Fox’s decision, in 2001, to nationalize many of Mexico’s sugar mills while simultaneously establishing a minimum price the mills paid the small farmers who grow and harvest the sugar cane.

Fox’s action protected the incomes of the many thousands of peasants making a bare living cutting sugar cane. Most of them still harvest with machetes, pursuing a way of life that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. However, U.S. manufacturers and exporters, unable to abide Mexico’s protectionist stance, filed a claim with the WTO and easily won their case, since Mexico’s new rules were clearly protectionist and a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. As a result, Mexico must not only abandon her protectionist policies, but pay 300 million dollars in fines and penalties as well.

The Times editorial pointed out that while Vicente Fox has been forced to cease and desist from protecting peasant cane cutters in Mexico, U.S. taxpayers are coughing up about 1.2 billion dollars a year in subsidies to the corporations who control the sugar industry here. At the same time, our domestic producers have raised sugar prices at a rate two to three times greater than the rest of the world has experienced, which has netted them billions more on top of the subsidies.

It seems clear that U.S. business interests intend to use the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement as a tool to force others to “Do as we say, not as we do.”

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Death Cult

Iraq is gradually becoming not so much a war as a meatgrinder. A war has purposes and objectives. The current campaign, like Vietnam before it, has turned deadlier as our objectives have become more vague and unclear.

The endless and meaningless war has given rise to the glorification of death for its own sake, and we hear a lot of talk now about "the ultimate sacrifice," usually intoned with great solemnity, by someone sounding like James Earl Jones reading the Declaration of Independence, and accompanied by images of a waving flag while martial music plays in the background. This sort of death cult, a by-product of perpetual war, is typical of modern totalitarian governments, and some ancient ones (Sparta) as well.

When Russian POW's were released from German camps at the end of WWII and returned home, Stalin had them arrested and shipped off to the Gulag. In his view, they had shown insufficient courage in allowing themselves to be captured. They should have died for their country, rather than surrendering.

The god of war, bankrollers of capital, and navigators of the ship of state now demand "the ultimate sacrifice" as if our lives and those of our children were actually their property. They will continue to do so until they are faced with effective and universal resistance.

Turn on the network or cable news and you'll see that death under combat is now glorified and romanticized to a degree that betrays a sort of mass psychosis.

George Orwell portrayed this lunacy well in 1984 when he had Winston Smith, under pressure to produce a newspaper story, invent a fictional character for the war news. Smith dreamed up Ogilvie, the ideal citizen of the totalitarian state, who as a child turned his parents in to the authorities for insufficient patriotism, spent his adult life in combat, always as a volunteer, and died sacrificing his life for his unit. That's what it takes to be a "real man" under a totalitarian government.

The United States was originally founded on the notion that a government owes its citizens the freedom to enjoy "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." How things have changed. This current temporary, de facto government instead demands our unquestioning obedience, our lives, and the lives of our children, for whatever purpose they and their Klingon masters at Exxon deem necessary.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Reverend Al and Style

The posters on a political discussion board I visit once in a while were bad-mouthing Al Sharpton. All of them were doing it -- the wingnuts, the liberals, and the responsible moderates with furrowed brows who politely insist that both sides of an issue be given a respectful hearing.

After all, shouldn't Vlad the Impaler be allowed his little say?

Anyway, the wingers were reaming Reverend Al in the peculiar manner they style a "style," which consists of one assertion following another assertion following another assertion, ad infinitum, with never a hint of concrete detail.

I don't call that a style, I call it "How to write an "F" paper."

If the first sentence of your essay is, "Joe is a thief," then your second sentence better not be something like "He's also a red-assed baboon with big hairy ears that stick out." If it is, you're well on your way to writing an "F," and you know what that stands for. On the other hand, if your second sentence is something like, "I saw him steal ten dollars from the cash register when we were both working at Burger King," I'll read on without sneering.

Evidence. Concrete detail. Assertions backed with facts. Without them, you're not making an argument, you're just blowing smoke out your ass.

Anyway, Al Sharpton. Al Sharpton is a poophead. Al Sharpton is a radical left-wing agitator with extreme tonsorial values. Al Sharpton likes Abba and Barry Manilow, etc. So they say.

Al Sharpton? I like the guy. He's matured a lot over the years, particularly since he got stabbed.

What do I mean by matured? Well, early on he was involved in that Tawana Brawley nonsense. But now he says things like this:

I see people all over our country getting reenergized and re-involved. And maybe I've seen too much in life to give up. You know, I was there during the first elections in South Africa. I stood there and watched them take down the apartheid flag and raise the new flag. I was there when David Dinkins was sworn in as the first black mayor of New York. So when I'm feeling pessimistic, I think of events like that. And the words of Dr. King come back to me: "The darkest moment is just before dawn."*

So don't get frustrated folks. Take it from Reverend Al, there are some good things happening.

When I see the way Cindy Sheehan is giving wingnuts heart attacks, apoplectic fits, brain hemmorhages, and rage-induced, vein-popping, screaming breakdowns, I know something good is happening.

And something even better is about to happen. Look to the end of September.

*From a recent interview in the on-line magazine Salon.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Clicka Clicka Clicka

Here's how to forget about the high cost of gasoline.

First, park your car in a safe place and throw the keys away. Then have somebody drive you to the airport. Get on a plane bound for San Francisco, and after you've landed retrieve your luggage. Make it a small bag, if possible.

Go upstairs and get on the computer-driven train, the red one or the blue one -- it doesn't matter. The day I was on it a young man stood too close to the automatic doors. "You are preventing the departure of this train," the computer huffed at him indignantly. It was the first time I ever heard a computer sound indignant.

This train is a monorail, and the best place to stand is right in front, so you can pretend you're flying over the track. Get off at the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, where you'll catch the train into town.

The BART system is obsessed with fives. You put a five dollar bill into an automatic ticket dispenser and get a nickel back. Put your ticket in the automated turnstile and go through, but be sure you take your ticket when the machine gives it back to you, otherwise you won't be able to get out at the other end. BART is like the Cockroach Motel if you don't keep your ticket (Commuters go in...but they don't come out).

Get on the train and ride into town. You'll know you're in San Francisco proper when you don't see any more Target stores, Burger Kings, muffler shops, or cubular houses. Is "cubular" a word?

Get off anywhere on Market Street, and go down one level. Catch the Municipal Railroad train to your favorite neighborhood. It costs a dollar and a quarter until September first, then it goes up to a buck and a half. Exact change only, please.

When you get to where you're going, buy a house, condominium, room, or closet space. It'll cost you half a million dollars minimum. Then learn the bus, streetcar, and train routes in and out of your neighborhood, and you'll never have to drive again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I'd love to "take you out," QT pi

OK, we got it wrong. The latest is that Pat Robertson regrets that we misinterpreted him. When he said our government should "take out" Chavez, he didn't mean, like, to kill.

Pat points out that "take him out" might include kidnapping. "I said our special forces could take him out. Take him out could be a number of things including kidnapping," Robertson said on The 700 Club this morning. "There are a number of ways of taking out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted," he whined.

Gotcha. When you said "take him out," you meant, like, take him out for an evening of dinner and dancing at the Capri Lounge.

Good for you, Pat. Now, here's a nice biscuit for you.

Story courtesy of Yahoo News and Reuters.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Bullshit Protector

A 73-year-old veteran of (probably) the Korean War sits listening to President Bush speak with clearly labeled "Bullshit Protector"(s) covering his ears.

The picture is courtesy of Atrios, via DailyKos.

Even the older vets as well as Gold Star mothers are abandoning ship. The "reality-based community" has returned with a vengeance, as the lost Iraq War overtakes and swamps the lies that spawned it.

Now, of course, there are some who will say all the bullshit about WMD's and the al-Qaida connection was not the same as lying, and there's a best-selling book out right now that sort of backs that up. Harry G. Frankfurt's little 67-page wonder, "On Bullshit," asserts that unlike a lie, which is a deliberate statement of untruth, bullshit "is produced without any concern for the truth." In other words, the bullshitter doesn't fail to tell the truth, because he doesn't even try.

I think it's an overly fine distinction, and it doesn't really matter to me that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice and the rest of the professional bullshitters sincerely believe in their version of "freedom" and "democracy." They're living in a dream world, or to put it another way, their lives are bullshit.

I'm awed by the need of these people to construct their own little world. It persists in spite of every fact you can throw at it, and every dose of reality provided by the combat in Iraq. Argument is futile.

The administration clings to its bullshit, based on unexamined premises and unacknowledged consequences, as if it was a life raft. And it'll be the death of them.

We know what we've got to do, folks, so let's do it. See you in Washington D.C. in late September.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

More From the Free City

Here's some more news from the free city, where Tony Bennett left his heart and Bill Clinton probably left a pair of pants.

According to an article on the front page of this morning's SF Chronicle, George W. Bush will be the first president in 75 years not to visit San Francisco while in office. He's never been there and has expressed no interest in going.

The last president to forego the pleasures of this fair and remarkable city was Calvin Coolidge, who was also the last president to raise chickens on the White House grounds. He obviously had his priorities.

Eighty percent of adult San Franciscans voted in the 2004 election, and of those who voted, 80 percent voted against Bush. And he's had a lot of bad ink lately as it is, without getting egged or pied.

San Franciscans generally talk about and look at Bush as if he was the dictator of some backward foreign country.

Presidential visits to this beautiful town began in 1880, when Rutherford B. Hayes had lunch at the Cliff House.

Warren G. Harding died in the Palace Hotel on Market Street, after a long train ride from Alaska. The standard story is he ate some bad crab on the train, but his wife might have poisoned him, since the word was out that he had recently knocked up an 18-year-old girl. Crabs, indeed.

Gerald Ford was shot at just outside the St. Francis Hotel. San Francisco's been a tough town for Republicans since old Eisenhower's triumphant motorcade down Powell Street back in the fifties.

Reagan visited only one time, as did Carter. Bush Senior visited four times, and as usual, Clinton, the Billinator, holds the record with 23 presidential visits.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

People's Republic

"We here in San Francisco live in a bubble. A wonderful, multicultural bubble with a Mediterranean climate," says Dan St. Paul, who, despite the sentence fragments, is absolutely right, especially if you count gay and lesbian culture as "culture."

While the rest of the country is still debating whether homosexuals are citizens, or (in some places) even humans, and the rest of California swelters and wilts in 100-degree heat, San Francisco is a straightgay sixty-eight degrees and partly cloudy.

The faint odor of socialism also pervades the city's daily life. More people take public transit than drive, thank God, and there's more free and reasonable, publicly-funded health care here than other places.

Socialism is drab and unexciting compared to no-holds-barred capitalism, as well as being more fair. Riding the Muni always makes people look like they're on their way to prison, whether they're rich or poor. This is the only city I know of that hasn't built a new freeway in the last 30 years, opting instead to knock an existing one down.

In other words, individual rights (the right of individuals to drive a private car on city streets) was trumped by the social good (making it more difficult to get into the city by car, cutting down congestion).

There's still plenty of vigorous and colorful private enterprise, especially in those sectors that would be badly served by socialism -- restaurants, food distribution, the retail clothing trade, etc. But if you like mega-churches, mainstream Christianity, and mega-box-stores with their tons of Chinese merchandise, this is not the place for you.

I wish I lived here, if for no other reason than the Citrus Club's chicken noodle soup. Campbell's it ain't.

"I was born here," says Dan St. Paul, "and I will die here. It is a bubble, protected from the perverted values of intolerance."

Having said that, I'm sure that several people reading this are thinking, "I can't wait to cancel out your vote in the next election, you know-it-all pinko homo-loving buddhist peace creep elitists."

And that's why there's no place like San Francisco, except maybe Seattle, which isn't really like San Francisco because it's wetter.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cindy Sheehan Again

Right. As usual, Billmon says it all, and says it a hell of a lot better than I could.

Billmon is one of the three best writers in the blogosphere. The other two are Wolcott and Kunstler (see links).

Support Our Troops!!

An Air Force Reserve colonel may be arrested for vandalizing cars in a parking lot at the Denver Airport by spray painting anti-Bush slogans on them.

Col. Alexis Fecteau (hmm...French name) allegedly targeted cars with Bush/Cheney bumper stickers. He'd use his can of black paint to spray over the bumper stickers, then sprayed "Fuck Bush" somewhere on the car.

When I posted this on the U.S. Politics board at Beliefnet, people were suitably horrified, the most stricken among them insisting that Col. Fecteau be court-martialed under the provisions of Article 133: Conduct Unbecoming an Officer. Oh, I guess, although I seem to recall that it was high-ranking army officers who thought up and implemented the Agent Orange program in Vietnam. But then, I haven't read the military Code of Conduct, so I don't know what conduct unbecoming consists of.

Truthfully, the only thing that bothers me about the Clouseau-like Col. Fecteau is that he was stupid enough to be doing his work in a place where there were surveillance cameras.

He's obviously too dumb to be a colonel. So I say promote him! He's dumb enough replace Paul Wolfowitz.

Incidentally, does anybody know what job Wolfy the genius is doing these days? I haven't heard much about him lately.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Farewell to Baghdad

"Somebody tell the president the war is over," says Frank Rich of the New York Times.

In his best war editorial to date, Rich says, "LIKE the Japanese soldier marooned on an island for years after V-J Day, President Bush may be the last person in the country to learn that for Americans, if not Iraqis, the war in Iraq is over. 'We will stay the course,' he insistently tells us from his Texas ranch. What do you mean we, white man?"

(To read the Times articles you have to register to gain access to the site. It's worth it. Registration is free, easy, and forever.)

Rich's opinion is bolstered by a hard news story in today's Washington Post, which is nicely encapsulated by Atrios:

"The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

"The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society where the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

"'What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground,' said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. 'We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning.'


"'We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic,' said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. "'That process is being repeated all over.'

"'The most thoroughly dashed expectation was the ability to build a robust self-sustaining economy. We're nowhere near that. State industries, electricity are all below what they were before we got there,' said Wayne White, former head of the State Department's Iraq intelligence team who is now at the Middle East Institute. 'The administration says Saddam ran down the country. But most damage was from looting [after the invasion], which took down state industries, large private manufacturing, the national electric' system."

What's interesting, but hardly surprising, is that one "senior official involved in policy," (somebody very high up -- Rumsfeld maybe?) and another "familiar with policymaking" were willing to contradict the official party line on condition that their identities were concealed.

Even protected by anonymity, they can't express the reason for the policy change: the Iraq War is over and we lost. The same article neatly reveals the reason for the lost war: "'We didn't calculate the depths of feeling in both the Kurdish and Shiite communities for a winner-take-all attitude,' said Judith S. Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst at the National Defense University."

In other words, this government didn't realize its splendid little war included attempting to re-engineer a tribal society rent with irremediable ethnic divisions and animosities. They had absolutely no clue what they were getting into.

What shall we do with a drunken sailor?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Oh Boy! Pitchers!!

Everybody loves a picture page.

Blessings of Freedom: Register Here

I've got very little to add to James Wolcott's take on the disgusting and revolting "America Supports You Freedom Walk" march and variety show that Rumsfeld has cooked up for a month from now, to take place in the D.C. mall.

Having no other justification for their lost war, Bushco can't stop exploiting 9/11. That they'd do so in this cheaply sentimental and tawdry manner confounds belief.

Showbiz, however, is a double-edged axe, and I'm enthusiastic about the Stones' new single, "Sweet Neo Con:"

You call yourself a Christian;
I call you a hypocrite.
You say that you're a patriot;
I say you're full of shit.

So, before the media bashers jump on this one, which do you think is going to get more air play? Mick and Keith's poke in the eye with a sharp stick? Or Clint Black's syrupy exploitation of the 9/11 tragedy?

Quick and accurate answer: the one that more people want to hear.

By the way, are your papers in order, Comrade?

They'd better be, because the word is that you can't march in Rumsfeld's "Freedom Walk," unless you've registered with the Department of Defense.

Participants will meet at the Pentagon to be screened before the march begins, and the first 1,000 to arrive will be given an official "America Supports You" campaign lapel pin.

The Defense Department has set up an online registration form that explains, "The Freedom Walk is free and open to anyone who registers…. You MUST have your registration number to check-in!"

So as long as you're willing to give your name address, phone number, and email address to the Pentagon, you're perfectly "free" to walk on a public street, in a country where the government belongs to the people, and move "freely" from one public landmark to another.

And if you're not willing to give 'em that information, you can't be "free."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

I really don’t know what to make of MIA (Maya Arulpragasam). There’s nobody else remotely like her.

She’s a one-woman band, trend, and revolution. Everything she produces -- the paintings, the music, the clothes, and the attitude -- is original and disturbing and mostly weirdly beautiful. Ultimately, the message trumps the aesthetic. It’s always political, and from the underdog’s point of view; that’s why sexual politics shares center stage with the politics of liberation, urban slum- southern hemisphere-style.

Her first full-length CD, Arular, has already rattled some cages and upset some delicate middle-class northern-hemisphere nervous systems. Like her earlier hit single, "Galang," the music is more manufactured than played, composed on a Roland MC505 Groovebox (widely used by d.j.’s to add effects to their playlists) and fortified with samples, especially electronic beeps, bleeps, and chirps. The New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones describes it as "on-the-ground world culture: synthetic, cheap, colorful, staticky with power. The beat is shuffling and abrasive, made from what sounds like the by-products of some other, more polite (music)."

MIA’s stuff is always danceable, and has even been described as "dance hall," but it’s also a hell of a lot more than that. The song “10 $” tells the now-common story of the third-world girl looking for a ticket out of the shantytown:

Dial-a-bride from Sri Lanka/Found herself a Yorkshire banker
Need a Visa?/Got with a geezer
Paid him with her knees up/Year later, started to ease up
Got her own way/Shouted out "See ya!"

One-third of the world’s urban population now lives in slums and shantytowns, mostly in the third world, mostly south of the equator. They’re the fastest-growing global demographic, and we ignore them at our peril. Ignoring them is what we in the air-conditioned comfort of North America and Western Europe have been efficiently and determinedly doing, along with allowing our governments to enact "globalization" policies that exacerbate this intolerable state of gross inequality and exploitation. But now those mute billions have a representative and a voice in, of all places, the transAtlantic pop music scene.

You no like the people/they no like you
Then they go set it off /With a big boom
Every gun in a battle/Is a son and daughter too
Why you wanna talk about who done who?
What you wanna talk about?

--From "Pull Up the People," by MIA

See also http://www.geocities.com/slim_93304/M.html

Monday, August 08, 2005

The "F" Word

People get upset if you refer to someone as a fascist. Posting on the politics board over at Beliefnet, I've taken some mild heat lately for referring to our Beloved Leader in that way, and wrote the following justification...

There's been a lot of discussion here about the f-word, a whole thread on it at one time in fact. Many people are understandably upset by it, and there are others who use it inaccurately. For example, adolescent anarchists often use "fascist" as a synonym for "authoritarian."

However, it's a technical political term which refers to a very specific kind of government, whose primary characteristics are institutional bonding of big business with the organs of government, backed by the military establishment. In other words, the oligarchy of the rich (plutocracy) takes over the government, which then uses super-patriotism, hatred of dissenters, and real or imagined foreign threats to keep people worked up in such a fearful emotional state that they don't notice their pockets being picked.

The Nazis were the worst fascists ever, but they were an extreme of extremism. No other fascist party I'm aware of has ever had a policy or program of genocide, although most of them have been very racist. The neocon American fascists are unique in this regard, as IMHO there's no overt racism about them.

But they exhibit all the other fascist traits: feverish nationalism, dislike of unions or any pro-labor legislation, love of militarism and the romanticizing of combat (up to and including "the ultimate sacrifice"), aggressive and unjustifiable invasions of weaker and smaller nations for purposes of empire building, hatred of dissent and attempts to intimidate or silence any and all opposition, and an embrace of the conventional institutionalized forms of popular religion (form without content). Fascists have an inbred hatred of intellectuals, and of any sort of thought, generally.

Even though the neocons control most of the government, they have thus far failed to turn the U.S. into a fascist country. We still have a sometimes-free press and a semi-independent judiciary. But they're working on it.

America has now flirted with fascism, but like most other people in other places, I don't think we have the stomach for it in the long run. It's too dishonest, and sooner or later people notice they're being ripped off.

At least that's what I'm hoping.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Finally, Some Noise

Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, California, whose son was an Iraq War combat fatality, led a delegation of about 50 to President Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch yesterday and demanded to talk to him. She intended to ask him why her son died for nothing.

Almost needless to say, Sheehan was not allowed to talk to Bush. She had to make do with a deputy sheriff and a couple spear carriers from the presidential entourage. However, she did something there hasn't been nearly enough of for the last two and half years by serving up a generous helping of insolent, aggressive, and discomforting noise, and right at the would-be dictator's gate.

We need a lot more of this kind of thing. Visible, vocal, aggressive, and rude opposition to the war has been MIA since this mess started. I think we're going to see more of it now, particularly from parents who have either lost children to Iraq, or have kids currently posted there.

It's the people most directly threatened who are most likely to initiate action. The non-stop antiwar agitation of the Vietnam era resulted from the draft as much as the war, and was fueled mainly by the young men most at risk, and later by veterans as well. Now it's time for middle-aged parents -- the bereaved and potentially bereaved -- to step up and open a second front in the Iraq.

A second front is what it's going to take.

There's a mass demonstration scheduled for September 24 in D.C. Unfortunately, it's being orchestrated by the group known as Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, a kind of faux-sixties outfit that tends to get bogged down in a bottomless agenda of liberal causes such as the South Moluccan independence movement and animal rights. What's needed is a single-issue demonstration led by a mainstream political coalition, one that can appeal to surban moderates as well as professional liberals and other assorted bleeding hearts.

Willing to step up, Ms. Sheehan? It's not too much to ask, or too big a stretch.