Sunday, February 27, 2005
"Softball" - The White House Press Corps
By now the details of Jeff Gannon and his role as a planted (embedded) member of the White House press corps are known to all who have an interest in the goings on in the Bush White House.
Nevertheless, Hendrik Hertzberg's "Newshounds", in the Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker magazine (Feb.28, 2005) is worth reading. Mr. Hertzberg's elegant and understated prose is always a pleasure to read. He outlined the sordid facts and their implications in a masterly way.
"Successful politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies."
---Walter Lippman (1888-1974)
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Iraq - Death Tolls
The Associated Press reported that as of Friday, Feb.25,2005, 1491 members of the U.S. Military had lost their lives in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
The number of severely wounded soldiers is many times higher. The current figure reported by Global Security.org is: 10871
Latest count of dead Iraqi civilians published in the web site of Iraq Body Count.org is:
The web site includes details of the data base and the methodology.It also contains full explanation of IBC's position in respect to Lancet Magazine's report about "100,000 deaths".
"I'm a war president"
---G.W. Bush, Feb.8,2004 (NBC, Meet The Press)
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), Ode to the West Wind
Spring is not far behind, less than four weeks away. Yet, here in the San Francisco Bay area, we have had unusual amount of rain in February. A few sunny, warm days but mostly cold and cloudy. Today is very wintry. Forecast is for chances of showers during the weekend. The reservoirs are full and the Sierra snow pack is high. There is no need to worry about drought in the summer months.
It is time for the days to turn warmer ; the sun to come out and stay out. Signs of the advent of Spring have become visible. The flowering cherries are in bloom. Daffodils have appeared all over the town; some in my own front yard. The sweet peas have started to climb the frames. For a few more weeks we shall need the blankets. On the minus side, the chanterelles have become scarce. AC and I went foraging on Tuesday and found just a few. But we had a bountiful season. We are ready to welcome Spring.
AARP and Republicans
The AARP's governing body should have seen it coming. During last year's campaign to promote President Bush's prescription drug plan, AARP members were assiduously courted for support. While the rank and file had misgivings about the benefits,the governing body of AARP swallowed the bait hook,line and sinker. The revenue derived by AARP from insurance companies and others also played a role. So, for a while the AARP basked in the sunshine.
The honeymoon didn't last long. Now that AARP is critical of the president's plan to privatize Social Security,it has fallen from grace. AARP members are being castigated by the Republicans. According to Charlie Jarvis, president of the conservative lobbying group, USA Next, "They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts."
It would be interesting to see if AARP could be bamboozled into toeing the line.
Link to Maureen Dowd's column in The NY Times.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
The Supreme Court to hear challenge to Oregon's Death With Dignity Act
Oregon voters' enlightened measure to allow terminally ill patients the right to seek medical assistance in executing end of life decision has been under attack from various conservative groups ever since it was enacted in 1997.
The Bush administration took special interest in it and former Attorney Genral Ashcroft zealously pursued steps to nullify the act. The Justice Department took the tack that use of Federally controlled drugs by physicians to comply with the desire of patients seeking assistance under the Death With Dignity Act violated Controlled Substances Act.
The appeal against lower court ruling in support of the act was filed by the attorney general in November 2004--on the day his resignation was announced by the White House. Now, the case (Gonzales vs. Oregon 04-623) will be heard by the Supreme Court. It would be interesting to see how the justices deal with it.
In issuing ruling against the original suit filed by the Justice Department, Judge Richard Tallman of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stated: "The federal drug control law "was enacted to combat drug abuse,.........." "The attorney general's unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers interferes with the democratic debate about physician-assisted suicide and far exceeds the scope of his authority." Judge Tallman further stated that the attorney general was seeking to "alter the usual constitutional balance between the states and the federal government."
The Supreme Court will decide whether Congress could override a State's right to allow assisted suicide. Based on the current make up of the court, at least three justices (Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas) are almost certain to be on the side of the Bush administration. This is a case where the so called "swing vote" would be a crucial factor in a 5:4 decision.
"A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist."
Monday, February 21, 2005
Post-election Iraq - Comments from a woman in Baghdad
"Baghdad Burning", The Riverbend Blog
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Darfur, International Criminal Court and the United States
An article by Robin Cook in The Guardian(UK) on February 11th reads "If not in Darfur then where ?"
Mr. Cook (former Foreign Secretary, who resigned his seat in the Parliament in protest against Britain's participation in the war against Iraq) wrote: "Now Condoleezza Rice has been using her contacts in Europe to lobby privately for the Darfur atrocities to be referred anywhere but the international criminal court. Apparently she has suggested that Darfur could be brought under the remit of the existing UN tribunal for the genocide in Rwanda. This is desperation. The only common feature between Darfur and Rwanda is that they are both in Africa. It is also irresponsible. The Rwanda tribunal is still struggling under an impossible workload and is in no position to provide an expeditious remedy to Darfur's continuing violence."
Torture of prisoners in the news, again
This time it is Bagram, Afghanistan.
"Got My Mojo Working" (Muddy Waters, 1915-1983)
John Lee Hooker
I am not a blues man in a strict sense. Spend more time listening to the music of Bach and cool sounds made by jazz greats like Thelonius Monk, Art Tatum, Bill Evans. Duke Ellington, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Gerry Mulligan and Ben Webster. But there are times when the blues feel just right and I dig into my small collection of CDs by legends of the blues. Even have a classic vinyl LP, "Memphis Harmonica Kings 1929-30, the complete recordings of Noah Lewis and Jed Davenport. I can close my eyes and see black men singing their hearts out, the cotton fields of Mississippi, the road gangs, and tar paper shacks. They made great music, and the conditions under which they made them! Awesome.
Chicago blues are faster, louder and often include more than banjo. Banjo was the right instrument for the Delta blues singers and their haunting songs.
There are others who came later. I like Junior Wells, Charlie Musselwhite and Buddy Guy--different but good. Soundtrack of the The Blues Brothers is a great CD to have.
I am listening to Rainy Highway, Charlie Musselwhite in "Rough News" (Virgin Records). The weather is wet here in the San Francisco Bay area.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Saudi Arabia Held Its First Election
Item: Only men were allowed to participate. However, there is hope for the women of Saudi Arabia; they might be allowed to vote in the next election four years from now.
(Currently, women do not have the right to drive a car in Saudi Arabia.)
Item: BBC reported that in the first round (of three) of elections at municipal level held on Feb.10th in Riyadh, 148,000 out of 400,000 eligible men registered to vote.
Item: Islamist candidates claimed victory and the opposition complained about fraud.
February 12th issue of The Asia Times contains an interesting report on Saudi Arabia.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Sex And The Prudes, Just Say "No"
"Bush's Sex Scandal" is the title of a column in today's NY Times by Nicholas D. Kristof. Amidst the draconian cuts in social programs in the president's budget, there is one that has been allocated almost three times the funding it received in 2001--- "abstinence only" sex education!
This is another payoff to his conservative base by the president. No surprise there. But Kristof's article makes holes in the argument that the abstinence program has been a success.
"Dennis: Look, even if you did get pregnant, I'd marry you.
Odette: Do you believe in centralized government or states' rights ?
Odette: I just want to know the kind of guy I'm marrying.
Dennis: I'm starting to get the distinct impression you don't want to do this anymore."
From Sarah Kernochan's 1998 film "Strike"(also released as "All I Wanna Do")
Monday, February 14, 2005
"Dummy" Corporations and Airplanes with Untraceable Owners
In recent weeks we have seen reports in the media about aircrafts that fly in the night to ferry prisoners (suspected terrorists) to countries which pay no attention to Geneva Convention.
The most comprehensive article I have read appeared in the Feb.14-21 issue of The New Yorker magazine. Jane Mayer's "Outsourcing Torture" contains fascinating details of this clandestine operation run by our government. The program is called "extraordinary rendition".
Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Morocco are reported to be among those taking part in doing our dirty work for money and/or favors. Strange bedfellows! They sure are.
What happens to those who do not survive the torture during interrogation ? Are their bodies dumped in the ocean as done in Argentina during the "Dirty War" ? See footnote.
As a point of interest, the executive order under which the Bush administration authorized the rendition program was established during President Clinton's term. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and now this. Can we continue to claim moral superiority over our enemies ?
Footnote: In 1981, Jacobo ben Nathan Timmerman, who published a newspaper exposing human rights violations by the Argentinian military junta, wrote "Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A Number" describing his experience in the hands of goons of the junta. Quite a few high ranking officers of the junta were graduates of U.S. Army's School of The Americas.
Between 1976 and 1983, 20 to 30,000 Argentinians "disappeared".
Sunday, February 13, 2005
Of Monkeys and Men
I had thought of taking a break from blogging today but this was too good to pass up.
"Monkeys go ape for a little allure" is the title of a tongue-in-cheek article by Robin McKie, Science Editor of The Observer (Guardian),UK. In a nutshell,the article is about findings by researchers at Duke University,NC, that male rhesus monkeys are prepared to 'pay' to view pictures of female monkey bottoms. Not a surprise, is it, to those who are on the side of Darwin's evolution ? We inherited the trait.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
"Senators reject visible pants fine" (Guardian,UK)
No, I could think of it happening elsewhere--Saudi Arabia for example. It made me laugh but it also made me wonder about the quality of people who represent us. And this guy is a Democrat !
The story in The Guardian,UK, and widely reported elsewhere stated that a bill put forward by Mr. Algie Howell (D), a member of the lower house of Virginia State Legislature, to ban undergarments from being visible over the waist line, was rejected.
The bill would have imposed a $50.00 fine for behaving in a "lewd and indecent manner". We should be glad that good sense prevailed in the Virginia State Legislature. I felt like exclaiming "Ya Habeebi" (not a dirty word,see footnote) as an Iraqi blogger often does.
Ya Habeebi: Oh my dear! My beloved!
"Of all the strange 'crimes' that human beings have legislated of nothing, 'blasphemy' is the most amazing - with 'obscenity' and 'indecent exposure' fighting it out for the second and third place."
---Robert A. Heinlein (US science-fiction writer, 1907-1988)
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
"Hotel Rwanda", The Movie
----Alan Paton (1903-1988)
Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina
There are movies that leave you feeling good, others that make you feel sad and contemplative. "Hotel Rwanda" caused numbness. JHL and I left the theater feeling overwhelmed and it took a few minutes for us to begin talking about the film.
Briefly, the movie depicted what happened in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda during the massacre of Tutsis by Hutus. In other parts of Rwanda the Tutsis killed Hutus. Altogether, the death toll exceeded more than one million.
"Hotel Rwanda" is based on a real-life character, Paul Rusesabagina who found himself running the upscale Hotel Mille Collines, owned by the Belgian conglomerate Sabena, when the European management staff left at the outbreak of violence. A fixer with connections, Paul was initially concerned with protecting his Tutsi wife and their children. But he soon found himself providing shelter to hundreds of Tutsis as well as Hutus. To his credit he managed to save most of the men, women and children by bribing, cajoling the army general in charge of the Hutu forces (it was para-military gangs that committed most of the atrocities) and with help from a sympathetic UN official.
The director, Terry George, deliberately avoided detailed shots of the slaughtered. Close up views of people hacked to death with machetes would have been too gruesome. They were not necessary for the message to reach the audience.
Don Cheadle very ably portrayed the smooth-talking, unflappable Paul Rusesabagina whose conscience would not let him escape when an opportunity came up. The innate decency of the man came through under the most horrific cirecumstances.
Nick Nolte was his usual gruff self as Colonel Oliver, a Canadian in charge of the UN Peacekeeping Forces.
Joaquin Phoneix left an imprerssion in a cameo role as a war photographer, as did the French actor Jean Reno as the director of Sabena. Cara Seymour stood out in her role as a member of UN's humanitarian aid staff.
There was a scene in which Nick Nolte informed Rusesabagina of the super powers' decision not to intervene. “You’re not even a nigger”.“You’re an African.”
There is some truth to that. It is a fact that in 1994 the Clinton administration decided not to get involved in Rwanda. The European Union and the Bush administration took a "hands off" position during the ethnic cleansing that began in Darfur (Sudan) in 2003. And so it goes.
Back to "Million Dollar Baby"
In my post (January 22nd) I wrote that:"Not all viewers would like the decision made by Maggie and Frankie at the end. Eastwood did it right. Anything else would have trivialized it."
Well, I read in Maureen Dowd's column in The NY Times on January 6th that it didn't take long for Rush Limbaugh (yes, the Rush Limbaugh who faced criminal charges for illegally buying and using oxy-contin), Michael Medved and others to claim that Eastwood's film sends a "positive message about euthanasia". Duh !
Monday, February 07, 2005
Great Short Story Writers
The old masters of the craft (O. Henry, Bret Harte, Sherwood Anderson, Edgar Allan Poe, Somerset Maugham, Balzac, Maupassant, Anatole France) are long gone. But short story writers today are no less powerful. The authors listed above include two Americans, one from Ireland, and a Canadian, Alice Munro.
Here are a few snippets to whet your appetite.
“’You know,' said Plato Bucklew, ‘I don’t care for them new V-Rods. If I was to get a motorsickle it would be one a the old Buffalos. You ever hear a them?’
‘Heard a them but never seen one. Heard they never got it off the drawin board,‘ said Creel Zmundzinski.
‘That might just be the best part of it’, said his friend enigmatically.
‘Take a horse, myself.’"
“The Contest” (Bad Dirt, Wyoming Stories 2) by Annie Proulx, Scribner 2004.
“’Did this give you anything?’ Wales, said. ‘Did I give you anything you cared about? It seemed like you wanted there to be an outcome.
‘What an odd thing to ask’, Jena said, her eyes shining, growing large again. She seemed about to laugh, but then suddenly moved to him, stood on tiptoes and kissed him on the mouth, hard, put her cold cheek to his cheek and said, ‘Yes. You gave me so much. You gave me all there was. Didn’t you? That’s what I wanted.’
‘Yes,’ Wales said. ‘I did. That’s right’. He smiled at her.”
“Quality Time” (A Multitude of Sins) by Richard Ford, Alfred Knopf 2002.
‘What children of a marriage rarely witness is the nature of the love that brought the whole thing--themselves included--into being in the first place. The marriage of parents is almost always mysterious; the sensual elements scarcely bear thinking about, the romantic past can only be guessed at, and all such curiosity invariably comes too late.’
“Field of Battle” (part of a series titled “Personal History”) by William Trevor. The New Yorker.
'But he just wanted somebody to talk to,' she said, shifting sides a little. 'He wanted somebody worse than I didn’t want somebody. I realize that now. And I don't look mean. I don't look cruel. But I was.'"
"Chance" by Alice Munro. The New Yorker, 2004.
Give them a try. Books are such great companions.
Friday, February 04, 2005
"A Giant Sucking Sound"
It was Ross Perot, the quirky Texan two-time contender for the presidency who talked about "a giant sucking sound" in outlining the threat of NAFTA to U.S. jobs.
Regular visitors to this blog will notice the addition of a counter that displays the cost (in dollars) of our war in Iraq. Cost of War.com contains full details about the calculations and modulated examples of various programs that could benefit from the money. It is maintained by National Priorities Project, a non-partisan education and advocacy foundation.
Whether you believe that the money is being spent for a just cause or you feel that it is going down a drain to satisfy the hubris of a few, the numbers are revealing.
You don't hear a "giant sucking sound" when you look at the counter ? Well, it is your money.
Then there are other costs.
The leaders who sold the war to our nation never participated in combat; not a single one of them. Some, like Vice-President Cheney, sought and received deferment during the Vietnam War. Neither do they have sons and daughters in the armed forces. Think about it.
"War hath no fury like a non-combatant."
----Charles Edward Montague, British author, journalist, soldier (1867-1928)
"The cry has been that when war is declared, all opposition should be hushed. A sentiment more unworthy of a free country could hardly be propagated."
----William Ellery Channing, American Unitarian Minister and Author (1780-1842)
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Bad for their knees, not to speak of sore palms
Those who are going to watch the president deliver his fifth State of the Union message will again see something that has become familiar...the Republican members of the House bobbing up and down like marionettes to applaud the president at every second sentence. They would be better off staying up on their feet but they enjoy much more comprehensive medical insurance coverage than the rest of us. And they will burn some calories.
I can think of other things to do than watching the charade on TV. We know what he is going to talk about.
First the Iraqi election. The president will claim it was a great success. There was less violence than was anticipated; that was the good part. Final numbers are yet to be announced but according to initial reports more than 50% of Iraqis, mostly Shias participated. The Kurds, too, voted in large numbers. Sunni Arabs stayed away. That portends ill about the future. Grand Ayatollah Sistani, religious leader of the Shias, has already indicated his desire for Islamic laws to replace civil laws. That would be a drastic shift. Iraq, under the Baathists, was a secular nation. There are many doubts and questions about the future. Could be a long time before things fall in place and peace prevails between the different factions. Iraq ruled by conservative Islamic legislators would not be the democratic country that we wanted to see.
He will laud the great sacrifice made by members of the armed forces but stay away from the costs of the war.
Restructuring Social Security, the lynch pin in the president's agenda for the second term. He will try to sell it to the American people without giving details of the costs and risks. He will just accentuate the "pie in the sky" scenario.
He would probably touch upon the health care issue, again without stating that Medicare recipients had their largest ever increase in premium while facing cuts in coverage in the form of higher deductibles, and lower limits on availability of prescription drugs.
He will boast of the success of his tax cuts without mentioning the widening gap between incomes at the upper and lower ends.
He will talk about his forthcoming visit to Europe and his goal for increased cooperation. A recent global poll reflected that only two countries---Poland and India---were supportive of the president and his policies.
"Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.
"I do, " Alice hastily replied; "at least I mean what I say, that's the same thing, you know."
"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "Why, you might just as well say that "I see what I eat" is the same thing as "I eat what I see!"
----Lewis Carroll ( Alice in Wonderland)