Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Cars Must be Banned
The U.S. Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that 43,220 people died in 2003, up from 42,815 in 2002.
From CNN

So more than twice as many people die from cars than they do from guns. I wonder which special interest group is more of a menace to Americans, the NRA or the United Auto Workers union?

Rumsfeld for Prez
The Defense Secretary launches a daisy cutter at Press bias

There are two ways, I suppose, one could inform readers of the Geneva Convention stipulation against using places of worship to conduct military attacks. One might be to headline saying that Terrorists Attack Coalition Forces From Mosques. That would be one way to present the information.

Another might be to say: Mosques Targeted in Fallujah. That was the Los Angeles Times headline this morning.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Big Condiment
If Cheney's ties to Halliburton are a source of concern and controversy, then I think its fair to raise similar concerns about Kerry's ties to Heinz. The condiment giant has a direct economic interest in seeing that American fast food intake remain at peak levels, since ketchup constitutes an integral ingredient in American fast food fare like hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries. Given Kerry's personal ties to Big Condiment, we can expect a Kerry presidency to be waistband unfriendly. A Kerry administration will promote increased consumer consumption of Ketchup Delivery Vehicles (KDVs). These KDVs are notorious dietary polluters - generating exhaustion, fat, and calories in the human environment. The unholy alliance of Big Condiment and manufacturers of KDVs represents a real threat to the average American, a threat that will grow in size and scope if John Kerry is president.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The degree of corruption that is now coming to light regarding the UN's administration of the Iraq sanctions and Oil-for-Food program is unsurprising but nevertheless greatly depressing. All those who thought that below the surface the whole thing was about entities getting rich off of Iraq's oil have been proven correct - except that where they were wrong involved who the offending parties were. As it turns out, the suspicions raised about Halliburton, the Bush Family, Texas, et. al. were enormously misplaced. As evidence is unearthed, entities within the UN, including the lead administrator for the UN Oil-for-Food program as well as the son of UN General Secretary Kofi Annan appear to have had knowledge about the scheme - even gone so far as to have enriched themselves through bribes and kickbacks - all at the expense of the suffering people of Iraq.

Though slow to build at first, coverage of the scandal is gaining as it is becoming harder for the major news outlets to ignore it. One thing I can't figure out is why the Left isn't all over this. To the Left, the UN is the Last Best Hope for Humanity. The UN represents the embodiment of all their values, including multiculturalism, consensus through mediation, and a check on American power. Their popular view is that the UN is high-minded, fair, and incorruptible. It resides in a realm removed from that which they think motivates the US: power politics, capitalist greed, and self-interest. That mythical and idealistic view is effectively destroyed now that additional details of the scope of the scandal become known.

The real ugliness of the scandal is not so much that it involves the corruption of UN administrators, cronies, hired third parties and so on, but that the victims of the scandal were Iraqi people who were on the receiving end of UN administered aid. Money from oil bought food and medicine for Iraqis, but as is now becoming known, money to buy food and medicine was skimmed and diverted into personal bank accounts - Saddam's and others (third parties involved in the oil for food trade, sympathetic politicians and political parties worldwide, even potentially UN officials themselves). Over anything else, a vast majority of people in the world think of food aid when they think of the UN. They think of the social works and services that the organization provides. This scandal cuts right to the heart of that and makes what was thought of as saintly now extremely suspect. How much suffering of the Iraqi people was a result of this scandal? It is terrible for all, but for the Left in particular - who make it their mission to monopolize concern (or at least the appearance of concern) for social welfare - this scandal is outright betrayal. This is why I think they of all parties should be all over this. They should be demanding investigations, answers from Kofi Annan, tribunals and the like. They should be demanding full and unceasing accountability and explanation from UN officials. They mustered tremendous energy in support of UN values during the runup to the Iraq war - filling the streets of cities worldwide with the like minded. Where are the protests now? Where's the sense of outrage, of betrayal. I mean, so much was vented about Blood for Oil, and now that has been proven true (but not in the manner that they expected) why aren't they pissed off??

Here's a blog dedicated to news of the scandal. I'm waiting for the anti-war people to march in the streets demanding answers to this. But I know that the likelihood of that happening is nil. If the Left wants a strong UN to run the world, it's going to have to demand a broad cleanup of UN practices. Until credibility, accountability, and trust is restored, the UN is effectively dead. Here's an article that explains how big this problem is.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Not a Mirage
Here's a blog written by a Saudi with a noticable sense of humor. He mocks his government's efforts to round up terrorists. I applaud his candor.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Gangsta's Paradise
Ever wonder what happened to rapper Coolio? Well, he recently appeared in concert in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Friday, April 16, 2004

The Freedom Virus Spreads
Here's another brave blog coming from the Middle East. This time from Egypt. Visit when you have a chance. The simple act of reading and supporting Middle East blogs will produce crucial effects. The War on Terror is not just fought by soldiers and FBI, but by every one of us. Any help that can be offered to those in the Middle East who struggle to pull themselves out from under the boot of authoritarian and fundamentalist tyranny must be offered.

Armpit Scented Deodorant
My deodorant literally stinks. I made the mistake of going (environ)mental and decided to try out the Tom's of Maine natural deodorant. I've been a little paranoid about the Alzheimers inducing aluminum particles used in conventional anti-perspirant/deodorants and thought that going natural was the right way to go. Forget it! I might as well have lathered my armpits with lard. Granted, the pine and woodsy scent of the deodorant was pleasant enough. But in no time at all I ended up exuding vapors akin to a never cleaned and overused foul smelling sauna.

It's back to the sport stick my friends.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Sneak Preview
Here's a look at footage that John Kerry may use in his next campaign commercial.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Netflix as Rorschach Test
The Netflix I currently have out: The Last Temptation of Christ, A Mighty Wind, and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Theater of Pain
I enjoyed an evening of song last night. Well, to be honest it was more noise than melody. But that's how I prefer it anyway. Fantomas played last night at Axis in Boston and they were fantastic. Opening up for them was Melt Banana, a Japanese noise-punk band. A cool thing about them is that their guitarist wears a SARS protective facemask while playing. Its hard to describe the sound of Melt Banana. Lots of whiny, slide squealing guitars punctuated with syncopated streams of Japanese. For a second I wondered what particular things in Japanese life contributed to the angst that was the wellspring behind this music I was listening to. Was it similar to what kids in Southern California experience that makes them seek out bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit? Both have fear of earthquakes I suppose, though the Japanese also have fear of killer tsunami, an awakened Mt. Fuji or perhaps North Korean missiles. No matter, the music was great even though the lyrics got lost in translation.

After an interlude, it was time for Fantomas. The supergroup, comprised of Mike Patton & Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle), Dave Lombardo (Slayer) and the immortal King Buzzo (Melvins) played selections from their three available releases. Again, it's hard to describe the sound of Fantomas, though the idea behind the music is to convey into sound what it would like to read a graphic novel comic book. Like comics, each "frame" has a different picture with different atmosphere, action, intent, etc. So with that in mind, its easier to understand that the music flows as a series of episodes of noise. A good example is this track. However, there are passages that run with a theme for a bit longer, like this cut. The energy contained within this track is awesome. And this track is a great example of Mike Patton's incomparable vocal talents. And then after a few obligatory encores, the band closed out with an apocalyptic version of the theme to Der Golem. Life just doesn't get any better than that.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Blowing Fumes
As people who know me know, I am an avid hiker with a great appreciation for the outdoors. I pay attention to environmental issues but would not call myself an environmentalist, certainly not in the sense that contributors to the Sierra Club consider themselves as. In fact, a few months ago some door to door solicitors for the Sierra Club stopped by my house to sign me up as a member. They tried to get me angry at Bush and Cheney for destroying the environment. They tried to scare me about ANWR and what Bush was going to do with it. I politely asked them how much money from contributing members actually went towards the environmental care programs they boasted about and what budget went to pay for lobbyists, lawyers, and paper-wasting direct mail membership drive activities. Caught flat-footed, they hemmed and hawed about how difficult it is to fight against the Bush machine, which of course necessitates such activities.

I politely shooed them away and declined to become a Sierra Club member. I find that it is better to "Think Globally and Act Locally" (a sentiment I am sure they endorse) by sending a yearly contribution to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. There, I am reasonably certain that my money will go towards environmental practices I endorse. And the money stays local where I will gain the most benefit. Also, I enjoy the bi-partisan approach that the Society takes on environmental issues -working with Republicans (since they pretty much have to) in order to get things done. All in all, a very win win situation that people in NH can be proud of.

Which brings me back to the Sierra Club and the senseless partisan spinning. The problem with them, and most big-name environmental organizations in general, is the caustic attack they wage against those they deem as enemies: namely businesses, ranchers, and practically all Republicans. These environmental organizations approach the issues as though they are the ones who love the environment and no one else. Which means if you are outside their circle then you must be a polluter. This narrative helps when it comes time for pledge drives. They energize their base (to use the current jargon) with scary headlines and doomsday scenarios. Needless to say, not all are taken in by this behavior though the press very often acts as a mouthpiece for these groups. Gregg Easterbrook of the left-leaning The New Republic is a good source regarding environmental issues because he's evenhanded and criticizes bad environmentalism and bad reporting of environmentalism when it occurs. Indeed, John Kerry already makes great hay out of painting Bush as terrible on the environment, but as the Easterbrook article suggests, the truth just isn't so.

As Glenn Reynolds has argued on several occasions, advocacy groups after awhile tend to be concerned with their own survival as an organization once their initial advocacy produces benefits and diminishing returns sets in. Indeed, these organizations have to express greater volumes of overheated rhetoric in order to maintain the flow of membership dollars from the faithful. An example he gives to describe this effect concerns the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). MADD was all the rage in the 80's when drunk driving death statistics were alarming. Since their initial advocacy, prompting then President Reagan to raise the drinking age to 21, teen drunk driving deaths have declined dramatically. However, rather than declare victory and disband, MADD continues to advocate for stricter standards: lower legal impairment limits, expanded sobriety checkpoints at roadsides, etc. MADD, as a powerful organization, endeavors to remain powerful, even though its efforts at additional advocacy will only produce marginal returns at best. In effect, more laws are passed for less gain. But to the MADD membership who continue to contribute, the problem of drunk driving has not been addressed enough.

Like MADD, the Sierra Club has to manufacturer crisis at every turn in order to remain viable. Since the 70's, our land is cleaner, our water purer, and our skies less polluted. For that, the Sierra Club does indeed deserve our congratulations. However, all the big gains that could be made in environmental cleanup and protection have already been realized. Further efforts may be more costly than beneficial. These are decisions that may or may not need to be made. Indeed, it is important to have a debate on these issues. That is why screaming advocacy that the Sierra Club specializes in is no longer helpful. Other groups have solutions to offer, and other measures can produce benefits with fewer costs. Some problems may be overstated and some understated. The point is not to ignore threats to the environment, but to tackle them in a way that is not polarized. Towards that end, it would help if the major media handled themselves more responsibly by curtailing the reporting of overheated doomsaying from environmentalists and instead provide greater balanced coverage of these issues

Break on Through to the Other Side
With big things happening in Iraq, visit these Iraqi blogs to get a sense of the public opinion there. The pictures of fist pumping thugs in the streets that the established news media run on endless video loop is not representative of the whole of Iraq.

Healing Iraq
Iraq the Model
The Mesopotamian
Salam Pax: Where is Raed?
Baghdad Burning
Iraq and Iraqi's

Monday, April 05, 2004

Demented and in Need of Help
I looked out my window yesterday and happened to witness my neighbor yelling at and chasing after my cat (she ran a few steps towards my pet). For the life of me I can't figure out why somebody would be compelled to do such things. I know my cat is innocent and did nothing to bother this weirdo living next to me.

America Eats Its Own
Here's the transcript of the over-the-top roughing up Ralph Nader received as an interview guest on the new liberal talk radio network Air America. With behavior like this, Air America looks like it will succeed, simply because it strives to be a bigger a**hole than conservative talk radio.

In all seriousness, I hope Air America survives. However, if Al Franken is their headliner, then I don't think the prospects look good. The problem I think with Air America is that it's relying on too many New York City based professional comedians as its hosts. Al Franken's show airs for 3 hours and Janeane Garafalo commands another 3 hours with her segment. Furthermore, Lizz Winstead, another NY comedian who appeared and wrote for The Daily Show in its early years runs 3 hours of her own. In fact, 9 hours of daily original programming are served up by New York City comedians. So in terms of liberal views, the listeners are basically going to hear for the most part the reflections of what NY liberal comedians think. Isn't that niche already well served by Jon Stewart's The Daily Show?

Another problem I see with Air America centers on Franken's show itself. The problem is with the show's very title: The O'Franken Factor. Simply, if you're setting your show up as a counterpoint to O'Reilly's very successful show, you're instantly suggesting that your show is the also-ran. Imagine if NBC had a newsmagazine show called "The Next 60 Minutes". Wouldn't it make you think that NBC was admitting defeat by trying to piggyback someone else's success? I mean, I think mockery through mimicry works for a while, and Al Franken may entertain as he presents himself as an O'Reilly-esque anti-OReilly, but I don't think it will work in the long run. Does Al Franken want to put forth liberal views in his own right? Or does he just want to position himself as the old muppet up in the balcony shouting insults at the real acts playing on stage?

Air America needs to find real radio personalities fast that do not have a Hollywood or East Coast liberal track record. It needs flamethrowers from Chicago, pundits from Peoria, sages from St. Louis. It needs voices from middle America. Talk Radio became the force that it did because a vast majority of people between the coasts were underserved. Guys like Limbaugh rose to popularity because they offered something different, and they did it on their own terms and in their own style. They weren't trying to position themselves as the anti-Rather, or anti-Jennings, or anti-Moyers. They simply said what they wanted to say, in a style that was original, and people tuned in. Air America needs that same originality if it is going to succeed and reach out beyond the boundaries of its own interested audience. Liberals who don't already get enough hip, sarcastic, anti-Republican jokes from Comedy Central, Simpsons, The Onion, Rollingstone, Time, Playboy, Maxim, NPR, et. al., will love Air America. However, liberals who want to hear liberalism presented in different and original ways will not find it on the new liberal radio network.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The Motley Crue Effect
I mean no disrespect, but I believe the gruesome events in Fallujah that took place in front of the cameras, where bodies of Americans were desecrated and dragged through the streets, is an example of on-site television media's power to encourage events rather than simply portray them with a detached distance akin to the "fly on the wall" perspective.

People do strange things when television cameras are trained on them. From fans making funny faces when they see themselves up on the stadium big screen jumbotron, to passersby who jump around behind the back of a television reporter doing an on the scene "man in the street" interview. The camera makes people act out beyond what they normally would, and depending on the nature of the moment, people will act out in varying degrees of abnormality. Take, for example, the hair metal acts of the 80's. It was required during any concert that the band take a pause in between songs to rouse the crowd. Invariably, the stadium's cameras scanned the crowd for women who were propped up on the shoulders of male companions, zooming in on such women with voyeuristic glee. Chants of "Show us your tits!" often showered down on said women and more often than not they did not disappoint the crowd. The bacchanalian atmosphere of the concert, coupled with the encouragement of the cameras and the crowds, induced an effect that under normal circumstances would not have taken place.

Indeed, the power of the camera, and the effect it has to encourage events rather than simply document them, is something that must be kept in mind when understanding the situation taking place in the Middle East. Footage that comes from there very often revolves around the repetitious portrayal of familiar images that convey particular storylines, such as the chanting crowds in the street and the burning of US and Israeli flags. The pantomime takes place for the cameras of the world's major news outlets when the situation calls for such a display. This photo of a weeping Palestinian woman is noteworthy because of the unfamiliar perspective in which it was shot. You see a crowd of news photographers crowding around her, capturing her sorrow. Seeing such a staging makes you wonder whether the Palestinian woman was really sorrowful, or was just simply required to portray sorrow as such for the world's news outlets to photograph and disseminate to their audiences expecting to see such things.

The strength of this industry of image production and reproduction invariably requires that new image archetypes be created. A specific example occurred during the US effort in Somalia back in the 90's when the bodies of US soldiers were desecrated and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. That scene was replayed and became embedded in the tableau of imagery associated with the horrors and turbulence of the troubled Middle East. Just as the images unsettled the West with every reply, they also embolden those in the Middle East who found them empowering and cathartic. The images from Mogadishu became part of our understanding of the turmoil from that region and not only do these images serve a purpose to instruct us, but they also serve a purpose by those with specific agendas who wish to instruct. When it is known what images shock, leave to those who wish to continue to shock us that they endeavor to repeat the occurrence of shocking images. As news is dominated evermore by the use and display of imagery, people will portray themselves in vivid examples so long as the cameras are filming.

Even on a small scale this effect can be noticed when one looks back over the course of years that MTV's The Real World has been on TV. The characters of the early years were far less prone to "play to the camera" than what we see now coming from the characters on the most recent seasons. As "House Stud" or "House Slut" archetypes became embedded within the course of the show's establishment, each successive season offers up characters who, aware of the show and its popularity and place within our larger culture, attempt to out-stud or out-slut those than previous years. In the end we get a recurring cycle of familiar images that communicate and appeal subconsciously to what we expect. The imagery coming from the Middle East that is portrayed for us is no different. We expect to see the crazies of the "Arab Street" come out en masse and throw their boilerplate act of pumping fists and raised voices, chants and burning flags. They know we are watching and play up to that. Like the girl baring her breasts for the expectant crowd at the stadium, where all eyes gawk at the jumbotron, the crazies of the Middle East come out as soon as the situation demands it (meaning when CNN, BBC, AFP, or Al-Jazeera are there to tape it).

Who knows how many situations wouldn't rise to the level that they do if only the cameras weren't on display for them to play to?

What the World Needs Now is Another Folk Singer
James Lileks writes:

We stopped pretending we would ratify Kyoto. We only spent $15 billion on AIDS in Africa. We did not take dictation from Paris. If we had done these things, it would minimize the world’s anger.

Is the world angry at Russia, which spends nothing on AIDS and rebuffed Kyoto? Is the world angry at China, which got a pass on Kyoto and spends nothing on AIDS for other countries?

Is the world angry at North Korea for killings its people? Angry at Iran for smothering that vibrant nation with corrupt and thuggish mullocracy? Angry at Syria for occupying Lebanon? Angry at Saudi Arabia for its denial of women’s rights? Angry at Russia for corrupt elections? Is the world angry at China for threatening Taiwan, or angry at France for joining the Chinese in joint military exercises that threatened the island on the eve of an election? Is the world angry at Zimbabwe for stealing land and starving people? Is the world angry at Pakistan for selling nuclear secrets? Is the world angry at Libya for having an NBC program?

Is the world angry at the thugs of Fallujah?

Is the world angry at anyone besides America and Israel?

I am surprised that Lileks didn't ask why the world isn't angry at the UN for rampant corruption and nefarious misdeeds regarding the Iraq Oil-for-Food program?
To slightly corrupt a great line spoken by Jack Nicholson in
Batman: This world needs an enema.