Monday, December 31, 2007

Ring out the old: Bye-bye 2007.

Keep on truckin'!
The United States and the world keep on trucking down the road to Perdition. Say goodbye to this year of lies, outrage, and murder.


Remember last year, when Junior Bush and his gang were insisting on a military "surge" in Iraq to stabilize the situation? According to Junior and the neo-conservatives, the increase in military personnel would allow the fractious Iraqi factions the breathing room to make political progress and forge a working government.

Well, apparently, if you believe the corporate media, the administration, and even craven Democrats, the "strategy" was a success. Their evidence? In December, there were only 21 US troop deaths and 710 Iraqi civilians killed.

But 2007 was still the most deadly year for the US military since the 2003 invasion. Eight hundred ninety-nine (899) US military personnel were killed in Iraq in 2007. And, oh by the way, even though the US media doesn't deem it important enough to mention, there were also 18,610 Iraqi civilian deaths (up from 13,813 the year before).

And those goals for political progress? Hey, don't rain on our parade! The surge is working. Why can't you just accept it?

Note: Statistics and information obtained from the Daily Kos.

Financial crises

Junior has suddenly, now that the Democrats are writing the budgets, determined that he is a fiscal conservative. After 6 years of never vetoing a single spending bill passed by Congress, even though each was stuffed like a fat Christmas pig with Republican pork, Junior has decided that he must stand on principle and deny the wasteful earmarks put forth by Congress. Among the many hypocrisies of this maneuver: spending for Junior's military adventure in Iraq (itself far more expensive than any congressional earmark) is passed separately, in appropriations, not as an official part of the budget.

Meanwhile, as a result of the "relaxation" of government regulation on the mortgage industry, we're facing a financial crisis for the nation's banks, as home-buyers suddenly find that the fine print on those snazzy, too-good-to-be-true mortgage agreements have left them with the choice between eating dog food or telling the bank to go f*** itself. But don't worry! Those poor fat-cat bankers will be alright. I have a feeling that Junior and his gang will find a way to bail them out of their uncomfortable situation (brought about by their own greed) in the form of a tax-payer bailout.

See? That's why we can't afford health care for everyone. Because the banks need a bailout.

Christo-fascism on the rise

Meanwhile, as the Republican coalition of the rich and the stupid continues to dissolve, the wing-nut Christians are making more and more noise, demanding that their candidate pay homage to their god of war, hatred and bigotry. Witness the rise of Mike Huckabee, the Christian warrior, and the uncomfortable situation in which Mitt Romney (who believes that Jesus and Satan are brothers) finds himself as he tries to convince the low-end Republicans that you can be a Mormon and a Christian.

Many Christians are neither ignorant nor hateful. But those that advocate war, that fear and hate gay people, that live in terror of people different from themselves, are revolting. In the Middle Ages, these were the people that took red-hot pokers and cat-o-nine-tails to unbelievers. Indeed, the fact that torture is now openly debated as a legitimate interrogation tactic shows how they have gained prominence. They've been given an air of legitimacy by the big wig Republicans who, like charlatans throughout history, have recognized the usefulness of mindless zealotry.

This movement is a Frankenstein's monster, which, having been granted the gift of life, now goes on to destroy its creator and the world around it in its anguish.

Of all the disgusting deeds of Karl Rove, his attempt to stir up the bigoted passions of ignorant Christians may be the most hateful. And he did it all to further the political career of Junior Bush. God save me, I hate those men! I hate them.

Bye bye 2007

On the global scale, 2007 has not been a good year. And the omens are not promising for 2008. Nonetheless, I'm still hopeful. In much the same way that a man who has just been informed of his own mortal illness will note the beautiful colors in a bouquet of flowers brought to his hospital bed, I can't help but feel that, all evidence to the contrary, people are basically good.

Then again, there are a lot of people that say I'm nuts.

Friday, December 28, 2007

It's "roller coaster" time in Pakistan

The world was rocked yesterday by the assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto. According to reports on CNN, Bhutto was shot between 3 and 5 times by a gunman as she raised herself through the moon roof of a vehicle to wave to the crowd that had just attended a rally. Security forces attempted to apprehend the gunman, who then detonated a bomb that he had strapped to himself. Bhutto was taken to a hospital and within 45 minutes of the event, was reported dead.

This event commits everyone remaining, from Pervez Musharraf, to Pakistan Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif, to Junior Bush, and Pakistan's Waziri warlords, to a terrifying course of brinkmanship where none can back down, back out, or even control events. It's like being on a roller coaster ride without a safety strap. The ride has started, and for better or worse, everyone is going to complete the circuit.

Responsibility for the event is currently being attributed to Al Qaeda. And it could well be that some group of zealots that pay homage to Osama bin Laden are, in fact, behind it. But Al Qaeda is a convenient catch-all that can be tagged with responsibility for anything. (I'll talk about that in a future post.)

Without accusing anyone, let's look at how this event affects each of the key players that are still in the game.

Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani military: National elections are currently scheduled in Pakistan for January 8th. Bhutto was the main opposition candidate to Musharraf and the most realistic possibility for unseating him. Bhutto had no political heir apparent, so the Pakistan People's Party now has no leader to run against Musharraf. Rather convenient for Pervez, yes? On the other hand, Musharraf's international credibility can ill-afford another blow against it. It seems highly unlikely that such a cagey player as Musharraf would even entertain such a dangerous notion as assassinating Bhutto. That is, unless Musharraf were absolutely desperate...

Nawaz Sharif: The leader of Pakistan's third political entity, the Pakistan Muslim League, had no love for Bhutto. She was a rival to power; she was "western friendly." And, let's be real, she was a woman.

Junior Bush: On its face, this is a disaster for Junior. Bhutto offered a legitimate friendly face for the American public. If Bhutto had won the January 8th election, the distaste that many Americans have for Musharraf and his heavy-handed tactics could have gone away, leaving Junior a free hand to cut shady deals with a new partner that would have been much more palatable to the American public. But those dreams are gone; and if there is one thing at which Junior and his band have proven themselves adept it is capitalizing on disaster. Remember how, after the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States occurred on his watch, Junior used the occasion to ram through unprecedented powers for the executive branch? And with the Al Qaeda name tag on this assassination, Junior will undoubtedly point to the event as he looks to intimidate Congress during the next legislative session.

Waziri Warlords: These are the kingmakers in Pakistan. These warlords, from their bases in northwestern Pakistan, along the Afghan border, operate more or less autonomously. Musharraf learned an expensive lesson about meddling in their affairs when, at Junior's behest, he tried to crackdown on them back in 2004. The proud Pakistani military was humiliated in the rugged terrain and Musharraf's prestige with his primary constituency was badly damaged. In fact, Musharraf has yet to recover from this disastrous move. The warlords hated Bhutto and many suspect that they were behind the assassination attempt in Karachi earlier this year.

We will probably never know who, exactly, was behind this killing. All we can do is look at who benefits. Oh yeah, and hang on to your hats, folks! The ride is just getting under way.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Misleading movie synopses

A while back, I saw a listing from a television programming guide that read thusly:

The Wizard of Oz:  Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.

So, with a nod to the ultimate spinners in the White House (nobody can obfuscate like them), and in the spirit of Friday fun, I decided to come up with a few of my own:

The Godfather: a World War II veteran returns home to New York to help his aging father run the family business.

Jaws: an oceanographer, a cop, and a crotchety old salt team up to try to land the biggest fish in the waters around a small New England town.

Dr. Zhivago
: a respected city doctor destroys his marriage and family in pursuit of a high-society harlot.

The Exorcist: when therapy and discipline prove insufficient, a frustrated mother finally turns to her priest for help in counseling her misbehaving daughter.

Caddyshack: caught in the middle of a conflict between a corrupt judge, a menacing groundskeeper, and two eccentric millionaires, a confused young man struggles to maintain his identity.

Jurassic Park: when complications arise, an old man's dream of building an amusement park is cruelly dashed by nay-sayers.

See ya at the movies!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

John Edwards for President

Although there is still over a year to go, the global nightmare of the Bush "presidency" is approaching its desultory, rancid conclusion. There is even some reason to hope that, now that the public is finally aware of the nature of this criminal enterprise they call the Bush administration, and the nature of the man, himself, the most foul of his endeavors will never get off the ground. (For example, consider the public release of the National Intelligence Estimate, which appears to have chopped Junior's Iran war plans off at the knees.)

So, although we must continue to cast a wary eye in the direction of the White House, we must also look ahead to the day when Junior and his gang are deposed. How can we best begin the healing process? How can we repair the damage to our country's good name inflicted on it by neo-conservatives? How can we begin to dismantle the plutocracy imposed on us by all-powerful corporations and the uber-rich?

I believe that the first best step we can take is to choose a capable, ethical, and independent leader. Further, I believe that John Edwards is that leader.

Senator Edwards has come out publicly with the following positions:
  • A specific plan for universal health care for all Americans.
  • An agenda to eliminate poverty in the United States within a generation
  • A reversal of the regressive tax policies of the Bush administration
  • A complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq
  • A leadership role in ending the genocide in Darfur
  • A leadership role in fighting global poverty
  • A commitment to energy independence and self-sufficiency

All in all, this list may not seem much different than a similar list that might be created by a supporter of Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton. But read what Edwards is actually saying:
On NAFTA: "NAFTA was sold to the American people with promises that it would grow the economy and create millions of new jobs. But today, we know those promises were empty. In all three countries, it has hurt workers and families while helping corporate insiders."

On equal rights for GLBT citizens: "There is so much work to be done to treat gays and lesbians and gay and lesbian couples with the respect that they're entitled to. They deserve, in my judgment, partnership benefits. They deserve to be treated fairly when it comes to adoption and immigration."

On his vote to give Junior the authority to invade Iraq: "
I was wrong to vote for this war. Unfortunately, I'll have to live with that forever. And the lesson I learned from it is to put more faith in my own judgment."

You won't hear Obama saying anything that courageous about gay/lesbian rights. And Hillary not only won't admit she made a mistake with her Iraq war vote, she seems to advocate the neo-conservative line with respect to Iran.

Edwards is brilliant, principled, and courageous. And his valiant wife, Elisabeth, who is currently battling breast cancer, is an admirable and fearless figure herself.

Up to now, the pundits have portrayed the race for the Democratic nomination as being between Clinton and Obama. But, hold on to your hats, folks! In much the same way that Ron Paul is raising more money than any other Republican candidate, John Edwards may actually prove that the punditry and the finger-waggers and fake sages in the Washington beltway are completely out of touch. He may very well win the Iowa caucuses which are in less than two weeks.

At this point in time, I don't have two nickels to rub together, as the saying goes. Nonetheless, I charged up my credit card to donate to the Edwards campaign. The Bush miasma has devastated me financially, emotionally, and spiritually. (Before I came to know the Bush/Cheney machine, I had believed that I couldn't hate anyone.) But it is coming to an end. Now is the time to push aggressively for the destruction of the corporate hegemony that is polluting our earth, killing people, and stealing the hard-earned bread of the common man.

John Edwards for President.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Halliburton/KBR/Blackwater: Dick Cheney's goon squad

Dick's goons
One reason that progressives and liberals are generally opposed to military action is because violence unleashes the very worst in human behavior. Regardless of the justice or "nobility" of the cause, war inevitably leads to bestial acts.

Just a few examples from Iraq:
  • On September 14, 2003, British soldiers detained a number of Iraqi civilians as part of a counter-insurgency operation. They held the detainees for 36 hours, repeatedly beating them while handcuffed and hooded. One of the detainees, Baha Mousa, a 26 year old hotel receptionist, died as a result of injuries he received.
  • On November 19, 2005, in Haditha, after a roadside bomb killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, Marines shot and killed 24 unarmed men, women, and children.
  • On or about June 23, 2006, 5 US soldiers raped and murdered a 14 year old Iraqi girl, then killed her family in an effort to conceal their crime.
This is far from an exhaustive list of the atrocities that have been committed in Iraq (and we won't even touch on Afghanistan).

Note, however, that there is a (perhaps inadequate) system of justice that can deal with these heinous crimes. Namely, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). As with any disciplined bureaucracy, the US military, in order to function effectively, must adhere to laws and provisions. To do otherwise is to dissolve an army into a murderous mob. (Think Red Army in Germany, 1945).

But Dick Cheney and the neo-conservatives found a way to avoid all that silly stuff about restraint and decency: military contractors.

On June 27, 2004, L. Paul Bremer, Junior Bush's Iraqi proconsul and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, issued Order 17 as his final official act. The order declares that "all International Consultants shall be immune from Iraqi legal process." Get it? International consultants (military contractors) are immune from the legal process of the official US-installed government!

Well, even so, one might say, contractors could still be held accountable by the US military. Wouldn't military contractors still be subject to the UCMJ? a word, no.

Cheney and the neo-cons were already two steps ahead in their thinking: According to US courts, the UCMJ can apply only to US civilians "serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field" at a "time of war." Since there has never been a formal congressional declaration of war on Iraq, the US is not officially in a "time of war" and therefore military contractors, who are technically civilians, cannot be brought before a court martial.

This opened the door for Cheney's goons in Blackwater, Halliburton, and Kellogg, Brown, and Root. They were free to hire the most bestial, sadistic psychopaths they could find: persons who would not be constrained by human decency, and would be free to do what needed to be done. Here's a few examples of their handiwork:
  • Jamie Leigh Jones, a 22 year old woman from Houston, Texas, claims she was kidnapped and raped by Halliburton employees in the Green Zone of Bagdad, in July, 2005. There is currently a congressional investigation into the matter. She is pursuing a civil suit against Halliburton.
  • On September 16, 2007, 17 Iraqi civilians were killed when employees of the Blackwater security firm opened fire at a Bagdad intersection. FBI investigators have since determined that the killings were unjustified.
  • During the infamous Abu Ghraib scandal, apart from the involvement of under-trained US military personnel (who were prosecuted and convicted quickly without an investigation of their superiors), military contractors were found to have been involved in the torture and abuse of detainees.
There is more, but I leave it to the reader to find it. The point is this: in none of these cases have military contractors been charged with crimes.

It seems that the neo-conservatives have found the perfect method for comitting heinous crimes and ruthlessly suppressing populations while being immune from responsiblity, from accountability. And, maybe so, maybe so.

Never mind that these corporations are bilking the US taxpayer for billions (yes, billions!) of dollars. Never mind that Dick Cheney is profiting directly from the non-competitive contracts that Halliburton has been awarded. The fact is that the neo-conservatives have determined that, like a ruthless gang of wise guys, abstractions like "law" and "justice" cannot be allowed to keep them from their goals of hegemony, power, and obscene wealth.

The Iraqi government has revoked contractor immunity, in effect reversing Bremer's Order 17. And, back in January of this year, a defense spending bill passed congress containing a provision that revoked contractor immunity, subjecting such contractors to the UCMJ. But even these efforts do not guarantee that anyone will be held accountable. Firms like Blackwater provide security to civilian agencies and are not integrated into defense forces. This could well be the loophole that saves their bacon if they are ever brought before a court.

People, this cannot stand. The heinous crimes committed by private contractors are being financed by your tax dollars. Some portion of the money you earn is being used to cover up rape, to commit murder, to torture detainees. And don't think it will be confined to Iraq: in September, 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Blackwater employees, armed with automatic weapons, swooped into New Orleans to "secure neighborhoods" and "confront criminals."

There must be full congressional investigations that go wherever the evidence leads, followed by prosecutions, and criminal sentences.

And if the American public ever works up the stomach to seriously investigate, don't be surprised if this revolting trail of obscenity leads us straight to the White House.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

3 Doors Down: Whoring for the Neo-cons

How very disheartening... Even now, when the lies, exaggeration, and deception that led the American public to half-heartedly agree to the invasion of Iraq have been exposed (and, call it a hunch, but I suspect we've seen only the tip of the iceberg) there are those who will still cynically bleat about virtue and patriotism to convince young people to feed the war machine.

Last weekend, during the interminable orgy of advertisements and previews one must endure in order to see a movie, I was exposed to this piece of propaganda put forth by the pseudo-grunge band 3 Doors Down:

The video is a promotion for the National Guard, and, as you can see, appeals to youthful ideals that, in and of themselves, are noble: the desire to contribute to society meaningfully, to help those in need, to use one's strength to protect and serve.

All well and good. But here's the problem: the National Guard is currently being used to feed the dilapidated war machine of Junior Bush and the neo-conservatives. Earlier this month, five Army National Guard Brigades (including the 41st BCT, Oregon National Guard) were informed that they are to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan in the summer of 2009.

It's a lie, people! If you enlist in the National Guard, you are offering yourself up as fodder for Dick Cheney's demented dream of empire and global hegemony.

Undoubtedly, this production will be hailed with gibberish similar to this, put forth by someone calling himself BlueZeus:
Excellent job. Congratulations on a great production! I am sure the anti-military, anti-patriots will have a lot of hate for this video but they would not have the right to free speech without the heroic deeds of the Guard.
These fake patriots are always looking for ways to make themselves seem Christ-like, aren't they? Their line goes like this: "Go ahead, you hippie freaks! Spurn us! We're dying face down in the mud so you can have the right to spit on us!" Yawn.

But today my disgust is aimed at the band 3 Doors Down. The band (from Mississippi, no less) wrote this song and produced this video, as an appeal to the natural virtue of young people. But, one wonders why the strapping young lads that comprise the band aren't enlisted themselves. Or, are they doing their "part" by helping recruit (and, oh by the way, making lots of money)?

Many artists have been lured into compromise by the siren of financial reward. In fact, most of us have made these compromises in our lives. But rank hypocrisy and willful dishonesty like the song "Citizen Soldier" extends beyond the venial to the mortal.

Chrissie Hynde, of the Pretenders may have said it best:
Hey, baby, I wanna know
How much did you get for your soul?
You had the gospel when you were shackled to a tree;
Now you've got your freedom, you sing for the money;
Hey, baby, tell me please
How much did you get for that sleaze?
You finally made it right up to the top,
Millions of kids are looking at you,
You say, "Let them drink soda pop"

Chrissie Hynde
The National Guard itself is a fine organization, and serves our people well when properly equipped and supplied. But the neo-conservatives, with their simian half-wit leader, Junior Bush, have been abusing the National Guard (and the rest of the US military) to pursue their narrow interests in Iraq.

I implore anyone that might read this blog to do what you can to convince young people not to join the National Guard -- not while it is being used to further the agenda of neo-conservative devils. And, as for 3 Doors Down, faithfully serving the public via Adam Smith's invisible hand...enjoy your money, lads. It comes at the price of your souls.

3 Doors Down: Anything for money, eh, boys?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Movie Review: No Country for Old Men

In these days of glitz and flash, superlatives get thrown around like so much New Year's confetti. Nonetheless, when describing the Coen brothers new film, No Country for Old Men, I find it hard to avoid the term "masterpiece." Joel and Ethan Coen have a long resume of excellent films (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski). But even among such gems, No Country... stands out.

Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss
The story revolves around a drug deal gone bad on the desolate prairies of west Texas, near the Mexican border. While hunting antelope, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam veteran making a meager living as a welder, stumbles upon the grizzly aftermath of a shootout. Amid the carnage, he finds a pickup bed filled with heroin and a satchel containing two million dollars. Knowing the risks involved, Llewelyn figures that his ship has come in; with this windfall, he and his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), can retire from their menial jobs.

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh
Of course, there are other parties with different ideas. On the one side is the Mexican gang, armed with machine pistols and pit bulls; on the other is the American gang, headed by an unnamed executive (Stephen Root), who hires a professional killer, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) to track down the missing money.

Tommy Lee Jones as Sherriff Bell
And then, there is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), the story's narrator and Greek chorus, who subsequently visits the scene of the shootout, deduces what has transpired, and sets about trying to find Llewelyn to protect him.
That's as far as I'll go in revealing the plot. This film is too delectable to risk spoiling it by revealing more.

The performances are outstanding, from top to bottom. Most especially, the three primaries, Bardem, Jones, and Brolin are at the top of their game. Bardem's portrayal of a sociopathic killer, enslaved by his own twisted ethos, is positively hair-raising. And Brolin conveys the quiet pride of a fiercely independent and basically decent man so well that it is impossible not to root for him. For Jones, the role of Sheriff Bell must be somewhat familiar (think back to his role as Woodrow Call in the Lonesome Dove series). But Sheriff Bell is far more complex than other similar characters:  bemused and uncertain, teetering on despair.   Jones conveys Bell's precarious emotions masterfully in the set of his shoulders, the wrinkling of his brow, the resignation of his tone.

Dread and apprehension pervade the film, as we watch Chigurh ruthlessly and efficiently track Llewelyn, both of them contending not only with each other, but with the Mexican gang. The lack of a musical score adds to the viewers anxiety; there is no cuing of emotions with swelling violins, no release provided in crunching electric guitars. Rather, the viewer must endure, agonizingly, the creak of floorboards as a killer progresses through a dark hallway; the deadly serious click of a gun hammer being cocked. The cinematography is unrelenting in its use of shadow and stark light, and the many sweeping shots of desolate Texas wilderness reinforce the cruelty and bleakness of the world in which the viewer finds himself.

As with nearly all the Coen Brothers films, the writing is close to flawless. The dialog is powerful and vivacious. Every line is significant. Between the acting and the writing, the west Texas dialect is delivered convincingly.

All of the characters remain true to their respective belief systems. And throughout the film, the viewer wrestles with the implications of those beliefs. Each character, whether the bewildered man on the side of the highway, or the cocky bounty hunter, Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), provides another facet through which to examine the impossible questions raised as the story progresses.

Are we merely puppets whose actions and thoughts are governed by laws that we can't understand?  Or do we have choices? Can we affect outcomes?

Chigurh's belief regarding those questions is revealed in a conversation he has with a potential victim. He flips a coin, then tells his victim to call it. The outcome of the call will determine the victim's fate.

The victim considers for an instant, then, in a sudden epiphany (delivered with all the conviction of a character from a Flannery O'Connor story) declares "No, I won't call it.  The coin don't have no say. It's you."

Chigurh brushes that aside, his expression revealing disappointment and impatience. "I got here the same way the coin did," he says.

This is the best film I have seen in quite some time. It's not a film I would recommend if you are bothered by cinematic violence. But it is an outstanding film. I give it my highest recommendation.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Christmas Song, by Jethro Tull

Once in royal David's city stood a lonely cattle shed
Where a mother laid her baby;

You'd do well to remember the things he later said;
When you're stuffing yourselves at the Christmas parties,
You'll just laugh when I tell you to take a running jump;

You're missing the point I'm sure does not need making;
The Christmas spirit is not what you drink;

So how can you laugh when your own mother's hungry?

And how can you smile when your reasons for smiling are wrong?

And if I've just messed up your thoughtless pleasures,
Remember if you wish, this is just a Christmas song;
(Hey, Santa, pass us that bottle will ya?)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Movie Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

A while back, Maty and I went to see Mike Newell's film adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez's novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. I was eager to see the film having been a fan of Márquez ever since my college days, when I read No One Writes to the Colonel (Coronel no tiene quien le escriba) for a literature class.

The story takes place in Cartagena, Colombia in the 19th century, and relates the tale of Florentino Ariza (played by Javier Bardem) and Fermina Urbino (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). Florentino espies Fermina while delivering a telegraph to her father, Lorenzo Daza (John Leguizamo), and is thunderstruck. Hopeless romantic that he is, Florentino devotes his life to loving Fermina, in spite of the disapproval of her father, her eventual rejection, and her 50 year marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt). Florentino never forsakes his love and proclaims himself to her again on the day of her husband's funeral.

The novel, first published in 1985, is a sweeping epic told in Márquez's signature style. (Márquez is considered one of the pioneers of the "magical realism" literary movement). The test of any novel is its ability to create and maintain its own unique universe, and there are few (if any) modern writers that have mastered the art like Márquez. His narrative, from the opening sentence to Florentino's one word proclamation ending the novel, wraps the reader in an unrelenting spell. It invokes the slow-paced South American life, tinged with horror and squalor, but also heavy with complex beauty and a faith in the righteousness of unforeseen outcomes.

Watching the film, it is obvious that Newell holds the novel in deep reverence. And one must, at the very least, tip one's hat to the ambition required at the attempt. But, alas, even granting allowance for the limitations of the medium, this film falls short.

In his attempt to capture the languorous pacing of the novel, Newell seems to have forgotten that his viewers need something to look toward. Márquez's sense of inevitability is completely missing, and the viewer is left to wonder if there is a point. The characters are so thinly defined that they evoke no sympathy. Rather, they come across as absurd or ridiculous; especially, Florentino, who seems more of a pathetic and hopeless milquetoast than a tortured poet.

But the film's real flaw is that Newell apparently did not have enough discipline when it came to editing. Rather than omit less important plot elements for the sake of improving the development of others, Newell attempts to include too many of them. For example, Florentino pens love letters for lovers as a way of paying homage to love (and to earn some extra scratch). At one point, he writes letters for both parties in a relationship, and is later discovered and acknowledged by the happy couple who go so far as to name him as their child's godfather. In the novel, the annecdote is related almost in passing, just another element in the flow of life. In the film, Newell awkwardly inserts the incident, telling the tale through dialog, assigning it a disproportionate and misleading significance.

It's not that I felt bilked, watching this film. An honest effort was made and there are no insulting simplifications to theme or motif. But, like so many films before it, Love in the Time of Cholera simply cannot attain the peaks set for it by the novel. The film is a valiant effort that just doesn't work.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mike Huckabee: Christian Warrior

Onward, Christian soldiers!
The more I get to know him, the more I am coming to despise former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. According to recent polls, Huckabee's support is "surging" in Iowa, where the primary caucus is a mere 3 weeks away. Could it be that the hitherto fickle Republican primary voters have finally found a candidate that they can support?

So far, Republican voters haven't been able to muster much enthusiasm for any of their candidates. In Iowa, Republicans consist largely of the most socially conservative elements of the party: evangelical Christians and undereducated rubes that view the world beyond their limited horizons with suspicion. Rudy Giuliani's cross-dressing and big city ways make them nervous. Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper and a Mormon. John McCain earned their mistrust and comtenpt when he dared to challenge their heir apparent in 2000 by appealing to moderates. And even Fred Thompson can't get enthused about his own campaign.

So, is Huckabee going to be their savior? Is he the one they will choose to save them from the godless liberals? I can't answer that. But I can say that progressives and Americans opposed to the policies and philosophies of the Bush administration would be well-advised to see Huckabee for what he is: an extremist who is ready and willing to pick up where Junior Bush leaves off.

Recently, Huckabee was asked what he imagined was behind his recent rise in the polls. Check out his answer:
There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people. And that's the only way that our campaign could be doing what it's doing. And I'm not being facetious, nor am I trying to be trite. There literally are thousands of people across this country who are praying that a little will become much. And it defies all explanation. It has confounded the pundits, and I'm enjoying every minute of their trying to figure it out. And until they look at it from an experience just beyond human, they'll never figure it out. And that's probably just as well. That's honestly why it's happening. --Mike Huckabee, December 6, 2007
So much for separation of church and state, eh?

Well, the Bible-thumping rubes in Iowa eat that kind of stuff up with a spoon. Huckabee knows that. He also knows how to play on the fears and suspicions of those people. Check out what he said about the future of evangelicals in politics:

Listen up, evangelicals! If Huckabee doesn't win, your dream of a Christian nation is kaput. Time to soldier up!

And, lest any Christians might think that the deeply-religious Mitt Romney offers an alternative, here's what Huckabee said about Romney's faith:

"He [Romney] has said that he is a Mormon and also says that he follows Jesus Christ. I take him at his word."--Mike Huckabee
Get it? Romney is a Mormon and he follows Jesus Christ. In other words, Huckabee graciously accepts that Romney is a follower of Christ in spite of his being a Mormon. That's big of you, Mike.

Right now, things are looking good for Huckabee in Iowa. But frontrunner status is fraught with peril. And the vicious GOP power-brokers on Wall Street and the shadowy neo-conservative kingmakers are afraid of him. Already, stories have been emerging regarding Huckabee's clemency record as governor of Arkansas and about his bigoted past statements regarding AIDS victims. And then, there's the particularly ugly story about the release of rapist Wayne Dumond. There will be more to come. But we've already seen that Huckabee can give as well as he gets on this front. (He's a Republican, after all).

Huckabee comes off as a nice guy. He's got an affable personality; he has overcome a big weight problem; he even plays bass in a band, for Christ's sake! (Er--strike that.) But make no mistake about it: behind the everyday Joe facade is a power-hungry fanatic who is more than willing to play to people's fears and bigotry to get what he wants.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tragedy in Colorado Springs

Matthew Murray

The news from Colorado Springs keeps coming in. A troubled young man named Matthew Murray went on a rampage and left 5 people (including himself) dead. Murray was apparently a deeply disturbed individual who expressed a deep hatred of Christians. In posts on a web site for people who have left evangelical organizations, he wrote:
You Christians brought this on yourselves. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world. -- Matthew Murray
This is an horrific tragedy. According to reports I have seen, Murray was a troubled young man, plagued by internal voices, alienated from his community and desperately in need of help.

I wanted to write about this incident because, at times, on this blog, I have expressed a measure of contempt and disdain for evangelical Christians, and specifically Christians that attend megachurches like the New Life Church where this tragedy took place.

Be that as it may, I feel nothing but sorrow for the Works family, whose 2 young daughters, Stephanie and Rachael, were among the dead, and for the the families of the other victims, including the Murray family.

I hope the leaders of the New Life Church can assuage the grief of their community. I humbly offer my own words of condolence:

Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how. --James Russell Lowell

Grief is only the memory of widowed affections. --James Martineau

This book, conceived in sorrow, composed in grief, and constructed at the brink of despair, contains my mind's best thoughts, and my soul's triumph over the powers of darkness. -- Isaac Mayer Wise

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mia enters her fourth decade

Mia on her 30th birthday
Yesterday was Mia's 31st birthday. She's the second of my three sisters.

Mia (also known as the "Googagger") is brilliant, beautiful, competitive, and tough as nails!
She simply cannot be intimidated. She was probably the only one of my father's children who had the guts to stand up to him. (And, let me tell you, that took a lot of guts).

Mia in Klamath Falls, with my old dog, Pippin
She's a traveler, an advocate for women and children, an intellect, an athlete, and a dedicated friend, sister, daughter, and wife. Earlier this year, she completed a triathlon (swimming/biking/running) and, after a slow start in the swimming event, came from behind to finish in the middle of the pack. A graduate of the University of Oregon, with a degree in Women's Studies, she now works for the City of Eugene. She's traveled to Mexico, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France.

Googagger was not afraid of the apes at Gibraltar
Mia and her husband, Kyle, are solid in their relationship with each other and in the relationships they have with their families and friends. They have two dogs, Chloe and Luna, and a beautiful home in the hills of west Eugene.

Mia and Kyle
Whenever I need an emotional lift, Mia's is one of the first phone numbers I dial. So, happy birthday, Mia! Here's wishing you a fulfilling and happy year to come.

Me and the Googagger

Friday, December 07, 2007

Remember the day we died?

On that day, so cold and gray,
My heart was sick with grief;
The rain tap-tapped the needled firs
In gentle contrast to the sound of your leaving;
The soft patter soothed the edges of my pain
As a mother's hand on her feverish child's forehead;

I went for a walk, not angry, but afraid;
And, try as I might, I could not keep from falling in the mud;
I think I remember crying;

It must have been raining on Caesar, huddled under his cloak,
On the banks of the Rubicon, the drizzle softening his shape,
As his wheels turned, his gears grinded,
Weighing, calculating;
But Caesar had glory as his reward;
For us, only the hope that our next hell would be short-lived;

From the moment I heard your car in the driveway
To the turning of the knob, there passed a small eternity;
And from somewhere else I saw us, not quite facing each other,
As the fateful reality we had both been avoiding came into being;

I loved you because you were the mother of the family that we will never have;
And because you were so beautiful in the moonlight;
And it seems strange, after so long, to look back now,
But it is raining and cold and gray,
And, in the end, isn't it good that, like Caesar, we made the crossing?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Los Republicanos han decidido

Bien, los republicanos parecen haber decidido cómo responderán al asunto de inmigración: odiarán los mexicanos!

Recientemente, candidato a la presidencia, Mitt Romney despidió una compañía que ha ajardinado su mansiòn. ¿La razón? La compañía, supuestamente, empleó a trabajadores indocumentados. Romney, sin duda, fue obligado hacerlo por la retórica procede de racistas como Tom Tancredo. (La campaña de Tancredo depende de una sola táctica odiosa: promove el temor de mexicanos.)

Romney, lo quien campaña vacila recientemente, está empezando sentir las mandíbulas de la trampa creó de las tácticas de Karl Rove. Cuando Rove promovió las políticas de la división y teme, él creó un ambiente en lo cual es casi imposible a hablar o pensar en el matiz. Lo que es màs interesante es que Romney ha determinado que el mètodo a mantener la coalición republicano frágil de ricos y patanes es tirar un hueso a las racistas.

La indicación es que el futuro del partido republicano es desechar sutileza y volver a las políticas racistas de su pasado, por lo menos hasta que las primarias sean completadas. Esto es una táctica desesperada, manejado por la necesidad de acallar el base rabiosa (el 25% que todavía sostene Bush).

Progresivos deben dar gracias a Tom Tancredo por forzar los republicanos exponer la verdad pura. Mire este video de la campaña de Tancredo. ¿Piensa que hay sentimentos racistas?

Una apelación al racismo quizás gane votas por las primarias, pero es veneno por la elección general.

Karl Marx dijo una vez que el capitalismo lleva la semilla de su propia destrucción. Tambièn, el partido republicano. Como los nazis y los confederates antes de ellos, el malo en el corazón de los republicanos poder-hambrientos llevará a su fallecimiento.

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

NIE bitch slaps the Dick

Finally, some really good news!

It looks like Dick Cheney is on Santa's shit list this Christmas. Dick has already received his lump of coal in the form of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), released this week, which states with "high confidence" that Iran halted development of its nuclear weapon program in 2003, apparently in response to international pressure.

Big Dick's Christmas dream
First off, we can all be thankful that, regardless of what Cheney and the few remaining neo-conservatives that still hold sway in the White House might wish, the chances of armed conflict with Iran have been greatly diminished. This is a fantastic development.

Beyond that, the release of this report indicates that things have changed greatly since 2002/2003, when Congress, the media, and seemingly, all the bureaucracy of the federal government seemed to bow to the neo-conservative lash. You'll recall that, in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, all manner of sketchy intelligence reports, with frightening tales about everything from aluminum tubes to mobile chemical weapons labs to anthrax-laden drones, found their way into the public debate about the threat posed from Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

We later learned that Dick Cheney had a hand in producing some of those reports. He went so far as to actually drive to CIA Headquarters to intimidate and pressure intelligence operatives to release reports that hyped the threat.

The media (with a very few exceptions) uncritically aired these reports without asking tough questions. The catalyst of 911 produced a toxic swill of misinformation that allowed Cheney and his gang (Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Pearle, John Bolton, et alia) to succeed in confusing the majority of the American public into tentatively agreeing to their war. Well, we're going to be reaping the bitter fruits of that harvest for years to come.

But now, with the Bush administration's credibility destroyed, things are very different. The fact that this intelligence estimate actually became public is a sign that the Cheney gang has lost a lot of its influence. Cheney reportedly did his best to suppress the report's release, according to two CIA agents who worked on it. But he failed, and that is a very telling fact.

Democratic show horse, Senator Joe Biden (Del) has publicly stated that if Bush attacks Iran without Congressional authorization, he will move to impeach! And, when Junior held a press conference yesterday, the questions from the media were brutal!

Quite a turnaround from the bad old days, yes? If the media or Congress or the various intelligence agencies had shown this kind of intestinal fortitude back in 2002, we wouldn't be mired in Iraq right now.

The pundits are all bemoaning the world-wide loss of US prestige and credibility. But they're a little late to the party, no? Anyone that was paying attention back in 2002, when 911 was still fresh on the malleable conscience of the American public, knew that Junior was nothing but a carnival huckster. For media hacks and cowardly Senators and Congresspersons to now claim to be surprised is insulting. And as far as US prestige and credibility, those are just two more casualties from the invasion of Iraq.

Regardless, one can hope that the last shreds of credibility of this administration are now rotted away, one year before they will be forced to abdicate power (unless, of course, Congress miraculously moves to impeach before then).

(For anyone that still might believe Junior is honest, the NIE should lay that misconceived notion to rest. As recently as October 17th, Junior was talking about Iran's nuclear capability leading to World War III. But, according to Stephen Hadley, National Security Adviser, Junior knew about the intelligence estimate as early as August or September. Why, then, have Junior and Cheney been ratcheting up their bellicose rhetoric since then?)

I imagine that there is an interesting story behind how the NIE came to light. It could be that the various intelligence agencies have decided that, this time, they will not allow the neo-conservatives to manipulate American intelligence agencies into shaping the intelligence to fit a political agenda, that they are going to stand up to Big Dick. There are also reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condi Rice have gained Junior's ear at the expense of Cheney and that the release of this report shows Cheney's waning influence on Junior's peanut brain. (Personally, I have trouble believing that Condi could show that much independence).

Of course, Junior showed jaw-dropping audacity at his conference yesterday, when he claimed that the NIE report confirmed his administration's assertion about Iran's intentions. But, when Chris Matthews calls it a lie, one has to imagine that the absurdity would penetrate even the thickest of Bush-supporter skulls.

One would hope so anyway...
Even Chris Matthews calls "Bullshit"

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bring your guitar: "It's always worth it."

Playing in the fjords...
I suppose that I can call myself an experienced traveler now, having set foot on 5 different continents and in 23 countries. Ironically, perhaps, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got about travel came from a youngster playing guitar at the Oregon Country Fair, a scant 130 miles from my home. He was playing with a slide and sounding very good. I said, "I was going to bring my guitar, but I thought it would be too crowded and too much of a hassle."

He looked at me from over the top of his wire-framed glasses, seeming much older than his eighteen or twenty years.  "It's always worth it," he said.  His words rang true.  I have ever since endeavored to take my guitar with me whenever I travel. And, I must say, it has opened many doors for me in my journeys.

...and on the train through Slovakia
During my Grand European Tour, in 1999, my guitar got a lot of use. I played it on trains, in the common rooms of youth hostels, and even on a boat in the Norway fjords.

Aside from providing a great way to kill time while waiting at the train station, my guitar proved to be an excellent ice-breaker.  Trust me, I am no Leo Kottke.  Nonetheless people would stop to listen, and maybe even strike up a conversation. I made a lot of friends that way.

A scene from the Oregon Country Fair
In 2001, my band, Mahatma Candy*, pooled our resources, and headed out for the British Isles, where we drove through Wales and Ireland, and played music at various pubs. I have to say, for an amateur band, our reception was unbelievable.

Mahatma Candy at Rosslare Harbor, Ireland
At a little pub in Monmouth, Wales, called "the Boat" we were announced as coming "All the way from America." The place was packed, and we played without amplification to an enthusiastic audience that called us back for encores.

The Boat, in Monmouth, Wales
In summary, I've lugged my guitar across a lot of borders, through a lot of airports and train stations, and along a lot of city streets and rural highways. And the words of that young guitarist at the Oregon Country Fair have proven true: it's always worth it.

*Mahatma Candy was:
  • Lori Hefley, voice
  • David Thompson, lead guitar
  • Dan Binmore, percussions, voice
  • Dade Cariaga, guitar, voice

Monday, December 03, 2007

Bush Dead-Enders: the Sin of Pride

Ignorant and proud
Over the past year, I have been treated to discussions with some of those ever-more-rare relics of the halcyon days of the Bush administration: unrepentant Bush supporters. In these days of new awareness of the extent of corruption and ineptitude that pervades the Bush administration, such finds are rare, indeed, and should be savored if for no other reason than to witness the obstinacy that gives these people the ability to deny reality.

My discussions lasted over the course of several months, in the form of email exchanges that sometimes became rather nasty. I was at least as responsible as my counterparts for the nastiness of the exchanges. No surprise. In this Karl Rove era of politics, there are few reasoned debates; instead, demonization, smear, and humiliation are the tools used to browbeat opponents into silence. (And I can play that way, if you want.)

The problem for Republicans is that the people that Rove targeted for support (mostly under-educated evangelicals and reactionary bigots) are generally not capable of understanding (let alone articulating) the mind-twisting arguments that must be used to justify the policies that the administration promulgated. Therefore, Rove aimed for the lowest common denominator with easy-to-grasp slogans and innuendo: Democrats are soft on terror; the terrorists hate us for our freedom; we must fight them in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here.

Well, the exchanges I have had with Bush supporters are textbook Rove. Just a few examples:

Regarding the Iraq invasion

Bush Supporter: We had to invade Iraq in response to 911.

Dade: Saddam had nothing to do with 911. But, even if that were true, more innocent people have been killed in the Iraq invasion than were killed in 911.

BS: We have to confront the terrorists, even if they hide behind the innocent.

Dade: So, how many innocent people should be killed in response to 911?

BS: That's a rhetorical question.

Dade: No, it's an empirical question. You've advocated invading Iraq. You know that, in an invasion, innocent people will be killed. Therefore, how many innocent people can be killed in order for the invasion to remain justified?

BS: As many as it takes!*

Regarding Cheney and Halliburton

Dade: Cheney's ties to Halliburton are unethical. He is the former CEO, and the company was on the verge of bankruptcy when he became vice-president. After the Iraq invasion, of which Cheney was one of the chief proponents, Halliburton was awarded billions of dollars in federal contracts without being subjected to competitive bidding.

BS: That doesn't mean there is a conspiracy.

Dade: But those are the facts.

BS: Facts can lie!*

Other random goodies

: I don't advocate torture .... We are treating illegal combatants alot [sic] better than we should*

I'm not afraid of terrorists. I just see them as a threat*

Given my current situation, the best way I can support the troops is to continue to communicate the virtue of their mission and sacrifice. *

The President has ALWAYS had the power to suspend Habeus [sic]! It's written into the Constitution!*

BS: Those opposed to the war are free to speak - I'm free to characterize them as cowards (ain't free speech great!).*

*These are actual quotations.

Well, even a hard-core Bush supporter has trouble keeping a straight face when spouting this kind of drivel. But it occurs to me that it is not really about logic or reason; it's about identity. Karl Rove convinced the Republican "base" to ignore facts and base its support on the (false) belief that Bush was one of them. The implied message behind all the propaganda put forth by the administration and its accomplices in the media is that Junior is like you (the conservative base); he's not a godless big-city liberal. He believes in the Bible. He says what he means. He does not waver in his principles. When the Democrats/liberals/gays/peace activists attack Bush, they are attacking you; they are attacking your way of life, your creed.

If you can sell this line to people, you've got a power base that will stick with you through thick and thin. After all, for these people to suddenly accept the facts and admit that Bush is a liar, an incompetent, a demagogue, would be to admit that they have been woefully befooled. The Bush administration has counted on this unbending support; indeed, they wield it like a cudgel, threatening the pathetic Democratic leadership whenever the latter makes even a pretense at defying them.

Well, people, this is what happens when you put the yahoos in charge. If I sound contemptuous, rest assured that the contempt I have toward Bush supporters pales when compared to the contempt in which they are held by the Bush administration itself.

We're mired in war, facing financial ruin, and paralyzed with animosity and mistrust. The paltry 25% of the population that still supports Bush are, for now, standing in the way of real progress and redress in order to save themselves from the humiliation of admitting that they were wrong to believe in this failure of a man, George W. Bush. They demonstrate so painfully and clearly the truth of Catholic teachings: the sin of Pride is deadly, indeed.