Your Thoughts Exactly: May 2006

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Protect these idiots

Congress, in their infinite wisdom and continuing efforts to make sure that they only spend their time working on legislation that solves none of the problems our nation faces in these difficult times has passed a bill that bans the act of protesting military funerals. Now when I originally saw this bill on (it was on the front page for a few seconds before Barbaro’s broken leg restole the limelight,) I immediately chalked it up as another example of the Republican Congress trying to emasculate the Left by restricting civil liberties under the false pretenses of patriotism, in order to keep attention away from the fact that soldiers keep dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. I put this in the same vain as the Bush administration banning TV networks from filming returning caskets from overseas.

But upon actually reading the story, I learned that my partisanship had got the best of me, and that I was wrong for prejudging Congress. In fact, this was a bipartisan bill directed at a specific group of people who had taken to protesting military funerals. This group, members of the Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas, (surprise!) shows up to bring attention to their cause. Military deaths, according to the Church and their leader Fred Phelps, are divine retribution towards the United States for our tolerance of homosexuality. Phelps gives a much more detailed, thoughtful, through, view of his attitudes on his website:

Now personally, if I had my way, I would have no problem giving Phelps the Vito Spatafore treatment, only I would make sure he was conscious as I rammed the broomstick up his asshole. But, in this case, as in much of life, I do not get my way. There are codes of laws which I must obey lest I decide to take justice into my own hands and in doing so, infringe on the rights of Phelps and his cronies, which I sadly admit, are no more or less than mine.

Likewise these hatemongers have the right to assemble as human beings who fall under our laws and under the protections of the Constitution. The fact that Congress, as divided and ineffectual as it has been the last five years, can try to ban their presence shows that Americans collectively reject these people as part of our society and as representations of our ideals. Everyone has a right to make noise, however, and we can’t keep people from doing so even if no one likes the message, and if they are being horribly disrespectful towards people whom have suffered more tragedy then they ever have. We can predict what will happen with this group: if given the right to protest, they will either continue doing it until they get bored (and more importantly, people get bored with them and stop giving them attention,) or, in an effort to get more attention, they will commit some illegal, likely violent act, and spend the rest of their lives in prison. Hopefully, they will be ultimately harmless. Restricting first amendment rights, on the other hand, always causes harm.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Culture as Power

I am reading "The Clash of Civilizations," by Samuel Huntington right now as well as playing a whole lot of Civilization 4. Huntington is valiantly attempting to construct a new paradigm of international relations following the end of the WWII-fall of the Soviet Union Cold War paradigm and the “Three worlds.” Thus far (about halfway in,) I think Huntington does a good job of explaining the important distinction between modernization and westernization and how different parts of the world have modernized without westernizing. There are too many loose parts of his argument, however, and while his civilizational theory has shown more predictive power than say, neo-realism following the end of the Cold War (which predicted a collapse of NATO and EU-U.S. conflict,) Huntington struggles to fit certain states and trends of the world into his paradigm, rather than having a paradigm that explains all international relations. That’s not really his fault, the fact is no one has ever come up with a universally accepted “theory of international relations,” that truly explains how people (or states,) interact on a global scale. It also may be impossible, because of how rapidly these interactions change over time.

I want to focus on an assertion Huntington makes throughout the book with regards to the relationship between culture and power. Huntington is responding to another Harvard historian, Joseph Nye, who for the last decade has been arguing for a three-tiered structure of power within the international realm: military power, economic power, and “soft power,” which can be loosely defined as the ability to get countries to do what you want through promoting attractive culture, values, and not pissing people off through your foreign policies. Huntington dismisses the idea of soft power, or any power being derived from sources other than old fashioned “hard power,” (economic/military.) The attractiveness of one’s culture or ideals, according to Huntington, is rooted in a country’s material success and military influence. Increasing hard power increases the worldwide belief in whatever values are succeeding, be they Western liberalism or East Asian collectivism.

Huntington, however, misses some of the nuances of culture and power by only focusing on the world as civilizational blocks. The ability of a country to get what it wants through promoting (or not promoting) attractive ideals is best seen in the U.S.’s total failure to promote an attractive message with regards to the War in Iraq. Soft power advocates like Nye would argue that the collective effect of Abu Gharib, the Guantanamo incarcerations, and the misrepresentation of the threat from weapons of mass destruction have had an important adverse effect on relative U.S. power, even though their relative military and/or economic power has not changed, the U.S.’s ability to get what it wants in the international arena has.

What the U.S desires in 2006 is increasing support for the redevelopment of Iraq and a global consensus movement to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Alliance with the United States on its foreign policy objectives however, is not a strong selling point in many countries, even those that Huntington in 1996 argued were key parts of “our” civilization (U.K., France and Germany.) Thus the U.S. is finding it exceedingly difficult to get anything it wants done in the international arena: in dealing with Iran specifically it’s been relegated to the role of the “slighty crazy,” country who may go nuts and invade if something isn’t worked out by the more rational states like Russia and Pakistan. Oh say can you see!

I think Nye has been proven right over the last decade, that there is some other level of “power,” that can be used to effectively get what you want other than guns and dollars, and this has occurred due to the current administration’s lack of understanding of the importance of soft power. Huntington should understand this because his entire argument is based around the linking of various states and peoples through these cultural ties. But according to Huntington, the world is static not fluid, and countries and peoples are locked into their cultural groupings by history (and religion,) unable to understand, acquire, or fully share cultural values. The spread of western liberal ideals only occurred due to the massive economic and military superiority of the West; with the return of balance in the world we see a rising in the indigenous values of each area.

If this happens, then the ability of the United States to influence non-Western countries through soft power will be limited, for as these countries do not share our values or ideas, it will be difficult to attract them through promoting our selves. Yet I do not think that the appeal of specific ideas as “Western,” or “liberal,” is limited to only our Western counterparts. I think that rather, when the United States makes foreign policy decisions (or unpopular domestic decisions,) that go against what we are trying to promote, or help reinforce the portrayal of ourselves as meddling bullies, we encourage the development of the civilizational paradigm by causing countries to turn inwards rather than look outwards.

The key to peace in the 21st century, and the key to the success of the human race, is the utilization of technologies and the ease of sending information and the ease of human migration to promote a new universality between peoples and cultures that simultaneously allows parts of all cultures into each other while protecting the uniqueness of each person’s worldview. This is very difficult, because of the natural human fear of the different and the unknown. I don’t understand why people are scared of the idea of a world culture. Personally, I’m thrilled by it. Because foreign chicks are sooooo hot.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Warm Fuzzy Thoughts about Wiretapping

I know, I know. The last few weeks, you've been desperately wondering where I've been, and when you weren't actively worried about that, you took some time to worry about the new wiretapping program that the NSA has been running for the last year.

In case you're not familiar with the case, a story broke last year that the NSA had been wiretapping many (but an unknown number) of phone calls in the US, without getting warrants before hand. Previously, it was necessary to get a warrant from a court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Services Act (FISA) in the wake of Nixon's Watergate scandal. and known simply as the FISA court. It was fine for the NSA or the CIA to wiretap first, then notify FISA to get approval retroactively. FISA approved nearly 16,000 wiretaps over the last 20-30 years, and rejected less than 10. So, when the Bush administration told everyone that they needed to move quickly and that there wasn't time to get warrants, they were simply using it as a smokescreen.

FISA's court was specifically set up to allow the executive branch a lot of freedom while still providing both unencumbered oversight AND secrecy. When the story broke, the Chief of the court resigned, because it was abundantly clear that they had totally bypassed their court and thus made it powerless.

But still, nobody on the outside knew (or knows) exactly what the program's scope was. After a lot of informed speculation and a few leaks, it becomes apparent that the reason they couldn't go through FISA was partially for two reasons- firstly, that they figured FISA would reject some of these wiretaps. But secondly, and much more importantly, it seemed that the program was of such huge scope that even if the court agreed with the intent, they actually couldn't possibly approve them fast enough.

So the way the program looks today, is that this wiretapping program is probably running on a large number (perhaps even a majority) of phone calls in the country, and almost certainly running on every single international call. Technically, it's not clear what the program does. Clearly, there isn't enough manpower for there to be a human listening to every call, but there IS enough computing power to run some fairly sophisticated analysis on them. Everyone who knows about the program is careful to NOT use the terms 'data mining' and 'monitoring' because of their connotations. (By the way, when did that become such a dirty term? I took data mining classes in school, should I have felt like a dirty subversive facist?) But the point is that there is probably analysis of the actual voices, as well as context-- times the calls took place, which countries, and how often they called. Though it's easy to argue that it isn't really 'monitoring' or 'data mining', does that really make it ok?

What I think this program is closer to is red-flagging. This is a fairly common practice in law enforcement. If you buy 10 packs of sudafed in a month, you're probably going to go on a list somewhere for potential drug dealers. If you buy 200 cases of ammunition, you're probably going to go on a list of potential arms dealers. If you buy the "Anarchist's Cookbook" and 80 pounds of fertilizer, you're DEFINITELY going on a list somewhere. So, this isn't exactly brand new territory. The first problem with this program is that its scope is enormous, and the second is that because it's automated and probably sophisticated, going from red-flag to investigation is pretty simple.

Let's say you do buy 200 cases of ammunition. Sure, you go on a list, and perhaps the police might keep an eye on your underground bunker/cult shrine a little more closely. But there's not necessarily anything they can do just based on the red flag. But with this program, let's say you get flagged- only this time, I'm pretty sure that they can and will go back and listen to all your calls (because when they were flagged, they got recorded.) Then, after the call is confirmed to be a good lead, they'll go to FISA and say 'hey, we needed to wiretap this guy, he was a terrorist' and get approval. But the point is that without the program- there would have been no suspicion AND no evidence. In these other program, only suspicion is being harvested. In this one, they're harvesting both. That crosses the line for a lot of people, but for others, it doesn't.

To switch gears slightly, Hayden (head of the NSA at the time this program started) is due up to become the head of the CIA, the head honcho in the fight against terrorism. And clearly, he thinks this program doesn't cross that line- or even if it does, that line needs to be moved in the new age of terrorism. And he also thinks that it's necessary for the program to be secret- only open to oversight by the Senate Intelligence Committee. And, in support of this idea, the Vice Chairman of the committee, Senator Carl Levin, began the hearings by saying that secrecy though they would like to inform the public, they can't do so without informing the "enemy". And so, like a good public servant, he told us that we should trust them, because we elected them to oversee it. Not the most reassuring statement.

And here's my problem with that statement. Every single time the government has done something objectionable- like the McCarthy hearings, or the Japanese internment camps, there was oversight. If this program is actually ten times as invasive as we think it is, who would do something about it? The crux of this problem is that "average" amercians will not be affected by it. Average Americans never have to worry about civil liberties, because the average American isn't a terrorist, gun owner, journalist, or anything. The majority of Americans aren't anything at all. And the Senators know that. They know that as long as they don't get 'average' people caught up in the program, anyone they catch can simply be labeled as a terrorist and paraded around as a victory for the program, just as they labeled people communists, or labeled all Japanese as possible traitors. Sure, the program might work, and sure, the vast majority of Americans will have nothing to fear from it. But is that's exactly the problem with civil rights. What happens when your group (and everyone is a minority in something) comes under fire next?


The Most Evil Man in 06

When selecting the world’s most evil man, there are two places my mind automatically goes: corrupt politicians and Roger Clemens. I am leaving sports out of this however, because as evil as Roger Clemens is (and he is evil, there is no doubt about it,) he has only been merely annoying this past year with his hemming and hawing in order to squeeze a few last moments out of the limelight before his steroid ridden body balloons under the stress of a few too many meat pies.

So with that out of the way, let’s break down the candidates into groups:

Evil Terrorists/Criminals: The gruesome twosome of Osama Bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are still the leaders in the clubhouse, although Bin Ladin is definitely living off of the evilness of his past deeds, having been marginalized to hiding out in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al-Zarqawi on the other hand, has still been leading his fair share of suicide bombings (although he has stopped with the beheadings,) and other insurgent tactics. Still the fact that his actions have been confined to Iraq, which is a war zone caused by an oppressing force, diminishes his evilness slightly, (although he is still obviously very evil.)

Evil Business Moguls: Hard to pick out any one mogul for specific lauding here, although collectively, these people are capable of more evil than any other group. The strength of the evil business moguls is the fragmentation of evil throughout their ranks: if any one mogul becomes too evil, they generally end up getting into trouble. The primary example is Ken Lay and the Enron cronies. So while there has definitely been some evilness going on, like Microsoft and Google caving to China (choosing the large marketplace over free speech,) and of course the major oil companies cashing in on a war and a hurricane (death is good for business!) they are unfortunately taking advantage of a system set up to benefit themselves. Or are they? We’ll come back to this.

Developing country Powermongers: The winner of the category, running away, is Saparmurat Niyazov, of Turkmenistan, for developing a cult of personality based on himself, replacing school textbooks with his own works, building a statue of himself that shines light on the capital city at all times, and suppressing alternative viewpoints throughout the country. It is also forbidden to talk badly about the President-for-life, especially stating that he is very short, or that he wears a toupee.

Members of the Bush Administration: A two man race between Donald Rumsfield and Dick Cheney has been going on for years, with Cheney’s shady background pandering to the energy industry battling against Rumsfield’s defiance of human liberties and ignoring diplomacy through controlling foreign policy by way of The Pentagon. The last year Cheney has really upped the ante, through governing the handout of Katrina reconstruction to the same oil companies that were under fire for profiting off Iraq (and, of course one of which he was CEO of prior to becoming VP) to the involvement in his staff in leaking classified information, to shooting a friend in the face, it has been a banner year for Dick. To quote one embodiment of evil (Tony Soprano,) “Dick Cheney for President. Of the fucking universe.”

Hidden Sources: But you expect people like Dick Cheney to only care about themselves, their rich allies, and making the world an easier place for both. Give them power and you can predict what they will do. How do they get power? And how do they keep it? They keep it through propagating a culture of fear of the different and progress, be it Islam, Hispanic immigrants, or homosexual couples.

But this battle between fear and progress, and those who exploit this conflict to their own ends has been going on for centuries. What the real enemy is today, is the culture of fake news and distraction that has taken hold of our culture. There used to be a separation between news and entertainment (and entertainment’s ugly sister, marketing,) that no longer exists. As I surf over to, I notice that with increasing frequency, “news” of Paris Hilton, Nick Lachey, and American Idol is making its way onto the front page of CNN. That’s not to say Paris Hilton is the most evil person on this planet; (although she is up there,) the blame for this rests in the hands of Rupert Murdoch (the ultimate conservative media kingpin,) and the content editors for Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.

But they still aren’t as bad as Dick Cheney

Friday, May 05, 2006


MLB: The May Report

1) While I have developed a more well-rounded view of the MLB through living a 20 minute walk from Wrigley Field, as well as the importance of our fantasy league, baseball still begins with the Red Sox. With the loss of Coco Crisp to injury, the offense is looking mediocre at best, especially against left-handers where Nixon sits, leaving a bottom four of Lowell-Wily Mo-Willie Harris-Adrian Gonzalez. Crisp’s injury has affected us in the field, where we are now starting Wily Mo full time in center, (after supposedly determining in the first week that he couldn’t play right.) Now that is some terrible outfield defense! Luckily Ortizzle and Manny (.449 OBP) have been keeping us afloat as usual.

2) Our pitching staff was predicated on a “Schilling-Beckett pray for rain,” attitude through the first three weeks of the season, which worked to a T. Then Beckett hit a bump in the road in his last two starts, and is now sporting a 4.86 ERA. Worse, his peripherals suck: 16BB/23K and 6 HRs. Beckett is young, throws hard with a nasty curve, and once pitched well for a week against the Yankees in the World Series. And he is white. But he isn’t a great pitcher. He LOOKS like a great pitcher, but he isn’t. Meanwhile Pedro Martinez continues to destroy for the Mets despite the fact he throws in the high 80s, and looks like his arm could fall off at any second. What’s that you say? The NL is easier to pitch in than the AL? True, but there are ways of adjusting for that (ERA+) which still show Pedro as the vastly superior pitcher. And yes, we would have to pay Pedro much more than Beckett, but we also picked up Lowell’s 9 mil a year deal as part of the price of getting Beckett, while giving up Hanley Ramirez (who would be starting at short for us,) and Anibal Sanchez. I recognize we won’t be able to accurately judge the loss of Pedro until 2008, but it ain’t looking good so far. Also, did you know that even in Pedro’s “fragile,” years (02-present,) he has pitched in more innings each year than Beckett has in any year in his career? And did you know that no pitcher threw more innings (including postseason,) than Pedro the last two years? And that Schilling is a 40 year old evangelical conservative biatch?

3) Ok I’ve got to stop ranting about former Red Sox pitchers. So let’s talk about Roger Clemens. First of all, this needs to stop. Sean McAdam, who I generally dislike, echoed my sentiments in his column discussing about how Roger pimps the limelight with regards to his retirement. For McAdam, it’s gotten old. For McMarmar, it got old in about 1993. Best case scenario: Clemens rejoins the Yankees, sucks for two months, gets in a brawl with Randy Johnson, and is busted for running a child porn ring involving Yankees ballboys and Steinbrenner’s nieces and nephews based out of the site of the new Freedom Tower. Worst case scenario: Clemens signs with the Red Sox and idiot Boston fans welcome him back. If this happens, I will handle it accordingly, by refusing to acknowledge Clemens’ presence on the team through ignoring any game in which he drags his fat apostate ass to the hill.

4) One last note on former Red Sox: I would have stood and applauded Johnny Damon on his return to Fenway. However, that is a one time deal. With his hair and beard gone, wearing pinstripes, he represents a different person than the lovable Johnny Jesus who once patrolled our center field. The only similarity to Jesus that remains is that they are both oh so hateable.

5) I’ve been to a few Cubs games so far this year (three to be exact,) and am going to my first White Sox game yesterday. Wrigley is a great place to watch the game, it shares the same old school feel as Fenway, the sense that people were doing the same thing in the 1920s, with more comfortable seats and fewer poles in the way. I am a big fan of the “Take me Out to the Ball Game,” tradition, as well as the ridiculous amount of cute girls in Cubs gear. Everyone there is having a good time, watching their beloved Cubbies win or lose. Right on!

6) Which is a good thing, because the Cubbies will be doing plenty of losing this year. If not for the revival of Greg Maddux, the Cubs would be challenging for last place. Ok that’s not true, because the Pirates are terrible. But in a difficult, with an unlucky injury to D-Lee (who is their offense,) the Cubs are relying on the return of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior to keep them afloat. Relying on perpetually injured pitchers to carry is frustrating, but I trust the Cubs fanbase to keep their heads up, or at least to be too distracted by beer and those cute girls to care.

7) I also like “The Cell,” as it’s called, although I think I am unable to accurately judge baseball stadiums built after 1920 since I am stunned that 1) I can fit in the seats and 2) none of the seats are obstructed by large poles. The White Sox thus far look pretty dangerous, and as good a pick as any to win the World Series in 06.

8) And finally, I would like to report that I am still in first place in our fantasy keeper league. It’s not bad enough that I am the best looking member of the blog, I am also beating Dave at his own game. How will he respond? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


The Separation of Church and Statesmen

I was watching Wash U Graduation Speaker ’03 Madeline Albright today on the Daily Show, and she mentioned how George W Bush was convinced that God wanted him to be President. This is not the first time I have heard of the President’s convictions in the Almighty’s fondness of the Bush dynasty, Texas, transforming the Middle East, or the Republican Party. God has played an important role in the rise of Mr. Bush from an alcoholic spoiled son of a Congressmen to a political figure able to do what his alternate paternal figure (his father,) could not: get elected twice, and remove Sadaam Hussein from Iraq.

But hold on a second. The entire concept of God wanting a certain individual to be President seems to me to be a return to the conception of “Divine right of Kings,” where the basis of the legitimacy for monarchical dynasties lay in the decree of the almighty. To which I say “What the Fuck?” I thought we got rid of this kind of thinking in the 18th century. In the 21st century, the fact that a man can think that some divine entity would foresee and enact his Presidency should, in my opinion, exclude him from the office. For it necessarily PROVES that said man (W) does not understand what the office of the Presidency means and how it is supposed to function. God doesn’t decide who is President, the People do, and that’s to whom the office and the person are supposed to be ultimately responsible. This is why it matters that Bush got crappy grades in high school: he didn’t pay enough attention in Western Civ.

Getting beyond the concept of Divine Right of Kings is a large part of what the whole Enlightenment was about, as well as the American and French Revolutions. Are we actually moving backwards in this country? And what has caused a distancing from the liberal ideals that have been responsible for the international acceptance of rights of all human beings the last 300 years, so much as to allow leaders with these conceptions back into power?

Maybe it’s because we think we’ve solved all our problems, done away with slavery, given token rights to people of different colors and genders, and ended colonialism. Maybe it’s because people can’t handle freedom in some way, or can’t handle globalization, or can’t handle the concept that there is no God out there and we are doomed to die and end in nothingness. That our actual self whom we love (and I do love my self as much as anyone,) is so meaningless in “the big picture,” of 6 billion people, and 9 (or ten) planets, and billions of stars and galaxies that it sucks any value out of life.

The revival of religion as part of governance scares the shit out of me. Divine entitlement combined with monopolization of legalized violence is the most deadly combination in human history. To look at a present day example, go to wikipedia and look up Turkmenistan, where Supreme-Dictator-For-Life Niyazov, builds statues of himself and his mother, writes the school textbooks, jails dissenters, and burns books. (He does have a lot of natural gas however, so the EU has no problem giving him payouts.) Could George W Bush do the same? Probably not, although one red flag for me is his interpretation of the Constitution: that he can ignore any law passed by Congress that he personally views as unconstitutional. Hopefully he can understand that amendment that deals with term limits, or else America is in serious trouble. What an asshole. He should be imprisoned.

And while we are on the subject of religion and politics, let’s discuss the religious views of my home state’s Governor and potential ’08 Republican candidate Mitt Romney. As you may or may not know, he is a Mormon. Now like many other Christians in the United States, Mormons believe that we are in the “end times,” of humanity, before the messiah returns to Earth. Of course according to Mormons, many other things need to happen, including Jesus returning at a yet to be built temple in Jackson County Missouri before we actually get to the end of days. What does Romney think about all of this? Or the validity of Joseph Smith? Or the “Fundamentalist Mormons,” who defend a form of polygamy that is basically a combination of underage rape and kidnapping. For that matter how does George W Bush feel about the return of the Messiah? And if they both are “believers,” how does this affect their policy with regards to Israel?

Freedom of religion allows the individual to worship without interference from the government. I fully support the right of every man, woman, child, and puppy to worship whatever deity they choose, be it Jesus, Shiva, or of course, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But the state apparatus is invariably controlled by people, and to truly achieve the separation of Church and State, these people must separate their personal religious beliefs from making decisions about how to do their jobs, lest the decisions they make unduly burden the people they serve with their fulfillment of religious goals. Right?

Wrong. Because many people in the United States don’t want such a sharp line between religion and governance. Some share the beliefs of their leaders, or they think that using Christian principles in policy will somehow insure piety. (Yea fucking right.) Or maybe they believe in the coming of Messiah and think our tax dollars are best spend preparing for that day.

So as a citizen of this nation, I demand accountability. If we are going to accept religion influencing the leaders of our government, I want to know what they believe. It’s time for the President and future leaders to stop pussyfooting around this issue and let us know what exactly what we are up against.

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