Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Palin Imitation of Hillary

Sen. John McCain has added Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to his ticket in an aboveboard attempt to lure Hillary supporters to his campaign. Indeed, some feminists, such as Geraldine Ferraro, seem rather enthusiastic for Gov. Palin. However, feminists who support Senator Clinton have reason to step back very slowly...

Far from being a step forward for feminism, Gov. Palin's nomination thrusts forward one of the most anti-feminist politicians in America. As NARAL Pro-Choice America documents, she opposes abortion even in cases where the mother has been subjected to rape and incest, and is a member of the group Feminists for Life. This group follows Gov. Palin's lead, publishing a brochure, Victory over Violence, condemning the decision to abort after rape. If you're a woman who's experienced a sexual assault, don't turn to Gov. Palin for comfort.

Perhaps the greatest sign of Sen. McCain's anti-feminist credentials is that he chose a wingnut like Palin. He must think women are truly stupid to fall for her just because of her gender.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Convention Summary and Response

Overall, I believe the Democratic National Convention went well for Sen. Obama. No fights broke out between his supporters and the die hard backers of Sen. Hillary Clinton. Sen. Clinton's speech was a case study in conciliation, while Sen. Obama's concluding speech was his usual inspiring work, establishing his moderate credentials while establishing the groundwork for a nuanced, issues-based attack on Sen. McCain.

A few observations:

The convention got better as it went along. Monday night was actually rather disappointing, with mediocre speakers like Sen. Nancy Pelosi, whose speech, posted below, was a study in how not to excite a crowd.

Things got better on Tuesday, with some speakers, such as Sen. Bob Casey launching attacks against Sen. McCain and the Republican Party. Casey's "Four more months" line should be adopted as an overall campaign slogan. The best, however, was Thursday night. Gov. Richardson of New Mexico gave a speech, posted below, that made me wish he had been the vice-presidential selection.

Second, building on Sen. Casey's speech, the Democratic Party, and Sen. Obama in particular, need to go into attack mode. This can be done without violating Sen. Obama's pledge to pursue a new kind of politics. It is entirely possible to make issues-based attacks which focus on Sen. McCain's record of favoring the wealthy and backing the Bush Administration while still remaining catchy.

For example, one ad that has occurred to me would feature photos of Sen. McCain and President Bush together with descriptions of how Sen. McCain has supported the President's worst policies, punctuated by the refrain "Four More Years." An ad in a similar vein would feature the same material, with a digital background showing the M in McCain's turning upside down into a W.

Finally, all conventions, in the end, are pap. You will not see any nuanced exploration of the candidates positions just by watching their party's conventions. For that, you have to do your own research.

Striking Similarities

Am I the only one who thinks that Gov. Sarah Palin looks a lot like SNL actress Tina Fey?



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

He's At It Again!

Nation columnist, Counterpunch editor, and professional nutjob Alexander Cockburn has just launched a negative attack on Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Biden. In doing so, he only exposes his own radicalism, his lack of understanding of mainstream American politics, and his willingness to engage in smear tactics.

Cockburn begins his attack by ranting that Sen. Biden is not doing enough to attack "corporate capital." The reasoning: Sen. Biden apparently voted against a law that would have prevented bankrupt corporations from relocating to his home state of Delaware. Gee, Mr. Cockburn, I wonder why Sen. Biden would have voted against a law that adversely affects his own state's interests?

Cockburn follows up with an unsourced attack on Sen. Biden's character, citing an unnamed Counterpunch staffer who claims that Sen. Biden flirted with her only a week after his first wife's death. This is beneath contempt, but hardly surprising for Cockburn. After all, in a recent issue of The Nation, he humiliated himself by claiming that the national media was not publicizing reports of John Edwards's affair enough, only to have the article come out just as the media was flooded with stories about the same topic.

Tell me, Mr. Cockburn, why doesn't your staffer come forward with her allegations on 60 Minutes or some similar program? Why doesn't she let us see her face so we'll know who's making these claims and can evaluate her credibility?

Finally, he lambasts Sen. Biden for not being a critic of Israel. Umm, Mr. Cockburn, most American political opinion now favors Israel, for better or worst. I don't like it, but that's just life. If we followed Cockburn's advice, we'd never get a candidate in office.

Here's a little suggestion, Alex. Since you dislike the Democratic candidates so much, why not resign your column at The Nation, which is whole-heartedly backing them. Then you'll be putting your money where your mouth is, just like your erstwhile colleague, Christopher Hitchens (who, by the way, is a much more provocative, and persuasive, writer than you.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Unitarian Universalists of America, Fight Back!

I was deeply disturbed and angered by a recent post on the Alternet liberal website in relation to the recent shooting rampage at a Knoxville, TN Unitarian Universalist Church. The article describes the experience of Jenna Kerns, a writer who published an opinion piece in Newsday linking fanatical right-wing commentators such as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity to the shooting. (The shooter, Jim D. Adkisson, owned copies of books by Hannity, O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage, and was motivated by a hatred of the Unitarians' liberal views.)

How did the right-wingers respond? Did they engage in an examination of conscience and rethink their hateful rhetoric? No. Did they launch a minor league smear campaign against Ms. Kerns, with the help of right wing censor L. Brent Bozell? Yes.

It's time for UUs to take matters into their own hands. If someone shot up an evangelical church and was found to have books by liberal commentators such as Keith Olberman and Richard Dawkins, you can bet they would do everything in their power to drive those commentators off the airwaves and off the bookshelves. Maybe it's time we learned a lesson from our evangelical brethren.

Every UU church should have a sign up in front condemning these commentators and holding them directly responsible for the attack. (I'm thinking wanted posters with "Incitement to Murder" written on them.) Advertisers on their shows should be informed that they will be subject to a boycott for as long as they continue to support this hate speech.

It's time to fight back.

Pittsburgh View

Here are some photos I took from the window of my apartment in Pittsburgh. They are all from the early evening / twilight hours. Hope you like them.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

France Mourns

Today, there was a nationally televised memorial ceremony in France for ten French soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Among those who spoke at the tribute was President Nicolas Sarkozy. Whatever else one says about the French, it must be granted that they honor their soldiers to the fullest extent possible. They give their fallen a national ceremony. We give ours coffins hidden from view and decrepit VA hospitals.

This seems to be a trend around Europe. For instance, when I was in Great Britain, the British put a great deal of effort into their version of Veterans' Day, called Remembrance Day. The memorial was complete with masses, collections for injured veterans, etc. We use our Veterans' Day for used car sales.

Who's a Rich Elitist Now?

In this Obama ad, Sen. McCain learns that people who live in seven houses shouldn't throw the "rich elitist" stone.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Much Ado about South Ossetia

I have been rather amused in recent days by the amount of anger by American pundits and government officials over the war in South Ossetia. Conservative commentators such as George Will and Jack Kelly are lambasting the Russian invasion and waxing poetic about Sen. McCain's opportunity to show strength in the face of Vladmir Putin. They all seem to forget the fact, as Maureen Dowd notes, that the current administration launched its own aggressive war five years ago.

Moreover, they see the conflict as a totally one-sided war. Although it is unquestionable that the Russians have used excessive force against Georgian forces and civilians, as a recent Human Rights Watch report notes, the same report notes that in their initial invasion of South Ossetia, the Georgians fired at apartment buildings and other civilian targets in fighting with Ossetian militias. Indeed, a Fox News interviewer was rather nonplussed to find a South Ossetian girl who thanked the Russians for saving her and South Ossetia from Georgia. This is not to justify the Russians, but to point out that the Georgian government is not the heroic entity certain government officials and members of the media are making it out to be.

Our pundits need to step back a bit and remember that the Cold War is over.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Verbal Thunder

The recent movie Tropic Thunder has generated a lot of anger and vituperation from some quarters because it features the use of the word "retard." Disability advocacy groups claim that any use of the word is unacceptable, and are trying to get people to boycott the film. As the Daily Kos reports, one reviewer, Timothy Shriver, head of the Special Olympics, writing for the Washington Post, gave the film a bad review without having ever even seen it.

Personally, I think this is political correctness run amok.

Since when do advocacy groups get to pre-vet movie scripts to determine what is and is not acceptable content? Are we going to have prior censorship of movies by every special interest group that could possibly be offended by a joke or character? It's a bloody Ben Stiller movie, you morons!!! It is not meant to be taken seriously...

Reading the excerpts Mr. Shriver provides, it becomes clear the movie is not making fun of the mentally disabled. It revolves around a group of self-absorbed actors, and the dialogue in question deals with one character's attempts to get film awards through playing mentally-challenged characters. The target is the actor, not the disabled. Anyone who reads the actual dialogue without blinkers can understand this.

This is not just about one movie. It is about a larger movement within the disabled community to regulate the words we use every day. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, there are groups among the disabled who are trying to force people to use terms such as "person with disability," saying that "the disabled" is a discriminatory term. They would like to impose an Orwellian Newspeak on the rest of us in order to sauve their own egos.

It's time to stand up for our rights. Don't let other people tell you what words you can use or censor you. Allowing this would just be retarded...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


According to Wikipedia, the clip I posted yesterday was actually recorded this past May, and has no relation to South Ossetia.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chris Matthews vs. an Idiot

The following clip shows a segment from Countdown with Keith Olbermann featuring fellow MSNBC journalist Chris Matthews talking about his interview with conservative radio host Kevin James. James discussed the issue of appeasement as applied to recent foreign policy crises, such as the conflict in South Ossetia. However, when Matthews asked him to go into more detail about appeasement, something interesting happened:

As Matthews goes on to discuss, this incident holds great meaning for our current political discourse. Nowadays, we do not discuss political ideas so much as hurl insults such as "appeaser" or "warmonger" or "celebrity," with little thought as to what they really mean. This is not a sign of a healthy democracy; rather, it is a symptom of demagoguery.

(Thanks to European Tribune for posting this video.)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Spirit of Sport, Spirit of War

The thin, comradely veneer of international sportsmanship that is promoted by the Olympic Games has been pierced on the very first day of the Games by Russia's invasion / intervention in South Ossetia. Gymnastics competitions, scull races, and fencing are no match for the bloody demands of neo-imperial spheres of influence, ethnic tensions, and the scramble for natural resources. This video from al-Jazeera International speaks to how thin a tissue for peacemaking that the Olympic spirit is:

Talk of the "Olympic spirit" has always struck me as a marketing scheme concocted by the Olympic Committee. One need only reflect that the original Olympic games were held by the Greeks, who constantly fought among themselves.

If you really want peace, look to diplomacy, look to international law, look to a balance of power with every country having the weapons to fight off its stronger neighbors. Don't look to sports.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Deja Vu...

The recent speech by Sen. Barack Obama on energy was not perfect by any means. It pandered to the auto industry and auto unions, and gave no specific indication of what type of sacrifices would need to be made by the American people in order to achieve sustainable energy use.

That stated, there was one point Sen. Obama made that was quite important, although it has not been focused on by the media to my knowledge. At one point, he notes that our current crisis is partially the result of the failure of previous generations of American leaders to deal with the issue of our dependence on foreign oil. In doing so, he unwittingly echoed a warning voiced by President Jimmy Carter over twenty years ago.

In an address to the nation, he warned that failing to address our dependence on oil at the present time would lead us to more dire straits later on. In Obama's speech, we see what the failure to heed that warning has led to.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Dumbest Generation?

A new video on the website discusses the lack of wide-ranging knowledge among many young people today, and speculates on the causes of this lack. Author Mark Bauerlein suggests that this may be a result of the rise of digitized media. Although he may have a point, it is worth noting that, as the interviewer, Nick Gillespie, the Internet may have opened up opportunities for the enterprising young person to enrich their minds. Watch the video and see what you think.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A Solzhenitsyn Quote

"Literature is the living memory of a nation. It sustains within itself and safeguards a nation's bygone history...But woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force."

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his Nobel lecture, quoted in a news article by J. Y. Smith

Alexander Solzhenitsyn RIP

The great Russian dissident author Alexander Solzhenitsyn apparently died yesterday. He is justly famous for his stand against Soviet tyranny, and his willingness to endure KGB harrassment in order to express his viewpoints.

Nevertheless, as a post on the Reason Hit and Run blog points out, Solzhenitsyn's protest was not born from a love of freedom and democracy, but from an emphasis on a more religious, ethnic vision of totalinarianism. For instance, there is strong reason to suspect that Solzhenitsyn was anti-semitic. Also, in his later years, he was a strong supporter of Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule.

Nevertheless, he must be lauded for his courage and the risks he took. There is a video biography available on the BBC News website here.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Food for Thought: Religion

"The great end in religious not to stamp our minds irresistibly on the young but to stir up their own; not to make them see with our eyes but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own; not to give them a definite amount of knowledge but to inspire a fervent love of truth; not to form an outward regularity but to touch inward springs..."

Rev. William Ellery Channing at the 1837 annual meeting of the Boston Sunday School Society, quoted in The Unitarian Universalist Pocket Guide, William F. Schulz, ed.

This quote struck me as the ideal definition of what religious education should be. Perhaps because of my experiences in the Philadelphia Catholic school system, at institutions such as Northeast Catholic High School, I strongly distrust dogmatic approaches to religious instruction. Catechisms seem fitted mainly to making children into slaves, not thinking worshippers and citizens. I feel the Unitarian approach is much better, teaching children to think for themselves even at the risk that they may later change or depart from their parents' faith.

Guarding the Oil

This report from Al-Jazeera International describes the activities of American troops and Coast Guard guarding Iraqi off-shore oil rigs. They drive away any ship that comes too close, and constantly training to repel attackers.

It is reports that this which make me laugh at anyone who thinks that oil had nothing to do with the reasoning of the Iraq War. It may not have been the only reason, but it certainly played a part in the Bush Administration's thinking. You can't tell the Iraqis not to suspect our motives when their major oil rigs are surrounded by American troops. As long as we have our troops there, we continue creating a negative impression.

True, it can be argued that with oil prices as high as they are, it is necessary to guard these sites from an attack that could place further pressure on the American and world economies. Nevertheless, having our troops on these rigs gives us quite a bit of power over the Iraqis. (Imagine if we decided not to hand the rigs over to them, citing "security concerns.") The report mentions that we are training Iraqi troops for an eventual handover. Our government, or a successor administration, should see that it happens soon.

Thanks to Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog for posting this video.