December 02, 2006

Head in the sand

Apparently Iraq isn't the only scene of battle whose realities are being ignored by our President. Yesterday, George Bush seized the occasion of World AIDS Day to confirm how idiotic, backwards, and just plain embarrassed America is to talk realistically about human sexuality. From the AFP:
Bush spelt [sic] out Washington's leading role as a funder for access to AIDS drugs in poor countries, but he also put a big emphasis on promoting abstinence.

That tactic is derided by many AIDS activists as moralising and unworkable, even potentially dangerous, for young people at the dawn of their sexual lives. These campaigners plead instead for sex education and access to condoms.

Fighting AIDS "includes the ABC approach, encouraging abstinence, being faithful, and using condoms, with abstinence as the only sure way to avoid the sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS," said Bush.
Of course, technically, for once, Bush is correct. In the same way that the only sure way to avoid involvement in an auto accident is never to drive.

In the same way that the only sure way to avoid drowning is to never go near water.

In the same way that the only sure way to avoid divorce is to never get married.

In the same way that the only sure way to avoid any given thing is to never do it at all.

But is that a mindset that demonstrates true leadership? That demonstrates real-world knowledge? That demonstrates anything other than a desire to bend over and bury one's proverbial head in the proverbial sand?

For God's sake, kids, human beings are hard-wired to be sexually active - and no amount of misguided, religious "wishful thinking" is going to alter that basic biological fact. The continuing inability of our "leaders" to simply acknowledge that reality when discussing STDs or unwanted pregnancies or anything having to do with our instinctive sexual selves is mind boggling.

Not to mention immature, counterproductive, and... well, idiotic.

Seems to me that before we talk about our Dear Leader's "ABCs" we should first focus on D and E - namely, open and honest Dialogue about the complexities of sexual behavior, and (above all) Education that is factual and free of subjective religious dogma. It's time for the nation - and the species as a whole - to grow up when it comes to the topic of sex, instead of pretending that if we just don't mention it, we can prevent it from ever happening.

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December 01, 2006

Good analysis...

...from Newsweek's always insightful Fareed Zakaria, on the immediate necessity for some reality in America's approach to the Iraq catastrophe. Excerpt:
There can be no more doubt that Iraq is in a civil war, in which leaders of both its main communities, Sunnis and Shiites, are fomenting violence. The assault on Sadr's Ministry of Health was likely retaliation for a recent mass kidnapping at the Ministry of Education, which still retains some Sunnis. The Ministry of the Interior houses the deadliest killers from the Badr Brigades, the other large Shiite militia. Badr's Bayan Jabr built the death squads when he ran the ministry; he's now Iraq's Finance minister, in charge of its resources.

This is the Iraqi government we are protecting, funding and attempting to strengthen. To speak, as the White House deputy press secretary did last week, of "terrorists... targeting innocents in a brazen effort to topple a democratically elected government" totally misses the reality of Iraq today. Who are the terrorists and who are the innocents?

Among the most pro-American voices to emerge from the new Iraq have been two young Baghdadis, Omar and Mohammed Fadhlil, whose three-year-old blog, Iraq the Model, has promoted a relentlessly upbeat and hopeful message. Last week they threw in the towel. "I believe that America would like to see Iraq emerge as a model for the region," Mohammed wrote. "But that cannot be done without having a cooperative Iraqi partner on the ground who shares similar views for Iraq and the Middle East. And that's the point - that partner does not exist, at least not in the government."
At moments like these, I always wonder why individuals with genuine, informed expertise like Mr. Zakaria, aren't an automatic part of "official" commissions like the Iraq Study Group. Must government always choose the least qualified among us to fill important advisory positions - as it seems to on a depressingly regular basis? Is there some "How to..." rulebook we don't know about?

Sheesh!

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November 30, 2006

Don't forget...

...to check out Nora Ephron's post at HuffPo, in which she lays into that smuggest of Bush apologists, George "Miss Manners" Will. Ephron writes:
Washington is a place where politics is just something you do all day. You lie, you send kids to war, you give them inadequate equipment, they're wounded and permanently maimed, they die, whatever. Then night falls, and you actually think you get to pretend that none of it matters. "How's your boy?" That, according to George Will, is a civil and caring question, one parent to another? It seems to me that it's exactly the sort of guy talk that passes for conversation in Bushworld, just one-up from the frat-boy banter that is usually so seductive to Bush's guests...

So finally someone said to George Bush: Don't think that what you stand for is beside the point. Don't think that because you're President you're entitled to my good opinion. Don't think that asking about my boy means that I believe for even one second that you care. If you did, you'd be doing something about bringing the troops home.
I wish I'd written that.

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Resisting the inevitable

Even though it's been a full week now since I first slipped into my tryptophanic state of oblivion, I'm still resisting what I know to be inevitable - namely, that hard, belly-landing on the tarmac of "real-world" events.

It's not that I don't care, exactly. It's just that, when compared to my immediate surroundings, mankind's continuing ability to act cruel and stupid at every possible opportunity - when we have so much potential to do precisely the opposite - is a wearying, inexcusable thing.

And I haven't exactly been anxious to leave my mental comfort zone for that.

With each passing day since Thanksgiving, I've looked at the way my multi-cultural, multi-ethnic family and our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic friends in our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic community get along so lovingly and peacefully and openly and respectfully with one another, and can only wonder: what the Hell is wrong with everyone else on the planet?

Except you, of course! Can't alienate the handful of brave souls who subject themselves to my ramblings on a regular basis, now, can I?

So I'm left today with a set of glib generalities about the state of the world. I hope you won't mind too much. Maybe tomorrow I'll regain some critical focus on the issues at hand. But don't bet on it. It's nice and warm here inside my cocoon...


PUT A SOCK IN IT

The zealot who started 12 years of Republican terrorism back in '94 came out this week in favor of "reexamining" free speech. You know - 'cause 9/11 "changed everything."

Guess that's just in keeping with the GOP philosophy that the best way to protect our rights and freedoms is to restrict or eliminate those very rights and freedoms. After all, we've got to, right? "The terrorists" want to subject us to a society in which we are obediently subservient to a religious fundamentalist leader and his immediate circle of disciples.

One in which a woman's "place" is defined and controlled by a ruler acting on the word of Allah, and even acts of courtship and acceptable lovemaking are governed by the state. One in which dissent, debate, and differing opinions are viewed as acts of treason. One in which invasion and destruction and indiscriminate slaughter of civilians is trumpeted as an excusable means toward fulfilling a glorious destiny.

The irony is simply mind-numbing.

So, too, is the fact that Mr. Gingrich hasn't been criticized more vehemently in the press - or the general population, for that matter. HELLO, America! Is anyone awake out there?

I don't know. Maybe Newt is right. Perhaps we should start by restricting the freedom to hold frequent, public, arrogantly cavalier discussions about attacking Iran - each of which confirms Islamic suspicions about American imperialism.

Perhaps we should start by legislatively prohibiting language like "Islamo-facist" and "alternative interrogation techniques" and "we'll succeed unless we quit" - all of which inflame anti-American sentiments, and aid in swelling the ranks of terrorist organizations.

Perhaps we should start by revoking the President's freedom to repeatedly lie about Iraq and the "war on terror" with such absolute impunity - something which only perpetuates our global blunders, and makes each of us a bigger target of Jihadist hatreds.

Start with those, Mr. "Contract with America." Otherwise, leave my Constitution alone.


A WEDDING NEEDLESSLY DENIED

It's hard to know what to say about Saturday's incident in Queens, NY. Excessive force? Gosh - ya think?! 50 shots in a matter of seconds, just to subdue three unarmed young men. And over half of those shots apparently went wild. That's usin' your brains and crisis training, boys. Thank God this didn't happen near an elementary schoolyard in the middle of the afternoon.

A justifiable shooting? After all, the fatal victim ran down an undercover cop with his car before being shot, and smashed into a van carrying two backup officers. Intentionally. Twice. And this after an argument that included (from one of the wounded) the audible threat, "Yo, go get my gun." I wonder why the cops would ever have imagined their lives might be in jeopardy after that.

Seems to me that each side has a point. And each side is horribly wrong.

Maybe if we didn't live in a culture that glorifies Lethal Weapon-style action heroes, the individuals who comprise our police forces wouldn't be as trigger happy as they too often are. Maybe if firearms weren't so prevalent in this country, "Yo, get my gun" could be brushed off as the bluff it ultimately was, instead of being misinterpreted as a call to lock and load.

Maybe if the groom-to-be had been a little wiser, or more cautious, or just street-smart, he wouldn't have chosen to spend the night before his wedding at a seedy club known to be under surveillance for prostitution, drugs, and weapons. Maybe if we weren't such a gun-crazy society, the cops wouldn't be forced to assume that everyone they meet is packing a MAC-10 - and they wouldn't have to be armed with 15-shot semi-automatics themselves. Maybe. Just maybe.

I do know one thing for sure. There'll be thousands of words written and spoken, internal and external investigations, racial and class accusations, fiery sermons and protest marches, with each side adamantly refusing to admit any of its own culpability in this tragedy. Sadly, we'll never even get close to the real issues we ought to be addressing in our society that are exposed whenever a sensational case like this occurs.

And when all is said and done, nothing will change for the better. A young man will still be dead, his fiancee's dreams will be shattered, people's attitudes will be hardened, several cops' careers will be ruined - and next year this incident will be repeated, with a different cast, in a different town, at a different time.

But why worry? By that time, the NRA will have us all "carrying concealed," and we'll be more able than ever to kill each other without involving the boys in blue. In the name of protecting our "rights," naturally.


TEN DIRTY WORDS

I suppose I'd be remiss if I didn't weigh in on the real news item of the month, Michael Richards' inexcusable meltdown on stage. Amazingly, I've read a number of passionate defenses of this "slip-up," and even more tortured and convoluted essays excusing the use of Richards' chosen epithet - as long as it's not being used by individuals of Richards' particular complexion.

Seems like this one should be a no-brainer, gang.

So here it is. Words like nigger, kike, wop, gook, fag, cracker, raghead, frog, kraut, and spic (to name but a few) are unacceptable in a 21st Century world. Period. End of discussion. These are not selective terms of endearment, depending on the context or ethnicity of those uttering them. Wanna call somebody a name in anger? Try "asshole" - it's generically applicable in virtually every situation.

Words have real power, for both good and evil. And the collection listed above arose from places of fear and ignorance. These terms sprang into being for the sole purpose of stigmatizing. Wounding. Dividing. Denigrating. Categorizing a group of fellow human beings as somehow less deserving of our respect or consideration.

And no matter how you slice it, these ten dirty words still carry the baggage of small-minded hatred whenever they're spoken aloud.

Sure, it's possible that one day in a distant utopian future we'll be mature enough as a species to talk about racist terminology in an educated, intellectual way, or incorporate words such as these into comedy or music or art in some universally benign fashion. But we're not there yet, kids, not by a long shot. In fact, our species is only now taking its first baby steps toward correcting its shameful, racist past.

Take note, Newt. Perhaps this is the "free speech" you should consider banishing before all else.


CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER

And finally, speaking of the power of words, a quick look down the rabbit hole that is Iraq. There's of course the ridiculous "debate" over whether or not to use the term "civil war" when describing the absolute chaos down Baghdad way. Naturally, our Chief Executive rejects that term - guess it wouldn't play well with that whole "completing the mission" thing, whatever that means these days.

And you have to love the way White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley's al-Maliki memo was characterized by the Administration as supportive and well-meaning. I mean, how else could you possibly interpret something which read at one point, "the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

Sounds like a vote of confidence to me. Is it possible al-Maliki didn't see it quite the same way?

Adding to the surreal nature of Bush's continuing view of Iraq is the simultaneous recommendation of the ISG for a pullback of American troops. Wonder what Dubya thinks of daddy's boys now? Still, don't think for a minute that this latest call for the obvious will change his mind.

You know, more than half of the time I see and hear the President these days, I feel that we're headed toward some catastrophic act of madness. I think it should terrify everyone in the nation that this petulant child who sits in the White House openly refuses to acknowledge not only the realities on the ground, but stands in open defiance of the wishes of the American people, the newly-elected Congress, and the advice of virtually every foreign policy expert around him.

And have you noticed how the word "Iran" is worked into every conversation these days?
"There is no use trying," said Alice; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." --Lewis Carroll

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