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Month: August 2007

Finally some good news out of Afghanistan

Finally some good news out of Afghanistan

From Reuters:

Afghanistan produced 93 percent of the world’s opium in 2007, up from 92 percent last year, the annual UNODC report said.

“No other country has produced narcotics on such a deadly scale since China in the 19th century,” a UNODC statement said.

Fuel for 9/11 Conspiracists

Fuel for 9/11 Conspiracists

I have been thinking about yesterday’s article in the New York Times about the company responsible for the current demolition project at the Deutsche Bank building in NYC.

First, a little background on the Deutsche Bank building. This building was originally damaged during the events of 9/11/2001 and is currently being deconstructed/demolished. Just a couple of days ago, the Deutsche Bank building was responsible for the deaths of two firefighters who were killed while attempting to put out a fire in the building. While the deaths of these heroes is tragic, this is not my point.
The lead paragraph of yesterday’s NYT story is enough to get the conspiracists going:

The John Galt Corporation of the Bronx, hired last year for the dangerous and complex job of demolishing the former Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty Street, where two firefighters died last Saturday, has apparently never done any work like it. Indeed, Galt does not seem to have done much of anything since it was incorporated in 1983.

“So what” you say? Ever read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged? Who is John Galt?
I have already said too much…

Not Bob Dylan

Not Bob Dylan

cd-ad-bd Not Bob Dylan

That looks like Bob but that’s not Bob.  That’s Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan during the Blonde on Blonde years from the upcoming film I’m Not There.

Other actors playing Bob in this film are:  Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw.  David Cross shows up in the film as Allen Ginsberg.

Each actor plays Bob at some time in his life from his early folk-singer days to his current “never ending tour” days.

To learn more about this film project, go here and here.

Watch the trailer here.

Man suffers from world’s worst case of Beer Goggles, eaten

Man suffers from world’s worst case of Beer Goggles, eaten

In what appears to be the world’s worst case of Beer Goggles, a Serbian man at a beer festival over the weekend apparently thought he was about to get lucky with a couple of ladies. He stripped naked and climbed in to an enclosure thinking it was a “Beer Cage”. He was promptly eaten by bears.

From Reuters via CNN:

A 23-year old Serb was found dead and half-eaten in the bear cage of Belgrade Zoo at the weekend during the annual beer festival.

The man was found naked, with his clothes lying intact inside the cage. Two adult bears, Masha and Misha, had dragged the body to their feeding corner and reacted angrily when keepers tried to recover it.

“There’s a good chance he was drunk or drugged. Only an idiot would jump into the bear cage,” zoo director Vuk Bojovic told Reuters.

Local media reported that police found several mobile phones inside the cage, as well as bricks, stones and beer cans.

An Unimpressive Bunch

An Unimpressive Bunch

Today’s edition of This Modern World reminded me of how I felt when I returned from a ten-day trip away from the good old U.S. of A. 

I checked the blog when I got home and found that N.J. Barnes had put up a post about how the Democratic congress caved into the Republicans’ name calling and fear mongering tactics and PASSED a bill that authorized the President to continue with his warrantless wiretaps of American citizens for the next six months.

For some crazy reason I thought we had voted for change last November.  I thought with an opposition party in charge of Congress we might begin to see some real checks and balances on the overreaching and illegal actions of the Executive Branch. 

Must have been daydreaming…

Instead what I find is the same old unimpressive bunch of weak-kneed Democrats who just can’t stand up and fight for what is right:  civil liberties, open government, accountability, and an end to this disastrous war.

reps-and-dems-two-frames An Unimpressive Bunch

You know how this comic will end.

But wouldn’t it be nice if instead of what you know will happen in the last four panels the Democrat says something like “If you think it’s such a good idea to jump off the cliff, then go ahead and jump.  I’ll watch and see how that works out for you.  Go on now, show me how brave you are.  Jump!”

John Gibson Mocks Jon Stewart’s Emotional Reaction to 9/11 Attacks. Obviously Republicans Were the Only Victims.

John Gibson Mocks Jon Stewart’s Emotional Reaction to 9/11 Attacks. Obviously Republicans Were the Only Victims.

As the 6th anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches, we can prepare ourselves for an onslaught of partisan vitriol and claims of personal victimhood. The Republicans will bend over backwards to remind us that we were attacked by Iraq on that day and that Democrats are tearing the country apart with calls for appeasement and hugs for our enemies. The Republicans are the only ones who suffered that day, the only ones who could see the true threat.

And that’s what they’ve been telling us since September 11th, 2001. But I remember a time when much of the nation saw hope for a new camaraderie among Americans and a renewed solidarity with our global allies. I never personally expected it. With the political climate of the times, I saw only one possibility: the Bush administration was going to milk the goodwill for all its worth and then use it to create a fetid, gaping divide between those who are with them and those who are against them.

Sadly, my pessimism was well founded and played out over the following months to be prophetic. Not only that, it’s been so much worse than anything I imagined possible at the time. And it seems to be getting worse.

Today I read this on Media Matters. John Gibson, a Fox News anchor, mocked and derided Jon Stewart‘s post 9/11 return to air as phony and disingenuous. It’s a new low. Not much lower than the previous low, but it does continue the awful trend of treading on social taboos. You don’t mock someone’s heartfelt grief. Or at least you didn’t used to. But now it’s out there and soon it will all be game.

If you have any doubt how genuine Jon was on that episode, watch this clip:

Digg has it

Patti Rocks

Patti Rocks

patti-peter-lenny-hk-size Patti Rocks

Patti Smith at The Showbox on Saturday, August 11th.  Peter Buck joined the band for the second half of her mind blowing two-hour set.

Patti Smith performs with more intensity than most people less than half her age. 

The highlights of the evening were “Southern Cross,” a song she dedicated to Jackson Pollock who died on August 11, 1956.  Words cannot adequately describe the band’s performance of this song.  It was otherworldly.

And her cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced,” which she opened and closed with clarinet solos.

patti-clarinet-hk Patti Rocks

She also turned “Rock ‘n Roll Nigger” into a rant against Bush and told the people of Seattle “Don’t forget who you are!”

Our Government is Broken

Our Government is Broken

From John Nichols’ latest column describing remarks by Carl Bernstein about how Bush’s presidency is far more damaging to our country than Nixon’s presidency.

Unlike the often crude and conniving but unquestionably intelligent and highly-engaged 37th president, Bernstein says of Bush: “He’s lazy, arrogant and has little curiosity. He’s a catastrophe…”

But that is not the worst part of the Bush era as compared to the Nixon era, explains Bernstein.

What has made this time dramatically more troubling, the 63-year-old journalist explains, is that “there is no oversight.”

“The system worked in Watergate,” Bernstein told the Denver Post.

Even after Nixon was reelected in a 49-state landslide in 1972, Bernstein said, the president was checked and balanced in the manner intended by the founders of the American experiment.

The news media investigated Nixon, and editorialized boldly when the president’s lawless behaviors were exposed.

The Congress responded to those revelations with hearings and demands for White House tapes and documents. When the materials were not forthcoming, Congress went to court to force Nixon and his aides to meet those demands.

The courts responded by aggressively and consistently upholding the authority of Congress to call the president to account.

And when it became clear that Nixon was governing in contradiction to the Constitution, the U.S. House took appropriate action, with Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voting for three articles of impeachment. Congressional Republicans, led by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, then went to the White House to inform their party’s president that he stood little chance of thwarting an impeachment vote by the full House or surviving a trial in the Senate.

Nixon resigned and so ended a constitutional crisis created by a president’s disregard for the rule of law — a crisis that was cured by an impeachment move by House members who respected their oaths of office.

Today, says Bernstein, the system that worked in the 1970s is failing as the country witnesses presidential and vice presidential misdeeds that former White House counsel John Dean has correctly characterized as “worse than Watergate.”

Referring to the media, congressional and judicial oversight that is essential to maintaining a republic, Bernstein says, “That hasn’t happened here.”

Pearl Jam Censored by AT&T

Pearl Jam Censored by AT&T

Last Sunday night AT&T “sponsored” a live webcast of Pearl Jam’s performance at LollapaloozaPearl Jam reports on their website that:

After concluding our Sunday night show at Lollapalooza, fans informed us that portions of that performance were missing and may have been censored by AT&T during the “Blue Room” Live Lollapalooza Webcast.

When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the webcast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them.

During the performance of “Daughter” the following lyrics were sung to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” but were cut from the webcast:

– “George Bush, leave this world alone.” (the second time it was sung); and

– “George Bush find yourself another home.”

This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

AT&T’s actions strike at the heart of the public’s concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media.

If a company that is controlling a webcast is cutting out bits of our performance -not based on laws, but on their own preferences and interpretations – fans have little choice but to watch the censored version.

What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call, and it’s about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.

So AT&T’s “content monitor” cut political speech from a live webcast of a Pearl Jam concert and AT&T’s response to Pearl Jam’s inquiry was that the cuts were “a mistake.” 

What does that mean?  First off, if you agree to sponsor a webcast of a performance, then just broadcast it.  It’s a Pearl Jam concert.  What is there to monitor?

Second, the “content monitor” chose to cut political language that was critical of Bush from the broadcast.  Was it “a mistake” or was the person following AT&T’s rules for censoring webcasts down to what they’ve decided is acceptable content? 

If it was a mistake, what was the mistake?  Was it a mistake that somebody forgot to tell the content monitor not to cut anything from a live concert performance or was it a “mistake” purposely made by a content monitor who doesn’t approve of statements critical of Bush?

So yes, this is something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.  It’s about the future of the internet, and this is just an example of what happens when corporate hacks control the content.

Bush and al-Qaida in Iraq – Blowing Smoke

Bush and al-Qaida in Iraq – Blowing Smoke

One of the more dire warnings repeated endlessly by George W Bush and other war supporters is that if the United States withdraws, al-Qaida will gain a safe haven in Iraq.  It should not surprise us to hear this nonsense from Bush himself; I mean the man will say almost anything to justify his policies in Iraq –even  something in which he is essentially conceding that the invasion he ordered has allowed al-Qaida to establish a strong presence in the country. What is troubling is that we hear it also from General David Petraeus and other US generals who should know better. 

First of all, the original al-Qaida already has a safe haven – in Pakistan, our ally.  Few would dispute, however, that al-Qaida in Iraq (an off-shoot which didn’t exist before we invaded and overthrew Saddam Hussein) is a vicious and destructive force that has incited sectarian violence, has been responsible for a significant percentage of the worst attacks on civilians, and has been unyielding in its attacks on American forces. 

However, it is the group’s fundamentalist extremism, which tolerates no ideological impurity, which has been its undoing in Anbar Province where the Sunni insurgency was once strongest.  Its Taliban-style governance of the areas it briefly controlled along with the murders of many Sunni tribal chiefs who were slow to embrace the group, has led to an unlikely alliance between key Sunni tribes and the Americans.  Although we don’t yet know the full story, it was the growing schism between al-Qaida and other Sunni insurgent groups who had previously fought the Americans that the US marines in Anbar skilfully exploited. The result is that the tribes who supplied many of the fighters for these groups have joined, if not the central government in Baghdad, then the Americans in fighting al-Qaida. 

Their action stemmed from a simple recognition that al-Qaida represented a more deadly long term threat to their well-being than did the Shiite-dominated central government or the Americans.  There is both hope and danger to be seen in this turn of events.  The hope rests in the assurance that even Sunnis in Iraq do not now and never will embrace the hateful and murderous ideology of al-Qaida and Islamic extremism.

The danger is that we will mistake this willingness to combat a common foe Anbar and other areas with large Sunni populations, as a sign of reconciliation with and support for the central government in Baghdad.  It is neither.  And it is entirely possible that the weapons and training we are providing the Sunni tribes who declare their willingness to fight al-Qaida, will be turned one day back against us and certainly the Iraqi government if the latter fails to make political accommodation with the Sunni minority.

Al-Qaida is an extreme, fundamentalist, Sunni Islamist terrorist group.  It is a bitter enemy of the Shiite majority in Iraq and of the Kurdish minority.  Now, if ever there were any doubt, we can see that the Sunni minority want no more to do with it than the others.

Whatever the consequences of a US withdrawal of major combat forces from Iraq, the establishment of a safe and secure haven for al-Qaida is surely not one of them.