Wednesday, September 29, 2004

This is national Banned Books Week, a good time to remind everyone that almost any book can be banned by some group or other at any time. The fear of having people read a book is a sure sign of a society gone mad, and is also fairly insulting to the reader.

My own favorite contemporary banned book is Heather Has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman, which has ranked high on the list for some time now, and which is is illustrated by one of my favorite people, the talented Diana Souza (look at Diana's wonderful site with high bandwidth only). Heather Has Two Mommies has even been the inspiration for a rock song by the same name.

The censors are always good for business. Every time someone condemns a banned book, people go out and buy it. A number of books we take for granted as classics were once banned: Ulysses, The Canterbury Tales, Leaves of Grass, Call of the Wild, Frankenstein, Black Beauty, and Lady Chatterly's Lover. Even I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has been banned because it contains sexual language, violence, and--shock of shocks--racism.

The librarians of our nation have always presented a staunch opposition to the censorship of books, but they need help from you. Many communities have anti-censorship groups you can join through your local library. Banned Books Week is a good time to stop taking reading for granted. With the despicable Patriot Act, the government already has a right to know what you read, and there are plenty of groups lying in wait to limit your selection.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

When you can commit gross acts of hypocrisy right out in the open--and get praised for committing them--you know you are in a country whose citizens are brain-dead and whose news media is held on a tight leash by the government. Bush's new best friend, Iyad Allwi, has long been a pal of the CIA, and now he is an example of "democracy" in action.

Allwi, you'll recall, was the head of the Iraqi National Accord, the group founded by British intelligence in 1990 and composed of those who had defected from Saddam Hussein's army. Two years after it was formed, the INA was recruited by the CIA, and for the next few years, the INA staged attacks with Iraq in order to show that it meant business. According to former CIA officers, these attacks included the bombing of both a cinema and a school bus--acts of violence in which children were killed. Just a few months ago, Allwi is said to have executed half a dozen prisoners.

There are other violent acts associated with Allwi. The Bush administration's cuddling up to him and making him Iraq's leader is reminiscent of Reagan's rush to get friendly with Saddam Hussein in the 80's, when the U.S. was fearful of Iran. In 1984--with full knowledge that Saddam Hussein was using mustard gas laced with a nerve agent--Reagan sent none other than Donald Rumsfeld to Iraq to seal diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Now, at every opportunity, Bush says of Saddam Hussein, "He gassed his own people." His administration is correct to rely on the short memories and general ignorance of the American public. Pay attention to whoever is planting bombs and gassing people today: That person will be our ally soon enough.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Officials of the Attica Correctional Facility say that they do not have to honor an inmate's request for vegan meals. The inmate, who is serving a 37-year term for assault and burglary, is morally opposed to eating animal products.

Attica's spokesman acknowledges that the prison has a constitutional obligation to respect the dietary requirements of inmates' religions, but he says he has no such obligation to respect the requirements of a vegan person.

So it is okay to permit a prisoner to abstain from "unclean" food and to honor the disciplines of organized religion, but not okay to permit him to be true to an actual commitment to nonviolence. Not only does this not make any sense, it is also yet another direct hit at morality that isn't wrapped in the cloth of a church. If he were to suddenly find Jesus, you can bet prison officials would be falling all over themselves to get him a bible and let him attend prayer meetings.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Ferris wheel rides, homemade pies, cotton candy, hatred and ignorance. They will all be available at the 2004 Mississippi State Fair, which opens in two weeks. Because the white supremacist Nationalist Movement is setting up a booth at the fair, the event is already losing money.

The people of Mississippi are upset, as well they should be, by this turn of events, and the state fair commission is in a terrible position. If it permits the group to set up the booth, the entire nation will say, "well, that's Mississippi for you." If it denies the group permission to set up the booth, it will be looking at a First Amendment lawsuit, which it will lose because even the Nationalist Movement has a right to express itself.

Unfortunately, there have been threats made against both the group's leader, Richard Barrett, and the state fair commission. Death threats against a white supremacist are no different than death threats against Natalie Mains: As long as they are allowed to go on, they demonstrate that the United States is a violent and lawless nation in which the majority of the moment has a right to intimidate the minority.

One hopes that the people of Mississippi will organize large-scale demonstrations so that the rest of the country can determine where they really stand on this issue.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Jimmy Swaggart, known for his own sinful escapades with a hooker, has crossed a line that will most likely be ignored by the news media, since they ignore everything else. In discussing gay marriage and gay men, he said "If one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died."

Swaggart, who was on a tirade about "idiotic" politicians and judges, went on to say, "I'm not knockin' the poor homosexual, I'm not. I thank God that President Bush has stated we need a Constitutional amendment that states that marriage is between a man and a woman."

Like the right-wing radio talk show hosts who toss out the idea of physically hurting liberals and gay citizens, Swaggart has made it clear he thinks it is okay to kill gay men. His hatred and ignorance are matched only by his narcissism: What gay man on Earth would give Swaggart any kind of look?

Of course, the irony of this whole concept is that it has never been gay men making unwanted hits on other men--it has always been straight men making unwanted hits on women. And the men who are most prepared to avenge an imagined advance from another man would probably be the first to call for the head of a woman who bloodied a man who hit on her. It goes without saying that some of these men make hits on women.

Years ago, I was in a bookstore in a liberal neighborhood, and was surprised to hear a man complaining that he had gone to a gym, and there were gay men there. "They'd better not make any moves on me," he told the clerk. I said to him "Sir, I don't think you have anything to worry about."

Friday, September 17, 2004

During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush was stumped by a word-association/opinion question about the Taliban. He shrugged his shoulders. The Glamor Magazine reporter prompted him, even going so far as to say "repression of women in Afghanistan." Finally, he said "repressive," and told the reporter he thought she was talking about a rock band.

Maybe he did think that, or--more likely--he was using his sense of humor to redeem himself in the interview. One way or the other, the fact that the word "Taliban" didn't immediately register with a man who was running for president of the United States was shocking. So was the fact that--as far as the records are concerned--Bush committed insider trading when he was the head of Harken Energy.

Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, in their book Shrub, remind readers that when Bush first announced his candidacy for the presidency, they gave the news media a huge hint: Check the record. The mainstream media never did. Bush had created a string of major crises in Texas, causing damage to the environment, the educational system, and the criminal justice system.

In her book, Bushwomen, Laura Flanders explains how Karen Hughes (who doesn't get enough credit for her mud-slinging skills) conducted a smear campaign to unseat Governor Ann Richards. This is the way the Bush/Rove/Hughes team works, and since it takes two to do the Texas two-step, it is important to keep in mind that the nation is hungry for anti-liberal dirt.

A vast number of Americans don't care about the record--not the one in Texas, not the one in the White House. It means nothing to them that Bush lied about his environmental policy, lied about his educational policy, appointed criminals to high positions, replaced scientists on national and international commissions with extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalists, assaulted the First Amendment, and lied in order to blow up another country.

It means nothing to them because they are ignorant of the facts, and even if they were not, they might still support a candidate who appeals to their bigotry, just as Reagan did. Mark Ames writes convincingly about the white male spite vote that will go to Bush. The Bush White House, like the Reagan White House, worships testosterone, and Bush is counting on his "warrior" persona to usher him in for another four years, despite his dishonesty, his lack of intelligence, and his total unfitness for office.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

On today's Oprah After the Show, Barbara Walters and Oprah presented some pre-1975 freak show advice for women who are being treated unfairly in the workplace. Walters talked about the difficulty of her early career, and said she didn't realize she was paving the way for so many women. "I was no Gloria Steinem," she said, and she still isn't.

Young women who are not being paid or promoted fairly frequently seek Walters' advice, and this is what she tells them: "Be so good that you become indispensable."

"That's a good one!" chirped Winfrey. "Be so good you become indispensable. I'll quote that."

No, Barbara. No, Oprah. That is not a good one. That is telling women to buy into the reality that women--like minorities-- have to be twice as good as anyone else in order to get any respect from the white male establishment. By buying into the reality, the reality is perpetuated.

It amazes me that two obviously intelligent women who have not always had an easy time of it would advise women to curry favor with men rather than demand equality. What are they thinking? Are they thinking at all?

Please...if you are a young woman who is not being paid or promoted fairly--demand what is due you, and if you don't get it, take legal action. Working twice as hard and being twice as competent is a manifestation of internalized misogyny, not a solution.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Thank you, Wayne Madsen! Madsen's commentary in Online Journal suggests that liberals ask a number of embarrassing questions concerning right wing leaders' hypocrisy about the so-called morality they're always screaming about. Drunk driving, compulsive gambling, gay sex, adultery, drug addiction--all things the right wing condems--are favorite activities of several of their leaders.

I have pointed this out before, only not as exhaustively as Madsen. Of course, it isn't just drinking, drugging, gambling and soliciting that highlight the hypocrisy of Republican "moral" leaders. There is also insider trading, lying under oath, committing sexual assault, blowing up a country under false pretenses--things like that.

The news media is committed to protecting the Bush administration and all who sail with them. The American people want so badly to have a "manly, Godly leader" that they would accept an ax murderer (actually, an ax murderer wouldn't have killed as many people as Bush) as their alleged head of state.

Madsen is right: The questions must be screamed over and over until they are answered. But even then, we are stuck with the same news media and the same national quest for ignorance.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

While tennis fans were busy hating U.S. Open chair umpire Mariana Alves for her alleged (no one heard it or saw it) overrule of a line call against Serena Williams that anyone could see was good, the rest of the story was being kept a big secret. And if you wondered where long-time gold badge umpires Fergus Murphy and Lynn Welch were, and why you kept seeing silver badge umpire Alves so much, here is the answer:

It was discovered that Murphy, Welch, and Christina Olausson--in yet another Olympics disgrace--tried to falsify their Olympics credentials in order to gain greater access to Olympic games. Two other tennis officials, Matthew McAleer and Diane Larkin, were caught in the act and sent packing from Athens.

Although Alves is not as highly ranked an umpire as Welch, Murphy, and Olausson, it is not out of the ordinary for a silver badge umpire to officiate at a showcourt match. What is unusual is that Alves had to work show-court matches for five consecutive days. We will never know what caused the overrule--or at least Alves's insistence of an overrule--but it is clear that Alves was over-worked because her peers tried to cheat at the Olympics.

Whatever poor judgment Alves may have used at the Open, she has not disgraced professional tennis as much as her peers did at the Olympics. Now it's up to the media to set things straight, and we all know how superb they are at that. Don't hold your breath.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Today is the third anniversary of one of America's greatest tragedies, which we have given a tacky nickname--"9-11." I think that started when some tasteless talking head referred to it as "9-1-1," and things went downhill from there. And as unfortunate as I think calling September 11 "9-11" is, the cute irrelevance of the name does fit the national response to the terrorist attacks of three years ago.

After an initial period of grief, we needed a thoughtful response to what had happened to us. Why was so much hatred directed at the United States? What--if anything--could possibly be done to make Islamic terrorism unpopular in the world? Who could help put a stop to it?

Instead, we screamed "U.S.A.!" as though we were behind in a soccer match. We stuck American flags all over cars and trucks, and Proud To Be American signs in the windows of businesses. The very people who--in the 60's, arrested citizens for wearing American flag pants--went to work manufacturing and selling thousands of American flag pants, shirts, pajamas, scarves, stadium blankets, shoes, jewelry, pens, jackets, lawn banners, teddy bears, and car mats.

Saudi Arabia gave us most of the terrorists, but that country--despite its toxic repression of anything not sanctioned by the government--was turned to as a "friend." Our airlines gave us easy boarding of known terrorists, who then used planes to commit horrific acts against us, but the only action taken toward those airlines was to bail them out. Our intelligence agencies, bogged down in bureaucratic incompetence and petty conflicts, responded by punishing whistle-blowers.

Republicans were quick to blame President Clinton for not getting rid of Osama bin Laden. Clinton planned three assassination attempts on bin Laden, but called them all off because he receieved information that significant numbers of civilian deaths would occur. For choosing to save the lives of Afghan citizens, he is called incompetent. The current White House, on the other hand, was warned that Al Quaeda was the top threat to national security, and its response was to cut the budget for counterterrorism programs.

In this Alice In Wonderland black-is-white White House world, Bush has emerged as the person people say they trust to "fight terrorism." The person who, in the 2000 election, didn't know what the Taliban was. The person whose administration cut the counterterrorism budget. The person who--a few weeks before September 11--ignored an urgent Al Queda memo while he was on vacation. The person who surrounded himself with PNAC members when he took office (never has that phrase had more meaning). The person who waited weeks to "smoke out" bin Laden, then later denied that bin Laden was the issue. The person who--surprise, surprise (see PNAC mention above)--was obsessed with attacking Iraq before September 11 ever occurred, and who moved quickly to do so, safe in the knowledge that Americans hated Arabs but had no use for facts.

Bin Laden is still at large. Thousands of people--both American and Iraqui soldiers and Iraqui civilians--are dead or maimed. The Taliban is in Afghanistan, terrorizing citizens, and the Northern Alliance is terrorizing women and girls. There is still no protection for airplane cargo holds. Sibel Edmonds and Valerie Plame have vanished (not that they were ever really there) from the news. And let us never forget that in 1984--with full knowledge that Saddam Hussein was using mustard gas laced with a nerve agent--President Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld to Iraq to seal diplomatic relations between Iraq and the U.S.

Happy Anniversary.

Friday, September 10, 2004

So now Cheney is doing an "oopsy!" over his horrid implication that a vote for Kerry is a vote for terrorism. Now, according to the Cincinnati Inquirer, he says that what he meant was that "Whoever is elected president has to anticipate more attacks."

Right. When you warn voters that "making the wrong choice" leaves the nation open to another terrorist attack, there is no room for fancy interpretation.

The good thing is the relief we can feel that Cheney is incapable of being anything but his deeply toxic self, despite convention attempts to cast him as a PFLAG-sympathizing, thoughtful diplomat filled with warmth and humanity.

What the news media isn't doing with this story is considering the projective element of Cheney's remarks: that a vote for Bush is an invitation to more terrorist attacks. There are going to be more terrorist attacks regardless of who is elected--that should be obvious by now. But it should also be obvious that this administration's arrogance, contempt for other nations, and hell-bent PNAC aggression is an Islamic terrorist's dream come true.

It should be obvious, but it isn't.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I can understand why the USA Network doesn't have a feedback form or a contact email address: With the kind of coverage it has presented for the U.S. Open, there would probably be a deluge of complaint mail dumped on network executives.

The quality of broadcast tennis commentary has probably never been as low as it has been during the past week. Tracy Austin, despite her considerable insight into the game, can't stop chattering about inane things. Ted Robinson can't stop chattering about Tracy, and Al Trautwig can't stop mangling people's names ("Maria Shaparova" and "Maria Navratilova" are examples).

The "features" are embarrassingly lame, and hit an all-time low when Trautwig lay down on the ground with Sharapova (who has mercifully been eliminated from the tournament by two veteran players, so we won't have to hear about her 24 hours a day) while she read Marco Polo.

But the most irritating of all is the sexism of Jim Courier. His is the kind of sexism that goes under the radar these days--unless you are a woman or a man with a brain and some awareness. After Elena Bovina won her second-round match, Courier was shocked by her "aggression." "She pumped her fist!" he reported, as though this were some type of female breakthrough, then went on to say that she played an aggressive game. Note to Courier: That is how people--of both genders--win matches.

Then--when Vera Zvonareva had her on-court meltdown--there was Courier to tell us that "only in the women's game does this happen in mid-match." Courier must have been taking a very long bathroom break during Nicolas Massu's match with Sargis Sargsian; Massu began cursing and throwing his racket in the first set. And perhaps he has forgotten John McEnroe, whose constant on-court antics were so reprehensible that some called for him to be removed from the tour. McEnroe broke rackets, cursed at umpires, and once hit a ball that he was obviuosly aiming at a lineswoman who had dared to question one of his requests. Or how about Ilie Nastase? Does anyone recall his waiting until the fifth set to go ballastic?

Ironically, it is McEnroe--who once said that women's tennis was inferior to men's--who is now not only a champion of equality for female players, but also a breath of fresh air among USA's commentators.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Yesterday, on C-Span, a woman called to give her reasons for voting for Bush. At the end of her explanation, she added, "Oh, and the God thing. A vote for the Republicans is a vote for God."

What a God this woman worships! One who stands for intolerance, lying, corruption, poisoning children, trashing the land and waterways, sending people off to die for a phony cause, and massive hypocrisy.

It is no wonder that Christianity is "bashed," as the conservatives like to say. This brand of Christianity--which is growing more popular in the United States every year--is really just a stand-in for the white male supremacy that has always been worshipped in every culture. But the joke is on most of the white males who belong to this cult, for they also will wind up victims of the current Republican movement.

Playing to both the Christian right and wealthy corporations shouldn't work, but because of massive levels of ignorance and a need to "take back America," the strategy has been a great success. Even when the White House appears to shift to the middle ("appears" is the operative word here) and right-wing Christians are angered, there is no fear of losing their votes.

The C-Span caller was on to something. It isn't about God, of course, but "the God thing"--the substitute for morality that takes away the work of the mind and the conscience. If you are into The God Thing, you can step over homeless people, deny rights to gay citizens, put two American flags on your car, and have a high old time. You don't even have to be white and male to do it: The God Thing has created enough internalized misogyny that women are once again suspicious of feminism, and African Americans are content to let hundreds of their own die of AIDS.

This is how a political war is always won--make sure the population is fractured, and that its factions fight against each other.

And make sure that God is far removed from the realities of suffering and intolerance.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

CNN, the "news" network that goes out of its way to avoid airing the news, has reached a disgusting new low: It has refused to air an ad produced by the Log Cabin Republicans because the ad is "too controversial." Other cable stations across the nation are airing the ad--which takes a stand against the Republicans' anti-gay marriage platform--but it is somehow unacceptable to CNN.

So let's review: Airing the Swift Boat ads--which have proven to be a pack of whopping lies put together by conservative Republicans--and constantly discussing them on every show--Not controversial. Airing an ad that criticizes the Republican platform--controversial.

As for the Log Cabin Republicans--duh. Did they really think that a party run by Christian right bigots was going to help them plan their weddings? Not that they are getting much more from the Democrats--homophobia is one trait shared by both parties. The Log Cabin Republicans have decided not to endorse Bush, however. It took them long enough.