29 April 2008

It's called a "Jeremiad." Now get over it.

I'm absolutely sickened by the idiocy that rears its head in the United States with every election cycle, but the whole Rev. Jeremiah Wright story is so overblown and beside the point that I'm left utterly unconvinced that the U.S. any longer has the intelligence to continue as a democracy, given that the basis of a functioning democracy is a well-informed, educated electorate.

Preachers in the U.S. have a long history of using the Jeremiad form. It used to be and perhaps still is standard practice to have students in high school read Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," which dates all the way back to 1741 (and technically is a colonial rather than U.S. text, but generally it's taught in American literature). More recently, it's popped up most frequently from right-wing politico-preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, the latter of whom actually made a run at the Republican presidential nomination back in 1988.

While Wright argued that the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. were an example of the "chickens coming home to roost," a riff no doubt inspired by Malcolm X's very accurate description of the social unrest prevalent in U.S. cities in the 1960's, Robertson -- on his wildly popular cult television broadcast -- agreed with fellow moron Falwell that 9/11 was the result of America's moral decay. In other words, God allowed the attack to punish a society that accepted the ACLU, abortionists, feminists, gays, and the People For the American Way. Not nearly as logical as Wright's argument that U.S. foreign policy caused blowback, but in the same sense a Jeremiad.

However, it would be no balm to Wright to be excused simply on the grounds that mean-spirited, hate-mongering wack-jobs like Falwell and Robertson also harshly criticize the United States. The media has been pouncing on the catchphrase, "God damn America," and has been ignoring or casting into the shadows the rhetorical contrast he was making between the jingoistic "God Bless America" with its assumption of holy approval for the nation's actions and the nation's actual actions as regards race relations. Anyone with half an ounce of honesty would have to admit that the promises of the Civil Rights era have not been completely fulfilled, what with police commanders in Washington, DC, in 2006 arguing that Georgetown and Blacks don't mix (or more recently, last year the Washington Post found evidence of racial profiling in Georgetown and Adams Morgan...the reader comments are actually more revealing than the article).

Media outlets are too self-centered and sensationalist to treat sermons for what they are: rhetoric aimed to excite and exhort the audience to probe their situations in life. I'm not much of a defender of religion, since it is primarily used as a tool of control, but even the master's tools can be turned against the system on occasion, as with Liberation Theology and Martin Luther King's appeals to the same religious tradition that one hundred years earlier was being used to justify slavery as a "christianizing influence on the heathens."

Bottom line: all I see in Wright's sermons is basic fire-and-brimstone modern-society-is-corrupt rhetoric, and I can't figure out why the hell this story has legs, except for the very cynical explanation that the media, as Don Henley once sang, "they love dirty laundry."

23 April 2008

A day in Adams Morgan

Nothing says class like huffing on your cigarette in the middle of a crowded toddler playground.


12 April 2008

So long, Buffalo.

Buffalo was a hoot. The city has beautiful bones, but unfortunately much of those bones are laid bare by the economic depression that followed the collapse of the shipping and steel industries. I suppose photos will follow once I'm fully back and functional, but in the meantime you'll have to take my word for it.

This was a business trip, or as much of a business trip as possible when you and your wife are toting along two children, so we weren't there completely to see the sights, and we spent much of the time in a hotel in downtown Buffalo.

It's extremely difficult to get a six pack of beer in downtown Buffalo. Sure you can find a bar, no problem, but try to find a six pack of beer and you'll wish you'd started sooner. While they apparently sell beer in CVS stores in New York, in downtown Buffalo if you try to go to CVS after eight p.m., you're out of luck. 8 p.m. -- What sort of CVS closes at 8 p.m.? Convenience my ass.

We settled on buying five bottles of Labatt's Blue from the hotel bar for a price that would have bought us a case with some change anywhere else.

Outside our business itinerary, we squeezed in a trip to Niagara Falls, both American and Canadian sides, and were amazed both at the beauty of the falls and the utter tastelessness of the detritus that has sprung up around the falls. In a show of extremely bad taste, some geniuses have lit the falls at night with multi-colored lights, turning a natural wonder into a monument to human mismanagement.

We had a minor incident returning from Canada, because we didn't have passports or birth certificates on hand for our children. We'd forgotten that ever since the US broke diplomatic relations with the barbarians to the north, it's been a tense border situation. After hinting that perhaps we were smuggling in Canadian style Manchurian Candidates who would eventually grow up, take powerful positions within the US government, and betray us to the Canadians -- or at least make us go metric -- he let us through.

More on the Canadian bits later...

11 April 2008

Shuffling off to Buffalo.

Nothing says springtime like a trip to Buffalo, does it? The weather is expected to be nasty and cold, but I don't always trust the weatherman. I've never been to this fabled city of chicken wings, and I'm looking forward to the experience.

08 April 2008


Hold on to your seat for this stunning report:
The D.C. government has serious flaws in its handling of finances in the public schools, Medicaid and the Office of Tax and Revenue, according to an independent audit to be released tomorrow.
No kidding.

So after all the headlines of the fall in which the DC tax office scandal grew from under 10 million to somewhere closer to 50 million, an independent auditor has found problems with the way DC government handles its finances...you don't say.

So it seems like no news, sort of dog bites man stuff, until you read on and realize that you can apparently lose 50 million in an embezzlement scheme and still pass an audit:
Overall, BDO auditors gave the city a "clean" audit for fiscal 2007, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said.
In the audit for fiscal 2006, only the school system's financial controls were cited for material weakness, and the District received no citations in the two previous years. Furthermore, the 2007 audit found six "reportable conditions" -- one step removed from a material weakness.

Say what? How reliable is an audit -- mandated by Congress annually -- that fails to turn up such gross corruption as has been found in the DC Tax Office, and furthermore still passes the District even when everyone in the world who can read a newspaper could quickly learn that the DC Tax Office's financial controls are several steps beyond "material weakness," not one step short?

Sounds like social promotion to me.

04 April 2008

Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now.

Not a whole lot more to say. If you've ever read his speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," you know Dr. King fully expected to be taken from this earth through hatred and fear, yet he put himself out there even after the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed -- moving into issues of economic equality, still tied heavily to racial injustice in America, but King constantly reminded critics that the "Poor People's Campaign" was multiracial in its scope.

The possibility of a popular anti-poverty campaign was cut short with Dr. King's assassination in Memphis 40 years ago today.

We're still waiting.

02 April 2008

Rogue State.

When George Bush and his Reagan-era rejects (who included a few Nixon-era retreads like Cheney) stole the election down in Florida, the rallying cry was "respect the rule of law." In fact, you'd think Howard Baker, the cagey veteran from the Reagan and Bush the First regimes, who as chief of staff of Reagan's White House during Iran-Contra, had been replaced by an ethical clone.

Unfortunately, in politics the most noble slogans are generally simply window-dressing for power-grabs, and Bush's lawlessness since taking office has only confirmed that the rule of law is neither respected nor followed in his administration.

Perhaps there's so little current respect for the rule of law because there are no consequences for violating the law. Aside from some minor court setbacks, BushCo has been able to do as it pleases in pillaging this country and others. Don't like environmental protections? Replace career scientists with political appointees with no expertise but plenty of ideological claptrap, then water down the protections or fail to enforce them. Don't like having to convince other countries whose governments seem to have a better grip on reality than your own that the UN should get involved in Iraq? Then simply call the UN irrelevant if it doesn't go your way and threaten to go it alone. Violate international law in launching a "pre-emptive" war against another nation, violate human rights law and common decency in Abu-Ghraib, set up secret prisons in remote locations across the world and more visible and cynical limbos like Gitmo to skirt domestic and international statutes regarding the treatment of prisoners, wiretap your civilian population and infiltrate domestic groups opposing your policies...I suppose I could go on, but I think the heap of dirty deeds is high enough already.

By the way, the whole idea of the "UN being irrelevant" played to Bush's base, most of whom believe in Black Helicopters and see the UN as an invasion force (yeah, invading from NYC with all their massed forces...), believe that any evidence of corruption in the UN is a reason for its abolition yet turn blind eyes on their own government's long legacy of scandal, etc. Of course, other nations have jumped on Bush's illogical bandwagon, like Iran for instance.

It should come as no surprise that Bush's attitude toward the UN should so closely mirror that of Iranian President Ahmadinejad -- after all, the two share similar simple-minded and ignorant worldviews, and neither has much regard for any law other than the old truism that "might makes right."

So what does it mean that the United States argues in international forums that other nations must submit to international law and rulings, yet exempts itself from oversight by those very bodies it implores to enforce the rules? Rules are fine for other people, but not for me? Sure, we want to investigate alleged atrocities, unless they're alleged against the US?

This line of reasoning strikes me as somewhat far afield from "the rule of law."

However, in this morning's Post, we see yet another example of the administration's respect for the rule of law:
"If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network," Yoo wrote. "In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch's constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions."
Interrogators who harmed a prisoner would be protected by a "national and international version of the right to self-defense," Yoo wrote. He also articulated a definition of illegal conduct in interrogations -- that it must "shock the conscience" -- that the Bush administration advocated for years.

For his trouble, Yoo has been rewarded with a professorship at UC-Berkeley -- a school and city reputedly so far to the left that you'd think Yoo wouldn't have even been permitted a work permit...but alas, the chief legal architect of Bush's torture regime finds a comfortable roost indeed.

We all have been rewarded with the gift of shit.

01 April 2008

The time of revelation is at hand.

Well, I suppose the charade is over. It had to end one time or another. So today I am revealing to the world that I am, indeed, I am, Eliot Spitzer.