Sunday, March 30, 2008

Good reads/random cool sites (3/30/2008)

Hulu.com is a newish free video-on-demand site. It has full-length movies and TV shows (mostly NBC and Fox, apparently), as well as clips. There's some really good content there, but I'm not sure yet what I think of the site. I have two problems with it. First, they show commercials -- right in the middle of the movies. They're short, but it's still really annoying. (Although when I watched Quest for Fire, they offered the option of one long commercial first or short interruptions. I don't mind the one long commercial that much -- it's the interruptions I hate.) The other problem was that when I tried to watch The Jerk, it was an edited (for TV, apparently) version. The choppy cutting, bowdlerization, and commercials were just too much for me. I didn't finish it. So my movie-watching experience there so far is one Acceptable, one Unacceptable. But check it out for yourself.

Sports Illustrated is posting old articles and photos online. One of my favorite SI articles ever is "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch," by the late great George Plimpton.

People have been wondering why former New York governor Eliot Spitzer got prosecuted for patronizing prostitutes, something for which federal prosecutions are extremely rare. Maybe this is why.

Finally, a fond farewell to jugglingCats, a blog I've enjoyed very much. Brahnamin is quitting blogging to concentrate on other projects. I'll miss his blog, but I wish him the best of luck with his book.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday I'm in love...

...with The Retarded Policeman!*



*It's OK, he's very much in on the joke. He's having fun making people laugh and mocking stereotypes.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How did I get Iraq right?

In light of the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, Slate is running a series of essays by "liberal hawks" who supported the decision to go to war. It's called "Why Did We Get It Wrong?" Most of the essays are very self-serving, with the authors blaming other people for their mistakes: Bush, Colin Powell, the Iraqis, "expert opinion," etc., and so on. (And Christopher Hitchens, bless his heart, insists he wasn't wrong at all.) It's a bit pathetic at times.

But since I was against the war -- "an immoral and potentially disastrous policy" as I called it -- from the start, I figure I'm more entitled to look back than they are. Five years ago, shortly after the war began, I listed six reasons I was against the war:

[1] ...there is no legal basis for [this war] that relates to Gulf War I. it is not a resumption of hostilities because hostilities in that war were between Iraq and the United Nations, not between Iraq and the US.

[2] ...the "Bush doctrine," which asserts the right to pre-emptively attack any state developing weapons of mass destruction that may at some unspecified future date be used against the United States... has no precedent. There is nothing like it in the laws that individual Americans must obey at home; there is nothing like it in "just war" doctrine; there is nothing like it in the system of international law that has developed over the past 355 years.

Furthermore, it does away with two centuries of American lip service to the idea that we never fight wars of aggression. It will also encourage adversaries to arm themselves as quickly as possible with the most destructive weapons possible lest we invade them too. This war will make the US less secure than it was, not more.

[3] ...we were not threatened by Iraq. It was not a danger to us. North Korea and Iran were much more proximate threats. This is not a war of self-defense, it is a war of aggression.

[4] ...oil is the real motivation for [the war]. The purpose of the war is to ensure the flow of Iraqi oil at a reasonable price. In the past there have been states that invaded other states without us intervening. What does Kuwait have that they didn't? Oil. There are numerous dictatorships as bad as Saddam Hussein's that we do not attack. What does Iraq have that they don't have? Oil. There are numerous states that violate UN resolutions that we do not attack. What does Iraq have that they don't have? Oil.

[5] [The war] has inflamed Arab and Muslim public opinion against us. It is endangering our interests in the Middle East and elsewhere. Again, we will be less secure than we were.

[6] ...where's Osama? This war is hindering the war on terrorism. (Anyone remember that?)

I also suggested that Iraq might
[split] into three de facto states -- a Kurdistan that is semi-democratic but also spreads unrest into Turkey, a semi-democratic Sunni center that still has untamed bands of gunmen, and a Shiite Islamic republic closely aligned with Iran.

But my favorite thing I wrote about the war was this, written in early April when people were just beginning to wonder why no one had found the purported weapons of mass destruction:
If no WMDs are found, this war will, of course, be remembered as one of America's biggest foreign policy debacles ever, and Bush as one of history's biggest buffoons. In fact, I would expect the word "Bush" to become a synonym for "dumbass," in much the way that "Einstein" has become a synonym for "genius."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Good reads/random cool sites (3/24/2008)

Biologist PZ Meyers showed up at a screening for a new pro-creationist movie called Expelled, but the producers had him "expelled" from the theater before he could watch it. They didn't notice his guest, however, who was -- well, go here for the punchline. It's well worth the click. (h/t: Bad Astronomy)

The New Yorker has a fascinating article on "the woman behind the camera at Abu Ghraib." She's not at all what I'd expected.

I didn't know that Psychology Today has blogs, but it's appropriate, because one of its bloggers is batshit crazy. (h/t: Pharyngula)

Maureen Dowd compared President Bush to Gene Kelly. This didn't go over too well with Kelly's widow, who wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times, and oh snap! (h/t: Atrios)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday I'm in love...

...with Icy Spicy Leoncie!

I guess she can introduce herself better than I can:
LEONCIE IS A GENIUS SINGER-SONGWRITER,OF INDIAN-PORTUGUESE Origin and a Qualified Musician, who has studied Western Classical Music from Trinity College Of Music London. She has a Very Strong Musical Background and comes from a Family of Excellent Jazz Musicians who were also Bollywood Musicians. Leoncie is a Excellent Jazz Singer as well, and has been told that she has a Black,Powerful,SpineTingling Voice.
Spectacular Leoncie is the Instrumentalist of all her songs,she arranges,produces and performs all her music.
And she's from Iceland.

This song is called "Killer in the Park," and as one commenter on its YouTube page said, "This really captures the upbeat, happy-go-lucky lifestyle of a serial killer."



And "Sex Crazy Cop" movingly captures the relationship dynamics of modern life. Tell me these lyrics don't speak to you:
You are just a lousy cop and not some great detective
You pick up all those sluts from the street
And screw them in secret
If that's not enough
You go to those pole clubs for more
Cheap sex!
You bang them in the morning
Bang them every day
Come home in the evening
Sayin' it's OK
...
Ohhhh, cheap sex!
Ohhhh, cheap sex!
Ohhhh, cheap sex!
Ohhhh, cheap sex!



(Giant h/t: Beware of the Blog)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Investigative journalism at its finest

Yesterday, the National Archives released its records of Hillary Clinton's schedule from her years as First Lady. Luckily, "Brian Ross and the ABC News Investigative Unit" were right on top of the story. Their hard-hitting "initial review" of the 17,481 pages of the schedule turned up this important fact: "Hillary Clinton spent the night in the White House on the day her husband had oral sex with Monica Lewinsky, and may have actually been in the White House when it happened."

Out of all possible news stories, or out even out of all possible news stories based on Clinton's schedule, that's what ABC News chooses to focus on? And obviously they've been waiting for this for a long time, or they wouldn't have been able to rush it out on the first day the records are released, complete with composite photo of Hillary, Monica Lewinsky, and the notorious "blue dress." I mean, what kind of sleazy, filthy-minded pervert journalist would even think to himself, "I wonder if Hillary was in the White House when Monica was blowing Bill?" much less wait weeks (months? years?) to jump on the story the second he can find out? The Brian Ross kind, of course. Is it possible for American journalism to sink any lower? (h/t: Glenn Greenwald)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Good reads/random cool sites (3/19/2008)

Rationalist International has a fascinating account of an Indian mystic trying to use his "tantrik powers" to kill an atheist on live television. The whole thing actually reminded me of the Bible story where Elijah challenges the priests of Baal to call down fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:21-40), except the atheist doesn't have the the tantrik guys killed at the end. Those darned atheists are so civilized these days. (h/t: Bad Astronomy)

An "awareness test" (Just follow the instructions. I promise nothing will pop out and scream at you or anything like that. h/t: The Mutt's Nuts):



The Baby Name Wizard's NameVoyager graphs the popularity of baby names in the USA by decade (and by year in the '00s). (h/t: Freaknomics)

George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" addresses political writing specifically, but its good advice is applicable to writing in general. (And I was surprised to learn that people were already writing "tow the line" in 1946. I'd thought it was just teh interwebs making people stupid. h/t: Paul Krugman)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The greatest political speech of my adult life

The Obama campaign has faced some racial controversy in the past few weeks, with the revelation of a history of inflammatory comments by Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright and foolish "analysis" by doddering Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro.

Obama's response stands out because it is so unusual. Almost no one -- and maybe no politicians -- in this country will talk openly, honestly, and intelligently about race. This is a speech that is truthful, nuanced, conciliatory, and unifying. It is the greatest political speech I've ever heard.



The full text is below the jump.

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who's been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

10,000 MP3s

My MP3 collection just passed 10,000. Is that a lot? How many do you have?

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My 10,000th MP3, BTW, was "America" by Simon and Garfunkel. I kind of wish it was something cooler, but oh well. It's a good song.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Good reads/random cool sites (3/14/2008)

"What kind of music do you like?"
"Music that sounds like the opening fourteen seconds of Humble Pie's 'I Don't Need No Doctor,' as performed live on their 1971 album Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore."
Chuck Klosterman, on shuffle.

Looking for a gift for a young lady? Something empowering, something that just shouts "Grrl Power!"? Look no further than GlamGuns.com, featuring the Hello Kitty AK-47.

You may have heard that a lot of American celebrities who find it beneath their "dignity" to do commercials in this country are more than happy to take the money if the commercials will only run in Japan. Japander.com has a bunch of them. The Schwarzenegger ones are my favorite, but Brad Pitt comes close, and the Rick Astley commercial is not to be missed (h/t Freakonomics).

Scientific American is running a series on "self-experimenters," people whose experimental subjects were themselves.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Towing the line and jiving with grammatical tenants

If you think there's nothing wrong with that title, prepare to be made fun of, because this post is for you.

First of all, it's not "tow the line," it's "toe the line." T-O-E, toe. Yeah, those things on the end of your foot. The expression comes from lining up in a strict row, with everybody's toes on one line. (Don't blame me if you don't like it; I didn't invent the phrase.) On the other hand, "Tow the line" doesn't even make sense. You can tow things with a line, but why would you tow a line? And what would you tow it with, another line? Yeah, that makes sense.

Maybe now you're thinking, "That doesn't jive with my understanding." Actually, it does, because "jive" means to trifle with or make fun of, and it's fair to say that I'm jiving with your understanding. I'm gibing at it too. The word you're looking for is neither "jive" nor "gibe," it's "jibe." J-I-B-E. Jibe. You jive turkey.

"Well," you say, "in the housing track where I live, everyone says 'jive.'" I'm not surprised, because it's "tract," not "track." "Track housing" would mean your home is built in the infield at Churchill frikkin' Downs or something. "Tract housing" means your home is built on a specified tract of land. Oh, and you Mormons, our missionaries don't "track" houses, they "tract" them. Houses don't usually require tracking, since they rarely move very far. It's tracting they sometimes need, in the sense of going door-to-door and handing out tracts.

"Look," you argue, "if I say 'tow' to somebody instead of 'toe,' or 'track' instead of 'tract,' that's none of your business. It's between he and I." Wrong! Wrong, because it's not "between he and I," it's "between him and me." I know when you were a little kid somebody told you not to say "him and me," but that was in sentences like "Him and me went to the park." "Between" is a preposition, and you use the accusative case (J'Accuse! Your grammar sucks.) with prepositions. You wouldn't say "that's between we," would you? Then don't say "between he and I."

"That's fine for you," you begin, "if you can remember all those grammatical tenants, but -- ." Stop! Just please stop. You may own some rental housing, and you may have some tenants, and they may be grammatical (which is more than I can say for you), but that's not what you meant to talk about, is it? The word you want is "tenets," T-E-N-E-T-S, tenets. Tenants = renters, tenets = doctrine. Get it?

By now I'm sure you're thinking, "kuri, your a mean grammar Nazi." To which I can only reply: "No my not."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Good reads/random cool sites (3/11/2008)

Guerrilla performance art group ImprovEverywhere has a new video up: "Food Court Musical"



As everyone who would possibly care knows by now, Obama adviser Samantha Power had to resign after she called Hillary Clinton a "monster" in an interview with UK journalist Gerri Peev. Tucker Carlson had a curious reaction when he had Peev on his show. He asked her if she didn't realize that powerful people will stop talking to journalists if journalists aren't nice to them. So much for the supposed adversarial relationship between the press and politicians. Glenn Greenwald has more (with bonus Jeremy Paxman interview videos).

Sometimes trucks crash. When they do, sometimes they spill stuff on the road. And as TruckSpills.com proves, sometimes that can be pretty cool (h/t: News of the Weird Daily).

Finally, in the "it's never too early to plan your Christmas shopping" category, here's the perfect gift for the children of Bush Administration officials: The Torture Device Coloring Book (h/t: murketing).

Monday, March 10, 2008

Beat kuri's Quiz Score! 2

Play the vocabulary quiz at FreeRice.com. For every word you get right, FreeRice.com will donate 20 grains of rice to feed hungry people.

kuri's high score (so far): Level 49

Friday, March 07, 2008

Eva Cassidy

There's been some discussion on teh intewebs lately about the late Eva Cassidy, because some kid on American Idol used an arrangement of "Imagine" that was obviously based on her version. Some people have even been calling it "plagiarism," which I think is silly; it's more of a tribute than anything else, and a testament to the kid's good taste.

But one of the things that surprised me about the discussion was that it seems a lot of people still have never heard of her. She never hit the "big time" -- she died of cancer in 1996 -- but she had one of the most beautiful voices anyone's ever heard. I could say a lot more, but I'll just let you watch this piece the news show Nightline did about her a few years ago.



Parts 2 and 3 are after the jump.




Thursday, March 06, 2008

O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!

I'm not big on personality cults, and I'd like this better if it was full of regular people instead of celebrities, but I have to admit it got to me a little bit. I briefly found myself growing almost enthusastic.

Before you vote for John McCain

You'd better watch this video.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Help me understand the morals of capitalism

So, Mormanity wrote about walking into a shop in New York and finding some people openly sewing Dolce & Gabbana labels onto cheap bags and selling them for $30. (If you have to ask how much a real one costs, you can't afford it anyway.) They were counterfeiting the bags, and not trying to hide it.

Mormanity found this to be an example of "our shameless society," where wrong is right and right is wrong. And I was sort of right there with him, except for one thing: he called what they were doing a "sin."

And that got me thinking. Why exactly would that be a sin? So I asked in the comments. Partly, of course, I was just playing "mess with the conservatives," but I really did want to know. I didn't find the answers very satisfactory.

"Because it's breaking the law." Well, man's law and God's law aren't the same thing, obviously. In fact, sometimes the law itself is sinful. "Because they're lying." That's probably true in many cases, but in this case the point of the post was that they were openly selling fakes. They weren't trying to pass them off as authentic. "Because they're stealing." That's a little more complicated, but as far as I can tell, "stealing" in the scriptures means taking something away from someone so they don't have it anymore. Since neither the bags nor the labels were stolen in that sense, I'm very unsure that the sin of theft applies.

At about that point, Mormanity himself joined in. He wanted to talk about intellectual property rights. After a little give and take, he came up with this example:
I... start a business selling "Mormanity" hot dogs and they become very popular, thanks to all the work I put into building the brand, including tons of advertising, expensive art work for my packaging, buying celebrity endorsements.... People get in line to buy Mormanity Dogs.
(Then I start making cheap, crappy knockoffs using his brand name.)
...You are stealing my intellectual assets: the brand name I have developed at great expense, the trademark I have paid for and registered to show that I don't want people using my stuff without my permission, the unique style of packaging that took a lot of work and expense to develop.

That got me thinking about hot dogs. A hot dog has an intrinsic value of, say, 35 cents. Add the convenience of eating out (I'm thinking hot dog stands here, not packages you buy in a store, but the basic idea's the same either way), and let's say an ordinary is-that-really-safe-to-eat 7-11 dog is worth about $1. Make it a very tasty dog, and we'll say it's worth as much as $3. Make it an ultra-tasty, organic, kosher Mormanity dog, and we'll say it's even worth $4. But with all his advertising and branding, Mormanity can sell his dogs for $8. And he sells loads of hot dogs and makes $10 million. That makes him a big success, a pillar of his community. OK, now just hold that thought for a second; we'll come back to it.

Because one of the examples of dishonesty Mormanity used in the discussion was an art forger. And that also got me thinking. Suppose I'm an art forger. I've invested years of study in perfecting my craft. I have to be an excellent painter; I have to know art history; I have to know the market; I even have to know some chemistry so I can properly "age" my painting. Finally I'm ready for my big score: I forge a Van Gogh and sell it for $10 million. That makes me a criminal.

But what, exactly, makes me any different from Mormanity and his hot dogs? I fooled one person into paying $10 million for a painting that's really only worth maybe $1,000. But all Mormanity really did was fool 2.5 million people into each paying $8 for a hot dog that's only worth $4. All either of us did was convince people to buy something for more than it's worth. Why does that make him an honest capitalist success story and me a criminal? Why aren't we the same thing, either both honest successes or both criminals? Can anyone explain this to me?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Good reads/random cool sites (3/4/2008)

Reason no. 6,398 I'm glad I'm self-employed: I never have to watch PowerPoint presentations, like the one Lincoln used at Gettysburg.

The Arbitrarian has been making some cool graphical representations of things like which NBA players are like which other NBA players, as well as which senators are like which other senators. (The senator most like Hillary Clinton: Barack Obama; the senator most like Barack Obama: Hilary Clinton; is anyone surprised by that, I wonder.)

Wired has a fascinating article (with video) about autism.

Davey Dance Blog is videos of a guy dancing to his iTunes in public. It's a celebration of the human spirit.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Best of kuri 2007

My best blog posts from 2007:

During my brief time in academia, I created a Final exam in International Relations.

Hair removal for men is ridiculous.

I wrote a Haiku about crocodiles.

Barbaro the horse died. That was sad, but not a tragedy.

Killing is fun... when you're doing stand-up.

I'm a Lawn heretic.

My Uncle Herman was murdered.

The worst musical performance in the entire history of the world illustrates what's wrong with education in America. In fact, it's the American education system in microcosm.

American Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho died for somebody's sins, but not mine.

My toilet paper always tells the truth.

The motto of the University of Oregon is "Mens agitat molem." I created an illustrated translation.

I prefer boxing to Chess, as long as I get to choose my own weight class.

Strange people show up at church sometimes. One of the most memorable occasions was when Mr. Free-Love Religion met the Law of Chastity.

I was kind of excited about Paul the Carphone Warehouse salesman winning "Britain's Got Talent," but my spouse was more practical. In fact, she left me with nothing to say but, "Well, yeah, but...."

Out of over 300 posts since I started blogging, the one that got the most individual hits and comments was the one where I wrote about how some Dumb sneaky bastards in the UK tried their Global Sweepstakes Prize scam on me. The post turned into the go-to spot for people looking for information the scam.

I reviewed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, if anyone still cares.

As a publicity stunt for the Simpsons Movie, someone painted a giant Homer Simpson next to the Cerne Abbas Giant. Some British Pagans were not amused.

I explained How to play cricket, for Americans.

I couldn't make up my mind whether the Picture of Ian Fleming on my copy of Casino Royale is cool or lame.

I wrote about feeling a little sorry for Michael Vick -- and about sadism, vengeance, and hypocrisy -- in Sympathy for a Devil?

When I was about four years old, I thought that I was a little boy who was kidnapped.

I described the nightmare of having an "AMC guy" for a father in Gremlins and Hornets and Pacers, oh my!

In her Sunday School class, my daughter learned that I can love others... if I get them really drunk first.

I jumped on the lolcat bandwagon with lolcat Oswald and lolcat Jew.

I find ornithology fascinating, because I like tits.

Mitt, we hardly knew ye, but while you were around, we learned that Mitt Romney hates atheists.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Tinker Bell the bunny boiler

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Last week I watched Disney's animated Peter Pan for the first time since I was a small child. I found it quite enjoyable, especially any scene with Captain Hook in it (although unfortunately the film's stereotyped depictions of American Indians are grotesque by today's standards).

The thing I found most fascinating, though, is that Tinker Bell is actually nothing like what I'd thought. I'd thought that she was cute, flirtatious, independent, a little vain maybe, but still pretty cool. In Disney's Peter Pan, though, Tinker Bell is actually -- not to put to fine a point on it -- a psycho killer. She's a regular bunny boiler.

Because Tinker Bell is jealous of Wendy, she tries to murder her. (And why does Tinker Bell like Peter Pan that much in the first place? She's in late adolescence if not early adulthood, but Peter's voice hasn't even changed yet. The whole relationship is a little creepy if you ask me.) Tinker Bell tells the Lost Boys that Wendy's a bird and Peter Pan wants them to shoot her out of the sky. And there's no way around it -- Tinker Bell's not just being mean to Wendy or playing a trick on her, she's trying to kill her. Her plot almost succeeds too, but Peter Pan swoops in and saves Wendy before she can fall to her death.

When that plan fails, Tinker Bell conspires with Captain Hook to have Wendy kidnapped by his crew of pirates. It doesn't take much imagination to know what a ship full of pirates would do to a little girl after they kidnap her, but does Tinker Bell care? Hell, no. She just wants a potential rival out of the way.

It's all a bit much, if you ask me. I mean, if Tinker Bell was an American, Republicans would be clamoring to have her tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. And this is the character that Disney chose to represent its "magic" -- a pedophilic would-be murderer and kidnapper? What were they thinking?