Dependable Erection

Monday, February 27, 2006


File under stories you shouldn't have to read first thing in the morning, or ever, for that matter.

Octavia Butler, prominent science fiction author, dies at 58

Continue reading Damn

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Pretty remarkable weekend in Duke Park, North Carolina, so i thought i'd remark on it.

Saturday was Richard Hart's annual Mardi Gras parade and party.

Great food, great music, wonderful conversation, and enough memories for the kids to last a lifetime.

A sour note was struck, however, when Purple Man, all decked up in his Mardi Gras costume, was kidnapped from his display perch on the Markham Ave. traffic circle.

If you see this guy around town, or know of his whereabouts, drop me an email at bragin at nc dot rr dot com

No questions will be asked.

Sunday there were not one but two cleanups of neat natural attractions in or near the neighborhood. Working with our friends from Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, we dragged about 20 or 25 cubic yards of invasive plants from ECWA's new creekside land along the Pearl Mill Creek, between Duke Park and Trinity Park neighborhoods. Just to the north of I-85, behind the old K-Mart, our friends in the Colonial Village Neighborhood Association cleaned up a bunch of trash from one of the largest beaver ponds in the Piedmont. I don't know if this photo does it justice, but the lodge is enormous, and the pond is easily 5 acres, if not more. One day, it too will be part of our greenway system.

Continue reading Weekend

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Hillsborough Church of God, NC 86, Hillsborough, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A confession

OK, i confess.

Before last week, i never considered the question of who manages our ports. I grew up in and around New York; i used to ride the Staten Island Ferry out of South Terminal a couple of times a year with my grandmother. I went to a bunch of concerts in the early 80s on The Pier. The phrase "New York Port Authority" (or Port of Authority, as grandma used to say it) was something i heard so often as a kid that it really had no meaning to me until i started parsing it when i was a college radio news director and it would come up occasionally in a story. But i guess i just assumed that the Port Authority owned the port, and leased it out to whatever mafia front paid the best kickbacks and kept the workers in line, kinda like in On The Waterfront.

So my initial reaction to the Dubai Ports World mess was pretty much "what the fuck is a company owned by a foreign government doing managing the port operation for 6 major cities?" As it turns out, this wouldn't be the first instance. A company owned by the government of Singapore manages part of the port of Los Angeles, and nobody seems too upset about that.

And then some administration apologists started throwing the "r" word around, tarring critics of the plan with a certain xenophobia and trying to claim some sort of moral high ground which you'd think would be as inaccessible to the people who let New Orleans drown as the Promised Land was to Moses. It's not particularly helpful when voices on the left jump in agreeing with the argument that opposition to the DPW deal is racist.

SusanG has a post up at DailyKos which highlights the real security issues raised by foreign government ownership of port operations:

The Marine Transportation Security Act of 2002 requires vessels and port facilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop security plans including passenger, vehicle and baggage screening procedures; security patrols; establishing restricted areas; personnel identification procedures; access control measures; and/or installation of surveillance equipment.

Under the same law, port facility operators may have access to Coast Guard security incident response plans -- that is, they would know how the Coast Guard plans to counter and respond to terrorist attacks.
(emphasis in original.)

At a time when the President, however insincerely, is making the connection that dependence on foreign government owned energy sources is a threat to our security, how does it make sense to basically give the keys to back door to a different set of foreign government owned corporations?

but leaving aside the security issues, which i am clearly no more qualified to opine on than your average Fox News talking head, let's consider some macroeconomic implications, a field in which i have at least some background.

We hear that transferring management of the ports to a foreign company is no big deal; that the union contracts and jobs will remain, the management team will be the same, the whole transition will be seamless. Yeah, of course it will be. But where will the profits go?

In the past 3 years, the US trade deficit has fallen below $40 billion in only one month, and the 4 highest monthly totals ever recorded were the last 4 months of 2005, all around $65 billion or higher. We're increasing our debt each month in order to keep buying stuff that other people make. All of that stuff has to come in through one of our ports. Wouldn't it at least make sense to keep the profits from the port operations in the US, and offset at least some of the trade deficit, instead of shipping them abroad and increasing the trade imbalance? I'm not having much luck finding out exactly how profitable port management is, but looking at the players involved, you'd have to say it's at least pretty profitable. And the number that keeps coming up is that about 30% of ports are managed by foreign owned corporations. That's got to be a lot of money that we're just letting slip away. Think of it as shopping at Wal-Mart, rather than at your locally owned hardware store. That's money that leaves the community, rather than staying and boosting the local economy.

Continue reading A confession

Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday afternoon garden blogging

Pear blossoms

Continue reading Friday afternoon garden blogging

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Is there any other possible description of this clusterfuck?

President Bush was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates until the deal already had been approved by his administration, the White House said Wednesday.

Maybe Treasury Secretary Snow can apologize to Dick Cheney over this?

Continue reading Un-fucking-believable

Good news, bad news

Pushing 50 ain't exactly the joyous occasion that, say, the birth of my first child was. So i'm grabbing onto whatever good news might come my way.

Despite weakened sex drives and flagging erections, men in their 50s enjoy sex almost as much as those in their 20s.

The 30s seem to be a time of disappointment.

Researchers in Norway surveyed 1,185 men aged between 20 and 79 about various aspects of their sex lives, including drive, erections and ejaculations. The men were asked to rate their satisfaction with each aspect on a scale of zero to four, with four representing good sexual function and no problems.

The average scores for men in their …

20s: 2.79
50s: 2.77
30s: 2.55
40s: 2.72

The bad news? After the 50s, it goes downhill pretty quickly.

Continue reading Good news, bad news

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Hillandale Rd., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The apparition

About a dozen people out late on Friday night in Boston Common have all reported seeing an unusual and bizarre apparition. Hovering above the frog pond near the north end of the Common, a ten foot tall vision of a young woman with long hair, wearing bell-bottom jeans, appeared at around 11 pm. Eyewitness reports vary in describing the rest of her attire, but all who claimed to have seen this vision agree on what she said.

"I'd like to apologize to Ted Kennedy for all the harm I've caused him and the country these last 36 years. I know how much things changed as a result of my accident, and I wish that it hadn't happened. It's beautiful over here, though, so much more beautiful than what I left behind, that I'm eternally grateful, as well as eternally sorrowful for all of the hurt and lost opportunities that my dying caused. Pass this message on to all you know."

Police and friends who were notified via cell phone by the original eyewitnesses arrived too late to view the 10 minute apparition for themselves. Officer Sean Malloy, one of the first to arrive on the scene, said he did not doubt the veracity of the eyewitness accounts. "After all," he said, "we're living in fucking bizarro world already."

Continue reading The apparition

Friday, February 17, 2006

Friday afternoon garden blogging


Continue reading Friday afternoon garden blogging

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Memo to George Steinbrenner: STFU

When baseball owners approved the World Cup in August 2004 at the urging of baseball commissioner Bud Selig, the Yankees abstained.

"We don't like it that well," Steinbrenner said. "If a player gets hurt, he's risking a lot. But it was Selig's idea and he wants to do it, so I suppose we're going to do it."

Several New York stars won't be participating in the 16-team tournament. Catcher Jorge Posada decided not to push the issue after the Yankees said they'd prefer he not play for Puerto Rico. Closer Mariano Rivera and outfielder Hideki Matsui said they weren't interested, and second baseman Robinson Cano and pitcher Chien-Ming Wang have said they don't want to play, although they were included on preliminary rosters.

How does the rest of the sporting world manage it? The NHL is taking two weeks off to allow their players, in the middle of the season, to represent their countries at the Winter Olympics. Top level soccer players all over Europe were missing from their clubs virtually the entire month of January for the African Nations Cup. Bolton Wanderers striker El Hadji Diouf injured himself and will likely miss most of the rest of the year while his club fights for a Champions League slot, and i'm sure Sam Allardyce is plenty pissed about that. But to suggest that a player bypass representing his country on the world football stage would have been unthinkable. Top level sport is increasingly an international affair, and Steinbrenner would do well to remember that he's not only competing with the Red Sox and Mets for a World Series ring, but also with Manchester United and Real Madrid for the international fans' dollar. Every at-bat that Jorge Posada, "the starting catcher for the New York Yankees" doesn't make during the World Baseball Classic next month is another lost marketing opportunity for the Boss, and likely the last chance that Posada, probably the best Yankees catcher since Thurman Munson died, will have to represent his country. Steinbrenner loses, Posada loses, MLB loses, and the WBC loses. It's hard to top a record like that.

Continue reading Memo to George Steinbrenner: STFU

I am shocked, shocked to discover . . .

Who saw this coming? From the BBC:

Gen Peterson, who is in charge of training the Iraqi police, told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday that US forces had stumbled across the first evidence of death squads within the interior ministry.

The 22 interior ministry traffic policemen, dressed in police commando uniforms, were arrested in late January at an Iraqi army checkpoint in northern Baghdad and asked what they were doing.

They told soldiers they were taking a Sunni man away to be shot dead.

"The amazing thing is... they tell you exactly what they're going to do," Gen Peterson said.

Continue reading I am shocked, shocked to discover . . .

The best day of the year

Music to my ears - pitchers and catchers report for spring training.

Continue reading The best day of the year

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

That'll get to the bottom of things . . .

Cheney to have Fox interview at 6 p.m.

Continue reading That'll get to the bottom of things . . .

Shout-out to Lanya

In connecting "the personal with the political," Shapiro feels she can help steer people to other organizations, many of which Traction collaborates with on fundraising efforts and awareness-raising projects.

"People are influenced by what their friends and other people do," she said.

She said she gained that insight while obtaining her master's degree in social work and public health, and working with the American Social Health Association running campaigns to promote condom use and sexually transmitted disease testing.

"So what I'm doing with Traction," she explains, "is using that background in behavior change but in civic matters."

Shapiro devotes 100 percent of her time to what she calls her vision, earning only the small amount of money she can afford to pay herself from donations to Traction.

The group eventually will seek full nonprofit status, Shapiro said. But until then, all tax-deductible donations can go to the People's Alliance Fund.

"It's exhausting," Shapiro said of her work. "I think part of it is that I grew up in a family that cared a lot about speaking for the marginalized and we were marginalized."

Her passion she adds, comes from being raised in a Jewish family, and "knowing that we have to speak up for people whose voices aren't heard."

"There's something beautiful and romantic about purely encouraging to ... be part of the change," she said. "That's what democracy is all about."

Durham Herald-Sun

Continue reading Shout-out to Lanya

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

And as with modern teenagers, the ancients had more on their minds than just cars and sports.

"In the graffiti, there is a lot of below-the-belt-art," Guthrie said. "The people in the art are predominantly women, and not a single one has any clothes on."

But these weren't just any women, they were Pleistocene Pamela Andersons adorned with ludicrously huge breasts and hips. The walls were also decorated with graphic depictions of genitalia.

"These were not the type of paintings that make it into the coffee table art books," Guthrie said.

I guess that depends on whose coffee, and whose table, now doesn't it?

Continue reading Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

Real money

From the BBC:
A rare print taken by US photography pioneer Edward Steichen has set a world record for the highest price paid for a photograph auction.

The Pond-Moonlight - taken in New York in 1904 - was sold for $2.9m (£1.6m), more than doubling the previous record.

The 41x48cm photo shows a pond in a wooded area with light coming through the trees and reflected in the water.

The only other two copies in existence are in museum collections. The buyer's identity has yet to be disclosed.

Continue reading Real money

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Press bends over, lubes up

Pamela Willeford, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, another member of the hunting party, told The Dallas Morning News for a story in Tuesday's editions that she and Cheney didn't realize Whittington had picked up a bird and caught up with them.

Willeford said she has hunted with Cheney before and would again.

"He's a great shot. He's very safety conscious. This is something that unfortunately was a bad accident and when you're with a group like that, he's safe or safer than all the rest of us," she said.

Continue reading Press bends over, lubes up

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Armstrong Ranch

Isn't that Texan for Chappaquiddick?

Continue reading Armstrong Ranch

Headline of the year

Senators: Cheney Should Be Probed in Leak

Update - First Runner-up:

Cheney Accidentally Shoots Fellow Hunter

Continue reading Headline of the year


I love athletic competition. I love watching people play to see who is the fastest, strongest, or most skilled. More, i love watching teams made up of less skilled or gifted players work together to maximize their strengths, overcome their deficiencies, and compete with, or deafeat, teams made up of more highly skilled individuals.

Too bad there's so little of that in the Olympics anymore.

Continue reading Games

Sunday church marquee blogging

Old NC 10, Hillsborough, NC


Continue reading Sunday church marquee blogging

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Burning Olympics question

Bob Costas - wig or weave?

Continue reading Burning Olympics question

Friday, February 10, 2006

File under: WTF?

So, today, in the New York Times,(registration required) we learn that the White House knew as early as midnight on the 29th of August that Hurricane Katrina had breached levees protecting New Orleans.

"FYI from FEMA," said an e-mail message from the agency's public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires."

Michael D. Brown, who was the director of FEMA until he resigned under pressure on Sept. 12, said in a telephone interview Thursday that he personally notified the White House of this news that night, though he declined to identify the official he spoke to.

White House officials have confirmed to Congressional investigators that the report of the levee break arrived there at midnight, and Trent Duffy, the White House spokesman, acknowledged as much in an interview this week, though he said it was surrounded with conflicting reports.

But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush was feeling relieved that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet," he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday.

The federal government let out a sigh of relief when in fact it should have been sounding an "all hands on deck" alarm, the investigators have found.

OK, that's pretty bad news.

Scotty McLellan put his usual glaze on that doughnut:

At the White House, the president's spokesman, Scott McClellan, said during a briefing today that there had been conflicting reports about the levees and the source of the floods just after Katrina passed. "Some were saying it was over top, some were saying it was breached," he said.

Yeah, Scotty, that's pretty over the top if you ask me. Like it fucking matters.

But wait, as the TV hucksters say, there's more. Matt Drudge is reporting (and i'm not going to link to his cesspool) that the Bush Administration is responding to the Times article by demanding a retraction:

NEW YORK TIMES’ Eric Lipton today writes that President Bush was “on vacation in Texas” on August 30th but their own reporter filed a pool report that day from San Diego where POTUS giving a speech on the War on Terror and was visiting soldiers and families of the fallen. Sources tell DRUDGE that the original story filed by Lipton did not contain the sentence about Bush being on vacation and that it was added by an editor.

The White House is seeking a retraction.

Now, let's put this in the pot and set it on medium high for half an hour to reduce ti to it's sticky essence.

The Times publishes a story that contains the news that the President, on the Monday night (August 29) after the storm, had been or should have been informed that the worst case scenario of a major levee breach had occurred. We know that the President has said he believed that New Orleans had "dodged a bullet" as late as Tuesday afternoon the 30th, and that "nobody had anticipated the breach of the levees" speaking on Good Morning America later that week.

We have a compelling chain of evidence suggesting that incompetence (at best) ran amok, in the critical hours during which emergency steps should have been ordered. That the incompetence extends to the highest levels of government. And the White House response to this is to demand a retraction from the Times based on their claim that the President was in San Diego giving a speech?

Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket.

Here's a photo of the President taken on August 30:

You can tell it's the President because he's got the fucking Presidential seal on his guitar. It's the First Guitar he's strumming, ladies and gentlemen. Which means he couldn't be on vacation, right? Cause strummng the First Guitar is part of being the President, and being the President is hard work, all the time, right?

You know, i'm starting to believe that a country that allows an idiot like this to hold power deserves pretty much everything it gets.

Continue reading File under: WTF?

Friday afternoon garden blogging

Maple blossoms, Hillsborough, NC

Continue reading Friday afternoon garden blogging

What, the war in Iraq doesn't count?

U.S. Trade Deficit Hits All-Time High

WASHINGTON - The U.S. trade deficit soared to an all-time high of $725.8 billion in 2005, pushed upward by record imports of oil, food, cars and other consumer goods. The deficit with China hit an all-time high as did America's deficits with Japan, Europe, OPEC, Canada, Mexico and South and Central America.

The Commerce Department reported Friday that the gap between what America sells abroad and what it imports rose to $725.8 billion last year, up by 17.5 percent from the previous record of $617.6 billion set in 2004.

You'd think the crack economic team at the White House would come up with some way to use the spending on the Iraq war to offset some of these unbelievably bad numbers. When the dollar collapses, we'll all be scrambling for outsourced jobs in tech support call centers.

Continue reading What, the war in Iraq doesn't count?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What a free press means to me

I've been depressed by the conversation on certain blogs and message boards about the Mohammed cartoons. The basic misunderstanding of the concept of a free press by a significant number of people, some of whom i respect greatly, really caught me off guard. I want to lay out what i see as the meaning of a free press, and maybe we can start to figure out why we see things so differently.

Some background. I took my first job in printing in 1981. It was at the accurately if unimaginatively named "The Print Shop" on Terry Rd., in Smithtown, NY. We printed books of poetry, flyers and posters for anti-war and anti-nuke groups, newsletters for women's groups and the War Resisters League. It was a dream job for a 25 year old radical leftist. It was an IWW shop, so there were no employees. If you weren't a working partner, you were an independent contractor, an arrangement which might have attracted the attention of the IRS had the shop actually generated enough revenue to pay the bills. I learned to shoot negatives and halftones, to impose signatures, burn plates, run a small press, fold, stitch and trim booklets. I earned four dollars an hour. I worked there for almost 3 years.

Armed with a journeyman's skills, and newly married, i set off to make my way in the printing trades. I spent time in the dark rooms and platemaking rooms of several weekly newspapers, commercial printers, and for a time, the in-house plant of a major Wall St. brokerage firm. I was working at a color separation trade shop in the late 80s when the Macintosh/PageMaker/PostScript revolution changed the entire nature of the printing and publishing business. But i love what i do, and i love being a part of a tradition that includes both Ben Franklin and Al Goldstein, so i acquired an entirely new skillset, kept myself employable, and for the past 15 years or so have been involved in managing the digital prepress workflow. The last decade i've been doing this for the catalog publishing arm of one of the US's largest retailers of adult material.

Would it surprise you to learn that there are any number of countries where i could be jailed, or worse, for doing what i do to earn my living, or for what i've helped to print in the past?

So all of this is my way of saying that i find the principle of freedom of the press to be worth understanding, and worth fighting for.

Now, i want to talk about the various players in the publishing work chain, and what freedom of the press means to them.

We start with publishers themselves, the people who pay for the creation of the books, newspapers, magazines, websites, etc. that we read. Publishers decide what the content of their publications should be. Anyone who has a blog is a publisher. When publishers get big enough, they hire editors to be their proxies, to make decisions about the content of a publication in their absence.

Editors and publishers need writers, illustrators, photographers, and designers to help put their publications together. These can be staffers, or contract employees (freelancers). These people give life to the ideas that the publisher wants to put out into the world.

Once a publication is designed, it needs to be distributed. The publisher turns to the print industry for ink on paper, or a webhost or DVD manufacturer for digital distribution. Publishers who are large enough may own their own print shops, as most newspapers do, host their own webpages, or burn their own DVDs, but generally they are dealing with independent businesses who provide these services. Print shops have platemakers, press operators, and finishers; web hosts have IT departments to make sure pages keep getting served.

Publications, of course, need readers. While some of us are content to publish our little blogs or fanzines not knowing if anybody is ever checking them out, the web page and the printed page both are part of the community. We read them to know what's going on in places where we can't be, to know what our neighbors are thinking. We converse with the rest of the world through these pages.

Finally, since printers, writers, web designers, et al, want to be paid for their work, we need advertisers. There are very few publications, mainly best-selling books, that can generate enough revenue on their own to do without advertisers who are willing to pay to have their message reach readers. Your daily newspaper costs a lot more than fifty cents per copy to produce. Everyone's salary involved in creating a publication, as well as the publisher's profits, are dependent upon advertising.

So, in broad strokes, that's the publishing industry. Now, how does freedom of the press serve the needs of each of those folks in a perfect world?

For the publisher, it means that she gets to decide what goes into her publication. Nobody from the government, the Church, the Mummers, the Chamber of Commerce, can say you must print this or you can't print that. For publishers and editors it means that you can say something negative about a public figure, as long as you can show it's true. If the police chief is taking bribes, and you've got the goods, you can publish. Pedophile priest in your community? Let the world know with no fear of prosecution.

For writers, artists, and other, to use a banal 21st century term, content providers, it means you are free to create your material and seek a publisher for it, or become your own publisher. It does not mean that any publisher is obligated to make your material available to the public. Don't forget, the publisher has the final decision as to what goes into his publication.

If you're the printer, you have the right to refuse to put ink on paper for a publication, or to host a website, if it violates your principles. In practice, the main principle for most printers is to make money, but i can attest from personal experience, there are plenty of printers who will turn down good money to print an adult products catalog. That is their right. Conversely, printers can donate or discount their services for causes they support, subject to certain regulations pertaining to electoral campaigns.

What if you're the press operator, or other print shop or web host employee? You have the right not to work on material you find personally offensive, and every printer i know will make arrangements to have the work done on another shift or press, by a different employee. You're also free to seek employment at a shop that doesn't print materials you find offensive. If you're fortunate enough to live in country where the press room is organized, you also have the backing of your union in negotiating contracts with the printer spelling out your rights.

Readers benefit from a free press by having access to the full spectrum of news, opinion, information and entertainment. The notion that one group of people should have the power to determine what gets published and what is suitable for reading and viewing by the citizenship is simply incompatible with a free society. Readers who are troubled or offended by certain publications have, in addition to simply avoiding it, several other options to making their views known. They can become publishers in their own right and present countering views. They can write to the publisher requesting a retraction, or the publication of alternative information. The publisher remains free to reject these requests. But perhaps the most effective tool, which many groups in the US have learned how to use, is to communicate directly with the advertisers.

Advertisers benefit from a free press by having multiple, nearly infinite, outlets through which to sell their products and services. The good will generated by a publication that effectively serves the needs of its readers is transferred to those who choose to advertise in the publication. Break that good will, and the relationship between the publisher and the advertiser, who makes it possible for the publisher to turn a profit, is threatened. In a democratic society, it's difficult to alienate so much of the population that an advertiser might feel threatened, but it does happen. Just ask Ford Motor Co.

Of course, this describes how a free press works in a perfect world, and the one we live in, no matter how much we try, ain't perfect. Newspapers and television stations are increasingly owned by larger corporate media networks, whose decisions are driven by bottom line policies. Book publishers as well are part of entertainment empires, and more resources are devoted to publishing and marketing fewer titles by fewer authors, looking for the monster bestseller. Countering that trend is the ever decreasing cost of publishing for individuals. Recent estimates indicate there are over 100 million blogs, with well over half of them being active. There is so much excellent work being done by bloggers on the left that it's almost embarrassing to try and name them all, knowing how many would be left out. Markos is practically creating an empire out of nothing but pixels and will power, and digby, Atrios, the Rude Pundit, jane and ReddHedd, not to mention the Chimp and many others, are doing such good work that we all have useful information at our fingertips 24/7, to help counter the corporate media spin.

We haven't achieved equity yet, and the freedom to publish without constraint means of course, that there are plenty of people publishing pro-Bush administration bullshit, Nazi propaganda, and assorted hate-fests. That's going to come with the territory. Any laws or regulations we might want to push to see enacted to prevent that kind of material are going to be turned around and used against us, to stop us from publishing and reading the material we need to help bring this country back to sanity.

MLG at TAPPED has an interesting viewpoint in a post this morning:

In recent years, Denmark has not offered the same courtesy extended to Jews during WWII to their darker-than-blond minority populations; the children of immigrants to Denmark are not considered Danes. Kids whose parents were asylum seekers or economic migrants in the 1960s but who may have never been outside Denmark are still considered second-generation immigrants rather than full blooded Danes. And Denmark, a seemingly liberal and tolerant country, has adopted a reactionary politics as a response to the growing number of Muslims in their midst. This cartoon was a combative offshoot of that kind of politics that was directed at Muslims in Copenhagen -- not Beirut.

European conservatives -- and Andrew Sullivan -- have tended to ignore this half of the story, and see the conflagration over the cartoons exclusively about the Muslim world’s backwardness and their lack of tolerance for the freedom of expression. To be sure, every liberal should agree that a newspaper ought to be able to print any political satire it wants. But condemnation of the riots must be accompanied with a challenge to Europe to expand its definition of citizenship. And where that definition already includes immigrant populations, say France, public policy ought to be used to address the lack of social mobility that plagues the minority population of Western Europe.

If the two do not go hand in hand, nothing positive can come out of the current crisis.

Certainly interesting points to ponder. I don't know the state of the press in Denmark to know, for example, whether there are publications by and for the "second-generation immigrant" community that Mark describes. I assume there are, based on my experience living in a certain part of New York City in the early 1980s that was a first generation immigrant community, and which had several Polish language dailies, a weekly and a monthly all available at newsstands, cafes, and bars in the neighborhood. Regulation of the mainstream press will inevitably impact these types of publications, probably more heavily and more quickly as well. And not everyone sees "the conflagration over the cartoons exclusively about the Muslim world’s backwardness and their lack of tolerance for the freedom of expression," although, for me, the freedom of the press is the baseline issue. If Mark expects that public policy will, at some point in time, "be used to address the lack of social mobility that plagues the minority population of Western Europe," he should be aware that the means of achieving that admirable goal will surely include a free press that is willing and able to hold the powers that be accountable and to call out corruption and cronyism in high places where necessary.

My take on the demonstrations, as i've noted before, is that they would be better served by being directed at the Egyptian government, whose predictable failures resulted in the loss of 1000 lives in a competely avoidable ferry accident two weekends ago. A free press would surely help channel the outrage and help to save lives in the future.

Mark should certainly be concerned by the remarks of Mohamed Ahmed Sherif, as reported today by the Associated Press:

In Brussels, Belgium, Mohamed Ahmed Sherif, chairman of the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society, said Muslims see the drawings as a direct attack on their values and called the decision to print them in European newspapers a "hate program."

. . .

"There can be no settlement before an apology and there can be no settlement before laws are legislated by the European Parliament and the parliaments of European countries," he said.

Islamic nations should demand "a law committing the press and the media in the West that proscribes insulting our prophet. If this matter cannot be achieved that means they (West) insist on continuing this," he added.

This kind of proposed legislation ought to be anathema to a journalist like Mark. And if the call is out for Westerners to understand the forces that motivate followers of the Prophet, it ought to equally be made of Islamic leaders to understand that a free press is as much of a bedrock of Western culture as daily prayers are of Islamic culture.

Personally, i'm kind of a militant atheist. I could have easily been the father in Sacramento filing suit against the Pledge of Allegiance, had my child chosen to make an issue of it in school. I think the development of monotheism set back human civilization for thousand of years, perhaps irrevocably. But, because the same First Amendment that guarantees freedom of the press also guarantees the free exercise of religion, i'm comfortable with other people's practice and worship. Not because it's divinely inspired, but because it was hard fought for, and won at the price of human blood and pain. And that is a respect that must be mutual.

Continue reading What a free press means to me

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cartoon violence

Whatever else remains to be said about the whole drawing nasty pictures of the Prophet issue, (and i've had plenty to say about it here) as well as below, it has certainly inspired the world's worst headline:
Afghan police kill four in cartoon bloodshed

Which makes you think that what's going on is merely a variation of this:

and not this:

Update: I see Reuters has changed their headline to a more accurate "Afghan police kill four amid rage over cartoons." Maybe they've got a real J-school graduate on duty.

Continue reading Cartoon violence

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Rose of Sharon Rd., Durham, NC - 2.3.06


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Friday, February 03, 2006

Graven Images

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

So, what's all the fuss about, then? Westerners, even devout ones, have been making sacred heart in violation of the 2nd Commandment for centuries.

Ever see this picture:

Ever stop to think about who the dude with the beard on the right is? That's right, it's none other than the Supreme Being Himself, whose image should never, and i repeat never, be graven. On anything. At least, according to the Bible.

And yet, Michelangelo's work hangs in some of the holiest place in the west.

Ever stop to think about who the dude with the beard on the right is? That's right, it's none other than the Supreme Being Himself, whose image should never, and i repeat never, be graven. On anything. At least, according to the Bible.

And yet, Michelangelo's work hangs in some of the holiest places in the west.

I'm not impressed with a philosophy of stagnant holiness that says i have to live, breathe, think, and worship the way that you do. In fact, i pretty much despise it, whether it's pronounced by people i share a country with, or people on the other side of the world. The difference, of course, is that in a democracy, i have some interactions with the fundamentalists of my own country, and we have to work out some means of co-existing.

George Bush, on the other hand, has decided that it's his calling to convince people all over the world that our special form of democracy is what God wants them to have, too. Which is why the publication of a series of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, and the subsequent violence in much of the Islamic world represents a special dilemma for our fearless leader.

This violent response to the publication of a bunch of stick figures, however offensive, directly contravenes the most fundamental principles of liberal democracy - freedom of speech and freedom of the press. When Voltaire wrote to le Riche "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write," he encapsulated the distilled essence of the Enlightenment, and in one sentence gave us everything we needed to understand the nature of liberty.

In the project of bringing democracy to the Islamic world, to which George Bush and his neo-conservative advisors have so forcefully committed the power and prestige of the United States, we have just driven off the cliff. The citizens of the Islamic world will have to decide for themselves whether these principles of free speech, free expression, free publication, and free thought are worth incorporating into their culture. But that's not George Bush's dilemma. His problem is how to continue selling to the American people that what he is engaged in is in fact the establishment of democracy.

If he stands up for the democratic principles of the Enlightenment, as expressed by Voltaire and codified in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, he runs the risk of alienating much of the Islamic world, and, as Steve Gilliard noted, painting even bigger bright red bullseyes on the backs of the nearly 200,000 US troops currently deployed in the Islamic world.

But when has George Bush ever stood up for democratic principles?

Never. And his administration saw no reason to do so now.

According to the Voice of America:

The United States has also denounced the cartoons as an unacceptable incitement to religious or ethnic hatred. State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said the "cartoons are indeed offensive to the beliefs of Muslims."

So the larger question now becomes, will this act of appeasement sit well with Bush's right-wing base, which generally views all Arabs and Muslims as "rag-heads"? Will the natural inclination of the right-wing to distrust the press outweigh the prejudicial elements of the Christian fundmentalist movement which distrust and despise Islam? Can Bush pull off the essential double-think necessary to get Americans to believe that the only way to bring to democracy to the Islamic world is by abandoning the very principles of democracy here at home? How many more parents of dead soldiers can he parade at his State of the Union addresses, and tell them, in front of the world, that their children died for the noble cause of freedom and democracy, when his own State Department has announced that the democratic foundations of the US are no longer in effect?

Continue reading Graven Images

Friday afternoon garden blogging


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