Yoga poses for everyone

"Sideways-facing cat": a nice, relaxing asana that anyone can do at home...



Dinesh D'Souza, Terrorist Apologist

The far-right authoritarian pundit Dinesh D'Souza will unveil the secret complicity of Christian fundamentalism and Islamist terrorism in his forthcoming book, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibilty for 9/11. Only he doesn't seem to realize it. His argument is, apparently, that fundamentalist terrorists are right to attack America, because America allows so many excessive liberties to women and gay people.

What's shocking is not that Dinesh D'Souza thinks this, but that Random House is publishing it: basically, a book that supports the values of radical Islamic fundamentalism, says that the 9/11 hijackers were right to attack us, and advocates a purge of those who don't agree with the terrorists.

Because in fact, D'Souza does seem to be advocating killing Americans: "In order to defeat the Islamic radicals abroad," D’Souza writes, chillingly, "we must defeat the enemy at home." Does "defeat" change its meaning from one part of his sentence to the next? (That would be awfully postmodern.) In a strange twist of logic, "we" are the ones who share the same values as radical Islamic fundamentalists, and the ones we must "defeat" are the ones the terrorists hate.

Got that?

And aren't you glad the President now has the legal authority to haul you into jail without charging you with any crime, torture you, and keep you rotting there forever without any right to trial?

Update: the blurb for D'Souza's book has been changed from its original state, in which it actually said that the "sexual liberty of women" was to blame for 9/11, and argues that it is the American left's critiques of Bush's war policies that cause anger toward America. Yes, that's right. Not Bush's war policies themselves. The fact that the left criticizes them. Now, you might think that the blurb has been toned down. But the "defeat the enemy at home" language is all new.


I had a very weird conversation last night at a lecture I went to for work. The talk itself was enjoyable. But it included dinner, and I got stuck at a table with someone who simply wouldn't shut up. I think her response to a feeling of insecurity was to hold forth--without prompting--at great length, not allowing anyone else at the table to get a word in edgewise for the entire hour-long dinner. Normally at these tables of 8 or so people (which Goatdog would call a "mixer") you talk to the person on your left, you talk to the person on your right, you share a few pleasantries with the table as a whole, and basta. But this was one long monologue. In the course of which--and here I'm getting to the point--this woman went on and on, at great length, about how litigious Americans are and how terrible it is that malpractice insurance costs doctors so much so people can't afford health care. I said, "my understanding is that that's not the biggest part of the problem" and she said "I know a doctor who was driven out of obstetrics because of the cost of malpractice insurance. And I just think it's JUST TERRIBLE when people who work 40 hours a week don't have health insurance." And she continued on her merry way.

I know there have been some cases where jury awards have been out of proportion to the actual damage done. I know there are some doctors who can't afford the malpractice insurance they need to cover the kind of practice they want to have. But compared to huge profits being reaped by giant corporations, executives making outrageous salaries, pharmaceutical companies spending vast sums on lobbying and marketing, a health care system that deemphasizes nutrition and prevention because that's not where the profits are, all kinds of incentives to waste built into the system, Congress intervening to force brain-dead people to be kept alive at enormous costs (OK, well that's relatively minor too but I had to throw it in there)...how big a problem is litigiousness, really? Compared to negligence? And compared to the other factors that make our health care system rotten to the core?

So I wonder two things: why is it so hard to have an analysis that looks at the larger context, rather than laying it all at the feet of people who feel victimized and think they have nowhere else to turn?

And second: why can't I make myself understood? For one thing, this woman used her incredibly overbearing manner to set the tone for the discussion so completely that there was nothing I could say; everyone just nodded politely whether they agreed with her or not. But I've been feeling like this a lot lately. Do you, dear readers, have this experience, of feeling like everything you say in a group context is either completely ignored, as if you hadn't spoken at all, or considered crazy? I can't tell if it's just that I'm stupid? Or that what I'm saying is so far out of the mainstream, or the realm of accepted discourse, that it makes no sense?

Or maybe I'm only imagining that I'm talking at all?



Does your cat eat plants?

UC Davis is conducting a study on cats who eat plants.
At least, they were in 2004. I'm not sure the study is still active. But the site still works, and it's fun for procrastinatory purposes, in any case.



It starts today

Well, North Korea exploded a nuclear bomb yesterday, but that's not what I'm blogging about. Today is the day in the year when human beings collectively begin living beyond their means--measured according to earth's natural resources. So think about it--what's your eco-footprint, how can you reduce it, and how can you convince other people to do the same? (The bigger problem, of course, is the giant corporations: what can we do to convince them?)



Things I Learned in the Land of the Golden Gophers

In the Twin Cities for a few days for work.

1. The Big Ten, them likes the football.
2. Normal room temperature in Minnesota is colder than in Chicago.
3. Does Target own this town? I mean towns?
4. The Walker Art Center is a great contemporary art museum. And all kinds of people go there, at least on Free First Saturdays.
5. They really do say "you bet" and "alrighty" and they call me "dear."

Late breaking update: 6. If it wasn't already clear from #5, Minnesota Nice is a fact. Where else would a TSA employee at the airport rush twenty feet out of her way to pick up (for me) the loose change I spilled, which rolled far from my grasp?



Olbermann on Bush, again

Via Crooks and Liars.



School for Scandal

So, it's pleasing to see the Republican leadership in trouble, but I have to say KB is right about the extent to which this is stoking homophobia. I really, really, really wish people on "our" side would refrain from calling Foley a pervert or pedophile. It's not perverted or pedophilic for an adult to be attracted to sixteen-year-olds, though there are certainly questions to be raised about how to deal with such attraction. Were it not for the homophobia of his party and much of their constituency -- and of society in general -- Mark Foley would have been free to meet as many young-looking 18-year-olds who are not his employees as he wanted. Sixteen is the age of consent in DC and many other places -- ironically it's only eighteen in cyberspace because of the bill Foley himself helped write. The real problem here is abuse of power, compounded by the somewhat creepy way in which he sort of impersonated a teenager in his own messaging.

More importantly, though, I want to mention that I haven't blogged about the way in which the U.S. Constitution was just trashed by Congress, even though it's a much bigger issue. Because I am just speechless with rage and sadness. I guess I keep hoping the Foley incident will pay them back for that, but it's cold comfort that sex is the only thing that seems capable of bringing these bastards down.


Back to Chicago--what's left of it

My journey from the east coast back to Chicago began at the airport when my flight was not on the monitor. Did it actually exist? I'm still not sure. They checked me in and, because security has trumped other aspects of check-in procedure -- at the small airport where some of the 9-11 hijackers first boarded -- they didn't bother to charge me for the excess baggage weight. (This is a significant detail, just wait and see.)

Upstairs at the gate area there was still no sign of the flight on the monitors or on the gate area display. Finally it emerged that it'd be two hours late. We boarded. In the air, we were told that we were about to land in Chicago, and then stayed in the air for another half hour. Then we were told that we were in a holding pattern and if we couldn't land soon we'd have to go to Cincinnati. There was, it seemed, a big storm in Chicago.

Twenty minutes later it transpired that we were landing in Indianapolis. Better, I thought: it's closer to Chicago. (Also a significant detail.) We landed around 10. The utterly incompetent flight attendants read the prepared script just as they'd do if we were landing where we were supposed to be, without telling us what was going on: were we getting off in Indianapolis? would we be rebooked? would some of us stay and some of us go? Nada, nada, nada.

Finally the pilot told us we'd have to wait on the tarmac while refueling and waiting to hear whether we'd get to fly back to Chicago. The flight attendants continued to say nothing. They looked about eleven years old (this, by the way, is United Express operated by Go Jet). They also looked alternately bored and anxious. There was no gate crew even if anyone had wanted to get off. We were told this wasn't a good idea, because somebody else who wanted to get to Chicago would take our seats.

They ran out of ice and beverages. Babies were crying. Older people were trying to walk off their stiffness. The man sitting behind me had five cell phone conversations, in each of which he loudly informed his listener that his son liked Bates, that he had a good group of friends, that he had come in eighth in his debate competition on the topic of euthanasia, that he (the speaker) had bought his son and his friends a case of beer, because he'd made a deal with him that he could drink after he turned eighteen, and the college had a policy that beer and wine were OK. (Is this guy an idiot, or what? No college would have such a policy; they'd be in court sooner than you can say Bud Lite.) Two of the conversations were with someone he's having a blind date with tonight. Her name is Heidi. In one of the conversations, he talked about Heidi with a buddy. Whenever he got excited about his prospects with Heidi, he pressed his legs, hard, against the back of my seat.

The first sign we had that we weren't flying back to Chicago was when the baggage truck drove up to the side of the plane and started unloading.

Inside, the gate agents gave us a hotel voucher, and a meal voucher for $10 good only in the airport, where all the restaurants, it being midnight, were of course closed. On a 5:30 flight that got in at midnight in a place other than its actual destination, you'd think they could do better. But I guess there's probably no place to get food after midnight in Indianapolis.

They couldn't tell us what time our flights out were; they told us to call the airline from the hotel room to find out.

Down at the baggage claim, our flight, of course, was not on any monitors. A kind airport employee tried to help me figure out which baggage claim my stuff would be at, but she had no idea.

I wanted to cry. I was scared of trying to deal with my excessively heavy bags, and dreading finding out at 2am that my rebooking was for 6am, or not until 6pm, or the next day.

So, the Hertz car rental counter was open. They had a $150 minivan left. I did a quick calculation. I could deal with my bags to the hotel, back from the hotel, back from the airport--or I could deal with them to the rental car shuttle. The cab from O'Hare would be about $80. The excess baggage charge, which for sure they'd impose this time, would be $50. And what if I wanted breakfast, and it didn't come with the room? And what's the price of sleeping in my own bed with my sweetie?

Three hours of driving through the storm, with driving rain and 40mph winds and admittedly beautiful (but scary) lightning, from 1am to 3am (including time difference, for which I've never been so happy), that's what!

Driving into Chicago was surreal. Just about every other tree on the Midway is down, some of them on top of cars; there's flooding everywhere. It looks like a war zone, or hurricane aftermath. But I'm home.



More on Midnight University

Statement of the Midnight University

"Opposing the Closure of Channels of Free Communication"

Beginning on Friday September 29th, the Midnight University's website has been blocked by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Thailand. However, ours was not the first one to be blocked or tampered with by the power of the Coup Council. The Midnight University's considered reaction to the September 19 the coup is strong disapproval of such a reckless solution to the nation's political problems. Nonetheless, we also realize that it is too late to reverse it and the only way out is to lend a hand in pushing our country back onto the path of democratic development.

The Council for Democratic Reform (CDR) has claimed that this coup is the beginning of a political reform process which includes the drafting of a new constitution. And yet, the provisions concerning the drafting of a new constitution and political reform in the Provisional Constitution of the CDR do not allow the full and free exercise of political rights and civil liberties by the people, which is the key condition for a successful political reform. Popular participation does not simply mean being selected to sit in a constituent assembly, but also denotes the opportunity for mutual learning and free exchange of ideas. Therefore, an atmosphere of subjection and control by the military under the CDR will rule out any possibility of genuine political reform.

For that reason, the Midnight University held a press conference on September 28th, to oppose the political reform process as stipulated in the Provisional Constitution and propose an alternative that would allow for the full restitution of rights and liberties to the people. To get our point across, we performed a symbolic act of tearing up copies of the Provisional Constitution and posted a report of the said event on the Midnight University's website.

Hence, the ICT's immediate imposition of a blockage on our website.

Actually, it is not hard for the Midnight University to overcome this technical difficulty. We have indeed received various offers from foreign servers to host our website. Be that as it may, we are of the opinion that the problem of availability of a public space is not technical in nature, but essentially political. And it has arisen because the self-proclaimed "Council for Democratic Reform" has used its coup-begotten power to impose a blockage on public space. Therefore, we need to fight this illegitimate power together right here in this land rather than evade it and find a new public space elsewhere.

As the Midnight University has earlier warned, political reform couldn't be realized in an atmosphere shorn of people's rights and liberties. That the Coup Council has thoughtlessly closed down websites that expressed dissenting views on the coup shows that it is incapable of leading a political reform that is free and equally open to all. To bring this power to an end peacefully, Thai society must not submit to it. Instead, we should together pressure it to stop the violation of people's rights and liberties at once.

It is true that, given freedom, there will be some who would exploit it to try to destroy or disrupt political reform. And yet, only the full exercise of rights and liberties can enlighten and empower a society to fight the lies and half-truths of corrupt politicians seeking a return to power. On the contrary, a society whose learning and communication is kept under tutelage will remain weak and unable to resist them.

In place of an arbitrary and selective censorship based on a subjective feeling of distrust and animosity of the censors, the complete and indiscriminate opening of all channels of communication will result in a free, fair and predictable rule of the game for all, thus rectifying the arbitrary, unchecked and uncontrolled exercise of power that is a major weakness of all coup-makers. By guaranteeing the equal rights and liberties of the people to information, the Coup Council will be able to tap into the real source of power far greater than whatever it can get from its illegitimate coup.

30 September 2006


Support the Midnight University

It seems I've been a bit too sanguine about the Thai coup. I learn via nettime that they've shut down the website of the Midnight University, a clearinghouse for scholarly translations, educational materials, free and vigorous intellectual discussion, and democracy activism in Northern Thailand. I know the people who run it and have the greatest respect for them. This is unacceptable repression on the part of the coup leaders.

Below is a letter from my friend Ajarn [=Professor] Somkiat Tangnamo. Please write to him at midnightuniv@gmail.com to add your name to the petition to be given to the government to reopen the site.

The Midnight University Website, the foremost free and critical
educational and public intellectual website in Thailand with over
freely accessible 1,500 scholarly articles, a lively webboard with
ongoing thought-provoking debates, which receives well over 2.5 visits
per month from viewers around the world, has already been shut down
by the Thai Information & Communications Ministry last night, acting
under the order of the self-styled military Council of Democratic
Reform. This is not only a hugh loss to academic and intellectual
freedom in Thai society, but also a closure of a free forum for the
contention of ideas to find a peaceful alternative to violent conflict
in Thailand.

We are gathering signatures for a campaign to pressure for the
reversion of this unjustifiable violation of the Thai people's right
to information and free expression by the Thai authorities. So, please
consider adding your and your firiends' names to the end of this
message and e-mail it back to me so that we could save what little is
left of precious freedom and wisdom in Thai society in these dark and
difficult times.


Somkiat Tangnamo

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