Category: Manichaean paranoia

Pres. Obama’s address to schoolkids

I’m mortified that the school district where I grew up has opted not to show the President’s speech (transcript). So I wrote an angry letter to the Superintendent and our local paper:

Dr. Theron J. Schutte,

As a graduate of BHS, a student School Board representative (’85), and News Editor of the Growl (’86), I was shocked to hear that the Bettendorf Community School District would not be showing the President’s speech during class time.

It is deeply embarrassing to me that BCSD would buy into the idea that somehow President Obama’s speech is controversial. The outcry is rooted solely in right-wing paranoia and the ravings of TV pundits/lunatics. BCSD, by limiting Obama’s address, gives credence to outlandish partisan fears that the speech will “indoctrinate” our youth. This would be comically laughable, except that it shows what little faith the district has in Bettendorf’s students, teachers, and the quality of education that you provide.

Regardless of what the actual content of the President’s speech is, it provides teachers with a rare opportunity to engage students in a lesson in civics. Did BCSD refuse to show former President Bush’s address to school children in 1991?

In my opinion, restricting ANY Presidential address seems anathema to providing a quality education. If the District is kowtowing to “concerned” parents with regressive (read: racist) political views, then you have stewarded BCSD onto a slippery slope. Will the District in the future stop teaching that the world is round based on parental pressure? Will you move the District away from teaching about evolution? Is future BCSD curricula to be decided by mob rule?

BCSD, like any school district, is charged with educating students by encouraging the free exchange of ideas and information. If you and the rest of the District’s decision makers are unable to stand up to base political pressure from a vocal and cynical minority, then I would strongly encourage you to consider retirement.

Superintendent Schutte emailed me this reply today:

A couple things played into my decision to leave the viewing and/or use of the President’s message up to the discretion of the Buildings and/or teachers. One was that for some reason, we received very late notice, in comparison to other schools, that this event was taking place. The first we heard of it was this Thursday though other Districts received email notification 3-4 weeks ago. I did not feel it was appropriate to direct a mandatory viewing and have each building and/or classroom adjust their schedules, on such short notice, for this purpose. I felt comfortable with that position, given the nature of the presentation, that it could be used at any time, especially in the near future, and would have its desired impact. I also felt that with one message geared to Kindegarten thru College Prep students that it may be deemed more appropriate to use certain portions of the message with particular age groups and/or classes vs. showing the whole message. I appreciate your input.

Chimperial Hearings Tomorrow

The House Judiciary Committee meets Fri, July 25th to discuss the imperial presidency of GWB and possible legal responses. Starts around 10ish. The HJC’s website has video webcasts of all its meetings online, and I’m thinking it will be well worth the watch. Dennis Kucinich is one of the speakers, and will most likely discuss the grounds for dethroning King Bush.

According to RawStory, tenacious Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has previously laid out six areas to be covered in this meeting:

(1) improper politicization of the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorneys offices, including potential misuse of authority with regard to election and voting controversies; 

(2) misuse of executive branch authority and the adoption and implementation of the so-called unitary executive theory, including in the areas of presidential signing statements and regulatory authority; 

(3) misuse of investigatory and detention authority with regard to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, including questions regarding the legality of the administration’s surveillance, detention, interrogation, and rendition programs; 

(4) manipulation of intelligence and misuse of war powers, including possible misrepresentations to Congress related thereto; 

(5) improper retaliation against administration critics, including disclosing information concerning CIA operative Valerie Plame, and obstruction of justice related thereto; and 

(6) misuse of authority in denying Congress and the American people the ability to oversee and scrutinize conduct within the administration, including through the use of various asserted privileges and immunities.

The only question is, will our “liberal” media cover it substantively, or just focus on gaffes and neckties?

A Diet of Poison…

This from Gore Vidal’s scathing obit for William F. Buckley:

The unique mess that our republic is in can be, in part, attributed to a corrupt press whose roots are in mendacious news (sic) magazines like Time and Newsweek, aided by tabloids that manufacture fictional stories about actual people. This mingling of opinion and fiction has undone a media never devoted to truth. Hence, the ease with which the Republican smear-machine goes into action when they realize that yet again the party’s permanent unpopularity with the American people will cause them defeat unless they smear individually those who question the junk that the media has put into so many heads. Anyone who says “We gotta fight ’em over there or we’re gonna have to fight ’em over here.” This absurdity has been pronounced by every Republican seeking high office. The habit of lying is now a national style that started with “news” magazines that was further developed by pathological liars that proved to be “good” Entertainment on TV. But a diet of poison that has done none of us any good.

Growing Controversy at RPI

From the This Is Your Brain on Paranoia Department: a brewing controversy over an Iraqi Artist Censored at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute after complaints from College Republicans. The artist, Wafaa Bilal, created a work called Virtual Jihadi, which was essentially just a tweak of another game called Quest for Sadaam.

In the original version, freedom fighters liberate Iraq by assassinating Hussein, in Bilal’s version, terrorists attack the United States and our dear leader. In terms of game mechanics, the difference is simple, solely based on team and designation, but in Troy, New York, at least, Bilal’s tweak is pushing all kinds of buttons among campus conservatives.

Not only has the President’s office ordered the exhibit closed, RPI hired a private security company to “guard” the Arts Building the next day. Virtual Jihadi then moved to a local venue, the Sanctuary for Independent Media, only to have the city of Troy slap a suspicious $14,000 building code violation on them twenty-four hours later. Welcome to Troy, Where Defending Democracy is More Important than Maintaining It.

It’ll be neat on t-shirts.

Shortly after I hit publish, I found this on Waafa Bilal’s website:

Wafaa Bilal is now a US citizen. He uses his rights as a citizen to speak to us symbolically, with photographs, videos, websites, interactive games. He insists that symbolic speech has its consequences. One of his recent pieces was entitled “Domestic Tension: Shoot an Iraqi” (2007). He designed an interactive website allowing anyone, anywhere, 24 hours a day, to aim a paintball gun inside a gallery and fire it at him. With this work he addressed the American public. The participants chose their responses. They could speak with bullets, by firing paintballs at a supposed enemy; or they could respond in any other way, with words, with letters, with emotions, with recognition and respect, with solidarity for another human being. Some of them found that if they “spoke” just right, by a click just in time, they could divert the paintball which another participant was firing directly at the artist.

Bilal came to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a video game: “The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi.” Here, the situation is complex, like the war itself. Bilal’s piece is based on the video game “Quest for Saddam,” where American gamers were invited to attack and kill stereotyped Iraqi enemies during a mission to capture the dictator. This commercial game was hacked by individuals claiming to be part of Al Qaeda. They transformed it into a game where Islamist warriors seek to kill the American president. Then they offered it to people in Iraq, just as the original game had been offered to young Americans. Bilal hacked the hack, and placed his own image in the game. He let himself be symbolically absorbed within it, the way any teenager would be absorbed during the time of play. And he then made this situation public, as the central element of his exhibition at RPI.

There is vital meaning in this act of symbolic speech. The artist is trying to inform you, not only about the ways that a video game pictures Iraqis for the American public, but also about the ways that Al Qaeda speaks through games to Iraqi youth. With the image of his own body, Wafaa Bilal is trying to tell everyone about the consequences of war and hatred, and the kinds of symbolic speech that are circulating in the world beyond our borders.

Impeach Bush, Already

George Washington University Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley makes a strong argument for impeaching Bush over new revelations in the slow-brewing domestic wiretapping scandal. (via Crooks and Liars).

For more background, check out the Frontline report from last night, Spying on the Home Front, which you can watch for free on their website.

Think it can’t happen to you? What the Bush Administration does sets the tone of acceptablity for the rest of the country. The NYPD investigated Alicia Keys, Jay Z, LL Cool J, P Diddy and many other citizens in the run up to the 2004 Republican National Convention. In all, over 600 pages of secret NYPD intelligence files were released recently as part of a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of hundreds of arrested demonstrators.

It’s a slippery slope to a totalitarian police state when you justify spying on your own citizens on national security grounds for holding a concert or expressing their opinion. Or did they really expect Alicia Keys to start tossin’ Molotovs?

Reviews of Tin Foil Hat Making websites

I did a search for “how to make a tin foil hat” and Google hath responded over one million times. Yea verily. Here are my reviews of Select Websites listed on the first couple of pages:

The Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie: excellent site for the most recent research in the SCIENCE behind hats of all sorts of foil-age. Includes the alarming report On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study*, and very nice set of instructions
RATING: A-

*Rebuttal to the study, On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study here.

tinWiki.org – not exclusively devoted to tin foil hat making, they also research these things called conspiracies
RATING: B-

This site has a much less informative set of instructions, not geared specifically towards deflecting mental rays…although a tin foil Pillbox hat could be stylish…
RATING: C

Fancy-schmancy “thought screen helmets” on this site. Also includes a photo of an alien, case histories and testimonials! They are anti-alien abductions, fyi.
RATING: B+

Foil-hat.com has a blinky star background, and their slogan is: Because you totally know someone who needs one. They have testimonials, and a fairly nice gallery of hats, as well as custom Specialty Foil Hats starting at $4.95 which they will send you in the mail.
RATING: A

Lifehacker suggested a site where some very dashing hats are on display.
RATING: B

Those who are less visually oriented may want to check out tin foil hat making for Dummies on YouTube.
RATING: 7 It had a good beat, and I could dance to it.

…and finally, The Straight Dope tells us how it really is…

This is Your Brain on Bush…

I pulled this paragraph out of an AP article covering a civil suit filed by two people who were ejected from a taxpayer-funded event where Bush was scheduled to talk about his plans for Social Security.

“The president may constitutionally make viewpoint-based exclusionary determinations in conveying his own message,” the attorneys said in the filing. “So in following the instructions of the White House and carrying out its viewpoint-based exclusions, Casper and Klinkerman did not violate any of plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”

The reason for all this legal mumbo-jumbo? The plaintiffs’ car had a “No Blood for Oil” bumper sticker on it.

Bush’s attorneys are arguing in court for the right to exclude fellow citizens from public events based on how they look or what they wear.

This is beyond pathetic.

Take a Moment…

Next week, both AG Alberto Gonzales and his former senior aide, Monica Goodling are scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the roles they played in the US Attorneys scandal. The consequences for the United States are enormous.

It is important to note that this isn’t simply about the routine hiring and firing of appointees, but rather, me thinks, about the Bush Administration’s cynical attempt to game the US justice system in order to win future elections.

A key part of this scandal revolves around the willingness or unwillingness of US Attorneys to pursue specious cases of voter fraud against Democratic candidates during the election cycle. TalkingPointsMemo has been following this story, and in recent days, the TPM staff has focused their investigative eye on Milwaukee US Attorney Steven Biskupic, who was apparently on the list of USAs to be fired, then removed for some unknown reason.

If Gonzales et. al. emerge from this scandal unscathed, it sets a horrible precendent, establishing an unofficial policy that any future President can use US Attorneys and the Department of Justice to investigate, harrass and intimidate political enemies if it helps them win elections.

I know that for most, myself included, the idea of reading transcripts of Senate testimony ranks right up there with doing one’s taxes in terms of a good time, but this is a significant moment in US history. If Gonzales is somehow able to keep his job, it means that our future US Attorneys will persecute, not prosecute. Political affiliation, contributions and connections will determine innocence or guilt instead of an equal application of the law.

It’s scandalous that Gonzales hasn’t been fired yet, but it will be much worse if this is all swept under the rug because no one is paying attention. This is a betrayal of our judicial system, and should be treated as such.

Some Dissemble-ly Required

Today’s word of the day is brought to you by General Services Administration head honcho Lurita Doan, who apparently pled massive and systemic memory loss today in her testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Doan wins my vote for most absurdist testimony evar on YouTube.

dis·sem·ble [di-sem-buhl]
1. to give a false or misleading appearance to; conceal the truth or real nature of: to dissemble one’s incompetence in business.
2. to put on the appearance of; feign: to dissemble innocence.
3. Obsolete. to let pass unnoticed; ignore.
4. to conceal one’s true motives, thoughts, etc., by some pretense; speak or act hypocritically.

I grew up in the district that Rep. Bruce Braley now represents, so there’s a certain amount of civic pride I felt every time Rep. Braley asked Doan to explain her unprofessional and corrupt, partisan actions, even if the best defense Doan could muster was “I can’t remember.”

This is the head of a United States Government agency in charge of spending our tax dollars, and they’re proselytizing for the GOP. This administration is illegally using the GSA as a de-facto arm of the Republican 2008 campaign effort.

According to other witnesses, at one point Doan asked the attending GSA managers (who work for her) during this nation-wide teleconference meeting (Doan characterized it as a “brown bag” lunch) how they could leverage future GSA events to benefit GOP candidates. This after a Rove-authored Power Point presentation (12 MB PDF) which identified 20 of “our” – meaning GOP – seats in need of defending, and 20 targeted Democratic seats. (Transcript via FireDogLake)

If you ask me, they should ask her to take a lie-detector test to prove that she doesn’t remember anything. Then ask her about the cookies…I don’t believe that part of her story either.

BTW, Speaker Pelosi has set up an impressive blog, called The Gavel, where her staff is uploading video footage and information about the House’s day to day activities, including Doan’s testimony.