Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Diverse Opinions On Letting Terri Go

Salon's Lori Leibovich writes about letting her brother die, and Andrew Sullivan has an excellent essay on Terri Schiavo and "a battle for the soul of conservatism." And for once I agree with the National Review's John Derbyshire: he directs us to this conservative doctor's thoughts on Terri's situation:
it seems to me that much has been written on your site about the primacy of marriage, how it must be protected, cherished, encouraged, valued, that we must fight to keep it from being disregarded, belittled, lumped into the evergrowing, soiled pile of disposable, unsacred relationships. The position that many of your colleagues have taken and I gather the editorial position of your publication can only hurt this. How can we convince our children that this will be the most important relationship they will ever have. They will ask why? What am I supposed to tell them? "It'll be great because you'll get to have sex and not feel guilty". That's a child's view -- and what the hell everyone is already doing that anyway. No: At least in part, I will say, it's because you will get to stand together with that person through thick and thin with God at your side. That you will tell that person things that you would never tell another soul. That you will know them better than you know yourself. That when the end comes, you will do right by her and she will do right by you. That you will ease each others passing through this insufferable imperfect world and meet perfectly in the next. It's an awfully big leap to tell Mr. Schiavo that he doesn't know his wife best. It's an impossible leap to to tell that to the rest of us.
I"m not sure I've heard those thoughts expressed better.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Me Inside

Tonight I went to see The Sea Inside by Chilean-Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar, the true story of Ramón Sampedro, who after living nearly three decades as a quadraplegic decides he wants to take his own life.

When I was purchasing my ticket, the lady behind me asked, "The Sea Inside. What's that about?"

I said, "I believe it's about a man who becomes a quadraplegic and decides he doesn't want to live any more."

"Oh, and in the end, he finds a reason to live?"

"I don't think so," I said.

"Oh, well, I don't want to see that then."

It wouldn't be fair to draw a direct comparison between that lady's reaction to The Sea Inside and to some people's thoughts about Terri Schiavo's situation because the details of Terri's story are certainly not the same as Sampedro's. But it is interesting to think about how many people want, no, demand a happy ending to the stories they're told--without considering the thoughts and feelings of those for whom they are deciding.
Your Honours, Political and Religious Authorities: After watching the images you have just seen, of a person taking care of an atrophied and deformed body - mine - I ask you: what does dignity means to you? Whatever your consciences' answer is, for me, this is not dignity … I, along with some judges, and the majority of people who love life and freedom, think that living is a right, not an obligation. Nevertheless, I have been obligated to tolerate this pitiful situation for 29 years, 4 months, and several days. I refuse to continue doing it any longer! --from the will of Ramón Sampedro
Thinking about both Sampedro and Terri Schiavo today, I was reminded of Jean-Dominique Bauby, whose book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly I reviewed several years ago:
The book chronicles how Bauby used his imagination to rescue himself from depression. Rather than dwelling on the fact that he probably would never eat a solid meal again, he created extravagant meals for himself in his mind, enjoying them with voluptuous relish. He revisited distant lands and traveled to others that he had never visited before. All in his mind. And perhaps most incredibly, he composed this memoir in lovely, precise prose, editing and memorizing the text until he could communicate it by blinking on appropriate letters as they were recited to him in an agreed upon order by his assistant Claude Mendibil.

During his more sober moments, Bauby reminds the reader of the enormous frustration of his situation. "For now," he writes, "I would be the happiest of men if I could just swallow the overflow of saliva that endlessly floods my mouth." Even so, his story is surprisingly free of bitterness, anger, or surrender, and he consistently returns with good humor and hope. After insisting upon wearing his clothes rather than hospital garb, he explains, "If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere."
Both Bauby and Sampedro harnessed their imaginations to free themselves from their damaged bodies. Bauby died of heart failure in 1997 two days after the publication of his book. Sampedro died in 1998 after 11 friends help him prepare and ingest a lethal dose of cyanide. They both chose how to end their own lives.

Here's a compelling review of The Sea Inside by Jeff Shannon, a writer, who also happens to be "a quadriplegic who's never considered suicide as an attractive alternative." Shannon asks director Amenábar to share his personal thoughts about Sampedro's decision:
"When I first saw Ramón on television," he said, "I asked myself what I would do if I was in his condition. I decided for myself that I would get over it somehow, that I would move on. But I also couldn't help thinking that Ramón was right — that the decision to live or die must be one's own. I thought that if I'd ever met him I would try to cheer him up and talk him out of it, as others had. But I also thought that could be a nightmare — to want to die, surrounded by people trying to cheer you up, in a society that says 'Your life doesn't belong to you.' "
I think that's what it comes down to. As Shannon seems to understand, even if you've lived a life similar to someone else's, you still can't possibly say you've walked a mile in their shoes. You can't ever completely understand their particular and idiosyncratic mindset, their strengths and weaknesses, their predispositions and their private turmoils. So how can you pretend to make a decision about their life that contradicts their expressed wishes? Certainly, if someone in such an extreme condition has expressed suicidal thoughts, it only seems appropriate to offer them all the help and encouragement one can afford. But, ultimately, the decision as to whether any such individual chooses to embrace death or stave it off has be his or her own.

God Weighs In

As seen on CNN:

"It isn't about what Terri wants. It's about what God wants." - Random lady in the crowd outside Terri's hospice.

That has to be the least rational reason I've heard yet for supporting Terri Schiavo's parents.

So if I'm in a vegetative state and I've said in a written will that I'd like to expire naturally, then this lady would have me kept "alive" because of what she says God wants? Terri didn't have a written will, no, but according to this lady's reasoning, it wouldn't matter if she had. Now, I do think her opinion is an extreme one, not likely typical of many supporting the Schindlers; nonetheless, it's just another example of why this case has become an important one. Who should make these utterly personal decisions about your life? You? Your spouse? Your family? Or some segment of society, based upon their unsupportable conception of God's wishes?

Sad as Terri's situation is, for her parents, for her husband, I hope her circumstances at least provide an opportunity for us to come to grips with some of the irrational and fearful thinking about death so prevalent in our culture.

As of this writing, the Schindlers appear to be the end of their battle. I truly hope that one day they will come to accept that Terri's condition was almost* definitely irreversible, so that they won't live the remainder of their lives bitterly. After 15 years of fighting, I understand that that may be too much to expect.

*I honestly believe I could remove that word "almost," but that would raise the question of my certainty, which isn't the subject I'm attending to here. In short, no, I haven't examined Terri and neither have most of the people commenting on her, but I do think that enough evidence exists out there--if you compare the detailed testimonies of those on both sides, and examine who appears to be ignoring (with calculation or not) what information--to determine that the conscious person known as Terri has long been gone and will never return. That's my strongly held opinion, which I could elaborate upon at length, but this topic is so divisive, that I'm not sure what purpose it'd serve to do so here--especially since so much else has been written elsewhere.

Don't Hate. Appreciate.

What's up with this tendency by some conservatives to want to vilify entire countries? Folks at the National Review can't just disagree with France's leadership. No, they refer to France as Our Oldest Enemy, actually the name of a book by John J. Miller and Mark Molesky. The Review introduces an excerpt from this 304 page diatribe by noting that 2004 marked the "300th anniversary of the Deerfield Massacre, one of the worst atrocities ever committed against Americans — and, in this instance, at the hands of bloodthirsty French soldiers."

Three hundred years ago! Get over it folks. What with this and the civil war, the elephant truly never forgets does it? (I know, that metaphor's not historically accurate; I just couldn't help myself.) Recognizing the anniversary of an historical event is one thing, but what's the point here? Well, since the Editor's note is tied directly to an excerpt from a book that may as well be called "Why We Should Hate the French," the point would seem to be to vilify France.

But right-wing hatred isn't just directed at France. No, you now have an entire book aimed at villainizing Canada, too. [I saw this book advertised on a blog a few days ago and I'm trying to track it down.] And the entire March issue of The Weekly Standard is devoted to "Canada: the Great White Waste of Time." In one article, that magazine's senior editor refers to Canada "as North America's attic, a mildewy recess that adds little value to the house, but serves as an excellent dead space for stashing Nazi war criminals, drawing-room socialists, and hockey goons." He also fondly recalls friend and National Review writer Jonah Goldberg's infamous essay, entitled "Bomb Canada." That essay featured in the November 25, 2002 issue of the National Review, the cover of which depicted four Mounties astride their steeds with the word "Wimps!" emblazoned across them.

France is our enemy? Canada is our enemy?

The tendency to demonize a country and its people instead of focusing purely on its leadership or policies you disagree with is truly disturbing, primarily because it's anti-humanistic. When you lump the people of another country together that way, you elevate nationality above humanity, which seems plainly wrong-headed. I suppose some "patriots" believe that the United States ("America") is God's chosen country or something. Therefore, they may feel validated in devaluing whole segments of humanity.

Can you think of any liberal books which set out to vilify an entire country? And, more specifically, a country that is actually our ally? Of course, I guess the conservative response would be that "liberals hate America."

Hmm, both Canada and France are fairly liberal countries with very high standards of living, socialized medicine, highly organized unions, gun control, progressive attitudes towards homosexuality . . . . Could it be that some conservatives simply despise these countries because some of the principles they're fighting against seem to be working there? Of course, the fact that neither country supported Bush's foray into Iraq didn't help, but that doesn't explain the broad disdain for both countries many conservatives have cultivated.

Update: Matthew Yglesias notes that The National Review site also includes a book called Vile France, which, wow, practically includes the word vilify in it's title. The book describes France as "our bitterest enemy." France? Osama Bin Laden must be disappointed.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Art After 9/11

As CNN notes, Saturday, the latest novel from one of my long-time favorite authors Ian McEwan, is getting some superlative reviews. From what I've read so far, only the NYT's Zoe Heller seems less than effusive. Here's an excerpt and an interview from NPR.

Could this be the first real post-9/11 novel? Or does that honor belong to Roth's Plot Against America. (I haven't read it.) Any other ideas ya'll?

What about other art forms? Music, poetry and so on? I know Green Day's American Idiot can't be all she wrote. Of course, as I noted here before, there's Spingsteen's The Rising, and Steve Earle has been staking his claim on a couple of albums now. I seem to remember reading recently about a classical composer who took cell phone calls from 9/11 and sewed them into his piece. I may be thinking of John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls, which won the 2003 Pulitzer for music.

Poetry, I keep coming back to Galway Kinnell.

What, if anything, in the world of art and letters on the theme of 9/11 has gripped you?

Update: here's a Pitchfork article on The Pop Culture of 9/11.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

So Big a World

No, those aren't the international equivalent of red states. They're countries I've visited. Nine countries, but only four percent of the total number of the world's countries. So many more to adventures to be had. You can create your own.

Whose Wishes?

A commenter, jengould, on Michael Bérubé's blog, provides an excellent example of why the Bush government shouldn't be siding with the Schiavo parents and why parents in general shouldn't be able to over-ride an individual's or a spouse's wishes:
This just terrifies me. My husband and I both have advance health care directives and durable powers of attorney for health care, and they both, frankly, err on the side of death. If it looks like I’m in PVS or a permanent coma, let me go. My religious fundie in-laws are horrified by this, and refuse to say that they would respect my husband’s wishes. I had comforted myself with the knowledge that we have left written instructions and had this discussion with everyone we know, but now, I don’t know. We live in California, so who’s to say what a trial judge would decide?

And I’m sure that in the end my or my husband’s wishes would be honored, but I don’t even want to go to court (and I’m a law student). I don’t want my face plastered on billboards as a murderer, and I don’t want to be interviewed on CNN. I just want our explicit, written wishes to be honored. What more can I do to make that happen?
Hear, hear.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Over at newly redesigned American Street, Jesus versus the Roman Senator Billius Fristus Felinocidicus and "the ongoing controversy surrounding whether or not Jesus of Nazareth has the right to voluntarily die on the cross."

Shine a Light

Did you know last week was Sunshine Week? I didn't. Wish they'd advertised it better.

Just saw them talking about it at the National Press Club on C-SPAN 3. I know, I know, I could be watching American Idol.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Stacks O' Books

Saheli lobbed this little teaser my way and I enjoyed weighing the answers. Mainly, it was a great reminder that I have a lot of reading to catch up on and my attention span's been all shot to pieces--partly due to the influence of the Internet and partly (largely?) due to my own super-abundant lack of discipline!

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

The Chosen by Chaim Potok, as a reminder that you always have to believe what you’ve come to see as the truth, even when everyone around you pressures you to do otherwise and the world seems upside down.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

I don’t know. My brother and eye both used to star in wide-eyed wonderment at Wonder Woman when we were kids. And, erm, Jean Grey from the X-Men? Does that count? Hmm, what does it say about me that the only two women who are coming to mind are from comic books? There was Nicola Six from Martin Amis’s London Fields, but she’s more of the attraction for-all-the-wrong-reasons sort of thing. Guess I also have to say both Tereza and Sabina from Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being, which is kind of ironic if you think about it.

The last book you bought is:

I think: 334 by Thomas M. Disch, a 70s sci-fi writer who apparently writes in similar vein to Philip K. Dick. But I buy so many books, it’s hard to keep track. It may also have been Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, which I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.

The last book you read:

River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins.

What are you currently reading?

Blindness by Jose Saramego. I’m embarrassed at how long it’s been taking me to read it, which is no fault of Saramego’s, but more an indication that I have the attention span of a gnat.

Five books you would take to a deserted island

Crime & Punishment - Dostoevsky – rich and thoughtful enough to demand multiple readings.

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory - Stephen Jay Gould – his magnum opus, at 1433 pages, I’d probably hafta be stuck on a desert island to ever plow through it.

Collected Works of Shakespeare – you can buy 'em in a single volume, so that’s not cheating!

Staring at the Sun – Julian Barnes – a lovely, elegant, and moving little book by one of my favorite authors.

The Stories of John Cheever – that famous red paperback; I should’ve read all of his stories by now, but haven’t.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Chris: 'cos he’s bored and I know he's always reading some terrific stuff
Shonna: 'cos she’s brainy and I bet she’ll say “Lolita” somewhere in her response
Diane: 'cos one of those edgy MFA types who really knows where it's at

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Do you ever feel like . . .

everyone else has had more sex than you? (It's cute, I promise.) Bernard Derriman won a short film competition with this video for Australian band TISM's song. He's also done animation for several Disney films.

Colin Quashie

Along with several co-workers, I enjoyed meeting Colin Quashie at Charlotte's McColl Center for Visual Art today (OK, technically yesterday). He shared some of his more recent work with us and described his creative process in some detail.

When I heard him described as "an equal-opportunity offender," I had a feeling I'd appreciate his work. His subject matter distills ideas and stereotypes down to their essence to create very precise and satirical art--the sort of acerbic social commentary that's often immitated, but seldom successfully.

Born in England and raised in the West Indies, Quashie came to the U.S. with his parents when he was six. He's completing a three month residency here in Charlotte right now, and usually lives in Charleston, SC. Some of his work was banned in that state. Ironically, in South Carolina, it's been fine to fly the Confederate flag on the Capitol grounds, but you can't display art which satirizes racial sterotypes in a public gallery.

Quashie has also written for Mad TV. He seldom sells his art and explains on his site why he seldom accepts commissions:
I have always stated that patrons buy the artist, not the art. If I had commissioned Picasso to paint my portrait and he came back with an image that had five eyes and three ears, then that's how he saw me and is exactly what I commissioned him for...his vision! If you want a presidential portrait, commission a presidential portrait artist or if you're too cheap, hop on over to Wal-Mart and take a picture with the woodland scene in the background. As for the whole HGTV decorator palette, save yourself some time and just go to an art gallery and look through the poster catalogues for something that matches your drapes. Patrons need to spend more time appreciating art and educating themselves about the artist and less time stuffing their faces with cheese and fruit while swilling free wine at art openings.
Here's a site devoted to his O.J. Coloring Book, which you can even download as a PDF.

We also met the South African artist Colbert Mashile, whose vivid art also offers some powerful criticism of life in these United States.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Defining Death, Defining Rights, Defining Your Wishes

The whole Terri Schiavo story is so depressing that I hesitate to even write about it, as I'm not sure there's much I can contribute that's terribly original. However, there does seems to be a lot of confusion in many of the news articles (I'm afraid) and blog postings (no surprise) I'm reading about the difference between these terms: comatose, persistent vegetative state and brain dead. There are very important differences among these terms, so let's describe them:

>Comatose - someone in a coma is unconcious and could possibly recover, Terri Schiavo is not in a coma.

>Brain dead - this term probably should be done away with, since it often only causes confusion; it is used to refer to the total absence of electrical activity in the brain. Brain dead = dead. Therefore, as of this writing, Terri Schiavo is technically neither dead nor "brain dead."

>Persistent vegetative state (PVS) - someone in this state is not comatose; nor are they dead (or brain dead); the areas of their brain capable of thought are nonfunctioning, while some parts of their nervous system which allow the body to live may still be alive. Terri Shaivo is in a persistent vegetative state.

I don't mean to be unkind, but, unfortunately, there's a reason that the word "vegetative" is used in this description. All that is left of Terri Shiavo is a fleshy hull. The thinking part of her brain cannot regenerate any more than the World Trade Centers can rise up out of the ground and rebuild themselves. To think otherwise, unfortunately, is to depend upon unscientific reasoning.

In defense of their desire to keep Terri alive, some people have offered examples of people recovering from comas and going on to lead normal lives. Terri is not in a coma though, she is in a persistent vegetative state. See the importance for drawing the distinction now?

If I were in a PVS, I would not want anyone attempting to keep me alive. In doing so, they would only be attending to and grooming their own denial. I wouldn't be there. Therefore, I certainly wouldn't be able to defend myself or speak up for myself or make my wishes known, would I? Yes, there is a very good reason to make your wishes clearly known to your loved ones before something horrible ever happens to you as it did to Terri.

Let her, let me die in dignity.

More on PVS:

This term is commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as "brain-death." It can follow a coma.
People in a persistent vegetative state cannot think, speak or respond to commands and are not aware of their surroundings. They may have noncognitive functions and breathing and circulation may remain relatively intact.

They also might move spontaneously and even grimace, cry or laugh. Some people might regain some awareness after being in a persistent vegetative state but others might remain in the state for decades.

Source: National Institutes of Health - via CNN.com
Yes, there's this: Some people might regain some awareness after being in a persistent vegetative state but others might remain in the state for decades.

Some people may regain some awareness, yes. But that doesn't mean you can't prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a particular person will not. And, apparently, that's what several doctors and judges have now decided.

From everything I've read, Terri Schiavo is not among those in a persistent vegetative state, who can recover. Her brain has largely been replaced by spinal fluid. It's a cruel fact of biology that she cannot recover.

Another argument I'd like to dismiss: To everyone who keeps bringing up "the rights of the parents" in order to defend Terri's understandably distressed parents: At what point do the right of *any* family members supercede the rights of *any* individual?

>If I declare what I wish to happen to me in such a state, my parents have no right to overrule my rights.

>If I do not declare my wishes, then the decision goes to my next of kin. If I'm married, that is my spouse, NOT my parents.

An aside: Sad to say, medical practitioners do over-ride the wishes of individuals all the time. Perhaps with good reason in some instances. I worked in the field of organ donation, and I know this: Some people who wish to be organ donors do not become donors because the hospitals are afraid of going against their spouse's or family's wishes. Even if you sign a donor card, which in many places is legally binding, they may not use your organs if your family says no--despite the fact that a court might actually support the hospital's decision. Hospitals just don't want to risk being sued, and, more nobly, they don't want to provide additional duress to a grieving family.

However, studies have shown that if you do let your family know your wishes, they're far more likely to carry them out, even if they personally disagree with your decision.

The bottom line: however uncomfortable it may be, TELL TO YOUR FAMILY ABOUT YOUR WISHES!

It's very hard to remain dispassionate about this story--especially when it's been politicized the way it has. In fact, I have some pretty passionate thoughts about it, and I believe my thoughts are steeped in my own sense of what is right and moral. Therefore, it's not particularly constructive for those who would like to keep Terri "alive" to call the rest of us fascists and Nazis. But neither would it be constructive for anyone supporting "the right to die," as I most emphatically do, to call those who oppose me idiots and Neanderthals. Like abortion, this is a complicated issue, and well-intentioned people will disagree. On the other hand, there are some who are using Terri as a political pawn without any thought of her dignity. Literally seeking to move her about the country in an effort to put her on display. That's just despicable.

Final Note: If you have any doubts about Terri's condition, read this Reason article, which describes her condition in much more detail than most articles you'll come across. It ends this way:
So is Terri Schiavo still alive? The odds are way against it. It's time that her long-suffering parents and the grandstanding politicians let her go in peace.
Sadly, those words were written in October 2003.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

When I See Your True Colors Shining Through

Since so many folks have been fulminating over the admittedly asinine comments of a couple of liberal professors lately, I thought I'd offer the following in the interest of fair and balanced blogging. The esteemed UCLA law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh on executions, Iranian style:
Something the Iranian Government and I Agree on: I particularly like the involvement of the victims' relatives in the killing of the monster; I think that if he'd killed one of my relatives, I would have wanted to play a role in killing him. Also, though for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging. ...

I should mention that such a punishment would probably violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. I'm not an expert on the history of the clause, but my point is that the punishment is proper because it's cruel (i.e., because it involves the deliberate infliction of pain as part of the punishment), so it may well be unconstitutional. I would therefore endorse amending the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause to expressly exclude punishment for some sorts of mass murders.

Naturally, I don't expect this to happen any time soon; my point is about what should be the rule, not about what is the rule, or even what is the constitutionally permissible rule. I think the Bill of Rights is generally a great idea, but I don't think it's holy writ handed down from on high. Certain amendments to it may well be proper, though again I freely acknowledge that they'd be highly unlikely.

In any event, there's nothing unconstitutional about letting victims' relatives participate in the execution; it's only the use of cruel means that would require an amendment. ...

Why would my humanity be diminished by participating in the killing of a monster (he had sexually abused and then murdered at least about 20 children), or even by deliberately inflicting pain on him? It seems to me that this is the reaction to a natural, understandable, and laudable human impulse to avenge (even if in a ridiculously inadequate way) the abuse and death of so many innocents. Why shouldn't one say that our humanity is diminished if this monster is allowed to live on, or even to die a painless death, when his victims and their families endured unimaginable pain?
Well, you get the idea. There's much, much more where that came from.

You know, I'm not yet sure that I'm 100 percent against the death penalty in every situation, though I may be headed that way. Certainly, vicious acts of violence may have worked at some level to keep people in line over the course of our evolution as a species. However, it seems pretty obvious to me that evolving away from that method of justice could only mean less violence at large in our society in the future. Don't advocates of such savagery understand the truth of aphorisms like "Those who live by the sword, die by the sword? Don't they understand the idea of modeling human behavior? Don't they understand that when we execute someone in a cruel and violent way, it inevitably sends a message that such violence is acceptable elsewhere, whether we intend to send such a message or not?

Update: Another conservative blogger and college professor, Glenn Reynolds apparently agrees with Volokh.

Monday, March 14, 2005

It's Good To Be King

Today, the Bush administration rules in favor of itself, declaring that it's OK, as the WP's Christopher Lee writes, "for federal agencies to feed TV stations prepackaged news stories that do not disclose the government's role in producing them."

These are the fake news stories. With the fake reporters. Not to be confused with The Daily Show, which would comedy, these stories could best be described, as, hmm, it's on the tip of me tongue . . . propaganda?

Orwell. Grave. Spinning. Etc.

Make Magazine

I believe my brief review of the Sony DSC-V1 digital camera appears in the premier issue of Make magazine, which is edited by Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing fame. An O'Reilly publication, Make is available on Amazon now; haven't seen it in stores yet.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Colbert on Fake Reporting

If you like the Daily Show, you'll love this Terry Gross interview with Stephen Colbert.

Lisa Rein has placed the show on MP3 for your mobile listening pleasure, though it doesn't include the first five minutes or so of the interview. (Via Boing Boing.)

Colbert confesses to being a liberal, discusses "passionate comedic choices," talks about working with Jon Stewart and Amy Sedaris, and mentions the upcoming "Strangers with Candy" movie, which recently debuted at Sundance.

David Letterman's production house, Worldwide Pants produced that flick. More info about the movie than you ever needed to know here. Its surprisingly strong cast includes Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert, of course, but also Matthew Broderick, Dan Hedaya, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sir Ian Holm, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Justin Theroux.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Frank Confession

As a responsible gay man, I try to keep track of the marriages I've ruined and there really aren't that many.

--Rep. Barney Frank on Real Time with Bill Maher, responding to right-wing criticism of gay marriage.

Champagne Journalism

The most consistent and ultimately damaging failure of political journalism in America has its roots in the clubby/cocktail personal relationships that inevitably develop between politicians and journalists.

--H. S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72
The ever-prolific and eminently readable Frank Rich includes the quote in his article on Thompson, "In need of Thompson's savage take."

Tangentially, boy, has has Rich become a one-man crusader (if you'll pardon the expression) for the first amendment lately. Much to the annoyance of some. Go, Frank, go.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Started to file this under AD Blogging, but it's rich enough to deserve it's own space:

The National Review's Jonah Goldberg and John Derbyshire aren't too concerned about "commie journalists"--namely Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, of course, who was recently and apparently accidentally shot in Iraq, her bodyguard killed.

Jonah reminds us that however unfortunate the event, "Communists lie." Does that mean Richard Nixon was a Communist, Jonah? I don't get it. And the Derb's advice for "dealing with Commie journalists"? "If you have to shoot, shoot to kill. You'll face much less trouble afterwards."

Boys, boys, next time you want to start to something hateful and misanthropic, ask yourself, What Would William Do?

Attention Deficit Blogging

"Star Wars" Goes To Hell doesn't sound too promising. If you can't say "fuck" on HBO, then the terrorists have won. (Occurs to me that the same things the religious right are complaining about on HBO, radical Islam would condemn us for, too.) Will Dowell argues, quite cogently and calmly, that the religous right's fascination with the Decalogue mirrors "the idea that religious values should affect, and indeed control politics, ... something that you hear quite often in the Islamic world." And nature is red in tooth and claw, yes, but it's also gray, flaky and very, very cold.

Presidential Sandwiches

I got to thinking yesterday: if a United States president were a sandwich, which sandwich would he be?

In no exact order, my thoughts, so far, on the outcomes if presidents were sandwiches*:

1. George W. Bush - hot dog
2. Bill Clinton - sloppy joe
3. George H. W. Bush - cheeseburger
4. Jimmy Carter - peanut butter and jelly
5. Reagan - ham sandwich
6. Nixon - roast beef on rye with an excessive amount of mayonaisse, no lettuce or tomato
7. Kennedy - Dagwood
8. Eisenhower - grilled cheese with tomato

*Admittedly, I've taken some liberty with the definition of "sandwich"

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The New Golden Rule: The Ends Justifies the Means

That's what I'm hearing everywhere from conservatives right now: the ends justifies the means. Not in so many words, of course. But those who do reach for this trump card, pull it out of their sleeves with a smirk, and say something like, "So what will you have to say about George Bush if democracy spreads like wildfire through the Middle East over the next few years?"

And, though some liberals are already caving, I'll likely keep saying the same thing I've been saying: the ends doesn't justify the means. After all, I'm one of those unpopular people who believes that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are hideous stains upon our history. Right up there with slaughtering the Native Americans and slavery. World War II had to be fought, certainly, but tens of thousands of innocent Japanese didn't need to be incinerated for us to win. (Watch "The Fog of War" to see this distant reality come alive.)

I've heard this consequentialist sentiment from conservatives in person, but here's a hugely popular digital example. Gerard Baker, writing in the Times, compares critics of the war in Iraq with the leader of the People’s Front of Judea in that Life of Brian sketch:
“What have the Romans ever done for us?” he asks.

“Well, there’s the aqueduct,” somebody says, thoughtfully. “The sanitation,” says another. “Public order,” offers a third. Reg reluctantly acknowledges that there may have been a couple of benefits. But then steadily, and with increasing enthusiasm, his men reel off a litany of the good things the Romans have wrought with their occupation of the Holy Land.

By the time they’re finished they’re not so sure about the whole insurgency idea after all and an exasperated Reg tries to rally them: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

I can’t help but think of that scene as I watch the contortions of the anti-American hordes in Britain, Europe and even in the US itself in response to the remarkable events that are unfolding in the real Middle East today.
I'm sure John Cleese appreciates his classic sketch being used to justify Bush's foreign policy and specifically the war in Iraq. Baker goes on to create his own middling version of the skit to give Bush credit for everything going in the Middle East from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia--via Palestine and Israel, of course--as if none of these things could've taken place without American troops in Baghdad. No surprise, Jonah Goldberg loved it. When a gazillion people (including me) emailed Goldberg to point out how this attitude seemingly embraces the end-justifies-the-means mentality, he called for help from Cornerites, and it came in the form of The Conservative Philosopher, who claims that liberals are more likely to embrace said mentality--without offering an iota of evidence to support his theory. "Most consequentialists are liberals," he proclaims.

Well, even if that were true, from what I'm seeing, that's another dynamic George Bush may have changed. Because I'm seeing a helluva lot of consequentialism on the right, right now. Of course, to be fair, many on the right likely believe the means were right, as well as the ends, which is pretty alarming when you consider the fact that, even by conservative estimates, far more innocent Iraqis have died since the war began than Americans died in 9/11. However, I have heard conservatives as much as admit that the means of getting there were wrong in retrospect (no WMD)--and that's right about when they reach for this ends-justifies-the-means trump card.

So, will folks like me be on the wrong side of history? It remains to be seen. Who knows what sort of blowback we've ignited. And in the unlikely event that it never comes . . . well, I still reserve the right to say Hiroshima was wrong. The same principle applies to the barbaric way we went into Iraq.

No, I agree with Jonathan Freedland, who understands that the situation is complicated now, but doesn't see the need to back down:
Not only did we set our face against a military adventure which seems, even if indirectly, to have triggered a series of potentially welcome side effects; we also stood against the wider world-view that George Bush represented. What should we say now?

First, we ought to admit that the dark cloud of the Iraq war may have carried a silver lining. We can still argue that the war was wrong-headed, illegal, deceitful and too costly of human lives - and that its most important gain, the removal of Saddam, could have been achieved by other means. But we should be big enough to concede that it could yet have at least one good outcome.

Second, we have to say that the call for freedom throughout the Arab and Muslim world is a sound and just one - even if it is a Bush slogan and arguably code for the installation of malleable regimes. Put starkly, we cannot let ourselves fall into the trap of opposing democracy in the Middle East simply because Bush and Blair are calling for it. Sometimes your enemy's enemy is not your friend.
Damn straight. Folks like this guy see that as Freedland admitting he was wrong. No, sir, it's called having a nuanced opinion.

I Walked Right out of the Machinery

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
Just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom, boom, boom
"Son," he said, "grab your things, I've come to take you home."

To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Tho' my life was in a rut
'Till I thought of what I'd say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom, boom, boom
"Hey," he said, "grab your things, I've come to take you home."

"Solsbury Hill" - Peter Gabriel
Lyrics from one of my all-time favorite songs by one of my all-time favorite artists, Peter Gabriel. When I needed it, the lyrics to this song provided me with more meaning than any other poem, pop song or hymn, for that matter. Gabriel wrote the song about leaving the legendary British prog-rock band Genesis. He'd had such tremendous success with the band that, upon leaving folks thought him a bit batty. (Well, they thought him a bit batty for the dresses and the giant sunflower costume, too.) Of course, he went on to create a series of exceptional albums, including one of the most perfect pop albums of the 80's, So. The song was even a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, since it appeared on his first album and turned out to be one of his biggest hits.

For me, the song's meaning runs pretty deep. As a young man who grew up within fundamentalist Christianity, when I began to question my beliefs, I went through a period when I thought I might, well, be going a little batty. I didn't know anyone who shared the conclusions I was beginning to draw. I didn't know anyone I could share my doubts with. As I allowed myself to doubt and change, however, I grew more confident, and eventually, although I knew that perhaps none of the people around me would understand my decision, I decided to leave fundamentalism and strike out on my own. Doing so, ironically, was likely the most redemptive action I've ever taken in my life. Since then, I've met many people who share my beliefs--in spirit if not always to the letter--and I feel much more confident with the belief structure I finallly embraced, a structure which, not only allows doubt, but encourages it.

During the long and sometimes dark time that I considered leaving the fold, Gabriel's song came to hold powerful meaning for me. Look at the lyrics above. They matched how I was feeling word for word for word. I mean, how often does a song do that for you? I remember turning the radio up and singing along for all I was worth. I remember hitting "repeat" on the CD player, so I could listen to it over and over again. Since then, whenever I've had a difficult decision to make that I thought was right, but that others may not understand, hearing the song has always proven an encouragement. I heard it at the gym tonight and that prompted me to write this post.

If you'll forgive me waxing a little sentimental: Thank you, Peter, you'll never know how much this song meant to me.

Who says rock 'n' roll can't save your soul?


Many other people share their thoughts on the song here. Feel free to share your own song in the comments.

Download the song. If you like it, consider buying one of Gabriel's albums.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Eating Fries to Go Down a Size?

An Edmonton biology teacher, Les Sayer just finished a month-long McDonald's diet, which coupled with exercise helped him lose 17 pounds. He did this in reaction to Morgan Spurlock's rambunctious documentary, "Super Size Me," which he says "centred around an anti-corporate theme." (Such bad English for a teacher: "centred around"?)

Seems to me, however, that Sayer just wanted to advance an agenda of his own.

Two things:

Spurlock explicitly says he's not picking on McDonald's alone and that he coulda done the same thing with another restaurant.

Secondly, he didn't simply ignore the important factor of exercise at all. He explicitly says he's going to adjust his exercise *down* to represent the exercise of the average American. He takes a taxi to McD's at one point because, living in NYC, he's walking too much compared to the average American. So he's not just picking on big corporations, as Sayer indicates, he criticizing the American diet at large (no pun intended), as well as the corporations, which cater to it.

I'm sure the documentary isn't 100% accurate, and it may be biased against big corporate food groups, but the teacher seems to be misrepresenting Spurlock in order to defend a corporation himself. (Maybe he should be a business teacher, instead of a biology teacher?)

Besides you can gain or lose weight eating *anything* as long as you eat it in the right amounts and exercise--as Jared Fogle and Subway had to admit. I could embark on an M&Ms diet and lose weight, but that wouldn't mean M&Ms were good for me or say anthing about Mars as a corporate entity.

(Via Bo Cowgill)

Balling the Jack with a Bale of Straw

Via Boing Boing, here's a fantastic Dictionary of Old Hobo Slang by Stephen P. Alpert.

Hobo life still goes on, and a friend directed me to two books about life on the rails. In Rolling Nowhere, writer Ted Conover tells about his own days spent riding the rails, and much to the consternation of some, in Hopping Freight Trains, Duffy Littlejohn actually tells you how to do it.

One anonymous Amazon reviewer isn't impressed:
If the author himself admits that "Hopping freights is not only dangerous, it's illegal," then why does he promote it in a book? Trainhopping is also downright stupid! I think this book should be removed from Amazon.com because it sends the wrong kind of message. And no, I haven't read the book, but I don't need to in order to form an intelligent opinion on it.
Even better was this review by an apparent expert on the subject:
there aint no book anyone can write that can explain how-to train hop.it gives young punks a feeling that they will be safe if they follow the rules.bull.i been out here on the rails for 20 years and i couldnt have learned any of it from a book.theres aready too many stupid kids out there who think they know it all.hell, some a them ride to protest.train ridin is tough.it`s for people who dont like people.that are dirt poor.ride to live.live to ride.lets keep it that way brother.if your gonna ride.get out there and do it.dont read no book.
Now, that was worth the visit to Amazon alone. It's like the guy just hopped off a train himself and wandered into a public library to type up a review before wandering back to the rails to nail the next rattler.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

We Dropped a Bomb on It, and Now We Party in It

This afternoon, NPR's All Things Considered featured an interview with the director of "Gunner Palace," the new documentary about the military's gunners who set up quarters in Uday Hussein's old palace. NPR.org features a clip from the documentary as well as related stories. The web site for the documentary includes diary entries from soldiers. It's getting good reviews. The NYT's A. O. Scott says:
The raw inconclusiveness of "Gunner Palace" is the truest measure of its authenticity as an artifact of our time and of its value for future attempts to understand what the United States is doing in Iraq. Over the last few years, we have been subjected to an awful lot of certainty - from proponents of the war, from its critics and even from vacillators and equivocators. "Gunner Palace," in its savage, intelligent, boisterous messiness, is a welcome antidote to the self-convinced rhetoric of pundits and politicians. Each time I have seen it, I have emerged feeling moved, angry, scared, hopeful, frustrated and dispirited - and grateful for this confusion, which is its own form of understanding.
I must be getting old or something: I'm far more interested in seeing well-made documentaries these days than most mainstream movies.

We watched Control Room (second time for me) at the documentary class I'm taking at Queens University the other night. The talk afterwards almost turned incendiary. Since that documentary concerns Iraq, too, we got into some boisterous discussion about what we're doing there, and the specifics of the documentary itself pretty much got left behind. Nonetheless, I'm guessing on another level, it felt good for many of us to have the opportunity to talk openly about our frustrations with the events unfolding there, particularly, our goverment's means to its coveted end.

If you haven't seen Control Room, you must. Whatever you thought about Al Jazeera previously, I guarantee you'll come away thinking differently. Which isn't to say that you'll be more inclined to be for or against the outfit. I think, at least, however, you'll realize that the network is a *far* more complicated beast than it's made out to be over here. One thing I noticed watching it a second time is how Al Jazeera's producer Khader and the journalist Ibrahim come off as so much more articulate and nuanced about the issues they discussed than almost all of the American reporters shown. Which is both enlightening and somewhat dispiriting when you think of what it means for the state of our media. In comparison, many of the Americans came off as little more than immaculately coiffed talking heads, who just happen to be doing their job out in the sand.

Social But Not Secure

While some conservatives are ecstatic over GodGreenspan's apparent endorsement of private Social Security accounts, Paul Krugman explains why, despite his long-standing reputation for temperance, we shouldn't assume the Fed chairman to be non-partisan.

You'll also want to listen to this interview Terry Gross did with Krugman about Social Security in which he efficiently dismisses many of the myths being promulgated by the administration.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Blinky Bill

Apparently, the folks who syndicate Bill O'Reilly's column would prefer that you not link to his columns. Specifically, they want this guy to stop linking to this column. Someone should explain to them that "Hypertext Linking does not violate Copyright." It's the very definition of the World Wide Web, ya'll.

(Via Boing Boing.)


It's interesting to hear the Supremes whinging about how difficult it is to strike a balance with the Ten Commandments issue. In fact, like Scalia, who unsurprisingly has no problem with the commandments being on display, Justice Kennedy sees no need to disrupt the status quo:
"If an atheist walks by, he can avert his eyes," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in a courtroom filled with spectators. Banning the Texas display might "show hostility to religion," he said.
How is it that the arguments of a Supreme Court judge are so easy to dismantle? "If an atheist walks by," Justice Kennedy? What if a Muslim, Hindu, Confucianist, a Quaker, an Amish person, an agnostic, a New-Ager (any left?), a plain old non-believer, or even a liberal Christian walks by? The Ten Commandments needn't apply to *any* of them. Or, in the case of the Amish, they may be offended by the display of the commandments as a "graven image," which those very commandments forbids. Additionally, it needn't be a matter of offense. It's simply a matter of representation. The Decalogue does not *represent* all Americans. The Constitution does. Place monuments to it outside every courthouse--fine. Kennedy's argument is a radical oversimplification.

Also, he suggests that banning the Decalogue might "show hostility to religion." No, sir, it would show respect towards ALL religions. I mean, seriously, are all of the arguments for keeping the commandments on display this easy to dismiss? And what is a Supreme Court justice doing reaching for them?

I don't think this is a hard decision to make, and any decision need not even ban all display of the Ten Commandments. Maybe I should make the decision for them: No, you cannot display a list of commandments, which apply to the followers of a single religion in a public building, unless the commandments are placed in their context along with other systems of law.

Some examples? Huge Decalogue Monument standing alone outside the court. Nope. Too clearly making a statement. A series of pictures depicting various moral codes with the depiction of the Ten Commandments front and center, larger than the rest. Nope. Too obviously making a statement. A frieze depicting various codes of law, including the Decalogue. Fine. Of course, if those are the conditions for display, then many of the most fiery advocates for displaying the commandments will no longer wish them to be displayed. Because the point they're trying to make *is* a religious one.

Justice O'Connor disappoints, too:
"It's so hard to draw that line" between allowing a legislative prayer and not allowing a Ten Commandments display, O'Connor fretted at one point.
It ain't hard, Ms. O'Connor. Of course, prayer shouldn't be allowed in the Congress. Unless it's a personal prayer said by an individual in his seat or in a private gathering. I'm not allowed to begin meetings at the bank with a prayer. Why should the government, which is supposed to represent all citizens begin its proceedings with a prayer?

Back to the commandments and another subject: You might argue that our law can be traced back to the Ten Commandments, so it's a fitting metaphor for our system of law. If so, why stop there? Why not go back to the Code of Hammurabi, which the Decalogue clearly built upon? Obviously, because the point being made is a religious one.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Relevance of the 10 Commandments

There's an ongoing furor over the display of the 10 commandments on government across the United States, and the matter is now before the Supreme Court. A common complaint is that our laws were based upon these commandments and that therefore we should bestow upon them some special sort of recognition and prominence. But why?

What relevance do the 10 Commandments really have upon our common rule of law today in the United States? Let's have a quick look at each commandment.

1. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." - This certainly isn't governed by U.S. law, is it? In fact, you can be sure that many Americans worship other gods, both literally and figuratively (mammon anyone?) with great freedom. So why would we want a commandment placed on public property that says otherwise?

2. "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." - Not at all governed by U.S. law either. Additionally, as many have noted, this commandment is the one perhaps most often broken by Christians. Crucifixes, images of Mary and Christ--all of these things could reasonably be considered graven images. Americans are free to make any sort of graven image they like, so why would we want a commandment placed on public property that says otherwise?

3. "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain." - Certainly not governed by U.S. law. Additionally, though many people now assume this commandment refers to swearing or literally speaking God's name, it more likely referred to not making contracts lightly in God's name. This may be a sensible commandment to follow if more out of decency or in pursuit of integrity, but since it's not U.S. law, why would we want a commandment placed on public property that says otherwise?

4. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." - Not at all governed by U.S. law. If taken literally, most Christians don't adhere to this commandment, since they attend church on the first day of the week, not the last and they don't rest at all on Saturdays. Americans are free to attend the church, synagogue, mosque, etc of their choice or not, so why would we want a commandment placed on public property that says otherwise?

5. "Honour thy father and thy mother." - Certainly not a U.S. law. Additionally, are there not circumstances in which honor for one's parent might be unwarranted? Perhaps most of the time, this commandment would be an excellent guideline for living, but Americans are, in fact, free to dishonor their parents, so why would we want a commandment placed on public property that says otherwise?

6. "Thou shalt not kill." - This I'm sure we can all agree is an excellent commandment. At first glance. But what does "Thou shalt not kill" mean exactly? Does that include self defense? Does that include killing people in times of war? Does that include animals? The death penalty? Some would argue, perhaps convincingly, that the verse refers to murder. The truth may be somewhat more complicated, and many, many Christians disagree on the exact meaning of the verse. Arguably, our law not only allows killing in some cases, but it also *requires* some people to kill in certain situations. Nonetheless, I'm sure most would agree that as it pertains to murder, this is an excellent commandment, the principle of which most cultures would come to without having had any exposure to the Ten Commandments. Would it be worth posting this commandment in places if most people agreed that it applied to murder, which our country's laws certainly prohibits? Perhaps. On the other hand, most of our citizens probably don't need to be reminded that murder is a criminal offense in the United States.

7. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." - Generally not governed within the United States, and largely ignored even in those states which supposedly prohibit it. No doubt an excellent guideline in many if not most places, though individuals may be able to make compelling cases for breaking this commandment in particular instances. (Interestingly enough, none of the 10 Commandments prohibit homosexuality. Can we safely assume that means God had more of a problem with adultery than homosexuality?) Rightly or not, adultery is commonly practiced in all 50 states and the laws against it are either non-existent or seldom enforced, so why would we want a commandment placed on public property that suggests otherwise?

8. "Thou shalt not steal." - Another excellent and sensible commandment for which many laws do exist within the United States. (That's 2 of 10 so far.) Apparently, however, this commandment originally referred to the theft of *human* property or slaves, so even its modern-day relevance may be questionable if one is to take the Biblical injunction literally.

9. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." A very sensible commandment to be sure, but not necessarily governed by U.S. law unless referring specifically to perjury in a court of law. If used in the sense of gossiping, back-biting, or lying in general, none of these activities are illegal when practiced in general life, however despicable they may be. Can we really justify placing a commandment on public property that suggests otherwise?

10. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's." However inadvisable coveting another person's spouse or belongings may be, this activity is certainly not a crime in the United States by any stretch of the imagination. Most people are probably guilty of violating this commandment at one time or another. This commandment also possesses the unfortunate distinction of highlighting the Old Testament practice of considering a man's wife to be his property. It would hardly seem appropriate to place a commandment on public property that suggests that a woman is a man's property or that any laws exist in this country, which prohibit coveting. On the contrary, we have entire industries built upon the hope that men and women will "covet." Indeed, the very term seems quaint.

Having considered each of the commandments--even briefly--we can quickly conclude that they really have little relevance when compared to the American code of law and in fact contradict much of what we know to be true of our laws. It seems quite reasonable to say that it would be highly inappropriate to post these commandments in public places about the United States, when they so clearly do not reflect our country's culture or laws.

Perhaps placed among other historic examples of law (the Code of Hammurabi, for example, upon which, no doubt, the Ten Commandments were actually based) in an educational context, the appearance of the Ten Commandments might be appropriate, but standing alone and without context, they seem to suggest an influence upon the American judicial system which simpy cannot be proven or justified.

For more information on the commandments, consult this detailed listing of the commandments over at Religioustolerance.org, which I also consulted in preparing the above.

And another important question to consider: "Which Ten Commandments are the 'real' ones?"