The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
100 Reasons to Hate Your Country
100 Ways America Is Screwing Up The World by John Tirman - I didn't like this book. If not for my New Years resolution, I would have given up halfway through (it took me two months to finish). Don't get me wrong -- for the most part, I agree with the author -- but this book disappointed me. For starters, Tirman apparently doesn't understand verb tenses. Although one can make a case for lingering impact, it is ridiculous to recount our country's every post-World War II sin as "ways America is screwing up the world." Going back as far as the Reagan administration -- a quarter of a century ago -- is reasonable since that ideology still holds sway (besides, I love to read criticism of "Saint Ronnie"), but CIA shenanigans in 1954 Guatemala? That seems like a stretch in 2006 (when 100 Ways was published). Tirman even repeatedly dredges up the extermination of Native Americans in the 19th century, hardly relevant in the present tense.

A bigger problem is that even after reaching back to the 1950s, the author doesn't have enough good topics. The 100 ways overlap, and sometimes Tirman fails to convincingly explain how certain domestic issues are meaningful abroad. A few of his ideas are weak or peculiar (oh no, America is fomenting anti-smoking laws worldwide!). Especially toward the end, Tirman's case devolves into curmudgeonly whining. Liberal whining can be just as annoying as conservative whining (though not as mean-spirited).

I presume this book was inspired by the right-wing screed about 100 people (liberals, naturally) who are screwing up America. Unlike that book, 100 Ways is not a complete waste of time. Although a less informed reader probably would enjoy it more, even a jaded leftist like me learned a few things, such as how the NRA helped defeat anti-gun laws in Brazil. The trouble is that "answer books" are like "answer songs"; they rarely get as much attention as their inspiration. Tirman probably could have written a better book without the "100 ways" gimmick.

I suppose it works as a mediocre introduction to "why they hate us." In that sense, the worst thing about 100 Ways is that the people who need to read it the most are precisely those who will ignore it. I should send my copy to my Fox News-addicted grandmother.

Current tally: 71 books finished, 65 books acquired

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Scurlock & Spurlock
One benefit of having a huge backlog of books to read is that I can group my selections by theme. My first two books of June are companions to documentary films by rhyming author-directors James Scurlock and Morgan Spurlock. I also rented the movies from Netflix for a multimedia experience. I have included Amazon links to the books and DVDs below.

Maxed Out: Hard Times in the Age of Easy Credit by James Scurlock - This book was a steal at the Borders outlet in Gurnee Mills last year -- only $1.98 -- which I finally got around to reading. The book and movie are a good pair for anyone interested in abusive financial practices and the roots of the current economic malaise. My wife was fascinated by Maxed Out -- she had no idea of how banks target consumers -- and she's probably the ideal reader/viewer. As someone more familiar with devious bank tactics, I found the book and movie interesting but not shocking. The greatest shortcoming of both, especially the movie, is that they are largely anecdotal. As such, they do a better job of illustrating the problems than offering solutions or explaining how we got here (though the book provides a bit of credit card history). There are other problems. The national debt is covered so briefly that it might as well have been excluded. Also, almost everyone is portrayed as an innocent victim, as if there is no personal responsibility in the act of acquiring and using a credit card. Scurlock's effort to draw attention to the credit card problem is commendable, but clearly not enough people got the message before the financial meltdown of late 2008.

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? by Morgan Spurlock - In contrast to Maxed Out, Spurlock uses a humorous perspective on an even more serious subject. Under the guise of looking for the Al Qaeda leader, Spurlock travels the world and examines terrorism, Islam, the Israeli-Palistinean conflict, and U.S. involvement in all of the above. I suppose it's no secret that Bin Laden remains unfound, but Spurlock discovers much about the cultures and religions of the Middle East. He talks to people in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East including a former IRA terrorist, Muslims in the slums outside Paris, Egyptian radicals, a Moroccan publisher, Palestinian refugees, Saudi women, U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and Shimon Peres, former prime minister and current president of Israel (the movie omits the European portion of Spurlock's journey except in the bonus material). This book exceeded my expectations; I thought it would be merely entertaining, but it is also thoughtful and informative. One of our country's greatest failures in the "Global War On Terror" is in misunderstanding or not knowing anything about the people, religion, and conflicts of the Middle East. For that reason, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? should be required viewing/reading for all Americans.

Current tally: 46 books finished, 40 books acquired

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Sunday, April 26, 2009
Who Hates Whom
This informative yet amusing book by Bob Harris (Trebekistan), subtitled "Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up: A Woefully Incomplete Guide", provides a grand overview of trouble spots around the world. The author goes from continent to continent, describing wars and tenuous peaces. He does an admirable job of wading through and summarizing a lot of complicated ugliness. Americans need this information because our media ignore so much of it -- the author points out several events that we "missed" because they occurred on the day Anna Nicole Smith died, for example.

Although the subject matter is often grim (dictators, oppression, genocide), Harris injects humor here and there. I read this book aloud to my wife, and we particularly enjoyed this passage about Nicaragua:

In 1956, [Anastasio] Somoza was fatally shot by a poet, proving that the gun is mightier than the pen. One of Somoza's sons, also named Anastasio, became the new dictator. Nicaragua clearly needed more poets.
The plentiful maps (quite useful for such unfamiliar regions as Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone) strike a similar wry tone.

Incredibly, Harris manages to remain positive about humankind after all of this awfulness, concluding with an expression of hope. He points out that although war seems inevitable and never-ending, we really have evolved rapidly -- just 150 years ago, the U.S. had slavery, European nations had colonies, and women couldn't vote (by the way, those colonial days figure prominently in a lot of current conflicts).

I'd recommend Who Hates Whom to anyone who wants a general understanding of conflicts around the world. Though certainly not comprehensive (the subtitle admits that), this engaging, entertaining book is a good place to start.

Current tally: 35 books finished, 29 books acquired

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Economic Hit Men, Hard Gainers, and Dead Celebrities
The Secret History of the American Empire by John Perkins -- I thought Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was a pretty interesting book, so I looked forward to reading this one. It promised to provide more specifics, and it delivers. Perkins moves from continent to continent describing how the American corporatocracy has enslaved and manipulated so-called Third World countries since World War II. Actually, A Secret History would be a more appropriate title because the book is far from thorough. It is based on Perkins' own experiences (lapsing occasionally into memoir) and those of other economic hit men and jackals (his word) that he has met over the years. The examples he gives are just the tip of the iceberg, but this book could really shock a less jaded reader. Perkins ends on a hopeful note with a rousing call to action, comparing our times to the days of the American Revolution with corporate tyranny in place of King George III. As always, I remain pessimistic.

Beyond Brawn by Stuart McRobert -- This is one of the most thorough books about weight training that I have ever seen. Beyond Brawn is aimed at "hard gainers." At first, this was a turn-off to me because I don't consider myself to be one -- I've always been able to build muscle reasonably quickly when I bothered to lift regularly. But McRobert's broader definition of hard gainer includes the 85% of us who aren't genetically gifted or chemically enhanced. The book describes in painstaking detail how most people should train. Throw away the muscle magazines with their "12 sets per isolated body part" workouts that will only exhaust and frustrate most people. McRobert advocates "abbreviated training," which means fewer sets of fewer exercises with less frequency, focusing on multi-joint exercises that stimulate muscle growth throughout the body. He likes squats, bench press, overhead press, etc., and he loves deadlifts. Unlike many books in the genre, Beyond Brawn doesn't prescribe specific workouts. McRobert instead gives readers the tools (and freedom) to create their own routines. The book also excludes instructions regarding exercise form; for that, get McRobert's forthcoming Insider's Tell-All Handbook on Weight-Training Technique. The author is intent on imparting information rather than providing entertainment for the reader. My wife doesn't like his serious, somewhat dry, often repetitive style, which I also find tedious at times. She prefers the lighter (but still informative) tone of The New Rules of Lifting, which similarly concentrates on multi-joint exercises. Note: I read the Revised Edition from 2001, not the 2007 Second Edition available from below.

The Last Days of Dead Celebrities by Mitchell Fink -- I wasn't going to buy this, but after reading the chapter about Warren Zevon in the store, I decided to give it a shot. Covering 15 celebrities who have died since 1980, Fink sets the scene and then describes their final months or days. It's a thoughtful survey of death in general: sometimes it comes suddenly, other times naturally or mercifully. The tragic tales of the Johns (Lennon, Belushi, Denver, Ritter) are the most painful to read, even after many years have passed. Perhaps the saddest passage in the book comes from Dan Aykroyd. After his efforts to save Belushi from himself, he recounts having "the talk" with River Phoenix, Chris Farley, and James Taylor's brother Alex-- yet all three died of drug overdoses. Several of the deaths in the book are surrounded by controversy, such as Margaux Hemingway, who did not seem suicidal; Ted Williams, who allegedly did not want to be frozen; and Tupac Shakur, whose Las Vegas murder remains unsolved. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book, even the chapters about people who never interested me before.

Just when I felt confident that I was getting ahead in the game, I answered the siren song of a Half Price Books e-mail full of coupons and bought seven books. Now I'm behind by one book for the year. I'm still struggling to keep this New Year's resolution.

Current tally: 24 books finished, 25 books acquired

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Lyrics of the Day
Bruce Cockburn week continues...

"Call It Democracy" is Cockburn at his angriest and most overtly political. It's probably the only song ever written about the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which promotes "development" in the Third World while serving the monied interests of the First World. I'm sure Bono likes this song.
Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor
North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It's just spend a buck to make a buck
You don't really give a flying fuck
About the people in misery

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there's one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello
And they call it democracy
This song inspired me to learn about the IMF and what they do. If you're one of the naive masses who wondered after 9/11 why people in other countries would hate us, the IMF is one answer (in particular, see the Wikipedia subheadings IMF/World Bank support of Military Dictatorships and Criticism). Cockburn was singing about Central America in the 1980s, but it could just as well have been Africa, South America, or Asia.

A funny story about this song... The album came out in 1986 when Tipper Gore's PMRC was pushing for record labeling. When the sleeve for the vinyl LP was printed, not only were the lyrics printed on the back, but also the "offensive" words were highlighted in yellow! I think it was intended as a big middle finger to Tipper, something I wholeheartedly support (I had a hard time voting for Al knowing that Tipper would be First Lady, and I guess the Supreme Court agreed).

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Saturday, October 13, 2007
Thoughts on Al Gore
By bestowing the Nobel Peace Prize, probably the highest honor in statesmanship, on Al Gore, could the Norwegian Nobel Committee have sent a bigger "F*** you" to George W. Bush? This is even better than 2005, when the International Atomic Energy Agency and Mohamed ElBaradei won (another jab at Bush, who refused to believe their claims that Iraq didn't have nukes).

Of course, the big question now is whether Gore can be convinced to run for president again. I doubt it, but if he ran, I'd probably vote for him.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006
Bastard of the Day
The death of Augusto Pinochet today marks the end of a consummate bastard's life. Of course he was "our" bastard, a man supported by the U.S. government merely because he wasn't a communist. Marxist Salvador Allende had been democratically elected in 1970 and made Pinochet commander of the army. The C.I.A., feeding on Cold War paranoia, strived to destabilize Chile, leading to the military coup that put Pinochet in charge in September 1973. The general celebrated his newfound power a few weeks later with the Caravan of Death, a helicopter sweep of the nation's military prisons that executed about 70 prisoners. It's hard to imagine Chileans being any worse off with a socialist regime than they were under Pinochet's rule from 1973 to 1990:
A government commission estimated that more than 3,000 people died or disappeared at the hands of the Pinochet regime. Thousands more were politically persecuted, some detained and tortured, others exiled, and still more harassed by secret police.
If that isn't enough to convince you, perhaps his numerous foreign bank accounts containing $26 million purloined from his own people will. Pinochet belongs in the Bastard Hall of Fame.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006
Bastard of the Day
As a criminal goofball Reaganite, Ollie North may seem like an obvious BotD candidate. But his recent "campaign appearance" in Nicaragua clinches it for him. Latin American history teacher/author Greg Grandin notes the irony of North's words:
The ex-Marine colonel told Nicaraguans that they had "suffered enough from the influence of outsiders" -- a remark meant to criticize Hugo Chávez's support for Ortega but that some, considering North's role in running the covert operation that illegally funded the anti-Sandinista Contras in the 1980s, must have mistaken for a confession.
Indeed, Latin America has suffered from the influence of outsiders ever since President James Monroe told Europeans to stay out of "our" hemisphere, especially after Teddy Roosevelt came along with his big stick. North's little scheme was only a brief --albeit shameful -- chapter in our Latin American meddling. For any American to fly down to Nicaragua and make a statement like that to the people takes chutzpah; for North to do it makes him a bastard.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Silly Dutchman
From the Financial Times:
Jeroen van der Veer, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, has warned that the increasingly nationalistic position of oil-rich countries and their redrawing of contracts is a "new reality" that international energy companies have to accept... [He] told the Financial Times: "The higher the oil and gas price is, the more national thinking you get. This is a new reality. In the end, governments are always the boss." (emphasis added)
You silly Dutchman! Haven't you learned from our example? If the oil-rich countries try to get your oil company to pony up more for exploiting their natural resources, there is a simple solution... Invade them! Host governments may be "the boss," but you can always install a new boss more to your liking. Surely you can find a few thousand young Dutchmen you'd be willing to sacrifice to achieve those ends. Or maybe you guys should just stick to tulips and leave the exploitation to us.

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Friday, May 05, 2006
Grandma's Diplomacy
When my mom was growing up, sometimes she would make her mother mad. And my grandmother had a way of dealing with that. She simply wouldn't talk to my mom... for days... even weeks.

Naturally, Grandma came to mind when I saw this headline: "Bush administration refuses to talk directly with its main foes." Bush won't let his people meet with representatives from North Korea, Iran, Syria, and others with whom he disagrees. What the hell kind of "diplomacy" is that? How do two parties reach an understanding without communication? I'm not the only one who sees this as wrongheaded at best, fatal hubris at worst.
"I believe that diplomacy is not simply meant for our friends. It is meant for our enemies," said Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state in President Bush's first term. "In fact, our enemies need diplomatic engagement more."
Condoleezza Rice argues, "We have people who know our views who talk with the Iranians. I don't think that the absence of communication is the problem here." Yeah, at least Grandpa still talked to my mom. But should the most powerful nation on Earth engage in critical discussions solely by proxy? I just don't get it. Maybe Grandma can explain it to me.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006
Scary Stories
The nominees for today's scariest story are

On a lighter note, RedEye columnist Jimmy Greenfield warns women, "We're gonna look if you show cleavage." Lewd dude that I am, I had to write to ask why he hadn't mentioned a helpful accessory: sunglasses!

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Sunday, April 23, 2006
Buying Ourselves Into a Corner
A lengthy article by Michael Klare discusses the Bush administration's plans to contain China -- to keep it from becoming a superpower on our level. This isn't exactly news to those who follow foreign policy, but most Americans don't pay much attention.

While the story is worth reading, Klare does not address the 800-pound gorilla in the room. If we wanted to prevent China from rising to the level of economic and military superpower, why did we shift so much of our production to their factories? We are funding the rise of China! Whenever you buy a computer, a stereo, a lawn chair, or anything else made in China, you are giving China the means with which to develop or procure the advanced weaponry they need to challenge us. Of course, greedy corporations in search of cheap labor have made it difficult not to give money to China. If China does indeed challenge U.S. hegemony, future historians will point to the first decade of the millennium as the time when our consumer urges trumped common sense. Whatever we save buying Chinese goods and whatever corporations save in labor costs, we will spend far more in taxes to support the military build-up necessary to contain an ascendant China. Should a real conflict arise between the two nations, we may discover that it wasn't such a good idea to close all of our domestic factories in a race to cheap labor after all.

Not only are we funneling cash to this potential threat, but as our national debt grows to outrageous levels (thanks to the Bush administration's shortsighted policies), the Chinese are buying an ever-greater ownership stake in our country. This is what economists call "grabbing us by the short and curlies" (you can look it up). China has gained quite a bit of negotiating power by taking on our debt. If we threaten them with military action, they don't even need to mobilize their armed forces. They could more effectively mobilize their bankers to disrupt our economy. Can you imagine how people would have reacted upon learning that the U.S.S.R. held so much financial control over America during the Cold War? Why doesn't anyone care that China has maneuvered itself into such a powerful position?

The China containment policy detailed in Klare's article is understandable, but clearly this is a problem of our own making. This has become a recurring theme in U.S. foreign policy. We trained Osama Bin Laden, we armed Saddam Hussein, and now we're creating a monster in China. Why are we signing trade agreements and enacting fiscal policies that help them toward the goal we wish to discourage? With the U.S. and China competing for the same dwindling natural resources, a collision is virtually unavoidable. And when it happens, China will not be easily subdued.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006
Bastard of the Day
This is the first Bastard of the Day in memorium: Slobodan Milosevic, found dead in his prison cell today. The "Butcher of the Balkans" is no more. As former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke said, "I'm not going to shed any tears." Milosevic was still undergoing trial for "66 charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes." Although I don't know the horrific details about his actions, I don't think it is a stretch to figure he was guilty of at least a count or two.

One wonders why the International Criminal Tribunal brought so many charges against him that would take more than four years in court. Wouldn't it be more expedient to pick a handful of ironclad cases and put him away for life based on those? Just focus on the worst ones and leave it at that. Were the In Cold Blood killers tried for stealing that kid's radio? Of course not -- it paled in comparison to the four homicides they committed.

Maybe the tribunal figured he wasn't going anywhere so they could take their time. I know what they would probably say -- something about how every crime is important, every life matters, each case must be seen through to justice, etc. But look what happened... Now Milosevic apologists can say he was never convicted of those heinous crimes, as if he never committed them. Well Milo, convicted or not, you'll always be a bastard in my book.

UPDATE 03/20/2006 - Mark Vlasic, one of the Milosevic's prosecutors, offers some examples of Milo's evil deeds that go above and beyond mere bastardry.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006
The Iranian Nuclear Non-Threat
Here's more fun reading from the past weekend. This article points out how ridiculous it is to consider Iran a nuclear threat to the United States. And the corporate media won't tell you, but what really keeps George and Dick up at night is the prospect of an Iranian Oil Bourse that trades in euros instead of US dollars. By the way, Saddam Hussein made the same currency switch before the Bush administration suddenly declared him a threat to our national security.

The conflict with Iran is not about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, or even oil. It's about currency. Right now countries need to stockpile dollars to buy oil, which is traded in New York and London. If they can buy oil with euros instead, they don't need our money anymore. When other countries don't need our money, our currency will lose value. It could be catastrophic, along the lines of the 1930s (peak oil could have that effect, too). Fortunately our president is willing to use whatever means are necessary to prevent that from happening, even if it ignites World War III. The Israelis are supposedly champing at the bit to make a nuclear strike against Iran's nuke program. It's just another reason I go to bed happy and contented every night.


Monday, October 10, 2005
She Blinded Me With Science
The Republican War on Science is a new book by Chris Mooney that examines how science has become politicized. Most of us can name at least several examples off the top of our heads. In an excerpt paired with an insightful accompanying interview at AlterNet, Mooney talks about global warming and evolution/intelligent design. These are great examples because they involve the two bases that the GOP is trying to satisfy by rejecting the bulk of scientific evidence: big business and evangelicals. Industry claims that humans are not responsible for global warming while evangelicals believe intelligent design is right and evolution is wrong. Incidentally, these are two arguments that make the U.S. the laughing stock of the educated world. Everyone signed the Kyoto Treaty except us. Numerous overseas newspapers ran editorials in the wake of Katrina surmising that now the Bush administration would surely have to acknowledge global warming. Alas, they were applying science and logic to the American political system, and those things don't mix these days. Intelligent design is even more puzzling to me. Didn't we figure out this whole evolution thing a long, long time ago? Intelligent design is more of a spiritual concept than a scientific one, so how can one claim that science supports it?

Mooney discusses scientific consensus and wonders why reporters don't seem to give it any credence. They often try to "balance" science stories by treating both sides equally even though one is clearly more accepted than the other. By doing "he said she said" reporting, the writer gives readers the false impression that the topic is hotly debated among the scientific community, even when a scientific consensus is clear. Of course, to some extent these reporters have been pummeled into this approach by harsh criticism from whichever side feels their views are not being covered fairly (I have a lot of problems with "balance" in modern reporting, but that is a subject for another time).

According to Mooney, the demise of the Office of Technology Assessment and the shift away from government funding of science has led to more and more science being done or funded by people who have a vested interest in the results. University research has declined, leaving corporations and think tanks to do the work. This must please the Republican party's privatization fanatics. All the "controversy" about global warming has originated from scientists paid to reach a predetermined conclusion (if they don't reach that conclusion, the research "disappears" and the scientists lose their jobs).

This sort of thing has been going on in the "morality" and social science arenas for decades. Look at the statistics used by groups on both sides of the abortion and gun control issues. The result is that a person cannot possibly make an informed decision about which is side is "correct." One can make a moral or emotional judgement, but the facts have been twisted into uselessness. I once argued for gun ownership against a rabid anti-gun person (my dad would have been so proud!) just because his lack of critical thinking bothered me. He would trot out "FACTS" (in all capitals, no less) from Handgun Control, Inc. In turn, I could easily refute them with info from other equally biased sources. The difference was that I knew those sources were biased and said so, whereas he was convinced that his source was not. What I found most disturbing about our exchange, aside from his pigheadedness, was the absence of solid, unprejudiced information.

This is why the politicization of science matters. Social sciences are somewhat interpretive, but most of us view natural sciences as more factual (i.e., about finding an answer rather than merely formulating an opinion). Republicans (not all, but many) are trying to call accepted findings into question to satisfy their supporters regardless of strong evidence to the contrary. If the current trend continues, we will become the most ignorant society on earth, a nation so overwhelmed with politics that no one's facts are trusted.

Stem cell research is a prime example. Everywhere else in the world (and within most of the scientific community in the U.S.), scientists agree that adult stem cells have limitations and that embryonic stem cells must be studied. But certain Republican groups claim that adult stem cells are all we need. The reason behind this is not scientific consensus, but rather, it is because the "Christian" right has the mistaken idea that using embryos for research is equivalent to aborting fetuses (which I previously debunked). The average American might say, "Well, there is some debate about using embryonic stem cells because adult stem cells are just as good." A European who, because his government did not make it into a political issue, accepts the value of embryonic stem cell research as common knowledge would be utterly shocked to hear this. I realize that there are moral elements to this debate, but minority-viewpoint, politicized "science" is also being used to argue the issue.

Indeed, Mooney's quarrel with Republicans is not about their opposition to scientific issues so much as the way they claim science is on their side when it is not. It is quite acceptable to say, "We oppose this on moral grounds," but instead they make up science that "proves" them right. Even worse, they claim that the other side, i.e. the scientific consensus backed up by years of research, is completely wrong. The stakes are higher than just making us look stupid, though. When America's best and brightest are recruited to validate or invalidate these ideas that were pretty much proven long ago, they are being diverted from the important, groundbreaking research that can truly benefit mankind.

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Sunday, November 07, 2004
Suspicious Timing
Today the Iraqi government declared a state of emergency in most of the country... for the next 60 days. Gosh, things were just fine only five days ago. You don't suppose they delayed this troubling announcement so that it wouldn't hurt Bush's bid for re-election, do you? How could you not? That's what puppet governments are for.

The Bush administration might tell you it's only because of increased violence over the past few days. Then why was an emergency declared for the next two months? A couple days of unrest do not merit such a long-term expectation of trouble. Clearly things have been going badly for some time. Besides, the latest violence is likely in part a reaction to Bush's re-election, so they can't spin their way out of it. They either suppressed it, delayed it, or caused it.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Presidential Hubris
I was shocked several weeks ago when Bush said we couldn't win the war on terror. Not only was he "flip-flopping" as he so childishly accuses Kerry of doing, but for once he was speaking the truth. Naturally, he changed his mind (got back "on message") the following day, lest he lose his deceitful reputation. This week, Kerry is saying that we can minimize terrorism, but we cannot eliminate it. Bush, with remarkable hubris even by his standards, says that Kerry is wrong and that we will indeed destroy terrorism.

We cannot win the war on terror. First of all, we would have to please all of the people all of the time. I don't see how Bush could think that our nation could do that internationally when he personally has aroused so much resentment just within our borders. Second, there is no way to deter someone from carrying out a terrorist act. If someone is willing to pay with his or her life, then what threat of punishment could we use to stop that person? Third, it is impossible to watch everyone all the time. No matter how many troops, police, video cameras, etc. the U.S. deploys, we cannot watch or catch every potential terrorist. The small and highly militarized country of Israel has been unable to eliminate terrorist acts within its borders, so how could we? If we can't eradicate gangs in the U.S., how could anyone presume that we could control the entire world? For an example of a similarly international and unmanageable controntation, look at the "war on drugs."

The Neo-Cons might compare the war against terror to the Cold War against communism, but they are completely different. To change a government, we don't have to convince everyone in a nation, just the "right people" (whether by persuasion or force). To "win" the war on terrorism, we would have to control every person in every nation--it only takes one dissenter to terrorize the world. There has always been terrorism in the world (for example, one could argue that our founding fathers were terrorists in the eyes of the British), and there always will be. No arrogant, self-righteous president can change that with bombs and soldiers. Bush is telling people what they want to hear, not the truth.

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