lundi, février 28, 2005

Considering Simplicity and Humility the Day After the Academy Awards

Is everything political?

How does the old saying go? Everything is politics, but politics is not everything. So true. Still, the staff here at ILIM watched the 70th-something Academy Awards last night, and we have to share our reaction. Hint: it’s a political reaction.

First, how long will Hollywood continue to deny the massacre in Rwanda? How long? How long must we sing this song?

We’re being silly there as a way of not mentioning that the godless pagans in Hollywood pitched Jesus an awful shutout last night. When will they figure it out? FYI: although we did not see “The Passion of the Christ” we feel that giving it an award would have been a lot like prayer. It may or may not help, but it definitely won’t hurt (and it might make you feel better).

We also have not seen “The Aviator”, but somehow we felt the film was robbed. Maybe a movie buff can explain to us how a film can win just about everything it was nominated for, but not be the best film. Please don’t tell us that the award selections are political!

We DID see “Million Dollar Baby” and we liked it better when it was called “Shawkshank Redemption” – at least at the end of “Shawshank Redemption” the (successful and glamorized) white guy honored his friendship to the (less successful and less glamorized) black guy. “Million Dollar Baby” is a fine film, but trust me when I tell you that when we look back on 2004, the Year in Film, we will not be talking about MDB. We’ll be talking about “Sideways” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Trust me.

So, here’s our brief but big political essay on the Academy Awards:

Lately, in our conversations with friends, we’ve been talking a lot about simplicity and about humility. Now, even the curmudgeonly staff here at ILIM is not advocating for an end to the largesse and bling of the Academy Awards. Sure, it's fun to see the famous decked out in finery. There should be Versace dresses, and there should be Harry Winston necklaces. In fact, Mrs. Duf deserves a Harry Winston necklace (though his average piece costs more than our house and her chances of getting one in this lifetime are even smaller than her interest in having one). But let's talk about all this largesse and what it means. What we need is a thesis.

HERE’S OUR THESIS: does our societal willingness (nay, eagerness) to embrace excess undermine our ability to challenge it? I think you can guess what we think here at ILIM.

Case in point: on our favorite television show, Nancy Giles (on whom we have a tremendous (though respectful) crush) had a wonderful commentary about the gifts that are given out during Academy Awards show. Everyone who presents an award and everyone who is nominated for an award (or perhaps just major nominees) receives a gift bag worth about $110,000.

I know what you're thinking: "hey Duf, jealous much?" Well, no. I got a gift bag at the AA party (here, AA = Academy Awards, believe me, there was plenty of booze) I went to last night. Here are the contents:

2 minature Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

One black Paper Mate ink pen (disposable, ball size medium)

One red, white and blue "United We Stand" pencil (with a red white and blue star eraser at the top - yes, it's meant to be tongue-in-cheek)

One plastic black cat (approximate size 1" long by 1/2" tall)

One miniature Hershey's Milk chocolate bar

One miniature Hershey's Dark chocolate bar

One Superbowl XXXIX napking (yes, it's meant to be tongue-in-cheek)

One cool, light-blue clothespin

One clementine

One sheet of dolphin stickers (with 14 dolphin stickers)

One "fresh cut grass" scented candle (smells good - way better than my lawn post-mow)

One refrigerator magnet which features a ponderous woman and reads "Whatever shall I do?"

One refrigerator magnet which features three women on a swing set and reads "Mood Swing."

And yes, we understand that not everything is driven by need. Wanting things is fun too. For all my talk about simplicity and humility, I want a lakeshore cabin in either Northern Minnesota or Northern Wisconsin and a Saab 9-5 (turbo). And, no, not every event needs a party pooper on site to remind everyone that while Johnny Depp looks really bad in a really expensive suit, there are people who are naked and hungry. But can we crave a sense of balance? Must everything be irretrievably vulgar?

Here at ILIM, as we watched the AA, we yearned for two things: first, we yearned for all of our entertainment media to consider how they might use their elevated profile to directly benefit others. The PGA, LPGA and SPGA are excellent examples. Almost all pro golf tour stops are tied to charity so that the events support local organizations which in turn support the underprivileged or disadvantaged or differently abled. The events themselves are still devoted to glitz and glam, but out of it all, there is room for some really positive work to be done. There is no moment where the tournament is disrupted to bring everybody down. We wish that all events, the NBA, the NFL, the Academy Awards, rock concerts etc. would look for ways to use their profile to benefit others.

Second, of course, we yearn for a world where the need for our entertainment industries to also serve the poor is diminished or non-existent. This could happen in two ways: first, the present Administration could do more to support the underprivileged (the Bush Budget was a disgrace, there is no other word – cut aid to the poor to fund the tax cuts to the rich, broken promises on Workfare and on No Child Left Behind, no money in the budget for the war against Afghanistan or the war against Iraq (which make the budget a dishonest one), but mainly deep social cuts that directly impact the lives of the citizens who can least bear additional cuts).

Once more with the Wellstone quote “government exists to make people’s lives better.”

Second, the need for supporting charities with our glamorous entertainment will be diminished when we achieve that utopian dream where need is eliminated.

Until that day, as Nancy Giles pointed out so eloquently, we should get more from our opportunities. Because she gave me the idea for this post, I’ll let her conclude.

"Forget the red states and the blue states. Here's how the country's really divided: one country where the rich and famous are given carte blanche and don't even pay to have their own wrinkles filled in; and the other country where the rest of us schmos pay our taxes, get parking tickets, and hope for a sale. Around 125 Oscar goody bags, last year's estimated value: $110,000 a piece. Do the math. That's more than $13 million of stuff that could really help people, organizations, and communities who actually need it."

vendredi, février 25, 2005

To Protect (Some of) Your Rights, They Must Destroy Them, or Why I Maybe Punched the Attorney General of Kansas in the Nose

Lately, conservatism has come to stand for eroding the quality of rights to the point where those rights have almost no value. As always, the 2nd Amendment is excluded – this only applies to rights they abhor or don’t understand. For example, the right to drive a huge SUV is sacrosanct. The freedom of speech…well…not so much.

In fact, the man won't even let me write about how the Bush Administration is [this section redacted by the U.S. government, General Electric, General Motors and Rupert Murdoch]. See?

The other day, I saw a political cartoon comparing the value of suffrage in America (an overweight man in a tee shirt complaining about waiting two hours to vote) to the value of suffrage in Iraq (an overweight woman proudly holding up a purple thumb). The joke was that here, if we’re inconvenienced in exercising a right, then it’s not worth the bother…meanwhile others would risk death for that right. Man, what a funny cartoon.

I read the cartoon differently than the cartoonist intended. First, I saw it as a perfect metaphor for Western excess. For example, there are people in the world who spend the better part of a day seeking water and protein. We throw both away like they’re meaningless. Here, water is for lawns. Protein is for fad diets. Should I get a double cheeseburger or a bacon double cheeseburger?

Second, I felt it brushed aside too easily the inconvenience itself. Making people wait two hours to vote can be disenfranchisement. Running out of ballots can be disenfranchisement. Overstaffing in one polling place, understaffing in another…you know the impact of that. Inflexible employers on voting day can support disenfranchisement. Quick story: I have a colleague who almost didn’t get to vote because she had to leave. She got to the polling place an hour before it opened and after 3 hours, she almost had to leave without voting. She had a breakfast meeting that she had to attend.

Also, friends, inconveniences must also be considered in light of how easy it would be to eliminate them. For example, in this day and age, why, in most states, can you only vote on one day? It’s just like voter registration. We could make it really easy, but making it easy would compel more people to vote, and Republicans don’t want that. In fact, Republicans expect that people will see the whole thing as bull and not bother with it. Which leads me to my third point…

Third, the cartoon totally neglected the fact that the inconvenience is intentional. It is intended to disenfranchise voters. Yes, blame voters for not being more patient. Blame their lives for not allowing them to free up 4 hours in one day to vote. But, in so doing, don’t let the true perpetrators run free.

Today Dumb Ol’ Nick sent me this link from my home state of Kansas. Here’s another attempt to water down a right. It makes the same point but it uses a different right. Click on the link and look at the man. He's lying. You can tell by his smug expression that even he does not believe what he is saying.

By the way, man, oh man, my friends love to send me stuff about how backwards Kansas is. You know why? Because Kansas is so backwards. It really is. Half of Kansas believes the earth is flat. They believe the if you drive too far past Goodland or Dodge City, you’ll drop right off the earth. More than half believe that the sun revolves around the earth, and it takes a week to do it. Science is the second worst four-letter word you can utter in Kansas. It really is.

So, undermine womyn’s right to choose to the point where it loses its meaning. Does anyone – and I mean anyone – (including the Attorney General of Kansas) does anyone believe that his intent is to protect Kansas children? Does anyone believe that? Okay, let me ask it this way, does anyone believe that is his primary intent?

Maybe some day when I’m in Kansas, I’ll meet the Attorney General. And then maybe a dung beetle will appear on his nose and start munching (yes, you get what I’m saying). Then maybe I will punch him in the nose as hard as I can* . Maybe I will make a perfect fist, transfer my weight at the point of impact, and hit the target perfectly with everything I’ve got. Maybe then the AG will fall down and lie flat for a protracted period of time. Maybe I’ll stand by him and wait patiently for his revival. Then, maybe, when he stands up, I’ll simply inform him that I did it for his protection.

Oh, and by the way, maybe I'll be lying.

* Disputes should be settled by peaceful means. The staff at ILIM are all pacifists, and we don't condone violence. As my daughter says, "we don't hit." Readers of this blog are asked to never hit people, not even the Attorney General of Kansas.

jeudi, février 24, 2005

The Personal is the Political

Here is a little insight into me.

I’m a deeply private person. Not as private as my friend HAL, but very private nonetheless. I think most of my friends know how I feel on the issues. Most know where I was born (Kansas City), and where I went to school (Kansas University then the University of Minnesota). Most of my friends know my favorite bands (Radiohead and Wilco) and that I love to read (right now I’m reading “In the Lake of the Woods” by Tim O’Brien). Most know that I am an avid golfer and that I'm a lousy golfer (you might even call me a Duffer). Everyone knows that I have a daughter that we call TinyE, and everyone knows my wife, who she is and what she does. Many of my friends know that I am an aspiring writer and that I like to write poetry.

Almost none of my friends know that I have high blood pressure (and I do). It would be hard for me to tell my closest friends about that. And I don’t even think most people think of that as being such a big deal. But still it is hard for me. For others, that kind of sharing is very easy. I know of three co-workers (people who I barely know) who have high blood pressure. I know because they talk about it. They talk about it in the break room.

So, today, a personal story [sigh]…

Near Christmas, I was driving around in St. Paul and thinking about my friend Greg. Years ago, almost another lifetime ago, we lived together in a duplex in Minneapolis. Greg and his wife Sarah lived downstairs. My girlfriend Robin Ann and I lived upstairs. We spent so much time together, the four of us or various combinations of the four of us. We played Scrabble together. We ate lentils together every Sunday night. My life in those days seemed so rich and wonderful. And in retrospect, I still think it was.

I think the Feng Shui in that duplex was goofy becauase eventually, Robin and I split up, and later Greg and Sarah divorced. Over time, Greg and I lost touch - but it wasn't as subtle as that for me. It was a very difficult loss for me. In fact, in losing Robin Ann (which was hard), I also felt that I lost Sarah and Greg too. The first loss was the least surprising, but the most hurtful. The other losses shocked me (I never imagined it would happen), and in some respects hurt me in ways that were more profound (now I’m too mindful that it can happen).

Near Christmas, I was driving around in St. Paul and thinking about my friend Greg. He was such a good friend, and the loss of a friendship can be either so subtle that it is impalpable, or so jarring that it can devastate you. Drifting away from Greg was the latter. At first, I really did not want it to happen, but then later I did. I was prideful, and I started to be stubborn and ridiculous.

Near Christmas, I was driving around in St. Paul and thinking about my friend Greg. So I went to his house. His house is less than 4 miles from my house. I could walk to his house.

So I went to his house. I knocked on the door. He opened it. I am so glad that I did, and I’m so glad that he did. He gave me a hug like he saw me the day before. I get emails from him now. We’ve met for coffee, and he is trying to recruit me away from my church and to his church. Last night, he and his son Max and my daughter Elinor and I went to the Wellspring Wednesday dinner at his church. It was a great service, started by a great grace. The pastor said words, and we repeated them back. It went like this:

We thank You for being…
We thank You for being…

We thank You for being here…
We thank You for being here…

We thank You for being here together.
We thank You for being here together.

For me, being there together with my friend Greg, it was so apt. I like that prayer. I will remember it for a long time.

Some of my favorite blogs are those - like this one and like this one – that mix the personal and the political. I have always admired the openness of those who share a little bit of themselves along with their thoughts on the issues of the day. I draw my inspiration for this post from my friends who do this sharing and expressing so much better than I do it.

mercredi, février 23, 2005

Three Minnesotans

This is a letter home forwarded to me by a very upset co-worker who is from the area in Minnesota where Dan Day, Jesse Lothka and Jason Timmerman grew up.

Keep our soldiers in your thoughts and in your prayers.

Hey, I'm just letting you know that I'm OK. I don't know if you heard the bad news or not, but we lost three guys yesterday and another is in intensive care. They were on a convoy and one of the vehicles lost control and rolled over. It did a barrel roll over the guard rail and landed on the right hand side of the road. The hummer was upside down, resting on the side shields for the gunner turret, that's the only thing that saved the gunner's life. Cory Fennel was the gunner and he was under the vehicle after it rolled. Tijtong Vang was driving and Jesse Lohtka was the team leader in the passenger seat. Lohtka got out right away and pulled Vang and Fennel out.

They were both a little banged up, but were okay. Lohtka got the guys on stretchers and they waited for the medevac chopper to show up while everyone pulled security. Once the chopper showed up Lohtka, along with David Day, who was a team leader for another vehicle, and Lieutennant Jason Timmerman, who was a platoon leader, started helping Fennel and vang to the chopper. I guess Fennel walked to the chopper first, and then the guys started carrying Vang on a stretcher toward the chopper. The guys that helped Fennel went around the guard rail while the guys with Vang were going to step over it.

As soon as they got within about 15 feet of the rail there was an explosion right in front of them and they were all knocked to the ground. They think it was a roadside bomb buried there that went off. Day, Lohtka, and Timmerman were killed, and Vang was seriously injured. I guess the only reason Vang didn't die is because Day was carrying the front of the stretcher. Dan Perseke tried everything he could for them but there was nothing he could do. There were two other guys injured from other units that were helping with the crash, one lost his leg. Vang is in intensive care right now and he's improving, I went to see him yesterday in the hospital and gave some blood platelets for him. He had a lot of internal bleeding and had some liver damage. He's going to Germany sometime tonight, and then to the states for surgery. I think he'll be okay.

Yesterday was the worst day of my life. It was just like losing family members. I listened to the whole thing on the radio in our truck, and I heard the explosion in the distance when it happened.

When they came over and said they had three KIA (killed in action) I just about fainted. We were about to go on a mission when it started happening, but then it got cancelled. When they all came back I saw Dan Perseke get out of his truck and he was covered in blood and had a dazed look on his face. It was one of the worst things I've ever seen. Then I had to see the weapons and body armor of the guys that got hit and everything had holes in it and was ripped all to hell. I hope I never have to see what they saw, but I know all the gruesome details so the mental picture is bad enough. I've known Dave Day all through high school and we've always been good buddies. I was pretty close to Vang, too, we've been good friends since he joined our unit a couple of years ago. This really sucks, I thought we'd all come home in one piece, but these guys we're in the wrong place at the right time.

I think they got the guy responsible for the attack because one of the guys that were there said he saw soldiers pulling an Iraqi out of one of the houses. Don't worry about me, though, I'm still upset but we're still doing missions like we always have. I'll call as soon as I get time.

Love, J

You can forward this to others if you want.

The day the war started, I was driving to work. There was almost no traffic. I could not help but think to myself how amazing it is that something so fierce and intense and horrible was happening far away and yet very near while my day-to-day life was largely unchanged. I do not know anyone serving in Iraq, but I know and love people who have loved ones there. The war reached me today. It really reached me today when I saw my good friend hurting. I am sad and ashamed. Sad that wars happen and people die. Ashamed that it took seeing my grieving friend to make me really feel, to make me really understand.

Keep our soliders in your thoughts and prayers.

lundi, février 21, 2005

If You Meet the First Amendment on the Road, Hit It With a Stick

Three fourths of high school students don’t think about the First Amendment or take it for granted.

High school students are less likely than adults to think that people have a right to express unpopular opinions.

High schools students are less likely than adults to think that newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

75% of high school students think that burning the flag is illegal.

More than half think that the government can restrict indecent material on the Internet.

Students who do not participate in media related activity are less likely to think that people should be allowed to burn the flag.

Students who have taken media classes are more likely to think that people should be allowed to express unpopular ideas.

One in five schools offers no media at all.

Of the high schools that do not offer student newspapers, 40 percent have eliminated them within the last five years. Of those, 68 percent have no media at all.

Low-income and non-suburban schools have a harder time maintaining media than wealthier and suburban schools do.


Conservatives have to love this. George Bush is the principle proponent of “you’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists,” the cornerstone of suppressing unpopular views, and, in turn, one cause of our young people’s ignorance about our most precious freedom.

Conservatives also hate free expression. If it were up to them, the First Amendment would be limited to freedom of (Christian) religion, and the rest would be thrown away (see, e.g. The USA Patriot Act). The Second Amendment, on the other hand, would be interpreted as broadly as possible.

Freedom of the press? Don’t need it. Corporations control the media now, so what’s the big deal if government controls it? Do we really need a fourth estate? More cynically, do we even have one now anyway?

The Bush administration proves nothing if it doesn’t prove that too many of us would chuck our rights and freedoms if given even the slightest provocation. I was listening to a radio show the other day, and a caller said, "most Americans would give up half of their freedoms and rights for lower taxes and no crime." I almost agreed. The only expception I see is the right to bear arms, that's really our most protected freedom.

Bush also proves that we can’t really focus on too many things at the same time. We’re so busy worried about condoms and tolerance education in our schools that we don’t have time to care that all of our patriotic leaders are trampling on our freedoms while American soldiers fight for the supposed freedoms (or is it liberty - I get them confused) of others. We can't even focus on the asbestos in the hallways, or the vast differences between the best and worse high schools in most states.

No sir, too busy hitting the First Amendment with a stick to notice that!

mardi, février 15, 2005

Okay, So You Can Fly...You're Still Absolutely Icky or Why I Want Peter Pan to Fly Out of My Home

On Sunday, during a meeting of the liberal elitist intelligentsia, a friend of mine marveled that she agreed with Pat Buchanon on a particular issue (how the war on terror creates terrorists instead of reducing terror).

I always marvel at the times when I find accord with my conservative friends. Not so long ago (using an error-filled subject line), I lampooned my right leaning buddies for giving Spongebob Squarepants (who, incidentally, LIVES in a pineapple under the sea) a hard time.

Now this.

The other day, in response to a request from my daughter (age 3), I went to our local video store, and selected “Tinkerbell” (as she calls it; it’s also known as “Peter Pan”). Specifically, I rented the 1953 version. Have you seen this thing? It’s horrible!

First of all, Tinkerbell, a cutie by any measurement, has this protracted scene where she expresses upset over the size of her hips (and they’re not that large my friends) – it’s the stuff that eating disorders are made of -great message for the little girls.

Second, the treatment of Native Americans in the film is deplorable. There’s no other word for it. The writers and producers talk about how Indians are savages (ironic when you consider the savagery and ignorance behind the charge).

I won’t even get into the roles for men (Peter Pan, etc.) vs. many of the roles for women (Wendy is an exception). The women largely exist to worship Peter. They do love to act like backbiting persons without character everytime he comes into a room (boys like to fly, they like to fight pirates, and the like to save girls; girls...well...girls like boys!). Perhaps I'm overly sensitive to it because I am raising a daughter (I still remember watching a football game with my little one in the room with me for the first time when the buxom cheerleaders came on - not a good feeling, my friends (boys = triumphant gladiators; girls = someones to cheer boys on)), but we have rented Peter Pan for the last time.

Yes, it is true that my outrage is directed toward wanting a more PC version of Peter Pan, but it is my own version of message control and censorship, so in that way, I feel accord with my pals who tried to bring the weight of the Bible down on Spongebob et al.

Proof once again that politics makes for strange bedfellows, and also proof that, at the extremes, there is a fair amount of agreement (even if for different reasons).

vendredi, février 11, 2005

First Rampant Corporate Ownership of Media and Now This

Distrust the media. We are not a democracy. George Bush is the worst President in the modern era (either because he so willing to act like a dictator (to lie, to use propaganda, to manipulate the media) or because he is just not good at covering up stuff that has been going on for years). Shame on the government for paying for "favorable coverage." Shame on any newspaper that retains a reporter who accepts money for objective (ha!) reporting. Shame on any reporter who accepts the money. And most of all, shame on all of us for being passive while our institutions are steadily degraded. I'm trying to decide if my distaste for this administration is purely related to the horrible things they do (NOTHING is sacred to them - nothing except money), or if it is related to how the things they do makes me feel about America and our passive, bordering on comatose, citizens.

jeudi, février 10, 2005

Worst. President. Ever.

A strong leader is one who does the right things; a strong manager is one who does things the right way.

Some Miscellaneous Book of Business Wisdom

Your President is neither.

The Staff at ILIM

North Korea announced that they have nuclear weapons. I think we should bomb Iran.

A light bulb moment for me happened at some point fairly early on during our war against Iraq. An Iraqi mall or a school or a pharmacy was bombed, and an American General, standing in front of a stage built by a Hollywood set designer (no kidding), said that it was likely an Iraqi missile.

Did you catch that?

Iraq, at that moment, went from a credible and imminent threat to the United States, to an organization with weaponry that is so inadequate and inaccurate and insufficient that if they tried to hit us, they’d just end up punching themselves.

If you are going to lie to us, please honor us with good lies.

I’ve been saying for a long time that we were fiddling while Rome burned, and now we know it for a fact. A mad man has nukes. Say, didn’t we have cameras on North Korean nuclear facilities at one point? Didn’t he make a big show of turning the cameras off? Didn’t he make a big show of turning them off right after we called them evil?

What was our response to them turning off the cameras? I don’t remember.

I think we were busy in Iraq (and to a lesser extent) in Afghanistan.

Poor management and poor leadership.

Yesterday I called George Bush a liar.

Today I am calling him monomaniacal – so focused on one thing that he’s put the entire world in jeopardy.

Now, North Korea is saying they won’t join talks around nuclear disarmament, and in spite of needing to call backyard bunker contractors, I have to pause for a moment to say this is exactly what we deserve.

When we went to war against Iraq, we effectively told the world that rules don’t matter. The whole Bush Presidency has, in effect, been about telling the world it doesn’t matter. The U.N., the Geneva Convention, the Kyoto protocols, for that matter history – they have all been brushed aside by our arrogant and ignorant “leadership.”

Now, we’re in a position to ask others to play by the rules, and we have no moral authority to compel them to do it. Secretary of State Rice sounds like a character from Oliver – asking for more oatmeal or whatever – please come to the negotiating table, North Korea, please.

mercredi, février 09, 2005

Please Read this Article

Can I get props for three posts in one day? Man, I'm a total rock star.

Please read this.


Print it and read it in your water closet (actually it's not that long).

If you can't read the whole thing, read the last section titled "Nuts."

Think about the free market and whether it really works. Was Adam Smith right? Do we live in a free-market economy? Should we?

Run Betty Run

This just in…

Mark Dayton, the Senior Senator from Minnesota, a liberal in the tradition of Wellstone, but (frankly) without his obvious passion or charisma, will not seek a second term.

Our take: it’s sad. He’s a good man and a fine Senator. But, it is probably for the best. I think he was vulnerable. For all of his wonderful policies and for all of his quiet leadership, he was not able to inspire his constituents. I like what he says, but in a world where how you say it matters (President Bush excluded), we need a charmer now more than ever.

Last fall, Dayton was the only Senator who closed his office in response to a specific terrorist threat directed toward the U.S. Senate. It was clear that Minnesota Republicans, who saw Dayton as vulnerable anyway, were going to make hey of that issue. So, you take a good man with a need for umpfh, make him easily characterized as part of the fringe (but not give him the unapologetic flair to shrug it off), add an easy red herring issue, and you’ve got trouble, right here in lake city.

But this is Minnesota, friends. We still don’t have a recent Republican elected to state-wide office with out some serious help. Our Governor (perhaps the worst Governor of all time – elevates self over state every time – is so busy running for party pretty boy/lap dog/President, he couldn’t give half a care about little old Minnesota) won without a plurality because he ran against two men who were basically Democrats, two men who split each other’s votes. Norm Coleman (perhaps the worst Senator from Minnesota ever – this is a guy who won’t talk to his constituents in public) won because Wellstone was assassinated…er…died tragically in a plane accident days before the election. Your President got his Texas hiney bruised and shiny when he came here asking for votes.

So, the political climate in Minnesota has not changed much. I think we are still a left leaning state, but just not as much as we used to be. We do need strong liberal/democratic/progressive candidates who can articulate a vision, inspire constituents, and (to reduce it to its basest level) win. Anyone with a liberal vision, who is articulate and passionate, with name recognition and passion – any such person – will beat a republican opponent.

Early on, the staff here at ILIM is backing this fine candidate.

False Witness

I have heard three justifications for why the President wants to overhaul Social Security.

First, I’ve heard that it is in line with his overall philosophy of self sufficiency. The government should not support the individual, the individual should support herself. The government should promote self-sufficiency and discourage reliance on handouts and government aid. Social Security, in the President’s eyes, is not self-sufficiency – it’s more like aid, even though most Americans pay into it.

Second, and here comes the really cynical justifications, the President wants to create a boon for Wall Street. All this money, privately invested, will mean more management fees for all those Republicans who are brokers and financial advisors and fund managers and the like – all his buddies from Harvard and Yale. The Street will make a killing on this deal. They will make money hand over fist, all the President has to do is convince the public that Social Security is in dire straits AND THAT HIS SOLUTION WILL FIX IT (lies both).

Third, I’ve heard that if the President gives people perceived control over their retirement security, they will feel like investors. People who feel like investors act like investors, and investors (for the most part – your humble author excepted) vote Republican. So, if we change social security, remove the safety net inherent in spreading the risk through the community (if we stop supporting each other and stand on our own), then we will feel more vested in the outcome, we will favor conservative policies that promote the growth of our retirement fund, and we will vote for Republicans at every level.

Many readers (as if I have many readers, ha!) will note that I’ve been a little dishonest in my justifications here. I gave very short shrift to the primary justification (I didn’t even count it as one of the three), that Social Security needs to be fixed and the President’s proposal will fix it.

Our President, our charismatic-Christian President (who lacks charisma), this man who talks to God on a regular basis. Our President is a big old liar. He’s lying and he can’t stop lying.

He knew all along that Iraq was not a credible or immediate threat to the U.S.

He knew all along that they had no Weapons of Mass Destruction.

He knew all along that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and therefore no link between Saddam and the terror attacks of 9/11.

He was planning to attack Iraq as he was running for office, and everyone who can read knows it.

He lied about that too.

And he’s lying about Social Security now. This is what the President knows (this is why he’s lying again – same song second term):

There is no imminent crisis facing Social Security.

The Social Security system is in its best fiscal shape since its inception.

Social Security can pay full benefits until 2052.

After 2052, Social Security can pay 80% of its benefits even if no changes are made.

Most importantly, please everyone note, that privatization of social security will not address its supposed problems (and the President knows this).

In fact, privatization will make it worse (diverting payroll taxes into privatized accounts leaves enormous shortfalls in the Social Security trust funds), and the President knows this.

Look at your President-

1st Term: Iraq is a credible and immediate threat to the U.S.
2nd Term: Social Security is in crisis.

1st Term: Preemptive military action is the only answer.
2nd Term: Privatization is the only answer.

1st Term: War for big oil (rich get richer).
2nd Term: Privatization proposed for the Street (rich get richer).

1st Term: No WMD, no link to Al Qaeda, no credible threat, but Saddam bad man.
2nd Term: Social Security not in crisis, but privatization good anyway.

1st Term: Preemptive strike has led to thousands of casualties (things are worse)
2nd Term: Privatization will increase number of poor elderly (things are worse)

1st Term: The President lied with no consequences.
2nd Term: The President is lying…

I have a theory. Lying is like any other addiction. Once you start, it is hard to stop. This is especially true if you never reach rock bottom (and the President hasn’t – in fact, he gets positive reinforcement for his lies – Ten Commandments – eh!). You drink and nothing happens; you keep drinking. You lie and nothing happens; you keep lying.

So, what should we do to ensure Social Security viability past 2052?

Step one: Don’t panic.

Step two: Don’t believe the hype (a.k.a. the lies).

Step three: Finally look at the real justifications for our Liar’s actions; don’t let him fool us twice.

Step four: Increase the amount of wages that can be taxed for Social Security beyond the current $90,000 limit to $140,000.

Step five: Increase the age at which one becomes eligible for Social Security to be more in line with current life expectancy data. We’re paying longer because folks are living longer.

Step six: Consider investments outside of the Treasury Bonds (safest investment in the world), but don’t get carried away. Emphasis on consider.

Step seven: Hold the liar accountable for lying; stop the liar from lying; don't lie still while the liar lies. Wash the liar's lying mouth out with lye based soap.

Our Social Security system guarantees a decent, monthly benefit to all, one that increases every year with inflation, no matter how long you live, where you worked, how much you made, or how savvy an investor you are.

The stock market offers no such guarantees. Believe me when I tell you that it is possible (in fact easy) to lose money in the market.

The President seeks to move away from a system that is based in a philosophy we use all the time - spreading the risk (think of insurance, think of FEMA, etc.). Toward one where individuals rise or fall based on their own performance or guile. If you are good, then your retirement will be good. If you are not, well then…well…well?

Social Security has kept 90% of retired Americans out of poverty. It is one of the most successful government programs ever. It's operating expenses are 1% of its overall budget. Why change it?

Ask yourself why.

It’s not broken, and even if it was, the proposed fix would not fix it. The proposed fixer knows this.

Ask yourself why. I can think of three possible reasons.

Ask yourself why.

mardi, février 08, 2005

Kantsas All Just Get Along?

I don’t want my kids learning evolution. I believe in Christianity, and like the man before me said, God created heaven and earth.

Paraphrased from a woman speaking before the Kansas Board of Education

Like a tiny ripple in a tiny lake, tiny too is the human mind. The half wise are everywhere…

Paraphrased from a book of Viking Wisdom

On my way to work this morning, listening to NPR, reports out of Kansas that anti-evolution forces are at it again.


I will never live in Kansas again. Okay, I might live in Lawrence, but only if I could get the New York Times everyday for free and mid-court, row ten season tickets to Jayhawk basketball.

In an effort to poke a tiny whole in the entire dumb enterprise, in an effort to let some small, infinitesimally small bit of light in, let me say that it seems that our creationist friends are getting a bit more creative. Now, there is conversation around “Intelligent Design.”

Here’s my thing. We know that humans and other creatures have evolved over time. There is no credible argument to be made against the mountain of evidence to show that creatures change over time. There is ample, ample, ample tons of evidence that the earth is quite old and that creatures have been here for quite some time. No logical or reasonable person could dispute this evidence.

I also find no basis in science to dispute the presence of a God or other supernatural force that inspired or directed creation or our existence. So, as I see it, there may be intelligence behind our universe. I don’t really know.

Is this too simple? Is it so easy that people miss it?

There are people in the world who see the Bible as absolute truth.
There are people in the world who see the Koran/Qu'ran as absolute truth.
There are people in the world who see the Torah (the five books of Moses) and the Talmud as absolute truth.
There are people in the world who see Moby Dick as absolute truth.

Behind most religions are zealots who think that only they are right. I don’t know one way or another. However, I do know that the public schools should not teach Christian theory.

I would teach science in the same way that I would teach comparative religion. I would explain creation in exactly that way. Creation is a fabulous mystery. Some argue that it all started with a big bang and single cells that evolved over time into dinosaurs and people and all the flora and fauna in our world. Christians and others believe that the world was created by God and that there is intelligence behind the design of our world. Scientists and philosophers are exploring both theories.

If we can’t do that, let’s just skip creation and start with cellular biology. If that’s too controversial, just start with the life cycle of the sheep. Kids in Kansas can just live a dark and dumb existence. Hey, it’s one state we won’t have to compete against for college admissions.

As an alternative, we could just squash all other religions and become a Christian theology. In our public schools and all public institutions, we could advance Christianity (and only Christianity – it’s the one truth, right? We can argue later if it should be Baptist Christianty, LDS Christianity, the Seventh Day Adventist school, Methodist Christianity, Catholic Christianity or Christianity Christianity). Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, the Agnostic, Unitarian Universalist, the uncertain and Quakers (oh, especially those darn Quakers) can all just go to hell (they will anyway, right?). In lieu of science or math or history, we can just teach the Bible, everything else is just another form of untruth.

Folks, there are a lot of religions in the world (one of my favorite sites). All of them are practiced in the United States. To have faith is to believe, and to believe is to feel you are right. To feel that you are right is, unfortunately but necessarily, to feel that others are wrong. All of that is fine, but none of that justifies the lack of respect behind suppression, however inadvertent, of other philosophies and beliefs. The fact that one is a Christian, does not confer a right, divine or otherwise, to inject their beliefs into the lives of others.

Yes, I understand that Christians argue that teaching evolution is suppressing their belief, but in our non-theocratic system, the right to espouse religion exists outside of our public institutions. Teach your own kids creationism, okay? Send them to Christian schools. Homeschool if you must, but don’t sell religious doctrine from one particular discipline as the only truth - so absolute that it must always prevail.

lundi, février 07, 2005

The Foxification of Football, Our Potential Ruination

The only way to make democracy real is to begin a process of constant questioning, permanent provocation, and continuous public conversation between citizens and the State.

Arundhati Roy “An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire” (everyone in America should read this book).

I feel sick.

On Friday, Mrs. Duf and I bought a new television. By Sunday, I was thinking of throwing all of our televisions out of the house. It all goes like this:

The Superbowl may have outlived its usefulness.

The Superbowl should not be broadcast on Fox.

No sporting event should be broadcast on Fox.

We should get rid of Fox.

Let me start by saying great camera work, adequate commentary, and great production of the game itself, but the rest was beyond ridiculous.

Did anyone see the pregame festivities? It was patriotism, nationalism, jingoism and chauvinism all wrapped up in one. I know we are at war. I too see a need to honor our men and women in uniform. But somehow, within the context of the Superbowl (a uniquely American event) and all its hype and glory, it all seems too easily overdone. Fox overdid it.

To me, these feelings are difficult to hold or understand or express. I love America. I happen to think (perhaps condescendingly) that I love America more than the average person. I feel this way because my love for America is very complex and it exists in spite of all her faults. I take the time to know that she has faults. I don’t think we are perfect, in fact, I think we are (now more than ever) quite far from perfect, but in spite of that, I love this country. We are not a democracy (please don’t tell me we are, we’re not), we do some amazingly cruel things (our sins are sins of commission and sins of omission), we lack humility, we’re overly proud, and we are, as a people, amazingly ignorant. For example, we are fond of saying that we are the best country in the world, but our ability to compare ourselves to others is completely hampered by our total collective ignorance about how the rest of the world lives or governs. Sure, we’re number one, unless you count infant mortality rate, percentage of population in prison, K-12 education quality, overall health, healthcare, violence, and the environment (air quality, water quality, pollution, etc.), percentage of people who vote, percentage of people who are disenfranchised…

Here’re some other things. I don’t automatically respect the President, but I do automatically respect the Presidency. I don’t think that because we are in it, a war is just or necessary or appropriate. I consider support for the troops as wanting them to only be in harm’s way when there is no recourse, to have adequate salaries when they are in combat, adequate health care for their families, and excellent health and education benefits when they return. I do not consider it support to send them overseas, inadequately armed or armored, to serve corporate interests. I’m sorry I don’t. And yes, I’m a little cranky today.

I do not regard this war as just or necessary, and I think we are wrong to be there – I think we were lied to, and I think we are too easily lied to. In spite of what Anheuser Busch wants me to do, I will not cheer our troops at airports or pretend that are liberating anyone or that everything they do is good. I will not vote against a tax hike that will improve their benefits and put a sticker on my car as some kind of symbolic gesture.. I will, however, vote for leaders who will raise combat pay, bring home those who have been there too long, and further a return of the GI Bill. I will vote for anyone, of any party, with the courage to call this war what it is: a preemptive strike based on lies told by a fool. That’s how I’ll do my support, thanks. I love our soldiers enough to expect more from our Commander in Chief, and I love them enough to give their actions scrutiny when they deserve it.

But we are easily lied to, and part of the reason for that is the machine itself. We get all these ridiculous images on television. Love your country because of the flag, love your troops because (just like your sports teams) they are the home team. America right or wrong. America love it or leave it. I can’t find the Persian Gulf or even the Middle East on a map, but I want to go over there to Iraq and kick Usama’s butt (yes I know I spelled Osama wrong, and yes, I know he is not in Iraq). The same drive that makes us love beer and cheerleaders and a good running play or a hard tackle can be the same drive that makes us love our military and our Presidents and our flag, and our whole flawless country.

Fox is horrible. Fox is really, really horrible. Fox will ruin America if we let it. Be very, very afraid of Fox. I’m not kidding, be very, very afraid. Fox is worse than porn. Fox wants you to sit back for your scrubbing and to sit there until you are as cured as Alex. Fox spins its logo so that it won’t burn in your screen. The entire programming staff at Fox hates you. They think you are ridiculously stupid. They find it easy to sell you anything even lies, especially lies. They expect you to make it easy and you do.

Fox has an amazing ability to ruin everything it touches. First, the World Series is a mere backdrop for all of its crappy shows (“look, the stars of ‘That 70’s show’ are in left field!”, and now the Superbowl (just when you think it couldn’t get worse) becomes a propaganda film, the likes of which we have not seen since Leni Riefenstahl (here are the flags, here are the planes, here are the well scrubbed shiny children, here is the tall proud soldier, here is the former President, here is a country music star, here is the twilight sky, here is a flawless place, here are your songs, here is the camera angle to play it all up, here is the future Superbowl hero (we just know it), here is a gladiator singing, here is perfection, don’t step out of line, soldier. Here it is in High Definition. Have you got your new TV yet, bud? Don’t ask any questions, just line up with this vision).

Expect more for yourself. Expect more from television. Don’t sit back and be ruined. Don’t be passive, and don’t be duped. Recognize propaganda when you see it. Rebel against it. Throw your television out the window if you have to. But most of all begin your process of “constant questioning, permanent provocation, and continuous public conversation.”

Love your country if that’s what you conclude, but love it for the right reasons.