Friday, April 27, 2007

My religion is really boring, graphics-wise

This is the officially government-sanctioned symbol of christianity for soldiers and other government officials interned in official government cemetaries.

Recently there's been a bit of a hub-bub about such things because the Wiccan "pentacle" was just accepted as a legitimate religious symbol by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But I don't see what all the rhubarb is about, because that's one of the more boring symbols accepted, beside the plain oo' cross, that is.

For example, there's this symbol, of the church of Sufism Reoriented, which is apparently an airline-based riligion:

But really, no one can top the atheists. Those tricky, godless bastards have what can only be described as a really bad-ass religious (or lack of religious, as the case may be) symbol:

I'm guessing it's to reflect a belief in the rationality of science as opposed to the "irrationality" of organized religion (as if not beliving in something no one can prove or disprove is anymore logical than believing in something no one can prove or disprove...but that's another post). But a more sinister intepretation is that they're planning to blow up the world. Because as we all know, you just can't trust an atheist.

Incidentally , there are no images for the Christian Scientists and Muslims because of "copyright" reasons. I have no idea how to even joke about that one...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The fight back continues

It's long been noted by many people that the biggest reason for the end of the Vietnam war was not social pressure or political logic, but actually soldier dissent within the military, both in the form of refusing to fight and in organizing political movements within the military (for an excellent political doc on the subject, check out 2006's Sir, No Sir).

There has been a fairly good lit on the left produced about the Winter Soldier movement, the coffee house movement, the various resistance publications produced by soldiers, and the myriad other techniques utilized to bring down the war from the inside.

What is heartening is that it's happening again. Recently, Jessica Lynch, the young private form West Virginia who went down in a blaze of glory and was rescued by heroic soldiers bursting into an Iraqi prison camp to free her. Now, of course, those amongst us with critical thinking skills tended to believe the eye-witness accounts that her convoy was hit by a missile and she didn't fire a single shot. Then, instead of being burst out of a prison camp, she was instead simply retrieved from a hospital, where doctors had been working on her injuries and notified American officials that they could come get her and take her home.

But finally, private Lynch has spoken out herself, calling for an end to the prefabricated lies being told about her and many other soldiers. Joined by the family of Pat Tillman, the ex-football star who turned down a lucrative contract to join the Army post-9/11 and was killed by friendly fire but a similar heroics story was spun about him, Lynch has joined a congressional investigation into the cover ups.

I'd like to say this is the beginning of the end for the war, but we all know better than that. But at least it's a good sign...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A hideously unfortunate photograph

University mascots don't exactly translate well to tragedy. It seems like there's a million snarky and/or humorous comments one could make on this photo, but largely I think it's enough to say that someone at the Star Tribune probably got into a good deal of trouble for running this pic.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Today, we are all sure as fuck not Iraqis

33 people dead in a single day?

Sounds like a nice vacation if you live in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Rawanda...

Blah, blah, blah media, blah, blah, blah mental illness, blah, blah, blah today's kids, blah, blah, blah punishment, blah, blah, blah changes, blah, blah, blah

If people got half this upset every time we cluster bombed children...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Well, we sure as hell know what isn't the problem...

By now, you're all probably aware of the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus, in which by last count 22 people have died, making it the worst school shooting episode ever. Out of respect for those involved, I'll resist making a "Worst. Episode. Ever." joke.

But even more disturbing than the fact that a reference to Comic Book Guy is what I come up with in the face of tragedy, is that in response to the shootings, Bush has reaffirmed the right to bear arms.

Now, it seems to me that without the two legally-purchased 9mm guns the shooter was carrying, it would've been far harder to kill these 22 people. It would then seem to logically follow that an easy and efficient way to prevent future shootings would be to limit the general public's access to handguns.

But then again, that would violate the constitution. But not in the good way, like torturing people and not following a multitude of international laws that we've signed and ratified is violating the consitution, but in the bad way, like limiting the ability of crazy-ass idiots to buy all the handguns they want and then go about killing people for no reason would be.

Friday, April 13, 2007

More on Kurt

Because I'm sure no one actually reads the comments section on this blog, I feel the need to pass along some great info from the birdseed lawyer, which he actually got from the Wade Blogs, possibly one of the best blog titles I've e'er come across.

Turns out Kurt Vonnegut was a staff writer at Sports Illustrated for a short period before the magazine was actually published. According to Vonnegut, the publishing company had hired such bad sports writers for the magazine that they had to hire good writers who really didn't care about sports at all. Kurt was of the second batch.

His short tenure at the magazine came to an end when he was assigned to write a story about a race horse that had jumped the rail and terrorized the infield at a local track. Apparentlty, he simply stared at his desk for hours before finally departing the building without a word. Inside his deserted typewriter was this:

"The horse jumped over the fucking fence."

Would you expect anything less from the man? I think that sentence, in that context, with all of its glorious sardonic contempt for the issues that distract our citizenry and its existential understanding of the absurdity of life defines both his career and who he was as a person better than anything else ever could.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The only proof he needed for the existance of god was music

Kurt Vonnegut died today.

This is an especially mournful day for me, as he was really the only fiction writer I liked and respected. Not that I don't like fiction or anything like that, I just don't get books. Well, I mean I know how to read and all that, I just don't know how to find new books. With music, I know enough that I pick an album and see if there's anyone on it I know, or if it's a good label, or if I've read a review, etc. But I'm just not book literate in that way, so Kurt was pretty much the only fiction writer I'd pick up on regular occasion.

He was also a humble Midwestern boy with a good deal of Iowa connections, so I always felt a bit more of a connection to him that most other "populist" writers who usually don't know anything at all about actual working people.

But mostly I just loved the fact that he could tell a good story, but also didn't dick around with useless crap. He put it out there and really seemed to not really care what people thought. For instance, in reflecting on his political beliefs, he wrote:

"At the time I was working in public relations for GE. At the same time, another GE employee, Ronald Regan, was going around to various Chambers of Commerce preaching the evils of Socialism. I never actually met him, so to this day I remain a Socialist."

But really my favorite quote gets more the heart of who Kurt was both as a human and a writer:

"Still and all, why bother? Heres my answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don't care about them. You are not alone' "

Goodbye Kurt, you will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Happy Incliment Weather!

April showers bring may flowers...

May flowers bring pilgrims...

And pilgrims bring genocide.

Happy Spring!

World War II and war resistance

Sometimes in graduate study, it feels as if what you're reading has little to no application to the outside world, which is understandable in something like theoretical physics, but a bit more off-putting when you're in sociology. But in reading Jeffry A. Frienden's tome "Global Capitalism" (whic is, ironically, for a history course, not a soc course) I finally again feel like I'm studying somehting that I can sue in my day to day interaction, which helps me feel just a little bit less like I'm wasting my life.

Specifically, Frieden's very interesting (and thorough) treatment of the causes of Fascism in Europe is exactly the kind of intellectual ammunition a young radical loves. In doing anti-war work, people often like to set up the most ridiculous examples, playing what W likes to call "the gotcha game." In much the way proponents of the death penalty always insist that I'd see things differently if my 7 year old daughter were raped and murdered (and they're rarely swayed by the fact that I don't have a 7 year old daughter, so I'm not super concerned what happens to her), the pro-war fokls always like to ask me what I would have done about Hitler.

And my answer has always been that if I had the power to do anything, I wouldn't have started WWII in the first place, in which case we would have had no Hitler. Now, I know it's still probably not going to sway anybody, but Frieden painstakingly points out that the only common factor among autarkic authoritarian governments between the wars was that they were all debtor nations, and the authoritarian parties that rose to power used the resentment caused by these impossible debts to feul their hate campaigns.

Who was behind these unreasonable debts? Well, theoretically it was France and Brittain, but in truth, they were only collecting the debts to pass them along to the Americans who had financed the war. Interestingly, even the nations most affected by WWI in Europe found the repayment plans unreasonable very quickly, but they were not allowed to forgive the debts they were owed because the American government refused to listen to reason and insisted that all debts be paid in full.

The debts owed led to massive inflation (in Germany, prices rose one trillion times their pre-war levels because of the debt payments) and the fascists used this as their main argument in nationalistic fascism.

So, unfortunately, Mussolini, Hitler, and Friends, all can trace their rise to power back to the policies of the good ol' U.S. of A.

So I'd like to point out that maybe we could apply this lesson to certain current global conflicts to prevent such things form happening again, but then again, I guess I'm the kind of guy who would sit by idly while my theoretical 7 year old daughter was murdered, so I guess I don't know too much.

Friday, April 06, 2007

And the War on Drugs rolls on...

I'm sure that anyone taking the time to read this blog is against the war on drugs, probably ardently so. I've certainly been strongly against as long as I can pretty much remember knowing about it, and there's basically nothing that could change my mind on the subject. So it's basically just beating a dead horse to continue talking about it, but it still exists, so we should all continue pointing out how fundamentally corrupt it is.

As a recent ACLU report points out, the War on Drugs is only getting worse as time goes on. The numbers are simply staggering: For instance, African Americans make up 15 percent of drug users, but account for 37 percent of those arrested on drug charges, 59 percent of those convicted, and 74 percent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.

This means that black folk are nearly 6 times as likely to be sentenced to prison for the same offense as are white folks. And of course, this says nothing of the class nature inherent in the system, but even the ACLU isn't about to get that radical. It speaks very well to what Jeffery Reiman writes about the way in which every step in the criminal justice system is designed to weed out white and upper class offenders and punish the poor and those of color, hence why the percentage of African Americans in the system increases so dramatically at each step.

But it gets even worse. America has 260,000 people in state prisons on nonviolent drug charges; 183,200 (more than 70 percent) are black or Latino.

Again, it seems like a moot point to bring this up amongst readers who I can only assume are already pretty progressive, but I'm reminded of what my old boss David Goodson used to say about the racial nature of the drug war. He always pointed out that you could drive 15 minutes to one side of the college town we lived in where the predominantly (by which I mean about 97%) white university was located and you could find pretty much any drug you wanted with little effort. But the cops weren't always stopping people and doing random searches on campus. Instead, they were all focused on the side of town where he and the vast majority of black folk in the area lived.

So of course, while David had been incarcerated for drug use in the past, all of my white activist friends who were constantly neck-deep in drugs would never see in the inside of a prison, even (as was the case) when they were arrested. But of course we all know that it is actually affirmative action policies that assist African Americans in getting into college that are racist, not a billion-dollar century-long program designed specifically to railroad minorities into prison for victim-less crimes.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Everything is right with the world...

Just got back from a much-needed weekend off, and I can happily report that all is still well in Iowa. The beer is still cheap, the old friends are still good people, and the general public is still painfully, painfully ignorant.

But more importantly, the Twins won their home opener last night. Santana hit a little bump, but nothing the boys couldn't pull him out of. The reigning AL MVP seemed to be still making his case, apparently unaware that he was already given the award. And Joe got a hit. And Torii got a homer. And Nathan did what Nathan always does.

Now, granted, it was one game. And it was against the Orioles. And of our remaining four pitches, one has barely any experience, one has proved he's lost it, and everyone though the other two were dead before the Twins signed them for the year. But I still see this as a good year for the local boys, and I'm going to go ahead and call at least a Wild Card birth for the Twinkies this year. Though this ain't their year, the younger guys can get another year of big-league experience, and if we can get Liriano back next year and bring up some of the big bats that are causing trouble for opposing pitchers in the minors, next year the Twins will be one of the most feared teams in the game.

Oh, and in the meantime, if you're like me and disappointed at bat girl's extended maternity leave, check out the less-charming, but consistent, pulling a Blyleven for your snarky, internet-based Twins commentary.