Archive for the ‘Politics and culture’ Category

The United States of Torture

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

From today’s Jon Carroll column:

I have heard the arguments in favor of increased prisoner abuse. This is a new kind of war with an enemy that kills civilians without mercy. This enemy has bombed the World Trade Center; it bombed nightclubs in Indonesia when the discos were crowded; it bombed subways in London at rush hour. It has bombed busy intersections and markets and even mosques all over Iraq. Its own record of prisoner abuse is horrible; it even kills its own people if they fail some ethnic or religious litmus test.

This week’s suicide at Guantanamo has given the Bush barbarians another opportunity to display their pathological personalities, calling it “a good PR move” and an act of “asymmetrical warfare.” The collective narcissism, the sociopathic self-interest, and sheer inhumanity of these bastards becomes more manifest every day. Not only are they incapable of admitting error, they are incapable of recognizing the ugliness and immorality of their souls.
A** C****** and Michael Savage are not as extreme as we’d like to believe; I fear they are expressing the true souls of the administration. I feel increasingly desperate for a way to make the sleeping middle of America awaken to the viciousness of the leaders they elected. If we don’t turn this around soon, it will be too late.
More from Jon Carroll:

I do not think we should be fighting the war in Iraq; I’m not sure there would even be a war if we had not declared it; still, I loathe the tactics of the militant extremists. I loathe the tactics of the militant extremists so much I want to make sure my side, the one supported by my money and representing my country, does not fall into the same pit of barbarism.

Torture — and let’s call it by its right name, because that’s what the Defense Department wants: the freedom to torture — does not just harm the tortured; it injures the torturer as well. If you listen to interviews with the men and women who were at Abu Ghraib, they were stunned by what they had done. They felt at though they had been reduced to beasts.

Debra J. Saunders, in today’s Chronicle, parses carefully the words of Al Gore and attacks his character in an attempt to sidestep the overwhelmingly persuasive facts adduced in An Inconvenient Truth:

Gore was wrong in 1992 when he wrote that 98 percent of scientists agreed with him on global warming….

Now he is wrong when he argues in his movie that there is a complete consensus on global warming today. As proof Gore cites a 2004 study that looked at 928 climate abstracts and found none that refuted global-warming dogma. That says more about the researcher than the scientific community.

There are a number of well-known scientists who don’t believe that global warming is human-induced, or who believe that if it is, it is not catastrophic.

How has the compassionate, liberal America I grew up in become such a vile, destructive (and ultimately self-immolating) hell? How is it possible for so many to remain willfully ignorant of reality and actively hostile to humanity?
Is there a way out of this lethal spiral?
Back to Jon Carroll:

Restraint and generosity do not seem to be hallmarks of this administration. Already, after unrestrained bombing in the early days of the war in Afghanistan, we were pulling troops out and reneging on our promises to rebuild Afghanistan so it no longer has to rely on the opium trade. We’ve decided, heck, let ’em grow it; we’ll handle the problem later when the refined product gets to our borders. Yeah, that’s worked.

Oh, wait, there’s another difference between then and now. During World War II, war profiteers were frowned on. It was not considered cool to make billions off misery and death. Today, war profiteers run the country. One might make the case that this administration is so busy figuring out how to reward its friends and campaign contributors with pieces of the war pie, it hasn’t spent all that much time coming up with innovative plans for fighting a war of attrition in a desert half a world away.

It seems pretty obvious to me that war profiteering is the number one motivation here. It is not a coincidence that the oil industry and Halliburton are the principal beneficiaries of this administration’s policies.
From the LA Times:

A rule designed by the Environmental Protection Agency to keep groundwater clean near oil drilling sites and other construction zones was loosened after White House officials rejected it amid complaints by energy companies that it was too restrictive and after a well-connected Texas oil executive appealed to White House senior advisor Karl Rove….

In 2002, a Texas oilman and longtime Republican activist, Ernest Angelo, wrote a letter to Rove complaining that an early version of the rule was causing many in the oil industry to “openly express doubt as to the merit of electing Republicans when we wind up with this type of stupidity.”

“Supidity” = “affecting my profits.” Fuck everyone else. Fuck the planet. GIMME!!!!!!

“Two Cents” re the NSA

Sunday, May 21st, 2006

I’m in the SF Chronicle’s “Two Cents” reader-response column again today.
The question was, “Ever say anything on the phone you don’t want the NSA to hear?”
My favorite answer was from Jo-Anna Pippen:

I’m sure in the last four years I’ve said: “Michael Moore, shotgun, Internet, ACLU, Berkeley, indicted, Hillary, drugs, cell, data, gay marriage, SpongeBob, peace, France, oligarchy, bomb, cell, Cheney, contraception, AT&T, Democrat, 29 percent, White House, turd blossom, tequila, Jeb, firewall, NBC and New York Times.” I’m probably on a watch list already.

Read ’em all.

Happy birthday, Mr. Gravy

Saturday, May 20th, 2006

Tonight is Wavy Gravy’s birthday party at the Berkeley Community Theater, as always a benefit for SEVA.
C.W. Nevius writes about Wavy in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

Compassion comes easy to this clown

A few excerpts:

….this has been a remarkable run, from making announcements atop the stage at Woodstock to having Ben & Jerry’s name a flavor of ice cream after him.

It was tasty, too.

With no visible means of support to speak of — Gravy calls himself “an activist, clown and former frozen dessert” — he’s not only lived a life in full, but filled it with an extraordinary zest and good deeds.


And then there’s the time he was poetry director at the Gaslight in Greenwich Village.

“I convinced the owner to bring on a kid named Bob Dylan.”

Dylan, by the way, wrote “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” on Gravy’s typewriter. So says Gravy, who says Salvador Dali stopped by and “made a salad.”

Is it any wonder that documentarian Michelle Esrick is on the Gravy train? Her film, “Saint Misbehavin': The Life and Time of Wavy Gravy,” is due in 2007. Good luck. Editing his life into feature-film length won’t be easy….

I’ve had many opportunities to hang out with Wavy over the years – I’ve played festivals where he emceed, for example – and I’ve produced radio announcements for his various events over the years. I refer to him as a “regional saint,” for some reason. He’s a great character, and he’s done a hell of a lot of good in the world.
Happy birthday, other boss. I hope you have a great party tonight.

Pombo Must Go!

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

This is from my friend and colleague Paul Stubblebine:
Please join

pianist Pete Sears (Hot Tuna, Starship, Flying Other Brothers, etc.)

singer Spencer Day (Decca recording artist)

Paul Stubblebine (Coast Recorders)

for an opportunity to meet and mingle with Steve Thomas, candidate for Congress in the 11th Congressional District.

This district is important to all of us, whether we live and vote in that district or not. It is currently represented by Richard Pombo, who is (in my opinion) the posterboy for corruption in Congress, and the leader of the charge to remove all environmental regulation, among other troglodyte positions.

Friends, we have an opportunity to replace Pombo with someone we’ll actually enjoy supporting. No need to settle for a Hold-Your-Nose-and-Vote-For-A-Democratic nominee, no need to settle for a Demopublican nominee… there’s a genuine, progressive, back-to-the-future New Deal Democrat running.

Check Steve Thomas’ website to get a taste of what he’s about. Then come on down to Coast Recorders, San Francisco’s historic recording studio, on Saturday May 20th and meet him! Drop by any time between 4 and 7 PM. We’ll have the welcome mat out, and Steve will be happy to talk to you about his vision for a better future. Bring your checkbook – you just may want to help his campaign after you hear him speak. And at the very least, you’ll be able to say, “I knew Steve Thomas before he was co-opted.”

Coast Recorders
1340 Mission Street, between 9th and 10th, San Francisco
Plenty of parking, either on the street or in the lot behind our building, accessible from either 9th or 10th Street.

Godsmack frontman smacked by Arthur

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

Check out this transcript of a phone interview between Godsmack frontman Sully Erna and Arthur magazine editor Jay Babcock!
I don’t know anything about Godsmack, but I gather they sell a ton of records and they seem to have licensed a couple of their songs to the US Army for recruiting commercials.
Babcock used a routine phone interview to confront Erna with some uncomfortable truths about the world, and Erna seemed unhappy about being called to account.
An excerpt:

JAY: …I have a quote from you here: “We’ve always been supportive of our country and our president, whereas a lot of people I thought” — and you said this in 2003, to MTV News, you said — “a lot of people I thought lashed out pretty quickly at what we did and I thought the government did everything pretty cleanly and publicly as possible.”


JAY: Well, what are you talking about?

SULLY: That was my opinion at the time. The whole war thing, and trying to keep us up to date like‰ÛS If you remember, back in other wars, we didn’t have the opportunity to follow it through the media, and CNN, and the news‰ÛÓlive updates and that kind of thing. And I thought that for the most part you know we were allowed to follow it as best we could through the media sources that were feeding us information.

JAY: [incredulous] You didn’t think the media was being controlled by the military?

SULLY: Well, it could be. I don’t know.

JAY: You didn’t look into it?

SULLY: Listen. Are you a fucking government expert?

JAY: I’m not telling people to go join the military and then not knowing what the military is doing.

SULLY: I don’t tell people to go join the military!!

JAY: You don’t think using your songs — the POWER of your music, which you were talking about — has an effect on the people that hear it when it goes with the visuals that the best P.R. people in the world use?

SULLY: Oh man, are you like one of those guys that agrees with some kid that fuckin’ tied a noose around his neck because Judas Priest lyrics told him to?

JAY: You were telling me how powerful your music was, and what age the people are that listen to it, and you must have thought, “Well the Navy sure thought it was useful,” so you tell me.

SULLY: Hey, listen. The Navy thought‰ÛS. It’s the same reason why wrestlers work out to the music, and extreme motorcross riders listen to the music and do what they do. It’s ENERGETIC music. It’s very ATHLETIC. People feel that they get an adrenaline rush out of it or whatever, so, it goes with whatever’s an extreme situation. But I doubt very seriously that a kid is going to join the Marines or the US Navy because he heard Godsmack as the underlying bed music in the commercial. They’re gonna go and join the Navy because they want to jump out of helicopters and fuckin’ shoot people! Or protect the country or whatever it is, and look at the cool infra-red goggles.

JAY: You said to MTV, “We’re not a very political band but we’re supportive of the U.S. military and how they approach things.”

In his endnote, Babcock supplies footnotes to support the things he says to Erna in the interview – Erna’s own words and other facts. Babcock concludes:

I suppose to a degree it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, but‰ÛS lives are on the line. People need to be held accountable. I’ve been trying to interview this band since 2003. I finally got my chance. It’s stimulated a ton of discussion — check out’s various threads, or the number of blogs and rock news sites that are now picking this up, or the comments below, or the endless barrage of juvenile hatemail we’ve been receiving ‰ÛÓ and it’s embarassed the band into silence on the issue, which is better than the jingoism they’d been spouting previously.

Finally: Please keep in mind that Sully is a MILLIONAIRE living in a comfortable life. His band is using their music to help recruit poor, under-educated, foolish, impressionable kids into the military at a time of worthless, pointless war, the consequences of which we — all of us — will be feeling for the rest of our lives. If he doesn’t care to discuss this ‰ÛÓ all of this ‰ÛÓ he shouldn’t do interviews‰ÛS especially with anti-war publications.

The whole transcript and supprting documentation are well worth a read. Thanks to Barry Smolin at KPFK for directing my attention to this story.

The Projection Party, again

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

Letter I sent to the San Francisco Chronicle:
Editor –
Regarding this letter in the 5/8 edition:

Special privilege?

Editor — Congress must immediately conduct a full investigation regarding Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s 2:30 a.m. automobile accident in the Capitol Thursday morning (“Rep. Kennedy denies he was drinking before crash,” May 5)! His driver’s license should be permanently revoked and he must pay fines and do community service. Lastly, he must step down immediately!

Oh wait, he’s not a Republican. Never mind.

Menlo Park

I gather Lisa Cohen is a member in good standing of the Projection Party. How else to explain her remark?
Let’s not forget that it was the Republicans in Congress who ground the government to a halt a few years back, bleating about “the rule of law” all the while, to nail Bill Clinton to the wall over private behavior that caused no harm and had nothing whatsoever to do with his performance on the job.

We still have a Republican-controlled Congress, and that Congress can’t be bothered to dig into any of the countless crimes against “the rule of law” and common decency itself. Let’s start with the lies that led us to war in Iraq and work our way down the docket, past domestic spying, “signing statements,” the FEMA/Katrina debacle, and so on. Maybe eventually we’ll work our way down to Duke Cunningham’s hookers.

David Gans
UPDATE: The Chronicle published a response from Tom Wood today. An excerpt:

2. Patrick Kennedy recognized there was a problem, admitted his mistakes and took actions to rectify the situation; whereas, Republicans deny problems exists and shirk responsibility up to the moment they’re convicted.

His other points are good, too.

Meme of the month

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

I spotted this in a coffee store here in Oakland, where family values actually have something to do with human values:

“Was it Funny?” is irrelevant

Thursday, May 4th, 2006

My friend Eric Rawlins, quoted here with his permission:

Although I’m not surprised that the right would claim it was “not funny” — they can hardly argue with Colbert’s suggestions on their merit — whether what he did was funny strikes me as completely irrelevant. It’s as if Welch’s “have you no shame” speech had been followed by an extensive media debate on whether his tie was too loud.

Jon Bell’s screen shots of the crowd reaction.

Even still more on the Colbert Thing

Thursday, May 4th, 2006

Email I sent to Richard Cohen of the Washington Post just now:

Sorry, man, but you’re full of shit on this one.

The only other time we know of when Bush had a chance to hear dissenting views was when he invited the former secretaries of state etc. for a visit. He gave ’em the bum’s rush.

You say Colbert is “representative of what too often passes for political courage, not to mention wit, in this country.” I’d say not often enough.

What have you done lately to try to get us out of the mess we’re in thanks to Bush and the fools who let him come to power?

Still more on the Colbert thing

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

James Poniewozik in Time:

Colbert wasn’t playing to the room, I suspect, but to the wide audience of people who would later watch on the Internet. If anything, he was playing against the room – part of the frisson of his performance was the discomfort he generated in the audience, akin to the cringe humor of The Ali G Show. (Cringe humor, too, is something probably lost on much of the Washington crowd at the dinner, as their pop-culture tastes tend to be on the square side.) To the audience that would watch Colbert on Comedy Central, the pained, uncomfortable, perhaps-a-little-scared-to-laugh reaction shots were not signs of failure. They were the money shots. They were the whole point.