Arranology

Archive for March 2004

Bush/Cheney to Testify in Tandem

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The Miami Herald printed the text of a letter from Alberto Gonzales to the 9/11 Commission setting out the ground rules for Condi’s appearance under oath. It’s a remarkable document in a lot of ways. It starts out insisting that the Prez has done just everything he can possibly do to support this Commission, hinting that it really isn’t very fair of them to ask more but, because–

…the president recognizes the truly unique and extraordinary circumstances underlying the commission’s responsibility to prepare a detailed report on the facts and circumstances of the horrific attacks on September 11, 2001…

–Rice will be allowed to testify. Whoopee. And what does the WH want in return? Nothing much, just that the Commission agrees that this doesn’t count as precedent, which it probably doesn’t since a number of other such appearances have happened before, thus the precedent has already been set, and–

…that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice…. Other White House officials with information relevant to the commission’s inquiry do not come within the scope of the commission’s rationale for seeking public testimony from Dr. Rice. These officials will continue to provide the commission with information through private meetings, briefings, and documents, consistent with our previous practice.

Oh. Right. So the Commission is trading off everybody else in the BA they might need to talk to in order to get Rice under oath. Helluva deal. But the capper is yet to come when he throws the Commission this bone.

I am authorized to advise you that the president and vice president have agreed to one joint private session with all 10 commissioners, with one commission staff member present to take notes of the session.

Ain’t that nice? Junior gets to bring his PuppetMaster with him. Question: Will the strings show? Will Cheney drink a glass of water while Junior talks to prove his skill as a ventriloquest? Will Junior be allowed to talk at all? I tell yah, I can’t wait for what comes outa this one.

Written by Mick

March 31, 2004 at 5:54 pm

Senate Increases Child Care Funds for the Poor

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Wha’s sup wid dis?

WASHINGTON, March 30 — Over strenuous objections from the White House, the Senate voted on Tuesday for a significant increase in money to provide child care to welfare recipients and other low-income families.The vote, 78 to 20, expressed broad bipartisan support for a proposal to add $6 billion to child care programs over the next five years, on top of a $1 billion increase that was already included in a sweeping welfare bill. The federal government now earmarks $4.8 billion a year for such child care assistance.

The Bush administration objected to the increase in child care money, saying it was not needed. (emphasis added)

Wanna bet after fighting this tooth-and-nail, Junior will take credit for it this fall?

Written by Mick

March 31, 2004 at 2:29 pm

AirAmerica UP

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Sen Bob Kerrey, a member of the 9/11 Commission, is Al Franken’s first guest on this, AirAmerica’s first day. I’m not sure how good an idea it was to name a major broadcasting effort after the CIA’s disastrous, not to say inept, Laotian drug-running operation, but wise or not that’s the name and it is officially up and running. I am listening–or trying to listen–on the web right now. It’s on Real Player and I keep losing the connection for several minutes at a crack.Kerrey has said, so far, that the Commission doesn’t understand what took the Bush Admin so long to accept terrorism as a legitimate threat. Franken pointed out that Cheney’s CT Task Force didn’t even meet until after 9/11, and Kerrey agreed. In response to a question from a caller, he also said the finished report will be posted in full on the internet, which is good news.

Quick review based on a total so far of about 10 mins listening? Franken’s dull. This might work on NPR but on commercial radio, it’s a real “if”.

Second guest–Chucky D, a hip-hop DJ and member of Public Enemy, who’s encouraging people to vote.

Randi Rhodes comes up after Franken. Her, I know. I listen to her show whenever I have the chance. She’s lively, she’s opinionated, and she don’t take no shit. She’s a huge success in Florida and other areas of the South, and she knows how the game is played. If anybody’s going to challenge Rush, based on today’s brief excerpt, it’ll be Randi, not Al.

Whoops. They ended the segment with a bit where they’ve got Ann Coulter locked in a closet. Maybe there’s hope for Al, after all. More of that, Al!

Anyway, listen online here. Check it out. It’s just our future they’re talking about, after all.

Updates: 2.17pm–Michael Moore is reading letters from soldiers in Iraq.
2.33pm–Al Gore just called in. Moore is apologizing for voting for Nader.
3.10pm–Randi Rhodes is explaining how conservative stations get advertising for products and services people don’t buy–offshore oil rigs, for instance. She’s debunking the idea that liberal radio isn’t commercial. She should know, she’s been making a ton of money doing it for 10 years, as she pointed out, by selling products people actually buy.
330pm–Greg PALAST! He’s Randi’s buddy, apparently. GREAT! He’s going to be a regular guest. RANDI ROCKS!
335pm–Palast says Garner had a plan given to him by the BA that split up Iraqi industries among American companies. He asked Garner what he was going to do with the plan and Garner laughed and said, “Give it to an Iraqi govt and see what they think of it.” The day he got to Baghdad he called for elections, and that night Rummy called him and told him not to unpack because he wasn’t staying.
352pm–Randi says Bush is going to testify with Cheney. Randi: “What, are they married now? He needs somebody to hold his hand?”

Written by Mick

March 31, 2004 at 2:05 pm

Posted in 9/11, Media

Quotes of the Day: On TV

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On some TV screens there was a constant reminder for the American people — “March to War.” War is not a very pleasant subject in people’s minds (and) it’s not conducive for the investment of capital.–George W Bush

Some people get so rich they lose all respect for humanity. That’s how rich I want to be. – Rita Rudner

War is not nice.–Barbara Bush

Wars have never hurt anybody except the people who die.–Salvatore Dali

The hell with that. Show me the money.–Rod Tidwell

Written by Mick

March 30, 2004 at 5:35 pm

Posted in Quote of the Day

What About That Paper-Trail?

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Hoo-hah. Remember all that guff from Diebolt and Publican election officials that it was too complicated to provide a paper-trail from EVM’s (electronic voting machines)? That it couldn’t be done? After which they noted that printers could be installed by them for $3000? (When was the last time a basic printer cost that much? 1960?)Well, Black Box Notes has discovered–not that this is a surprise, exactly–that everything they said was–wait for it!–A LIE! That’s right, friends. None of it’s true. Here’s the proof:

AccuPoll designed their DRE voting system from the outset to feature a VVPAT, which allows voters to verify — via an immediately printed receipt — that their vote was accurately recorded at the time it is cast. As a result, AccuPoll’s VVPAT system fully empowers voters to independently ensure that their vote is correct at the time it is cast, allowing for an accurate recount and audit capability should the need arise. (emphasis added)

While I can’t find price info on site (not unusual, I’ve discovered), they claim to be competitive. And the printer’s built right in. Can’t be done, huh? AccuPoll has just met Federal qualification requirements and is open for business.

Take that, Wally!

Written by Mick

March 30, 2004 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Elections, Voting

The Penguin-cam

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Written by Mick

March 30, 2004 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Environment

Spanish "Appeasement"

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After all that brouhaha over the Spanish elections and the right-wing fulminating about how the Spanish rejection of the Bush-friendly ruling party was caving in to the terrorists–I think it was old Instapundit himself who used the word “cowards”; or was it Sully?–the new Spanish govt says that even as it is withdrawing its troops from Iraq, it will be doubling them in Afghanistan. So one govt, at least, has its WOT priorities straight. Are you listening, Junior?Nah. What’s the odds?

Written by Mick

March 30, 2004 at 11:58 am

A Question of Truth

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Written by Mick

March 30, 2004 at 10:39 am

"Under God"–Or Not? Part II

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Phaedrus replies to my argument that leaving the phrase “under god” in the Pledge is justifiable if not warranted by coming over all outraged that anyone could agree with Ted Olson about anything. I am not unaware that Olson’s history hints strongly that he is little more than a fire-breathing, right-wing, scum-sucking pig, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. I said he was right and Phaedrus wants to know: “Olson’s right? Right about what?” Here’s what Olson said:

Solicitor General Olson told the justices that the appeals court misunderstood the pledge. The phrase “under God” did not place the pledge in the category of religious expressions that the Supreme Court has found unconstitutional, he said, for example “state-sponsored prayers, religious rituals or ceremonies, or the requirement of teaching or not teaching a religious doctrine.”

Absolutely correct. The mere insertion of the word “god” in the Pledge does not create or even suggest the establishment of a state religion without further modification. If the phrase were to be reworded “under Christ” or “under Buddha” or “praise be to Allah”, then Phaedrus would be right. All of those forms would be unConstitutional. Phaedrus asks, “That ‘under God’ in the pledge is not a religious statement?”, and my answer is: a) not necessarily; and b) even if it is, that’s not prohibited. Without further emphasis, all it does is acknowledge the role of religious faith both in the founding of the country and in the past and present life of the country, and that is far from unConstitutional.

P: …any way you look at, including maja’s way, it’s an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Nonsense. It establishes NOTHING. “God” is a generic term, owned by nobody and by everybody. Every religion in the world uses it, and they all mean something different when they do. To argue that its mere use by the govt constitutes “establishment” is as if Heinz was arguing that using the word “ketchup” on its label constitutes Heinz’s established “ownership” of any and all companies that make ketchup. It’s ridiculous.

NO clause in the Consitution prevents public acknowledgement of religion, nor would the Framers have stood for such a clause. Why? Once again, Olson:

Rather, Mr. Olson said, “under God” was one of various “civic and ceremonial acknowledgments of the indisputable historical fact that caused the framers of our Constitution and the signers of the Declaration of Independence to say that they had the right to revolt and start a new country.” He said the framers believed “that God gave them the right to declare their independence when the king has not been living up to the unalienable principles given to them by God.”

Every word in that graf is historical fact (except the phrase “civic and ceremonial acknowledgement”, which is arguable) and a perfectly fair and accurate characterization of both the Declaration and everything you will find on the subject in the Federalist Papers. The Founders were all religious men of one stripe or another, and they wanted to ensure that the public life of the new United States was tolerant of all religious viewpoints. They realized that to do that meant preventing the new state from establishing its own religion or adopting one it would then force everyone to follow, as in England. It never occured to them to banish acknowledgement of a deity from governmental discourse, and if it had, they would have rejected it outright.

Jefferson wrote in his letter to the Danbury Baptists (the origin of the phrase “a wall of separation between Church & State”), “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship….” (emphasis added). With that phrase, Jefferson defines precisely what “makes no establishment” in the Constitution means: that the govt will not be allowed to do anything that either abridges or promotes the free expression of one religion at the expense of others. The words “under god” in the Pledge do neither. You’d have a much better case–and cause–if you wanted to ban the daily Senate Invocation, which is the closest we’ve ever come to establishing a govt religion (so far).

Phaedrus again:

And how about this? If it’s not meant as a profession of faith, if it’s really there to honor the faith of our Founding Fathers, how ’bout we change to something a little more accurate and drop even the appearance of a profession of faith? Something like, “. . . one Nation, acknowledging the beneficial beliefs of the Founding Fathers . . .”

Fine with me. Avoids the whole problem of religion and lands the honor where it belongs. If you wanted to get close to what the Deists meant, you could change it to “under Nature”, which could be a real problem for developers. Also fine with me. “Under Reason” would work, too. Personally, I like that even better, though it has the drawback of not giving developers apoplexy.

I mean, if “under God” really honors the beliefs of the Founding Fathers, shouldn’t we say that. What the hell is this, a guessing game? “Bobby, what do you think ‘under God’ means in the pledge?” There, that should satisfy everyone. Whadda ya mean it won’t? Why the hell not?

Oh, bull. It’s not that confusing, and anyway if the question is asked it’s a great lead-in to a discussion of what the Founders believed and how those beliefs affected their decision to break away from England and what kind of country to have once the break was made.

Let’s cut to the chase. The phrase isn’t confusing to anyone, but some atheists find it offensive. Understandable and maybe a better argument, but “offensive” does not an establishment make, no matter how much you’d like it to. What it implies or infers is irrelevant: it establishes NOTHING; it is an expression of religious belief and the Constitution does not forbid the public expression of religious feeling even if that expression may offend someone else–in fact it protects that freedom especially when the expression offends those who do not believe the same way. In refusing to allow the state expression of religion as distinct from its state establishment–a very different thing–you are in effect seeking to do to others what you claim to be trying to prevent for yourself: banning an expression of religion that you find offensive because of where it comes from.

Nobody knows, so it doesn’t make a fuck. I don’t know what the fuck it is these days with people saying (Deepish voice, projecting through the nose [kinda like milk, when you were a kid]), “We must follow the intent of the Founding Fathers.” What?

Now now, since you’re arguing with me, please stick to what I say without imputing to me the words or motives of other people for whom I am not responsible. I said, If the phrase is included in a National Pledge we must take the reference to be to the word as used by the people who formed the Nation. It cannot rightfully be taken in any other context without violating logic. It is far more illogical to assume it means something else. Why would it? Your argument seems to rest on origin:

Macpherson Docherty presented an idea to his congregation. He came upon the idea independently and apparently not realizing any other effort was underway. From his pulpit that faithful day, he explained, “It struck me [while talking with my son about the Pledge] that it [the pledge] didn’t mention God,”. “I was brought up in Scotland, and in Scotland, we sang, ‘God save our gracious king.’ It was everybody’s belief that God was part of society.”

Well, I’m arguing that in this instance origin and motivation are irrelevant because there are reasons to include it that surpass its humble beginnings. But even if we accept that origin is relevant, we are still left with the fact that, religiously-motivated or not, the phrase–absent specific qualifiers–may express religion but doesn’t establish one. The weakness in your argument isn’t that “god” is primarily a religious word, it’s in the assumption that simply saying it establishes an official religion. The onus is on you: How does it do that?

I’m gonna take on maja’s argument on the Declaration of Independence, but not because it has anything to do with “under God” in the pledge. It doesn’t. Maj, how can the Declaration be unconstitutional? It’s not a law, it’s not part of the constitution, for purposes of American government it doesn’t even exist.

Jeez, I hope you’re not trying to tell me that the Pledge is. Reality check? If your criteria for unConstitutionality is in the quote above, you just lost the argument.

Even if “under God” “must” be taken to mean the God of the Founding Fathers, how does that make it OK? Government is professing faith in the God of the Founding Fathers.

Not “professing”; “acknowledging”. There’s a difference, like the difference between “expressing” and “establishing”.

The only dog that should count in this fight is the Godless Constitution. How in the world can it be constitutional to inflict upon people a profession of faith and to ascribe to the government a submission to faith. Under God. It means subjugation to God. And it is, without a doubt, unconstitutional to make it a part of government.

As I said before, this is absolutely the weakest part of the argument for removing the phrase. Let’s refresh with the actual wording:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….

That’s all it says. It doesn’t say the govt can’t express religious feelings or thoughts or beliefs. It says it can’t establish one in preference to others, in other words, a state religion. The words in the Pledge don’t establish because they don’t single out one religion over the rest. Your problem is that they single out religion over non-religion. Well, sorry, but there’s no Constitutional prohibition against doing that. You may not like it, but there isn’t. It ain’t there, and the fear that allowing expression of religion by the state is the thin end of the wedge driving toward establishment, true or not, doesn’t count until the wedge crosses the line.

The First Amendment, contrary to your apparent belief, doesn’t prevent religion in government. It prevents one religion from dominating and using the power of the state to subjugate other religions. And that’s all. Even if you could make a successful case that “under god” establishes that govt considers itself somehow “submissive” to some generic religious principles, so what? That’s not prohibited until and unless it shows a preference for a decidedly specific, non-generic set of religious principles belonging to only one sect. The phrase “under god” isn’t specific enough, as I said at the top, to rise to that level.

You wanna put an honorific in about the Founding Fathers’ beliefs, I got no problem with that. But you are not honoring the Founding Father’s beliefs when you profess their belief’s. You’re professing their beliefs, which is a religious act.

As I said already, I don’t think “professing” is the right word, but even if it were that doesn’t alter the fact that the Constitution doesn’t forbid it in general form. If you want it to do that, you’re going to need to amend the First Amendment so it says that.

Suppose you and me go around asking every kid in America between the ages of 5 and 11 what they think “under God” in the pledge means, how many are gonna give us your spiel about the Founding Fathers?

Oh, come on. Are we to pass laws now only if they can be understood by children 5-11? If you’re referring to the fact that kids in school say it, ban it from schools. I’ve never thought it should be there. It’s indoctrination when you force kids to pledge “allegiance”–wanna go around with me and ask those same kids what the word “allegiance” means?–when they don’t understand what it is or why they’re doing it. I have contended for a long time that the Pledge should a) not be compulsory; and b) not be in schools below college level (where, ironically, it isn’t found at all) because that’s when you first become truly capable of understanding what you’re doing when you “pledge allegiance.” Maybe the last 2 years of high school…. But that’s a separate issue.

It’s plainly a religious expression and plainly unconstitutional.

I’m repeating this because it’s your whole position in a nutshell. So I’ll put mine in one as well.

Religious establishment is unConstitutional. Religious expression is not, not even when it is the govt doing the expressing.

You’d have to torture the First Amendment to get your interpretation out of it.

Written by Mick

March 29, 2004 at 10:28 pm

Posted in Law, The Constitution

State-Sponsired Terrorism Is a Myth

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Can we talk about an actual issue here for a minute instead of having to spend valuable blog-time debunking the latest swarm of lies about the issue from the Bush Admin? Cause if we can, I think that might be good.Josh Marshall noted that Richard Perle unaccountably hasn’t joined the chorus of Clarke-drubbing BA flacks and gives him credit for accurately stating the differences between Clarke and the neocons, which Marshall summed up this way:

[Perle] focused on what really is the central issue — whether the war on terrorism is principally a battle against states (which sponsor terrorist groups or, we might say, launder violence through them) or transnational terrorist organizations who are not fundamentally reliant on state sponsors.

This is, indeed, the key difference and the crucial question to be answered if we are to have an effect on them. Baldly put, if terrorists exist primarily on the largesse and with the approval of states, then one cannot beat them without destroying or at least undermining that state support. If, on the other hand, terrorists have stopped relying on state support and are now no longer either centralized or primarily regional, then attacking states supposedly supporting them will be futile. So which is it?

Marshall points to a Newsweek article by Mid-East reporter Fareed Zakaria for a look at what the 9/11 Commission’s documents show, particularly the staff reports.

Before the mid-1990s, almost all terrorism against the United States had been backed by a state. The Soviet Union had financed and trained terror groups around the world. Syria, Iran, Iraq and Libya had all sponsored terrorism. The most dramatic attacks on Americans—the Beirut Marine-barracks bombing in 1983, and Pan Am 103 in 1988—had both been encouraged if not planned by governments. Even Saudi Hizbullah, the group that bombed Khobar Towers, the American barracks in Saudi Arabia, got support from Iran.Around 1997, members of the intelligence community—and others, like Richard Clarke—began focusing on a Saudi man, Osama bin Laden, who they realized was the financier and leader of a new group, Al Qaeda. Few in government shared their concern. In 1997 Al Qaeda was not confirmed to have executed a single terrorist attack against Americans. “Employees in the government told us that they felt their zeal attracted ridicule from their peers,” the commission’s report on intelligence says.

But a series of events and personalities linked to the attempted WTC bombing back in ’93 began to show investigators a different picture which the unraveling (and interdiction) of the millenium plots confirmed: something new was going on. States were getting out of the business of sponsoring terrorism.

I asked an American official closely involved with counterterrorism about state sponsorship. He replied, “Well, all that’s left is Iran and to a lesser extent Syria, and it’s mostly directed against Israel. States have been getting out of the terror business since the late 1980s. We have kept many governments on the list of state sponsors for political reasons. The reality is that the terror we face is mostly unconnected to states.” Today’s terrorists are harbored in countries like Spain and Germany—entirely unintentionally. They draw on support not from states but private individuals—Saudi millionaires, Egyptian radicals, Yemenite preachers.

The states were probably bailing out because, like Qaddaffi, they had reached the conclusion that terrorism didn’t work, that it wasn’t going to get them what they wanted and that instead they were losing respectability and influence on the world stage–the opposite of the result they had hoped for. But whatever the reason, terrorists like bin Laden were now working almost entirely outside the sponsorship of any state as independent entities with independent goals.

So much had the CTC (counter terrorist community) learned–the hard way–by 2000. Both Sandy Berger, Clinton’s National Security Advisor, and CIA Director George Tenet were slow to come around, but when they did they became advocates. All of them tried very hard to pass on what they now knew about the radical shift in terrorist tactics, but the Bush Bunch had its own agenda.

The Bush team, distrustful of anything Clinton’s people said, did not see Al Qaeda as an urgent threat. They held few meetings on it and in other ways were inattentive to it. One example from the panel’s report: the senior Pentagon official responsible for counterterrorism is the assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict. Even by September 11, 2001, no one had been appointed to that post.The Bush administration came to office with different concerns. During the 1990s conservative intellectuals and policy wonks sounded the alarm about China, North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Iraq, but not about terror. Real men dealt with states.

Even after 9/11, many in the administration wanted to focus on states. Bush spoke out against countries that “harbor” terrorists. Two days after the attacks, Paul Wolfowitz proposed “ending states that sponsor terrorism.” Beyond Iraq, conservative intellectuals like Richard Perle and Michael Ledeen insist that the real source of terror remains the “terror masters,” meaning states like Iran and Syria.

Afghanistan would appear to support that contention, but Zakaria points out that Afghanistan was, in reality, a major role-reversal, a real tail-wagging-the-dog situation.

[Afghanistan] was less a case of a state’s sponsoring a terror group and more one of a terror group’s sponsoring a state. Consider the situation today. Al Qaeda has lost its base in Afghanistan, two thirds of its leaders have been captured or killed, its funds are being frozen. And yet terror attacks mount from Indonesia to Casablanca to Spain. “These attacks are not being directed by Al Qaeda. They are being inspired by it,” the official told me. “I’m not even sure it makes sense to speak of Al Qaeda because it conveys the image of a single, if decentralized, group. In fact, these are all different, local groups that have in common only ideology and enemies.”

Not only not a state-sponsored group, not even a single vertically-integrated group but a collection of indie-cells loosely organized and often acting on their own initiative with the help, advice, and “inspiration” of the parent group as a guide. If this picture of the new reality is accurate–and there is every reason to think it is–then the Bushies’ refusal to take it into account in their planning wasn’t just wrong but spectacularly wrong, the equivalent of criminal negligence.

Blinded, deafened and cut off from the real threat by their insistant reliance on Cold War models with which they were comfortable but which were hopelessly out of date, it could be argued that Bush, Rice, Wolfowitz, Perle, Cheney and the rest were as responsible for allowing 9/11 to happen as the mother whose child dies when left unattended in a closed car on a hot day because she didn’t believe that excessive heat hurts children despite being told by her doctor that it was dangerous. In law, her ignorance of science is no excuse and her refusal to take her doctor’s advice would lead to a manslaughter charge at the least. In BushLand, they think she should win a new car.

Written by Mick

March 29, 2004 at 5:51 pm

Peter Ustinov Dead at 82

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Ustinov was always one of my favorite actors. He had the wit of Robert Morley and the range of Peter Sellers. As a comic actor there were few in his league and even fewer who surpassed him. He is perhaps best known nowadays (if he is known at all) for his three runs at playing Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s eccentric Belgian detective with the outrageous moustaches, the prickly pride, and “the little grey cells” that invariably solved the crime. I love Ustinov’s Poirot, but he had almost nothing to do with Christie’s Poirot. Christie’s was, well, Albert Finney in Murder on the Orient Express, if you want to see him in the flesh. Finney didn’t want to repeat the role for the sequels (one of the great losses of film history, detective film history, anyway), so they got Peter, who couldn’t help but pour charm and heart into a character that was supposed to be all mind. Finney’s performance will forever be the one true film Poirot and a singular achievement, but it’s Ustinov’s Poirot I want to see again and again.

Peter had a knack for finding the humanity in every character he played, even his Nero in Quo Vadis. A mad tyrant in the script, in Ustinov’s hands he becomes more than a monster. He becomes a recognizable human being, spoiled and ignorant, frightened and selfish, using arrogance and bluster to cover over his nagging fear that something is very, very wrong with him. It’s a marvelous performance, one of the few times an actor has penetrated far enough into the mind of a monster to find the core of the child he once was. I should add that he managed that little feat with almost zero help from the script, which was a fairly standard Roman epic. For non-actors: it is one thing for an actor to bring a great script to life, worthy and a joy to watch; but it is quite another for an actor to bring life and depth to a poorly-written script that has neither. That is a true test of talent, and it was a test Peter never failed in his life.

But more important than being a great actor, Peter was a good man. He understood that life outside theater and film was real life, not the other way around, and he devoted himself to activities and organizations that tried to make that life a little better for people who weren’t as lucky or–as he would have said–”blessed” as he was. He worked tirelessly for UNESCO and UNICEF, was always available for charity events and fundraisers, and boosted any number of NGO profiles with credibility and renown.

He was a good writer, too, but his stuff has never played well here, I’m not sure why. Maybe it isn’t “big” enough. His humor is droll rather than arch, subtle rather than broad and brassy, character-driven rather than joke-driven. In fact it’s virtually impossible to find a single line in one of his comedies–even lines that had audiences screaming with laughter–that is funny all by itself, the kind of gag Woody Allen’s writing is full of. Peter’s funniest lines require that you understand the person who’s saying them well enough to know why they’re being said; out of context, they usually don’t make any sense.

Peter will be greatly missed, at least by me and by everyone who actually knew him. He lived, as they say, a long and valuable life, and seems to have got everything right – a very difficult trick to pull off. I am by nature a “black Scot” – moody, pessimistic and cynical. I see the dark glow of human greed and rage stalking us in the shadows wherever we go, making a planet that could be Paradise into a parking lot, the culmination of our own childish fears, short-sightedness, and ignorance. To a man like me, a man like Peter was an invaluable reminder that it doesn’t have to be that way, that goodness, mercy and grace are still possible, still desirable, still powerful even when spoken quietly and with a wry humor. It’s going to be harder for me to feel that now that he’s gone.

Do yourself a favor and rent a couple of his movies in his honor. I would recommend Death on the Nile, Topkapi, Hot Millions, Billy Budd (which he also wrote and directed), Romanov and Juliet, Barefoot in Athens, and/or A Storm in Summer. Any one of them will enrich your life in ways that you don’t expect, and which of us couldn’t use a little of that?

I’ll leave you with a couple of random Ustinov quotes:

“Beliefs are what divide people. Doubt unites them.”

“Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit.”

“Her virtue was that she said what she thought, her vice that what she thought didn’t amount to much.”

“It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously.”

“If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can’t be done.”

Requiescat in Pace, Peter.

Written by Mick

March 29, 2004 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Film, Obits

Quote of the Day: War

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Quote of the Day

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.–Maj Gen Smedley Butler, USMC, from a speech he delivered in 1933 (Thanks to Nabakov)

Written by Mick

March 28, 2004 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Quote of the Day

Don’t Mess with the Union Guys

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Conservative blogger and big Bush backer Matt Margolis got into a scuffle with some union guys (the dumb fuck–steelworkers for chrissake, don’t he know any better than that?) during Bush’s foray into Boston and is just livid about it, the poor kid. So is Philosoraptor‘s Winston Smith:

Yes, of course I undestand it’s an isolated incident. Yes, I also understand that this is something that is more often associated with the right and the very far left than the liberal center. Blah, blah, blah. Frankly, I have no time for anyone who is inclined to make such arguments. We’re the God-damned good guys–or have we forgotten that? WE DO NOT DO THINGS LIKE THIS.

Wrong. The union guys do. That’s how they got their goddam unions–by fighting people who tried to and often did kill anyone who wanted to form a union. Or has Mr Smith forgotten his history? Margolis, by his own account, got into a shouting match with one of the union guys and all but dared him to go ahead and make something of it. Well, anybody from my neighborhood could have told him you don’t challenge union guys to a duel, especially nowadays. They’ve been hammered by 25 years of radcon hatred and abuse. They’ve watched their unions be attacked as Communist, unAmerican, or subsidiaries of the Mob; they’ve had their company pensions stolen by their employers with the help and encouragement of Bush I; they’ve watched conservatives like Bush II disembowel worker protections, advance management powers, and eviscerate labor laws; they’ve seen the Labor Dept turned over to corporate shills who never worked a day in their lives; and they’re painfully aware of how tenuous globalization and the Bush-engineered deficit make thier jobs. This is not the group some pissant, privileged college kid should be deliberately giving the finger to. These aren’t intellectual liberals who talk things over; they’re basically right-wing thugs, tough as nails and not prone to lengthy dialogue.

Not that I condone what they did. I wouldn’t condone a grizzly mauling a camper, either, but if that camper had walked up to that bear while it was minding its own business and poked a stick in its eye, well, it would be kind of hard to work up any real sense of righteous indignation against the bear. Faults on both sides, don’t ya know. Margolis, protected son of privilege as he no doubt is, has learned a valuable Nature lesson: Don’t treat wild tigers as if they’re house cats.

Margolis and his friends got off easy. A couple of punches were thrown that didn’t do much damage, Margolis got knocked to the ground, and somebody else’s glasses got broke. Not much as crowd-fights go. I’ve seen worse at the hot dog stand during a Sox game. So it’s doubly hard to get excited when I remember the very real, genuine violence we’ve been suffering from right-wing Neandethals for the past 20 years.

Gays have been murdered. Doctors who perform abortions have been assassinated. Environmental activists have been threatened, badly beaten, maimed, and murdered. Churches have been bombed. A govt building has been bombed, killing over 200 people. Family Clinics have been bombed, not because they perform abortions but because they dared to counsel pregnant women that abortion was one of their legitimate, legal options. Anti-war demonstrators have been beaten so badly they ended up in the hospital, and one was killed in Texas–shot by a man who overheard him criticize Bush in a bar. A community office devoted to promoting diversity was pipe-bombed only a month ago. Plots by right-wing paramilitary and white supremacist groups have been discovered that planned cyanide bombings, anthrax attacks, and botulin poisonings of left-wing targets. Right-wing radio personalities regularly incite their listeners to disrupt liberal and progressiver meetings, marches, and gatherings, and lefties now regularly receive threatening phone calls and emails like these:

Fuckin Leftist traitors break the law and think they should get away with it?! FUCK YOU YA GODDAMN LEFTIST PUKES AND DON’T EVEN THINK OF FUCKING WITH FREE REPUBLIC MOTHERFUCKERS!WE WILL BEAT YOU DOWN IN THE STREETS NEXT FALL!!!

and

If I see you or any of your comrades from Dem Underground I will kick the living shit out of you you filthy faggotcunt traitorDO NOT IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS LEFTIST OUT ON THE STREET YOU PIECE OF SHIT OR YOU WILL BE BEATEN UNCONSCIOUS YOU GODDAM ENEMY OF AMERICA!!!!!

I could go on. The depredations from the right are massive and on-going and extremely violent. So when a right-wing blogger gets punched in the nose and acts like that’s the worst civil rights violation he could ever imagine, I’m like, “Where have you been, you whiny, spoiled little brat? We get dragged behind trucks and clubbed and shot and run over and bombed and you don’t even notice but we’re supposed to turn the world upside down because some union goon scratched your face after you taunted him? You need a lesson or two in ‘Get Real’, kid.”

I’ll make a deal with you, Matt. You condemn right-wing murder and the hate-mail and disruption tactics of your fellow Freepers, and I’ll condemn the punch in your nose. It’s not a fair trade but I’m a generous guy.

Written by Mick

March 28, 2004 at 12:02 am

Inside bin Laden

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Tristero voluntarily takes on the dirty job of exploring Osama bin Laden’s mind and comes up with some startling and provocative thoughts. As scary as they are, they make a good deal of sense.

When someone is behaving exactly the way you want them to behave, do you anger them, or attack them? Of course not. So consider this:1. Vis a vis, the United States, Osama bin Laden had one primary goal: that America stop defiling the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest places.

Well guess what? Bush withdrew from Saudi Arabia once Iraq was invaded and occupied. He did exactly what bin Laden wanted him to do.*

2. The most paranoid fantasy that bin Laden broadcast to the Arab world was that the United States would overrun and occupy an oil rich Arab country. Guess what? Bush has done exactly that.

3. Saddam’s explicit goal was to become the new Saladin, driving the Israelis into the sea, becoming the hero of all Arabia. Guess who thwarted that insane ambition permanently? As bin Laden must certainly see it, Bush has done bin Laden’s personal cause a tremendous favor: he eliminated one of The Sheik’s most serious and hated rivals.

Go read the rest.

Written by Mick

March 27, 2004 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Iraq

Somebody Was Bound To Say It Sooner Or Later

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Yessir, gang, Bush’s disgraceful performance of tasteless jokes at the Correspondents’ Dinner was, in fact, Clinton’s fault. Ace National Review Corner Kid JK Lopez has identified the culprit behind W’s embarrassing display and it was The Usual Suspect.

During the Clinton years, we already had the distinct impression Clinton took the presidency at times with all the seriousness of a spoiled, drunk college kid, and those dinners only encouraged him. Bush has restored dignity to the White House (come on, try to deny that) [OK. Lying about everything you do and starting an unnecessary war do NOT qualify as "dignified." How was that?--m] and, yes, is leading a global war against terrorism. He has a natural, endearing humor (I do love it, I must say), that comes out near as often as he talks–when appropriate. [Or NOT so appropriate.--m]

So back to the playground we go: “Billy started it! It’s not Georgie’s fault!” I do love The Kids, I must say. They’re so…childish.

BushCo apologists are calling the “joke” of the missing WMD’s “self-deprecating.” I would agree with them if Bush had ever admitted that the whole war rationale was a cock-up and, like Clarke, apologized for it. But he hasn’t. That doesn’t make the joke “self-deprecating”, it makes it arrogant and a raised middle finger aimed right at the families of the WTC and Iraq war dead. “Ha ha, too bad. There weren’t any WMD’s and there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it!” Very funny. Ms Lopez thinks Junior’s humor is “natural” and “appealing”, not to mention “appropriate”. She must have split her sides laughing at Junior’s wizard 9/11 bon mot when told that hundreds of people had died in the Towers when a plane crashed into them: “That’s some bad pilot.” Ay-yukyukyuk.

Li’l Georgie’s sense of “humor” is a mite…twisted, to say the least.

(Thanks to World O’ Crap)

Written by Mick

March 27, 2004 at 4:10 pm

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