Friday, October 28, 2005

Changing Society, One Sock at a Time

My mother says I do laundry like a boy.

I think that is probably an insult closely akin to "you throw like a girl," but I choose to take it in the best possible light. What she means by it is that I will wear absolutely every article of clothing I own, all 507 pairs of cute patterned socks, 15,372 shirts and 9,433 pairs of jeans, till it is all, without exception, unequivocally dirty -- not to mention lingering in enormous piles approximately the height of Mount McKinley all over my pink-flowered girly bedroom and smelling rankly of egg rolls, Mountain Dew Live Wire, and mothballs.

Then I muck around the house for a few days in a holey Ninja Turtles T-shirt that I've had since the first grade and cotton shorts with Christmas trees all over them which I think belong to my older sister until all 1200 loads of laundry are done. My washing method involves throwing it all in together in the washer (look, life is too short with too many video games to be played to waste precious moments on this planet separating lights and darks) Then I pour about a million cups of Tide in the wash to ensure that it all gets clean, slam the lid shut, and promptly forget about it for a couple days . . .

At which time I transfer it all into the dryer, categorically refusing on principle to remove the lint from the dryer (do you know how many children starving in Budapest would appreciate some good organic dryer lint?), and resort to parading around the house in my bathing suit because, hey, I had to wash the Ninja Turtles shirt sometime, right? I mean, it has been fourteen years.

So while my mother means it, I'm sure, as an insult, I consider it as positive reinforcement of the highly enviable inner workings of my ultra-efficient and alternatively creative mind.

And if I reek appallingly of mildew the next time you see me, just remember: it's all in the name of effecting a change in society via defying traditional gender roles. You wouldn't want to impede the cult of progress, would you?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Minute Man Scourge

When the Minute Man project was in its infancy, I did not think much about it, other than “Right on!” There is a lot to be concerned about our border since 9-11. Bin-Laden can waltz across the US/Mexican border in broad daylight and set off a WMD in a large American town without ever being noticed by our border patrol. So when my fellow Americans got up out of their easy chairs and started patrolling our borders on their own, I felt very proud of them.

Now Project Spotlight is gearing up for action.

These fellows in Herndon, Virginia, want to photograph and follow (mainly immigrant) day laborers. The day laborers stand around a local 7-11 in the morning hoping to get hired by business owners who pay them under the table for casual labor. There is no national security threat here, however. You are not going to find any one from Al Queda milling about. It is just a bunch of hard working Joes’s (or Jose’s, I guess) trying to win their daily bread through the sweat of their brows. They are not there to plan any terrorist attacks. They just want to get some work hauling around a leaf blower or walking about on roof tops all day despite the weather. They are not out to destroy America from the inside. They are just willing to snap up jobs you and me would not even consider because to them those jobs are a golden opportunity and a chance at a better life. These guys are not invaders. They are beggars at the back door, willing to live in the shadows with none of the securities we take for granted. For the most part, they are truly pioneers, and possess the same grit and rough-hewn independence that our ancestors came over here with a couple of centuries ago. Now the Minute Men want to harass these guys. For what? Trying to work? Where is the national security threat in that?

What really rankled me is Operation Spotlight’s plan to follow these guys home to report houses that had too many people in them. Steam came out of my ears when I read this. Not only do they want to mess with a man’s ability to find work, they want to trample over his right to raise his family in peace. Are they going to report people who have a lot of children? I have four myself. I know there are plenty of people who would love to report me for some kind of zone violation.

There is no national security threat in any form brewing with the coffee down at the 7-11. The day laborers do not want to overthrow our government. Democracy created the economy that is giving them a chance to work. Even if they did they would probably be too tired after working on their feet all day. They are not going to take our jobs from us. They do not qualify for the ones we want. They are not out to take away public funds via schools and hospitals - they have no power to do so. Only ninnies in the legislature are guilty of this.

The reason the illegal immigrants keep coming here is that this is a free country that is full of economic opportunity. It is a free country full of economic opportunities because it is a democracy based on laws. The Minute Men are right in fearing that this wave of immigration will eventually be the undoing of that. They see what is taking place as a large invasion of outsiders who do not share our culture and are willing to break our laws. But I would posit that these guys are actually embryonic Americans, thirsting to be free. It is true that an underpaid, basically foreign underclass is being created right now and this will corrupt and eventually destroy American society if it goes unchecked. But the historical force behind this is a combination of the poverty that drives people over our borders and the laws in this country that require illegals to remain in the shadows. Harassing guys down at the 7-11 is not going to change any of this.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Filler - Circa 1995

Due to a lack of submissions, I decided to punish the reader. I dug up some old college papers of mine from 1995. (When reading, try to keep in mind, I was 19). I decided to go with a piece I called "Powers and Castro, Paradise or Hell?". It was written while I attended George Mason University. The piece is a response to a film review by John Powers titled "The wrong stuff: 'Apollo 13' has taken off at the box office, but the film only skims the surface of its story" which appeared in the Washington Post on July 9th, 1995, page G1. I do not have my piece in electronic form, although I decided after retyping it, to scan it and put a link to it at the bottom of this post. I have Draft 1 and Draft 2 and have decided to go with Draft 2. That which is crossed out in Draft 2 I will not type (but you can see it in the scanned version, complete with teacher comments and my B-), so the reader can get an idea what a Draft 3 might have looked like. Because of this, the piece does not flow properly everywhere (this can again be remedied by looking at the scanned version), although, even with the invective my writing was terrifically weak. I like to think I am much better at it now. While reading, know that I mean it when I say, if I do not get some good submissions for next week, you will see a fascinating post on the Gamelan (written by my wife about 10 years ago for a college music class). Without further delay...

Draft II Powers and Castro, Paradise or Hell?

In the beginning of John Powers' review of the film, "Apollo 13", Mr. Powers describes a very exciting film. He begins "Apollo 13 has the makings of a masterpiece" and continues, "Its hard to imagine a story that's richer or more profound-here are men who see the dark side of infinity." Apparently he felt he needed to be the one reviewer in the Western world who despised the film, and saw an inherent evil in its script. At one point in the beginning of his review he asks "... you might find yourself wondering about the point of the whole journey." After reading this review, I found myself wondering what his point was. After a second reading, it became apparent.

John Powers, who attempts to describe the film as a platform for right-wing, reactionaries, suffers from that affliction which currently is sweeping the media and the Ivy League elite. That affliction is, in a hyphenated word, Liberal-Guilt. Liberal-guilt is simply an attempt by those who unconsciously realize the damage done by their policies, socially. Those who took FDR's New Deal to new and exaggerated levels are prime candidates for this affliction. His guilt stems from his inability to stop America's wrongs, and his participation in the destruction of society.

The author describes what he sees as a "... Republican parable about 1995 America...". He mentions in the same paragraph that it was a "... team of heroic white men." who were responsible for saving the astronauts. Well perhaps Mr. Powers would insist that the film-maker abide by the liberal establishment's affirmitive action policies and hire a minority regardless of historical fact. In his next paragraph, Powers attacks the film's historical authenticity with only the point that the cinematographer chose not to include certain historical events. He accuses the film of not being long enough, extensive enough, "correct" enough, and liberal enough. Here is prime example of this (what the new-age psychological experts would call a disease) neurosis. Perhaps Mr. Powers feels, in hindsight, that he and those of his political persuasion did not do enough to stop the "Vietnam Conflict." Perhaps, if he could go back, and stop the "sexual revolution" which brought so many diseases into the 6th grader's normal vocabulary, he would. Perhaps, when he sees a teenager in the 90's wearing bell-bottoms, and platform shoes, he feels a sense of remorse for what he and his generation did to fashion in the 20th century. Maybe Mr. Powers even feels guilty for not responding to the Kent State shootings as he, clearly a concerned American should have, with due retaliation against a tyrannical regime. I am not here to argue about the significance of historical events through which I did not live. And the real point Mr. Powers fails to grasp, is that neither is this film. One is forced to wonder if Powers wants a fictitious story-line just to satisfy his desire to see his own brand of "correct" history told.

Later in this "review", Powers states that the film "... doesn't even ask the rudimentary questions about the astronauts' inner lives. What does going to the moon really mean to Jim Lovell (Hanks)?" Sadly for Mr. Powers, it would appear he was one of the few people not to see that indeed, the film depicted exactly what it meant to Lovell. It meant everything to him. That was his one desire and goal. It consumed him, and ate at him, if he could not be the first, then by God he would at least be one of the few. Just because Mr. Powers did not understand the film, does not make it acceptable for him to bash it so vigorously. Perhaps someone should tell him, that its ok if he didn't get it. But this continuous bashing shows his inability to understand a story that is so real, and shows his lack of grounding in reality, which makes one wonder "Where is John Powers?"

At the end of Powers' virtual treatise on the demise of American film-making, he chooses to make an argument one would expect to find in a sociology journal. He mentions his "signiphobia" theory. While one may or may not agree with what Powers believes is a national epidemic, his review miserably fails in proving that point. Indeed, Powers ends his review with "Hollywood, we have a problem." And in response I feel compelled to say, "yes, we need to jettison YOU into space."

Original paper

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Interview with Congressman Bartlett (R) Maryland (6th district) on 10/20/2005

Buede: Good afternoon Congressman Bartlett.

Bartlett: Good afternoon.

Buede: Its a pleasure to speak with you. As you may know I am a constituent of yours in the 6th district in Maryland. I started a political blog recently and am happy to get a chance to interview you for that blog.

Bartlett: OK

Buede: I asked Lisa Wright in advance if I could record the interview and she said that was alright.

Bartlett: Oh yeah, that's fine.

Buede: OK, I guess we'll just kick off with the first question. Question one is regarding the issue of life. I see that you support Constitutional amendments to protect the flag from desecration, and to define marriage as between one man and one woman and you also support laws or bills that will become laws hopefully to protect humans at all stages of life from conception. Do you believe that the Supreme Court would accept such a law, or just rule the law unconstitutional based on its previous statements in Roe regarding the beginning of person hood?

Bartlett: No I don't believe that the Court equated Roe vs. Wade with taking life. I believe that the Justices were sufficiently ignorant of what the embryo and the fetus is – that they really didn't equate that with taking a life. Had they, they would never have passed Roe vs. Wade.

Buede: OK I agree. Do you think that a Constitutional amendment though, defining "person," a person as beginning at conception, would be more final in so far as it wouldn't just be a law that could be overturned by a later Congress or ruled unconstitutional by the Court?

Bartlett: Again, I'm in support of a Constitutional amendment defining what a person is. I think that the sanctity of life, respect for that, is one of the things that has made us such a unique country. I think we put at risk who we are if we continue to violate that.

Buede: That's great. Moving on now to the second question. This has to do with your interpretation of the Constitutional limits on Federal power, and how that affects your votes as a Congressman. As, and I quote, “ a conservative who wants to help restore the limited federal government envisioned and established in the Constitution”, which is from your bio, can you explain which parts of the Constitution you look to to derive the authority the Federal Government exercises when it involves itself in issues such as, and I have a couple of the bills from your site at the House that it looks like you're supporting, and just wondering where you get that from the Constitution. Here's one : “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) should affirm its commitment to a policy of discouraging alcohol use among underage students by ending all alcohol advertising during radio and television broadcasts of collegiate sporting events.” I've got three more, I'll just read them off to you.

Bartlett: That's interesting. That of course is none of the Federal Government's business, thats apple pie and motherhood and you know what harm could be be done and if money was going to be involved in it, if regulation was going to be involved in it, then I think that's clearly unconstitutional because I think that's a prerogative of the states. I don't believe that Article 1, Section 8(1) in anyway anticipated that the Federal Government would be involved in that kind of activity. But that's simply an expression of concern on the part of the Congress and I did not see it inappropriate in that form.

Buede: That's great. How about H. RES. 215(2) which I have the summary here: “Recognizing the need to move the Nation's current health care delivery system toward a defined contribution system.”

Bartlett: Again, our whole involvement in health care, except for our military, is unconstitutional. I tend to be somewhat pragmatic, and that is that if what we're doing is not further violating the Constitution, that is the changes we're going to make, do not further violate the Constitution or move us to a less violation of the Constitution then I'm likely to support it. I try to avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good and yeah, our whole involvement in health care, except for the military health care, is clearly unconstitutional. If we think we need to do that, then we need to amend the Constitution.

Buede: How about H.R.226(3), which is, “To strengthen and expand scientific and technological education capabilities of associate-degree-granting colleges through the establishment of partnership arrangements with bachelor-degree-granting institutions?”

Bartlett: Now again, the whole education thing, I think, is patently unconstitutional and again this was a bill that I think did not make the violation of the Constitution worse and I'm likely, on a pragmatic basis, to support things that are not moving us further in the wrong direction. I thought this was one of those, but that doesn't in any way negate my concern that most of what we spend money on in the Congress, all of our philanthropy, all of our health care, all of our education except – all of our health care except military, and all of our education except military education, I think is patently unconstitutional.

Buede: I don't even need to read the last one. On to the 3rd question. The third subject I want to talk to you about is our political system. Your bio reads, “'I'm not interested in politics,' says Dr. Bartlett. 'I'm interested in my country.'” So transcending the usual partisan party lines, can you name any Democrats or third party candidates in the last 20 years, that you could have, or did support for President, or any other major federal office?

Bartlett: Oh, on the other side?

Buede: Yes.

Bartlett: Oh, I've got some very good friends across the aisle. I hope they stay in Congress. If they were... Because I think Republicans are more likely to move us in the right direction, although one couldn't argue that very strongly from recent behavior of Republicans, but because generally I think Republicans are more likely to lead us in the right direction, I would probably support an opponent of these very good friends of mine on the other side who are doing a very good job. But you know, as long as we're going to have a majority without defeating them, I'm happy to see them here.

Buede: Who are some of those members?

Bartlett: The two I'm thinking of are Jim Marshall and Gene Taylor. From what? Georgia & Mississippi.

Buede: What criteria do you believe should be used to determine whether third party candidates should be admitted into presidential and/or congressional debates?

Bartlett: Well, if they clearly are going to only be incidental candidates, that simply clogs the debates and makes them less meaningful, there should be some minimal threshold, I don't think it has to be very high, because a minimal threshold, where you have a really good candidate supporting really good ideas could become a major candidate, and could in fact become a Ross Perot kind of candidate, that except for a screwy wedding, could win the next election. I think that threshold ought to be pretty low, but it can't be incidental candidates that no one believes, except their handful of followers, have any chance of becoming President.

Buede: Would you... I think the threshold now for potential candidates is that 15 % polling in the national poll...

Bartlett: I thought it was 5% -- but I'm not even sure that needs to be that high.

Buede: How about if they were on the ballot in enough states that if they won...

Bartlett: I haven't had time to think about what would be a reasonable threshold, but there really needs to be a reasonable threshold. I think that now probably, a fair percentage of Americans are not happy with either political party.

Buede: That's probably a true statement. I'm glad we have time for some more questions. How about #4, which is, “What are the three most important issues you believe we face as a nation?

Bartlett: Oh, three most important issues? The first one is energy. That is going to be a crisis that transcends all others and if you are focusing on something else to the exclusion of energy, you are majoring in minors.

Bartlett: The second big challenge we face is to wage this so called “war on terror,” which by the way, is a pretty stupid name, because that's like waging war on blitzkrieg. You can't wage war on blitzkrieg, you're waging war on an enemy that's using a strategy. We're waging war on something, but it can't be terror, because terror is the equivalent of blitzkrieg. We must be very careful in that we don't violate the civil rights that I think have made us a distinctive nation, and one of the reasons that this one person out of 22 in the world is so lucky as to have a fourth of all the good things in the world. I think that's the second big challenge we face.

Bartlett: The third challenge we face is that we cannot continue to run the enormous twin deficits, the trade deficit and the budget deficit. Were we any other country than the United States, we would have been belly up before this with these enormous twin deficits. And even being who we are, we can't survive this forever.

Bartlett: So those are the big challenges we face: energy first, and make sure that we don't violate our respect for our civil liberties because, that will destroy who we are, and then thirdly, we have got to turn around these enormous deficits.

Buede: Did you have any issues with the Patriot Act?

Bartlett: I have a lot of issues with the Patriot Act. I regretted that I voted for the first one(4) and I voted against the second one.

Buede: Are there any specific problems?

Bartlett: No, its just that the general notion that you can infringe on traditional civil liberties in order to catch another terrorist or two. Was it Thomas Jefferson who first said, “If you value security more than liberty at the end of the day you deserve neither?” I think maybe Benjamin Franklin or Jefferson, I can't think who first said it, and I think that Churchill kind of paraphrased it “If you value your security more than liberty, at the end of the day you will have neither.”

Buede: Do you have time for another question?

Bartlett: Oh sure, one more.

Buede: The next one is regarding US military presence overseas. Do you believe the US should maintain its military presence in countries like Germany, England and Japan?

Bartlett: Because we have such an enormous economy, because we are so dependent on trade with other nations, we cannot close the door as Russia clearly could, and live happily ever after because they have everything that life could desire. They have all the energy they need, they have all the raw materials they need. We have neither of those by the way, and we have got to trade or we can't continue to exist and we need some presence overseas to make sure that we have access to the essentials that we need. I would doubt that we need troops in 100 and some countries, which is where we have them now. And I think that consistent with our need for these trade materials which are only available from overseas, that we need to keep as many of our troops home as possible, and I think that we could probably bring a great deal of them home and still make sure that we are securing access to the materials that we need.

Buede: I'll let you go, I know you're really busy, and I want to thank you...

Bartlett: Ok, thanks a lot, thanks for doing this!

Buede: Alright.

Bartlett: Bye.

(1) The Constitution
(2) H. RES. 215
(3) H.R. 226
(4) First Patriot Act

To learn more about Congressman Bartlett, you can read his bio at:

Monday, October 24, 2005

Are you LOST? You should be.

Ok, surely by now you’ve heard the brouhaha about the television show LOST. And hopefully, you’re watching it. It’s a second season show, that has been an enormous hit. It has a very broad fan base, and has sparked plenty of “official” fake websites (for organizations and companies mentioned throughout the episodes), and discussion forums where people debate and discuss every tiny detail imaginable. This television program actually makes you think…how often does that happen with tv these days? Now, don’t worry…you don’t *have* to think if you don’t want to. You can sit and wait week by week as more things are explained, and more questions are brought up, and ultimately (hopefully), everything wraps up.

The basic gist is this: There was an airplane crash (or was there?), although the airplane was off course, so they don’t know where they are, and the plane broke into pieces and crashed into an island (or is it?)….only, decidedly NOT a deserted one. Even since the miraculous (?) survival, several more people have died. Those remaining have found caves to stay in, and a small group took off on a raft.

Ok, so that’s about the briefest overview possible…crash, dig in, try to escape. However in addition to this “normal” shipwreck storyline, there’s a lot more to learn and explore on this island. There are “Others” who we think are bad guys (although…are they? Are they the good “others“ and there are also “bad“ others?). There’s Danielle, the French chick in her own little world who definitely comes across as a “crazy” guy, if not a bad guy. According to her, the Others took her daughter, who was born 16 years ago (when Danielle’s crew was on the island ) There are also…polar bears. Yes, polar bears, on a tropical island. And…random plumes of black smoke. There’s a shark with a logo on it, and a hatch with decades-old computer equipment, but a state of the art washer and dryer. Are you intrigued yet?

A couple of our “lostaways” came upon the hatch in the ground in the middle of the jungle… Nothing strange there, right? Big metal, windowed, metallic thing buried in the ground? So, our fearless “hero” (unless he’s a bad guy and in on it all) decides to try to get into it. Somebody dies before the hatch gets opened, and the first season ended RIGHT before we could get a look into the hatch, and right after the boat-people (the Others?) took …someone… off the raft that left the island.

Now we know (or do we? Basically all we really KNOW is what we see happen with our own two eyes on the island, and even THAT can be misunderstood or faked as well) that “everything happens for a reason” but what does that mean? Does that mean that everybody is *here* for a reason? A specific reason per specific person, or just some vague idea of a “reason” for people to be there? Have the characters been guided and directed to being on that particular plane knowing that the "crash" would take place? Are some of the people we think of as peripheral characters in flashbacks really the powers that be? The producers have “officially” debunked the hell/Purgatory idea, so supposedly the lostaways aren't trying to make their way to Heaven, Dante-style. They've officially debunked some other theories as well.

All that we think we know within this show, we have to question, since we haven’t yet established which sources are reliable. The flashbacks (each episode is “someone”-centric, and focuses on that person’s flashbacks) could be “tweaked” to the point of view to the person in them, and who knows who’s telling the truth when someone says something on the island. The flashbacks chosen could also just have been chosen to show some small part of a character, while actually misleading us to the personality as a whole.

Now that the hatch has been opened and we’ve seen the orientation film explaining the experiments that are supposedly taking place, here or elsewhere….can we believe it? Is it a plant? Is the hatch-dweller telling the truth about his experience? Do they really *have* to push the button every 108 minutes to prevent something drastic from happening (Oh, and for those of you who are fans, and have made it this far, you might appreciate this link) And why the emphasis on “pushing the button” rather than inputting the code?

Now that the raft people have returned to the island (it *is* our island right?), what are we going to learn about the Others that the rest of the lostaways have encountered?

Don’t forget the whispers in the woods, the significant numbers, the hatch dweller meeting a lostaway in the past.….the drug plane, the recovering drug addict who just found the stash, the handicapped man who was able to walk as a result of the crash or the island….and more.

Who is connected to whom? There are an awful lot of possible connections to be made back in the "real world." We see some characters in each other's flashbacks in passing. Are any of them actually significant in the earlier lives of other lostaways? Could any of them have a hand in what has happened here on the island, and what is going to continue to happen?

Tens of millions of viewers can’t be wrong (ok, so they COULD be, but we’re not!)

Now’s your chance to catch up…there isn’t another new episode for two more weeks! The first season is available on DVD. It’s also being made available for purchase, along with the second season through an offer from ABC, Disney and Apple. You can download past and current episodes from Apple’s iTunes Music Store. The current episodes will be available to purchase the day after broadcast.

Get watching! Get LOST!