Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Monday, March 28, 2005

Whose Democracy?

An article on how "exporting democracy," the newfound foreign policy goal of George W. Bush, has backfired.

President Bush takes credit for democracy in the Middle East. Maybe he's been the biggest obstacle in the way. Start with Iran. But for our long buildup to the Iraq war, it's Iran that might have been the world's next great democracy...

...Ukraine, by the way, happened without us, though Bush may soon be taking credit for it too. He shouldn't. The "Orange Revolution" owes much more to the soft power of the European Union than the hard power of the U.S. The EU sent in the mediators. While America has the Army, it is really the EU that has been getting the results. At any rate, there'd be no democracy in Ukraine if we had been bombing Belarus.

On the Road to Democracy Without Bush

The Brilliant but Humble Students at Northwestern

I wish we could undo our knowledge that certain types of people exist. Unfortunately, once we learn a small amount about these unfortunate people, we first want to learn even more, the same way we are inclined to reflexively double take when some kind of disgusting sight is in view. It's morbid curiosity. With this in mind, I give you the description posted on the Facebook club of one of Northwestern's fraternities, Delta Tau Delta:

Those guys that you wish you were. All the women want us and all the men want to be us. An elite organization of the most attractive and wealthy men on campus. If you are wondering where all the beautiful girls on campus went, look no further than 2317 sheridan road any night of the week.

Even if there is a level of self-mocking in this description--which is doubtful as this piece comes across as the exact opposite of funny, it represents cockiness and vapidity to an extreme. Thanks Delta Tau Delta for reassuring us that people who have been afforded privilege and wealth can still deem themselves superior through no effort of their own. And your complex understanding of women is moving. It is such people who make me wish I wasn't so inclined to browse the Facebook implicitly looking for things that make me angry. (Does anyone else do this?)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Catching misheard lyrics has become a sport, and tonight I can partake:

Blinded by the light/Wrapped up like a (douche?)/You know they run her in the night.

It's really:

Blinded by the light/revved up like a deuce/another runner in the night

(though a "ch" sound at the end of deuce is so pronounced)

Triplets of Belleville as Metaphor for Franco-American Relations?

I viewed the 2003 French animated film The Triplets of Belleville (Les Triplettes de Belleville) a few weeks ago, and I observed themes that I didn't focus on as much during my first viewing of the film, when I was primarily captivated with the animators' use of caricature.

During the second viewing however, I took more note of the meaning behind the exaggeration: the uninvited development in the French countryside where main character Madame Souza and her biker son live, the enormous skyscrapers of Belleville and the gargantuan stomachs of its citizens as metaphors of the excesses of America, and the symbolism of French bikers being held in captivity and forced to "entertain" American business and mob men. Is this film a critique of an uninvited American influence on France?

I looked on the Internet Movie Database to see if anyone had any similar interpretations. One man interpreted the film as a critique of how American media is run, with the three kidnapped bikers representative of the way in which American business holds hostage the big three television networks. Someone else saw the cavernous Belleville as an amalgamation of New York, Montreal, and Paris, which could represent ironically the idea of New York as headquarters of a supposed "international community."

Although the brilliance of the animation in Triplets of Belleville must be acknowledged, especially since the use of exaggeration serves to communicate significances to the audience in lieu of actual dialogue, I think the animation technique has been isolated as the main appeal of the film to the detriment of the complex themes about Franco-American relations that Triplets offers up.

Type II Diabetes Alert: Exaggeratedly obese citizens of Belleville.

As a viewer, and more specifically a viewer who has thought a lot about Franco-American relations, I am clearly approaching the film with a certain set of experiences that work to construct themes relevant to me, as every viewer does. Still, I find Triplets of Belleville will endure as a quality piece of film because its themes are subtly imparted but deeply understood.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

On this day of Thermidor...: Revisiting the French Revolution

One lesser-remembered event of the French Revolution was the coup of Thermidor, when Jacobins overthrew Robespierre and his reign of terror and overthrew the traditional Christian calendar (the calendar we know today) as well.

This reordering of time was metric in nature: days would consist of ten hours of a hundred minutes of a hundred seconds. A month was to consist of three sets of ten days, with one day of rest at the end of a set of nine days. The dearth of days of rest made the reform unpopular and sadly, drew attention away from the brilliance and awesomeness of the renaming of the months of the year. The new names were the following:

1. Vendémiaire 7. Germinal
2. Brumaire 8. Floréal
3. Frimaire 9. Prairial
4. Nivôse 10. Messidor
5. Pluviôse 11. Thermidor
6. Ventôse 12. Fructidor

According to a site that explains this system in valuable depth,
The poets contributed the name of the days, choosing the names of plants, domestic animals and tools; the months rhyme three by three, according to the "sonority" of the seasons.

Now first, we can certainly acknowledge that were some mistakes made in how the French Revolution was carried out, as worthy a cause as it was. The Jacobin calendar, however, was not one of them. I mean for the love of god, my birthday would be in the month of Germinal (I think? I believe one can figure out how to convert the months between Jacobin and Christian by associating Thermidor with July and going from there); how cool is that? Lucky people born in or around July would be born in Thermidore. And how about people born in Nivôse (December)? Which of those two possiblities sounds better? I think the answer is pretty clear.

Pushing for a Jacobin calendar won't be easy. Many religious Christians are bound to challenge it, as is represented by this comment, posted in what appears to be a web forum for smug, religious types:
The idea was to stamp out anything felt to be “superstitious,” which took in anything remotely religious. Consequently, Nov. 21-Dec. 20 was renamed “Frimaire,” “month of frost or sleet,” and March 21-April 19 called “Germinal,” meaning “month of seeds.”
We all know where the noble ideals of the early French revolution–"Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"–led: to the guillotining of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, along with thousands of other political “undesirables” during the “Reign of Terror” of 1794-95. A little historical lesson of what can happen all too easily when religion is sneered at and stamped out in the name of “progress.”

Still, I'm willing to sacrifice popularity to achieve a world of metrics and months with names the like of Floréal.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Selectively 'Pro-Life'; Totally pro-Obtrusiveness

Regarding the Terry Schiavo case, the Republican Party has gone and done what they do best: exploit a sad situation for their political gain. The party's involvement in the case violates their own supposed principles of federalism in undercutting the rulings of Florida judges (not the first time this has happened).

It would take a self-deluding Republican loyalist to believe that the Republican party has the best of intentions in interfering between Schiavo's family. Indeed, a memo circulating among Republicans reveals that getting involved with the Schiavo case is a chance to send a symbolic acknowledgement to their "pro-life" base as well as distract from media focus on House Majority Leader Tom Delay's ethics violations. [In my opinion, there is no reason why DeLay's ethics violations shouldn't be on the front page along with the Schivao stories. As usual, the media fails to investigate Republican scandals the way it does with Democrats.] Anyhow, according to a memo circulating among Republicans about getting involved in the Schiavo case, "The pro-life base will be excited...this is a great political issue...this is a tough issue for Democrats."[2] This story also takes the heat off Tom DeLay, who is facing a number of serious ethics charges and legal scandals.[3]

So let's not even engage the Republican party in debate about pro-life, because we know they're not truly pro-life. After all, a person who supports sending young men and women off to die in a war that was nowhere near a last resort to responding to Iraq, that support cutting health and self-improvement programs for men, women, and children who live in poverty like Medicare and Headstart, this is not a person who truly values life; this is a person who disingenuously advocates for life, usually with the intention of preventing rights of certain people (especially women!).

So, to the Democratic Party, call a spade a spade and demand that the Republicans in Congress and the White House get back to working on what we're paying them to do, which is manage the budget and defend our country. Come to think of it, they're not doing such a good job of that either! Damn! Just tell them to take a vacation and let the Democrats do the real work of this country.

For a good opinion article about the true intentions of the GOP, read this, and also note Bill Frist's plan run for President in 2008.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Paris on the Potomac

Very briefly, I will mention that D.C. is putting on a citywide program called "Paris on the Potomac," spotlighting the French influences on the District. Since French architect and city planner Pierre L'enfant had a similarly strong influence on D.C. as Baron Haussman had in that role on the city of Paris, D.C. has a lot of structural similarities to Paris--big boulevards and roundabouts and a lovely mall.

The wonderful main art museum, the National Gallery, is having several exhibits on French painters in honor of Paris on the Potomac. In the modern East Wing, one gallery exhibits the Fauve artists, artists who used lots of bright color in unlikely places, with a lot of Henri Matisse paintings (one of my favorites!). Another exhibit features small French paintings of different movements from the mid to late 19th Century.

Open Window, Collioure, 1905
A Fauvist Matisse piece at the National Gallery

The other exhibit I made it to was one that opened Sunday called "Toulouse-Lautrec in Montmartre" an exploration of the painting, influences, neighborhood, and friends of the great French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The exhibit is organized pretty well, with Lautrec's subjects grouped together under a general chronological continuity. Particularly interesting is Lautrec's interest in portraying the loneliness of individuals in group situations, a great paradox of urban life. He has a particular empathy for the prostitutes of Montmartre who he portrays a lot, and his famous advertisements for cabaret acts that have come back in vogue today are on display too.

So glad the great city of D.C. is spotlighting the great city of Paris! I only wish I could be here for the Cherry Blossoms!

Waiting in Line for SupremeCourt Land

This week I have the pleasure of visiting the nation's capital and my many relatives who live in the area. Since I am currently enjoying a brief respite at my aunt's house from an otherwise busy day, I will write of all that I have done today.

First of all, I reprieved a goal that I tried to accomplish back in early 2001: viewing a full oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court, which I find a great fascination with despite its history of problematic rulings tainted by strong ideological beliefs of certian justices on the court, such as Dred Scott v. Sanford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railrods, Bush v. Gore.

This goal was not without its obstacles however, the main one being getting to the court early enough and then waiting for a long time to get into arguments. At least I was entertained by the people around me. Two girls standing behind me were especially noticeable, mainly because they laughed obnoxiously loud, with the shorter, stumpier of the two letting out a terrible, unending cackle everytime she laughed, which was probably every. other. word.

Fortunately, the conversation revealed these two to be Repulicans, and contrary to the suppositions of my friend who made comments a couple of entries below accusing my party and not his of being the party of hate, these girls were nothing but hateful towards Democrats. One, who came from New York talked of meeting her two senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton reporting that her "skin was crawling" the whole time. The other commented that Hillary was her "least favorite person in the Senate." Then they took pot shots at Hillary for running for Senator of New York soon after taking up residency there (forget the fact that she was elected by a strong majority of New Yorkers!). They had to quit their criticism when it occured to them that Republican Alan Keyes had done a similar thing in Illinois (and Keyes became a resident of beautiful Illinois well into the campaign, a campaign he sizeably lost!).

They later started predictably directing anger--mocking anger with these two cacklers--towards "trial lawyers." Neither young woman could figure out the proper name--(it's personal injury lawyer) though that didn't stop them from ripping on them for only wanting money (since when did Republicans start getting down on people for making money--only when they support Democatic causes, I guess). One of the women even dismissed arguments she had once been given that anyone can face a devastating personal injury from a product or medical error as too sappy. These girls were Republicans through and through. (I couldn't help but notice that one of the girls mentioned her financial aid from school, which is strange because I thought Republicans didn't like "government handouts." Someone should kindly ask this girl to give back her financial aid).

Fortunately, waiting in front of me were two witty law students with whom I eventually struck up a conversation. They had come down to D.C. from Brooklyn University in New York and were eagerly hoping to get into the second case of the day, a case called Cutter v. Wilkinson which called into question the place of religion in public places (specifically, in prisons). The more talkative of the two, when it looked as if we were not likely to get into the arguments, joked that security should screen to let the people with the most interest in the case get in. At another point, the taller, quieter of the two asked his friend: "You know what would be really satisfying?" Friend's response: "Seeing Cutter argued?" They also joked about a crowd of high school students who were goofing off around the plaza of the Court saying, "These are the future leaders of America." I found out from the more talkative of the two that he had gone to Harvard undergrad with the intention of being a math professor. His advice: take time off after college. He had also gotten a masters in philosophy at Columbia and taught in a New York City public school!

Unfortunately for the two law students and for me, there was not enough space for us in the Court, even though we had waited in line for so long and even though we were pretty close to the front. So my proposal is this: increase seating space..maybe the size of an IMAX theater. Sell popcorn. Then Rehnquist and co. can get the salary increases he asks for every year in his annual report.

At least I got to see a press conference given by both sides of the Cutter case up close and wait around as a lot of lawyers who seemed to know each other mingled. That was an interesting spectacle of rites post-Supreme Court arguments. The nice thing though was that everyone, even the seemingly experienced lawyers, seemed excited to be at the Court.

Friday, March 18, 2005


The title of this blog is taken from a sign I spotted at Wrigley Field about two years ago, after Sammy Sosa was found to have supposedly corked his bat. I remember feeling kind of sorry for Sammy, kind of skeptical too, but mostly just feeling incredibly indifferent to the whole "scandal."

Fast forward about two years to the current steroids hearings that took place yesterday in the U.S. Congress, a subject to which I have also been largely indifferent. In fact, I didn't even hear about the hearings, nor Jose Canseco's controversial book about the subject of steroids in baseball, until today when I was flipping channels while waiting for the child I babysit for to wake up from a nap. The hearings surprisingly drew me in: maybe it was the idea of seeing steroid pumping athletes in suits or maybe it was the dearth of TV options--the only other programs on were soap operas and "Matlock." Either way, I was quickly engaged in the hearings, and especially with observing the visible tension that existed between Jose Canseco (the one who got caught, as I've been told) and the other players on the panel (Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosal, and Raphael Palmero...Frank Thomas was there on videofeed, but for some reason, only at the beginning) and the variance of answers between Canseco and the rest of the ballplayers.

The most useful comment made by anyone during the hearing came from the U.S. Representative who pointed out that he hopes the Congress investigates other travesties in America that afflict youth, like poverty, and he hopes the American people know that Congress does more than just investigate the salacious news like steroids in Major League Baseball. (I'm guessing this man was a Democrat, since sadly, Republicans seem to have a vendetta for people who find themselves in poverty).

Other key moments:

Most shameless moment: Some Republican Congresswoman from South Florida grandstands by lionizing Raphael Palmero for being such a great role model who "fled an evil, Communist dictatorship" and made a good life in America. That's neither here nor there lady, we're talking about steroids in baseball. Clearly, she wanted to shore up her Cuban-American vote by self-aggrandizing. She didn't even ask a question to the panel.

Best understanding of the real issue: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) implicates a culture of succeeding at any cost for a problem that exists not just in baseball, but in the corporate world, the political world, and so forth. We live in a society of people who want to acquire unimaginable power (why?), make a fast buck, etc. This is a mentality that promotes any means necessary to a greed-filled end, and these are societal values many should reexamine.

Most awesome mustache: Raphael Palmero; kind of a Tom Selleck meets '70s disco look.

Worst hair: Curt Schilling

Most annoying player on the panel: Amazingly, it wasn't Jose Canseco...not even close. Congratulations Curt Schilling, you're It again. With your grandstanding about your Zero Tolerance Committee followed by your unwillingness to be forthright about how much scrutiny it will take to get steroids out of baseball and sports in general. Oh, and that little quip about how only Democrats would be interested in regulating MLB was just toolish. Plus the guy's so huge, he's either a 'roid addict or he lifts weights in his sleep.

Worst name of baseball player's wife: Once again, Curt Schilling wins this since his wife is named Shawnda.

Most bitter: Jose Canseco, but at least he was honest. (Oh, what getting caught will do to a person).

Most likeable panel member: Sammy Sosa...Wow, that was a bad panel if Sosa elicits sympathy!!!

Anyway, back to more important things, like the Jacko trial (kidding).

Monday, March 14, 2005

Why the Republican Party is Despicable

Despicable is not a word that should be thrown around lightly; however, in the case of calling the Republican Party despicable, it is an understatement. The Republican Party is despicable because they constantly displays the worst characteristics known to mankind. Here they are:
  • Self-pity| Republican self-pity is one of the most disingenuous exercises there is, and yet, many of them believe that they are truly disadvantaged, they face the most adversity, they are up against a media-government juggernaut. This of course, is incredibly warped.
  • Lies| Republicans lie, partly to bolster their arguments that claim they do face adversity day in, day out, and partly because they have no moral qualms against lying. Why would one have no moral qualms against lying--say lying about war, about the beneficiaries of tax cuts, about social security policy, etc.?
  • Greed|Because they are greedy. They even admit they are greedy, that people who have a ton of money deserve it because they must have worked hard for it. (Have they never heard of Paris Hilton? Or George W. Bush, for that matter!) How is it possible to possess all of these terrible qualities and go on living?
  • Hypocrisy| I'll explain this in its most basic form, because it's a pretty basic brand of hypocrisy.
    • Republicans control all three branches of the federal government. Why are they whining about the government then? Well, according to them, the federal government overtaxes and overregulates. Why do Republicans rail against the government so, acting as if it is the prime oppressor, although they control it? Because they do not want to pay taxes and have their corporations regulated. They do want the government to arrange contracts for them, and they don't mind attaining a position of power in the government themselves. So basically, they want to take as much as they can from the government without giving anything back. They want the tax dollars of working Americans to go to their contracting schemes and ultimately their wallets. And yet, despite all of this, Republicans are still wallowing in self-pity about being the underdogs.
    • Republican views are represented constantly in the media and the president of their party, George W. Bush walks through his job with what amounts to a perpetual get out of jail free card. An administration that has involved private energy company CEOs in policymaking meetings at the White House, that bitterly avenges government officials who have dissented from their party line--going so far as to leak the name of a CIA agent to the press in one point, an administration that lied, yes, it's as simple as that lied about going to war by presenting doctored or patently false intelligence, this administration and its supreme leader, George Bush, receives nary a challenging question from the media. And yet, Republicans whine that the media is liberal because of an old survey that has journalists identifying themselves as Democrats. Even if this holds true today, political reporting has become an exericse among these irresponsible journalists to prove how nonbiased they are by bashing Democrats. Remember Cokie Roberts's anti-Gore streak in the 2000 election? In fact, remember the media's energetic engagement in trying to frame Gore as an exaggerator when he merely mixed up the dates of a few visits he made to fire sites? Remember how at the same time, George W. Bush was exaggerating about his plan to cut taxes and keep a balanced budget? You probably don't, because the media failed to publicize it. And yet Republicans, who not only have the mainstream media on their sides, but tons of blatant right-wing radio and TV outlets as well, still complain. Self-pity at its most despicable.
    • The new Social Security "reforms" are a prime example of Republican greed. To publicize this radical abandonment of Social Security, the Republican Party has enlisted all of their minions to disseminate propoganda: from the "local folks" who go to town hall meetings and write to their papers to the national organizations' that support Republicans by pumping in millions. This propoganda campaign has far breached what is an acceptable involvement between paritsan organizations and the White House. Sadly and infuriatingly, the Republicans have enlisted people in their grassroots campign who are sure to lose from the Social Security slashing. Head honcho Republicans claim that their Social Security plan will benefit everyone, but these are the same people who believe that CEOs are overregulated, that they should be allowed to profit as much as they want.
    • Is it possible for corporations who will be involved in managing the new Social Security funds to work with the interests of their customers in mind over their own interests? Almost unquestionably, the answer is no, for in the last several years, we have seen (thanks in large part to New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer) corporate collusion to hike up insurance rates on clients in the insurance brokerage sector and hedging of budgets to prevent investors from taking out their money in just about every big sector (financial, energy, etc.). How can a party that embraces greed say to the American people that their Social Security bill that brings in private money market managers benefits them? Only by being hypocrites.
So this is how Republicans manage to represent the worst of humankind. These are strong words, but they must be said, because with each capitulation to Republican lies, with each suggestion to compromise with the uncompromisable, Democrats lose their country and its values to shameless, greedy, right-wing creeps. Think: do you want to live in an America where Rush Limbaugh is the voice of reason? Where your social security payments become profit for Mutual Fund CEOs? Where a war can be started with no truthful justification? Is this the country envisioned by Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington after the Revolution? Is this the country envisioned by Frederick Douglass or Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War? Is this the country envisioned by our great religious leaders who have preached to love thy neighbor or by our great African American leaders who worked to make America live up to its promise of equality? No, it is a country envisioned by greedy, petty, despicable people. In short, by Republicans.