Sunday, May 30, 2004

Al Gore unhinged

No blog here today. I just wanted a copy of Al Gore's remarks that I could read later.
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Remarks by Al Gore
May 26, 2004
As Prepared
George W. Bush promised us a foreign policy with humility. Instead, he has brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world.

He promised to "restore honor and integrity to the White House." Instead, he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon.

Honor? He decided not to honor the Geneva Convention. Just as he would not honor the United Nations, international treaties, the opinions of our allies, the role of Congress and the courts, or what Jefferson described as "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind." He did not honor the advice, experience and judgment of our military leaders in designing his invasion of Iraq. And now he will not honor our fallen dead by attending any funerals or even by permitting photos of their flag-draped coffins.

How did we get from September 12th , 2001, when a leading French newspaper ran a giant headline with the words "We Are All Americans Now" and when we had the good will and empathy of all the world -- to the horror that we all felt in witnessing the pictures of torture in Abu Ghraib.

To begin with, from its earliest days in power, this administration sought to radically destroy the foreign policy consensus that had guided America since the end of World War II. The long successful strategy of containment was abandoned in favor of the new strategy of "preemption." And what they meant by preemption was not the inherent right of any nation to act preemptively against an imminent threat to its national security, but rather an exotic new approach that asserted a unique and unilateral U.S. right to ignore international law wherever it wished to do so and take military action against any nation, even in circumstances where there was no imminent threat. All that is required, in the view of Bush's team is the mere assertion of a possible, future threat - and the assertion need be made by only one person, the President.

More disturbing still was their frequent use of the word "dominance" to describe their strategic goal, because an American policy of dominance is as repugnant to the rest of the world as the ugly dominance of the helpless, naked Iraqi prisoners has been to the American people. Dominance is as dominance does.

Dominance is not really a strategic policy or political philosophy at all. It is a seductive illusion that tempts the powerful to satiate their hunger for more power still by striking a Faustian bargain. And as always happens - sooner or later - to those who shake hands with the devil, they find out too late that what they have given up in the bargain is their soul.

One of the clearest indications of the impending loss of intimacy with one's soul is the failure to recognize the existence of a soul in those over whom power is exercised, especially if the helpless come to be treated as animals, and degraded. We also know - and not just from De Sade and Freud - the psychological proximity between sexual depravity and other people's pain. It has been especially shocking and awful to see these paired evils perpetrated so crudely and cruelly in the name of America.

Those pictures of torture and sexual abuse came to us embedded in a wave of news about escalating casualties and growing chaos enveloping our entire policy in Iraq. But in order understand the failure of our overall policy, it is important to focus specifically on what happened in the Abu Ghraib prison, and ask whether or not those actions were representative of who we are as Americans? Obviously the quick answer is no, but unfortunately it's more complicated than that.

There is good and evil in every person. And what makes the United States special in the history of nations is our commitment to the rule of law and our carefully constructed system of checks and balances. Our natural distrust of concentrated power and our devotion to openness and democracy are what have lead us as a people to consistently choose good over evil in our collective aspirations more than the people any other nation.

Our founders were insightful students of human nature. They feared the abuse of power because they understood that every human being has not only "better angels" in his nature, but also an innate vulnerability to temptation - especially the temptation to abuse power over others.

Our founders understood full well that a system of checks and balances is needed in our constitution because every human being lives with an internal system of checks and balances that cannot be relied upon to produce virtue if they are allowed to attain an unhealthy degree of power over their fellow citizens.

Listen then to the balance of internal impulses described by specialist Charles Graner when confronted by one of his colleagues, Specialist Joseph M. Darby, who later became a courageous whistleblower. When Darby asked him to explain his actions documented in the photos, Graner replied: "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the Corrections Officer says, 'I love to make a groan man piss on himself."

What happened at the prison, it is now clear, was not the result of random acts by "a few bad apples," it was the natural consequence of the Bush Administration policy that has dismantled those wise constraints and has made war on America's checks and balances.

The abuse of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib flowed directly from the abuse of the truth that characterized the Administration's march to war and the abuse of the trust that had been placed in President Bush by the American people in the aftermath of September 11th.

There was then, there is now and there would have been regardless of what Bush did, a threat of terrorism that we would have to deal with. But instead of making it better, he has made it infinitely worse. We are less safe because of his policies. He has created more anger and righteous indignation against us as Americans than any leader of our country in the 228 years of our existence as a nation -- because of his attitude of contempt for any person, institution or nation who disagrees with him.

He has exposed Americans abroad and Americans in every U.S. town and city to a greater danger of attack by terrorists because of his arrogance, willfulness, and bungling at stirring up hornet's nests that pose no threat whatsoever to us. And by then insulting the religion and culture and tradition of people in other countries. And by pursuing policies that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children, all of it done in our name.

President Bush said in his speech Monday night that the war in Iraq is "the central front in the war on terror." It's not the central front in the war on terror, but it has unfortunately become the central recruiting office for terrorists. [**** Cheney said, "This war may last the rest of our lives.] The unpleasant truth is that President Bush's utter incompetence has made the world a far more dangerous place and dramatically increased the threat of terrorism against the United States. Just yesterday, the International Institute of Strategic Studies reported that the Iraq conflict " has arguable focused the energies and resources of Al Qaeda and its followers while diluting those of the global counterterrorism coalition." The ISS said that in the wake of the war in Iraq Al Qaeda now has more than 18,000 potential terrorists scattered around the world and the war in Iraq is swelling its ranks.

The war plan was incompetent in its rejection of the advice from military professionals and the analysis of the intelligence was incompetent in its conclusion that our soldiers would be welcomed with garlands of flowers and cheering crowds. Thus we would not need to respect the so-called Powell doctrine of overwhelming force.

There was also in Rumsfeld's planning a failure to provide security for nuclear materials, and to prevent widespread lawlessness and looting.

Luckily, there was a high level of competence on the part of our soldiers even though they were denied the tools and the numbers they needed for their mission. What a disgrace that their families have to hold bake sales to buy discarded Kevlar vests to stuff into the floorboards of the Humvees! Bake sales for body armor.

And the worst still lies ahead. General Joseph Hoar, the former head of the Marine Corps, said "I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss."

When a senior, respected military leader like Joe Hoar uses the word "abyss", then the rest of us damn well better listen. Here is what he means: more American soldiers dying, Iraq slipping into worse chaos and violence, no end in sight, with our influence and moral authority seriously damaged.

Retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, who headed Central Command before becoming President Bush's personal emissary to the Middle East, said recently that our nation's current course is "headed over Niagara Falls."

The Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Army Major General Charles H. Swannack, Jr., asked by the Washington Post whether he believes the United States is losing the war in Iraq, replied, "I think strategically, we are." Army Colonel Paul Hughes, who directed strategic planning for the US occupation authority in Baghdad, compared what he sees in Iraq to the Vietnam War, in which he lost his brother: "I promised myself when I came on active duty that I would do everything in my power to prevent that ... from happening again. " Noting that Vietnam featured a pattern of winning battles while losing the war, Hughes added "unless we ensure that we have coherence in our policy, we will lose strategically."

The White House spokesman, Dan Bartlett was asked on live television about these scathing condemnations by Generals involved in the highest levels of Pentagon planning and he replied, "Well they're retired, and we take our advice from active duty officers."

But amazingly, even active duty military officers are speaking out against President Bush. For example, the Washington Post quoted an unnamed senior General at the Pentagon as saying, " the current OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) refused to listen or adhere to military advice." Rarely if ever in American history have uniformed commanders felt compelled to challenge their commander in chief in public.

The Post also quoted an unnamed general as saying, "Like a lot of senior Army guys I'm quite angry" with Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush Administration. He listed two reasons. "I think they are going to break the Army," he said, adding that what really incites him is "I don't think they care."

In his upcoming book, Zinni blames the current catastrophe on the Bush team's incompetence early on. "In the lead-up to the Iraq war, and its later conduct," he writes, "I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility, at worst, lying, incompetence and corruption."

Zinni's book will join a growing library of volumes by former advisors to Bush -- including his principal advisor on terrorism, Richard Clarke; his principal economic policy advisor, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who was honored by Bush's father for his service in Iraq, and his former Domestic Adviser on faith-based organizations, John Dilulio, who said, "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki told Congress in February that the occupation could require "several hundred thousand troops." But because Rumsfeld and Bush did not want to hear disagreement with their view that Iraq could be invaded at a much lower cost, Shinseki was hushed and then forced out.

And as a direct result of this incompetent plan and inadequate troop strength, young soldiers were put in an untenable position. For example, young reservists assigned to the Iraqi prisons were called up without training or adequate supervision, and were instructed by their superiors to "break down" prisoners in order to prepare them for interrogation.

To make matters worse, they were placed in a confusing situation where the chain of command was criss-crossed between intelligence gathering and prison administration, and further confused by an unprecedented mixing of military and civilian contractor authority.

The soldiers who are accused of committing these atrocities are, of course, responsible for their own actions and if found guilty, must be severely and appropriately punished. But they are not the ones primarily responsible for the disgrace that has been brought upon the United States of America.

Private Lynndie England did not make the decision that the United States would not observe the Geneva Convention. Specialist Charles Graner was not the one who approved a policy of establishing an American Gulag of dark rooms with naked prisoners to be "stressed" and even - we must use the word - tortured - to force them to say things that legal procedures might not induce them to say.

These policies were designed and insisted upon by the Bush White House. Indeed, the President's own legal counsel advised him specifically on the subject. His secretary of defense and his assistants pushed these cruel departures from historic American standards over the objections of the uniformed military, just as the Judge Advocates General within the Defense Department were so upset and opposed that they took the unprecedented step of seeking help from a private lawyer in this city who specializes in human rights and said to him, "There is a calculated effort to create an atmosphere of legal ambiguity" where the mistreatment of prisoners is concerned."

Indeed, the secrecy of the program indicates an understanding that the regular military culture and mores would not support these activities and neither would the American public or the world community. Another implicit acknowledgement of violations of accepted standards of behavior is the process of farming out prisoners to countries less averse to torture and giving assignments to private contractors

President Bush set the tone for our attitude for suspects in his State of the Union address. He noted that more than 3,000 "suspected terrorists" had been arrested in many countries and then he added, "and many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: they are no longer a problem to the United States and our allies."

George Bush promised to change the tone in Washington. And indeed he did. As many as 37 prisoners may have been murdered while in captivity, though the numbers are difficult to rely upon because in many cases involving violent death, there were no autopsies.

How dare they blame their misdeeds on enlisted personnel from a Reserve unit in upstate New York. President Bush owes more than one apology. On the list of those he let down are the young soldiers who are themselves apparently culpable, but who were clearly put into a moral cesspool. The perpetrators as well as the victims were both placed in their relationship to one another by the policies of George W. Bush.

How dare the incompetent and willful members of this Bush/Cheney Administration humiliate our nation and our people in the eyes of the world and in the conscience of our own people. How dare they subject us to such dishonor and disgrace. How dare they drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud of Saddam Hussein's torture prison.

David Kay concluded his search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with the famous verdict: "we were all wrong." And for many Americans, Kay's statement seemed to symbolize the awful collision between Reality and all of the false and fading impressions President Bush had fostered in building support for his policy of going to war.

Now the White House has informed the American people that they were also "all wrong" about their decision to place their faith in Ahmed Chalabi, even though they have paid him 340,000 dollars per month. 33 million dollars (CHECK) and placed him adjacent to Laura Bush at the State of the Union address. Chalabi had been convicted of fraud and embezzling 70 million dollars in public funds from a Jordanian bank, and escaped prison by fleeing the country. But in spite of that record, he had become one of key advisors to the Bush Administration on planning and promoting the War against Iraq.

And they repeatedly cited him as an authority, perhaps even a future president of Iraq. Incredibly, they even ferried him and his private army into Baghdad in advance of anyone else, and allowed him to seize control over Saddam's secret papers.

Now they are telling the American people that he is a spy for Iran who has been duping the President of the United States for all these years.

One of the Generals in charge of this war policy went on a speaking tour in his spare time to declare before evangelical groups that the US is in a holy war as "Christian Nation battling Satan." This same General Boykin was the person who ordered the officer who was in charge of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay to extend his methods to Iraq detainees, prisoners. ... The testimony from the prisoners is that they were forced to curse their religion Bush used the word "crusade" early on in the war against Iraq, and then commentators pointed out that it was singularly inappropriate because of the history and sensitivity of the Muslim world and then a few weeks later he used it again.

"We are now being viewed as the modern Crusaders, as the modern colonial power in this part of the world," Zinni said.

What a terrible irony that our country, which was founded by refugees seeking religious freedom - coming to America to escape domineering leaders who tried to get them to renounce their religion - would now be responsible for this kind of abuse..

Ameen Saeed al-Sheikh told the Washington Post that he was tortured and ordered to denounce Islam and after his leg was broken one of his torturers started hitting it while ordering him to curse Islam and then, " they ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive." Others reported that they were forced to eat pork and drink alcohol.


In my religious tradition, I have been taught that "ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit... Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."

The President convinced a majority of the country that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on September 11th. But in truth he had nothing whatsoever to do with it. The President convinced the country with a mixture of forged documents and blatantly false assertions that Saddam was in league with Al Qaeda, and that he was "indistinguishable" from Osama bin Laden.

He asked the nation , in his State of the Union address, to "imagine" how terrified we should be that Saddam was about to give nuclear weapons to terrorists and stated repeatedly that Iraq posed a grave and gathering threat to our nation. He planted the seeds of war, and harvested a whirlwind. And now, the "corrupt tree" of a war waged on false premises has brought us the "evil fruit" of Americans torturing and humiliating prisoners.

In my opinion, John Kerry is dealing with this unfolding tragedy in an impressive and extremely responsible way. Our nation's best interest lies in having a new president who can turn a new page, sweep clean with a new broom, and take office on January 20th of next year with the ability to make a fresh assessment of exactly what our nation's strategic position is as of the time the reigns of power are finally wrested from the group of incompetents that created this catastrophe.

Kerry should not tie his own hands by offering overly specific, detailed proposals concerning a situation that is rapidly changing and unfortunately, rapidly deteriorating, but should rather preserve his, and our country's, options, to retrieve our national honor as soon as this long national nightmare is over.

Eisenhower did not propose a five-point plan for changing America's approach to the Korean War when he was running for president in 1952.

When a business enterprise finds itself in deep trouble that is linked to the failed policies of the current CEO the board of directors and stockholders usually say to the failed CEO, "Thank you very much, but we're going to replace you now with a new CEO -- one less vested in a stubborn insistence on staying the course, even if that course is, in the words of General Zinni, "Headed over Niagara Falls."

One of the strengths of democracy is the ability of the people to regularly demand changes in leadership and to fire a failing leader and hire a new one with the promise of hopeful change. That is the real solution to America's quagmire in Iraq. But, I am keenly aware that we have seven months and twenty five days remaining in this president's current term of office and that represents a time of dangerous vulnerability for our country because of the demonstrated incompetence and recklessness of the current administration.

It is therefore essential that even as we focus on the fateful choice, the voters must make this November that we simultaneously search for ways to sharply reduce the extraordinary danger that we face with the current leadership team in place. It is for that reason that I am calling today for Republicans as well as Democrats to join me in asking for the immediate resignations of those immediately below George Bush and Dick Cheney who are most responsible for creating the catastrophe that we are facing in Iraq.

We desperately need a national security team with at least minimal competence because the current team is making things worse with each passing day. They are endangering the lives of our soldiers, and sharply increasing the danger faced by American citizens everywhere in the world, including here at home. They are enraging hundreds of millions of people and embittering an entire generation of anti-Americans whose rage is already near the boiling point.

We simply cannot afford to further increase the risk to our country with more blunders by this team. Donald Rumsfeld, as the chief architect of the war plan, should resign today. His deputies Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and his intelligence chief Stephen Cambone should also resign. The nation is especially at risk every single day that Rumsfeld remains as Secretary of Defense.

Condoleeza Rice, who has badly mishandled the coordination of national security policy, should also resign immediately.

George Tenet should also resign. I want to offer a special word about George Tenet, because he is a personal friend and I know him to be a good and decent man. It is especially painful to call for his resignation, but I have regretfully concluded that it is extremely important that our country have new leadership at the CIA immediately.

As a nation, our greatest export has always been hope: hope that through the rule of law people can be free to pursue their dreams, that democracy can supplant repression and that justice, not power, will be the guiding force in society. Our moral authority in the world derived from the hope anchored in the rule of law. With this blatant failure of the rule of law from the very agents of our government, we face a great challenge in restoring our moral authority in the world and demonstrating our commitment to bringing a better life to our global neighbors.

During Ronald Reagan's Presidency, Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan was accused of corruption, but eventually, after a lot of publicity, the indictment was thrown out by the Judge. Donovan asked the question, "Where do I go to get my reputation back?" President Bush has now placed the United States of America in the same situation. Where do we go to get our good name back?

The answer is, we go where we always go when a dramatic change is needed. We go to the ballot box, and we make it clear to the rest of the world that what's been happening in America for the last four years, and what America has been doing in Iraq for the last two years, really is not who we are. We, as a people, at least the overwhelming majority of us, do not endorse the decision to dishonor the Geneva Convention and the Bill of Rights....

Make no mistake, the damage done at Abu Ghraib is not only to America's reputation and America's strategic interests, but also to America's spirit. It is also crucial for our nation to recognize - and to recognize quickly - that the damage our nation has suffered in the world is far, far more serious than President Bush's belated and tepid response would lead people to believe. Remember how shocked each of us, individually, was when we first saw those hideous images. The natural tendency was to first recoil from the images, and then to assume that they represented a strange and rare aberration that resulted from a few twisted minds or, as the Pentagon assured us, "a few bad apples."

But as today's shocking news reaffirms yet again, this was not rare. It was not an aberration. Today's New York Times reports that an Army survey of prisoner deaths and mistreatment in Iraq and Afghanisatan "show a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known."

Nor did these abuses spring from a few twisted minds at the lowest ranks of our military enlisted personnel. No, it came from twisted values and atrocious policies at the highest levels of our government. This was done in our name, by our leaders.

These horrors were the predictable consequence of policy choices that flowed directly from this administration's contempt for the rule of law. And the dominance they have been seeking is truly not simply unworthy of America - it is also an illusory goal in its own right.

Our world is unconquerable because the human spirit is unconquerable, and any national strategy based on pursuing the goal of domination is doomed to fail because it generates its own opposition, and in the process, creates enemies for the would-be dominator.

A policy based on domination of the rest of the world not only creates enemies for the United States and creates recruits for Al Qaeda, it also undermines the international cooperation that is essential to defeating the efforts of terrorists who wish harm and intimidate Americans.

Unilateralism, as we have painfully seen in Iraq, is its own reward. Going it alone may satisfy a political instinct but it is dangerous to our military, even without their Commander in Chief taunting terrorists to "bring it on."

Our troops are stretched thin and exhausted not only because Secretary Rumsfeld contemptuously dismissed the advice of military leaders on the size of the needed force - but also because President Bush's contempt for traditional allies and international opinion left us without a real coalition to share the military and financial burden of the war and the occupation. Our future is dependent upon increasing cooperation and interdependence in a world tied ever more closely together by technologies of communications and travel. The emergence of a truly global civilization has been accompanied by the recognition of truly global challenges that require global responses that, as often as not, can only be led by the United States - and only if the United States restores and maintains its moral authority to lead.

Make no mistake, it is precisely our moral authority that is our greatest source of strength, and it is precisely our moral authority that has been recklessly put at risk by the cheap calculations and mean compromises of conscience wagered with history by this willful president.

Listen to the way Israel's highest court dealt with a similar question when, in 1999, it was asked to balance due process rights against dire threats to the security of its people:

"This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it, and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. Preserving the Rule of Law and recognition of an individual's liberty constitutes an important component in its understanding of security. At the end of the day they (add to) its strength."

The last and best description of America's meaning in the world is still the definitive formulation of Lincoln's annual message to Congress on December 1, 1862:

"The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise - with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history...the fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation...We shall nobly save, or meanly lose the last best hope of earth...The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just - a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless."

It is now clear that their obscene abuses of the truth and their unforgivable abuse of the trust placed in them after 9/11 by the American people led directly to the abuses of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison and, we are now learning, in many other similar facilities constructed as part of Bush's Gulag, in which, according to the Red Cross, 70 to 90 percent of the victims are totally innocent of any wrongdoing.

The same dark spirit of domination has led them to - for the first time in American history - imprison American citizens with no charges, no right to see a lawyer, no right to notify their family, no right to know of what they are accused, and no right to gain access to any court to present an appeal of any sort. The Bush Admistration has even acquired the power to compel librarians to tell them what any American is reading, and to compel them to keep silent about the request - or else the librarians themselves can also be imprisoned.

They have launched an unprecedented assault on civil liberties, on the right of the courts to review their actions, on the right of the Congress to have information to how they are spending the public's money and the right of the news media to have information about the policies they are pursuing.

The same pattern characterizes virtually all of their policies. They resent any constraint as an insult to their will to dominate and exercise power. Their appetite for power is astonishing. It has led them to introduce a new level of viciousness in partisan politics. It is that viciousness that led them to attack as unpatriotic, Senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in combat during the Vietnam War.

The president episodically poses as a healer and "uniter". If he president really has any desire to play that role, then I call upon him to condemn Rush Limbaugh - perhaps his strongest political supporter - who said that the torture in Abu Ghraib was a "brilliant maneuver" and that the photos were "good old American pornography," and that the actions portrayed were simply those of "people having a good time and needing to blow off steam."

This new political viciousness by the President and his supporters is found not only on the campaign trail, but in the daily operations of our democracy. They have insisted that the leaders of their party in the Congress deny Democrats any meaningful role whatsoever in shaping legislation, debating the choices before us as a people, or even to attend the all-important conference committees that reconcile the differences between actions by the Senate and House of Representatives.

The same meanness of spirit shows up in domestic policies as well. Under the Patriot Act, Muslims, innocent of any crime, were picked up, often physically abused, and held incommunicado indefinitely. What happened in Abu Ghraib was difference not of kind, but of degree.

Differences of degree are important when the subject is torture. The apologists for what has happened do have points that should be heard and clearly understood. It is a fact that every culture and every politics sometimes expresses itself in cruelty. It is also undeniably true that other countries have and do torture more routinely, and far more brutally, than ours has. George Orwell once characterized life in Stalin's Russia as "a boot stamping on a human face forever." That was the ultimate culture of cruelty, so ingrained, so organic, so systematic that everyone in it lived in terror, even the terrorizers. And that was the nature and degree of state cruelty in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

We all know these things, and we need not reassure ourselves and should not congratulate ourselves that our society is less cruel than some others, although it is worth noting that there are many that are less cruel than ours. And this searing revelation at Abu Ghraib should lead us to examine more thoroughly the routine horrors in our domestic prison system.

But what we do now, in reaction to Abu Ghraib will determine a great deal about who we are at the beginning of the 21st century. It is important to note that just as the abuses of the prisoners flowed directly from the policies of the Bush White House, those policies flowed not only from the instincts of the president and his advisors, but found support in shifting attitudes on the part of some in our country in response to the outrage and fear generated by the attack of September 11th.

The president exploited and fanned those fears, but some otherwise sensible and levelheaded Americans fed them as well. I remember reading genteel-sounding essays asking publicly whether or not the prohibitions against torture were any longer relevant or desirable. The same grotesque misunderstanding of what is really involved was responsible for the tone in the memo from the president's legal advisor, Alberto Gonzalez, who wrote on January 25, 2002, that 9/11 "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

We have seen the pictures. We have learned the news. We cannot unlearn it; it is part of us. The important question now is, what will we do now about torture. Stop it? Yes, of course. But that means demanding all of the facts, not covering them up, as some now charge the administration is now doing. One of the whistleblowers at Abu Ghraib, Sergeant Samuel Provance, told ABC News a few days ago that he was being intimidated and punished for telling the truth. "There is definitely a coverup," Provance said. "I feel like I am being punished for being honest."

The abhorrent acts in the prison were a direct consequence of the culture of impunity encouraged, authorized and instituted by Bush and Rumsfeld in their statements that the Geneva Conventions did not apply. The apparent war crimes that took place were the logical, inevitable outcome of policies and statements from the administration.

To me, as glaring as the evidence of this in the pictures themselves was the revelation that it was established practice for prisoners to be moved around during ICRC visits so that they would not be available for visits. That, no one can claim, was the act of individuals. That was policy set from above with the direct intention to violate US values it was to be upholding. It was the kind of policy we see - and criticize in places like China and Cuba.

Moreover, the administration has also set up the men and women of our own armed forces for payback the next time they are held as prisoners. And for that, this administration should pay a very high price. One of the most tragic consequences of these official crimes is that it will be very hard for any of us as Americans - at least for a very long time - to effectively stand up for human rights elsewhere and criticize other governments, when our policies have resulted in our soldiers behaving so monstrously. This administration has shamed America and deeply damaged the cause of freedom and human rights everywhere, thus undermining the core message of America to the world.

President Bush offered a brief and half-hearted apology to the Arab world - but he should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions. He also owes an apology to the U.S. Army for cavalierly sending them into harm's way while ignoring the best advice of their commanders. Perhaps most importantly of all, he should apologize to all those men and women throughout our world who have held the ideal of the United States of America as a shining goal, to inspire their hopeful efforts to bring about justice under a rule of law in their own lands. Of course, the problem with all these legitimate requests is that a sincere apology requires an admission of error, a willingness to accept responsibility and to hold people accountable. And President Bush is not only unwilling to acknowledge error. He has thus far been unwilling to hold anyone in his administration accountable for the worst strategic and military miscalculations and mistakes in the history of the United States of America.

He is willing only to apologize for the alleged erratic behavior of a few low-ranking enlisted people, who he is scapegoating for his policy fiasco.

In December of 2000, even though I strongly disagreed with the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to order a halt to the counting of legally cast ballots, I saw it as my duty to reaffirm my own strong belief that we are a nation of laws and not only accept the decision, but do what I could to prevent efforts to delegitimize George Bush as he took the oath of office as president.

I did not at that moment imagine that Bush would, in the presidency that ensued, demonstrate utter contempt for the rule of law and work at every turn to frustrate accountability...

So today, I want to speak on behalf of those Americans who feel that President Bush has betrayed our nation's trust, those who are horrified at what has been done in our name, and all those who want the rest of the world to know that we Americans see the abuses that occurred in the prisons of Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and secret locations as yet undisclosed as completely out of keeping with the character and basic nature of the American people and at odds with the principles on which America stands.

I believe we have a duty to hold President Bush accountable - and I believe we will. As Lincoln said at our time of greatest trial, "We - even we here - hold the power, and bear the responsibility."

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Some AI Links

With the AI3 finals over, there's lots of stuff at MSNBC.com about American Idol. Kind of surprising considering that MSNBC works for another network, huh?

This article thinks the show needs a makeover.

Here's a blog of the finals.

Another article shares some do's and don'ts for AI contestants.

This last article shows how easily the voting system can be manipulated.
I just read this article over at CNN.com which says the war on terror has only made things worse for us. The jist is that the invasion of Iraq has increased Al-Qaeda fund-raising, brought in new recruits and only made people hate the United States more. Plus, it highlights how the connections between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were virtually non-existant before September 11th.

I think I recall saying these exact same things a couple of years ago . . .

I was wrong

Congratulations to Fantasia! I thought Diana's powervoters would put her over the top, but it looks Fantasia's strong performances on the last night of singing put her through. Where's all the allegations of racism now?

Some observations from the show:

  • Leave it to FOX to take a show that should be over in 10 minutes and drag it out into two hours.
  • Would someone please get Simon a shirt with buttons!
  • I like Jennifer Love Hewitt, but why was she on the pre-show?
  • If I see another ad for Ford, it will be too soon.
  • Why hasn't someone gotten Ruben to lose some weight? He'll always be a big guy, but he needs to take some of the flab off, if only for is health. Of course, he may have dropped 40 and we'd never know. If I lost 40 pounds, it's either because I died of malnutrition or had a leg amputated, but Ruben may sweat 40 pounds off during a single show.
  • Paula needs to tape her boobs up and show cleavage more often.
  • Camile sounded pretty good last night; I guess when people aren't picking her apart constantly, she really can sing.
  • How bad is it that the biggest celebs you can get to show up are Ray Romano, Sharon Osbourne, Andy Richter and Henry Winkler. The only thing missing was the Fonze waterskiing . . .
  • AI needs more Kimberly Caldwell . . . yum . . .
  • If you're going to sing the national anthem, sing it as it was originally arranged. Don't put extra notes in and don't take more than a minute to get through the whole thing.
  • I saw LaToya on the E! red carpet show, and she was all class and grace. We all know she should have won.
  • Randy gets a makeover pass this year for losing all the weight, but please don't wear that shirt and tie again. Ever.
  • Between the two finalists, Fantasia looked the more nervous. Maybe because Diana has all of the beauty pageant experience, but it looked like Fantasia "needed" to win more. Diana knows she is going to get a good record deal and she knows she is going to be successful, at least intially. I think for Fantasia, this was her shot, and if she didn't win, she knows she would have a harder time breaking through.

I can't say I'm surprised by the results, but I really thought Diana's supporters would pull through for her. The worst part is that AI's crediblity is on the line after two incidents this year of the wrong people being booted off. Something needs to be changed in the voting system, but for the folks who finish in the Top 4 (and even some who don't), everyone's a winner.

Shrek 2


I rushed home from work to see Shrek 2 last night. I missed the first few minutes, but it was very, very funny. Much of the novelty from the first movie was gone, but it's still a lot of fun.

John Cleese, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas and Jennifer Saunders are cast expertly and the original principals are back in form. Stay through the credits.

So between Shrek 2 and American Idol, my Wednesday was shot. Hope you guys got more done yesterday than I did.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

AI recap

I still think Diana is going to win. I've read some conspiracy theories about how Diana's last song was sabotaged by the sound guys, and while I'm not sure if I believe it, her last song sounded horrible and not because of her. I also find it hard to believe a song use to wipe the floor with everyone else a week ago is one she faltered on.

A part of me also wanted to sit next to LaToya and listen to her say, "I could have killed both of them tonight."

Diana started strong and her big voice will carry her despite the bad pitch on the last song. Fantasia started poorly--I thought she was shouting, not singing during her first song--but got better as the night went on.

Regardless of who "wins", both girls are going to do well. If last year's show is any indication, the runner-up will have more success than the winner. Plus they'll get to control their own recording destiny instead of being locked into a guaranteed contract with the AI producers.

If anything comes of this year, I hope they fix the voting system or many folks won't be back next year.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Before the finals begin

I was thinking about AI3 today and I think the franchise has officially "Jumped the Shark". Last year's theme was talent over style, and truly the most talented people were the last ones standing (except Frenchie Davis who was booted out of the Top 12 because of those topless pix on the internet).

This year, I fear the theme this year will be "Powervoter mania" due to the perceived injustices done to Jennifer Hudson and LaToya London. Coupled with the fact that John and JPL stayed waaaaayyyyy too long, the show revealed how easy it is to hijack by a few people with speed-dailers.

American Idol has the opportunity to bring us talent that might not have been discovered by the traditional means, but that notion is predicated on people voting for the most talented person or the best performance, not who their favourite is. It wouldn't be so bad if these tone-deaf idiots could only vote once or twice, but when an individual can cast upwards of 400 votes per night (and that's before computer assisted dialers and phone trees), it's easy to see how the votes can be skewed.

I hope fix this for next year. I know that FOX wants to say that 30 million votes were cast, but if the credibility of the show is at stake, you'd think they would build in a mechanism to keep the best singers from being sent home early by legions of teenie-boppers who don't pay their own text messaging bills.

Iraq prison abuse


Some of the folks who are pictured in the Abu Graib prison scandal have starting their courts martial. One guy looks like he's copped a plea and is going to testify against others. I just wonder how high up this goes and who's heads are going to roll.

I think Dubya and his buddies want us to believe that these folks are an isolated little group of malcontents, but I think it goes deeper. They say that war does strange things to people, but the photos I saw aren't people reacting to a stressful situation, they are the result of a systematic and orchestrated psycholocial campaign against the prisoners.

Let's face it, if a soldier is upset at seeing buddies get killed or is tired of being in-country too long and decides to take it out on a prisoner, he (or she) is going to go into a secluded back room and beat the crap out of the prisoner, and maybe kill them.

A soldier under combat stress isn't going to strip someone naked and take pictures to show to others. The most humiliating thing you can do to a Muslim man is to get him naked (especially when the perpetrators are women) and sexually abuse him. The kinds of things we've seen are consistent with an organised campaign of terror against Muslim prisoners.

MPs don't come up with this stuff on their own. They've been told, either directly or indirectly, what do to and how to do it so that they are most effective. Someone higher up than a Staff Sergent gave these folks orders and we need to find out who. Does that relieve the soldiers in the pictures of responsibility? No, but everyone involved needs to be disciplined, not the handful of scapegoats the Army is sending to the lions.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Curses! Foiled again!

We tried to go see Shrek 2 on Saturday. It's apparently very funny. However, we got to the theater at 2:00 for the 2:40 show and it was already sold out. I was surprised, but not really. At least we didn't have a 3 year old with us to be disappointed.

I was reading an article over on MSNBC.com about Dubya compared to FDR and Churchill. I can't believe Dubya got elected president. I can only conclude that we are a nation full of idiots to make this moron the most powerful man in the world.

The price of gas has actually dropped here. Oh, sure, some places are still $2.05-$2.09 per gallon for regular unleaded, but several places have gone down from $1.99 a gallon to $1.93-$1.97. I'm fully expecting to be gouged like hell come Thursday or Friday.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Whew!

Jasmine is gone. Not that justice is done, but Jasmine has deservedly been sent home. Some semblance of equilbrium has been restored to the universe.

I'm not a Jasmine-hater and I don't think she's talentless or a bad singer. On the contrary, she has a lot of talent and is actually pretty good. However, she had no business in the final 3. Of course, last year Josh got to the final 4 on the backs of powervoting marines, so there is some precedent.

So, Diana and Fantasia are left. I'm one for two. I predicted LaToya would be there along with Diana, but LaToya is apparently doing very well for herself and after the her contractually-obligated appearances on the American Idol Tour, she should have a glorious, if lucrative, shot at a singing career.

I also want to admit that I missed most of last nights results show. Why? Because I hate the way FOX insists on dragging out what should be a six minute process (with three of those minutes for the send-off of the person who got booted out) to a full hour. I don't care about Tamyra Gray and I don't care about who the winner of Australian Idol is.

So I put my Sony big-screen on the split view, turned on the closed captions and watched The West Wing on one side and flipped over to American Idol in time to see Jasmine get kicked off.

I think Diana is going to win. She not only has her own legion of powervoters, but demographically she's picked up JPL's, John Stevens's and now Jasmine's. Folks who would have voted for Jennifer and LaToya will vote for Fantasia, as will some of the George voters.

Fantasia's biggest problem, going in to next week, is not that with her singing or performances, but due singularly to the fact that she does not have a powervoting following. Opening the phone lines for four hours instead of two helps Diana because her powervoters are organised and have shown the will and way to get their millions of votes to go through.

If FOX wants AI4 to have any credibility, they need to address powervoting and find a way to prevent it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

It's all on the line tonight

not for the contestants, but for American Idol. All of the remaining finalists (plus LaToya, Jennifer and maybe George and Amy) are going to get contracts. What's on the line tonight is the future of AI. If Jasmine goes on tonight, just stick a fork in the franchise because it's done.

I liked all three girls last night, all had a stumble, but no one was bad. Jasmine did far better than I (or anyone) expected, although she also showed that she is a middle-of-the-pack singer, and is clearly undeserving of being in the final 3. With a little bit of training and polish, she will be very good one day (just not today).

After knocking everyone out last week, Diana did well again last night, although she didn't blow everyone else away like she did last week. She showed off lots of 16-year old cleavage, but the rest of her looked tubby. Diana's voice is the most powerful, but she didn't "wow" anyone last night.

Fantasia had the best night, although she was by no means better than the other two. Two out of her three songs were excellent, although she does not have the voice to sing "The Greatest Love of All". That is a balls-out-blow-the-audience-away-Whitney-before-the-drugs song that LaToya, Jennifer or Diana would have used to destroy the rest of the competition, but Fantasia doesn't have the "big" voice that song requires. She sounded hollow, but her other two songs were good.

Jasmine has to go home tonight. She's good, but not in the league of the other two girls who are left.

If I had to rank the 12 contestants of this year's final 12, they would be (in order):


  1. LaToya
  2. Fantasia
  3. Diana
  4. Jennifer
  5. Amy
  6. George
  7. Jasmine
  8. Matt
  9. Camile
  10. Leah
  11. John
  12. Jon Peter

As an addendum, Lisa Leuschner should have been between Amy and George.

In other news, FOX announced that next week they'll be extending the hours the audience can vote, so powerdialers will have more time to hijack the phone lines and stack their votes (probably for Diana).

I hope AI gets it right tonight.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I just saw this picture over at CNN.com.
How much is gas in your town?
Funny, funny stuff, if a little tragic.

Star Wars: Episode III: Destruction of a Legacy


I just read a pretty funny article over at MSNBC.com about how the Star Wars franchise can be saved. The author suggests firing George Lucas as the writer and director, and jettisoning the entire cast except for Samuel L. Jackson, Ewan MacGregor, Anthony Daniels, Ian McDiarmid and Christopher Lee.

I love Star Wars, but George is destroying his own reputation and throwing away everything that is good about Star Wars because he won't surrender creative control. Let's face it, Lucas is, at best, an average filmmaker. He is best as an idea factory and as a creative force in new technology and filmmaking techniques, not as a director or writer. Episode III has built into it the best story line of the prequels: Anakin's descension into the Dark Side of the Force.

Lucas is obessed with eye candy, and while The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones looked fantastic, they are bad, bad movies. The best Star Wars movie was The Empire Strikes Back, which was written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasden and directed by Irvin Kershner (Lucas got a writing credit for the story, but the dog work was done by Kasden and Brackett). Principal photography on Episode III has already been completed, so it's probably too late, but we can hope can't we?

American Idol


I missed the "special" American Idol last night; I can only handle so much of the promotional crap.

AI3's reputation is on the line tonight. They've taken two big hits with Jennifer and LaToya's early dismissals and if anyone other than Jasmine is voted off tomorrow, AI3 will be considered a fraud. FOX could wipe away many of the allegations by releasing the vote totals like they did last year, but their secrecy only fuels conspiracy theorists.

For AI4 to have any legitimacy next year, the voting system must be overhauled and a mechanism developed to eliminate powervoting. The Idol franchise is predicated on being a talent compteition, but as long as people can vote as many times as they want to keep undeserving contestants around, it will be forever tarnished as a popularity contest.

Monday, May 17, 2004

American Idol


Lots of stuff going on today. First the American Idol update. Time magazine has an interesting article online about AI3. Just a little peek inside AI3 and how it works.

Playing a joke on the preacher


A buddy of mine is going to seminary this summer and with the minister out of town on vacation this past weekend, he got his first chance to preach from the pulpit. He did a good job, once his nerves calmed down. Pastor Mark has a children's time every Sunday and passes out a box for one of the kids to put a random object in and then he talks about how that object relates to his message. He doesn't know what's going to be in the box, so it also keeps Mark on his toes.

Well, my stepson got the box this week and my wife and I were thinking of all sorts of "creative" things to put in the box. I wanted to put a can of whipped cream, a pair of handcuffs and a quart of motor oil in it, but my wife put a picture of a lighthouse in the box (drawing scolds from me for giving our friend a gimmie on his first day).

Movie Review: Troy


We also went to see Troy this weekend. Overall, it was okay, not great, not bad. It's a long movie at 165 minutes (it could be 14 minutes less if the theaters would show fewer previews), which is not quite as long as a Lord of the Rings film but probably about a half hour less than it should have been.

Troy's biggest problem is that it tries to be epic, but takes out some of the things that would make it an epic, so it falls short. The Iliad, is about a 10 year war between the Greeks and the Trojans; this version of the war lasts about two weeks. Director Wolfgang Peterson and screenwriter David Benioff took the role of the Gods out of the movie and made some other changes that in my opinion weakened the final product.

Visually, the movie looks spectacular. It has a very authentic feel and the cost of production is apparent. The battle scenes are excellent, but there's a problem: we already saw the battles in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (where they were better because in Troy, there are no Oliphants, no Nazgul and The Ghost Army of Dunharrow is absent).

Brad Pitt (Achilles) is a much better actor than the wooden dialogue he gets, Brian Cox (Agamemnon) is nasty but not as nasty as he was in X2: X-Men United and Sean Bean (Odysseus) is horribly underused. Eric Bana is pretty good as Hector and Peter O'Toole (Priam) brings some credibility to the film. Still, the movie is all about eye-candy. Whether it's Pitt's ass or pretty-boy Orlando Bloom (Paris), Troy is all style and little substance.

I do


The state of Massachusetts began issuing same-sex marriage licenses today as part of a court order under Massachusetts's equal protection clause. This of course will bring about all sorts of legal challenges and calls for constitutional amendments (which is a very popular thing to do in election years).

Here's my take: same-sex marriage will be recognised in the United States within the next 15 years. Not civil unions, but marriage. It's inevitable. Homosexuality is no longer as stigmatised as it was and it's even gone mainstream (Will & Grace anyone?).

The Constitution of the United States guarantees equal protection under the law in the 14th Amendment, and also guarantees that a contract which is valid in one state is valid in the whole of the United States. Marriage is, of course, first and foremost a contract. We often associate marriage with a religious context, but as far as the state of Massachusetts or the city of San Francisco, marriage is a legally-binding contract between two people with certain priviliges, responsibilities and liabilities.

The opponents of same-sex marriage often view marriage through a religious lens and their own morality. However, religious morality has never stood up in court if it is contrary to legal standards (ie-slavery, segregation, "under God" in the Pledge of Allegience, "sodomy" between consenting adults, etc.), and when the courts get through with same-sex marriage, it will be legal everywhere (unless the fundy Christians get their constitutional amendment).

Thursday, May 13, 2004

When VH-1 shows their retrospecive on 2004 ("I Love the 00's"), and Gilbert Gottfried does the "What the f#@&! Moment of 2004", it will be the night LaToya got kicked off American Idol 3.

Seriously, folks

WTF?!?!?!


How the hell does Jasmine survive after Tuesday night?

Paula was in tears. Randy and Simon were both sitting there in stunned disbelief. Jasmine had the "John Stevens face" that said all too clearly, "I can't believe I didn't get whacked". At least LaToya went out with style and class.

The knee-jerk reaction of folks is to say the show is rigged. While this may go a little ways towards explaining why twice this year a person who is clearly inferior is kept around at the expense of someone who is more talented, I don't think FOX can afford a credibility problem with their show. It may be a short-term ratings boost, but it will hurt them in the long run. I wouldn't put it past FOX, but I don't think the contest is rigged.

The only explaination I can think of (other than vote-rigging) is that people assumed LaToya would be safe and didn't vote for her. Normal folks also tend to discount the powervoters. Most normal people are going to vote once or twice, maybe five times. Why? Because we have lives. Because we want to watch 24 and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Because we pay our own text-messaging bills.

One disturbing trend I've seen this year is the pervasion of "powervoting", where people vote not once, not twice, or even 10 times. I've seen people on the American Idol Forums say they're voting 350 times for their favourite contestant in the two hour window the lines are open. This is how Ryan Seacrest can say that 28 million votes were cast in week 6, when not even that many were cast in the finals last year.

Powervoting is more harmful to the integrity of the show than allegations of racism or contest-fixing. On the one hand, people have the prerogative to powervote. If FOX is going to open up phone lines and let America decide who should stay and who should go, then by golly, let those who are willing weild a disproportionate amount of power over the results (like the grass-roots fundy Christians).

Where this fails is when someone has a cult of powervoters keep an inferior talent around at the expense of others (ie-JPL, John and now Jasmine). People who we can't stand to hear sing are kept around well past their times. So how should FOX fix this?

For one, I'm not sure they want to; controversy is a ratings boon. And what's more controversial than eliminating the most popular (and talented) contestant?

I've never liked the way AI handles voting. I think rather than voting to keep your favourite around, the votes should be to kick someone off. FOX says they want to keep things positive, but the current voting format makes it so much easier to keep bad people around than voting to kick someone off who desperately needs to go.

For instance, let's say a powervoter really wants to keep their contestant around. So he votes 300 times for this person. Now let's say 100 other people around the country get the same idea. That's 30,000 votes to keep one person. If 100 casual viewers watch the show and cast one or two votes each, these powervoting yokels are weilding 50-100 times the voting power of everyone else who is not abusing the system.

If the voting format is changed to kick people off, those 100 people are going to see their votes split, unless all 100 of them get together and target one other contestant to vote off, but that not only requires a massive amount of coordination, it also discounts the votes their guy will be getting to be booted off himself. The power of those hypothetical 30,000 votes will be diluted and rendered ineffective by other, rational viewers.

FOX has said they want to keep things positive and while I respect that, I don't think it leads to the best person winning. It leads to a popularity contest. If FOX wants to stick to voting to keeping people, maybe they could allow the judges to do some judging and have them pick the bottom three, and then have America vote to keep their favourites.

Whatever happens, something needs to be done.

The worst part of this whole thing is that Jasmine comes out looking like the bad guy. People are going to take this out on her when it's not her fault.

Jasmine is clearly the weakest of the final four. She knows it was her turn, just as John Steven knew it should have been him when Jennifer Hudson was kicked off. There was a tremendous backlash against John and there will be a backlash against Jasmine (it's already started).

Both are good kids. Both have talent (Jasmine far more than John); they did get to the finals, after all. However, from now on, John will be "that guy who should have been kicked off of American Idol instead of that black girl" and Jasmine will be "that girl who should have been kicked off American Idol instead of that black girl". Neither kid deserves those labels, but that's what they're going to get.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I would like to get something off my chest before this column begins: I hate disco. Why does FOX persist in deluging us with this crap? Can't we get a better theme? Which Backstreet Boy did Donna Summer eat and do you think she has killed the person who did her hair?

Down to four. Diana, Fantasia, Jasmine and LaToya.

Let's start with what we already know: Jasmine is going home tonight. I like her. She's a pretty good singer. She looks reasonably comfortable on stage. That said, the last few weeks have been hard on her. She is cracking under the pressure.

Of the 12 that made it to the finals, Jasmine has always been in the middle. She doesn't have a core group of fans (like Diana, John or JPL), but she doesn't have a core group of haters (like Diana, John or JPL). She is clearly better than some other folks who have gone home (Camile, Leah, JPL, John), but also not a good as some others who are watching from the comfort of their couches (Amy, George and even Lisa Leuschner).

She knows she is the weakest of the four left and probably knows that tonight (Wednesday) is her night to depart. I think that constantly skirting the bottom 3 takes their toll on people after a while. This has been the hardest part on her and her age is clearly a factor in it. Self-esteem for a 17 year-old is a fragile thing and being constantly criticised is hard for people twice her age, so it's not surpising to me she was in tears last night. But I think that with a couple of years and a little more control over her voice, she could be very, very good. Hell, if Josh Gracin can get a record deal, she should have no problems at all.

Now on to the other three.

Fantasia and LaToya were both 50-50 for me. I didn't like LaToya's first song, but I liked her second. I liked Fantasia's first song, but on her second, she looked like she was phoning it in.

Neither one blew me away last night, and both girls looked like they were on auto-pilot. Both girls demonstrated clear control over the songs, the stage and the crowd. Both sounded very good, but I thought both were very automatic and lifeless in parts. I don't know if they just didn't like the choices of songs or if they were just off last night.

The one person who brought it all last night was Diana. She gave the other three a major-league whupping and helped herself a lot towards not only this week, but next week, too. Of the four, Jasmine looked scared, Fantasia looked bored, LaToya was going through the motions and Diana was out for blood.

Simon was right a lot last night, but nothing he said was more true than when he told LaToya that the competition was about winning, and if the contestants weren't playing for all the marbles, they were wasting their time. I think Diana was playing to win last night.

(In LaToya's defense, what else do you say? If you say that you are going to destroy the other constants, you look like an ass. If you take the humble approach and say other people are more deserving to win, you look unsure and lacking in confidence. LaToya said the right things, although Simon was also right.)

Another thing I also enjoyed was intelligent comments from Randy Jackson. This year and most of last year, everything was "dawg" this, "dawg" that and "aiiiiight" or "yo, yo, yo, yo". In the first season, Randy was the most technical of the judges and frankly could be a little obtuse, but at least he was intelligible. Then some time last year, he went ghetto on us and never came back. Maybe it was the producers telling him to be more "TV friendly" or maybe he wanted to sound "more black", but it got old very quickly. Now that Randy's diction is back, hopefully he'll stay away from the ebonics and go back to being an articulate, honest-but-not-rude-like-Simon judge.

So to recap:

↑ Diana
↔ LaToya, Fantasia
↓ Jasmine

It looks like the end this year is going to be tight, just like it ended last year with the late charge by Kimberly Locke (even though we all knew the winner would be Clay or Ruben). At the beginning of the season, I had three of the four remaining contestants penciled in as the Final Four, and if Jennifer-gate hadn't happened a couple of weeks ago, she would be the one leaving this week anyway.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Hey, folks, it's time to rant about the price of gas.

Yesterday, we topped $2 per gallon, and from what the news says, with summer coming up, prices are only going to continue to climb.

What I want to know is why the price of gas is going up when there is no real reason other than price gouging. On 31 December 2003, I paid $1.40 per gallon for regular unleaded. On 6 January 2004, the price had gone up to $1.60 for the same fuel. As of 10 May 2004, the price of regular gasoline was $2.05 per gallon. That's a 46.43% price increase in five months.

I did some checking, and on 10 December 2003, the price of oil was $31.75 per barrel. As of 11 May 2004, the price of light crude oil was $38.60 per barrel. that's a price increase of 21.58% from December 2003 to May 2004.

So the price of the raw material has gone up 21.58% while the price at the pump has gone up 46.43%. What's wrong with this picture?!?!?!?!?!

Back during the last Gulf War, the price of oil went up to around $43 per barrel. I remember at the time thinking "$1.36 is a lot of money for a gallon of gas." So the price per barrel of oil was more than it is now, but the price at the pump is less. Some of the price difference is inflation, and some is increased cost due to more stringent EPA requirements.

However, I can't think of any reason other than price gouging that the price of gas would be so high.

Our president claims to be trying to keep the cost of gas down, but when it comes down to it, Dubya and his family make a lot of money off oil. So does Dick Cheney and his cronies. Is this a coincidence?

Monday, May 10, 2004

There's lots of new stuff out there about the Iraq prison abuse scandals. Lots of finger-pointing. Lots of denials. The only thing that is for sure is that Iraqis and other folks in the Middle East hate us more.

This article blames a culture at the Pentagon which is tolerant of "unconventional" methods of interrogation, disdainful of the Geneva Conventions and doesn't care about the consequences of its actions.

Another article talks about why people, who are generally considered well-adjusted and normal, are capable of doing things that the majority of us consider at best deviant and at worst abhorrant. More on this later.

Finally, this article talks about modern "interrogation" methods.

Here's my take on the Iraq prison abuse scandal. It was bound to happen. Given the conditions under which the folks operating the prison operated and also given the current presidential administrations fast and loose attitudes towards civil liberties, I'm frankly surprised we haven't seen someone being stretched on the rack or stuck in an iron maiden.

Dubya and his cronies have always had little regard for civil liberties. Just look at their use of Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act. If Dubya, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld et al are willing to throw away the civil liberties of American citizens, what do you think they're willing to do with the civil liberties of others?

From what I've read, the 372nd Military Police Company, a reserve unit based in Cresaptown, MD., is primarly a traffic control unit, not a prison unit, although someof its members are prison guards in their non-military lives. So what happens when you take people who are not trained to be guards and tell them to help Army Intelligence to "soften up" prisoners? You get Zimbardo's Prison Experiment.

If you're not familiar with Zimbardo's Prison Experiment, psychologist Philip Zimbardo took a group of volunteers, all college students at Stanford, and divided them into two groups. One group he labeled guards and the other he labeled prisoners. No other instructions were given. The study was slated to last two weeks, but Zimbardo and the other researchers had to halt the study after five days because the guards were abusing the prisoners.

I think we're seeing the same thing in prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and even in the US. People are prone to abusing others, especially when some folks are put in positions of authority, are given instructions that are intentionally vague and are not properly trained and supervised.

How do we stop it? Do we really care? Folks in the Middle East don't like us already; if a picture is worth a thousand words, how many new terrorists will each of these pictures create?

One of the premises behind the war in Iraq was to bring democracy to an oppressed people. Is this the kind of democracy we want to spread? Do we have any credibility left?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Well, Friends ended last night, and it went out with a wimper, rather than a bang. At least they wrapped up most of the loose ends. Ross and Rachel are together, Monica and Chandler have their babies. Phoebe can ground a plane like no one else. Only Joey was left hanging, but we all know he's going to get his own TV show.

Happy trails, Friends you were a good Thursday night companion (but not as good as The Cosby Show, Family Ties and Cheers).

I just read over at E! Online that Diana is the front runner for American Idol. Of course, they're discounting what will happen to Fantasia or LaToya's votes when the other one is voted off. I still think Diana and LaToya are going to end up as the final pair, but the only guarantee is what a guy one cubicle over says, "I guarantee that a female is going to win AI this year."

He was also a self-proclaimed JPL power-voter, so don't make too much fun of him.

You also might want to check out John Kruk's column over at ESPN's Page 2. The first part is boring crap about baseball, but he's apparently a closet AI fan and has some interesting things to say about the show.

The most intresting line is "[John] Stevens was on "Cold Pizza" on Wednesday, and even he was surprised he lasted as long as he did." It's good to see the kid has enough maturity to know when he was overmatched. Like I said, John is a classy guy, but he should have been kicked off much, much earlier.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

George got the boot last night. It certainly wasn't what I expected, but then again, we all knew he was going home this week or next week. Here is what I think will happen: Jasmine will go home next week because she is the weakest of the final 4. That leaves LaToya, Diana and Fantasia.

In two weeks, Fantasia will be sent home. With only three people left, Fantasia and LaToya are going to split votes. Diana has her cult of powervoters and will collect a fair share of the Jasmine/Camile/Matt/Amy/John/JPL powervoters because she's cute and pop-starish. Fantasia and LaToya, having similar styles, will split the demographic vote of the people who like the black gospel singers, and LaToya will get the "undecided" voters who actually vote based on the best performance rather than their favourite person.

I think LaToya is going to be the ultimate winner. She's stronger vocally and more mature, but Diana is coming on strong and has a solid core of people who having nothing better to do than vote 200-300 times per night for her. Diana's biggest problem is that the person who helps her select her wardrobe picks outfits that highlight how tubby she is.

At the AI website, they're advertising for the American Idol Tour. One stop is going to be in Columbus on 31 July; maybe I'll put together a road trip. It scares Sarah that I even know this.

We watched NBC's two-hour "Farewell to Friends" special last night. I like Friends. Not as much as I used to, but it's still a pretty good show, although I think it jumped the shark after Rachel and Ross got married (then divorced) a few years ago. When Friends first came on, it was very, very funny because it was appealing to folks like me at the time: single, in college, surrounded by friends. Friends was also great because the show never took itself too seriously and wasn't afraid to make a joke at its own expense.

There were a few years there when Friends was flagging as NBC's flagship sitcom. Ross went from being lovable geek to really creepy Rachel-stalker. Chandler stopped being funny (mostly because Matthew Perry was fighting substance abuse and put on an astounding amount of weight). There was the whole Rachel-Joey thing that never should have happened. But over the last year or so, Friends has slowly been regaining its form. Not back to the first two seasons, when it was funniest, but heading back up from being a very good show towards being a great sit-com again.

For the last two months or so, we've been inundated with Friends finale ads and frankly, it's kind of sickening, but like several million other idiots out there, I'll be watching tonight. Just to see Rachel and Ross get together for good, Chandler make fun of Joey and listen to Phoebe share the secrets of the universe with us one more time.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Howdy, folks. It's Wednesday and that means two things: take out the garbage and American Idol . . . some people say that's the same thing.

The Good: Diana, LaToya

The Bad: Fantasia, George, Jasmine

The Ugly: John and JPL (even though they're gone, I'm still haunted by their pure badness)

Diana and LaToya brought the whoopin' stick last night and laid on a serious beat-down of everyone else. Both girls seem very comfortable on stage, LaToya due to her age and Diana due to her years as a Miss Teen Georgia contestant. Diana has disturbing amount of stage presence and maturity, and she is one of the few people who have constantly been able to avoid being overpowered by the live band.

My personal pick is for LaToya to win the whole thing. Although she tends to pick the same kinds of songs, she brings it every week and hasn't had an off week. She also appeals to a wide group of fans and clearly has the most vocal control and range. Plus she's always been very classy (much like John Stevens) and never whiney like Fantasia or intimidated like Camile. She is one spot I'm penciling in for the finals right now.

Fantasia was good, but I'm not a big fan and I think in the demographic fratricide between her and LaToya, Fantasia is going to get the short end. I don't think she is very marketable from AI's perspective, so I think they'd like to see her lose to LaToya or Diana.

George is a good guy. He's a lot better than he has shown us over the past three weeks. He had a pretty good night last night, but was at best above average and at worst as Simon said, "who you'd see on a medium-sized cruise ship". After having been booted from the final 32 in Hollywood and brought back only because of Donnie Williams's DUI arrest and subsequent disqualification, George has been the only shining hope for a guy even coming close to winning this thing, but he is clearly second-tier compared to the show's front-runners.

Jasmine, who is by far the cutest of the contestants (although "hottest" has to go to Camile in the bikini), is also clearly second-tier, although she could have given Kelly Clarkson a run for her money in season 1. I like Jasmine, although I think she is only still there because she's done well enough to stave off elimination and doesn't fit into any of the fratricidal demographics, even though she has not distinguished herself or had a break-out night. When there is a live band, Jasmine has been one of the folks who is overpowered by the music. Maybe it's the producers turning the band up too loud, but I also don't think she is used to performing with a live band and her voice lacks the depth of Diana or LaToya.

Last year at this time, the five remaining were Clay, Josh, Kimberly Locke, Ruben and Trenyce, and Trenyce went home. This year's final 12 was (overall) better than last year's final 12, although I'm not sure about the final 5. Clay, Ruben and Kimberly all had a good shot at winning last year, and Trenyce came on strong late in the competition. The only weak one from last year was Josh, who I'm sure was kept around by scores of Marines powervoting for him. In this year's final 5, everyone is pretty good, even though Jasmine and George are barely hanging on.

In AI2, there was no one who was outright bad, although Carmen buckled under the pressure (probably due to her age) and Julia's inexperience showed badly. However, the middle of the pack folks from last year (Rickey, Kimberly Caldwell, Julia, Vanessa, Charles, and Corey) were weaker than the middle of the pack from this year (George, Amy, Matt, Jasmine, Camile) and the bad people from this year (JPL, John and Leah) are far worse than anyone from last year. Plus there are more people this year who could win: LaToya, Diana, Fantasia, Jennifer (in Jennifer's case, "could have" won). Going into last year, everyone knew that either Clay or Ruben was going to win and it was only a late charge by Kimberly Locke that even made a game of AI last year.

My prediction for tonight: Jasmine gets the boot. George and Fantasia round out the bottom 3.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Last night I was watching a little bit of the American Idol superflous ratings grab show and wondered why FOX needed to put the five kids from AI3 on for an hour last night (other than money). The best part was watching Camile walking on the beach in her bikini.

I've taken to walking every day on my lunch hour. We get 45 minute lunches and if I eat quickly, I can do a quick loop around another building and a parking lot, I'd say it's probably about a mile. There's another guy here who is on the Atkins diet and while he's losing weight, I wonder how he's going to keep it off. I asked if he'd like to walk with me, but he likes to spend his lunch surfing the internet.

My buddy is a nice guy, but he's pretty sedentary. He watches a lot of TV and plays a lot of computer games. He does virtually no exercise. Is cutting out carbs the long-term answer?

I don't believe in dieting. Never have, don't think I ever will. It's my opinion that anyone who does not have a metabolic imbalance can lose weight by 1) eating a reasonably balanced diet of moderate portions, and 2) doing a fair amount of exercise on a regular basis.

I think that's why so many people try diets: my method required discipline, moderation and a little bit of work. American's don't like moderation. We like binge drinking. "Everything's bigger in Texas". Pig out at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Get a super-sized value meal--with a diet coke, of course.

And who likes to exerciese? I used to, but now it seems the most work I do is lifting the remote control and shifting gears in my car. I've heard that the Atkins and South Beach diets can actually be harmful in the long run because they basically eliminate an entire food group. I've also seen people come off of those diets and put the wieght back on because they haven't adjusted their lifestyle or diet as a long-term solution.

So what do we do? We turn to stomach stapling and gastric-bypass surgery. Not as a last resort, but often as a first option. Is this really healthy? I used to work with a woman who was severely overweight. She had tried diets, but couldn't keep weight off, so she went in for gastric-bypass. You know what? It's not going to work for her. She was always eating, and from some mutual friends I hear she still is always eating. And that is her root problem. It's not really about caloric intake or carbs, at least not for her; it's about eating as a comfort mechanism. It's about not channelling energy into exercise, and about not having the discipline to maintain a diet of moderate portions and consistent exercise regimen.

I need to lose weight; I think most of us do. But I recognise that dieting isn't the answer for me, at least not on it's own. I think I'd die if I couldn't eat a plate of sushi or a baked potato because rice and spuds aren't on the "okay'd by Dr. Atkins" list. I need to lose weight because I used to work out and I got lazy. I need to lose weight because I eat microwaved food for lunch and snack on chips and candy in between meals. I need to lose weight because I lack discipline and I'd really like to get back into my 32/29 pants.

Monday, May 03, 2004

I just read over at CNN.com that there is some speculation about whether the pictures of alleged abuse by British troops to Iraqi detainees. Apparently the uniforms and equipment that alleged abusors have is either no longer in use by the British military or has not been issued to anyone currently in Iraq. In related news, six American soldiers have been reprimanded and one soldier admonished in similar cases after other pictures surfaced in Iraq.

First of all, if you're going to torture someone, don't take pictures!!! Even the CIA knows this. Second, whether the pictures are authentic or if someone photoshopped them together is irrelevant. They're all over the news and everyone who buys a newspaper has seen them. If it comes out as a hoax later, the damage has already been done.

I don't know what good is going to come of being in Iraq. Dubya doesn't think it's fair to compare his little war to Vietnam, but let's consider this: we have a flagging economny with increased military spending, we're occupying a country who's nationals don't really want us there, we don't have an exit strategy, and American soldiers are coming home in bags while making no real progress towards defeating the "enemy". I really hope Dubya, or at least his handlers, know what they're doing. Otherwise, we will have squanders hundreds of American lives, billions of dollars and the goodwill of the world for nothing.

In lighter news, I'm thinking of selling my 99 Honda Accord and buying a hybrid car. I got a new job about a month ago; it pays more than my last job, I don't have to work nights and weekends, and it's an overall better working situation. The only downside is that I have to commute 46 miles each way to work. My Accord gets about 30 miles per gallon on the interstate but I'm considering trading the Accord in on a new Honda Insight which is EPA rated at 60/65 mpg (city/highway). They're not terribly fast, but to double my current fuel mileage with gas prices as high as they are, it may end up being worth it very quickly.

There's also the Honda Civic hybrid and the Toyota Prius, but the Civic doesn't get as good fuel economy and the Prius is pretty ugly. On the flip side for the Civic, it's a lot bigger because it's just a standard Civic with a different engine, which helps because we need a larger car to haul the kids around in.

If anyone has any experience with hybrid cars, please drop me an email.