Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Potential Attorneys General

Now that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has finally resigned, it is time to pick his replacement. I know all the chatter is about Michael Chertoff, but I'd rather focus on other potential nominees whose nomination would make things interesting. Some of these are very unlikely, but I'm just having fun with this.

  • Sandra Day O'Connor: What would bring more trust back to the Justice Department than a former associate justice of the Supreme Court? She's considered a moderate, so her nomination would go through fairly easily. On the other hand she's 77 and retired from the court to be with her ailing husband, so there isn't much of a chance of her nomination happening.
  • Joe Lieberman: If Bush nominates Lieberman the Republicans would win back the Senate. The "Independent Democrat" of Connecticut would be replaced by someone appointed by Republican Gov. Jodi Rell, making the Senate split 50-50, with Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote in favor of the GOP.
  • Arlen Specter: The moderate Republican senator from Pennsylvania, a former chair of the Judiciary Committee, disagrees with President Bush on many issues, including legal matters. He'd be an interesting addition to the administration. His appointment would also add one Democrat to the Senate, appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell.
  • James Baker: He's a veteran of the US cabinet, having served in various positions under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and a lawyer who helped the Bush team win in the Supreme Court in 2000, and thus in the election. He has a mixture of professional experience (though never as a prosecutor) and partisanship that would make for very interesting confirmation hearings. He's 77, and thus a bit unlikely to become the next AG.
  • Patrick Fitzgerald: There is no chance in hell that Bush would nominate the special prosecutor in the Plame CIA leak case who indicted Scooter Libby, but still, I can fantasize, can't I?

Stupid Miss Teen USA Video

The video below is so funny and so sad simultaneously. This seems to be pure stupidity and not just momentary pressure. Sure, it fits the stereotype of the stupid beauty pageant contestant, and there are many contestants who don't fit the stereotype (and might even be geniuses), but it is still funny. Also, it can be used as an educational video - how not to answer questions.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

God's War Machine

Christiane Amanpour's special documentary mini-series, "God's Warriors", which aired on CNN this week, was an interesting series. Each episode focused on the fanatics of a different religion - Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Here's my take on the series, episode by episode.

God's Jewish Warriors
To Israelis who have watched Chaim Yavin's documentary series "The Land of the Settlers", most of the information in this episode was not new. Yavin's series exposed the settler's violent and expansionist tactics.

Amanpour seemed to be giving a history lesson on the Middle Eastern conflict which at first I thought was too much. But now that I think of it, Israel is the only place where this form of militaristic Jewish fanaticism exists. Unlike Christian and Muslim fundamentalists who would like to create theocracies world-wide, Jewish fundies only want to establish one here in the Holy Land, so I guess it is natural for a show about the modern day's God's Jewish Warriors to focus on Israel.

I found the most interesting part of the episode to be the fundraisers in the United States. I know about the Evangelical support Israel gets, but I never realized how much money from American Jews and Christians is going into the settlements. It is scary.

The main problem with this episode was that Amanpour implied that Zionism equals support for settlements. It is also too bad she didn't show more of the opposition to the settlers, like she showed protesters against Christian fundies in the US.

God's Muslim Warriors
This was the least informative episode. Though the interviews were interesting, most of it has already been said before, including in Amanpour's previous special report about Muslim extremists in the UK. The most interesting part was when I finally understood who the hell the hidden Imam is and what he means to Shiites.

I was surprised Amanpour didn't report about the state of affairs in Saudi Arabia. The reports from Iran were interesting, but hearing about the even more repressive Saudi Arabia would be interesting. Maybe as a woman the Saudis would not allow Amanpour to come in and report.

God's Christian Warriors
Amanpour did the right thing when she avoided "Jesus Camp"-style mega churches as much as possible, since that aspect of the rise of Evangelicals has been told many times. The interview with Jerry Falwell and the tour of his Liberty University were interesting, but they pale in comparison with the most interesting segments. These were the reports about varying degrees of resistance to the mainstream fundies.

First of all, there was the Rev. Greg Boyd, who opposes using Jesus to bolster conservative politicians and political goals. Then there was Richard Cizik, a man who agrees with the Evangelicals on basically everything except for environmental issues, which is enough for other fundies to call for his resignation.

One of the most interesting segments was when the leader of Battlecry, Ron Luce, faces a protest against him in San Francisco. Luce claims he was surprised by the anger. Is he just pretending? I don't think he is. He really doesn't understand what's wrong with his fundamentalist values.

One part I didn't like about this episode was the return to an issue already covered in the first episode - the Evangelical support of Israel. But as long as Amanpour was already interviewing Pastor John Hagee, she should have asked him whether he would continue to support Israel if it made a peace deal with the Palestinians which created a Palestinian state. He probably would not, since that would delay the Second Coming in his warped mind. Instead she said that in Hagee's mind, Israel could do no wrong.

All in all, it was an interesting series, though far from perfect. Christiane Amanpour said in an interview for Israel's Channel 2 that she feels connected to all three religions she investigated, since she has a Christian mother, Muslim father and Jewish husband. I'd like to see a fourth installment, one about the extremists of other religions. Sure, they don't affect our lives as much as the monotheistic fundamentalists, but it is still interesting.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Is Oskar Schell Autistic?

After reading Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" I went to Wikipedia's entry for the book. The 9-year-old narrator Oskar is described there as "possibly autistic (at the very least he shows some signs of Asperger's Syndrome)". What the? While I read the novel I never thought he might be autistic. He's so not autistic!

So I Googled the novel's title and Oskar along with the word "autistic" and found many book reviews and references where he received an autism or Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis from several commentators. Again, what the? Oskar is often compared to Mark Haddon's autistic protagonist in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time", a book I haven't read. But for the purpose of "diagnosing" Oskar that doesn't matter. I may not be familiar with the famous fictional autistic boy, but I do know a real autistic kid from, well, incredibly close (and when he was a little baby he was also extremely loud).

First of all, not every child who is extremely intelligent and takes an interest in sciences is an autistic savant. We neurotypicals have our fair share of geniuses. Secondly, Oskar doesn't show any anxiety about meeting new people, going to places he has never seen before and entering into new situations. In fact, he is very friendly to strangers (maybe even too much).

Some people cite Oskar's rules as evidence of his autism. He doesn't use public transportation, elevators and bridges. Considering the fact that his father was killed in a terrorist attack that is a perfectly normal reaction. Besides, Oskar is willing to break the rules when he must. There is one eccentricity - Oskar's insistence on wearing only white clothes - that I cannot explain, but it in itself is not enough to make a case for an autism spectrum disorder.

People also say Oskar has difficulty expressing his feelings. After the trauma he has gone through, wouldn't most normal children, or even adults, have trouble expressing themselves?

I haven't seen anyone write about Oskar's grandfather being autistic - but if anyone in this novel has the condition, it is Grandpa. He doesn't speak. He expresses himself in writing. If he's autistic and autism is genetic, maybe it makes more sense that Oskar is indeed autistic. But even this old "empty Schell" of a man is not autistic. He loses the ability to speak when he is in his 20's or early 30's, and though it is suggested it is a psychological problem and not a physical one, I have a hard time believing an autistic adult would regress at that age. The guy experienced the horrors of the Dresden bombings during World War II. That's enough of a trauma to render anyone speechless (though he lost his speech gradually).

Anyway, do you agree? Have I missed any points? Do you think Jonathan Safran Foer meant for Oskar to be autistic? Your comments are welcome.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I just finished reading "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer. I found it to be extremely good and refreshing. Since it tells the story of a boy who lost his father on 9/11 I didn't expect it to be such a funny book. Oskar Schell, the narrator, reminded me of Holden Caulfield from "The Catcher in the Rye", and I'm quite sure Safran Foer intentionally imitated J. D. Salinger. The only part I didn't like about the book was the ending of the grandparents' storyline, which seemed kind of pointless. I won't elaborate so as not to spoil the ending for those who haven't read it yet.

Just a few days ago I wrote that I was afraid I might have lost the ability to concentrate on a novel. "Extremely Loud" has shown me that the problem isn't with me - it's the books. I finished "Extremely Loud" in 3 days because I found it fascinating. I guess the books that took me months to read are just not my cup of tea. The next novel I intend to read is Safran Foer's literary debut, "Everything Is Illuminated".

My next post: "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" and Autism

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Will Kucinich Lose His House Seat?

According to the New York Observer, Rep. Dennis Kucinich is facing a serious primary challenge for his own House seat in Ohio's 10th district. His challenger is Rosemary Palmer, the mother of a Marine killed in Iraq who opposes the war but says Kucinich isn't doing anything realistic to bring it to an end. Read more about Palmer here.

I hope she wins. Kucinich really does get on my nerves. I don't like extremes and he is definitely in the left-liberal extreme, and he isn't very effective either. A search through the Congressional database (THOMAS) shows that in the current Congress none of his legislation has become law. Of the bills he co-sponsored in the 110th Congress, only six have become law - 4 of them bills naming post office buildings, and the other two had 200 and 300 other co-sponsors. Hardly a personal achievement.

Kucinich is great at introducing lagislation, but awful at getting it passed. In fact, the last time a bill he authored became law was in 1998, when his bill to "make available to the Ukrainian Museum and Archives the USIA television program 'Window on America'" became Public Law No. 105-373 . Important stuff!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sci-Fi Religions Vs. Fantasy Religions

After watching an interview with an Israeli scientologist, where the interviewer mocked the idea of aliens coming to Earth 75 million years ago, I came to the conclusion there isn't really much difference between the mainstream religions and UFO religions. Of course the idea of aliens creating humanity is ridiculous, but are the mainstream creation myths any more believable?

The main difference between the more accepted religions and religions like Scientology is the literary genre of their origin stories. The myths of the bible, ancient European mythologies and Eastern religions all use the magic of fantasy fiction. Pillars of fire, virgin births, monsters and rain dances can easily be placed in the same section of the library as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. UFO religions, on the other hand, use Science Fiction to explain how we got to where we are. What's wrong with that?

This doesn't mean that every sect and cult should be accepted as a legitimate religion. I only referred here to one aspect of the matter. There are so many other aspects, such as how the religion treats its believers and whether or not it puts them in harm's way (e.g. making them commit suicide or preventing them from taking vital medication). I don't know enough about Scientology to judge whether it should be accepted as legitimate.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Alberto Gonzales, Time to Join Carl Rove

Deputy White House Chief of Staff Carl Rove announced his resignation today. The question is whether he really will stop being a central figure in the drafting of policy. He's been secretive as it is, and now if he continues in an unofficial position he'll be even more secretive. It is said that he has been less influential since the Republican losses in 2006 and now he isn't working for any presidential candidate, so hopefully it is indeed the end of the Rove era.

Now, on to the next Loyal Bushie who should leave the administration - Alberto Gonzales. The Attorney General won't resign and Bush won't fire him. Congress should impeach him. The sooner the better. The guy has lied to Congress, pushed illegal wiretapping and fired qualified US attorneys for political reasons. Those are only the impeachable offenses we know about. There are probably more.

Oh, and a note to President Bush: when Gonzales finally leaves office, don't nominate Harriet Miers as his replacement.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Wasting My Time

I've always been a slacker, a master of the fine art of procrastination. I've done quite a bit of not much during my lifetime - and by that I'm trying to poetically say I have wasted hundreds of hours just doing nothing important, not that not much has become of me. Despite all my ineffectively used days I'm quite a successful guy, with impressive achievements under my belt. But I digress.

I am procrastinating as we speak (or, rather, as I write this post). I have one last paper to write, which shouldn't take me that long, and after that I have to get to work on my thesis. To work on my thesis I have to go to far away archives for whole days, something to which I'm not looking forward. My thesis is very interesting, but I don't enjoy the idea of spending my days in squalid archives (and no, I'm not misusing the word squalid - archive-keeping is one thing Israel isn't very good at). So I don't have much incentive to get the little paper done to make room for the thesis.

So now I'm not working on anything and I keep thinking that I should. I don't read any books because I think to myself that I don't have the time, but then I go off and waste my time on the Internet or watching TV. I could have at least read a book goddammit. And the last book I tried to read I couldn't finish. It's supposed to be a Sci-Fi classic, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, but I just can't get myself to sit down and read the whole thing. I don't know if it just isn't the book for me or if I've lost the ability to concentrate on good literature. I haven't tried a different novel, either.

I need a vacation, a real official vacation somewhere else. But in the past I've had vacations while I still needed to do things, and that kept me feeling uneasy when I should have been having fun. So it's a paradox. I need a vacation to clear my head and be able to return and work with vigor, but I also need to get the work done so I can have a worry-free vacation.

Oh, never mind. I'll get off my ass and start working eventually.

Arafat Died of AIDS

Yasser Arafat's doctor, Ashraf al-Kurdi, has revealed the fact that Arafat had AIDS. He claims the Israelis injected it into his blood in order to cover up the fact that the Palestinian chairman was poisoned. Now that's a load of crap, isn't it?

There's something very suspicious about the circumstances of Dr. al-Kurdi's revelation. Danny Rubinstein of Haaretz reported the following:

"Jordanian news site Amman quoted al-Kurdi - a former Jordanian health ministry official - as saying that the virus had been injected into Arafat's bloodstream close to his death, and that the real cause of the chairman's death was poison.

Hours earlier, al-Kurdi was interviewed on television news station Al-Jazeera. However, the network cut short the live interview with al-Kurdi as soon as he mentioned that the former chairman had contracted HIV."

Sounds to me like he let it slip that Arafat had AIDS, which pissed off someone who called al-Jazeera and made them stop the interview and forced al-Kurdi to go to another media outlet to "explain himself" and return to the old poisoning theory.

The fact that Suha and the people who surrounded Arafat kept al-Kurdi away when Arafat got really sick means he had something he'd be ashamed of (not that AIDS is a shameful disease, but in traditional societies like the Palestinian culture it is certainly considered a disgrace - and a sign of homosexuality).

So Arafat died of AIDS. He was not murdered by Israel. Give the conspiracy theories a rest.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Jesus Campers for Israel

Yesterday I watched the excellent documentary "Jesus Camp", about an evangelical camp for little fundamentalist Christian kids, who are being taught to spread the word of JC (that's Jesus Christ, as he is called in one very catchy Christian pop song during the film). It's a terrifying movie, but I truly hope that there are a lot less children indoctrinated like that than it seems.

One thing that I noticed was that in the home of Torey, one of the 3 children who were the focus of the film, they waved three flags - the flag of the United States, a flag with a cross on it, and the flag of Israel. Oh, boy. These are our friends, huh? The good old Christian fundamentalists that think of Israel as nothing more than their Agent of Armageddon.

Then today I got a link to an interesting YouTube video from a Christians United for Israel conference, where Max Blumenthal, a Jewish reporter (in other words, a hell bound reporter) asks about the role of the End Times and eschatology in the evangelical support of Israel, and eventually gets kicked out.

Take a look: