Saturday, June 11, 2005


And the winner is...

As I was watching the MTV movie awards this week, I was thinking about the role the arts in general (and movies in particular) play in perpetuating the culture of violence. My thoughts were probably triggered by Daryl Hannah and Uma Thurman winning the "Best Fight" category over the much-deserving Battle of the News Teams from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy. (Being involved in journalism myself, I'm biased toward profound explorations of media issues, such as those found in Anchorman.)

But I was really pondering the role of someone like Quentin Tarantino. From Reservoir Dogs to Natural Born Killers, from Pulp Fiction to the Kill Bills, Tarantino's signature films are awash with violence -- sometimes stylized, sometimes cartoonish, almost always over the top.

Okay, sure, violence in the media doesn't make people go out and act violently. But what contribution does a guy like Tarantino -- undoubtedly one of today's most creative, innovative people in film -- make to furthering the violence that's at the heart of pop culture? And, on the other side, what role could he play in planting seeds toward transforming that culture? I'm not blaming our violent world on the artists -- I won't even bother a silly comparison between the "effects" of art and the real-world consequences of acts by politicians (say, the Iraq war, for example). And I don't want artists to become propagandists, more interested in selling some "message" than in creating genuine art. But art does matter, and it helps shape how we as a culture look at the world. It helps define possibilities, and it creates windows of understanding that can alter the way things are viewed.

I'm not trying to pick on Tarantino, either. But he seems like such a savvy, smart, sophisticated, likable guy. If he wanted to, it seems like he could do some interesting and maybe even consequential things to help change the world we live in, instead of just showing us how messed up it can be.

Friday, June 10, 2005


A Step Toward Debt Relief

Tony Blair's meeting with President Bush this week was a failure in many ways -- but the official version will spin the summit as a victory for Blair's causes and tout the agreements reached. But don't stop with the headlines (The New York Times version: "U.S. and Britain Agree on Relief for Poor Nations," handing "Tony Blair of Britain a timely political lift"). And the writing off of $16.7 billion in debt by very poor nations, most of them in Africa, is indeed to be applauded as a helpful step in the right direction, even though a) it's not enough (Blair called for doubling direct governmental aid to Africa, and Bush refused) , and b) the world's rich nations -- thanks to Bush's obstinacy on the issue -- once again aren't paying their fair share of the cost of debt forgiveness.

The Times noted: The White House has also rebuffed Mr. Blair's efforts to persuade the United States to move closer to the position of the other industrial nations on how to fight global warming. ... And the administration has rejected the British proposal for creation of a new international body that would raise money for Africa by borrowing against pledges of future aid.

The most important thing to come out of the Blair-Bush meeting may very well be the momentum Blair gains in support of his work against global poverty -- which is especially key as we approach next month's meeting of the Group of 8 in Scotland.


Fouling the Environment, One Yard at a Time

Sometimes it's the little things that make a big difference. Think lawnmowers and air pollution. A single lawnmower, according to a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, emits as much pollution in an hour as 50 cars driving 20 miles. There's a very effective fix available: requiring that such low-horsepower machines be fitted with a catalytic converter, which can reduce harmful emissions by 75 percent.

But once again, cozy relationships between government officials and industry magnates is preventing (or at least forestalling) progress. This time the person sacrificing our clean air for the sake of corporate profit -- didn't they used to call that graft and corruption? -- is Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, whose state is home (as you may have guessed) to two Briggs and Stratton plants.

So thanks to Bond, important and much-needed restrictions on air pollution will be delayed another six months while the government spends $650,000 for a study ("Lawnmower Smog Rule Delayed"). Funny, that's been exactly the tactic taken by the Bush administration regarding greenhouse gas emissions in general: Call for "study" after "study," and avoid doing anything helpful for the environment. In the meantime, if you have a yard, you might try doing what I do: Use an electric mower (with no emissions at all). Better yet, but not exactly easy, is to use a hand-powered mower -- while turning up the pressure on elected officials to change policies that effect us all.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


The Downing Street Memo

The "Downing Street Memo" is a document that, in different times, might very well bring down a government. The memo details that before the U.S. attack on Iraq, the U.S. government did not believe Iraq was a greater threat than other nations, that intelligence was "fixed" to sell the case for war to the American public, and that the Bush administration’s public assurances of "war as a last resort" were at odds with its privately stated intentions.

The U.S. media, of course, has virtually ignored the memo, which was published in The London Times on May 1. Lying to the American public isn't necessarily an impeachable offense, but lying under oath to, say, congressional committees is something that would be grounds for indictment (if a real opposition existed in this country).

Read the memo. Judge for yourself. But it seems to me if anyone had doubts about the veracity or the credibility of the Bush administration, those doubts should be long dispelled.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


"The Gospel According to ... "

From yesterday's Chicago Tribune:

I was hanging with some determined Christians a week ago who were wrestling with their anger about the Republicans and President Bush saddling up and riding into the heart of America on the religion issue. These are the kind of people who drive conservative Republicans nuts, which is why they are so interesting. It's like turning back time and sitting in on a Wobblies meeting or a convention of anarchists. They seem to be very passionate about everything.

Read the rest of the article.

And yesterday's Dallas Morning News included an interesting column titled "Not to get preachy, but McCain needs some religious vote" (annoying registration required).

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Bush Official Caught in Lies About Global Warming

One of the Bush administration's top officials on the environment has been caught falsifying reports on the links between emissions and global warming ("Official Played Down Emissions' Links to Global Warming"). Philip A. Cooney, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is a former official of the American Petroleum Institute, which is not a surprise since the Bush approach to energy issues has pretty much followed the oil industry's line (Bush himself, of course, being Oil Baron in Chief).

This is one of those Big Lies of this administration, repeated often: That the clear link between human activity -- the emission of greenhouse gasses in particular -- and global warming is "in dispute" among scientists. The fact of the matter is, virtually the only scientists who have questions about the connection between emissions and global warming -- and the dire consequences ahead if we don't take significant action, soon -- are those on the payroll of the oil companies (and the oil companies' front organizations). Cooney's duplicity is only the tip of a very, very dirty iceberg -- and all of us, along with our children, will pay a heavy price for the disembling (that means lying, Mr. President).

Monday, June 06, 2005


They'll Know We are Christians by Our ... Spite?

One of the saddest things to see is when an avowedly "Christian" group campaigns against human rights. That's the case with the American Family Association, which the press calls "a conservative Christian group," and its attack on the Ford Motor Co. ("Christian group suspends Ford boycott"). Why are these self-styled "morality" crusaders up in arms? The automaker had the temerity to actually treat gay and lesbian people as if they were human beings (and prospective customers) -- as MSNBC put it, "Ford extends benefits to employees’ same-sex partners, offers to make donations to gay advocacy groups when their members buy specific automobiles, sponsors gay pride celebrations and advertises in gay-oriented publications...." Shocking stuff.

The AFA obviously prefers that gays and lesbians be treated as second-class citizens, that they be denied health and other benefits, and that companies like Ford ignore them as potential customers.

Since the AFA claims to be a Christian organization (although they certainly don't act like one -- remember the old "they'll know we are Christians by our love"...?), it would behoove other Christians, particularly churches and church bodies, to condemn the AFA's hateful behavior. I wouldn't hold my breath.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


Va. Court and the Abortion Ban

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit (based in Richmond, Virginia) struck down this week a state law that banned late-term "partial-birth" abortions, ruling that the procedure is unconstitutional because it lacks an exception to safeguard a woman's health ("Abortion law struck down").

The court's ruling was correct. Exceptions to protect a woman's health must be included in such laws. But that doesn't mean that society shouldn't restrict such procedures (also known as "Intact Dilation and Extraction").

Many of us feel torn between the extremes on abortion. We feel that abortion is at best a tragedy, a horrible choice in desperate circumstances, and that serious effort ought to be made to reduce the number of abortions. But even given that belief, many of us do not feel that a woman (or doctor) who makes that desperate choice ought to be prosecuted as a criminal. Does that make us "pro-choice"? ..."pro-life"? Once again, the labels used by the right and left seem inadequate to describe what seems to be the vast majority of Americans.

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