Bill Breeden and Iran-Contra

Fact of the day: Bill Breeden was the only person arrested for anything having to do with the Iran-Contra Affair.

Who is Bill Breeden? He’s from John Poindexter‘s home town and held a sign for a street named in Poindexter’s honor for “ransom.” He was arrested and jailed for this. None of the military or government officials involved with illegally selling weapons or funding a war that the U.S. wasn’t supposed to be involved with or covering up served jail time.

Anyone who thinks that the recent news about Paris going to/from jail/house arrest has anything to do with faith in the justice system is terribly confused, I’m afraid.

(Fact thanks to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.)

Do I Feel Bad About Duke?

I want to say that I hate to admit this, but I’m not sure that I do hate to admit it. Let’s say I have mixed feelings about the outcome of the “Duke Lacrosse Rape Case:” the North Carolina attorney general dropped all charges and so the men involved are all innocent in the eyes of the law.

Without getting into the details of the case or the ethics around how the investigation/charges went, let’s just assume that they were innocent all along.

In light of this whole Don Imus thing (and his torrid past), I couldn’t help but think something along the lines of, I wish there was something like this that could happen to straight white men that might make them (and the country and others like them) realize that racism is an everyday thing for most non-white people in the U.S. and that their white privilege lets them either pretend racism isn’t as bad as people think or that the racists are only people like Strom Thurmond or other really old, bigoted white men, etc.

And then somehow the Duke thing came today.

What these men experienced is somewhat similar to racial profiling, but sort of in reverse. Black men all across the country are accused and charged with committing all sorts of crimes that they likely didn’t commit. We see this everywhere from Driving While Black/Brown to the amount of black (and sometimes innocent) men on death row.

The way I see it, these white Duke players got a taste of what it’s like not to be privileged and white.

The criminal justice system is setup to be biased in all sorts of ways, and this was a perfect example of how it can backfire against anyone.

I just hope that if this case ends up prompting improvements in the way justice is carried out in the U.S. that it doesn’t continue to privilege white men.

What’s Up With The Pope?

The Pope
During Easter Mass, the Pope made some comments about Iraq such as

Nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees

Being that he is the Pope, I think it’s safe to assume he’s speaking the word of God or something like that, right? Isn’t the Pope basically God’s representation on Earth?

What confuses me is the fact that George Bush also talks to God, but God is telling the president something different. In the past Bush has basically said that God told him to go to war in Iraq to spread peace and find weapons of mass destruction and whatever other justifications he used for the war.

So what’s going on here? Is God telling one thing to the Pope and another thing to George W. Bush?

And also, why does the Pope hate America so much? Doesn’t he know not to say anything bad about the war? Remember when France was against the war? There was all sorts of anger and even an ongoing boycott. Where is Bill O’Reilly now? And where is all the anger at the Pope?

Note: of course I don’t really think “god” talks to either of these people… I just find it revealing that when “liberals” in the U.S. say something about the slaughter in Iraq, the conservatives label them as traitors and say they hate the troops and stuff like that, but when the most prominent point-person for Christianity on the planet says stuff against the war (and his Easter comments were not his first…), nobody seems to hate him or question what’s going on.

Disgraceful

I love how sometimes the media picks up on a certain phrase/adjective and uses it absolutely everytime something is mentioned.

For example, if I had a dollar everytime the phrase “disgraced lobbyist” was placed before Jack Abramoff‘s name, I would have somewhere around $1400 (I’m currently getting 1,415 results).

By contrast, there are only 1,384 news articles that include the phrase “lobbyist Jack Abramoff” that don’t have the word “disgraced” in the article.

So basically what this means is that when a news article mentions Jack Abramoff’s name, it’s more likely to include the phrase “disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff” than it is likely to not include it.

Now I’m not saying that Jack Abramoff isn’t a disgraced lobbyist (he is most certainly a slimeball), I just find it lazy and humorous that this phrase seems to be so automatic and unoriginal with news reporting. Try a thesaurus or something. I’m sure there are other words that one could use instead of the now-tired “disgraced.”

What are other examples of this? Right now I cannot recall, but keep your eye out for lazy writing.

Terrorism Plot: Time For Vacation!

I love the fact that the UK had been investigating this now-foiled terrorism plot for the last few weeks and that the US got involved within the last ten days… sounds like a perfect time for Bush to go on vacation, eh? It’s one thing to say that he happened to be on vacation today when the shit went down, but the fact that this supposedly really large terrorist plot unfolded recently might cause one (especially if one were the president) to maybe postpone a vacation?

God Made Me Do It

Today a Texas jury found Andrea Yates not guilty by reason of insanity for the drowning of her five kids. Frankly, in this country that seems to be turning increasingly Christian, I’m a little surprised she wasn’t found not guilty. And not because I expect the jury to be sympathetic to a woman who suffered post-partum depression or anything like that. No, I half-expected (well not really, but for the sake of irony I did) her to be found not-guilty because there is a Biblical precedent for parents being instructed by the voice of God to kill their children.

To me, the Yates case seems rather similar to the story from the Bible about Abraham nearly sacrificing his son, Isaac. I’m most familiar with this story via Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, but I think this phenomenon of God telling people to kill their children is fascinating.

According to Kierkegaard (and others), Abraham is the “father of faith.” The fact that he had complete faith in what God told him to do and was willing to do it set the template for how Judeo/Christian people should relate to God. That is, that God has a plan and that us mere mortal humans cannot possibly try to understand what He has in store of us but that ultimately whatever He wants from us is bound to be the best thing.

Abraham is a pretty major character from the Bible and based on my understanding, very few people consider him to be insane. Yet when it comes to Andrea Yates, the obvious answer is insanity. Why is that? I’m not sure. Because she is a woman? Because we no longer believe those Biblical stories? I really don’t know.

I just find it absolutely fascinating that nobody (as far as I know) has even suggested that God really did instruct her to kill her children. Granted, as an atheist I don’t think this is possible, but I really am surprised that with so many Christians in this country who claim such a devout faith and want to create laws based on their religion, they still decide to pick-and-choose when it comes to matters of faith.

During my senior year of college I wrote a paper that sort of delved into this issue (which reminds me that I really need to post some of those papers…). One of the “first American novels,” Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist by Charles Brockden Brown dealt with a man who was commanded by what he believed to be the voice of God to kill his family. Ultimately, it turns out that the voice was definitely not God (and was instead a man who was able to throw his voice), but how was Weiland supposed to know that?

What intrigues me about these cases is the ethical dilemma that arises: harming/killing children is considered to be one of the most horrible and “evil” things that humans do to each other. Yet as the “father of faith,” Abraham is given a free pass. Granted, in the end his son didn’t die, but that was only because God supposedly intervened to stop. The fact remains that Abraham did fully intended to kill Isaac, so as far as I’m concerned, that makes him just as guilty as someone such as Andrea Yates who also claimed to hear the voice of God, yet this time God (for whatever reason) decided not to intervene. And as Weiland shows us, how is anyone supposed to be able to really tell the voice of God from the voice of someone pretending to be God.

For all we know, Abraham really didn’t hear the voice of God, but could’ve been “insane” (as we’ve labeled Yates) or could’ve been the victim of a cruel prank (as is what happened to Weiland). Either way, it seems to me that blindly following faith and believing that God is giving commands resulted in a terrible lapse of judgment.

I am glad that the jury saw the Yates case for what it was. The poor woman was obviously not in a sane state of mind when she killed her kids. If Abraham was alive today and killed his son, I would’ve argued the same thing. Both were insane.

And In Music News…

Justin Timberlake and Paris Hilton
First, checkout “I’m Bringing Back Sexy” from The Observer Music Monthly which touches on topics such as Justin Timberlake’s drug use, his thoughts on tabloids, and what why “‘music’s gone to such shit.”

If that doesn’t fill your daily need of pop music writing, Slate has an excellent article titled “Paris Hilton, Anti-Hero.” Despite the headline, the article is mostly about all the “diva music” (i.e. female vocalist) coming out this summer (Mariah, Shakira, Pink, Ciara, Rihanna, Jessica Simpson, Nelly Furtado, Janet Jackson, Beyonce, etc. etc. etc.). It’s a really smart article and ultimately makes the point that the “king of pop” music title should now be called “the king of pop” since women are the best-selling pop musicians nowadays. Forget Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, or even Justin Timberlake — the women are where it’s at.

As for me, I prefer Justin’s “SexyBack” over Paris’ “Stars Are Blind” — but that’s just me…

Snowing at the White House

I don’t know if you would call this a guilty pleasure or what, but I don’t keep secret the fact that I often listen to conservative talk radio. Now if you read any of my posts about politics, I would hope that it’s pretty clear that I’m about as far from conservative as they come.

That said, yes, I do listen to conservative talk radio. The bad habit started because Coast to Coast AM is played here in Seattle on conservative talk radio station KVI. So when I go to sleep listening to Coast, I wake up to people like Kirby Wilbur or Tony Snow.

When rumors started circulating last week that Snow was the most likely replacement for Scott McClellan, I must admit that I felt a little “in the loop” or something. Like, silly as it is, when they say you feel somewhat of a personal bond with broadcasters/columnists/whoever that you listen to/read on a daily basis, it is somewhat true. I (and millions of other listeners, I’m sure) feel as if Tony Snow is somewhat of an acquaintance (I wouldn’t call him a friend since I’m sure we’d not get along very well in person).

One of the things about Tony Snow is that he tries to be somewhat of a contrarian. Now that conservative talk radio is hardly a small-time operation and everyone knows how influential it is and how tied the personalities are to the Republican party, the hosts seem to go out of their way to disagree with Bush and other Republicans as a way of saying, “No no no, we actually think for ourselves.” (When, in fact, this is all a big smoke screen since they really only disagree on minor aspects of policy and pretty much always share the same overall philosophy but may disagree with the execution, etc.)

Nonetheless, Think Progress has gone and culled some great criticisms that Snow has hurled at the Bush administration (and now they have a good Tony Snow on the issues). I don’t think this is insightful or anything or really advances the debate about issues, but it is pretty embarrassing for the Bush administration — OR it’s potentially to their benefit since it’s somewhat of a sign saying, “Anyone who argues that it’s all ‘yes men’ around here is certainly wrong.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Snow does as the White House Press Secretary. Unlike McClellan, I do believe that Snow will be able to be more involved with policy and that’s probably a good thing for reporters — he’ll definitely have more credibility than McClellan, who only seemed to be able to regurgitate whatever message Bush and his inner circle wanted him to say. (And in a way, I do feel bad for McClellan since Bush and company made him look like a total jack-ass on numerous occasions [“No, no, I spoke to Rove. I spoke to him about — no, I spoke to him about these accusations, I’ve spoken to him”].)

Of course, the most ridiculous thing about Snow going from Fox News to the White House is the fact that it just gives more credence to the argument that Fox has a rather unhealthy relationship with the Republican Party. Now that Snow will be the press secretary, I shudder to think about the level of access that the White House and Fox News will have with each other. I envision a lot of swapping of exclusive interviews for promises to spin a story in whatever way the White House wants. Not that this doesn’t happen already, but with a Fox News former employee being the liaison between the press and the White House I’m sure it’ll only get worse.

Stock Market and Spam

Has anyone else noticed that ever since the stock market hit 11,000 the other week the amount of spam has gone way up (esp. for things like “Rising Star Stocks” and “MicroCaps” and “Wall Street Insider” and “Penny Stocks”)? Either that, or Gmail‘s spam filtering algorithm has changed. Either way, it’s rather annoying.