HOW EMPHASIS AFFECTS MEANING
While listening to a radio show about Abraham Lincoln on WBUR's "The Connection" today, I heard a recorded reading of the Gettysburg Address. The speaker also referred to the Emancipation Proclamation.
All my life I have heard those words pronounced with either the accent on the second word, "proclamation", or no emphasis on either word. I didn't realize how flat, lifeless and meaningless the phrase sounded until the speaker spoke with a strong accent on the word Emancipation. That way, there's meaning, emotion and power.
Say it out loud both ways and see for yourself.
Similarly, the phrase "of the people, by the people, for the people" is always pronounced with the emphases on of, by and for. This reduces the phrase to some autonomic abstraction, again with no emotion or power. Say it out loud with minor emphasis on the of, by and for, but with major emotive emphasis in each case on the word "people.": "...of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE..."
The difference is like day and night. It's as if I never heard these words before. I was as moved as if I had been there at Gettysburg.
It seems so obvious after the fact. Why does this happen? It may be our tendency when learning or teaching our history by rote--as so many of us did, and I bet still do-- to reduce famous quotes to some mindless rhythm with all the life and dynamism of iambic pentameter. "This is the forest primeval. The murmering pines and the hemlocks..."--daDUM, daDUM, daDUM, and on and on, ad infinitum. We carry this flatlined boredom with the phrases all of our lives, until that pronunciation becomes the commonplace, as does their meaning.
The inflection and accents define the concepts in ways the author surely never intended, and makes them not only boring, but deprives them of their passion, power and beauty. It's sheer luck, I think, that it also doesn't deprive them--so far--of immortality.
In a time when our leadership seems to be doing its best to subvert this profound concept, it's worthwhile to say this out loud a few times every morning. Maybe it could help convert that sense of political fatalism and despair many feel to confidence that "...a new nation, conceived in liberty... shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE shall not perish from the earth."
Monday, December 29, 2003
HOW EMPHASIS AFFECTS MEANING
Sunday, December 21, 2003
Don't you get so tired of hearing the same tired and untrue phrases used by conservatives from, it seems, the day they came crawling out of the primordial ooze? Phrases like "tax and spend liberals." In the manner they've perfected of accusing others of the very malfeasances they themselves thrive on, and making it stick by constant repetition, so they have done with this one. Which administrations spend more? Think expansion of government (an example of the linguistic tomfoolery right there); think deficits. Yes, they sometimes cut taxes, but for whom? This is nothing to be proud of. And during Reagan-Bush, my taxes went up.
Since the Massachusetts Judicial Court decision about same-sex marriage, we are hearing once again from the right the complaint about courts practicing "judicial activism", that being an egregious affront to civilization. The courts should not be creating law, after all, or deciding public policy. That should be left to the noble hearts who in Congress--but only when the Right has a majority. Otherwise the courts are merely correcting bad legislation that will bring about the downfall of western civilization* or worse.
We hear that phrase used whenever any court decides in opposition to any position held dear by the right. We always have. I first heard it from a constitutional law professor in college, a "strict constructionist"--code for idiot, I later realized, (as "judical activism" is code for "we don't like that decision"). Under 'strict constructionism", we never would have had a right to privacy as we understand it today, and all that it implies and means to us today, as that right is not literally articulated in the constitution, but is the result of decades of court decisions, activism in service of the fulfillment of the founder's dreams in a world they could not foresee, and in the cause of human dignity.
Judicial activism is what the courts do. It's what they were created to do. It's their job, dammit. That's why it's so important to not appoint whackos and idealogues like Thomas and Scalia to the courts, and why the federal court Bush appointees who would judicially activate the most extreme hardships on us and further reverse decades of social progress must be stopped at all costs.
But let's get to the main point--the hypocrisy of these phrases, for if the 2000 Supreme Court decision appointing Bush president is not the crown of judicial activism, then the world was created in six days.
So if it suits them, it's fine. If not, it's "tax and spend"--oops, I mean "judicial activism."
*Ghandi was once asked what he thought of Western Civilization. "I think it would be a very good idea," he replied.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
LOVE THE SIN, NOT THE SINNER
Has anyone figured out yet that I detest organized religion? You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
Love the sinner, not the sin. How many times have we heard that? What does it mean?
Here's another variation. Recently Newsweek ran an article about the Episcopal Church and the fallout over the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop. Apparently the magazine printed a photo of people holding vulgar signs in protest of the consecration. Jill Kinsella, Dir. of Communications for Christ Church-Episcopal in Plano,TX, wrote in to decry that "both legitimate camps in this debate agree that the group in that photo (known to many) is so outlandish and hateful as to be irrelevant to anyone except police departments. We are saddened...that all orthodox Episcopalians might be painted with the broad antigay brush that this photo depicts. The orthodox believers in our church have been very outspoken against the new bishop...[but] we have been careful to express our dissatisfaction in a respectful pastoral manner that is aimed at the behavior, not the person." (Emphasis supplied.)
At the behavior, not the person. Love the sinner, not the sin.
How boorish. What a terrific example of willful self-deception, self-congratulatory blather, and an attempt by the real sinners to expiate their own sins.
But it doesn't hold an ounce of water, because the obvious, intrinsic and inalienable fact is that for LGBT people there is no distinction between the person and the behavior. The person is the behavior. The behavior is as intrinsic to the individual as air is to the human body. This is not rocket science.
But it may as well be to the ignorant hypocrites who have convinced themselves that this is a legitimate distinction, and spout it with such offensive and self-righteous piety. They are good people, we are supposed to conclude, because they love us in spite of our sins or behavior.
This specious distinction becomes just another example of the bankruptcy of any true moral code in these people and institutions.
Rather than buy them the respect and legitimacy that they crave from us, it reveals the cravenness in their hearts and their bastard illegitimacy.
So screw you, Kinsella, and all your weasel-mates in all the other churches that try this same gambit. You are exposed, you have no clothes, and you are fooling only yourselves. Please go directly to hell, do not pass god, do not collect 200 mea culpas.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
A COMMON ENEMY (That's us, folks)
Here's an interesting article about the origin and status of the Arab world's attitute towards the US. It was sent by a friend, and can be found on Common Dreams, http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1214-03.htm
Saddam an Important Symbol in the Arab World
by Joyce M. Davis
WASHINGTON - Saddam Hussein may be under lock and key, but experts warn that the anger at the United States that he came to symbolize in the Arab world and Iran is far from contained. It still seethes in every capital from Rabat to Tehran, in the streets if not always in government.
"To some extent, Saddam was a measure of the depth of the region's alienation from the West," said James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute in Washington. "He symbolized the anger; he symbolized the divide."
Yet with Saddam's regime relegated to history, the danger is that Iraqis and other Arabs will see a common enemy in the Americans who destroyed him, and keep fighting to end their occupation of Iraq.
Arab and Muslim anger is rooted in a long history of humiliation, by British colonial rule, by the creation of Israel, by poverty, by the failure of U.S.- backed governments to allow open democratic government and more broadly by the perceived inability of some Arab and Muslim countries to succeed in the modern world.
When American troops invaded Baghdad last spring, Iraqis rushed to topple statues of Saddam. It was a pivotal, yet for some Arabs humiliating, moment in the region's history.
The rampaging Iraqi men didn't rid themselves of Saddam's evil; they needed American Marines to do that for them. Other Arab leaders didn't send armies to liberate the Iraqi people; President Bush did. And even the feared Islamic jihadees (holy warriors), for all their threats of suicide bombs and terrorism, proved too weak to defeat the Arab leader they hated most.
The fact that it was hated Israel's friend and protector that toppled Saddam wasn't lost on millions of Arabs.
As a result, according to Suleiman Nyang, a political scientist at Howard University in Washington, although Saddam wasn't beloved in the Arab world, his demise is seen in the Middle East and beyond as another sign of Arab weakness and degradation at the hands of the West.
"If it is a humiliation for the Arab people, it is one that Arabs themselves are accountable for," he said. "It is unfortunate that a guy like Saddam Hussein should have remained in power for so long. The Arab people don't fight for their freedom the way other people fight for freedom."
And any gratitude for what the United States did expired quickly, as attacks against American troops picked up speed amid popular discontent at the sight of U.S. soldiers patrolling Iraqi streets and neighborhoods.
"It is a very painful experience that the Arabs are undertaking," said Clovis Maksoud, a former Arab League ambassador to the United States and the United Nations. "There will be a lot of soul searching, a period of ferment. Profound changes are going to take place."
Saddam's regime was built on the mid-20th-century version of Arab nationalism, a secular, socialist ideal espoused by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who ruled Egypt from 1956 to 1970, and the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, who ruled from 1970 until his death in June 2000, succeeded by his son Bashar.
By emphasizing their common language, culture and heritage, Saddam's Baath Party proposed that Arabs could achieve self-determination, independence from the West and a revival of their once-glorious civilization. Arab nationalism was the antithesis of Islamic militancy, which promoted unity under the banner of the Muslim faith.
Like other secular Arab leaders, Saddam despised and feared the growing popularity of Islamic movements. He was especially leery of the Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq, whom he feared might launch an Islamic revolution like the one that took over neighboring Iran.
Even before Saddam's downfall, many Arabs had abandoned the movement he represented. Their secular leaders had proved to be despots, more concerned about holding on to power, enriching their cronies and crushing all efforts at democracy. Their powerful patron, arms supplier and role model, the Soviet Union, had collapsed.
Arab nationalists had proved unable to recapture Arab land from Israel; and some, such as Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein, even had abandoned the struggle and signed peace treaties with the Jewish nation.
In the eyes of many Arabs, their secular leaders had become little more than puppets of successive foreign powers, from the British colonialists to the Soviets to the American invaders.
Increasingly, Arabs turned to a new movement to redress their grievances: militant Islam.
After Saddam's defeat in the first Persian Gulf War, he tried to recast himself as a born-again Muslim, summoning the faithful to support him in his self- proclaimed jihad against Western imperialism. The pose won him little support from devout Muslims, who didn't believe that the same Saddam who had brutally crushed religious parties and routinely violated nearly every principle of Muslim life had suddenly become a defender of Islam.
Yet with Saddam's regime relegated to history, the danger is that Iraqis and other Arabs will see a common enemy in the Americans who destroyed him, and keep fighting to end their occupation of Iraq.
© 2003 Knight-Ridder
Monday, December 15, 2003
After two days of All-Saddam All-The-Time, I have only three observations:
1) In all of the TV footage of Iraqi citizens celebrating the capture, I saw no women. Not a one.
2)This is the worst news I've heard since the economy was picking up a little. Oh it's good news for the Iraqi people who have feared his return; and it's good news in general for the world, to diminish such a cruel man.
But just as there never was the slightest doubt that the mighty US military would quickly vanquish the Iraqi government and army (and so what?), we knew Saddam would eventually be captured.
I hoped it would either be bungled or happen after the election. Hey, it's situational ethics. But paranoia is just having all the facts. Is it possible the capture--and the forthcoming trial--were planned, timed and staged to help win the election? There's no doubt that the evils of Saddam will be exposed in the trial, that it and the horrors that he inflicted on Iraqis will be frontpage news all over the world. This can and will be used to support and justify Bush's actions.
The rightwing's money and propaganda machines, well-honed after twenty five years of dedicated thinktank activity and laserbeam focus, have already made Bush more formidable an opponent in 2004 than many of us have been willing to admit. Even with the perfect Democratic candidate, even with all Bush's obvious vulnerabilities, even with all of the lies and calumnies of this administration regarding this war and just about everything else, even with tens of millions disgusted with this presidency, even with the blatant attacks on the Bill of Rights and civil liberties in general, even with insane deficits that further the neocon goal of bankrupting the government so it can't afford social programs, even with the dismantling of enviromental protection and medical security, even with the fact that we are far less safe than we were before the empire-building wag-the-dog neocon dream of invading Iraq came true --oh, we could type for another hour--even with all this, it will be a tough battle.
But planned, or lucky break for Bush, the capture happens now, and so far it's not bungled. (I have hope.) There's no denying the boost this gives Bush in the campaign. It's the buzz.
The trial may also further expose the long dark history of complicity with and support of this regime by America--but not Bush's America, and his machine will make good use of that; and Bush has already prepped the way for this by acknowledging past American support of undemocratic (what an understatement) regimes in a recent speech.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have not found the magic bullet in their campaigns, and their sniping at each other is not useful. With this news, are they going to need some divine intervention to beat the Axis of Evil?
It's worrisome, but it just means we have to redouble our efforts, be yet even smarter, and speak out even louder about all the egregious actions of the Bush usurpers. There is simply no other choice.
3) So we shaved the guy. We showed him being inspected for lice, throat examined, etc, but still there were doubts this was Hussein-baby. How come we didn't see him being shaved? And how come that's all the video we saw, anyway? That's the most newsworthy and interesting?
Thursday, December 11, 2003
Some clever geek has provided us with a bit of fun. Google the phrase "miserable failure" and the first link on the page will be...well, you'll see.
The third link is a Gephardt page that leads off with his quote from the 9/4 presidential debate: "This president is a miserable failure on foreign policy and on the economy and he's got to be replaced." Here's the link to that page: http://www.amiserablefailure.com/plugin/template/gephardt/220/*
The second link--at least as of today--is a great Atlantic Monthly article by Jack Beatty inspired by that phrase. "Will Bush be re-elected? Only if voters wittingly ignore his long list of failures while in office," begins the piece. It's so good that I'm reprinting it here, but the web page is http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/polipro/pp2003-09-24.htm:
"With one phrase Dick Gephardt has defined the issue to be decided next November. Can a "miserable failure" of a president win re-election? Bush's victory would testify to a civic failure more dangerous to the American future than any policies implemented or continued during a second Bush term. A majority would have demonstrated that democratic accountability is finished. That you can fail in everything and still be re-elected president.
You can preside over the most catastrophic failure of intelligence and national defense in history. Can fire no one associated with this fatal chain of blunders and bureaucratic buck-passing. Can oppose an inquest into September 11 for more than a year until pressure from the relatives of those killed on that day becomes politically toxic. Can name Henry Kissinger, that mortician of truth, to head the independent commission you finally accede to. You can start an unnecessary war that kills hundreds of Americans and as many as 7,000 Iraqi civilians—adjusted for the difference in population, the equivalent of 80,000 Americans. Can occupy Iraq without a plan to restore traffic lights, much less order. Can make American soldiers targets in a war of attrition conducted by snipers, assassins, and planters of remote-control bombs—and taunt the murderers of our young men to "bring it on." Can spend hundreds of billions of dollars on nation building—and pass the bill to America's children. (Asked to consider rescinding your tax cut for the top one percent of taxpayers for one year in order to fund the $87 billion you requested from Congress to pay for the occupation of Iraq, your Vice President said no; that would slow growth.) You can lose more jobs than any other President since Hoover. You can cut cops and after-school programs and Pell Grants and housing allowances for the poor to give tax cuts to millionaires. You can wreck the nation's finances, running up the largest deficit in history. You can permit 17,000 power plants to increase their health-endangering pollution of the air. You can lower the prestige of the United States in every country of the world by your unilateral conduct of foreign policy and puerile "you're either with us or against us" rhetoric. Above all, you can lie the country into war and your lies can be exposed—and, if a majority prefers ignorance to civic responsibility, you can still be reelected.
Even Republicans must be capable of applying a cost-benefit analysis to this record of miserable failure. Their tax cuts on one side, the burden of Bush-begotten debt on their children on the other. And surely even Republicans breathe the air befouled by those power plants. I have it on good authority that the conservatives in the party do as well. Surely they must question the judgment of a President who proposes to turn Iraq into what James Fallows calls "the fifty-first state" in order to bring democracy to the Middle East—the kind of do-gooder fantasy conservatives have long ridiculed in liberals.
But the election won't be decided by Republicans and conservatives. Most will sacrifice independent judgment to ideology or party and vote for Bush. No, swing voters will pick the next President. They vote the man not the party, character not ideology. Many voted for Bush in 2000 because they liked him better than Al Gore—applying the standards of product acceptability to a job that entrusts its holder with the power to blow up the planet. Well, do they still "like" Bush? I fear many do. After all, he has spared them the embarrassment of having to discuss sex with their children. Swing voters like Bush's "image" as a strong leader, a CNN pundit claims. Are they incapable of looking behind that image and seeing the weak President who stayed away from the White House on September 11 because his Vice President said it was not safe for him to be there and whose PR people lied to cover up his failure of leadership? John F. Kennedy, as R. W. Apple wrote on the front page of The New York Times on September 12, remained in the White House throughout the Cuban missile crisis knowing that it would be hit in any nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.
The Founders feared that the republic would succumb to corruption without republican citizenship—without citizens who could transcend privatism and hold elected officials to account, demanding probity and competence, and judging their performance against both the clamorous necessities of the time and the mute claims of posterity. They made property a criterion for voting because it secured a measure of economic independence. Property-less wage laborers, they feared, would vote as their employers instructed them to. The extension of democracy to those who could not rise to the responsibilities of republican freedom would corrupt the republic—hasten its decay into oligarchy or mob rule.
For all their worldliness the Founders were naïve to regard property as a shield of incorruptibility or the property-less as inherently corruptible. Their core insight, however, remains valid. A republic can be corrupted at the top and bottom, by leaders and led. The re-election of George W. Bush would signal that a kind of corruption had set in among the led. Our miserable failure as republican citizens would match his as President."
We hold this truth to be self-evident:
Having George W. Bush as President has been and will continue to be a disaster.
We will not let our partisanship towards any particular candidate for President cause us to lose sight of this basic truth. As such, we pledge ourselves not to become enablers of any campaign designed to divide us in our struggle to remove Bush from power. We pledge that no more will we be:
Tools of those who would disrupt the Anybody-But-Bush movement.
Partisans who would rather bring down the other guy's candidate than find reason to elevate our own.
Dupes who will automatically assume that anything negative about the other guy's candidate is more likely to be true than the negative things said about our guy.
Fools who lose sight of the ultimate goal: the defeat of George W. Bush on November 2nd, 2004.
We will uphold this pledge to the best of our ability.
We will encourage others to do the same.
This we do solemnly swear.
Signed, your blog host
You can sign the pledge at:
Monday, December 08, 2003
Nicholas Kristof, NY Times columnist, summed up his concerns that the Democratic party was doomed if it nominated Dean: "Many Democrats so despise President Bush that they don't appreciate what a strong candidate he will be in November, and they don't grasp how poorly Mr. Dean is likely to fare in battleground states," he said.
He states that Dean is unelectable for three reasons, as supported by a recent Pew poll where Bush beat Dean, 52 percent to 41 percent:
1) Geographaphy. Instead of being a good old boy that can win the south or at least the Reagan democrats, as the last three democratic presidents apparently did--Johnson, Carter, and Clinton. "Not another Michael Dukakis," he says.
2) Style. "Angry bluster rouses the party faithful, but it frightens centrists... today's liberal disgust could [help Bush]by leading to a nominee like Mr. Dean, who warms the hearts of the party's core but leaves others cold.
3) Biography. "Mr. Dean may be the one Democrat who is even more blue-blooded than Mr. Bush...Mr. Dean doesn't even pretend to be particularly religious, and that's a major political weakness in the battleground states.
He also described the [confederate flag episode] as a 'huge contretemps,' and I seriously doubt that anybody who publicly uses the word "contretemps" can ever be elected president.
Is that just a clever remark, or a good point?
They're all good points. Decrying the fact that those points are legitimate does no good. It's the state of the union.
But it's still bothersome that Democrats and liberals are repeating this particular zeitgeist over and over again--Dean can't beat bush--since that only helps reinforce that conclusion in the minds of the public and helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy. One can't help think there is a more than a bit of arrogance in these kinds of commentaries themselves.
Nonetheless they will continue, and continue to undermine Dean all the way.
On the other hand, Kristof reminds us of a poignant Adlai Stevenson anecdote.
After one of Stevenson's typically brilliant campaign speeches, someone shouted out to Stevenson from the crowd that he had the votes of all thinking Americans.
Stevenson shouted back, saying that wasn't enough: "I need a majority!"
The media blatherers are having fun today about Kerry's F-Word.
The AP reports today that when asked in a Rolling Stone interview about the success of rival candidate Howard Dean, whose antiwar message has resounded with supporters, Kerry responded: ''When I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, 'I'm against everything?' Sure. Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did.''
The expletive drew a rebuke from White House, which suggested an apology might be in order. ''That's beneath John Kerry,'' the president's chief of staff, Andrew Card, said on CNN's ''Late Edition.'' ''I'm very disappointed that he would use that kind of language,'' Card said. ''I'm hoping that he's apologizing at least to himself, because that's not the John Kerry that I know.''
During the 2000 presidential campaign, then-candidate Bush called Adam Clymer of the New York Times a "major league asshole". Unlike Kerry's profanity, this was a profane direct insult to an adversary for which no apology was ever issued.
Let's also note some great historical lines from Dubya:
Fuck Saddam. We're taking him out.
-George W. Bush, March 2002, as reported in Time.
You no-good fucking son of a bitch, I will never fucking forget what
-George W. Bush, to journalist Al Hunt in front of his 4-year old
-George W. Bush, 1988, in response to a question about what he and
his father are talking about when they're not talking politics.
This White House has problems with some H-words: Humility, of which it has none, and Hypocrisy, of which it has an infinite supply.
But there is a real problem over an F-word in Kerry's campaign. It's Failure. Next year, will we be saying about his campaign, "he fucked it up?"
Friday, December 05, 2003
OH LIGHTEN UP!
Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent
life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none
of it has tried to contact us.
Then-Senator John Ashcroft, in a response five years ago
to the FBI's intent to examine internet financial
transactions and personal email "all in the name
of national security: "Why should we grant government
the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real
time to our communications across the web? The right
to protection from unlawful searches is an
indivisible American value."
BONO OH NO
Irish rock star and AIDS advocate Bono on Wednesday at an interview at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C., said he was "infuriated" that Congress has not yet passed the fiscal year 2004 omnibus spending bill that includes funding for President Bush's global AIDS initiative, Reuters/Yahoo! News reports (Reuters/Yahoo! News, 12/3).
Bono, you putz. Are you paying attention? Is this giving aid and comfort to the enemy?
There's plenty of reasons why this bill should be stalled or killed.
Environmental? Check this out: http://www.registerguard.com/news/2003/02/17/ed.edit.envirobush.0217.html
"However, the vast majority of lawmakers who voted for the spending package did not know it included these pet projects and special interest favors. That is because at the behest of GOP leaders the House waived an internal rule that required lawmakers to have at least three days to review the spending package before voting on it.
Rep. Jeff Flake, a conservative Republican from Arizona, condemned his own leadership for scheduling a vote on the omnibus spending bill only a few hours after they made it available to members.
“ It’s the ugliest thing I’ve seen,” he said shortly before 338 of his colleagues voted for it. “The ugliest part is in the report which we won’t see for a few days. We can’t even get a copy of it yet.”
“ They waived the rule giving us three days to look at it,” he added."
And on and on. Bono: Your brain--don't leave home without it.
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Rumsfeld wins British ‘Foot in Mouth’ prize
This award, which was first given in 1993, is for a truly baffling comment.
The 2003 winner is United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for comments in a press briefing.
“REPORTS THAT say something hasn’t happened are interesting to me, because as we know, there are known unknowns; there are things we know we know,” Rumsfeld told the briefing. "We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
John Lister, spokesman for the campaign which strives to have public information delivered in clear, straightforward English, said, “We think we know what he means. But we don’t know if we really know.”
Rumsfeld, whose boss President Bush is often singled out by language critics for his sometimes unusual use of English, took the booby prize ahead of a bizarre effort from actor-turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman,” was the odd statement from the new California governor.
Previous holders of the award include U.S. actress Alicia Silverstone and British chancellor Gordon Brown. Last year’s winner was actor Richard Gere.
Here's the list of prior winners:
2002: Actor Richard Gere who said: 'I know who I am. No one else knows who I am. If I was a giraffe and somebody said I was a snake, I'd think 'No, actually I am a giraffe.''
2001: Artist Tracey Emin, who explained 'When it comes to words I have a uniqueness that I find almost impossible in terms of art - and it's my words that actually make my art quite unique.'
2000: Hollywood star Alicia Silverstone for her comments quoted in the Sunday Telegraph.
'I think that [the film] 'Clueless' was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it's true lightness.'
1999: Former England manager Glenn Hoddle. When asked by Trevor McDonald to explain his controversial comments on people with disabilities, he said:
'I do not believe that. At this moment in time, if that changes in years to come I don't know, but what happens here today and changes as we go along that is part of life's learning and part of your inner beliefs. But at this moment in time I did not say them things and at the end of the day I want to put that on record because it has hurt people.'
1998: Cardiff MP Rhodri Morgan. In an interview with BBC Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman he was asked if he would like to be the labour leader of the new Welsh Assembly. Rhodri replied 'Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?'. After a long puzzled pause Jeremy asked Rhodri if that was Welsh for yes!
1997: Nick Underwood of Teletubbies Marketing explained that 'in life, there are all colours and the Teletubbies are a reflection of that. There are no nationalities in the Teletubbies - they are techno-babies, but they are supposed to reflect life in that sense.'
1996: No winner.
1995: No winner.
1994: Dr Gordon Brown MP for his 'New Economics' speech. He covered 'ideas which stress the growing importance of international co-operation and new theories of economic sovereignty across a wide range of areas, macro-economics, trade, the environment, the growth of post neo-classical endogenous growth theory and the symbiotic relationships between government and investment in people and infrastructures - a new understanding of how labour markets really work and constructive debate over the meaning and implications of competitiveness at the level of individuals, the firm or the nation and the role of government in fashioning modern industrial policies which focus on nurturing competitiveness.'
1993: Former England cricket boss, Ted Dexter.
Ted desperately tried to explain away another England defeat at the hands of the Australians by saying 'Maybe we are in the wrong sign. Maybe Venus is in the wrong juxtaposition with something else. I don't know.'
(Although we did not yet have a Foot in Mouth award at the 1991 ceremony, we made a special mention of a quote by United States Vice President Dan Quayle.
'We offer the party as a big tent. How we do that (recognise the big tent philosophy) with the platform, the preamble to the platform or whatnot, that remains to be seen. But that message will have to be articulated with great clarity.')
STOP CONDEMNING POLITICIANS WHO DIDN'T FIGHT IN VIETNAM
Robert Fisk is only the most recent columnist to condemn George Bush for not fighting in Vietnam. In a recent column for The Independent, referring to Bush's not attending funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, he wrote:
"...But of course President Bush, our hero in the "war on terror", won't be attending their funerals. The man who declined to serve his nation in Vietnam but has sent 146,000 young Americans into the biggest rat's nest in the Middle East doesn't do funerals."
Now look, I like Fisk as much as I like most progressive columnists, and usually agree with him--or he agrees with me.
But let's get over using Vietnam against assholes like Bush.
I have friends who fought in Vietnam, and whom I respect. I had friends who died there. And I had friends who were brutalized by fighting there and were never the same.
But I have many more friends who like myself did not and would not fight that unholy war, and we have no regrets. For many of us, it was the more honorable thing to do--to reject this false war. For some of us, it was--and still is--good enough to have said no way. Whether it was out of pacifism, deep conscience, social or political protest, or just a common recognition that this wasn't WW2 and no way was I gonna die in a jungle for no apparent reason, all were honorable choices.
It was NOT dishonorable to avoid the draft, to do everything in one's power to not end up as cannon fodder for the McNamaras, the Johnsons, the Nixons, and the other fomentors of that atrocity. It doesn't necessarily make one a hero for resisting or avoiding--George Bush is a perfect example--but it's disgraceful and disgusting in 2003 to criticize anyone who chose that path.
And we do not accept responsibility for the fact that, as talking heads on TV seem fond of posing to candidates who did not serve, "others died in your place, how do you feel about that?" (you dirty draft dodger) That's a disgusting trap, that question. How do we feel? Of course we feel awful that over 50,000 kids died in combat, and maybe almost as many afterwards by suicide, OD, or related disease, abandoned by the government that caused their pain. Every sentient being does.
But how dare anyone try to make that our fault, we who did as much as we could to end that shameful war--and finally did. Those who are responsible are the ones who conned these innocent kids into thinking they were serving their country, and upholding the ideals of democracy. Those who are responsible are the ones asking those ignorant questions.
So let's stop using fighting in Vietnam as a litmus test. George Bush is still a scumbag, a liar and a hypocrite, but not because he didn't fight in Vietnam.
THE NEWS, THE CHURCH, AND THE POROUS CONDOMS
I tell ya, it's pretty hard these days not to sound Anti-Catholic. There's plenty to codemn the church hierarchy for, and for which I feel no hesitation or guilt, but heretofore I didn't want to condemn the followers of the church. It's too creepy to do that, given the rise of anti-Semitism in the world today.
But one has to take a stand. There is no longer any option. Passively following ignorant leadership of any faith or religious group is--well, its time is up. You're either part of the solution or part of the problem. If Jews with brains (a subset I aspire to belong to) don't roundly condemn Ariel Sharon and all his sycophantic morons, and the idiot Orthodox fundamentalists in the settlements, then they are culpable. If Protestants with brains (hey, don't they run the country?) don't condemn the Anglican-Episcopal bigots, the Falwells, the Robertsons, the rest of the scum that hides behind religion the same way the Taliban and Bin Laden do, then they are culpable. And finally, if Catholics with brains don't condemn the Pope and his minions for the recent insanely ignorant and dangerous comments regarding condoms and AIDS (let alone their obsessive reactionary attacks on gays, even if obviously designed to distract us from the priestly scandals), then they too are culpable.
So for all the culpable and the few who aren't, here's a letter I wrote to the Boston Globe today. The Globe did well in investigating and reporting the pedophilia and coverups, but lately seems to have become a PR mouthpiece for the Church in its crusade against diversity.
There are some things that are irrefutable and unambiguous.
Global warming is one such fact. The Bush administration’s refusal to acknowledge it is not surprising, but no less unacceptable. Great harm will ensue, but mostly in the future, invisible to us now and thus easier to dismiss.
Another fact is that condoms prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. No one with any shred of credibility or conscience disputes this fact. No one, apparently, except the Catholic Church. The Church claims that the latex is porous to HIV, rendering them useless, and further that condoms lead to promiscuity—therefore no one should use them, and good Catholics, especially those with influence must openly fight against their use, to the point of changing public policy.
To what end? This may support their long-standing doctrine against contraception, but great harm also ensues. In this case the harm is death and suffering—not just to Catholics but to whole societies devastated by AIDS, and not in the future, but today, and extremely visible.
So it should be inconceivable that a major religious institution would advocate a policy that, given the facts, is tantamount to manslaughter.
Clearly it isn’t. Instead of filling the front page of this newspaper with every wag-the-dog utterance of the Church self-righteously condemning same-sex marriage or homosexuality, thus granting authority and legitimacy in a secular forum where none should exist, this paper and others ought to be shouting in 30-point type about a much more egregious aspect of this institution’s advocacy—one that, if successful, will lead to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. One that many consider to be as criminal, if not more so, than the centuries of tacitly sanctioned priestly malfeasance from which the Church is trying its best to distract us.
We are sacrificing the lives of our soldiers in Afghanistan fighting “foreign” religious primitivism that inflicts the most horrible fates on the innocent, especially women, while we shrug at the policies of one of our own religious institutions that would do the same.
That’s what’s inconceivable.
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
I WON'T MAKE A PUN, OR VERSE.
An interesting radio show on poet Philip Larkin referred to the following light-hearted and uplifting poem.
This Be The Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.
And while we're waxing on, waxing off poetic, here's a slam-dunk:
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off or unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.