September 13, 2003

Speaking of Michael Moore

Is it just me, or is this as close as Mr. Nader-All-The-Way has ever come to flat-out endorsing a Democrat for president?

Just noting how, you know, the most popular filmmaker and non-fiction writer of last year might have an influence on Green leaners, and how, you know, Democratic candidates might be interested in, you know, embracing that or something. You know.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 11:47 PM

(Cough)

Boy, it sure would be nice to get my hands on a review copy of Michael Moore's next book.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 11:41 PM

September 12, 2003

I second the Argh.

Chris Conroy links to this article in the Independent:

You would have expected the US media to sit up and take notice; instead, it slumped in its comfortable chair and closed its eyes. Yes, Spiegelman is a Pulitzer-prizewinning cartoonist; yes, he has a particular genius for describing the human price of fanaticism. Rarely have commentator and theme been so perfectly matched. But in the new "with-us-or-against-us" climate of aggressive US patriotism, his habit of expressing uncomfortable truths was becoming awkward. Once, The New Yorker had been happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with Spiegelman in the face of controversy (notably in the case of his notorious 1993 cover depicting an orthodox Jew passionately kissing a black woman); now he found himself being urged to tone down his work. "I found that I was fighting for every picture, and that was really exhausting." He realised that his new cartoon stood no chance of being published there; and, by extension, that he was probably working in the wrong place. (Spiegelman finally resigned this February, after 10 years, saying that The New Yorker was "marching to the same beat as The New York Times and all the other great American media that don't criticise the government for fear that the administration will take revenge by blocking their access to sources and information.")
In other words, Art Spiegelman, brilliant, gifted, and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, can't get a comic published in the United States. As Chris said on his site, Argh.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 7:51 PM

Say what?

Yes, I know that I shouldn't even bother with this woman. Commenting on Ann Coulter generally raises the activity of shooting fish in barrels to that of succesfully capturing Bigfoot using a Unicorn as bait.

But Atrios caught a masterpiece from Coulter this morning, which needs to be shared, and then discussed briefly as a lesson for no less than the very survival of the human race as the dominant species on the food chain.

Atrios noted this column by Coulter, in which she makes the following statement, reprinted verbatim:

In the wake of Dean's success, the entire Democratic Dream Team is beginning to sound like Dr. Demento. On the basis of their recent pronouncements, the position of the Democratic Party seems to be that Saddam Hussein did not hit us on 9-11, but Halliburton did.
Okay, let's, without resorting to petty attacks on Coulter's appearance or useless stuff like that, discuss how this is both the most dangerous and most stupid thing Coulter's ever written.

For starters, there's the obvious that Atrios so accurately accentuated: Saddam Hussein didn't hit us on 9-11, Ann. Al-Qaeda did. Even if, as Ann obviously has been told to believe, Saddam Hussein was somehow secretly bin Laden's lover, nothing, and no one, remotely related to his regime was in any of the four planes two years ago. There's no way to even re-interpret this statement. It's just wrong.

This is a severe problem for Coulter seeing how it's the opening statement of her column- a place that "professional writers" like to refer to as the basis of your argument.

Now, Coulter proves something here: there is a difference between ignorance and stupidity; the former being something you choose. Coulter, for all her ignorance, as well as obnoxiousness, callousness, greed, racism, vanity, avarice, duplicity, envy, pride, viciousness, and blatant sexual frustration, is not, in the textbook-studying sense, an idiot. She, and I'm sure her editors, know damn well that Saddam Hussein wasn't responsible for 9/11.

However, a recent poll shows that nearly 70% of the country believes this. It is ludicrous to suggest that 70% of American came up with this conclusion on their own, as if the heartland of the country and every major city equally enacted a CSI-style investigation into foreign affairs and gathered evidence while questioning terrorism operatives in undercover missions. No, they think Saddam caused 9/11 because people like Coulter are telling them this as if it's a fact.

See, that's why this article is dangerous, and contrary to Atrios' initial suggestion, brilliant in Coulter's plans. The point of Coulter's argument has nothing to do with the rest of the article: it has to do with the very phrasing of that quote up there. She's not suggesting that Saddam Hussein caused 9/11, she's telling you. And she's using her complete lack of backing for this to accent her attempt to convince the reader that what she just said must be true because of (ta dah!) the conclusiveness of what she just said.

Wither the right-wing pundits go the mainstream media points: by next week, Limbaugh will state Saddam as the 9/11 mastermind as fact. A few days later, Hannity and Brit Hume will have infected it into Fox News. Why should this be countered? It's easier to pass off something 70% of the country believes as fact than to refute it- regardless of the fact that, you know, it's complete and utter bullshit.

So, in conclusion: Ann Coulter is not an idiot for writing this. She is in fact a scheming, psychotic monster. And frankly, that's scary enough to point out.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:21 AM

Commemorative gambling

For those who don't remember (or don't live in the New York area, I've heard there might be a few of you) there was something of a discussion a year ago when, on September 11, 2002, the winning number for the New York Lottery's Pick 3 was "911." Many rushed to express that this meant something, the majestic factors of life expressing how this was divine intervention and not, you know, the results of high but acceptable 1000:1 odds.

So I wasn't too suprised when I noticed the lottery terminal at the Port Authority today with signs on the windows reading "number 911 sold out." In other words, the maximum number of tickets for the number 911 had already been sold within the threshold of being able to award a prize that outnumbered the amount of tickets sold. Because a fluke a year ago apparently means the ticket really won't have 1000:1 odds this time around.

Yes. That many people think this way. And if you think that's a shame, my next post's going to be about Ann Coulter.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 9:53 AM

September 11, 2003

And that's all I have to say about that.

A few people have asked me to put back up the long post I wrote a year ago for the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Here you go.

I guess I still stand by most of what I said, and I guess I'm equally discouraged by how much of it is possible for me to still stand by. A year later, and, well, yesterday's strip sort of covered it.

Just to be clear, I don't want to "get over" 9/11 in the sense a lot of people accuse viewpoints like mine of. I'm sure there are people who were alive during the Pearl Harbor attacks who are still upset, afraid, or whatever emotion they originally conveyed when that horrific event occured.

What I do hope, and will continue to hope, is that people begin to divert their anger and fear caused by the attacks away from their own sense of viciousness. There are many Americans out there who, to resort to schoolyard terminology, decided to become mean. Very mean.

What I love about America, and what I think defines much of it, is not just the fact that every American can bitch their head off about whatever they want, but that many Americans actually do it. I suport the right to free speech and I welcome opinions about the current war that are contrary to mine.

What I don't enjoy seeing and reading, however, is that meanness I just talked about. There's a certain viciousness that you can see in many Americans: the people that, to use a term I've said frequently in conversations with war supporters, "pulled a Dennis Miller" after 9/11- that is to say, they didn't go through deep soul-searching and engage in sophisticated debate with themselves about how they feel about what had happened, but rather pulled their guy instinct out and had in engraved on their body, and immediately decided that they would lash out with furious indignance against anyone who told them they felt they were wrong.

Elie Weisel is a man who endured tragic suffering and pain at the hands of genuine evil. He is a brilliant writer and a worthy voice to attract the ears of millions of people. He is, as he wrote in his own essays, in support of the war in Iraq. Why I respect this, even in disagreement, is because at no point did Elie Weisel ever use terms such as this to justify his claim: Islam is a fanatic religion. We should nuke Mecca, it would be easier. Anyone against me is a (insert epithet of choice here.) And so forth.

This is the viciousness I'm talking about. The viciousness you see in those that take delight in a criminal being put to death, obligatory foreign enemy being bombed, politician of opposite party affiliation faced with personal hardship. It bothers me because as Americans, we should be better than that. Americans don't suggest that an entire race of people are the enemy and should be mercilessly destroyed. Terrorists suggest that.

I don't oppose trying to rid the world of terrorism, even, if necessary, through violent and destructive means. But I oppose, and will continue to oppose, the exploitative way the events of two years ago have been used to promote and endorse so many things irrelevant to those events. As such, I continue to write about that.

You are more than welcome to disagree with me. Try not to yell.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 12:22 AM

September 10, 2003

And we call deliberately exposing thousands to poisonous chemicals what again?

The burning ruins of the World Trade Center spewed toxic gases "like a chemical factory" for at least six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks despite government assurances the air was safe, according to a study released on Wednesday.

Lead study author Thomas Cahill, a professor of physics and engineering, said conditions would have been "brutal" for workers at Ground Zero without respirators and slightly less so for those working or living in adjacent buildings.

"The debris pile acted like a chemical factory," Cahill said. "It cooked together the components and the buildings and their contents, including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids and organics for at least six weeks."

Last month, an internal report by Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General Nikki Tinsley said the White House pressured the agency to make premature statements that the air was safe to breathe.

The EPA issued an air quality statement on Sept. 18, 2001, even though it "did not have sufficient data and analyzes to make the statement," the report said.

The White House "convinced the EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones," Tinsley said. Among the information withheld was the potential health hazards of breathing asbestos, lead, concrete and pulverized glass, the report said.

There was sort of an eerie calm going over me when I read this article. I think because it was this unique combination of reading the mere confirmation of what I had already expected, combined with the acceptance that there is no physical way I could reflect how angry I am, so I won't reflect any anger at all.

That whole "working and living in adjacent buildings" stuff? Yeah, that's me. Fifth Avenue and Tenth, the site of my dorm Junior year, is less than a mile's walk from the WTC site. That might seem like safe, but the wind, and for that matter the sheer size of what used to be the World Trade Center that had now transmogrified into inhalable mineral particles, created a semi-transparent cloud of things I can guarantee you do not want me to list that enveloped the bottom half of Manhattan for about two weeks. My dorm was told to turn off all fans and close all windows for those two weeks, and you could still smell it. People walked around in dust masks. It took a week for all the fires to go out down there; imagine how long it took that cloud to dissipate.

So I can't even imagine what I must have been like for New Yorkers and NYU students who actually lived in the immediate area around Ground Zero. Several NYU dorms were flat-out evacuated, students forced to live in friends' dorms and temporary housing for weeks.

Then, courtesy of the EPA, they were told everything was fine. Take a deep breath and go back to your apartments and make sure to cheer on the brave traders on Wall Street which we swear has nothing to do with this decision.

My initial reaction to this was to, in a rational yet fervent tone, indicate specifically how many people I require to see in jail for this. At posting time I've accepted three people.

Of course, then I realized that's not what I want more than anything. What I want now, more than anything, is to not wake up one morning thirty years from now coughing blood due to a week-long inhalation of, let's see if I can get this straight from the article:

...elements of the debris combined with organic matter and chlorine from papers and plastics and escaped to the surface as metal-rich gases that either burned or chemically decomposed into very fine particles that could easily penetrate deep into human lungs ... samples from Ground Zero found four types of particles listed by the EPA as likely to harm human health -- fine metals that can damage lungs, sulfuric acid that attacks lung cells, fine undissolvable particles of glass that can travel through the lungs to the bloodstream and heart and high-temperature carcinogenic organic matter.
Two years after September 11th people debate the level of grief we should still have and publicly express for the victims of the terrorist attacks. It pains me how so many forgotten, "un-newsworthy" people there will be thirty years from now when it turns out they were de facto victims of criminal negligence themselves.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 9:05 PM

New Comic: "Another year wiser"

Large Format - 800px, 100K

Small Format - 600px, 60K

Posted by August J. Pollak at 12:05 AM

September 9, 2003

THE WORLD IS A WONDERFUL PLACE TO LIVE

I AM NOW A HAPPY PERSON.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 11:58 PM

And now some unpatriotic statistics

Via the Washington Post [emphasis mine]:

President Bush's request for $87 billion in additional spending for Iraq and Afghanistan stirred concern yesterday from Democrats and defense policy analysts that he has launched an unaffordable spending spree even as he pursues more tax cuts that will increase the federal deficit.

Yet as the projected federal budget deficit for 2004 exceeds $500 billion, officials have not changed their assessments of the United States' fiscal health or the White House's economic plans. Just days before he disclosed his Iraq spending request Sunday, the president demanded that Congress pass hundreds of billions of dollars in additional tax cuts.

Bush's $87 billion figure is the largest emergency spending request since the opening months of World War II, according to Pat Towell, a defense fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The emergency spending act that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the launching of the war in Afghanistan totaled $20 billion.

To put it in perspective, Bush hopes to spend more in Iraq and Afghanistan than all 50 states say they need -- $78 billion -- to finance the budget shortfalls they anticipate for 2004.

The request is higher than the $74 billion the Defense Department plans to spend on all new weapons purchases next year, and higher than the $29.5 billion the Education Department hopes to spend on elementary and secondary education plus the $41.3 billion the administration plans to spend to defend the homeland.

With $166 billion spent or requested, Bush's war spending in 2003 and 2004 already exceeds the inflation-adjusted costs of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War and the Persian Gulf War combined, according to a study by Yale University economist William D. Nordhaus. The Iraq war approaches the $191 billion inflation-adjusted cost of World War I.

To the credit of pro-war commentators, there is admittedly a plan that would have cost much less in dollars, but much more in lives. So ultimately I would argue that means it wasn't really an option at all, especially since so many also argue that it wasn't really an option to, you know, never go to Iraq in the first place.

But as this article notes, we're now adding to Iraq nearly three times the United States' budget for grade school. For or against the war, if you don't recognize something fundamentally wrong with that, then there's a much bigger problem here than the threat of terrorism.

As so many others have noted in the last few days, the anger about such ignorant wastefulness is only amplified by Bush and his cabinet refusing to even suggest that perhaps, perhaps, pushing massive tax cuts with a projected trillion-dollar deficit ahead of them for doing such might be a bad idea.

Apparently, the war must go forward at any cost, except of course at the burden of the wealthy. No problem, we'll just extend the tour time of army reservists. One weekend a month, their ass.

Update: more fun stats, courtesy of this chart from Atrios. If you can look at that and not want to damn break out and cry, you're a stronger person than I.

A reader in Atrios' comments also notes these stats from an (admittedly unconfirmed) Guardian article as to what else $87 billion can be spent on: canceling a tenth of the African debt, reducing international infant mortality by 2/3, installing sanitation infrastructure across much of the world, eliminating polio, and removing every single landmine in Southeast Asia. Oh well, maybe next decade.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:01 AM

September 8, 2003

The hell?

I mean, really. The hell?

Posted by August J. Pollak at 11:12 PM

A moment of televised entertainment analysis

My mom, for reasons beyond both myself and the minds of the last four Nobel Prize winning physicists, took a guilty pleasure in the NBC show For Love or Money, which ended with this evening's finale.

I have no major commentary on the show except for this: if, sometime in the distant future, there comes to pass that I have a daughter, I hope- nay, I pray- that there shall never be a moment in her life in which she must choose to profess her love to either "Wade" or "Chad."

Also, I'm glad the show's over for my mom's sake because it eats your brain until you go stupid.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:38 PM

September 7, 2003

And now, I make an inappropriate joke about a terrible violent situation because, frankly, it's funny

With Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas resigning, Arafat has tapped parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia, seen left, as the new nominee for prime minister.

Qureia was apparently selected for his revolutionary ideas about the Middle East conflict, among other things, joining forces with the dark lord Sauron and raising an army of Uruk-Hai to destroy the nation of Israel.

Update: Okay, so that's actually Sheik Yassin, the founder of Hamas, in the picture. But regardless, come on. It's frigging uncanny.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 4:13 PM

And back again

Guess what? Snopes apologized. And to think, all several thousand left-leaning people had to do was fight. Not that one might consider that useful insight for any upcoming elections or anything.

As for Snopes, no (more?) snottiness here. I said two days ago they should apologize. Although belated, this was the right, and the respectable, thing for the operators of the site to do.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 2:06 AM