Thursday, December 28, 2006

GOD: Creator, Savior, Free Market Capitalist

So the other day, I'm sitting watchin VH1 Soul (everything BET should be, but isn't) and there's a video by Common--one of the finest emcees out today--where he's performing before a live crowd. Being part lyricist and part philosopher, Common often prologues his songs with a bit of witty words on politics, spirituality, activism, etc. This time would be no different. Sometime during the performance, he urged people to give thanks to God that both he and they are able to live in a place where food and goods are bountiful--rather than in some of the more impoverished regions of the globe. Those words got me to thinking. Are the trappings of the modern Western world due to some benevolence of God? Is God a Free Market Capitalist who sends plauges of odious debt on poor nations and smites them with unfair trade practices? Is this a God who performs miracles through legacies colonialism and exploitation that blesses the West and curses the rest? Or are we trying to use "faith" to avoid an ugly truth.

To paraphrase and summarize, Common began to recount the many ills affecting much of the world--from Katrina to the Iraq War to global poverty. He then asked the crowd to count their own blessings, and to give thanks to "God" that we (presumably "we" in the West) are able to partake in such bountiful amounts of food, a higher level of living, Puma kicks and Ipods. Because, afterall, we could be as bad off as so many other parts of the world. To this Common was greeted by a round of applause from the audience. Watching through the flat screen of my television, I was only left frowning with alot of disturbing thoughts.

This is not a slight on Common, whose music I've enjoyed since he was Common Sense. But it is part of a larger issue that's troubled me all throughout this holiday season, including our current move towards the Greco-Roman derived New Year, where many will be giving their thanks and blessings for their fortunate lot in life.

If the reason we in the West are able to enjoy our Blackberrys and deck ourselves in diamonds or designer apparel is because of God--then I'm assuming this God figure is a free market capitalist who works through neoliberal trade policies that favor rich nations, destroying the fragile economies of poor countries, making them dependent on those who would exploit them, including helping to sow the seeds of conflict that always follows poverty and disease, and endorse past events from slavery to colonialism that helped set up this system to begin with.

Common's words, while superficially nice, seem to exist in a world of disconnection. There's a false ideology that the rest of the world is poor, simply because that's the way things are, or--even more disturbing--because some God entity has seen fit to bless the West and curse the rest. But this ignores the reality that in fact we are all very connected.

Poor nations are kept poor today because rich nations have made it so. They've been able to do so because a legacy of colonialism has allowed them to retain economic power, writing the laws of trade unfairly to benefit themselves and keep everyone else mired in poverty or something close. Its no coincidence that the nations that make up the G8 come primarily from the old colonial powers. It's no coincidence that many nations like those in Africa are in debt to the very nations that once conquered and held them as colonies. Without slavery, much of the West--including the US--would not exist as a power today, or perhaps have existed at all. Without colonialism, the riches of Britain and France and Belgium would not have come about. The divide of rich and poor on this planet is written in a history of blood and conquest, and its legacy continues with us strongly today. It is far from happenstance.

The God that supposedly favors the West must also not mind environmental destruction, as the US drains a vastly disproportionate amount of the world's resources. Today, the average US citizen consumes well over *thirty* times what the average citizen in the Third World does. The developed nations of the world account for only 20% of the global population, but are responsible for pumping out over 75% of the world's pollution and waste. The richest 20% of the world consumes some 86% of all the goods and services used. In short, we in the West are literally devouring the planet, and as the rest of the world tries impossibly to follow in our footsteps, we are depleting forests and oceans to feed our capitalist-driven gluttony. Global warming is but one of the side-effects we'll be reaping as a result.

Basically put, this is a vastly unfair world. And its not by coincidence that it is so. No, I'm not talking about some conspiracy theory where a few men get together and have secret meetings to decide the fate of the 6 billion and growing members of the global community. Those are fictitious tales created to deflect us away from our own responsibility. The truth is much more mundane and much more damning.

The world is unfair because of a global economic system maintained by trade agreements that are passed as we tune into American Idol; it's maintained everytime we buy a pair of sneakers or some clothing that is being sewn together by the desperate in places like the Saipan or Bangladesh; it's maintained by our desire for flashy diamonds that send the poverty stricken into war in Sierra Leone, and even the coltan in our mobile phones that help drive mining/resource wars in the Congo that kill millions; it's maintained by a massive arms trade, of which the US is remarkably the number one death merchant. It's the real world that we'd rather not see, as we don our little white ONE bands and try to act as if we are the saviors of the world's poor, and not a key factor in their continued existence. The troubling reality is that in some way, we're all complicit--even if by varying degrees of responsibility.

Lest I seem to be standing too high on my soapbox, let me state that I don't set myself apart here. I'm as much a part of the system as all else. And like everyone in this consumerist driven society, I want nice things too--and would rather not think about what has to be done in order to acquire it. But at the least I try not to delude myself, into believing the world that exists to benefit some today, while keeping others poor, is the work of some God entity.

Unless of course in the end, this God people worship in the West really is a God of free markets, neoliberalism, sweat shops, poverty and hunger--with prophets with names like Creflo Dollar, inducing their flock with divine pyramid schemes and Horatio Alger parables of eventual wealth. And if that's the case, then maybe we should think on overthrowing that God and replacing Him/Her/It with a better one. Or perhaps, if this is the best a God can inspire, maybe we could do without such a being at all.


Friday, December 15, 2006

The Unfortunate Duping of Russell Simmons- Blood Diamonds

The recent problems in particular regions of Africa with conflict diamonds--that once fueled bloody civil wars in hotspots like Sierra Leone, Angola and Congo--has sparked a war of words between two unlikely figures: Director Ed Zwick of the recent film Blood Diamond and Hip Hop mogul Russell Simmons.

After a "fact-finding" mission to South Africa and Botswana--Russell returned and declared to the world that the conflict diamond era was over. Conditions had improved immensely he said, and the sale of diamonds to fund wars in Africa had dropped to just 1% since the installed Kimberly Process established in 2003. Ed Zwick retorted that the Hip Hop mogul had been duped by the diamond industry, which funded his trip. And it has turned into a tit-for-tat bit of sniping since then. So, who's right and who's wrong? From the title of this post, I think you pretty much see where I stand. But here, let me tell you why...

Russell Simmons & Blood Diamonds

Interestingly enough, Russell Simmons trip was funded by a PR group attempting to reform the negative image of diamonds in Africa, which has affected sales of the gems worldwide. In the mother-of-all-coincidences, this fact-finding mission took place right around the release of Ed Zwick's Blood Diamonds, which prior to its release was being heralded as a film which would portray the diamond industry in a negative light and potentially harm sales during the holiday season.

Ed Zwick however was less than impressed with Russell's assertions. Smelling a rat, he publicly stated that in his opinion the Hip Hop mogul had been hoodwinked and bamboozled:

"If you want to know about conflict diamonds, you don't go to Botswana and South Africa. You go to Sierra Leone and Angola. Russell Simmons is being embarrassed."

Russell Simmons, though not an emcee, has not been known for his shyness in front of a microphone, and quickly shot back at not only Ed Zwick, but his film, claiming Blood Diamonds would damage Africa's "legitimate" diamond business:

"This is the arrogance of Warner Brothers pictures. They were selfish, self-centered, greedy and hurtful to the indigenous people of Africa... This messaging should have been changed after Nelson Mandela and other African Presidents asked Warner Brothers to change it. Period. I am going to continue to focus on the positive that can come out of this dialogue and work to help empower black Africa."

Okay. First let me state that I have no direct need to publicize the movie Blood Diamond. I have not seen the film, as of yet. And I have been skeptical about seeing it, simply because I'm innately suspicious when serious (and oft-neglected) current issues in parts of Africa are turned into semi-fictional action films with big-name stars, car chases, fiery explosions and Michael Bay type special effects. They tend to get the story wrong and portray complicated matters as one-dimensional with clear-cut "good guys and bad guys," starring a central well-meaning white hero or groups of white heroes (both real and imaginary), with the particular African populace relegated to theatrical props who endure untold sufferings. Tears of the Sun and Black Hawk Down top my flagrant offender list. I have not reached a conclusive verdict on where I stand on the semi-fictional tale of the monstrous Idi Amin, The Last King of Scotland. I'm not saying Hollywood can't approach these matters of geo-politics correctly. After all, I was a big fan of the film Syriana, and its exposing of the underbelly of the oil-trade. But when it comes to Africa's varied issues, I tend to prefer Independent African Films over Hollywood blockblusters.

(Update: Still haven't seen the film Blood Diamond, but sources whom I trust have given reviews that have thus far supported my misgivings: Within the Context of No Context: A Review of Blood Diamond Unfortunate.)

Secondly, I have no personal bias towards Russell Simmons. Yes I certainly have my criticisms of his role in the modern corporatist exploitation of Hip Hop. But his place in the culture as an early driving force--from Kurtis Blow to Public Enemy--can't be denied. And he at times tries to bring the respect to Hip Hop that the genre is often denied, or denies itself.

All of that being I think in this issue of blood diamonds, I have to agree with director Ed Zwick. And Russell Simmons, as well meaning as he might be, is indeed being used, pimped in fact, by bigger fish. Here, let me tell you why.

First off, I think Russell Simmons key problem is that his innate good intentions (and he's had many positive activist stances in recent years) tend to run into his love of unbridled free-market capitalism and his immense ego. So Russell can often be found at the forefront of political issues that he may not exactly have a clear handle on.

Going to Botswana on a fact-finding mission funded by the diamond industry's PR group, isn't going to tell you anything about the larger issue of blood diamonds. And this centers on a key problem in Russell's analysis, one that many of us in the West suffer from. Listen closely everyone. Because this is going to come as a surprise.

Africa is a c-o-n-t-i-n-e-n-t. No really, it is. Look on the map. Right there between the Americas and Eurasia. Its that big land mass. Can't miss it. Very unique shape.

What's more, there are different nation-states on this c-o-n-t-i-n-e-n-t. And just like what is going on in say, Guatemala or Honduras in Central America is different from what is going on in the US or Canada, there is also a difference from say the Congo from Sierra Leone from Botswana--all different polities on this c-o-n-t-i-n-e-n-t. I think if you asked the average person in the US to name the governor of a nearby state, they'd have a hard time. Ask them to name the president of next door Canada or Mexico, and they'll need Google. Therefore, for Russell to think Botswana could give him insight into Sierra Leone--which is practically on the other vertical end of Africa--reveals many of the false assumptions we all start with regarding foreign politics.

Besides the differing history, peoples, languages, environment, cultures and vast distance that lie between Botswana and places like Sierra Leone, there's also another key bit of relevant information to ponder. Botswana is not in conflict, nor has it had any recent conflict fueled directly by diamonds. There is no history in Botswana similar to the tragedies of the murderous RUF in Sierra Leone, or the inter-state regional conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo that cost a staggering 4 million or more lives.

While Botswana's issues with diamonds and the legacy of multinational companies like DeBeers--an empire built on colonialism, theft, racism and oppression--is hardly "clean" in any sense of the word, it is at the same time diferent in many respects from the recent issues of conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone or even closer Angola.

It is tempting to collapse all of these different issues together--and they certainly do bear similarities, with DeBeers and other European countries engaged in these machinations in one way or the other--but Botswana is its own unique case. Despite a high HIV rate, and a standard of living still far beneath most of the world's better standards, it now boasts one of the fastest growing economies, is relatively stable, and has managed to reach some form of detente with the diamond industry--called by many a "Gem of a Deal." Through this arrangement, Botswana has recently been able to use its natural resources to develop its own infrastructure--including new buses, roads, schools, hospitals and more.

None of this isn't without its own controversy of course. There was an incident with land removals of the indigenous Khoi-San peoples that was murkily linked to the diamond industry, but the courts have since granted a reversal on this policy. So Botswana has made out relatively well in recent years. I say relatively, because that's about as best as you can put the situation of an ex-colony once in the midst of apartheid South Africa who must negotiate a better life for its citizenry between the vice grips of a diamond industry and neoliberalism who partially own (through historical theft) its resources. The world ain't fair. And cosmic karma must be on an extended holiday.

At any rate, this is why the diamond industry uses Botswana as a poster child for its Kimberly Process. And it's why they took the probably well-meaning, but unfortunately gullible and impressionable, Russell Simmons there to show off progress. They didn't take him to the shattered infrastructure of Angola or the amputees of Sierra Leone.

What Russell should know is that the Kimberly Process was only enacted by the diamond industry when worldwide outcry occurred over the issue of conflict diamonds, and sales began to slump. Before this companies like DeBeers and other diamond cartels had no problem wading in African blood to get what they wanted. In some instances, they've been accused of helping spur on the violence, even possibly to the point of directly or indirectly negotiating transfers of cash and arms for diamonds.

Russell should also know that the much touted Kimberly Process is still thought to be rife with problems. Illicit diamonds still flow through various parts of Africa and fuel mini-wars and aftershocks of now-ended larger wars, ever threatening to flare up again into greater conflicts, as peoples pushed beyond the margins of global society in desperation seek a way out of poverty. The letters from "African Presidents" to Warner Brothers that Russell was talking about, was most likely a letter by former South African president Nelson Mandela, asking Warner Brothers to remember to distinguish between relative successes like Botswana and the more numerous horrors elsewhere.

Russell's heart may indeed be in the right place. And his attempts to find a way for Africans in places like Botswana and South Africa to profit from the resources that a foreign minority has long exploited is just. But it's Russell's arrogance that in the end dooms him to duplicity. Though Russell wasn't there to speak out loudly about Sierra Leone's war, when men, women and children were losing lives and limbs, and the artists he backed were draping themselves in bloody "bling," he now feels confident enough to stride forward as an "expert" on the issue. (To be fair, neither was Hollywood) Yet he lacks an understanding of the gulf of difference between states like Botswana and Sierra Leone or the Congo, and thinks one snap-shot in one locale is the big picture. He's confused the spotlight of celebrity with the light of understanding. And can't see--or is unwilling to admit--that he's being played, and thus in his protestations, continues to play himself.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Africa & Evolution

As a former anthro major, proud primate, contemplative hominid and one who has had more than a passing interest in human evolutionary theory, it was a sad day last week as I read the recent news from Kenya. Pentecostal Christian fundamentalists were attempting to have some of the most important finds in hominid anthropology removed to the back of the country's museums? Why? None other than the dreaded "E" word--Evolution. It seems Creationism has come to the birthplace of modern mankind, and now threatens to rob the world of an important part its history.

From ABC

Some of anthropology's greatest scientific treasures rest in the National Museums of Kenya. But they may soon become all but invisible if Christian fundamentalists get their way.

The museum is home to the most complete skeleton found yet of Homo erectus, the 1.7 million-year-old "Turkana Boy" unearthed by famed paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey more than two decades ago near Lake Turkana in northern Kenya

The museum also holds bones from several specimens of the first hominid to walk upright, four million years ago. In short, the museum contains the most convincing historic record of the origins of Homo sapiens. That's us, we're talking about.

Now, leaders of Kenya's Pentecostal congregation want the fossils de-emphasized. They'd prefer the bones be relegated to a backroom in the museum where fewer visitors would observe them or learn about the evolutionary theory of man.

Bishop Bonifes Adoyo who heads the largest Pentecostal church in Kenya, the Christ is the Answer Ministries, is leading the campaign.

"The Christian community here is very uncomfortable that Leakey and his group want their theories presented as fact, " Adoyo told the Skeptical Inquirer. "Our doctrine is not that we evolved from apes, and we have grave concerns that the museum wants to enhance the prominence of something presented as fact which is just one theory."

Ironically Kenya, and much of East and Southern Africa where many finds of early man have been found, have long looked upon evolution favorably. While most of the world may know the remains of the 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis as Lucy, in the Afar region of Ethiopia she goes by the Amharic name Dinknesh--meaning "you are wonderful." Far from the battles carried out in the West by the religious right against evolution, Dinknesh was accepted with pride as an ancestral treasure (direct or indirect: afaraensis place on the human evolutionary tree is "bushy") in Coptic Ethiopia--which has incidentally known Christianity since the 2nd century AD, when two charges of captured Syrian monks managed to convert the royal family of Axum. Throughout East Africa, a generation of African paleontologists--such as Dr. Berhane Asfaw of Ethiopia and Kamoya Kimeu of Kenya--have sprouted up over the decades, and have played key roles in many of the most recent finds.

In fact, a recent evolutionary find related to humans was discovered in none other than East Africa:

Study Detects Recent Instance of Human Evolution

So I suppose whether it's Africa or America, the attack against science that doesn't fit with cultural norms is ongoing. As evidenced by the quote from the Kenyan Bishop--"Our doctrine is not that we evolved from apes"--what detractors of evolution on the religious right usually have in common, no matter where they thrive, is that they don't have much of an understanding about evolution. So, seems about as good a time for a primer. I hope the good Bishop is paying attention.

Seven Quick Pointers on Evolution for We Big-Brained, Up-right Walking, Chimp-cousins to Heed So as We Don't Get Too Big for Our Britches:

1. Isn't Evolution just a theory?

Yes and No. Yes it is a theory. But not just. Biological evolution is both fact and theory. That it has happened, is happening and will happen is a fact. How it happens and works is theory. You know what else is a fact and a theory? Gravity. That it occurs is a fact. How it works, is still theory. The fact that Einstein's theory on gravity made advancements on Isaac Newton's didn't change the reality of gravity's existence. Need a second example, see electricity. That it exists is as obvious as the energy that powers the computer you're using. Yet we don't know exactly how electricity works. All we have are theories. So like evolution, both gravity and electricity are theory and fact. Yet I don't see anybody denying gravity's existence by walking off a cliff, or denying electricity's existence by sitting in the dark.

2. Didn`t Charles Darwin renounce evolution on his deathbed?

No. Chalk this story up to sub-urban religious right mythology. Even if it were true (which it's not), it wouldn't matter. A scientific premise is not based on a figurehead or prophet. It stands on its own merit. Evolution's most basic tenets existed before Darwin; it has evolved since him, and will continue to do so based on scientific evidence.

3. Evolution says humans came from apes. Yet animals like gorillas haven't evolved into people.

Not quite. Evolution does not say humans evolved from any modern apes. Rather evolution states that humans and other primates share a common ancestor. Modern apes are distant cousins to humans, not ancestors. We evolved one way. They went another. Chimpanzees and gorillas have evolved in ways that suit their ability to adapt. Evolution does not mean they will get big brains and ride horses and rule a world of "damned dirty apes!" That is Planet of the Apes science-fiction. Evolution does not equal "bigger brains" and "smarter." It's about adaptation. So no one expects shrimp to automatically one day become hyper-intelligent and make mp3 players--though be real cool if they did, because those gadgets would be very tiny. Regardless, that's not how evolution works.

4. Isn't Evolution for atheists?

Its for everyone. Many people of varied faiths, or non-faiths, accept evolution as the scientific explanation for Earth's biodiversity. In fact many religious leaders denounce Creationism and assert their acceptance of evolution and other aspects of science, such as geology and astronomy. Since 1987 the Episcopal Church has repeatedly and consistently acted to "affirm its belief in the glorious ability of God to create in any manner", rejected "the rigid dogmatism of the `Creationists` movement", and supported "scientists, educators, and theologians in the search for truth in this Creation that God has given and entrusted to us." Addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences before its meetings on Cosmology and Cosmogony in October 1981, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the statement of Pope Pius XII that the universe was created "millions of years ago" (it's actually 14.5 billion, but sure beats the Creatioist notion of 6,000) directly contrary to Creationist views. The Pope declared, "The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise..." Christians of varied faiths, Jewish groups, Muslim scientists, Buddhists, and others have stated much the same. So whether one wants to believe Evolution began with a God, or gods, or nothing at all or pixie dust--feel free. Evolution does not provide any evidence for the existence of God, or against the existence of God. It's neutral.

5. Isn't Creationism an Alternative to Evolution?

Not a scientific one. According to Newsweek in 1987, 99.86% of trained scientists accept evolution and denounce Creationism. There's hardly a larger bit of consensus to be found in the normally contentious scientific community. And the 0.14% that give Creationism a chance don't all have the same views.

6. If Evolution is right about life and Physics/Geology is right about the age of the Earth and universe, does this mean Genesis is a lie?

One way to look at it. Another way, would be that it makes the Genesis account like all other accounts of Creation the world over - symbolic. To quote the New Catholic Bible, " is a naive and futile exercise to attempt to reconcile the biblical accounts of creation with the findings of modern science... The first eleven chapters of Genesis are much closer to mythical forms of writing..." The World Christian Encyclopedia contends that there are 19 major world religions that are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many thousands of smaller ones. Among these various faith groups, there are probably about 500 different creation stories. Each one of them is different-of which Genesis is but one. There is no such thing as "religious exceptionalism."

7. How can Evolution be true? Doesn't it have missing links?

Evolution does indeed have so-called "missing links." It also however has alot of very "found links." These are transitional fossils between species. Basilosaurus isis of the Ecoene epoch found in Egypt is a prime example. It's a fossil of a whale--with legs. It is a found link: a transitional form between itself and the legless seafaring whales we know today. There will always be "missing links." It would be a near impossible statistical feat to find the link for every single species that has ever existed for the past few billion years. But we have found so many that the pattern is obvious.

And that completes this week's Common Sense Moment. Join us next time for a brand new episode: 20 Problems with a Global Flood. Hijinks and hilarity ensue as Noah and his crew try to locate a pair of missing termites--on a wooden ship!


Monday, November 20, 2006

Kramer- Say It Ain't So!

Damn. Damn! DAMN! James!
Kramer said the N-word... and it turns out, alot more.
Say it ain't so Cosmo! But it is. My initial reaction and brief
thoughts on Michael "Kramer" Richards' tirade.

So by now everyone's heard of Micheal Richards rant at the comedy club the Laugh Factory in LA this past weekend. Richards, who played Kramer on the hit show Seinfeld, launched into a series of racial slurs and epitethets after being heckled by two black men while doing stand up.

According to news stories:

[The tirade apparently began after two black audience members started shouting at him that he wasn't funny.

Richards answered: "Shut up! Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f--king fork up your ass!"

He paced across the stage taunting the men for interrupting his show.

"You can talk, you can talk, you're brave now mother-f--ker. Throw his ass out. He's a n*gger!" Richards shouted before repeating the racial insult over and over again.

An audience member heckled back: "That was uncalled for, you f--king cracker-ass motherf--ker."

Richards retorted: "Cracker-ass? You calling me cracker-ass, n*gger?"

While there was some audible chuckling in the audience, someone could be heard gasping, "Oh my God."

Another audience member is heard to call out: "It's not funny. That's why you're a reject, never had no shows, never had no movies. 'Seinfeld,' that's it."]

As the news made its away around the world--appearing in headlines from New York to Sydney, Australia--Michael Richards at first refused to speak to news reporters. He later apologized on CBS Late Show Monday via satellite:

["For me to be at a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, I'm deeply, deeply sorry," the former "Seinfeld" co-star said during a satellite appearance for David Letterman's "Late Show."

"I'm not a racist. That's what's so insane about this," Richards said, his tone becoming angry and frustrated as he defended himself.]

The public apology was urged by former co-star and show creator Jerry Seinfeld, who came forward to issue his own strongly worded statement on the incident:

I am sick over this. I'm sure Michael is also sick over this horrible, horrible mistake. It is so extremely offensive. I feel terrible for all the people who have been hurt.


I don't know what to be angrier over, that Michael Richards made such remarks in a hate-filled rage, or that he has managed to ruin what has years been a source of humor for me. From Soup Nazis to Low Talkers, I know that show back and forth. I even accepted the lack of diversity on the show as par the course. Besides, didn't want any tokens inserted for no reason. Now I can never look at it the same way. Of course I expect that racism can come from any white person--that's how white supremacy works after all, as a system, as an institution, as a cultural force; makes each and every white person a possible accessory. Yet there is something very different from participating in a system larger than yourself, and spewing rage. Pay attention to Richards words. There's not only the venom of hatred there in racial slurs, but distinct references to past acts of violence carried out against blacks, invoking America's long history of lynchings, murder, etc.

Of course, read the online comments, and while most on blog boards say they are equally sickened by Richards words, a few find a way to excuse it. They point out the use of the N-word among blacks, etc. And whatever qualms one has with that, you'd have to pretty blind to not see that this was not simply a mistake in semantics (sorry Jerry, I appreciate the statements, but I think this goes beyond a mere slip-up), but an intentional bit of racist-mongering. It touches part of a deep seated hatred--an actual sickness--that found its way to the surface.

Richards says he was angry. Reminds me of when Mel Gibson blamed his anti-Semitic rants on being drunk. I'd like to believe such was the case in those instances, except for one thing--I've been drunk before; I've been angry before. It doesn't turn me into a fire-breathing bigot.

"I've never seen anything like this is my life," publicist Michael Levine said Monday. "I think it's a career ruiner for him. ... It's going to be a long road back for him, if at all."

End of a career is what many are calling Richard's racist tirade. But its actually more than that. It's a stain on what was once seen as a light-hearted comedy show, one of the best, that defined an era. Talks of a Seinfeld movie are now in jeapordy, and this ugliness will stay for a while.

Oh well. It could have been worse. Could have found out Homer Simpson owned slaves... DOH!

You can view the video of "Kramer Gone Wild:"


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Is Bill Cosby Wrong ?

A few summers ago when Bill Cosby went into a tirade against the black poor--and the black community as whole--I was part of the distinct but vocal minority who were disappointed with his words. Much of white America clapped at having America's favorite "Black Dad" tell it like they always wanted to hear it. Cosby's words served as the perfect apologist stance for whiteness which has never taken any form of responsibility for centuries of oppression. Many blacks chimed in, clapping along at Cosby for finally "telling the truth." Duped and beaten into believing that racism and oppression is somehow "our fault," much of the black community embraced Cosby's words as a means to engage in an orgy of self-flagellation. None of this should be surprising. Abusers and oppressors rarely acknowledge guilt unless they are forced. And victims always blame themselves. So it was good to see an article, by people who study the very things Cosby was ranting on, say "wait a minute...the Cos might be way off on this one."

I know of course this is a controversial and hot topic in black america. I remember when Bill Cosby first made his comments several summers ago. Most black folks I spoke to agreed with Cosby--out of frustration I suppose, personal experience, etc. Myself and a distinct but vocal minorty, contested Cosby's statements. The debates we had in barber shops and online forums would last weeks. And though it was an uphill battle, we held our ground that Cosby was wrong. And it wasn't because we thought he was airing dirty laundry, or that we did not see problems that existed in varied black communities, or that we did not believe in the basic principles of "do-for-self." We weren't blind. We disagreed with Cosby because of his seemingly blistering attack on the poor, his disparaging of single black mothers, and his continuation of fallacies like the discredited "acting white" hypothesis. Mostly however, we asked if all these mantras of "self responsibility" and "self-help"--put forth by everyone from Bill Cosby to black conservatives to the Million Man March(es)--were allowing the larger 800lb gorilla of inequality, wealth disparity, and more to go unheeded. And I in particular wondered, at what point have we so over-racialized matters (treating all-American problems like "gross materialist consumerism" as endemic of only the black poor) that we miss the forest for the trees?

We asked questions like the following: if Hip Hop is to blame for black-on-black crime, then why was violence so much higher during the 1980s era of much less violent Hip Hop and in some areas (like the South Bronx of the post-Vietnam era early 1970s) even before Hip Hop existed? Whatever the misgivings of our glorification of "thug-lifestyles" in the black community, how different is it from the Stagolee mythos that made heroes of "bad-men" jazz and blues players--who talked about fast lives, sex, drugs, violence and toted weapons? How different is it from the all-American obsession with the bad-boy figure--from Billy the Kid to The Sopranos? Is violence in the hood an anamoly, or a further extension of America's long-held obsession with violence (from the decimation of Native Americans to the Irish gangs of old New York to lynchings and anti-black/chinese riots to the numerous militarist campaigns carried out by the US during the 20th Century, from the Phillippines to Vietnam to Iraq)? Is the act of making Johnny a soldier who is to delight in killing for country, flag, patriotism and oil, far removed from Antown the thug who kills for the block, colors, honor and money? In a country where the populace often votes for charisma, hot-button issues, put a guy they thought was "cool" into the White House, over the guy they thought was too brainy (Bush vs Gore 2000), a country that attempts to replace science with religious dogma, and shows greater pride in entertainers than school teachers, are any notions of black intellectualism any different from America's anti-intellectualism? In fact, since according to statistics it was blacks (especially black women) who thought the Iraqi war would be a bad idea, perhaps we exhibit more intellectualism than white America--particularly white males. Can any of the ailments afflicting the black community be separated from the larger American society? Or is it simply that economic disparity, social oppression, etc. simply allows America's normalized problems to explode in a way that allows us to place a lens directly on it, while missing the larger picture? And are we often so hard on ourselves, we never even stop to savor the accomplishment that after several centuries enduring oppression, we are still here.

Not saying I have all the answers. And I know many disagree. Just saying that for those, like Cosby, who think they do, and that simply finding husbands for single black mothers and telling everyone to just "try harder" or "pray harder" will cure all that ails us, I am highly skeptical. And I think perhaps, we need to expand our focus.

My humble opinion. Peep the article below. Yes it is very-one sided. I figure everyone already knows Cosby's side, as it is the most popularly publicized and accepted as a matter of conventional wisdom. Besides, as I fall on the opposite side of the fence, it was about time someone spoke up for my viewpoint.


Why Bill Cosby is Wrong
Don't Blame Black Culture for Economic Decline


For decades, scholars and opinion makers have been seduced by cultural explanations for economic problems. Recently, comedian Bill Cosby has caught the bug, leading him to inveigh against aspects of black culture he views as intimately linked to problems among African-Americans, from poverty to crime and incarceration.

Mr. Cosby is merely the latest and most visible in a long chain of cultural critics. Researcher Charles Murray (before turning to genetic explanations) and columnist Thomas Sowell have been making the "bad culture" argument about African-Americans for decades. David Brooks has a long-running column in The New York Times linking culture and economic outcomes.This work is misguided at best and destructive at worst.

One key to the success of the cultural argument is the omission of inconvenient facts about social and economic trends. For example, people arguing that African-Americans are suffering from a culture of poverty stress that blacks are much more likely to be poor than whites. True, but this fact misses the most important development about black poverty in recent years: its steep decline during the 1990s.

Black poverty fell 10.6 percentage points from 1993 to 2000 (from 33.1 to 22.5 percent) to reach its lowest level on record. Black child poverty fell an unprecedented 10.7 percentage points in five years (from 41.9 percent in 1995 to 31.2 percent in 2000).

The "culture of poverty" argument cannot explain these trends. Poor black people did not develop a "culture of success" in 1993 and then abandon it for a "culture of failure" in 2001.

What really happened was that in the 1990s, the job market finally tightened up to the point where less-advantaged workers had a bit of bargaining clout. The full-employment economy offered all comers opportunities conspicuously absent before or since. Since 2000, black employment rates have fallen much faster, and poverty rates have risen faster, than the average.

What this episode reveals is how we squander our human resources when slack in the economy yields too few decent employment opportunities for those who want to work.

Black poverty is only the most visible example. The "bad black culture" argument also overlooks positive trends in critical areas such as education, crime and teen pregnancy (pregnancy and birth rates among black teenagers are down 40 percent since 1990).

Those same critics are too dismissive of anti-black discrimination in the labor market. Mr. Cosby says black people use charges of discrimination to avoid dealing with their cultural failings. The Manhattan Institute's John H. McWhorter claims they "spit in the eye of [their] grandparents" when they say their lives are limited by racism. Journalist Juan Williams argues that poor black people are squandering opportunities opened up by the civil rights movement.

Yes, there are far more opportunities available to black Americans today, but the conclusion that racial discrimination is no longer a serious issue is simply not supported by the evidence.

In two recent studies, Princeton University sociologist Devah Pager showed that young black men who have played by the rules and have no criminal record are much less likely to be offered a job than similar white men. In fact, white men with criminal records had an equal or better chance of being hired than did young black men with no record. Contrary to Mr. McWhorter's assertion, ignoring this racial discrimination is "spitting in the eye" of everyone, black and white, who struggled for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.

Don't think for a nanosecond that we are satisfied with the progress that's been made. Even if black poverty remains low in historical terms, having a quarter of blacks in poverty is a national tragedy. But by creating an erroneous causal link between "bad culture" and black poverty, the "Cosby consensus" prevents the country from recognizing success and building on it to create the economic opportunities that are missing for too many African-Americans.

The cultural argument of the Cosby consensus succeeds because conservatives and liberals both tend to exaggerate the cultural differences between white and black Americans. We forget that white and black audiences enjoyed The Cosby Show in the 1980s; that white and black youths listen to rap today; and, most important, that neither white people nor black people like being poor.

The record is clear: When economic opportunities are available to black Americans, they take them. When opportunities are scarce, they fall behind, and culture has very little to do with it.

Algernon Austin is a sociologist and director of the Thora Institute.

Jared Bernstein is a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Haps'

Bloggin' is tedious work. And I'm not on here enough to dedicate a lot of writing. So instead, think I'll just post and link some of my favorite stories of the week. And borrowing from that bogus tv station FOX News, I'll sexxy up the headlines for you:

African Babies- The Hottest Hollywood Accessory- Buy Your Own!
Worst Congress Ever!
Gay "Curer" Says Africans Better Off As Slaves!
White Hate Groups Recruit Blacks!
American Fascism On the Rise!

Check the HEADLINES and enjoy.

African Babies- The Hottest Hollywood Accessory- Buy Your Own!

Okay, so maybe that title is a bit cynical. The fracas over Madonna's adoption of a Malawian baby opened the world up to the orphanage problem in varied regions of Africa, where overall there are some 12 million parent-less children due to the HIV-AIDS pandemic, crushing poverty and in some places, war. While orphans in the thousands are adopted in the US from very "whiter" Eastern Europe and "at lease closer to white" China, darker skinned children from Africa are a trickle. That there are those like Madonna and Angelina Jolie willing to step up and offer humanitarian assistance is noble. However... there is something eeirly bizarre when these very white celebrities from the inner depths of the corporatist, neo-liberal, western neo-colonial world, can swoop into Africa on airships from across the sea, disrupt local laws, and trade/barter their power to the corrupt and the greedy in exchange for miniature black bodies. That the West, whose fortune has long been built on the labor of Africa, and later its resources, can now become the saviors of its youth, makes it seem as if cosmic karma has taken a holiday or has a perverse sense of humor. But...there we are. Best case scenarios- all these adopted African kids grow up to form a new Pan-African Congress and use their celebrity inherited Western wealth to rewrite the order of global trade.

Interesting factoid #456: African boys were once all the rage in 17th to 18th century European royal courts, where they would be adopted as decorative pets
Ibrahim Petrovich Gannibal, great-grandfather to the famous giant of Russian literature Alexander Pushkin, was such a figure--an "Ethiopian" slave adopted by Peter the Great and whose godmother was the Queen of Poland.

Western Celebrities and African Babies: Humanitarianism or Ego Trippin'

According to Robert Sandall of the UK's Sunday Times, "any foreign journalist wishing to enter the country during their sojourn had to be approved, in writing, by the Brangelina partnership - Terrified of offending their new celebrity colonial overlords, the Namibian Government agreed. It also imposed a no-fly zone over the Burning Shore resort for the duration of their six-week stay, and declared the day of the birth a national holiday."

The Worst Congress Ever!

Matt Taibbi for the Rolling Stone gives us some insight into what might be the worst Congress ever… well I suppose the Congress that oversaw slavery, manifest destiny over indigenous lands, lynching, Jim Crow, the colonial mishaps in the Philippines, etc. actually can be called some of the worst Congresses ever… but I guess the title fits if you mean within these times. And what's with the Burkina Faso slight? Hey! They have great film festivals in Burkina Faso! Anyway, excerpt from article and link below.

Time to Go! Inside the Worst Congress Ever

These past six years were more than just the most shameful, corrupt and incompetent period in the history of the American legislative branch. These were the years when the US parliament became a historical punch line, a political obscenity on par with the court of Nero or Caligula - a stable of thieves and perverts who committed crimes rolling out of bed in the morning and did their very best to turn the mighty American empire into a debt-laden, despotic backwater, a Burkina Faso with cable.

Africans Better Off as Slaves?

As I always like to say, give a right-wing nut job enuff rope, and they will hang themselves. Or perhaps, in this case... lynch somebody. What's good about the following article, is that it pulls back the veil on who and what these people seeking to "cure gays" are actually about. Their motives are hardly pure, or even naïve. And for all my fellow black heterosexuals who take an odd obsession and pleasure in gay-bashing, best watch who you get in bed with…all puns intended.

'Gay Curer' Psychologist Claims Africans 'Better Off' As Slaves

A prominent member of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) is under fire for publishing an essay in which he argues that Africans were fortunate to have been sold into slavery, and the civil rights movement was "irrational."…"Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle… Life there was savage … and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off."…The movement's leaders and their close allies at Christian Right powerhouses like Focus on the Family have failed to condemn Schoenwolf's inflammatory arguments.
Strange Alliances: The New Black Face of White Supremacy

Speaking of getting in bed with the wrong people… From the Southern Poverty Law Center who tracks hate groups, comes this tidbit. I wrote before about the nutty self-proclaimed "Black Militia" who was seeking an alliance with the white supremacist derived Minute Men Militias—united in their mutual hatred of those terrible undocumented immigrants upon whose backs the 1990s economic boom took place, and whose money has shored up Social Security in the $billions. Well, looks like I was spot on. Only dissent I have with this article is the brief and casual attempt to link black nationalist rhetoric that speaks out against white racist hegemony to this madness—a very poor and undeserving analogy. Other than that blip, a great article:

Smokescreen: Black Anti-Immigration Groups Align with White Supremacists

It's the second day of the second annual "Unite to Fight" conference, a Memorial Day weekend gathering of anti-immigration hard-liners. Earlier, as speaker after speaker railed off venomous rants about Mexican invaders, Reconquista and Aztlan (conspiracy theories about alleged Mexican plans to reconquer the southwestern United States), Anderson sat with his wife in the shadows of the back row of the Cashman Center auditorium. But now that it's his turn on the mic, the roly-poly, bow-tied orator is lighting up his audience of 200 or so mostly middle-aged and elderly white guys, who clap harder, stand longer, and whistle louder for Anderson than for anyone else on the agenda. This might have something to do with the fact that Anderson is one of only a tiny handful of African-Americans at this predominately white conference -- and the only black speaker. The implied message of his presence and enthusiastic reception is crystal clear: "How can we be racist? Our beloved keynote speaker is black."
From Normal to Hyper Normal: The Rise of American Fascism

Okay, so this one gets deeper. Fascism. The word is tossed around so carelessly we often forget what it means. What we're agreed upon however is that its something that comes from elsewhere, and is at best a foreign ideology. Stan Goff is a retired veteran of the US Army Special Forces, and he proposes differently. In an uncomfortable fact for most Americans, he points out that for the majority of this country's existence, common tenets of fascism like white supremacy, anti-feminist ideals and elite corporatist control were the norm rather than the exception. Groups like the KKK weren't aberrations. The brutal conquest and occupation of the Philippines by American forces wasn't a foreign policy anomaly. The denial of the vote to women wasn't a bizarre blip in an otherwise freedom driven culture. Rather these were just extreme versions of the American normal, what he terms hypernormal. What has been abnormal has been the progressive push in the US that culminated in the Civil Rights and Women's movements, and socialist styled borrowed policies to create some equity of wealth an offset the oligarchy inherent in a capitalist structured society. Goff however warns that in our recent culture of marrying militarism with patriarchal masculinity and whiteness—especially with the so-called War on Terror—we may be moving to make America's unsavory normal traits into the hypernormal, and walking down the road to fascism, without even realizing it.

American Fascism on the Rise

White supremacy as a belief has evolved out of the practice of people in power, who defined themselves as white as a way of differentiating themselves from those over whom they wielded that power… until the dismantling of Jim Crow in the South, white supremacy was a norm, and before the Civil War, slavery was a norm. White supremacy was so normal in 1964 that after the defeat of Goldwater, the Republican Party adopted thinly veiled racist appeals to attract white voters who felt betrayed by the reluctant Democratic Party support for civil rights legislation. Openly racist public officials like Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott, even after their affiliations with white supremacist organizations were publicized, continued to be elected. The Republican appeals to white supremacy were cloaked as opposition to welfare, as "states rights," and as concern about "crime." As late as 1999 the Republican-controlled House of Representatives blocked a vote to condemn the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization with whom then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott had close ties.

How normed does something have to be before we can say it is normal?"


Wednesday, October 4, 2006


schadenfreude ..SHOD-n-froy-duh.., noun:
From the German, Schaden, "damage" + Freude, "joy."
A malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others.

Four weeks away from Congressional elections, and the GOP elephant is looking like a mastodon in a tar pit. What's gone so wrong for the Republicans? And can the Democrats take advantage? Hmm… let's have a recap. Click anything in blue for more info!

President Bush's sinking poll numbers: Live by the village idiot, die by the village idiot. The Republicans in Congress made a Faustian pact some time ago, allowing George W. Bush and his authoritarian neo-con handlers to hijack their party, and marry it to the right-wing religious extremists. It was only a matter of time before that cabal began to turn the masses off. Bush's current job approval has dipped as low as 34%. To put things in perspective, that's about where President Richard Nixon's ratings were right before he resigned! A lot of Republicans are trying to flee that sinking ship, but they've entangled themselves into it so tightly, it's rather hard to disengage.

Iraq: Reports have showed that rather than the insurgency in that occupied country being in its "last throes," as Vice President Dick Cheney reported in 2005, it's picking up steam. US military deaths are nearing 2800—with over seventy happening just last month. Attacks on US troops are up. The number of wounded US troops—from illness to missing limbs to massive brain injuries—are well over 20,000. American bombs, including controversial chemical weapons like white phosphorous, and sectarian violence (another nice word for a proto Civil War) has left tens of thousands of Iraqi's dead, perhaps over 100,000! In fact, the latest news by the National Intelligent Estimate is that the Iraq debacle has helped create a more unstable world, and lit the fires for terrorism. Way to go… I guess pretensions of Empire are a lot harder than actually accomplishing the great Pax Americana.

Torture & Privacy: As if the horrors of Abu Gharib weren't enough, the Bush administration and their Republican allies have now passed bills on detainees that ignore the Geneva Conventions, and codify torture. In case you're uncertain about what torture is, here's a primer on waterboarding. Unlike agent Jack Bauer on 24, torture generally doesn't work. And worse still, with the new unprecedented detainee laws pushed by the Republican Congress and the President, allowing the government to suspend habeus corpus, rest assured that innocent people—yes, this may mean YOU—could easily be picked up, not charged, flown to some undisclosed spot and disappeared. If you're doubtful, maybe you haven't heard of Canadian Maher Arar—who was rendered to Syria, and tortured for 10 months (and by torture, we mean having his testicles sliced with razor blades and other "tough interrogation techniques"), all at the behest of the US, and released without so much as an apology when it was realized he was completely innocent. They've ignored privacy with numerous cases of illegal NSA wire-tapping all supposedly in the name of the War on Terror, taking us down the Orwellian road to big brother.

Corruption, Corruption, Corruption: From Representative Tom Delay's resignation, to that of Rep. Bob Ney, to the many tentacled Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and over to the Valerie Wilson CIA leak, the GOP run Congress aren't just turning out to be a "do-nothing grouping," but one filled with a culture of criminal corruption. Ironically, when they stormed the legislature in Newt Gingrich's 1994 "Contract on America," it was to stamp out Democratic corruption. But a few unethically purchased postage stamps pales in comparison to this lot.

George Allen's Racist Mouth, and Past: Once a darling of the GOP, and a Presidential hopeful, Republican George Allen of Virginia can't seem to keep his foot out of his mouth, or his past buried. After referring to a worker in his opponent's camp by a racial slur, he later goes on to deny his Jewish heritage (as if it is a stain) before later embracing it, and is now embroiled in claims that he repeatedly used the n-word in the past, and (most bizarrely) once cut off a deer's head and stuffed it into a black family's mailbox as a type of hate crime. While this has sent shock waves through his campaign, considering that Allen during his high school years wore Confederate army pins and later kept a lynching noose in his law office, these latest acts and revelations shouldn't have really surprised anyone. To his one saving grace on race, Allen did introduce a symbolic bill in 2005 to officially apologize for the Senate's role in blocking antilynching legislation through decades of killings across the South. The question now however is whether such acts were sincere, or political jockeying.

Mark Foley and the "No Child's Behind Left Alone" Act: And then, just when the GOP thought perhaps they had scored a clever tactical victory with their detainee bill, a bombshell was dropped in the form of Republican Representative Mark Foley of Florida—who was forced to resign after sexually solicitous emails and IMs surfaced between himself and male teenage pages in Congress. The GOP is finding itself in disarray, with its members pointing fingers at each other, and even prominent conservatives demanding an investigation. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Add in everything from the madness of Katrina to stagnating wages, and the Republican Party is running scared. Democrats need 15 seats to gain control over the House of Representatives. The Senate is also up for grabs. Now I don't think the Democrats are a panacea. There are too many problems with our consumerist Über-capitalist, globalist, militarist, neo-liberal, hegemonic society to be solved by any one party, who shares in those same depravities. However with the Democrats, we can start at least slowing down the mad dash off the cliff. And perhaps, like Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy said as he watched the GOP alter the Constitution to score political points, "in 40 days we can put an end to this nonsense."


Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Handy-Dandy Guide To U.S. Foreign Policy

A Handy-Dandy Guide To U.S. Foreign Policy

By: Nicholas von Hoffman
Date: 8/14/2006

Q: What is the difference between a regime and a government?

A: A regime is a government disliked by the United States. A government is a regime that the United States likes.

Q: Are all axes evil?

A: No. An example of an axis of good is the Washington-London axis, which is an axis of very good because it is mostly Anglo-Saxon. The Paris-Berlin axis is good, but not as good as Washington-London.

Q: Recently, reports from Iraq have it that crowds are stoning the police when they arrive after a massacre. What does that mean?

A: In certain Arab-type countries, this is considered a support-the-police gesture, similar to Americans who put support-our-troops decals on their S.U.V.s.

Q: It seems that the attacks and killings in Iraq are growing. What should a current-events buff make of it?

A: Higher levels of violence indicate that the terrorists are growing weaker and more desperate. We should welcome news of larger slaughters as proof of progress and an indication that our troops will be home sooner.

Q: Sooner than what?

A: Sooner than soon. Just remember the good news is that 3,149 Iraqi civilians were killed in June, up from 2,669 in May. Washington Middle East experts are predicting 6,000 a month in the near future and 15,000 by Election Day.

Q: Is Iraq near civil war?

A: No. A civil war must be declared by both sides, and since Iraq has one government that is too weak to do anything anyway, a civil war is impossible.

Q: Please help us to understand how they can be trying Saddam Hussein for killing 148 people 24 years ago when on some days they are killing twice as many in Iraq now. Does that make sense to you?

A: You have to take the long view. Remember, we are in Iraq to stay the course. By 2030 C.E., which is 24 years from now, anyone killing so much as a goat will be tried and convicted. Do not allow miscellaneous factoids to confuse you. Stay focused and remain good to go where the Commander in Chief points.

Q: What are some of the signs that show we are winning the war in Iraq?

A: When we first liberated Iraq, the locals only tried to kill American military and were often not successful. Over time they have gotten better at that, which is proof of how American foreign aid is working. But the sign of the biggest improvement is that the Iraqis are now killing each other. In the bad old pre-American days, a few of them under Saddam Husseins orders used to kill other Iraqis, but most Iraqis were forbidden to kill each otherbut now, under democracy, all can slaughter each other. And next year there will be vastly improved electric service.

Q: What is an asymmetrical war?

A: There are several kinds of asymmetrical wars. One kind is when normal people fight dwarfs and midgets. Another kind is when normal people fight hunchbacks and or persons who have one leg shorter than the other. Another form of asymmetrical war is when Christians and Jews, generally thought of as white men, fight Arabs, generally not thought of as particularly white. Does that answer your question?

Q: What is the Geneva Convention?

A: The so-called Geneva Convention is held annually on a rotating basis by the pharmaceutical industry in Geneva, Ill., Geneva, Ohio, Geneva, N.Y., Lake Geneva, Wis., and Geneva, Switzerland. At these conventions, the delegates discuss questions of biomedical ethics.

Q: What is a Katyusha rocket?

A: It is a World War II rocket invented in 1937 by Georgy E. Langemak, Vladimir Artemiev, Boris Petropavlovaky and Yuryi PobedonostsevRussian Communists all. It is named after a girl called Ekaterina, nicknamed Katyusha. The weapon is notoriously inaccurate unless the person using it chants the names of its inventors five times rapidly. Its accuracy can also be increased by orders of magnitude if, while using the device, you sing the Katyusha song. No Arab has successfully sung the Katyusha song, which explains why Hezbollahs erratic fire hits civilians.

Nevertheless, equipped with Russian weapons like the Katyusha and Kalashnikov, the Arabs have a huge advantage over the Israelis and the Americans, who are forced to fight with World War III and IV weapons, many of which are so poorly designed that the persons discharging them may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the targets. This may explain why there is so much collateral damage to toddlers and nursing mothers.

Q: Who started the new war in Lebanon and why?

A: The terrorists started it out of spite and hatred.

Q: Why are the Arabs always kidnapping Israeli soldiers?

A: They claim they do it because the Israelis have 9,000 of their people in jail and thats the only way they can get them out. But, of course, the real reason is that they wish to drive Israel into the sea, and their plan is to do so by kidnapping all the Israelis one at a time, putting them on inflatable rafts and pushing them out into the Mediterranean.

Q: What is the Shiite Crescent?

A: It is a conspiracy that starts in Iran, goes through Iraq and ends up in Lebanon.

Q: What is a Shiite?

A: A member of an anti-American/Israeli Islamofascist sect. The Shiites were the ungrateful Iraqis who turned against the Americans after the Americans had liberated them from Saddam Hussein.

Q: So how do we handle that?

A: We sic the Sunnis on them.

Q: Who are the Sunnis?

A: Thats the Osama bin Laden/Saddam Hussein crowd. We get them to attack the Shiites, which they are doing right smartly in Iraq, and that way we keep all the Arabs at each others throats.

Q: Wouldnt that make matters worse?

A: No. It will show a healthy democratic diversity of opinion.

Q: Who should look at, a Web site showing pictures of dead Lebanese babies?

A: Nobody. They put these pictures up on the Internet to grab your attention and make you feel guilty as if you are killing babies. Do not fall victim to their crude propaganda.

Q: Is Israel like Nazi Germany?

A: No.

Q: How do the two differ?

A: Israel is a deeply religious democracy with its own Bible containing a real-estate deed to the Middle East, while Nazi Germany did not have a Bible and did not put much stock in God since it had Adolf Hitler instead.

Q: But what about the accusations that the Israelis do things in Gaza and Lebanon which remind people of what the Nazis did?

A: Such accusations are only made by Islamists or persons with left-wing attitudes at a loss as to how to cause trouble since the fall of the Soviet Union. Also, French people sometimes say such things.

There are major differences between how Israel acts and what Nazi Germany did. For instance, when the Nazis decided to blow a community to kingdom come, they did it without any warning. The Israelis always warn first. They drop pamphlets from the sky, telling the residents they have anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours to run for their lives. Thats time enough to slip on your flip-flops, scoop up the baby and get the hell out of the house before it gets bunker-busted. The Nazis would never give people that kind of humanitarian break.

Q: Is that the only difference?

A: No, not at all.

The Nazis had mass-murder factories where they poison-gassed and killed millions of Jewish and other people.

Israelis do not do anything like that. What they do when they come up against a million or so terroristo/Islamo-fascisto Arabistos is to seal off the buggers from land, sea and air so that nobody can leave and nothing can get in that the Israelis do not want to let in. If the people want food or medicine, theyve got to grow it, or else they can pray to Allah if hes such a big one-and-only G-O-D. Then the Israelis destroy the power plants, the water system, the sewage-treatment plants, the roads and the bridges and let the terroristo/Islamo-fascisto Arabistos stew in their own juices.

Q: Do the good guys ever kidnap anyone?

A: You need to think that question through a little more. Without stereotyping anybody, its safe to say that Arabs, who tend toward the sneaky and cowardly, kidnap. Americans and Israelis capture.

Q: What is a ceasefire?

A: It is a word for surrender to people who do not have the stomach to see the war on terror through to the end.

Q: When will the end come?

A: When the Rapture does. At that time, swords will be beaten into plowshares (except for a few, just in case) and Jews will become Christians (or get their throats slit) and those left standing will join in celebrating the Second Coming with dancing, Pepsi-Cola and feasting on Arab-burgers.


Monday, July 31, 2006

Democracy for Congo ?

This week the citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) went to the polls to elect a new leader, and government. It is the first democratic election in the large war-torn nation in over 40 years--and possibly one of Africa's most important.

When independence came in 1960 and the highly promising Patrice Lumumba was popularly elected to power, it was supposed to be a rebirth--the end of colonization and the rise of an African powerhouse, mineral rich and with the ability to change the face of a continent. But those high hopes have yielded bitter tragedy in the past 45 years. Today the DRC is a foundering giant, barely kept in order by a few thousand UN troops, ravaged by war and poverty, and exploited for its wealth by its neighbors, both near and far.

The more remote roots of the Congos problems can probably be traced back to the arrival of the Portuguese, their off and on again imbalanced power alliance with the old Kingdom of Congo, its eventual conquering, and the resulting slave trade that not only sent millions of black bodies to the New World, but also caused mayhem, displaced peoples and destroyed cultures. The DRC's time as a colony was even more horrific. Under European rulers like Leopold II of Belgium, the Congos natural resource wealth was plundered; brutality resulted in the death of millions; and ethnic tensions were exacerbated. Independence didnt free the Congo from the curse of its wealth. Its democratically nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba became victim to a US sanctioned and Belgian-planned overthrow/assassination, one of many Cold War casualties for Africa, where claims of "communist containment" were used to carry out economic and strategic policy. In his place came the Western propped-up dictator Mobutu Sese Soko, who remained a key US ally despite his continual rape of his own country.

Mobutu robbed the Congos treasury, placing the money in Swiss banks, and lined his pockets with monetary kickbacks by giving over pro-corporation mining rights to Western companies. He lavishly spent money on such items as high priced French furniture, fancying himself something of a European king. He carried out the bidding of the US, brutally repressing anyone who dissented with his dictatorship, and interfering in his neighbors affairs, sometimes on the side of Americas other African allythe white-minority apartheid government of South Africa. During the more than 35 years of Mobutus rule, the Congos vast wealth was squandered, a massive debt was accrued through Western banks eager to give loans as personal payoffs, and basic social services from roads to schools to hospitals were heavily neglected.

The dictator's end finally came in 1997, much to the happiness of the Congolese, at the hands of a rebel movement that converted or overtook his forces. The ousting of Mobutu, who by then everyone knew had been directly involved in the Western-backed plot that killed Patrice Lumumba, was hailed as the signal of a Renaissance. His palace was ransacked. The rebels were celebrated. The French name Zaire, that Mobutu had given the country, was even changed back to Congo, the Democratic Republic. But things didn't work out as planned.

The rebel leader Laurent Kabila took control of the vast nation with many promises of freedom and prosperity. Yet during his brief reign he outlawed opposition groups and shut down the press, making a host of enemies as he fought for control between factions. With internal corruption and an exploitative Western community, he was unable to implement meaningful reform to the shattered country's infrastructure and did nothing to remove some 60 million Congolese from abject poverty, in a nation literally teeming with resources, but kept shackled by detrimental IMF policies and a massive debt. Worse yet, his blocking of UN probes into reported massacres during his rebellion against Mobutu made him an international pariah. But Kabila's most direct problem, and the beginning of his country's nightmare, turned out to be the friends he kept.

Kabila's toppling of Mobutu was not a singular act or even that of just the people, but came with the backing of nearby Rwanda. The Rwandan army remained in Congo with the claim that they were there to train the newly liberated nation's defense forces. But when asked to leave, the Rwandans not only refused but helped spark rebellion among a faction of the DRC's army. Worse still, the Rwandans brought their own Hutu-Tutsi nightmare with them (the horror the world shamefully watched unfold in 1994 that claimed close to one million lives), citing the need to seek out threats to its own security (namely Hutu militias that operated in DR Congo's lawless frontier). Laurent Kabila soon found himself looking at not only a revolt by a section of his army, but much of the eastern part of his country that was ethnically aligned to Rwanda, all of which could result in a Hutu-Tutsi orgy of genocidal violence.

It didn't take long before others came looking for a feast in the weak, resource-rich giant. Nearby bordering Uganda, claiming worries over security, sent troops into the DRC to support Rwanda's war against the latter nation's former ally. Angola, another of Kabila's one-time allies, soon joined the fray on his side-against both Rwanda and Uganda. Namibia and Zimbabwe in turn allied themselves with Angola and Kabila, sending troops into the melee.

This all resulted in what until then was unheard of in modern Africa, a regional conflict with all the markings of a continental war - threatening to possibly draw even more combatants into the fray from as far off as South Africa and Libya. Cease-fires and treaties were signed, eventually ignored and fighting repeatedly resumed. And though these various nations issued rhetoric about claims of issues of security, their true motives were best seen through actions of their troops who hoisted off key mineral resources back to their respective mother countries. A UN panel noted that the foreign states all deliberately prolonged the conflict to plunder gold, diamonds, timber and coltan--a mineral used in the making of mobile phones--from the Congo, thus highlighting a key shameful reason for the disastrous and costly war: greed.

Laurent Kabila wouldn't survive the mayhem that had erupted around him however, dying from gunshot wounds inflicted by a bodyguard in January of 2001. His son Joseph Kabila, 30 years old and a political novice, would take the reins of power. To the surprise of everyone the younger Kabila embarked on an ambitious plan, declaring that he wanted to end the devastating war. It would take two more years of fighting and the sacrifice of many more lives, yet by December of 2002 a peace deal was signed and foreign troops began to withdraw finally from the Congo.

In the end, anywhere from 3 to 4 million Congolese were killed in what has been dubbed Africas First World War. No conflict in the past fifty years, since World War II, has claimed that many lives. No conflict of such magnitude, of such death, had ever gone on in modern history for five years, with hardly any media coverage. Unlike regions in Western and Central Asia with key oil reserves or Eastern European atrocities of ethnic cleansings that threaten region stability, the DRC's war and the snuffing out of some 3 to 4 million citizens of the global community to this day remains remarkably unreported. In the US, neither Democratic nor Republican administrations gave it much attention. The news media only become interested when sensationalist stories of butchery appeared that helped to foster well-harbored notions of "Darkest Africa. As one Congolese put it either the world turned a blind eye to the massive war, or its victims were emitting silent screams.

So here we are, four years after peace, and elections are finally being held. "Democracy has come to Congo" read news headlines in the country. The UN is hailing the recent turnout at the polls as a success, hoping for optimism. This is an important election after all, even if it doesn't make the news. The ultimate fate and direction of a country with such wealth, that helped spark a regional war that drew in its neighbors, is of monumental importance to not only Africa but the world. But centuries of exploitation, half a decade of war, 3 to 4 million deaths, and the ruin of such a large nation aren't healed overnight.

In parts of Congo, such as the eastern region, a state of lawlessness still exists, even with UN peacekeepers. Numerous bloody conflicts and massacres have taken place in the past four years that have claimed well over 50,000 lives, the leftover remnants of machinations by Rwandan and Ugandan armies, who recruited and armed rival ethnic groups as allies. The driving force for many of these factions was the war itself. What armed and kept them knitted together were often the larger more cohesive Ugandan and Rwandan militaries. With these groups gone, and the greater war seemingly over, these varied factions have been scrambling for control, leaving endless combatants (many of them children or young men) with no occupation, direction or distinct motive, other than the killing, raping and destructive methods the years of bloody fighting has taught them.

The people of Congo also didnt have the best options at the polls. Many on the ballot are ex-rebel leaders who are at best warlords turned politicians. They are running against the favored incumbent, Joseph Kabilawhose key claim to power is that he brokered the peace his father could not. Of course there are more than presidents to be voted on. Beyond the 32 presidential candidates, there are over 9,000 parliamentary candidates to be decided by some 26 million registered voters. At least 50,000 polling stations have been set up across the vast region, supervised by a quarter of a million electoral staff. The very feat of monitoring an election on this scale has proved daunting.

And of course, there are further complications.

The Congo's vast mineral wealth is coveted not just by its local neighbors, but the international community. Mining estimates by foreign companies have placed its accumulated potential wealth in the trillions--more than the economies of the United States and the European Economic Union combined. Thus far, accessing that wealth has been a matter of paying off the right corrupt leaders, who allow it to be carted away for cheap, leaving nothing for the country's citizens. In fact, through forced brokering of the IMF and the World Bank, the younger Kabila has already signed numerous contracts with foreign corporations to mine the Congos wealth. And, troubling to many, he is now their favored contender.

So what does this all mean for the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo? Uncertainty. The results of the election won't be known until September. And the entire process, which includes four more elections through January of 2007, still have be carried out. For now questions linger. Can the election that occurred this week in the DRC be considered democratic, given that those vying for power are already in power? Will the outcome be accepted by the Congolese people or the former ex-leaders? Will diplomacy take the place of war? And can a giant blessed with such wealth navigate the exploitative world of debt, neo-liberalism and globalization the larger Western world has straddled it with?

Time will tell. What is not in dispute is that the DRC is now at a crossroads. We just have to wait and see what path it will take.

For more on the DRC and the recent elections:

Friends of the Congo

AllAfrica News on DRC

Africa Action