Thursday, December 28, 2006

Thought For Today

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
- Elie Wiesel

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's a Tie

It appears as though the number of American servicemen and women killed in Iraq has today exceeded the number of New Yorkers who were killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The White House is distancing itself from any correlation between these two statistics, which is kind of ironic considering that they were the ones who drew the false connection between Iraq and 9/11 in the first place. Further evincing their ignorance, the right wing-nut’s response has been to ask how many Americans would have died had the U.S. not invaded Iraq. From the Lawyers, Guns and Money blog:

“Well, the answer is indeed unknowable, but given that Iraq had no substantial connection to Anti-American terrorism and posed no security threat whatsoever to the United States, the overwhelmingly likely answer is "zero." Whatever Iraq was, it wasn't "fighting back" against the Islamic radicals who actually attacked New York.

Of course, if it was only Republican pundits who don't actually know anything about foreign policy who think that replacing a secular dictatorship with an Islamist quasi state was an effective way of "fighting back" against Islamic terrorism, this would be relatively harmless (although pathetic.) The truly appalling thing is that people actually in charge of American policymaking also didn't demand any logical connection between a given military response and the actual threat facing the country, and as a result nearly three thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died for nothing.”

I'm a Ford, Not a Lincoln

Interesting things in the news the last few days, no? The King of Soul made the crossing on Christmas day, followed a few days later by Gerald Ford, who presumably will be joining Nixon’s foursome on the great golf-course in the sky. Ford was a Republican party hack who’s decision to grant a pardon to Richard Nixon just 30 days after taking office denied the nation its badly needed closure and set the stage for the cynical attitude towards politics which permeates the nation to this day. Ford announced his decision September 8, 1974, saying he hoped the pardon would "shut and seal this book" on Watergate. Burying the scandal in such a matter ensured there would be no lengthy prosecution of Nixon which could have created a lasting enmity toward the Republican Party. Ford himself said that the "years of bitter controversy and divisive national debate" over Watergate would make it impossible for Nixon to get a fair trial for months or even years. He went on to state that even though Nixon was a longtime friend, there were more important issues than his fate. "During this long period of delay and potential litigation, ugly passions would again be aroused. And our people would again be polarized in their opinions. And the credibility of our free institutions of government would again be challenged at home and abroad," he said.

We should all be so lucky as to have our good friends assist us in eluding justice when charged with a crime. One wonders how receptive the nation would have been to Reagan’s election in 1980 had the breadth of Nixon’s crimes been aired in a national trial a year or two before. In my opinion Ford was more interested in preserving the institution of the Republican Party than adherence to any lofty ideals of Americanism. If there’s one thing a Republican politician can’t stand its people being “polarized in their opinions”, especially when one of their own has their neck in the noose.

Here is an excerpt from a letter sent to Digby in response to his Ford eulogy which says it more eloquently than I could:

"Though I'm willing to give Ford the benefit of the doubt that it was made for the best of reasons, The Pardon is unpardonable.

The great lesson of Watergate was that the Rule of Law is greater than the political power of men or parties. Ford's decision to short circuit this lesson resulted in the fact that ultimately, politics went on as usual. Money rules, dirty tricks are allowed and there is little consequence for misdeeds. If you liked Iran-Contra, Lee Atwater, Willie Horton, McCain/Bush in SC, Karl Rove, Mellon-Scaife, the Arkansas Project, Florida in 2000 and Swiftboating, well then you probably liked The Pardon. It was our best opportunity squandered to reform the political process.

I cannot forgive Gerald Ford for this.
not the senator | 12.27.06 - 1:44 pm |

At the end of the day, Nixon got a hero’s funeral and Ford will be remembered as the savior of the nation. History is truly written by the winners.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Christmas Carol

Oh come all ye Grateful Deadheads to the concert.
Oh come Grateful Deadheads and camp in the street.
Bring rolling papers, don't forget your sleeping bags.

Oh come get us some floor seats.
We followed them for four weeks.
Oh come get us some floor seats, to see the Lord.

Come all ye hippies, throwbacks to the '60's.
Paint flowers on your van and don't wash your feet.
Wear your bell-bottoms and your tie-dyed t-shirts.

Oh come let us adore them. We quit our day jobs for them.
Oh come let us adore them. Garcia's the Lord.

Pardon me.

The “President” pardoned an extraordinary number of people this holiday season. Without reading too much into it, I note that most of the pardoned were incarcerated for crimes for which Bush himself probably should have served time. Fraud, cocaine trafficking, bribery and ripping off the federal government comprised most of the crimes which GW thought worthy of pardon. Bush has issued 113 pardons and commuted three sentences in his nearly six years in the White House, a large number considering his natural inclination to throw everyone in jail without a trial. However, Bush remains among the stingiest of presidents on pardons. Clinton issued 457 in eight years in office. Bush's father issued 77 in four years. Reagan issued 406 in eight years, and Carter issued 563 in four years. Since World War II, the largest number of pardon and commutations , 2,031 came from Truman. What I found interesting is that most of those pardoned had served their sentences long ago and were simply looking to clear their records, something Bush can clearly relate to. My personal favorite pardon from our draft dodging chief executive was a nod to out men and women in uniform. Pardoned in time for this Christmas season was one Eric William Olson of Ojai, California who was charged and convicted of “conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, possession with intent to distribute, possession, and use of hashish.” Sentenced February 21, 1984, by an Army general court-martial to confinement at hard labor for one year, reduction in pay grade, and a bad conduct discharge, his pardon presumably reinstated his military benefits; only fitting when you consider what Bush has put the Army through the last few years. Lest one confuse Bush granting a pardon with him showing actual human emotion, one should remember that a pardon amounts to federal forgiveness for one's crime, while a commutation cuts short an existing prison term. Bush only commuted three sentences. Merry fucking Christmas Mr. President.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Have a Very Jerry Christmas

New York Stories

Sorry I’ve been so lazy lately but work has picked up, the holidays are marching in on grim little goose-steps and as it gets closer to the baby due date I have become much more distracted from current events. Also, New York City becomes generally unlivable from Thanksgiving to New Years. There are more tourists in lower Manhattan during the holidays than rats on the Lower East Side or cockroaches in Inwood. It’s even worse this year thanks to the downward slide of the dollar and the steady parade of Englishmen hopping across the pond to buy video cameras and such. You can’t even get near J&R without tripping over groups of Italians haggling over the cost of I-Pods and laptops.

On our way back from baby class last night we had an exceptionally memorable cab ride. The first thing I noticed was that the driver, who’s head I could barely make out in the dim light of the interior couldn’t have been more than 4 feet tall. I gave him a quick once over before getting into the cab, just to make sure he wasn’t a 12 year old out trying to make a few bucks for crack money while his daddy was passed out somewhere in Astoria.

When we get in the cab it took a minute before several things registered. First, the temperature in the cab must have been over 100 degrees. I went from freezing to heatstroke in about 20 seconds. Second, it really smelled. Not like a food smell, more like a person-is-stuffed-under-the-carpet-and-rotting smell, mixed with cheap, obviously foreign tobacco. The driver, and I use the term loosely, headed in the general direction of downtown at a pace somewhere between a walk and a bicycle ride. Once we got on the FDR Drive a steady succession of cars passed us with the usual curses and horn honking. It was then I noticed that the driver was trying to eat some sort of greasy sandwich, WITH BOTH HANDS as he inched down the highway. I was fascinated simply watching his utter disregard for the rules of the road, his passengers, the other drivers and his own health all at the same time. Then I noticed that his hands were shaking. Bad. Like DTs bad. Like I need several drinks or I’m going to fall over bad. To calm the demon voices he turned on talk radio REALLY LOUD. All of this was done in silence. Not a word passed his lips. Mercifully, we got stuck in a massive traffic jam around the Seaport and spent the rest of the trip inching down the road where a collision would have done nothing but interrupt the driver’s dinner. At least he knew where the Ferry terminal was. I haven’t had a ride like that in a while. Kind of made me miss the old school drivers who would argue politics and share a drink with you on late night rides home.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Church & State & Blogs

I have had some negative feedback from a couple of readers about my recent postings on Catholic theology. Since two readers apparently comprise a significant percentage of this blog’s audience, I will consider your thoughts in future postings. I find debate on obscure theological points to be fascinating but I can see how it might be less so for others. In order to provide some context to my political opinions you all should probably be aware that that the political position I come from is basically that of a Catholic anarchist; I reject the current form of capitalism as practiced in the United States as inhumane and unsustainable and favor a return to a looser, collective style of governance with an emphasis on self-sufficiency and living lightly on the land. The link on the sidebar about distributivism is a good place to start if you are looking to understand my economic philosophy, although I transcend all ideologies and embrace my own brand of anarchism because I basically have the massive ego of a trial lawyer.

So in the Times this morning was yet another tale of the evangelical nut-jobs forcing their way into the public schools trying to save the students from their definition of evil. Two things made this story especially noteworthy. First, the school at issue is located in Edison New Jersey about ten miles from Manhattan; Second, most of the parents and students interviewed support the teacher over the student who reported the teacher’s illegal activity. Now this was supposed to be a class on the history of the constitution but the teacher apparently thought class to be an appropriate forum to disseminate his opinion that, “[E]volution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven.” It should be noted that the teacher is also a preacher at some mega Protestant church or other. What this has to do with the Constitution I don’t know. What it has to do with the religious right’s agenda to subvert the Constitution’s separation of Church and state is much clearer.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Why on earth do conservative Christians support the death penalty? Can someone explain to me why it is that these right-wingers get so energized on right-to-life issues yet have no problem with the concept of strapping a man to a table and pumping him full of lethal chemicals?

Anyone who has ever read a minute by minute description about what it is like to witness an execution cannot possibly support this barbarity. Yesterday, the Florida Department of Corrections executed one Angel Diaz who was convicted of murdering a Miami topless bar manager 27 years ago.

The execution took 34 minutes and Diaz didn’t go quietly. and Diaz appeared to grimace before dying Wednesday, 34 minutes after the first dose. Diaz appeared to grimace and then move around on his gurney for 24 minutes after the first injection. His eyes were open, his mouth opened and closed and his chest rose and fell. He was pronounced dead 10 minutes after his last movement.

Diaz's final appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court challenged the chemicals used in the state's procedure, saying they constitute cruel and unusual punishment. His appeals were rejected about an hour before his execution began. Attorneys for him and other condemned inmates have been unsuccessfully challenging Florida's three-chemical method, saying it results in extreme pain that an inmate cannot express because one of the drugs is a paralyzing agent.

Diaz denied killing the victim just prior to his own murder at the hands of the State. It is of note that there were no witnesses to the murder of Joseph Nagy which took place during a robbery at the Velvet Swing Lounge in 1979. At the time of the killing, most of the club's employees and patrons were locked in a restroom. Diaz's girlfriend later told police he was involved and his fingerprint was found on a matchbook at the scene.

Despite his relative lack of education, Diaz insisted on representing himself at his murder trial with fairly predictable results. His accomplice to the robbery testified against him to avoid the death sentence and he got sentenced to 20-life. Diaz’s conviction was also won on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch who testified that Diazx told him that he did the shooting, testimony that he later recanted. His recantation was deemed not credible by the Florida Supreme Court. Apparently any testimony by a jailhouse snitch that supports the state’s version of events is deemed credible but any testimony supporting the defendant is not. Irrespective of the testimony, the Court held that the sentence would stand even though it was possible that Diaz’s accomplice did the actual shooting. Florida’s felony murder law permits death sentences for those who participate in crimes resulting in murder, regardless of who does the killing.

The prosecutor of the case pretty much summed up the state’s attitude towards Diaz and towards all defendants when he claimed, ''There are cases where the murder itself cries out for the ultimate punishment, Then there are other murders where the person himself, like Angel Diaz, cries out for the death penalty.''

I don’t know what church that prosecutor goes to but I sincerely hope he isn’t a Catholic. Benedict XVI, whilst Prefect of The Congregation for The Doctrine of The Faith, stated that that capital punishment is completely irreconcilable with the Christian Catechism and Catholics cannot, in good conscience, support it.
This position is even more restrictive than the Catechism would allow, since the Church cedes to the state the right to take a human life in the very limited circumstance where the state is unable to protect the public from an individual. It should be pointed out that this is an extremely small exception to the general rule that capital punishment should not be allowed. “[A]s a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm -- without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself -- the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent." (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 56)”

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Sound of Music

This blog is going to tack Catholic for a while since the inner workings of the Church have lately been more interesting to me than anything going on in politics. Especially this obsession the Democrats have with Barack Obama. What’s up with that? I think the party is so star struck that it is underestimating the country’s latent racism. Hopefully I’m wrong but it will be hard to tell. Racist bias is a notoriously difficult issue to get accurate polls on since racists tend to lie to pollsters when asked if they’re racists. Whatever, I’ll be voting Green anyway.

I’ve been thinking about how the sad state of the Catholic liturgy has probably been partly responsible for driving Cradle Catholics away from the Church. As a part-time musician I have been especially annoyed at what passes for music in Church these days. A little Googling on the issue showed me that I was not alone in my critique:

“The awful stuff that has passed for liturgical music in the Catholic Church for the past thirty-five years is a continuing disgrace and embarrassment. The insipid "hymns" and utterly trite musical settings of parts of the Ordinary of the Mass suddenly appeared from nowhere sometime shortly after Vatican II.
Overnight, fifteen hundred years of some of the most beautiful, inspired music in all of Western culture was thrown out and replaced by what sounds like bad 1960's folk-pop-elevator music. In fact, it's worse than that. Nothing in pop music ever sounded quite as loathsome as what is played and sung in the church today.”

Pretty strong stuff. The likely explanation is that the Church has simply aped the secular West's obsession with "accessibility", "inclusiveness", "democracy" and "anti-elitism". The effect of this on liturgy has been a triumph of bad taste and banality and an apparent vacating of the sacred spaces of any palpable sense of the presence of God.

Try to imagine what it would be like if the rest of the Church's art were dumbed-down to this degree. Imagine the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel redone in a more modern style. Would the clergy and faithful stand for such a desecration? I doubt it. Apparently music is considered a less important art form in the eyes of the modern church. But why? How did bad folk guitars and bongos replace choirs and Gregorian chants in the United States.

Here is an interesting explanation:

Friday, December 08, 2006

Dorothy Day

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Catholic Worker movement was born out of the meeting of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day on this day, December 8, 1932.

Dorothy wrote a series of reflections on Advent in 1966. Here are some of her thoughts on week two, which begins this Sunday:

{I]t is not to discuss solutions proffered by government or city agencies that I wish to write. War, and the poverty of peoples which leads to war, are the great problems of the day and the fundamental solution is the personal response which each of us makes to the message of Jesus Christ. It is the solution which works from the bottom up rather than from the top down, and makes for readiness to join in larger regional solutions like the organizing of farm workers with Cesar Chavez, community solutions of Saul Alinsky, village solutions like Vinoba Bhave's in India, etc.
The wonderful thing is that each one of us can do something about the problem, each one of us can give his response and can go as far as the grace of God leads him; and God "ordereth all things sweetly," and there is no need to be afraid as to where such a response will lead US.

"Ask and you shall receive," Jesus told us, and this asking may be just that question "What shall we do?" Samuel asked it, St. Paul asked it--"Lord, what will you have me do?" and they seemed to get direct answers. Paul was struck blind, literally and to everything else around him except that one great fact, "whatever ye do to the least of these My brethren, ye do to Me." If you feed them, clothe them, shelter them, visit them in prison (or go to prison and so are with them!), serve the sick, in general perform the works of mercy, you are serving Christ and alleviating poverty by direct action. If you are persecuting them, killing them, throwing them in prison, you are doing it to Christ. He said so.

When the crowd was moved by John the Baptist and asked, "What shall we do?" he said to them, "He who has two coats give to him who has none." He also said, "Do injury to no man. Be content with your pay." Or with no pay at all. If you are voluntarily giving away what you have, giving your coat, don't expect thanks or the reform of the recipient. We don't do it for that motive, with the expectation of reward. We must do it for love of Jesus, in His humanity, for love of our brother, for love of our enemy.

Charles Peguy in one of his poems, God Speaks, tells the story of the prodigal son and comments, "That's the kind of a Father we have, who loves even to folly, who forgives seventy times seven, who rushes out to embrace and feast the prodigal son." This is the kind of love we must have for the poor. The kind of love which will give away cloak also if coat is demanded of you.

Nobody is too poor to help another. The stories in the New Testament are of the widow's mite, of the little boy's loaves and fishes, of the cloak, of the time given when one is asked to walk a second mile.

Another Russian story which profoundly moved me was The Honest Thief, by Dostoievsky of the hardworking tailor who lived in a corner of a room, and yet who took in one of the destitute he encountered. The guest begged and drank and the tailor suspected him of stealing his one treasure, an old army coat. He spoke to him harshly, but when the thief ran away, the tailor searched him out and brought him back to his corner to nurse him in his illness. "Love is the measure by which we shall be judged." And by not judging we too shall not be judged.

I am thinking of how many leave the Church because of the scandal of the wealth of the Church, the luxury of the Church which began in the very earliest day, even perhaps when the Apostles debated on which should be highest in the kingdom and when the poor began quarreling as to who were receiving the most from the common table, the Greek Jews or the Jerusalem Jews. St. Paul commented on the lack of esteem for the poor, and the kowtowing to the rich, and St. John in the Apocalypse spoke of the scandal of the churches "where charity had grown cold."

Thank God for the sacraments, the food of life which we can receive to strengthen us. Thank God for the Word made flesh and for the Word in the Scriptures. Thank God for the Gospel which St. Therese pinned close to her heart, and which the murderer Raskolnikoff listened to from the lips of a prostitute and took with him into the Siberian prison. The Word is our light and our understanding, and it is also our food.

Papal Infallibility

I was originally planning a post that asserted that whether one believes in the Catholic Church's position on contraception as expressed in Pope Paul VI's humanae vitae depends on whether one can accept the legitimacy of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Then a friend who is obviously better versed in the language of the theologians than I reminded me that the decision against contraception handed down in Humanae Vitae belongs to the "authentic" ordinary Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, it is presented as "non-infallible" teaching, in which the Magisterium does not give us any absolute guarantee that the teaching is immutably true and therefore forever irreformable. Of course by the time I realized my mistake I had already written a lengthy post on papal infallibility so I'm posting it anyway:

Two dogmas were proclaimed at Vatican Council I on July 18, 1870. The dogma of the primacy of papal jurisdiction means that the pope has universal jurisdiction. He has "direct sovereignty over the entire church” (It is interesting to note that the world's bishops, up to that point the local manifestation of the Church at that instant lost almost all their independent decisoin making power; this arrangement continues to the present day, I believe, to the detriment of the Church.)

The second dogma proclaimed that day, papal infallibility, asserts that the pope is incapable of error when he makes "ex cathedra" decisions on matters of faith and morals. Of course what constitutes a decision based on “faith and morals” expands and contracts depending on papal need. Theologians like Hans Kung note that the fluidity with which the definition of ex catheta is applied is a handy tool for the Vatican bureaucracy to consolidate power in Rome and squelch dissent by pesky bishops and theologians.

The first recorded attribution of infallibility to the pope was articulated by a Franciscan priest in 1279. It was by no means an accepted doctrine within the church. The (presumably also infallible) Pope John XXII went so far as to declare the doctrine the "work of the devil". While not universally accepted, the doctrine nevertheless became an important tool against the reformation, although the bishops of France and Italy rejected it. However it wasn’t until Gregory XVI (1831-46) that an actual Pope made the claim that popes were infallible. Gregory was also known as a champion against modernism. His encyclical, Mirari, viewed freedom of conscience as "a false and absurd concept”. He also found the concept of freedom of the press as abhorrent and democracy to be antithetical to the Church.

Pius IX was the Pope who elevated the notion of Papal infallibility to dogma. He was a man of temporal as well as spiritual ambition. While Pius is the Pope who, on his own authority, elevated the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception, he was also the last Pope to publicly execute someone in the Piazza del Popolo. (Italian revolutionaries Monti and Tognetti were beheaded for attempting to blow up some papal property). Pius was no friend of either democracy or modernism. In his encyclical Quanta Cura (1864), he condemned many of the freedoms Americans hold dearest: freedoms of conscience, speech, the press, and religion. He rightfully recognized that American style democracy gravely threatened the Papacy.

Pius’s motivations for pronouncing the doctrine of Papal Infallibility were decidedly temporal. The loss of the Papal States provided an impetus to expand his spiritual authority as a replacement for his political power in Italy. There was a hope that this principle of authority would bring about the return of lands already lost by the Papacy. He also believed that the principle of authority would help counteract the secular principles of the French Revolution.

So what sort of a man was Pius IX? History records that he surrounded himself with mediocre, unbalanced, sometimes even psychologically disturbed people. His fury in private audiences would become so violent that older prelates suffered heart attacks. He was described as having a heart of stone and at times normal feelings of affection, gratitude, and appreciation would be totally absent -- heartless indifference. Many bishops had the impression that the pope was insincere, that he was striving to get infallibility approved by the use of trickery and cunning. In the presence of many witnesses, one bishop called him false and a liar.

The historian Ferdinand Gregorovius noted in his diary, "The pope recently got the urge to try out his infallibility....While out on a walk he called to a paralytic: `Get up and walk.' The poor devil gave it a try and collapsed, which put God's vicegerent very much out of sorts.”

Part II will discuss how this doctrine gave birth to Paul VI's humanae vitae and the historical and political context surrounding it's promulgation.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Secularism and the Pope

The Holy Father Benedict the XVI was hoping to overcome the west’s current infatuation with the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris by pointing out the danger of fundamentalist secularism. The following is from an article in the International Herald Tribune:

"Benedict opposes secularism because it is both absolute and arbitrary. In the name of being neutral with regard to values, secular ideology eliminates all rival world views from the public sphere. By denying the existence of objective moral truths, it elevates self- assertion as the measure of all things. Social life is reduced to the arbitration of conflicting self-interest — a process in which the most powerful always win.

Ultimately, this arbitrary absolutism produces a society ruled by an unholy alliance of utilitarian ethics and the proxy politics of the managerial class. This collusion destroys the very idea of common action and a binding collective discernment. Thus does the pope attribute the failure of Europe's common political project to the growing secularization of European culture. "

Indeed. Any secular ideology that elevates the “self” over the collective good is bound to result in the government’s function being reduced to the arbitration of conflicting self-interests. It’s already happening in this country. Hell, this entire country is based on self-interest. We only come together as a community in time of national tragedy when the government needs to massage the collective good to get us into a war. We all know whose self-interests are being protected by this government, right? Not yours. Not mine.
And we shouldn’t look to the nutty religious right to help us redevelop our collective conscience either. Last Thursday the president-elect of the Christian Coalition declined the job, saying the organization wouldn't let him expand its agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, said he had hoped to focus on issues such as poverty and the environment. "These are issues that Jesus would want us to care about," said Hunter, a senior pastor at Northland Church in Longwood, Fla. Apparently there is no room for Jesus in the Christian Coalition’s platform at present.
With all the immense flaws that the Catholic Church has exhibited over the last few years, it has two strong things going for it; a rich tradition of caring for the poor and the current Pope.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Drop the Chalupa

Oh Lord, its getting on a week since I last posted here. Since the election my heart hasn’t been in it, I’m afraid. The holidays are upon us and I’m experiencing my annual holiday induced depression brought on by the incessant crush of people in lower Manhattan buying every conceivable thing in sight and looking like crazed crack addicts as they rifle through the bins at Century 21. The end of the diving season and the dark weather aren’t helping much either. Some days I feel like throwing in the towel, getting a job on Wall Street and buying a Play Station 2. It would be so easy to slip under the waves in the sea of pre-Christmas advertising and become absorbed by the briny depths of American consumerism. New car, caviar, four star daydream…..ah, screw it.

Well it’s good to know that there are some constants in our ever changing world. One constant is the fact that Taco Bell is a reliable vector for e-coli. The 50 or so individuals currently shitting out their intestines in New Jersey and Long Island probably never thought too much about where the ground “beef” was coming from in their Nachos Bel Grande. As someone who has recently recovered from a debilitating food-borne illness, and having done some recent research on the safety of the United States food supply I can attest to the fact that cavalierly grazing around town at the likes of Burger Thing, Pizza Slut and Taco Hell is a recipe for disaster. Get it? Recipe for disaster?

It turns out that the current e-coli outbreak isn’t the first for the venerable Taco Bell. In fact, a previous outbreak a few years ago caused the chain to begin shipping all of their ground beef to the stores fully cooked. Looks like someone was sleeping at the ground-beef-cooking-machine.

So, what's in all that ground beef found in the country’s tacos and hamburgers anyway? As we learned from fast food nation, the ground beef used in the fast food world comes from the meat of worn-out dairy cows (generally the least healthy cattle stock), who spend their days packed in feedlots full of pools of manure. Each burger/taco contains parts of dozens or even hundreds of cows, increasing the likelihood that a sick one will spread its pathogens widely.

Until 1997, those cows, by nature designed to be herbivorous, were fed "livestock waste" including the rendered remains of dead sheep and cattle, along with the remains of millions of dead cats and dogs purchased every year from animal shelters. Fortunately the law was changed: Now they're fed only the remains of horses, pigs and poultry.

Taco Bell said it worked with health officials to have the affected restaurants inspected and reopened. In an unfortunately worded public statement, Taco Bell’s spokesperson Tim Jerzyk reassured a jittery public by commenting that , "The E. coli strain appears to have passed through our system," Passed through our system? I suppose he wouldn’t think it so funny if he was the one of the unfortunate customers who experienced the sudden onset of abdominal pain and severe cramps, followed within 24 hours by bloody diarrhea after enjoying a poisonous Crunchwrap Supreme.

Oh well, I’m sure that Taco Bell is ready to return to serving the wonderful meals Taco Bell consumers have come to know and love, which feature only trace amounts of animal feces. Hasta la vista.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Speak Softly but Carry a Big Stick

I’ve been reading a lot about Theodore Roosevelt lately. I’m usually not one to glorify American Presidents or the system they support, but Roosevelt is an interesting character. He was a patrician and an imperialist and was somewhat obsessed with war-making, but he also had the capacity to surprise with his progressive ideas about the environment and the dangers of big business run amok. He also appointed Oliver Wendell Holmes to the Supreme Court and was the first US President to entertain an African American at the White House. Some quotes follow.
On the office of the presidency:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."
"Theodore Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star", 149
May 7, 1918
On the environment:

Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the 'the game belongs to the people.' So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The 'greatest good for the greatest number' applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method."
A Book-Lover's Holidays in the Open, 1916.

On the American voter:

“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user."
An Autobiography, 1913

There are no men like Roosevelt around today in the body politic. All our current politicians are interested in is self-enrichment and power. Democrats, Republicans, all mediocre men with little interest beyond lining their own pockets.