horns of a dilemma

Amazon’s Nonprofit Innovation Award is down to the ten finalists, and now you can vote with your dollars. The idea is good (encouraging innovation in nonprofits), the list of finalists looks sound… and one of the judges is Henry Fucking Kissinger.
Oy, Bezos, what were you thinking?
For me, there’s always this “yeah, but..” thing going on with Amazon. On the one hand, they’re (in my experience) a pretty good company to deal with: better than adequate customer service, good range of products, even a pretty sweet deal on shipping if you shop there regularly. Their wishlist application is usable, if not perfect, and they are convenient. On the other hand, they’re getting to be an 800-lb gorilla in bookselling terms, and I worry about the squashing of local bookstores, and then there are things like the 1-Click Patent Fiasco and Henry Fucking Kissinger. (On yet a third hand, even the famously intractable Stallman has apparently granted Amazon provisional forgiveness for the patent absurdity.)
So I dunno. I guess I’ll just keep on with my present policy, which is to continue shopping at Amazon but also remember to share the love a bit (Powell’s is right here in Portland… envy me, bibliophiles elsewhere!) when it comes to books.
(hat-tips for the Kissinger NSA link: Randy via Jeanne )

end the occupation

One way or another, the US must leave Iraq. I don’t know whether we should pull out unilaterally asap, or carry out a strategic withdrawal over some months; in the former case I don’t know how we could ask, say, UN troops to fill the security gap that would undoubtedly be formed, and in the latter case I worry that it will turn into nothing but another cover for US imperialism. I cannot think my way through this; I haven’t the experience and I probably haven’t the smarts.
Fortunately for the world, that isn’t my job. Unfortunately for the world, it is GW Bush’s job. To date, he hasn’t even bothered trying.
I’ve already signed Barbara Boxer’s petition for a plan; today I got email asking me to ask others to sign. That’s what this post is for: if you haven’t, please go right now and sign it. Here’s the text:

After two and a half years of war, the American people are still waiting to hear the truth about what our mission is in Iraq and how we are going to accomplish it. Frankly, it is difficult to keep track of all the missions we’ve had so far, because the story changes every few weeks. First there was the weapons of mass destruction mission, then regime change, then rebuilding, then bringing democracy, and now it’s fighting terrorism.
It’s time to develop a strategy that can succeed in Iraq, defuse the terrorist insurgency, and bring our brave men and women home. That will only happen if you immediately bring credibility, accountability, and responsibility to a war that has been lacking in all three.
***Credibility: It’s time for you to stop using sound bytes like “Mission Accomplished” and be truthful with the American people.
***Accountability: We need to hear from your Administration exactly how many Iraqi forces are needed; how to meet that goal; and by when.
***Responsibility: We must honor our soldiers not just on the 4th of July, but every day — by giving them the equipment they need while they are deployed and the health care they deserve when they come home.
I urge you to tell the truth to the American people, articulate a clear timeline of our plans for Iraq, and take responsibility for our men and women in uniform.

Boxer plans to hand that to Smirk when he gets back from his spot of R’n’R down on the ranch. Reasonable people can disagree in good faith over how to handle the withdrawal, but it’s undeniable that the US cannot simply stay in Iraq forever and it’s unconscionable that the US government has provided no plan whatsoever for handing the Iraqis back what’s left of their country. Think about it: who in their right mind goes to war, sets up an occupation of the conquered nation, and doesn’t give a second thought to what to do next? My fear is that this US government, composed as it is of sociopaths, war criminals, ordinary criminals, cowards, thieves and liars of every stripe and dimension, does in fact have a plan but cannot admit to it publicly. They must be forced to commit to a public plan composed of specific actions on a specific schedule, not a half-assed handful of neocon talking points.
Please sign the petition.

speak up!

From my email to your screen, three worthwhile petitions to sign/letters to send:
From NARAL, Urge the FDA to improve access to the morning-after pill:

Will the Bush administration – FINALLY – put aside its anti-choice agenda in order to improve women’s access to birth control?
We’ll know by September 1, when Bush’s FDA is scheduled to decide whether to allow the morning-after pill to be sold without a prescription.
Making the morning-after pill available for over-the-counter access isn’t just good health policy for women, it’s common sense. The morning-after pill, also called emergency contraception or EC, prevents pregnancy AFTER sex – and it is most effective the sooner it’s taken. It’s also extremely safe, and it won’t harm an existing pregnancy. The FDA’s own scientific and medical advisory panels overwhelmingly support improving access to it.
So what’s the hold up? Could it be vocal anti-choice members of Congress who urged Bush and the FDA to reject the application? Could it be President Bush, whose own spokesperson wouldn’t even “dignify” a simple question asking Bush’s position on birth control with an answer?
Help us tell the FDA that Americans don’t appreciate anti-choice politics getting in the way of sound science and women’s access to birth control.

(They’re a bit shrill, eh? Why ever could that be?)
From the ACLU, Tell Congress the Patriot Act Needs Reform:

The flawed provisions of the Patriot Act threaten our basic constitutional freedoms by giving the government the power to access our medical records, our tax records, and information about the books we buy or borrow, all without probable cause or any facts connecting us to foreign terrorists. The Patriot Act also gives the government the power to obtain a special “sneak and peek” search warrant to break into our homes and conduct secret searches without telling us for weeks, months or indefinitely, and without any connection to terrorism at all. The Patriot Act needs to be reformed, not expanded or made permanent.
Hundreds of communities — and seven states — have passed resolutions against the worst excesses of the Patriot Act. Our message is clear: It is time for Congress to listen to its constituents and bring the Patriot Act in line with the Constitution.

and Demand An Independent Counsel for Torture Abuses and Release of Relevant Documents:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (ptui!) is now the nation’s top law enforcement officer and as such is responsible for investigating how our government’s torture policies took such a misguided path. The American people deserve to know the truth about what torture tactics have been employed in the past and what tactics will be used in the future. Because Gonzales was involved in the development of the policies, Gonzales needs to commit to ensuring a full and fair investigation by agreeing to appoint an outside special counsel for torture and abuse investigations and prosecutions of civilians.
It is important that Gonzales agree to appoint an outside special counsel because an array of already-released documents clearly show that top government officials considered and eventually ordered the removal of protections against many abusive detention and interrogation practices. Despite loudly repeated demands by Congress and the American people, the Bush Administration has successfully blocked the release of documents related to policy changes that paved the way for the horrors of Abu Ghraib and other American-operated detention facilities.

These petitions and letters do matter. They are a useful way for lobbying groups to demonstrate the nature and strength of public opinion, one of the few things besides money to which politicians will respond. The higher the volume, the greater the impact, so every single signature/letter counts, and taking part gives you the chance to amplify your voice and have it reach much further than it could alone. So I’m going to keep posting these links, and I’ve changed the name of the category from the begrudging “better than nothing” to “have your say”.

genocide IS news

From a recent addition to my blogroll, Thoughts from Kansas (“Progressive politics, neat biology, and whackings of wackos”, what could be better?), comes Be A Witness:

Genocide is the ultimate crime against humanity. And a government-backed genocide is unfolding in the Darfur region of the Sudan. As the horror in Darfur continues, our major television news networks are largely missing in action.
During June 2005, CNN, FOXNews, NBC/MSNBC, ABC, and CBS ran 50 times as many stories about Michael Jackson and 12 times as many stories about Tom Cruise as they did about the genocide in Darfur.
Whether it is coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s, or recent coverage of the tsunami, television news can help stop grave injustices and end human suffering. Increased television coverage of the genocide in Darfur has the power to spur the action required to stop a devastating crime against humanity.

There follows a web form with which you can send a letter to the major networks; a form letter is filled in but you can edit it. The site also includes a good brief background on the issue and plenty of links to more information and more actions you can take.
Here’s my letter:

According to beawitness.org, whose web form I am using to send you this letter, during June 2005 CNN, FOXNews, NBC/MSNBC, ABC, and CBS ran 50 times as many stories about Michael Jackson and 12 times as many stories about Tom Cruise as they did about the genocide in Darfur. The data are available for perusal on the beawitness.org homepage.
You are not asking yourself “what genocide?”, are you? You know what I’m talking about. The minimal coverage we have seen has reached as far as media professionals like you, who have decided NOT TO GIVE THE ISSUE ANY FURTHER COVERAGE.
Why? Why have you done this?
You don’t need me to tell you the power that broadcast media have to influence public opinion and political action, any more than you need me to tell you what’s happening in Darfur. And of all broadcast media, television is unquestionably the most powerful.
Why are you hiding from the responsibility that accompanies such power?
Are you truly more concerned to exercise that power in the pursuit of profit than in defense of innocent lives? Do you honestly believe you have no greater responsibility than to pander to the lowest common denominator?
What the fuck is wrong with you?

Astute readers will note some hypocrisy here: this is the first time I’ve mentioned Darfur. I can say “I can’t write about everything” and “I’m not a major media outlet”, but the fact remains that I do try to use this site to cover important events in human need and in politics, and I feel bad that I haven’t talked about Darfur by now. By way of easing my conscience, I’ll come back in a later post to the other actions that Be A Witness lists.

punch your mama in the face

For many people, even for some of you reading this, the title of this entry is a bit too close to home. Violence is a daily reality for millions of mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, colleagues — 700 women a day. Seven hundred a day. I’m seriously gonna toss my cookies if I think about that much longer.
Fortunately, I can do something about it. I already pointed to an ACLU letter writing campaign aimed at getting the Violence Against Women Act renewed and reinvigorated; now I want to ask you to consider sending a few dollars to 700women.org for the same purpose. In addition to donating, you can join (at time of writing) 60,000 other decent human beings in signing the petition to Congress.
This is a critical piece of legislation, and a crucial issue. Cough up, dammit — just a few dollars. That’s the whole point of grassroots; a dollar from everyone who can afford it (and if you’re reading this, you almost certainly can afford it) will add up to enough.

God hates shrimp1

Fred Phelps is scum, and being barking mad is no excuse. The asshole who picketed Matthew Shepard’s funeral now exults in the deaths of US service personnel in Iraq, claiming that it is God’s revenge on the US for an attack on Phelps’ church and for, I dunno, having not yet rounded up and shot all the icky gays:

Thank God for IEDs killing American soldiers in strange lands every day.
WBC rejoices every time the Lord God in His vengeance kills or maims an American soldier with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). “The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked” (Ps. 58:10).
This nation bombed and raided the Westboro Baptist Church, and now the Holy God that Inhabits Eternity is repaying those heinous acts with His retaliatory wrath; “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
To most effectively cause America to know her abominations 2 (Ez. 16:2), WBC will picket the funerals of these Godless, fag army American soldiers when their pieces return home. WBC will also picket their landing spot, in Dover, Delaware early and often.

These miserable excuses for human beings picketed the funerals of Sgts Bryan Opskar and Christopher Taylor, and plan to picket (inter, no doubt, alia) the funeral of Sgt Jason T Palmerton.
There is an up side, though, the brainchild of one Keith Orr, proprietor of the Aut Bar in Ann Arbor, MI. Phelps picketed the bar in February 2001 as part of a protest against the University of Michigan

Blogathon 2005: near to my heart

No theme or special project here, but Robert is blogging for The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust — of which I am a life member. Sponsor Robert here.
Hmmm. *goes looking*
Bugger. I’ve been to Jersey, specifically to visit the DWCT, but all my photos are on a Mac disc that our PCs can’t read. Oh well.
Also, I’ve just noticed that Robert takes requests and is getting veeeeerrryyy sleeeeepppyyy, so if you’re reading this please take a moment to leave him a comment.

Blogathon 2005: a memoir in books

RandomBird is writing a memoir in books — her life, as glimpsed through the books she was reading at the time. For instance, her love affair with modernism started (with Hemingway… I really should give him another try) at the same time she got her FIRST REAL BOYFRIEND. (I’d venture to guess the former outlasted the latter.) If you’re any kind of a language/lit geek, it’s good reading.

…on the topic of Little Women: As an eight-year-old I was most struck by a scene early on in the book where the March girls piled crap on their backs and walked around the house symbolically (or perhaps almost literally) “carrying their burdens.” It was at this point that I first discovered the remarkable power of the way that words were attached to physical action. Prior to this, words were just words. Previously, books had simply created vivid stories in my mind that I would be left thinking about for days after I was finished. Little Women showed me that words were the cornerstones of the way in which we wrap our minds around the world, the only way in which we can wrap our minds around the world.

Just for something completely different, she’s also watching the entire first season of 24. RandomBird is blogging for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and you can sponsor her here.