Tuesday night, the citizens of the United States had the opportunity to see their Vice Presidential candidates debate in a casual setting. It was a penultimate example of reality television.
It was a voyeuristic parody of PBS debate moderator, Gwen Ifill, having a dinner party from hell. It seemed to me that she simply invited the wrong people to sit around the dinner table and have a conversation about any topic. Poor Gwen. It was like watching talk show host Oprah Winfrey interview motivational speaker Tony Robbins and Smeagol (Gollum) from the Lord of the Rings movie. John Edwards was trying his hardest to instruct Dick Cheney how to make a positive change in his life; if not for himself, for the good of the country.
At the same time via the wonders of split-screen television, Dick Cheney was clearly troubled. Recently permitted to venture out from his habitation in the infamous secure and undisclosed location for the re-election campaign season, I believe Cheney was uncomfortable with Gwen Ifill's staged lifestyle intervention with John Edwards. Practically glowing with his concrete bunker pallor, Cheney simply slumped over the dinner table and constantly rubbed his hands together. Watching Dick Cheney while Edwards spoke, I was on the edge of my seat in expectation that the television camera might catch him muttering, "Precious ... my precious ... it's mine."
Sadly, unlike reality television, I wasn't granted my voyeuristic fantasy of a spontaneous moment in reality. As near as I can tell from reading the post-VP Smack Down accounts from both camps of punditry, one thing becomes clear -- reality and truth have no place settings at the dinner table of campaign politics or debates.
These important debates do offer one thing. Since truth, in many cases, is absent from the debates, you can get a feel for a candidate's character and style, however. You can also imagine how each political party's team would react during a real world crisis. Imagine. Terrorists are running rampant in Gotham. The call goes out. Which Dynamic Duo do you want to show up to save the day for truth, justice and the American way?
So what are the candidates' character and style? John Kerry is experienced and seems to think about everything that comes out of his mouth. Edwards is less experienced, but would be a loyal and dutiful sidekick. Dick Cheney is experienced, sober and serious. George Bush is clearly the less experienced and nervously passionate one. He is obviously Cheney's Boy Wonder. These presidential debates highlight a nagging problem that has haunted the George Bush administration and the GOP since 2000. Who is really in charge?
The Bush Cheney 2004 campaign has made a terrible mistake. They have hitched their candidates' wagon with the theme of the importance of choosing a president that can best protect us all from growing security threats that face the nation. They think they'll win the election if they stay 'on message' and 'stay the course'. Isn't it the definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome? Iraq isn't an asset. It's a cartoon anvil screaming down through the sky.
I don't know about you, but if the need arises and the call goes out, I don't want the Boy Wonder showing up. I want the real Batman to be in charge. Come November, Cheney can retire and return to his bat cave. Perhaps Halliburton will buy him a tanning bed.
Giorgio Armani, Ferdinand Porsche, and Frank Lloyd Wright are famous designers of the things we may use in our everyday modern life. However, what you might not know, for example, is that Ferdinand Porsche's biggest design impact on society was the Volkswagon Beetle. The Design Files will highlight interesting design and designers.
Elbert L. Rutan, aka Burt Rutan
On June 21, 2004 Mike Melvill became the first civilian to pilot a craft into space. Built by Burt Rutan and financed by Paul Allen, SpaceShipOne made history as the first manned, private spaceship. On September 29th, 2004 Mike Melvill once again flew SpaceShipOne over 100km above the earth's surface, the benchmark of being in space. Just five days later on October 4th, 2004, SpaceShipOne once again went into space flown by pilot Brian Binnie to win the $10 million Ansari X prize.
Imagine for a moment that you lived about 100 years ago. You read in your newspaper that Wilbur and Orville Wright will build one of their Flying Machines for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. It's only been five years since they tested it at Kitty Hawk. You chuckle at their oddness and cock your head as you lay the newspaper down. You bark, "Giddy Up!" to your trusty old nag and think about what kind of parents these two crazy brothers must have had, as your carriage growns into movement. Just then, you're stirred from your private thoughts as one of those new-fangled Model T Fords loudly rattles past you from behind.
It remains to be seen whether Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne design becomes this new century's version of the everyman's vehicle like the Model T Ford, or the Volkswagen Beetle. The easy answer would be to say, "of course not," but it may not be entirely correct. First of all, you'd have to concede that neither of us can even accurately imagine the lifestyle and activities of our society 100 years from today, if the difference from the last 100 years is any indication. Even in the limited arena of aeronautical design, I imagine few people from the time of the Wright Brothers could have predicted their peaceful night skies would become absolutely crowded with any manned flying machines, let alone commercial jet airplanes carrying hundreds of people and continually swarming around almost the entire planet, as is the case today.
I don't want to sound like anyone's personal cheerleader, but Burt Rutan may be this new American century's Henry Ford. SpaceShipOne is simply not the first and only bright idea Rutan has had, nor for that matter the only design of his that has made aeronautical history. On December 23rd, 1987 Rutan's Voyager completed a record-breaking and historic journey. His Voyager aircraft flew around the world, nonstop and unfueled, for just over nine straight days, nearly doubling the previous distance record set in 1962 by a USAF/Boeing B-52H. The Rutan Voyager now hangs in the lobby of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
You can read more about Burt Rutan, his personal history and his aircraft design in an informative essay by Roger Guillemette at the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission website where I started my own browsing today. In addition to being inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, Burt Rutan continues to be involved with design. Visit Rutan Aircraft to see what is available today or visit Scaled Composites to learn more about SpaceShipOne and perhaps see what's in store for our future generations.
Last week's first presidential debate topic was foreign policy. Although it didn't quite devolve into a shouting match where George Bush got flustered and screamed something unintelligible like, "Flip-flopping Swift Boats," as he fell off the front of the stage, (I had my hopes) it was better than I thought it was going to be and it did garner a large, interested television audience and heavy media recycling of the event.
So, what should we expect from this week's scheduled debates? First of all, Friday night's second presidential debate in St. Louis will focus on domestic issues, but since tomorrow night's vice presidential debate format is open, we are likely to get a preview from the VP candidates' "on message" domestic issue talking points in Cleveland first.
For example, even though Dubya is still mumbling about foreign policy to reassure his shaken GOP faithful with some post-debate after-thoughts at scheduled campaign rallies, look for Bush and Cheney to also boast about cutting taxes, again. Bush called Kerry "a tax-and-spend liberal", today. I guess that's somehow different than "a guns AND butter compassionate conservative" that runs up a historic deficit. But, I was never very good at deciphering spun nuances.
Another economic issue likely to debated will be the spinnable and nuanced so-called jobless recovery. I went to the Economic Policy Institute to unspin this term. Created during the Reagan era of trickle-down and voo-doo economics, the EPI is nonetheless a well-respected nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. whose stated mission is "to broaden the public debate about strategies to achieve a prosperous and fair economy."
Since 1988, EPI has biennially published The State of Working America, which "is an exhaustive reference work that will be welcomed by anyone eager for a comprehensive portrait of the economic well-being of the nation."
It's likely that post-debate fact-checking journalists will use this recent publication as their economic Rosetta Stone to decipher politically-motivated claims sure to be made this week.
EPI just released their latest report.
"Labor Day 2004 finds many working families still waiting for the benefits of an economic recovery that has been uniquely unbalanced, characterized by weak job creation and falling real incomes.
After almost three years of recovery, our job market is still too weak to broadly distribute the benefits of the growing economy. Unemployment is essentially unchanged, job growth has stalled, and real wages have started to fall behind inflation. Today’s picture is a stark contrast to the full employment period before the recession, when the tight labor market ensured that the benefits of growth were broadly shared.
Prolonged weakness in the labor market has left the nation with over a million fewer jobs than when the recession began. This is a worse position, in terms of recouping lost jobs, than any business cycle since the 1930s."
There are even more damaging economic facts from a failed domestic and economic policy for Bush and Cheney to spin away than that. Sponsored by EPI, Job Watch recented reported:
The Bush Administration's economic policies continue to fail to generate the jobs that the administration claimed would be created. When President Bush argued for his "Jobs and Growth" tax cut plan last year, his Council of Economic Advisers predicted the creation of millions of jobs. Thus far, the national economy has fallen over two million jobs short of what was projected, with only two states ahead of projections.
For most states in August, the difference between the Bush Administration claim and the actual jobs situation is enormous. Florida, for example, will have to add almost 50,000 jobs per month in the rest of 2004 in order to receive its share of the predicted benefits of the tax cut, but it has only added an average of 14,000 over the last six months. Michigan will have to add 55,000 jobs per month, but it has lost a total of 9,000 jobs in the last six months.
Other failed policy buzzwords you're likely to hear during the debates are outsourcing and offshoring. You can simply follow these links to find out more. There are lots of pretty graphs and charts that depict the ugly, unspinnable truth.
You could travel to sunny St. Louis, Missouri to hear Friday's presidential debate. You could even head to hard-working and gritty Cleveland, Ohio to catch the WWF VP Smack Down. But, it'll be a friggin' cold day in Alaska, if you're looking for a job.
As part of the ongoing Conspiracy Theory in the Imajica section, I indicated in its introduction that apocalyptic visions would also be a topic for discussion. A good start for that discussion should include an overview and some definitions of terminology.
While The Omen series of movies may not fully explain why your neighbor's kid is such an anti-social little bastard who giggles psychotically while chasing squirrels with his father's weed-whacker, it may explain your private fantasy that his school nurse will find a 666 mark of the devil scar on his head during a head lice inspection of the suburban demon spawn.
The end of the world scenario is actually more than an interesting and enduring genre for popular novels and profitable films at the cinema. Research polling indicates that about 40 percent of the people asked not only believe in assorted end-time predictions and prophecies but also apparently feel that they will live to see it during their lifetime when you consider that the Left Behind series has sold 55 million copies. The slogan "Jesus is coming -- look busy!" indicates a deeper belief in the messianic tradition than the humorous bumper sticker may initially portray.
Whether you are an atheist, like Brandon Starr, a born-again christian, like Duke, or your spirituality more commonly falls somewhere in between these two, or even completely outside the spectrum of monotheism -- if you're reading this, you live in a world where apocalyptic visions and messianic traditions are the rule, not the exception. No matter where your own personal spirituality lands, I highly encourage that you give yourself an Eschatology for Dumbies education by reading an amazingly engaging and interesting article in a recent issue of What is Enlightenment? magazine, by Carter Phipps, entitled The Hour Of My Coming - Millenial Myths and Modern Messiahs.
"And it's good to remember that this isn't just an American phenomenon. For that matter, it's not even a Christian phenomenon. Almost every major religion has some version of events that signal the coming of a great messianic figure who will rescue the world from darkness and usher in a new age of light and peace. Hindus speak of the next great avatar, the Kalki Avatar; Muslims foretell the coming of the Imam Mahdi; Christians, the Second Coming of Christ; Jews, the coming of the Messiah; and Buddhists, the future Buddha, Maitreya."
Being a dumb-ass bricklayer from Detroit, as I often describe myself, I discovered that eschatology has nothing to do with a creepy fetish of human feces or the occasional use of designer club drugs. In fact, it is the serious academic study of end-time scenarios with university departments and professors and lecture halls. And I imagine too, some student watching a lamely created Power Point presentation stoned from smoking a fatty before class to take the edge off of his weekend hangover, staring intently at the nervously tapping foot of the cute co-ed wearing black come-fuck-me pumps three rows up, and lewdly wondering whether or not the future eschatology-scholar-to-be has had her first lesbian experience. What was I saying, again?
Right. Eschatology. In his article, Carter Phipps teaches us that a closely related field of study to Eschatology (end-times) is Millennialism. There are also two categories of Millennialism - progressive and castastrophic. Progressive millennialism involves a messiah bringing about a millennial kingdom. Catastrophic millennialism is apocalypticism -- Armageddon, nukes, fire and brimstone, dawn of the dead ... that whole hairball of hell.
Did I highly encourage you to read the Carter Phipps article? Yes, yes I did. How about this, then? Thou shalt not comment on this blog entry until you have read it.
Also, give the article a read if you want to learn about the emerging cults of self-proclaimed Christs in Siberia and China, or the intriguing story of the Maitreya. Again, almost every major religion has some messianic figure, but I was dumbstruck to learn the depth and scope of progressive millennialism in our global group think. I have read how theocracy is creeping into secular governments around the world and how spectacularly dangerous and nefarious that could bode for the future of us all. In my personal opinion, religious fundamentalism, of any stripe or name, is not the way to go for the survival of our species. It's just too xenophobic and inherently destructive. Unfortunately, that's the reality of the world today, so let's explore the other branch of millennialism -- catastrophic millennialism -- that whole hairball of hell on earth.
Specifically, let's play Name Your Anti-Christ. With the huge jump in the numbers of people becoming born-again christians in the atmosphere of fear and confusion soon after 9/11, I'd wager that many people have put their money, or perhaps their eternal souls as it were, on the notion that Osama bin Laden is a good candidate to be an anti-christ figure. On the other hand, if I were some dumb-ass bricklayer from Baghdad, instead of Detroit, whose family just got instantly vaporized by a so-called smart bomb dropped from a radar-invisible B-2 bomber that could easily be described as some black dragon or friggin' montrous bat in some prophecy Ezekiel forgot to write down, I'd likely think the anti-christ was none other than George W. Bush.
Could it be that these two men are just the warm up act for a yet unknown true anti-christ? If you are one of the 40% who seem to believe in Apocalypse Soon, I ask you. Is the true anti-christ still in diapers and pitter-padding around in Tehran, Pyongyang, Moscow, or Gary, Indiana? I'm leaving this up to you. Each candidate for anti-christ likely has a web site devoted to him. On the TAG board, Dennis just pointed out a web page at Muslims for Jesus that advocates Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, fits the Islamic Hadith descriptions of Dajjal (anti-christ). That being the case, let's try to narrow down the list of anti-christ candidates about which we can devote another future installment of Conspiracy Theory in the Imajica.
Oh, and if you are from Gary, Indiana ... I'm sorry, but your city is foul-smelling. If you're not raising a son of Satan in your town, I don't know what the hell is going on there.
I watched the first presidential debate last night. The focus was U.S. foreign policy. When specifically asked by moderator, Jim Lehrer, both candidates felt as though nuclear proliferation was going to be a big concern of the next president. John Kerry added, "and other weapons of mass destruction." I wondered if that quick additional comment wasn't a left hook under George Bush's ribs about no Iraqi WMDs, or just to bait ole Dubya into saying nucular.
Bush then quickly added "weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists" as if to give a pass to the failure of his administration on proliferation despite Libya and hopeful rhetoric about the rest of the middle east. Bush actually had the temerity to take credit for 'busting the A.Q. Khan network', which perked my ears up a notch or three. A.Q. Khan is alive and well and living comfortably in Pakistan, with an official pardon from Bush's paid surrogate, Pakistani president Pervez Musharav. Since we outsourced the War on Terror to the Musharav regime as an independent contractor, or a Bush World subsidiary, to the tune of billions of dollars in debt write-off and additional foreign aid, how can Bush be proud of his record on this? Oh, because Bush says he knows these people.
Really? A funny thing happened the other day when interim Bush-puppet Allawi was paying homage to his benefactors in Washington, D.C. Sitting next to Allawi in those oft photographed big comfy chairs in a room in the White House, Bush actually said:
"The Prime Minister said something very interesting a while ago, and it's important for the American people to understand. Our strategy is to help the Iraqis help themselves. It's important that we train Iraqi troops. There are nearly 100,000 troops trained. The Afghan national army is a part of the army. By the way, it's the nassy -- Afghan national army that went into Najaf and did the work there."
Now I know why Bush invaded Iraq! He confuses Afghanistan with Iraq all the time, and in no friggin' small way. He did it again during the debate last night, saying we went into Iraq because "the enemy attacked us." At that point, the look on John Kerry's face was as if he was a hungry, caged tiger and someone just snuck up behind George Bush and dumped a Gatorade cooler full of A-1 Steak sauce on Dubya. Kerry pointed out that Saddam Hussein didn't attack us on 9/11.
I was sitting there watching this back-and-forth, thinking, "... like, Duh. I have been ranting about that unspinnable fact since the get-go." If the reaction I've received from the Dubya-defenders is any indication, the facts don't matter. Doesn't matter that by invading Iraq, we did Osama bin Laden a huge favor. Simply by listening to my casual sources, it was clear to me that before and at the time of the attacks on U.S. soil, Osama bin Laden had no love for Saddam Hussein because he was too much of a secular muslim and Iraq was too westernized for bin Laden's tastes. No al Qaeda connection - no problem. No WMDs - no problem. It bothers me to hear the latest spin on the roulette wheel of Bush World justifications for invading Iraq. Think about it. Hussein may have been everything that BushCo calls him, and a small order of fries, but he was on the secular side of Islam and the one-eyed Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, was on the other fundamentalist side. That's Mooo-lah Omar, for you abject Republicans.
It bothers me, that is, if you can even get a straight answer out of Bush. Even a lie. Last night, George Bush ducked so many questions and fell back on the intense debate training he must have been taught by that bloated, triple-chinned chicken hawk, Karl Rove. Dubya stayed 'on message', alright. But, he didn't come across as having a brain in his head. Even Fox News GOP regulars were disappointed.
I can only imagine the possible Saturday Night Live skits:
Jim Lehrer: Mr. President, what are your views on the strategy of pre-emptive wars?
George Bush: My opponent sends mixed messages.
Jim Lehrer: Okay, but is pre-emptive war ever justified?
George Bush: My opponent looked at the same intelligence that I looked at ...
Jim Lehrer: Yes, fine, but how do you feel?
George Bush: John Kerry flip flops!
Jim Lehrer: Excuse me?
George Bush: Swift Boats! Flip-flopping Swift boats, I tell ya!!!
I actually found myself laughing out loud at some of Bush's answers because it was funny to me -- except the fact that he'll still be president of the United States until January. For the sake of comedy, an audio recording is way more funny than reading a transcript.
Did you watch the presidential debates? What did you think? It should be obvious, even to the occasional visitor here, that I don't like George Bush. The nicest thing I can think of to say to describe how I feel about Dubya is to say that he's a fucking idiot.
Nonetheless, I haven't been jumping up and down with John Kerry pom-poms around here. Last night was the first time I actually heard John Kerry speak for more than 30-second sound bytes in the news. After watching the whole debate, I have to say that I thought Kerry came across far better than Bush. Kerry impressed me. And, I don't say that because of my visceral dislike for Dubya.
I know and I am aware of my own dislike for Bush. That didn't change last night, but Dubya looked and acted unsure, unsteady and nervous during the debate. Bush had no focus at times, paused for agonizingly long periods waiting for the squirrels to start running and turning the wheels in his mind searching for something to say, and when he did speak, he seemed annoyed and childishly petulant.
It was weird. I found myself staring at George Bush trying to think like you would try to read the expression on the face of a dog or a chimp and make a guess as to what it is thinking or feeling. I think it took Bush about an hour to calm down, relax, and get in his groove. There were a few questions toward the end where Bush sounded coherent enough to string a few words together and at least parrot some 'on message' messages about mixed messages.
But, in the end, last night Bush made me feel better. He said he does know it was Osama bin Laden behind the attacks on 9/11. I'm glad we finally cleared that up.