Thursday, April 29, 2004

Also Against Ending All Life On Earth

We here at Adventures in Poetry want to proudly go on record as being firmly opposed to eating babies. We are also against torturing animals, raping in general, pillaging, maiming, arson, stealing, and breaking other people's things for the fun of it.

We bring this up now because this week a bunch of folks suggested that I write today in support of the Seattle Times' decision last week to run Tami Silicio's photo of flag-draped coffins of deceased U.S. soldiers on their way home from Iraq. Yes I, Dr. Wes Browning, will personally stick my neck out right here on this page, and take a stand in favor of free speech and opposed to totalitarianism.

Let me sum up my position up right now, so that those of you who need no convincing can go back to eating your egg salad sandwich or making out or whatever you were doing before this column interrupted you: Totalitarianism, bad. Government propaganda, bad. Government censorship and lies, bad. Free Speech, good.

As you surely know by now, as it's been in all the papers, Tami Silicio put the Times on the fast track to its next Pulitzer by giving them the opportunity to defy the Pentagon's ban on printing photos of flag-draped coffins of U.S. soldiers.

I'll tell you how clueless I was. I was so clueless it never occurred to me that the Pentagon had a ban on printing such photos. Oh, I figured there was a rule against printing photos in which the identities of the fallen soldiers were indicated, sure. But surely not photos where you couldn't tell who was in the coffins.

But, no. Our government has a rule against it, and commercial military contractors like Maytag Aircraft are understandably afraid to defy the Pentagon that hires them, so they let Silicio and her husband go, and they would have fired her little dog too, if she had one and it was in range.

Now, some kinds of censorship I expect. I'm not saying I'm in favor of any kind of censorship, but I won't get all huffy about it if the Times is denied their First Amendment right to show naked people copulating on their front page. While personally I believe it should be up to the Times to decide whether that would be a good choice, I'm willing to let the opposition have that one.

But this instance of censorship is inexcusable.

Yet, the government is making an excuse, and we are forced to answer it. The excuse is that the photo could offend some people among the families of the dead.

Answer number one: Very few relatives of dead U.S. servicemen have stepped forward to claim offense in this particular case, probably in part due to the fact that YOU CAN'T TELL WHO THE DEAD IN THE PICTURE ARE, FOR PETE'S SAKE. Hello, you can't even tell if the coffins are occupied. Sheesh.

Answer number two: The freedom at the press is at stake here. The first amendment doesn't say its OK for the government to practice censorship if someone might be offended by something.

By the way, it probably would offend George W. Bush's sensitivity were he to read this column (which can't happen 'cause he don't read, he only looks at pictures) if I were to say that he deserves to be impeached for dealing with the Saudi oil producers to influence the next election. Should I therefore be prevented from saying it? No, because the importance of being able to say such things outweighs any offense it may give George W. Bush.

I care much more about the feelings of the families of fallen servicemen than I do about those of Bush, but the principle remains the same. Their feelings, whether appropriate or not, don't trump the national interest. And in this case the national interest does not lie with the Pentagon. It lies with freedom of the press and the freedom of speech.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Next Time It'll Be A Magic 8-Ball

As you may have already noticed, we here at Real Change can't let an April Fools Day go by without writing some April Fools Day appropriate nonsense. Our sad frail egos are slightly stoked every year when we hear rumors of some of you being taken in even though our Managing Spoilsport always prints warnings to protect the truth.

But the real news outdid us all this year. Our little fib about the guy arrested for pushing a refrigerator down a street pales in comparison to, say, the story from Fort Meyers, Florida, about the plane searched because a psychic intuited that a bomb was on board.

As a spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration in these times, we can't ignore anything." That's right, we can't ignore anything that might warn us of terrorism. Psychics, entrails, evil stars, voices in our heads, they all can be put to service defending our great nation from stupid terrorists. We need warnings! Everybody call and warn the government about bombs anywhere you think they might be. Somebody call the White House and tell them Rumsfeld has a bomb up his ass.

Then we heard about British novelist Ian McEwan's difficulties getting in to this country. McEwan wanted to fly in from Vancouver, BC, and made the mistake of telling our border guys that he would be giving paid speeches in our country. They actually told him that amounted to coming to the U.S. to earn money to "practice his lifestyle." I have no idea what they thought his lifestyle was, apart from novelist.

Speaking of April Fools, McEwan fooled a lot of people a few years ago with a phony psychiatric case report in an appendix to one of his novels. It was so convincing some psychiatrists quoted it and some critics dismissed the novel as merely an elaboration on a real case. Way to go, Ian!

So, anyway, it used to be that British novelists on speaking tours were given visa waivers at our borders, but Homeland Security officials now say, we have got to be vigilant so that we "don't have another 9-11." You never know when a British novelist might crash himself into a skyscraper on his way to giving a talk at Benaroya Hall.

Our favorite part of this story is the part where, in one of three interrogations he endured, McEwan was asked whether he wrote fiction novels or non-fiction novels. Everybody has read this as evidence that our immigration officials have the combined IQ of a seedless grape, but I like to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the questioner was thinking, if he answers "non-fiction" that'll prove he's a fake for sure, it will.

Finally McEwan was let into this country. The reason given to allow him in was (this is really true) "this is attracting a lot of unfavorable publicity."

So here's the deal. If you are a suspected British novelist slash potential -terrorist slash lifestyle-offender trying to get into the US, and our border guys want to keep you out, just call all the newspapers on the west coast and make a big stink about it. Our guys will whine about what a threat you are, but they'll let you in because otherwise they'd look bad, even though they are sure you will whack us all with your books!mI've saved the biggest April Fool of the year for last. Every major newspaper in the country was fooled by the story from Fallujah about the four "civilian contractors" who were killed and whose bodies were mutilated and dragged through the streets. Pretty brutal stuff to be doing to innocent "civilian contractors".

But just three days later a squad of "commandos" from a private security company were reported repulsing a raid on US Headquarters in Najaf. The "commandos" were working for the same company as the four in Fallujah.

So what were they, "commandos" or "civilian contractors"? Answer: both! They were mercenaries! They were fully armed mercenaries in military style uniforms playing soldier of fortune in what is, let's face it, a war zone.

Look out: the April Fools bar has been set very high for next year.

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Bored Silly

Looking on page two of this rag you can learn a lot of things. Like for instance that Real Change is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, that we don't consider publishing libel, that we have hotshot friends, and that in addition to being on the "Editorial Committee" I am also a Board Member. Or as we like to say, a bored member. Ha.

What does being a Board Member mean, you ask? It means a two hour meeting every month that almost always runs two and a half and feels like eight. It means sheepishly agreeing to man the phone banks periodically and then begging Anitra "talkmama" Freeman to go in my place. It means licking stamps. It means always having to be reminded which way is "in the red" and which way is "in the black." Port, starboard, port, starboard, how should I know?

It also means obeying the law. It turns out that Board Members have to not only NOT break laws themselves, but they have to keep the organization that they board legal too. What a pain! This is why, during Editorial Committee meetings I am always a dorky loser saying, "we can't say that."

Back before we got the 501(c)3 status we could endorse candidates. Those were good times. They would have been better if we really were high like people said, but we had fun anyway. Remember when I endorsed myself for mayor? If only there were a loophole in the law that lets us have that kind of fun again…

Maybe there is! I've been doing a lot of thinking about this, and I have been comparing the situation vis-à-vis various other federal rules. Let's consider the Prohibition of Assassination.

When it was learned that the CIA had planned to assassinate Castro, Jerry Ford issued an executive order that said, "No employee of the United States shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination." This order made no freaking sense whatsoever, since murder was already illegal, but Ford wasn't interested in making sense, he just wanted Castro to play nice in return.

But now George W. wants to say that Clinton screwed up by not ordering the assassination of Osama bin Laden when he had the chance, even though Bush himself didn't get around to modifying the Prohibition of Assassination to exempt Osama until Oct. 21, 2001.

What's interesting here are the grounds given for the exemption. One: we're at war. This justifies, apparently, not only murdering political leaders, but also murdering innocent people (AKA collateral damage) and imprisoning people (AKA enemy combatants) without trials, indefinitely.

Another reason that has been put forward is that Osama bin Laden is said not to be a political leader in the sense that Ford had in mind. They are actually saying that it is OK to engage in political assassination if the political figure in question doesn't rule over territory! The assassination by Israel of three-quarters blind quadriplegic Sheikh "not a real Sheikh" Ahmed "the Bomb-ed" Yassin has been offered up as an illustration of this new principle. He was leader of Hamas. Hamas wanted to control Palestine, but didn't. Ergo Hamas is not a government. Ergo the murder of Yassin, a political leader, is not political assassination. It is something else.

So there's the key. Maybe I can beat this 501(c)3 prohibition against endorsing political candidates by being very careful to only endorse people who aren't technically political candidates at all.

At first I was toying with the idea of endorsing a dead person. I've always had an appreciation of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas. How about a Thomas/Debs ticket? (I'd put Thomas first to draw the youth vote. He's been dead less long. )

But now I'm thinking that any non-candidate will do, even if they're alive. And I was thinking, it's about time we had a female president.

For that reason, and because I feel like it, I hereby endorse Anitra "I'm Alive!" Freeman for president of the US. I have just informed her of my endorsement and she says she would like Alice Walker to be her running mate. So there you have it: Freeman/Walker. They're something else.