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08/21/2003 Archived Entry: "Giant Talking Cartoon Penis"

From the "I couldn't make this up if I tried" department....California is combating its recent syphilis epidemic in typical fashion: consulting with focus groups, and then launching an Ad Campaign. San Francisco's Dept. of Public Health's Ad campaign is based around a cartoon spokes-icon: The "Healthy Penis,' a giant talking cartoon penis. Not surprisingly, S.F. has declared their "Healthy Penis" program to be an, er, *ernormous* success. Los Angeles County, however, finds a Giant Talking Cartoon Penis to be "Too Racy," and "In poor taste." (L.A., of all places!) Moreover, the plan is not politically correct: It "Unfairly stigmatizes Gay Men," and "Objectifies Gay Men as Penises." Also, L.A., being "more conservative" than San Francisco, was "afraid to take chances" with the nearly $400,000 budgeted for the Ad Campaign. L.A. has therefore instead introduced "Phil the Syphilis Sore," a bumpy red creature with silver shoes and an earring, as their cartoon spokes-icon ---and will distribute 40,000 squeezable three-inch Phil toys, and two life-sized (!) "Phil the Sore" suits, which will be worn by mascots making appearances throughout Los Angeles County.

In yesterday's blog, I speculated about the death of Mazen Dana the award-winning Reuters journalist who was shot and killed at close range by American troops in Iraq. I said "I don't know what to think," tho' I suspect/suspected the tragedy was caused by young, inexperienced, exhausted, heat-racked soldiers who panicked or otherwise lost control. I expressed doubt as to whether a *real* inquiry would be forthcoming, especially since it would be conducted by the US military. (BTW, for those who think I am bashing Americans, I am no more critical of them than I would be of any nationality -- indeed, less so. I have family in the US military. But if you put kids over there in wretched conditions, panic incidents are going to happen...more on "wretched conditions" in a minute.) This morning, a reader -- Scott -- emailed me to opine that he did not believe a real inquiry would be forthcoming from the media either. Scott commented, "This Chicago Trib story on Tuesday's McCormick conference on military-media relations during the Iraq war provides an interesting counterpoint to the Dana killing. It has been obvious to some of us for quite some time that media has for all intents and purposes become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the US government. This pretty much makes that assessment official." The Chicago Trib reports of the meeting, "All parties were in agreement on one point: The Pentagon's decision to 'embed' reporters with combat units represents, for better or for worse, a sea change in combat reporting." A hallmark of embedded reporting is the conspicuous absence of news stories that embarrass the administration...which returns us to the "wretched conditions" of US troops in Iraq. In an article entitled "Lies, damned lies, and news," Rob Schultheis comments on an "inconvenient" fact, "Hundreds of stories are flooding out of Iraq about catastrophic supply shortages among the troops there. A subsidiary of Cheney's Halliburton was contracted to take care of food, water and shelter for the Army, but when the war started and insurance rates in the war zone soared they simply backed out of the job. The result: troops are still on MREs, or field rations (the troops call them Meals Rejected by Ethiopians) after four months in-country, and bottled water is so scarce in many places troops have to observe water rationing. Heatstroke has felled dozens of troops, and one soldier died of it last week. Soldiers are living in unsanitary, unsafe and uncomfortable tent shantytowns. You'd think all this would be a cause celebre in the press, but no, you barely hear about it in the papers or on TV." But...no. Remember that Haliburton is a Bush administration sweetheart, with none other than Dick Cheney as a former executive of the mega-corp. Instead of hitting every major news station and print vehicle, the Haliburton debacle is reported by Col. David Hackworth's web site. Now the Bush administration is "reaching out" to the last holdout of dissent and investigatory journalism...websites, especially bloggers. "Hey Kids!" the White House might as well be saying, "Now *you too* can have a direct link to the corridors of power by having the inside scoop posted instantly on your site via a live news feed from GeorgeWBush.com! Don't be the only site without one!" Gee...will we all be given decoder rings for the secret stuff? The instant feeds from Team Bush are supposed to be about the Presidential re-election campaign but, as that cause is intimately connected to the war in Iraq, I doubt that a meaningful separation will occur.

Meanwhile, on the home front, {{link http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,60129,00.html Patriot Act II}} -- or, at least, many of its most objectionable provisions -- is making a reappearance under a different name: the Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act of 2003, or Victory Act. The Victory Act also seems to be an attempt to merge the war on terrorism and the war on drugs into a single campaign. Provisions would: * Raise the threshold for rejecting illegal wiretaps. The draft reads: "A court may not grant a motion to suppress the contents of a wire or oral communication, or evidence derived therefrom, unless the court finds that the violation of this chapter involved bad faith by law enforcement"; *Extend subpoena powers by giving giving law enforcement the authority to issue non-judicial subpoenas which require a person suspected of involvement in money laundering to turn over financial records and appear in a prosecutor's office to answer questions; Extend the power of the attorney general to issue so-called administrative "sneak-and-peek" subpoenas to drug cases. These subpoenas allow law enforcement to gather evidence from wire communication, financial records or other sources before the subject of the search is notified; and, Allow law enforcement to seek a court order to require the "provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service" or a financial institution to delay notifying a customer that their records had been subpoenaed. The bill would treat drug possession as a 'terrorist offense' and drug dealers as 'narco-terrorist kingpins.'

It is so odd to watch totalitarianism grip the United States in a gradual, unmistakeable and largely unopposed manner. I am reposting part of an earlier blog because it still expresses precisely my reaction to the ongoing mad descent into tyranny. In commenting on the book "Defying Hitler" by Sebastian Haffner, I wrote,

*Haffner is well known for his post-WWII analyses of Hitler -- e.g. "From Bismarck to Hitler" and "The Meaning of Hitler" -- but "Defying Hitler" is a memoir written shortly after he emigrated to England with his Jewish wife in 1938, the incomplete manuscript of which was discovered posthumously in 1999 by Haffner's son. The book interests me because it deals directly with the question of what a good person does when he sees a nation, renowned for its civilization and culture, plunge into totalitarianism. Why did 66 million citizens of one of the world's most advanced societies submit to Hitler's rule? So many Germans said of Naziism, "it couldn't happen here, not here in Germany," just as I hear many Americans saying, "totalitarianism couldn't happen in America with its traditions of individual freedom." Haffner was/is a unique commentator on the slipping of Germany into the worst of Naziism. He was an historian with a fine eye, an Aryan who was imminently threatened by Hitler's policies, an anti-Nazi with disdain for those who didn't support Hitler yet did nothing to oppose his rise, not yet a celebrity and so representative of the mass of Germans in the '30s. Haffner speaks as an eloquent witness to the erosion of individual rights, the increasing polarization of society into persecuted groups, and the other repressive tactics used by ruthless power-hungry politicians, including those in the United States.

To quote from the Salon review, "The question that always springs from accounts of Hitler's Germany is 'Why didn't the Germans resist?" Some of the reasons have long been obvious. There is a natural human instinct for survival, however odious the forms it takes or the lengths it may go to. And there is also the understandable refusal to believe that the worst will come to pass. Again and again in Defying Hitler Haffner's acquaintances talk of the Nazis as clowns who, because they cannot help revealing their true natures, are destined to fall out of power. Haffner's endorsement of the idea that even dictators are powerless without the consent (or at least the passivity) of the masses means that Defying Hitler has no time for quibbling about how much the Germans knew and when; he was there shortly before World War II broke out, after all. Haffner takes it for granted that Germans knew about the brutality of Nazi rule -- brutality that, logically, would only increase as the state consolidated its power -- and that they lacked the will to resist it."

Haffner speaks of the "automatic continuation of ordinary life that hindered any lively, forceful reaction against the horror" of Hitler. I think this is true of many Americans who see the erosion of freedom on a daily basis. But -- because they wake in their own homes, eat the same cereal for breakfast, work the same job, drive down accustomed streets -- they have a sense that everything is as it has always been. The fact that the legal structure under which they function is dramatically different, the political protections that ensured their freedom are going, going, gone is no where near as real to them as their daily routines are. Another review observes, "The process [of statism] was so slow that one could almost understand how one day Germans walked the street as members of a shaky democracy and the next were prisoners and yet supporters of a violent dictatorship. Between those two days, the Germany he grew up in both figuratively and literally disappeared. People and institutions were either taken over by the Nazis, such as Haffner's beloved Kammergericht - the municipal court he was clerking at - or destroyed outright."

Tomorrow I will seek out humor items to relieve the grimness...I promise.

Best to all,

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