Sunday, December 31, 2006

They're selling postcards of the hanging

Cell phone video is providing us with many things the media find too repulsive or dangerous to put on public view, so it is not surprising that the Execution of Saddam in all it's horror can be seen on the web.

The actual drop, the grotesquely broken neck and the swinging body, heart no doubt still fluttering, are accompanied by stills of the purpling corpse in a blood stained shroud, but what is perhaps more disturbing is the audio - at least to those who speak Arabic. According to Bob Murphy, Senior Vice President of ABC News, the official recording did not have the hostile taunts revealed on the "pirate" video. "It's clearly a hostile environment."

Will the Passion of Saddam going to his ignominious death while being taunted by his enemies play well in Sunni Iraq and elsewhere? Will The shroud of Baghdad become a sacred object? Stranger things have happened and I expect that the civil war or "sectarian violence" if you prefer will not be lessened in intensity by the killing of Saddam, nor will it change attidudes toward the US for the better.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The voice in the whirlwind

I understand there are tornadoes in the vicinity of Crawford Texas as I write this. Our Warpresident/decider has taken refuge in an armored vehicle, something I've been told is the dumbest place to ride out a twister which could easily pick up an SUV and toss it into the next county. One would think that a real Texas farmer or at least someone who has read the Wizard of OZ would have a storm celler, but Bush is neither and after all, who could have suspected a tornado would hit Texas much less a hurricane hitting New Orleans.

Of course being as religious as I am, I believe that tornadoes and hurricanes and most natural displays of awesome power are the will of God and if God isn't yet telling Bush his days are numbered, perhaps he is at least clearing his throat.

Why now? Becuase as I read in the Daily Kos, Bush's brown shirts have intimidated the scientific community into lying about the age of the Grand Canyon. That Noah's flood, for which there is not a shred of evidence anywhere in the world carved this trench through a mile of granite and hard shale in a matter of a week or so some 6000 years ago is now the official story. Never mind the vast amount of precise data which points elsewhere and never mind that history itself shows a continuity of civilization through the alleged period, we have to surrender our minds to the idiot prince in Crawford.

As I said, God is clearing his throat and although I can only guess what he will have to say to the psycho in Chief, it may have something to do with bearing false witness by testifying against God who may or may not have written the books other idiot princes turned into the Bible, but sure did write the rocks.

So listen up, George and pay attention to the voice in the whirlwind all you book worshipping literalist vermin. Your days are numbered and the number is small and your time is short.

The best of the worst - 2006

2006 was an outrageous year. All it usually took for me to find something to write about was a look at the headlines or a quick look at what Fox was spewing and there were plenty of outrages in word and deed to choose from. I wouldn’t dare to try to list the best of the worst, even if I did have the huge chunk of time it would take, but AlterNet was audacious enough to post their 11 most outrageous Right Wing comments of 2006 . Apparently they would have stopped at 10 but for Ann Coulter – still Michael Savage’s savage claim that Wolf Blitzer “would have pushed Jewish children into the oven” is pretty bad, but not as funny as fat old Rush Limbaugh’s attempt to blame obesity on the Liberals while telling us you have to slaughter the cow to get butter.

My favorite in the Honorable Mention class has to be MSNBC’s Glenn Beck calling for the nuclear annihilation of not only Iran, but everyone else that disagrees with Mr. Beck. But of course that’s only my opinion. Nearly everything the media blowhards and the other representatives of the Bush administration (if I’m not being redundant) gave us was outrageous enough to qualify. There is no way to list them all or to comment on them all even if I had the stomach for it. I’m left with a vision of Kurtz in his jungle hell mumbling incoherently about the horror.

A month of holidays

Perhaps one of the many reasons Christianists have for making a fuss about anyone conveying their wishes that someone’s holidays be happy, is that it reminds people that the Christians who celebrate Christmas are not the only show in town.

It may remind some that having the Wal-Mart greeter say “Merry Christmas” has little to do with “Putting Christ back in Christmas.” It might remind others that it isn’t only a few million Jews with their candlesticks who would like to feel American in their own right; the millions of Muslims of America have their season as well. The Hajj begins today and Sunday marks Eid Al-Adha.

It may be worthy of note that the Postal Service offers an Eid stamp, along with Kwanzaa and Hanukah and Christmas and I’m almost surprised that the Christmas turkeys haven’t been gobbling about that one.

The fact that a religion so fashionable to vilify celebrates essentially the same story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son that appears in the Hebrew Scriptures might come as a surprise to the Sunday school educated residents of the Bible belt who seem to have some sense of ownership over the books, if not the theology of other religions and I’m sure it would offend them if in saying “Happy Holidays” we were wishing a happy holiday to a Muslim. So when they start grumbling about the offense to their freedom of speech and their religion, remember that they’re trying to invade your freedom of speech and diminish your freedom of religion. I have no problem with wishing a merry Christmas to anyone who celebrates it, or happy Eid or Hanukah or Kwanzaa when the situations is fitting – otherwise it’s Happy Holidays Y’all and I really mean it.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

What's in a name?

While we can't be sure that Barak Obama will run for President in 2008, the Swift Boat crew is already standing by to cast off. David Wallis wrote an amusing article about middle names of candidates for Slate yesterday. From FDR's classy Delano to Harry S Truman whose middle name actually was S, the cadence and sound of a candidates name can have an effect on the way we perceive them that translates into votes. I'm sure that Barak Obama takes these things seriously, since his middle name is Hussein - after his Kenyan father and grandfather.

You can hear Republican strategist Ed Rogers carefully stressing that appellation on Hardball with an audible sneer "Count me down as somebody who underestimates Barack Hussein Obama." One can almost hear the bilge blowers whirring and the big diesels turning over.

"You can't solve Iraq with a campaign about people's middle names," said Obama's communications director, Robert Gibbs to Maureen Dowd and he's right, but you can give the nitwits and the Xenophobes and bigots and pathological Republicans something to cackle about and you can't solve Iraq if you lose elections.

Debbie Schlussel
, the right wing nutjob, says Obama

"… is a man who Muslims think is a Muslim, who feels some sort of psychological need to prove himself to his absent Muslim father, and who is now moving in the direction of his father's heritage, a man we want as president when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be?"

One of my predictions for the coming year is that we will hear a lot more bigoted, racial insanity in 2007.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Hide the guns maw - here comes Nancy.

Perhaps it’s the sort of conversation one might expect in a gun store, but still it makes me shake my head in wonderment. “Nancy Pelosi is going to make a treaty allowing UN troops to take away our guns” said an otherwise apparently sane person. “When that happens” said the proprietor; “When that happens I’m going to burn my records and close the shop.”

I imagine Ms. Pelosi would be surprised to know the extent of her powers and I suspect that an international treaty allowing foreign powers to perform law enforcement in the US isn’t going to go very far regardless of who is president or speaker of the house and particularly when such enforcement would abrogate the Constitution, not to speak of sovereignty, but I suspect that the fantasy has more than one adherent none the less.

It’s not new, of course. Back when “Billary” was going to take our guns I listened in awe to a radio broadcast claiming that the UN was building a secret headquarters (with the cooperation of the Clintons) under Philadelphia from which their assault on America would be staged. Our involvement in the Balkans was, of course, designed to facilitate turning over command of our armed forces to the United Nations.

Anyway, it was hardly a surprise to me that the NRA sent me (no, I’m not a member) a slate of approved candidates last October that included Katharine Harris. Apparently, the threat of those “Liberals” taking away our guns is sufficient to justify voting for a proven incompetent and possibly felonious liar who thinks it’s sinful to vote for non-evangelicals and morally justifiable to interfere with the election process to install God’s other candidates. The NRA has often been called a purveyor of paranoid hyperbole. I think that’s overly gentle.

What I object to the very most however is that as a supporter of the Constitution as the true core and foundation of our government, I am sometimes lumped in with these people. As a Liberal, I prefer as Ben Franklin did, to accept risk rather than tolerate an excess of authority, whether in the name of “tradition” or security. When the Constitution says “shall not be infringed” or “shall not be violated” as concerns its protected rights, I take it seriously and I do not see the absolute eradication of crime or danger as an achievable goal much less a goal to be pursued at the expense of liberty.

Contrary to the bumper sticker popular in the 1990’s, it wasn’t God Guns and Guts that made America great, it was the constitution and when we have interpreted it so as to apply its protection and promise to all of us, we have prospered. We have prospered as freedom has prospered and we have been diminished as we have attempted to ignore it. It's that basis of our freedom and if you want to take it away, you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers.

Your papers please. . .

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

-Constitution of the United States of America-

Like many of you, I had a bit of a drive on Christmas day – 120 miles round trip and nearly all of it on the Interstate.  Of course this being Florida, it can be hard to tell the drunks from the incompetent and the insane, but I’m sure that the fellow in the Honda who did a complete stop in the “Sun Pass” automatic toll lane was just a garden variety idiot, or else he wouldn’t have dedicated the next 20 minutes to trying to prove his Honda was much faster and more agile than my Corvette. I’m sure he convinced himself without much effort.

I’m not sure about he several mega-SUV’s that slowly lumbered to the end of a half mile merge lane and then attempted to merge at 20 mph into a lane traveling at 85.  It’s easier to assess the little sedans loaded with passengers traveling at 45 in the center or left lanes – if they are 85 or older with chins resting on the wheel, it’s just incompetence. If they’re much younger, you can bet they’re as smashed as the young men in the full-sized pick-ups rolling at 95+ down the left lane in the pouring rain.

One way or another it was a circus out there and it thoroughly ruined the mellowness of the evening.  It could have been a field day for the police had there been any in sight.  It seems that my county and the adjacent counties had decided to set up road blocks on the secondary roads instead.  Judging from the comments in the local paper this morning, you would think this was a very popular idea and the one fellow who happened to question the random searches was promptly drowned out by a flood or hyper-emotional tirades from MADD members and others who hate due process and the rule of law.  If one cuts through the dubious stories of friends and family slaughtered by drunks, one consistent theme remains:  if it saves one life it’s worth it. That’s a statement worthy of being posted, if not above the gates of hell, at least at tyranny’s door. To reduce it to the absurd, a total curfew would save many, many lives and a police state is a safe state.

More than the inconvenience of sitting at a roadblock while policemen justify their presence by writing tickets for broken tail lights and peering and sniffing into your car with flashlights and trained dogs and making intimidating comments, it’s the fact that one more increment of what was a guaranteed freedom has been lost in the name of security.  Ah, but driving is a privilege, say the mothers of MADD and so might it not be just a small step to say that renting an apartment is a privilege or being a citizen is a privilege which necessitates searches without probable cause. In fact our government seems to operating on that presumption.

Somehow it makes more sense to Americans to insist that our troops being blown up in Iraq are “defending our freedoms” then to notice that our freedoms are being taken away in the name of safety or that the obverse side of the security coin is servitude. The granting of unwritten Writs of Assistance that allow police to detain, search and inspect citizens without probable cause may seem a small step toward safety, but it’s a giant step toward a police state.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The fright before Christmas

The Christmas bombing of 1972: James Carroll wrote about it for the Boston Globe back in 2002. People my age don’t need to read about it. We remember being called traitors for our disgust with a massive anti-civilian act of unbridled terrorism.

“American pilots flew nearly 4,000 sorties, including more than 700 by high-flying B-52s. Those ''area bombers,'' incapable of precision, had never been used against cities before. That they were used now was a sure sign that this was terror bombing pure and simple. . . . Everyone could see that the bombing was a final venting of frustration and rage by a superpower faced with ignominious defeat.”

Carroll’s point though, is not to point out the massive brutality this country can dish out without questioning its morality or that patriotism can be used to glorify murder most foul, but that years of war and flag waving and supporting the troops and making Americans with a conscience the scapegoat for our relentless defeat, the moral sensibilities of our leaders had declined to the level of panic and animal viciousness. Anything to win – anything at all.

“Those who ordered and carried out the brutal attacks against population centers at the end of the Vietnam War would never have done so at the beginning. What Nixon commanded in 1972 he would have condemned in 1969. . . The war transformed America's moral sensibility; the war deadened it”

As Christmas approaches once again and as the Pentagon apparently plans to move additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region to join the carrier Eisenhower in striking range of Iran, is it silly to make comparisons? Bush insists that Iran prove that it has no nuclear weapons program, just as he demanded of Saddam. Bush would love to make that bit of idiocy seem rational and honest. Is he planning to attack Iran to prove in his twisted way that it was reasonable to attack Iraq? Has providing some kind of victory – any kind of victory become a plan to save face and provide some sort of ghastly “legacy?”

It’s not the sort of thing to bring visions of sugar plums to my slumbering brain in the nights before Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The holiday that ate Chanukah

You’d probably never have heard about Hannukah if it didn’t occur in December. Like Simchat Torah or Tu B'Shevat or Sukkot or Purim, it wouldn’t appear in the news and you wouldn’t find symbols or tokens of these holidays in airports and shopping mall atriums. It’s a celebration not nearly as important or seen as nearly so holy as the “high holidays” like Yom Kippur that sometimes get a passing mention.

As you may know, the holiday commemorates the victory of the sectarian insurgents over the occupying forces of the Greek empire who were determined to bring Greek moral values, religion and government to the backward Jews. The victory by the Macabees or Hasmoneans installed a king and reconsecrated the temple. The day of victory was called Chanu Kaf-Hay (they rested on the 25th) hence the name that was to mark a period of thanksgiving and create such an amusing spectacle every time some CNN talking head attempted to pronounce it. Yes, there was supposed to be some miracle concerning olive oil, but the need for the priesthood to claim some involvement in a purely military victory produced that one, I’m sure.

Of course that dynasty came to an end, the Romans became the next occupiers and persecutors and the longing for another hero to come and install another Jewish king arose (and preferably one related to the house of David and Solomon rather than one of those half baked Hasmoneans.) The Messiah myth produced several failed attempts led by such people as David Bar Kochba and Joshua of Nazareth. All were disasters.

So until recently, celebrating Hanukah (however you prefer to spell it) was a bit like celebrating that one-run lead in the first inning long after the game was over and you lost – but then came the elevation of Christmas to an American commercial holiday.

20th Century Christmases are so powerfully seductive, with their long English and Nordic and Greco-Persian traditions to give romance to cruising the malls; with colored lights and catchy jingles, illuminated polystyrene images of flying arctic ungulates held over from the late Pleistocene and visions of iPods and Play Stations in children’s heads. Christmas has the entire might of the American economy behind it. It became torture to a Jewish kid whose parents chose to ignore Santa’s juggernaut, leaving them with some cheap plastic top, some foil wrapped chocolate coins, a box of cheesy looking candles and some mumbled prayers in a language few of us speak. It worried parents afraid of their children losing what they considered to be a Jewish identity. Ecce Haunukah, reborn and reshaped to look like Christmas without a tree.

Nothing says “Me Too” like a tin foil covered candelabra in Macy’s window or the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Nothing says Me Too like giving piles of presents on Chanukah and nothing takes away any remaining significance to a second tier celebration like dressing it up like the neo-pagan Santafest. Nothing says surrender more than Me Too.

So to the idiots who see this travesty as a challenge to the ultimate victory of Christianist supremacy, I would suggest that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Santa vincit omnia.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I’m still waiting for a couple of things I heard many times as a child – well one actually. The first was that the sun always shines on Easter, which of course is true, given enough altitude. Just ask the guys on the International Space Station. The other is that there are miracles on Christmas. Of course it’s a cynical quest. A miracle has to be something that can’t happen but does happen and to my way of thinking, if it happens, it can’t be a miracle. Most people though, are satisfied with much less in their miracles; a water stain on a wall, a burn pattern on a grilled cheese sandwich, someone who was sick got better despite some doctor’s prognosis. As Christmas approaches, we search for these justifications for our idiocy.

I don’t know if someone somewhere doesn’t have a vast database of disasters plotted against the calendar but I would be willing to bet, that the odds are about the same on Christmas as any day of the year for floods, landslides, earthquakes, fires, famines and pestilences. It may be a holiday for most Americans but not for Death. Taking a quick break from supervising my holiday house guests today, I see that the news is still full of grief and horror and sadness and misery and death as has the world been down all the thousands of generations, but I’m sure that someone will ferret out a miracle from the endless stories of the ferret eating the baby’s toes or the infant run through the airport X-ray machine. People will be blown to bits today, people will starve and die in agony in gutters. Life with its concomitant horrors will go on as it always has and without interruption.

Still, we will have our miracles to clutch at in this cold and uncaring universe;to give a sense of meaning to lives that mean anything only to us as we sink into the inevitable grief and sorrow and suffering and an eternity of oblivion, as the universe stretches out into an infinite and meaningless immensity.

Happy Holidays

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Running through the jungle

Mel Gibson sees himself as a victim; thinks he’s been unfairly treated after his boozy transgression against public safety, his coy flirtations with holocaust denial, his demented tirade against the Jews and his resisting arrest. In a telephone interview, Gibson said:

"But how many people do you know get a DUI and are kicked around for six months? It's out of proportion. I'm not saying I wasn't at fault. Hey, we're not perfect, we're all human, get over it. I've apologized, done the right thing, now get the hell over it. I'm a work in progress."

He’s definitely a piece of work of some kind, that’s true, but since many people have gone to prison for what he got away with, the notion that, as he said to USA Today, he should get a target tattooed on his chest, is just another smug and arrogant bit of the persecution obsessed Mel Gibson.

“they're calling it blood porn. To make it personal against me, that's a low blow."

And it’s just as low to take specific criticism of his movies as evidence that he’s a victim and unfairly so. But was Apocalypto “the right thing?” As with his depiction of early first century Jerusalem, it depends on whom you ask. Believers don’t question, historians and linguists disagree, movie critics don’t always get the point. Mayanist Elin Danien at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology writes in the Philadelphia Daily News

“Gibson has taken bits and pieces from various groups and time periods and mixed them together with a large dollop of his own feverish imaginings into a Chinese menu of ‘one from column A and one from column B,’ with no attempt at accuracy.”

While the non-Mayan actors may be mouthing a modern Mayan dialect by rote, as Romans in The Passion of the Christ mouthed medieval Church Latin instead of Greek, they are not Mayans but rather native Americans from the American Midwest and the more important the role, the more the casting reflects Gibson’s biases. Gibson’s Jesus, for instance, could have easily passed for a Northern European, while the nasty unbelieving Jews were as stereotypically semitic as one would see in a medieval passion painting. In Apocalypto, says Danien

“we see fewer than a half-dozen people who are recognizably Maya in appearance.”

Of course that’s a bit typical of old Hollywood casting and location selection (the film was shot in Vera Cruz, not in the Yucatan,) but Gibson can only sneer and tell us that historical accuracy is more appropriate for the History Channel. What he sells is populist pandering, full of blood, torture and victimhood and it’s tempting to speculate that this fits with the personality and the dark fantasies of a man who feels the Jews who control the world and start all the wars are out to persecute him.

If you want two gory hours of torture and human sacrifice, go see Apocalypto, says Danien.

“If you'd like to learn something about the real lives of the Maya and other peoples of Mesoamerica before the Europeans arrived on these shores, visit the Mesoamerican galleries at the Penn Museum.”

And you won’t be enriching an alcoholic bigot by doing it either.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Call me obsolete

The new American – what is he like? According to the US Census Bureau’s 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States to be published today, the 21st Century edition of Homo Sapiens Americanus is taller, fatter and much more likely to be seen sipping like an infant from a bottle: ten times more likely than he was in 1980 according to the New York Times.

The American of today seems more likely to choose prayer than a Chiropractor than he was 25 years ago and more likely to get news and information from the Internet than in previous years; no surprise there or in that we seem to be spending more quality time alone being entertained and informed without human contact.

As a college Freshman in the 1960’s, my objective was to become a cultured man. My choices, a cause of concern to the administration, were a farrago of subjects from Japanese esoteric Buddhism to thermionic devices to structural geology to music theory to Medieval German Literature to aerodynamics to English Romantic poetry. Had I heard the voice ask “quo vadis?” I could not have answered, nor could I today I fear.

Those very few who admitted to being business majors in my day had few friends and little respect. In 1970, a whopping 79% of freshmen gave their educational goal as “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” Last year, 75% asserted that their objective was to get rich.

Still, the ratio of men to women obtaining professional degrees 35 years ago was about 15 to 1 versus today’s nearly 50:50. The number of woman doctors has doubled. It’s hard for a curmudgeon to see anything but progress in that, but still I wonder about how many of these newly degreed young men and women could tell you the differences between Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu or describe a beam power tetrode or quote Roswitha von Gandersheim.

And I alone have escaped to tell thee.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lawyers, guns and money

The Republicans must be having a hard time finding something to scream and yell about, since they’ve spectacularly screwed up most every mission they have embarked on and ignored every promise they've made in the last decade or so.

Who would have thought however, that the “save our children” circus so closely associated with Mark Foley would be seen as something with life left in it by a Republican so prominent as John McCain? The Arizona Senator has introduced the most hysterical bit of ill-considered, questionably Constitutional and sloppily written garbage recently to pose as legislation. According to a C-Net News.Com article,

“concern about protecting children online has reached nearly a fever pitch in Washington”
even though, according to the article, studies by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children show the online sexual solicitation of minors has dropped in the past five years.

Of course you have a hard time proving that to those who see sin and deviltry everywhere and perhaps these crusaders do see a lot of it because it seems so many of them are involved in it, but primarily, the War on Pornography that has been a major part of the Republican platform in every campaign for decades during which Islamic terrorism was ignored, seems to be the leaky life ring they are grasping at in their panic. Even though the definition of child pornography has become so broad that taking fully clothed pictures of children with their parents’ consent can land you in jail, McCain still stoops to the side-show level to grasp at any vote he can find.

The repercussions of this legislation, should it somehow pass (and who is going to vote against anything that promises to save the kids from pederasts?) will be staggering for those who post in blogs or publish blogs with discussion sections. Put your profile, or profiles of your fellow bloggers on your Blogger page? Better do a background check because if someone there or in your discussion area was branded a sex offender when he was four years old, you’re going to need lawyers, guns and money before the matter is settled.

In fact, the various ramifications and repercussions of this hysterical witch hunt are too vast and amorphous to treat with here, but let me sum up with the opinion that if we do not take every available action to rid our nation of the Republican insurgency, we may one day be looking at Afghanistan with longing.

Pots and Kettles

The problem with the freedom of the press is of course, that anyone can say almost anything and so a country addicted to reading only that which affirms their paranoia, hate, bigotry and stupidity will always have plenty to read.

We have been whipped into a near frenzy in recent years with lurid stories and slippery statistics about child abuse and child molesters. We’ve branded 4 year olds as sex offenders and we’ve forced many real sex offenders so far from society that they must live homeless in the woods. So when Mark Foley, the Republican Congressman from Florida’s 16th district was exposed as someone who was interested in teenagers one could have expected that his career would collapse, but as I say, we have a free press and a free press owned by special interests, some of whom are not interested in having the blame shared by those who looked the other way at Foley’s little affairs or simply managed to forget that they knew.

Judicial Watch, for instance; the folks who crucified Bill Clinton for an act between consenting adults, is still trying to shift the blame to the Democrats. They knew about Foley the would-be pederast, you see, so don’t think too hard about whether Hastert was told by several people, knew and did nothing. Think instead about those who had the least ability to do anything about it. The ethical thing, according to their logic, for the Democrats to do would have been to let Foley be re-elected and then tell Hastert again so he could do nothing again.

Of course they don’t display their situational ethics quite so plainly, but their argument deconstructs that way. It’s the timing, you see. The timing makes the guilty innocent and the timing shouts down the whistle blower. The timing makes it wrong to tell the truth and ethical to ignore it.

Never mind whether Hastert plainly knew.

“Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, had prior knowledge of Foley’s unethical and horrendous behavior yet denied knowing anything”
says Judicial Watch as though the sins of the guilty could be washed away by the blood of Emanuel. No Republican is guilty because one Democrat also knew – and then again, there’s the timing. Republicans
“took no action out of fear that it would create a scandal for the party.”
That excuses them and that makes the Democrats guilty.

One wonders why they make the effort to present such a specious argument. Wouldn’t it be simpler and more honest for this mouthpiece of the malignant Right to admit that it’s not about right and wrong, but about what side you’re on?

Of course the House Ethics Committee whitewash uses much the same argument, as Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post points out today. Of course it was timed to be finished before the new congress convenes, wasn’t it?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hugs, drugs or thugs - no one is free

I have to admit that I’ve never been fond of the hugging culture that’s grown up in America over the last few decades. Having to endure insipid slogans like “Hugs are better than drugs” is bad enough, but watching grown men approach me with hugging on their minds puts me in a defensive mode. Having grown up with role models like Hemingway and Bogart and many decades before Sesame Street put the last fatal arrow into the culture of adulthood, I find the experience of being targeted for a grope by anyone who isn’t an attractive female less than pleasant to contemplate.

The idea that people all need to go around hugging each other and that this will make for a better society, is the kind of patronizing Romper Room mentality that seems to find much support among grade school teachers and people from California which is more than enough for me to oppose it, but there are other reasons.

Some people can’t tell the difference between a hugging and a mugging and a little bit of physical contact can buy one a world of trouble, even if one is four years old. Consider the plight of young Master Blackwell, suspended from school and with a comment about sexual contact or sexual harassment in his “permanent” file to make sure that an incident he won’t remember will none the less haunt him for years to come. He hugged his teacher as society taught him to do and according to her, his face touched somewhere she didn’t think was appropriate. Welcome to America.

This seems now to be a country where an accusation is enough. Whether you’re four or forty; whether you’re sent to Guantanamo or the Principal's office, your life depends on someone’s whim. So if you want your children to prosper in America, perhaps you’ll do well to lighten up on the hug thing, teach them that everyone should be avoided as a potential enemy and if you have an Arabic or Farsi surname, change it to Jones.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Surrender to whom?

Long after the majority has turned heavily against the war, the men who started it and the President who has bungled it, the Ridiculous Right still persists in behaving as though this failing occupation of a country at war with itself is akin to World War II, where if we lose, we will be invaded, where winning or losing are clear possibilities, where we are fighting a declared war against a declared enemy.

Long after a majority of the nation is disgusted with George Bush, they are able to pretend that the Dixie Chicks are traitors for voicing what a majority of Americans feel, they are able to call anyone a traitor for putting up a Christmas display that expresses dislike of Bush or seems to call for peace in the season of peace. Fake Newspapers owned by anti-American immigrants are able to talk about “surrender” and print childish pictures of the Iraq Study Group chairmen, calling them “Surrender Monkeys” We still get idiotic insults hurled at the French as though they betrayed us by telling us not to do that which we dearly wish we had not done and for being right about Saddam’s nuclear non-program.

Perhaps the problem is with people who only think in metaphors and confuse the metaphorical with the actual. Perhaps we have a hundred million or so paranoid schizophrenics lurking in towns and cities all over the country, but perhaps the problem is simply with traitorous war mongering bastards whom the world would be far better off without. Either way, judging from the Viet Nam experience they will continue to support Bush’s occupation of Iraq or anything else that they can be cheerleaders for as though it were a defense of America and American Freedom, or what remains of it. The only surrender possible; the only surrender to fear is surrender to them.

Almost a hero

In the last year or so I’ve become a fan of TV shows like Discovery Channel’s Survivorman, Man Vs. Wild and I shouldn’t be Alive. I was once a Boy Scout and I have always loved camping and canoeing and the technology that goes with it, both modern and primitive. Part of the enjoyment of the outdoors is planning for all kinds of adverse contingencies; dealing with them and avoiding them.

Survivorman’s Les Stroud has deliberately put himself in situations like that which befell James Kim and his family; stuck in a remote area in frigid, snowy weather with almost no supplies, adequate clothing or survival equipment. It’s fun to watch him make mucklucks out of car upholstery, snares, traps, fire drills and shelters out of scrounged and salvaged items. It’s fun to watch him eat things you’d have to be very hungry to eat, navigate by arcane means and of course when he walks out of the wilderness we feel like we would have done the same things. We would have survived too.

Maybe not. Kim was no dummy. He did manage to keep his wife and two children alive for 9 days, burning tires to keep warm, and when he finally tried to walk out to get help, he was tough enough to make 8 miles wearing nothing but tennis shoes and street clothes. The press is calling him a hero – and he almost was, but his efforts came to nothing. His family was saved by people who were searching for them and he was found dead only a half mile from his car.

One has to wonder why a man so closely associated with technology drove through such country without a GPS navigation system, without some means of communication other than a Cell phone, without the kind of survival kit that I’ve always carried in less dangerous situations. Without rubber boots, for heaven’s sake!

You don’t have to have the survival skills of Les Stroud or Bear Grylls if you don’t get into situations that require them. A recent episode of I Shouldn’t be Alive featured a family in a nearly identical situation – they had tried a shortcut through the winter mountains and took a wrong turn. They were luckier, although both husband and wife lost their toes; their child had no ill effects.

Here in Florida where I’m involved in teaching boating safety. I’m constantly reading accounts of people, many of them young, setting out in boats never to return; carrying no flares, no radio, no charts, no method of determining position and wearing no life jackets. Often they’ve told no one where they are going. Perfect candidates for another episode on the Discovery Channel.

So who are the real heroes? The folks who have a pleasant journey with their families because they know when to go, where to go and what to take – or those who shouldn’t be alive and often are not?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Tom Swift and his radio death ray.

Wired News brings us an article about a new microwave weapon that causes extreme pain in those unfortunates at whom the 94 GHz beam is aimed. What the electromagnetic energy does to the people it's aimed at, is to cause heating just below the surface of the skin and hence a good deal of pain. The Air Force calls it the Active Denial System which sounds more like the White House’s public relations strategy, but the weapon is designed to disperse large groups of people in a hurry. Using beams of radio frequency energy as a weapon was postulated as early as the 1920’s but the technology to do so practically is a bit more recent.

Contrary to the garbled explanation Wired gives for the effect, it’s the super high frequency of the W band microwaves that prevent the energy from penetrating deep into body tissues as would happen with emissions in the 23 Cm / 1240 MHz L band that will boil your eyeballs or the 2400 MHz S band used in microwave ovens that will heat the water in the food you cook or in your body, should you chance to walk in front of a strong enough beam. One of the problems in microwave propagation in these frequencies is that the energy is too readily absorbed by the atmosphere, or water in the atmosphere. The 94 GHz radiation used in the weapon however, while it penetrates the atmosphere far better than frequencies on either side of it, does not seem to penetrate body tissues. It is an order of magnitude higher in frequency, but is a long, long, long way from infra-red much less the X-rays mentioned in the article.

There is some controversy over the possible dangers and unexpected consequences of this kind of weapon. I have seen no discussion of problems caused by reflection of the energy away from the intended path where it could affect bystanders – or be reflected back at the weapon itself. Apparently it has only been tested on groups of volunteer military personnel, which probably do not include the very young or the very old or infirm, but I’m sure it has its uses. Non-lethal weapons do have their place.

I have to wonder however, if maintaining an unpopular occupation or a colonial presence is one of those uses. One commenter mentioned that if the British had had this in the late 1940’s India might still be a colony – or perhaps would have had to resort to more than non-violent resistance to achieve independence. South Africa might still have Apartheid and the US might still have segregation. There are situations where a weapon like this could produce more violence.

We live in a country where Posse Comitatus has been done away with and I have to wonder if a power mad President could be tempted to use such a weapon against huge demonstrations and protests – after all, it’s non-lethal – as casually as and far more effectively than they have used tear gas and night sticks and water cannons to deprive us of yet another guaranteed right.

Sleep well

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The man without a country

Back in the 1990’s, there were blueprints of the two nuclear devices used against the Empire of Japan available on the internet. I believe they had been released under the Freedom of Information act and many were sold as curiosities. I was curious. I bought one. At about the same time I purchased from an autograph dealer, an autobiography of Rudolf Peierls, a physicist and mathematician who had worked on the Manhattan Project along with a letter from the author that included a rough sketch of the Uranium based bomb. It was, as we used to say so often, a free country. I already knew much more than was contained in these drawings from general reading and a couple of physics courses. I don't have the tools, knowledge or materials to build a nuclear device by a long shot or by any means, but nearly anyone could build what the government likes to call a "dirty bomb" with or without instructions.

Back in 2002, one Jose Padilla, an American citizen who seems to have assumed an Arabic name and who associated with the wrong sort of people was arrested while in possession of a crude drawing showing a can containing explosives inside of a larger can. If the Defense Department was telling the truth, what he had sounds like the kind of things I used to doodle as a grade school boy obsessed with rockets and other things that made big bangs. Jose has been held in solitary confinement ever since and if former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was telling the truth, will be held forever.

"Our interest is not in trying him and punishing him," Rumsfeld said to CNN. "Our interest is in finding out what he knows."

They’ve been trying ever since and will probably continue to try for as long as the Son of Stalin sits in the oval office. The Smoking Gun gives us pictures today of Padilla in chains, blindfolded with earmuffs and surrounded by armed men in face masks and riot gear as if the man were a wild bear and not a US citizen illegally deprived of his guaranteed rights by George W. Bush. According to his lawyer, Padilla for the last 4 years has been subjected to various forms of torture, including

"isolation; sleep and sensory depravation; hoodings; stress positions; exposure to noxious fumes; exposure to temperature extremes; threats of imminent execution; assaults; the forced administration of mind-altering substances; denial of religious practices; manipulation of diet; and other forms of mistreatment."

As far as I can tell, although Jose might not be a nice guy and may have associated with guys who were really bad, he actually committed no crime other than having a drawing. An accusation is all it takes. Of course whether they find out he knows anything or that he knows nothing, there's no one to judge and no way for us to judge. He's a man without a country and a man without basic human rights and a man without any protection from the law, despite all the hogwash, claptrap and bullshit we've all listened to about freedom, about standing for freedom, fighting for freedom or bombing civilians for freedom. Why? because Bush is the law. None of us are any more free than George W. Bush says we are and we don't get to defend ourselves, confront our accusers, petition for redress or even see the charges against us if George thinks there's something he would like to know.

Freedom isn't free, you see and its price seems to be slavery. Now where have we read this before? Maybe I should start shredding my autograph collection, and maybe some old physics books. . .

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Black list

Ever check your credit score? Chances are that if you have, you’ve found things you never knew about yourself - because they simply aren’t true. I found out not long ago after contacting the major credit reporting agencies, that I have several aliases which include a Chinese name; that I also owned several of my neighbors’ houses, that my long deceased in-laws live with me and that I recently and unbeknownst to me, lived in Evanston Illinois.

Every time some 6 thumbed, quasi-literate and hard of hearing telemarketer misspelled my name or mistyped my address or zip code, it seems to have been recorded and perpetuated. Some of these errors are quite comical, but if this misinformation were accessible to those who might want (God forbid) to hire me, allow me credit, permit me to vote, acquire a concealed weapons permit or to get on an airplane, the comedic aspect would lose its appeal rapidly. If someone with a name close enough to one of my accidental aliases were to be convicted of a felony, I might as many Floridians have, face a long road toward restoring my voting rights. I might find myself as many have, on a no-fly list, or passed over for a grant or permit with no explanation and no appeal.

Of course we do have limited access to this otherwise public credit information, but if the secret database that the Bush Administration is keeping in their computers hidden in some unmarked building in Northern Virginia is only twice as accurate as TransUnion or Experian, many of us could be in trouble and there seems to be no way to know, much less to do anything about it. Oversight? Surely you jest. That would be a total victory for the Terrorists and would demoralize the troops.

According to an AP report, millions of Americans have been evaluated without their knowledgeover the last four years in order to assess the risks that they are terrorists or criminals. The Homeland Security Department's computerized Automated Targeting System has been assessing travelers since 2002 and the results of this data mining are to be kept secret for 40 years. You can’t see it, but some or all of the data in the system can be shared with state, local and foreign governments for use in hiring, contracting and licensing decisions. The stories of small children being on no-fly lists and people with the same middle name as Saddam Hussein’s brother being denied the right to travel appear regularly. Many more ramifications of this secret list may be waiting to emerge.

Fortunately George Bush’s Stalinesque one party system has begun to fall apart and Incoming Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont says that

"Data banks like this are overdue for oversight. That is going to change in the new Congress."
If so, it won’t be a minute too soon.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for word from Mount Olympus as to why, in the absence of any debt whatsoever, I’m carrying too much debt for my income. I’m sure the explanation will have something to do with the ghosts of my in-laws and my phantom residence in Illinois – or maybe it’s my invisible Chinese alter-ego.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dennis Prager hates America

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

-Article VI, United States Constitution-

What bothers me most about the effort to make the United States into a Christian State where non-believers or believers in other religious traditions have no place, is that there is so little protest. Forgetting that early Christians were persecuted as atheists, atheists are said by many self-styled Christians to be unfit to be full citizens much less to hold political office. Republicans from George H. W. Bush to Katherine Harris have asserted this notion.

I read in Crooks and Liars that Fox News’ latest attempt to make the Christian bible an official US Government document includes the crucifixion of Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) who, as is his guaranteed right, wishes to use the Koran instead of a Christian document. Take Sean Hannity, for instance. If Ellison gets to use the Koran , he asks, then what’s to prevent some other representative elect from using “Mein Kampf. My answer would be nothing – and thank God (and the Constitution) for that.

Of course the unexplained equation of a Hitler Book with the Koran is an obvious inflammatory ploy, but the insinuation that there should be government rules regarding which books are acceptable, is obviously in opposition to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Fox seems to hope that you’ll be afraid enough of those “Liberals” electing a Muslim ( read potential traitor) to give up your right to vote for whomever you please, whether he reads the Koran, the Gita or Bible Stories for Children.

This wouldn’t be the first or most egregious attempt of Fox to overthrow the rule of law in the US, nor would it be the clumsiest or most thinly disguised, but of course the real problem with Fox’s attack on America is not the rickety, fear mongering fallacies, but the inherent assertion that the government can, should and must legitimize one religion and render another illegitimate.

“If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress,”

said Foxhound Dennis Prager and thereby advocating the denial of both equal protection and freedom of religion to an American citizen in good standing. Now where is the riot? Where are the marches and demonstrations? Where are the legions of mocking and bloviating radio personalities and swiftboat crewmen? Why are Hannity and Prager and all the other dogs of Fox not in Quantanamo?

Dennis Prager hates America. Fox News and its billionaire media tycoon owner hates America and is spending billions to try to overthrow the rule of law and replace it with mob rule and Fundamentalist Theocracy. Where is the protest?

If you are unable to accept the legitimacy of the US constitution, says Captain Fogg, and must resort to creating fear in this country in order to promote your attack on the Constitution and the Republic for which it stands, then you and Fox News and Rupert Murdoch (for whom it stands) are terrorist insurgents. Perhaps you’d like to reconsider your stance on torture, habeas corpus and special renditions?