Monday, May 31, 2010

It's Memorial Day

Rather than bemoan the useless waste of life that has been offered up on the altar of Mars by this country and which today all the politicians and patriots are out there with hands on heavy hearts remembering, I thought I would present a little snippet of James Kuntsler's regular Monday piece . . . He mentions Memorial Day once.
America today is arguably a far less civilized land, and even more neurotic, than the Germany of the 1930s. We live in places so extreme in ugliness, squalor, and dysfunction that just going to the store leaves a sentient American reeling in angst and anomie. Our popular culture would embarrass a race of hebephrenics. We think that neck tattoos are cool. A lot of our pop music is overtly homicidal. Our richest citizens have managed to define a new banality of evil. Our middle classes are subject to humiliations so baroque that sadomasochism even fails to encompass the finer points. And we don't even need help from other nations to run our own economic affairs into the ground -- we're digging our national grave with a kind of antic glee, complete with all the lurid stagecraft that Las Vegas, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue can muster. . . . 
Meanwhile, the evil plume of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico grows ever-larger by the hour and every living thing in that quarter of the sea faces slow death. That's our memorial-in-the-making to ourselves. I feel sorry for Barack Obama in this situation. Dmitry Orlov is right: this is our Chernobyl. This is the cherry-on-top of all our feckless foolishness. Memorial Day this year is the welcome mat to our hard time. We'll be lucky if some honorable as-yet-unknown colonel in the wadis of Afghanistan comes home to overthrow president Glenn Beck, or whichever lethal moron ends up in power after 2012. We'll be a very different America then, with no going back.
And you think I'm cynical and pessimistic!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Beyond Awful

The latest attempt, the so-called "top kill" that the media has been trumpeting for the past few days, failed. I'm not going to be turning handsprings over whatever new idea BP comes up with after this one to plug the now indescribably catastrophic oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. I simply refuse to get excited about any more announcements about fixes from this company.

It won't be but a matter of days before other gulf shores are going to be hosting a foul pollutant on the land. God only knows what this is doing in the sea, but the results on land become more horrific every day. Pictures like the one on the left almost make me cry. I am a bird lover, and I've become even more of one as I've gotten older. These creatures are beautiful and of great benefit to humans. They don't deserve to be treated like this. How many thousands are going to be in this state? How many thousands are going to die because of this mess.

The fact is here, BP really has no idea how to halt this thing. Every idea they've come up with has failed. Indeed, not even have they come close on the several methods they have tried. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the scale of this disaster. It makes me so profoundly sad.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Was There Ever Such a Jerk?

I'll just let this story stand by itself. I just read it on The Raw Story, This guy is really not to be believed. And I cannot get it out of my head that millions upon millions of people worship this guy. We are in a lot of trouble, brothers and sisters.
It took talk show host Glenn Beck all of two days to go from announcing that the families of politicians are a no-go zone for pundits -- to mocking 11-year-old Malia Obama on the air.
During a press conference Thursday, President Barack Obama highlighted public concern over the Gulf Coast oil spill disaster by recounting an anecdote in which his 11-year-old daughter Malia peeked her head around the door and asked, "Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?"
It was a story meant to personalize the oil spill, and to highlight that even among his own family members, Obama is seen as being responsible for the response to the oil spill.
But for talk show host Glenn Beck, the comment was an opportunity to mock Malia and suggest the Obamas' education standards aren't up to snuff.
"That's the level of their education, that they're coming to ... daddy and saying 'Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?'" Beck said on his radio show Friday.


. . . to us all! Just in time for Memorial Day, our war in Afghanistan reaches two milestones. First, we've now sacrificed 1,000 of our youth to the imperial aspirations of the White House (Republican or Democrat, makes no difference). Do I hear 1,500? 2,000? How many more men and women do we have to put on this Moloch's altar before our leaders decide that the god is satisfied and find another killing field to send our troops to? Make no mistake. Imperial America must and will have wars, because like all empires, we are beset on all sides by enemies who mean to take away our freedoms--which translated means "threatens our economic interests." Thus it has ever been ever since this country entered the world stage.*

The second little bonbon is the fact that come June 7 the Afghanistan war will enter the bloody annals of our wars as the longest one. On that date it will have been 104 months that we have been fighting there. Every day  USA Today prints a little box entitled "U.S. Death Toll." Here is the one from today:
As of Thursday, 4,391 U.S. service members and 13 Department civilians had been reported Killed in the Iraq war. In and around Afghanistan, 996 U.S. servicemembers and two Defense Department civilians had been reported killed. Latest death identified in Afghanistan: 
Army National Guard Sgt. Edwin Rivera, 28, Waterford, Conn.; died Tuesday at National Naval Center in Bethesda, Md., of wounds suffered May 20 when his unit was attacked at Contingency Outpost Xio Haq by enemy forces using indirect fire; 102nd Infantry.
In its stark matter-of-factness, a notice like this is, to me, chilling. Somebody's son, husband, brother has been blown away before he's 30 . . . and for what? Defending his country? For freedom? For American ideals? Please. Don't make me laugh. He's dead because it was his bad luck to have his life line intersect with the political aims of politicians whose sons, brothers, spouses are never going to be in his situation.

I'm sure the Rivera family is going to have a real special Memorial Day this year.

*For those interested, the book list at The American Empire Project provides abundant documentation.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Give that Girl a Standing O

I answer questions on baseball trivia at Have been doing so for a number of years--I'll have to check sometime to see exactly how long it's been, but it's a few years now. I love doing research and finding answers for just about anything, but baseball is surely one of my favorite things to search out answers in. So . . . I  get this question this evening about World Series rings. I suppose you know that the team that wins the World Series gets a ring. Everybody on the team and everybody connected with the team gets a ring. They're provided by the winning league, and today, encrusted with precious stones and (usually) studded with diamonds, they are worth thousands of dollars. The ring pictured here is the one the Philadelphia Phillies received for their 2008 World Series triumph. As you might imagine, these are treasured items for the people who own them. Can you imagine actually earning on of these and then losing it? Which brings us to our story.

Kudos and plaudits for 11-year old Kate Drury of Chatham, NJ. Somebody lost a World Series ring and she found it, and she tracked down the owner and returned it. The World Series in question took place 50 years ago, 1960, between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and it was one of the most memorable on record. The first ever to be ended by a walk-off home run (Bill Mazerowski's homer to left) and one in which the hated Yankees scored a bizillion runs and still managed to lose the Series. But I digress. Fifth-grader Kate found a Pittsburgh Pirates World Series ring under a snack bar table in a hockey rink in nearby Morristown, NJ. Turns out it belonged to one Merrill Hess, now 82, who had been associate director of scouting for the Pirates back then. He was "heartbroken" when he discovered his loss. For her honesty--she and her dad returned the ring personally to Mr. Hess--she got a check, a gift certificate, and a signed 1960 World Series photo. The found ring got posted on Yahoo! Answers. When you think about it, it's kinda miraculous that Hess was able to find out that somebody had found his ring this way. It was his son that saw the notice . . . what are the odds?

Anyway. Hooray for Kate! Honesty is the best policy. It is never wrong.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New Atheists?

I am not an atheist. I'm not at all sure about the Catholic religion I was raised in, despite my continuing affiliation with that Church. Too many questions for me about dogma and doctrine and a great deal of outrage at the outrages members of the clergy and episcopate have visited on children around the world. But all this has to do with religion, not with the idea of God or the existence of God. Indeed, one of my oft-stated problems with the increasingly strident tribe of atheists is that many of them appear to have their real beef with religion, and specifically the monotheistic religions. Now, I grant you Christians, Muslims, and Jews carry a great burden. If there's only a single God, then He has to be supreme over all the contenders, right? Even it's another one God. So we have the centuries old spectacle of This Religion hating That Religion because it isn't This Religion. And so this dismal history of the ways of men with God over the centuries is all any self-respecting atheist inclined to be polemical needs. 

But really, some of these anti-god polemicists are just ridiculous. I read a piece in yesterday's USA Today that's a great example, by Karl W. Giberson, a physicist, college professor, and member of the Church of the Nazarene. Giberson, active for many years in the faith-science discussion. He believes in evolution. In his piece, Giberson argues against the position now being taken by some atheists that faith is totally incompatible with science, indeed that scientists who are not atheists cannot be true to science. Well, this is absurd. Several winners of the Nobel prize are theists. And the very notion that to be a a good scientist, somebody ought to give up their faith . . . well, I don't think it comes close to passing the common sense test. Here's Giberson:

For the sake of argument, let us set aside questions about the truth of religion vs. the truth of science. Suppose there is no such thing as religious truth, as Richard Dawkins argued in The God Delusion. Allow that the "New Atheist Noise Machine," as American University communications professor Matt Nisbet calls it, has a privileged grasp of the truth. Even with these concessions, it still appears that the New Atheists are behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies.
There is something profoundly un-American about demanding that people give up cherished, or even uncherished, beliefs just because they don't comport with science. And the demand seems even more peculiar when it is applied so indiscriminately as to include religious believers with Nobel Prizes. What sort of atheist complains that a fellow citizen doing world-class science must abandon his or her religion to be a good scientist?

What sort, indeed?

Monday, May 24, 2010

You Should Check These Out

You know, I don't usually recommend web sites for a number of reasons. First, not everybody is a Web surfer; I'm not really either--I could be, if I had no other thing in life to do but sit here and play on the computer. But the Web is a fascinating place and sometimes I find myself just poking around because I've gotten hooked on some particular subject, thread, or site with a bunch of links. To tell you the truth I don't recall exactly what brought me to  7 Unique Sites for Discovering New Music. Not specifically, that is. But I glad I stumbled upon this site because I'm crazy about music and this place opens up a lot of videos of bands I would never here of otherwise. Of course there are all kinds of other ways of finding new music on the web. You could, for example, google "best sites for finding new music" or something like that. I just did, and it was difficult to not start clicking around right there. But . . .

. . . I had to come back to tell you about the other place I spent some time with today. And that was the page showing the winners (and all the nominees) for the 2010 Webby Awards. This is the kind of place that can hook you and keep you hooked for hours because awards are made in 70 categories and there are five nominations in every category. You do the math. Even if there are several categories of no interest whatever--"Best Navigation/Structure" and "Insurance"--you're going to find some that you would be interested in regardless--"Music" and "Blog: Political," for example. And then you're going to find some you did not even know you were interested in: "Guides/Ratings/Reviews" and "Netart."

Knock yourself out.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Sin Beyond the Telling

I cannot get the story out of my mind. And I sincerely wish I could. The thought that every minute of today, every minute of tomorrow, every minute of the past month, the ruptured oil line a mile down in the Gulf of Mexico is spewing gallons upon gallons of crude oil into the water. From all I can read, the world is still a month or more away from the complete shut down of this awful thing. Every minute gallons more poison pumps into the water. Every day God knows how many barrels, how many hundreds of thousands of gallons are spewing into the natural environment that God gave us. This is a crime, a sin beyond the telling. It makes me sick to think about what we're doing to the planet. At what point, you wonder, will this spill be declared the worst ecological disaster ever visited upon the Earth by man? How is that going to be measured? At what point are we going to realize as a species that we cannot continue to constantly just beat the living hell out of the earth. We've been beating the hell out of her since the dawn of industrialization. Now in the so-called post-modern world, we're dealing her death blows.

My brother-in-law who has worked for the state of Louisiana on wetlands and coastal issues for his whole career says he's retiring. He can't take any more of this. I haven't talked to him yet--I did right after this first happened--to find out what he thinks, but I know he's sick. Couple of items today on this continuing catastrophe: first, BP now says it's managing to siphon off a lot less oil than it told us a few days from the "fix" they installed a few days ago. The most they're managing to siphon off is about 3,000 bbl per day. That's the most. It's more likely around 1,500 bbl per day . . . which compared to the well over 5,000 bbl per day gushing into the Gulf* is peanuts. 

This is to be expected, really. I mean the fact that BP is lying about how successful its recovery effort is. The company has done nothing but lie from the start of this disaster. What makes you think they are suddenly start telling the truth?

The second story today is much, much worse. Get this: scientists and government people are now saying that cleaning up the oil-soaked wetlands may be impossible. This is no surprise either, really. Have you ever seen a marshland? So awful is the prospect of what this oil is going to do to the wetlands that truly drastic solutions are being considered. Like setting the swampland on fire or flooding areas in hopes of washing the hideous oil offshore. But, surprise. Others warn that measures like these might do more harm than good. 

Listen: no good is going to come of this. The best we can hope for, the best, is that something miraculous intervenes to stop the spill quicker than the best case estimates. But if that's the best hope, you can only imagine what even a moderate hope would be. May God have mercy on us all . . . though we deserve none.

*A quite conservative estimate. Many experts put the amount of daily spill much higher.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Heil Imbeciles!

Word's out yesterday that Newt Gingrich, one of the signature Republican weasels out there, has a new book in which appears this statement: “The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” He's since reiterated the statement while at the same time lauding his argument as "compelling." 

You know I get so bloody tired of these people who throw raw meat out to the others out there who are far less informed about what's true and what's not. Let's face it, Gingrich is not stupid. He's got an M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern European History from Tulane University, no slouch school. He's a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, has written a number of books, and he makes a quite a nice living, thank you very much, as a speaker and consultant these days. But he still suffers from two insufferable (to the rest of us) ailments: runaway ego inflation and diarrhea of the mouth. Apparently these have been lifelong ailments, and in his case incurable. Plus he's consumed by the cancer of ambition. The little lying weasel wants to be president, and his long rodent nose is sniffing an opportunity with the Republican party in disarray with no real leader at the helm. 

So he's out there anywhere somebody is willing to give him a platform for his jive. But note also another character trait of this guy. In addition to all his other attainments he's also a fucking serpent who dispenses lies by the bushel to the far less intelligent and informed than himself. Gingrich knows that Barrack Obama is not a socialist. He knows, knows in his bones, heart, and head that Administration policies present nowhere near the threat to this country that Adolf Hitler or the Soviet Union did. So what kind of scumbag dispenses what he knows to be false and inflammatory to legions of slavering bumpkins who know nothing about Nazism or Communism or socialism but who hate Obama with a burning, mindless rage? A callous, soulless opportunist like Newt Gingrich, that's who.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Took Its Time

Well, the oil is now washing into the Louisiana wetlands. It took its time getting there, but its arrival was inevitable, just as the immeasurable damage it will do the fragile environment there and to the innocent wild creatures in their home environment, everything from frogs to oysters, pelicans to gulls. So there it is: the first consignment of the signature industrial shit of our age. How many thousands of barrels of this stuff are going to run into the Louisiana marshlands? How many decades will it take for the land to recover? Will it ever?

Petroleum never looked so sinister as it does here. One of the guys in the air boat is Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, and a great friend of the oil industry, as are all knee-jerk supporters of corporatism, American free enterprise, and market forces. Jindal now laments what's happening and fulminates against the great harm that's being done to his state by an industry that state government has sucked up to for decades. It's hard for me to wrap my head around all the green tears being shed by the drill-baby-drill crowd. In the meantime, I almost cried when I saw the picture above. Not green tears. Just big salty ones about what's happening to the place I love.

And there are not words to express the contempt I have for the BP shills, who first low-balled their estimates about the amount of oil they are spewing into the Gulf and now admit it is a lot higher than they thought. Well, there's a surprise: a corporation spewing self-serving information for a month, while anyone with eyes could see on the news or Net how devastating this spill is. Naturally, it's in BP's corporate self-interest to minimize everything about this disaster that has anything to do with its own massive culpability. And make no mistake, by keeping the estimate down for almost a month, BP is saving itself hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in future settlement costs. It's all calculated, brothers and sisters. You all know how to tell when a corporate officer is lying, right? His or her lips will be moving.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

This is the Gospel, Brothers & Sisters!

Praise the Lord, for he is good. The singer is Chris Floyd of Tennessee, who also puts out a damned fine blog, Empire Burlesque, subtitled, "High Crimes and Low Comedy in the American Imperium." That's where I lifted this video. Check it out--the video and the blog.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Some Awful Amorphous Moby Dick Full of Malice

Here's James Kuntsler this week on the oil spill in the Gulf. And I wrote a poem about the situation there today. Him first, then me. And if you want to be cheered up. Don't read either.

     Meanwhile, a giant oil blob lies quivering in deep waters off the Gulf coast, like some awful amorphous Moby Dick full of malice waiting to sink Pequod America -- or at least the economies of five states. A few months from now, the BP corporation will wonder why it didn't go into something safe and predictable like the pants business instead of oil exploration. They will surely question the viability of conducting future business anywhere near the USA, and the USA will enter a wilderness of soul-searching about the drill-baby-drill strategy that only a few scant weeks ago seemed to be a settled matter. Tough to have your future hoped-for energy supplies evaporate at the same time that your hopes for future prosperity get sucked into a black hole.


Fiddler Crab: Uca Pugnax Reflects on the Gulf Oil Spill 

Capricious and rapacious,
humans are a pain in the carapace
for any self-respecting crustacean.
Would we could stop fiddling
around with them altogether.
They mean to kill us all. 

Alas, decapods are cursed by God.
Quite catchable he made us.
Numerous, too, and tasty.
Every last one of us.
Humans shell out big bucks
for my lobster cousins.
Crazy Cajuns
boil our crawfish relatives,
eat ‘em by the bushel.
And our shrimp brethren,
well, you know what happens to them.
Two thousand species, and somebody’s
eating every one. 

Bad enough: all this chomping up
on us and our family.
We are tough. Foul our sands
with your mounds of rubbish,
cast  your crap into our surf,
trawl us by the trillion . . .
we survive. 

But spew gushers of foul black poison
into our homes, into the cracks and crevices
of our crabby lives . . .
no way we claw our way back: 

that's Auschwitz without ovens. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

So What Are They . . . Pals?

Are you ready for this? More unbelievable logic chopping from the Vatican is about to be foisted upon us all. Would you believe that the U.S. bishops--you know those guys who suborned the depredations of hundreds of pedophile priests for decades in this this country . . . yeah, those guys. Well, did you know that these people are not employees of the Vatican? And therefore--pay attention, here comes the punch line: the Vatican is not legally liable for the crimes of these scumbag priests. Their lawyer here argues that these bishops cannot be employees because the Church doesn't control their daily actions, they are not paid by Rome, and they don't act in Rome's behalf. Well, pardon me. These guys are controlled by Rome in virtually every aspect of what they do. Rome looms over Catholics like big black clouds on the Plains during tornado season.

It is unbecoming at the very least for the Pope to hide behind this kind of ridiculous rationalization. Rome is trying to head off the first of several lawsuits in the U.S. that seek to hold the Vatican responsible for the silence of the U.S. bishops while all these heinous crimes were being committed on children by priests across the country . . . and for years. Because the Vatican actually had a policy of silence on several sexually-related crimes. See the story here. Rome is intent on heading off the legitimacy of a lawsuit against it (this first case is arising in Kentucky, but others are pending.) before documents (which are sure to be incriminating) can be subpoenaed and the Pope questioned. 

I'm really not interested in delving into all the legal technicalities of this. I'm not interested in the minutia. (If you are, there is plenty in the comments to the cited article.) The outlines are clear enough to me as they are to millions of other Catholics. Rome is dodging responsibility for something it is clearly responsible for. And it's attempting to do so with high-priced lawyers and legal slithering. A pox on these damned people!

But in point of fact, Rome will in all likelihood be found not be legally liable . . . that's the way the law works. Some people also believe this is the Holy Spirit watching over the Church. Praise the Lord, eh?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Miranda Redux

Matt Taibbi points out the blindingly obvious. Among those screaming the loudest to take away the Miranda warning for terrorist suspects are our kooky friends attending the various tea parties around the country. Remember these are the worthies who are shocked and appalled at the growth of government power. And, by God, they want it curtailed! The other day I lamented yet another cave-in by the Obama administration. (Has anybody noticed that Obama and his administration aren't really all that crazy about civil liberties? About as crazy about them as the Bush guys were . . . and you know how crazy that was.) Anyway, before I get off the track and start fussing about that again, another thing I wanted you notice was what Taibbi had to say. To wit: that all these zealots hollering about the dangerous expansion of government power are seemingly oblivious to the huge expansion of government power and control by diminishment of our individual rights guaranteed by the Miranda ruling against the agencies of the government most likely to violate those liberties: the police and other law enforcement agencies.

Actually, Taibbi is right on when he observes that this curtailment-of-Miranda business is no good for anybody, right or left. Since my paraphrase could never achieve the power (not to mention color) of the original, I'll let Taibbi say it himself:

For the Democrats, it will surely end up being one of the darker moments of the Obama presidency — not because it’s necessarily so terribly meaningful (at least compared to ending Too-Big-to-Fail), but because it represents a new low on the utter-lack-of-balls front. The only reason we’re even talking about this Miranda issue is because a bunch of morons on talk radio made a big fuss about it, and if our president is going to go sticking his thumbs into the constitution every time he can’t take a few days of getting reamed by a bunch of overpaid media shills whose job it is to hate him no matter what he does, then we’re all in a lot of trouble.
For the conservatives/Tea Partiers/Republicans (note that I have to make separate notations for each, since they’re not all necessarily the same people anymore), this Miranda furor is yet another one of those humorously contradictory political campaigns  of the “Keep the Guv’mint off my Medicare” variety that they’re becoming known for. I’m beginning to think that if the Tea Party had a symbol, it shouldn’t be the snake from that “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, it should be a drooling yutz sticking a pencil in his own ear.
The reason for that is that the Tea Party angle on this Miranda business is that they want to strip terrorist suspects of liberal/civil rights-era protections, and they think that foregoing their Miranda rights is a good way to get there. What they don’t get is that the inevitable consequence in this sort of meddling in constitutional theory is that we’re going to carve out exceptions to constitutional applicability for certain classes of people. We’re obviously not going to repeal the 5th amendment granting protection to American citizens against self-incrimination; and if we’re not going to tinker with that basic right we all enjoy, then the only other way around it is to start tinkering with the concept of who’s a citizen and who isn’t.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mother Theresa Had a Mustache . . .

Lewis Black is a really funny guy, and this send up of Glenn Beck is an instant classic. It would be even funnier if you didn't know that Glenn Beck gets paid millions upon millions of dollars for the drivel he regurgitates every day.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Achtung! You've Been Selected

Civil liberties simply don't matter anymore. We don't have any that the police are bound to respect. We don't have any that can't be set aside in the name of protecting us against terrorism. A few weeks back I wrote about Gore Vidal's reminding us of the true nature of American society, to wit, a police state basically. The possibility of running afoul of some gendarme with a chip on his (or her) shoulder 0grows increasingly more likely if you are a person, like me, likely to be self-assertive when dealing with these people. I can tell you, the thought of being hassled by cops is not far from my mind every time I see either a cop or a pseudo cop. Have you noticed how many of the latter seem to be around? Next time you're out and about just notice how many uniformed dudes, most packing 9 mm, are out there. It's not just the official police departments, but all the miscellaneous security guards and semi-official officials. Hell, here in Oklahoma, the frigging park rangers carry weapons!

But to the point. Two stories caught my attention lately in this area. First, this one from the NY Times. The Obama administration is supporting the crack-brained, dangerous idea endorsed by such worthies as John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and most of the rest of the Republican party that terrorism suspects be deprived of their Miranda rights. The exception is required because "interrogators needed greater flexibility to question terrorism suspects than is provided by existing exceptions." What a crock! This is the administration, once again in the flame of its courage, bending over for the rabid right. Listen, you make one exception to the Miranda rule, you will have to allow a hundred exceptions. Since when is a person's right to be informed of their rights determined by the nature of their offense? Well, brothers and sisters, since now. (I have to note here that Glenn Beck, of all people, is in favor of the Constitution in this matter. He actually opposes the idea.) I'll have more to say about this later.

The second item was this narrative I read a little while ago by one Marcia Alesan Dawkins. Here it is:

“You’ve been randomly selected for a search.” These are the words I heard as I was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon my return from a recent trip to Canada. The hourlong experience was harrowing—I was asked questions about where I was born, whether English was my first language, whether I had credit cards or cash, what I do for a living, why I was traveling, where I had gone, how my traveling companion and I knew each other, and what I was carrying in my pockets, purse and luggage. I was forbidden to stand, place my hands in my pockets, make phone calls and use the restroom without asking for permission. All of this I took in stride because I figured that it was being done in the interest of national security. Certainly, an hour of my time is well spent in helping to ensure the safety of my fellow citizens.

Does this bother you as much as it does me? An hour? "Randomly selected?" I mean WTF? I really don't think comparisons being made with Nazi Germany's routines are overdrawn. I can guarantee you "the interest of national security" would hardly motivate me to take a gross violation of my civil liberties "in stride." Yep. I don't know at what point I'd become "uncooperative," but it would be well before an hour had elapsed. Why should I have to answer a bunch of questions for some uniform as the result of a "random search"? Where the justification for a violation of civil liberties this blatant? Show me in black and white. Yep. This is why I would have been arrested.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Three Ring Blame Game

Even if events are predictable, it doesn't make them any less irritating when they actually happen. Take, for example, the farce in three acts played out in the hearings before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. There for a grilling before the senators were the CEOs of the three companies who have visited the fragile planet with what is fast becoming a truly terrible environmental catastrophe. That would be BP, the company that leased the oil rig from Transocean, and our old friend Halliburton, which was responsible for encasing the well pipe in cement and plugging it in anticipation of future production.Naturally, people were trying to find out what happened and who was responsible. It will come as absolutely no surprise to you to learn that according to the bosses, BP is not responsible. Transocean is not responsible. And Halliburton. Hey, they were just a subcontractor. All of these guys are pointing fingers at the other guys.

And you won't be surprised to learn that the roots of this disaster can be found in the energy company lapdogs of the Bush administration. The oversight agency of the government, the Minerals Management Service, was riddled with corruption during the Bush years, as this piece by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. makes clear.
Bending over for Big Oil became the ideological posture of the Bush White House, and, under Cheney's cruel whip, the practice trickled down through the regulatory bureaucracy. The Minerals Management Service -- the poster child for "agency capture phenomena" -- hopped into bed with the regulated industry -- literally. A 2009 investigation of the Minerals Management Service found that agency officials "frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives." Three reports by the Inspector General describe an open bazaar of payoffs, bribes and kickbacks spiced with scenes of female employees providing sexual favors to industry big wigs who in turn rewarded government workers with illegal contracts. In one incident reported by the Inspector General, agency employees got so drunk at a Shell sponsored golf event that they could not drive home and had to sleep in hotel rooms paid for by Shell.
There is only one thing good that can come out of this disaster: that offshore oil drilling will be set back for years. Years, I say. Maybe long enough to ensure we don't drill anymore of these things.

Don't hold your breath waiting for any real justice to transpire. As in, the guilty being punished or being made to pay through their frigging noses for destroying the livelihoods of thousands of people and besmirching the Gulf coast with massive pollution for the next 40 or 50 years. Justice just doesn't happen anymore, no matter who controls the White House.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Whence Salvation?

The reason I like guys (and gals) like Chris Hedges is that he doesn't pull any punches. He has strong convictions and he states them plainly. He's passionate about peace; he hates hypocrisy, and he has nothing but contempt for contemporary religious practice. Here's a guy who is the son of a minister and a graduate of a seminary who knows what he's talking about. And here's what he says about religion today:
It is hard to muster much sympathy over the implosion of the Catholic Church, traditional Protestant denominations or Jewish synagogues. These institutions were passive as the Christian right, which peddles magical thinking and a Jesus-as-warrior philosophy, hijacked the language and iconography of traditional Christianity. They have busied themselves with the boutique activism of the culture wars. They have failed to unequivocally denounce unfettered capitalism, globalization and pre-emptive war. The obsession with personal piety and “How-is-it-with-me?” spirituality that permeates most congregations is narcissism. And while the Protestant church and reformed Judaism have not replicated the perfidiousness of the Catholic bishops, who protect child-molesting priests, they have little to say in an age when we desperately need moral guidance.
He goes on to point out how wishy-washy and mealy-mouthed mainstream religion was in opposing the Iraq war . . . none of these religions opposed the war.
But I cannot rejoice in the collapse of these institutions. We are not going to be saved by faith in reason, science and technology, which the dead zone of oil forming in the Gulf of Mexico and our production of costly and redundant weapons systems illustrate. Frederick Nietzsche’s √úbermensch, or “Superman”—our secular religion—is as fantasy-driven as religious magical thinking.
Precisely so. Looking to the madness that causes the madness for salvation is beyond insanity. So then comes the question . . . what then is there upon which to put one's faith. Is faith a futility? My gut tells me no, it isn't, but maintaining these days is a full-time profession.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gum Drops

Matt Taibbi was out with a piece Thursday on the vote in the Senate that puts the first nail in the coffin of any meaningful financial reform. This was the Brown-Kaufman amendment to the finance reform bill. It basically set up mechanisms to break up ginormous outfits such as AIG, and the major banks, so they could not bring down the planet if they went under. Call it the "Too Big to Fail" amendment.* Well, guess what? The amendment went down in flames. By a two-thirds vote, brothers and sisters. It was not even close. And this majority that voted to allow Wall Street to continue to ream us inside out included 27(!) Democrats. Listen, I'm not a political expert or operative. I'm just an interested observer. But what this tells me is that when the chips are down, this Administration is powerless to keep its own troops in order. Twenty-seven! That is almost half the Democrats in the Senate. To say the least, however, Administration support of this amendment was tepid. You'll be delighted to know that all the former Wall Street barons that Obama saw fit to appoint to key economic positions in his administration all opposed the amendment. We're talking Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers, and Austan Goolsbee.

Here's what else it tells me. The Wall Street and Big Money lobbyists frigging OWN these people. Like puppy dogs on a leash. I mean, how else can you explain people voting FOR the Wall Street pirates in the face of what these people have done to the world--Greece bought their worthless shit along with the rest of the world; Britain and the rest of Europe are awash in debt, largely because of these coiffed criminals--and to our country over the past couple of years? Wall Street owns the government of the U.S. And their lobbyists eat  legislators like gum drops. Ain't democracy grand?

*The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), would have required megabanks to be broken down in size and capped so that their individual failure would not bring down the entire system. Under Brown-Kaufman, no bank could hold more than 10 percent of the total amount of insured deposits, and a limit would have been placed on liabilities of a single bank to two percent of GDP. In practice, the amendment required the six biggest banks -- Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley -- to significantly scale down their size. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

What a Thrill!

Here's a story you're not likely to see unless I tell you about (or you're from NYC and you read the Post). Seems some Brit sniper has set the world record distance for killing somebody. The guy he shot was a mile and a half away. 8,120 feet or 1.54 miles, as the article so precisely puts it. At this distance, the sniper's target(s) (nice antiseptic word, that)--actually he killed two guys--would not even hear the shot or see any muzzle flash. One second you're alive. The next second you're dead, and you don't even realize you're an essential part of a world record. I scanned a bunch of the responses to this story. Not a single one expresses any uneasiness at all. Something must be wrong with me.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


My daughter has been using Google Chrome for browsing the Web for some time now. I have resisted. I was more or less married to the Firefox browser because it was eminently customizable. All kinds of bells and whistles that you could hang on it to accomplish various tasks and personalize the tool for your own tastes. But then, about a month ago or six weeks ago, it started slowing up. Whether it was because of something I had added (I experimented removing stuff without too much success) or whether it was something inherent in the browser itself, I know not. What I do know is that it became intolerable to use and I had to make a switch. So I have switched to Chrome--I never for a minute considered Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which I still consider a clunker in the browser wars, and I'm not looking back. I had, of course, seen Chrome when it first came out, but in its initial iteration it lacked essential features that Firefox had: a bookmark bar for fast access to oft-used web sites, for example, and customization tools. Plus extensions, which are graft-on programs for the browser that allow enhanced operations. (I've got one on Chrome that lets me check my Gmail and perform various operations there without leaving the browser, for example.)

Well, it doesn't take Google long to get things figured out. Chrome has all of these things now, and it is much, much faster than any other browser out there. How fast? Well, check this out. And it's pretty cool on top of it:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My God, Has It Been That Long?

April, 1969: A Vietnamese woman mourns over the body of her husband found with 47 others in a mass grave at Hue.

Today is the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, which marked the end of the Vietnam war. I can remember that war like it just happened yesterday. It was the shaping event of my generation. I can remember the bitter feeling of resignation I felt after Saigon fell and what I had suspected all along--that the US would not win because we were morally corrupt--came to pass. I can remember the horror of the pictures we saw of the carnage, the cruelty, the suffering we, the US, inflicted on a small, insignificant southeast Asian country that had the misfortune to become a pawn in the gigantic, ultimately futile and wasteful power game between the so-called "free world" and the forces of godless evil incarnate, the communists, who were all inspired by the Soviet Union and who meant to take over the world. I can remember the newsreels--the real blood and death we saw--the kind of thing we're never allowed to see now because the government and especially the Pentagon discovered that presenting the real picture of war and what it does somehow seems to turn people against it--and the commentary by ridiculously young newscasters like Morley Safer, Dan Rather, Garrick Utley, and a host of others.* I can remember the anger young people (at least those I ran around with) felt at the sight of what we were doing to the people of Vietnam, to the land itself. I can remember how countless members of my generation had their very lives molded by this conflict, which, like all our wars, was wrapped in the red, white, and blue bunting that all "patriots" were expected to follow into the gates of hell and beyond--if not fall down and worship--because we had to "defend our country" against its enemies. Enemies like that poor woman in the picture above. Enemies that were enemies because the politicians in charge claimed they were. No other reason than that.

Oh, I can remember it all, that goddamned, wretched, endless war that ruined us. That ushered me into to being a grown-up in this country. That turned us into callous killers. That snuffed out the lives of almost 60,000 of us and maimed and crippled who knows how many hundreds of thousands more. For nothing. For nothing other than the transitory follies of leaders. The bootless charade of good vs evil measured in deaths. I hated that war then, and I hate it even more now that nobody but those of us with the scars remember.

The full gallery of pictures from which the horrifying shot above was taken can be found here. Some of the shots, familiar to anyone who lived through it, will break your heart.

*Vietnam was the last time the US news reporters were granted even semi-free access to the war. Since then, war news has been completely controlled by the Pentagon. "Embedded" reportage is managed news, I don't care what they choose call it. And we're never shown pictures of the reality of war. Never.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Just So You Know . . .

. . . that pedophile Catholic priests aren't the only scumbags out there working full-time to give Jesus a bad name, there's this little tidbit about a so-called Christian leader taking a vacation with a male prostitute he hired online from an outfit called The dude's name is George Rekers, and he's professor of neuropsychiatry and behavioral science at Univ of South Carolina. And he's a cofounder with the Rev James Dobson of the Family Research Council. Dobson is a televangelist of the Pat Robertson-Jerry Falwell mold. Oh, and did I mention he is what could be described as right wing? And that he's also a prominent anti-gay activist, an outspoken proponent of traditional family values? Anyway, seems this associate of his, Rekers, who is cut out of exactly the same bolt of cloth, recently spent a ten-day vacation in Europe with a Rentboy, who, Rekers explained, he hired to take care of carrying his luggage since he had had surgery and could not do it himself. Didn't deny hiring the "helper" online.

Yeah, right! And if you will go outside and check the sky, you'll see a flock of pigs fly by. And while you're at it, click on the Rentboy link (nsfw and make sure the little ones are not around) and see if you can find luggage service anywhere.

The original Miami New Times story about this incident is here.

Update I: There's a little more graphic detail in this story. And some more laughs. Rekers says he realized the guy he hired was a prostitute half-way through the trip. Hmmm. However did he do that? Also, we're informed, Rekers is an authority of sorts on gays. The guy that accompanied this expert on gays to Europe is described thusly: "a 20 year-old Puerto Rican man whose description on says he is 'sensual,' 'wild' and 'up for anything.' He then lists 'vanilla, leather ... shaving [and] spanking' among his fetishes and stripping and go-go dancing among his talents." It sounds more like a research trip to me.

Monday, May 3, 2010


BP, the oil company whose well is spewing 200,000 gallons of oil daily into the the Gulf of Mexico, wants us to know about its excellent safety record. Well, let me tell you right now, I'm impressed. With the catastrophic oil spill growing more catastrophic by the hour, I'm sure that a lot of other people will, like me, be heartened to know that BP has an excellent record of not despoiling the planet with spilled crude oil. The company now hopes to drop a massive cap 74-ton concrete and steel over the broken pipe 5,000 feet under the water and suck the oil out of it into a tanker on the surface. Nobody knows if this will work. And it will take about a eight days to try. It may be as futile as the up-till-now futile attempt to get the "blow-out preventer" mechanism to function as designed. This is the culprit that caused the whole mess (a word that utterly fails to convey how terrible this event is). According to a BP spokesman, it seemed "inconceivable" that this mechanism would fail.

Now, I ask you, do we really need people like Sarah Palin and Bill Kristol running around in the midst of this crisis toting the virtues of the oil industry? Palin is on record this weekend as saying that though the spill is "very tragic, . . . I want our country to be able to trust the oil industry." Bill Kristol, that knee-jerk shill for all things right wing, says that drilling closer to the shore would be better. Oh, this unpleasantness in the Gulf is a bad thing, but . . .

"If we hadn't stopped closer-in drilling after the Santa Barbara accident 40 years ago -- we've had these Congressional restrictions until 2008, for 40 years -- we'd have more drilling closer in which is probably less dangerous, less treacherous than trying to drill 50 miles out from the coast," Kristol explained.

Got that? If the government had not imposed these restrictions, things like this would not be happening.

In the meantime, they picking up dead sea turtles off the beaches in Pass Christian, Mississippi.