Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bread and Circuses (Circi?)

I thought Congress had completely lost its sense of perspective when it devoted its scarce time to holding hearings on steroids in baseball last spring. That was reinforced when there was talk of charging Raphael Palmeiro with lying before Congress (a privilege apparently reserved for Administration Officials and nominees to the Supreme Court). None of that prepared me for this, though. Arlen Specter (Nutjob, PA) believes Terrell Owens has been treated unfairly by the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL and further thinks this is a matter of such weight that "It's a restraint of trade for them to do that, and the thought crosses my mind, it might be a violation of antitrust laws."

So a man who began his public life by advancing a theory that a single bullet fired from a cheap Italian rifle could pass entirely through two adult men, breaking numerous bones, and emerge intact (somehow showing up on a stretcher in the hospital) is, in his dotage, focusing on whether an overpaid spoiled athlete has been treated unfairly by his employer.

I'm so glad that there's not a war or widespread corruption among Republican members of Congress to take up his time and attention.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Not the People's White House

In a brief post, Atrios notes that the White House web site has a number of robot files designed to discourage search engines from locating or linking to various pages at the site. Why, aside from its well-known prediliction for making it difficult for the public and press to have access to information, the White House would seek to do this is unclear. It does seem antithetical, though, to our beloved notion that our government exists to serve and is responsible to us.

What in Heaven's Name is Going on Here?

It's refreshing, in a perverse way, that we don't have to travel to the far corners of the globe, searching out isolated villages for examples of backward and ignorant people looking for supernatural explanations of things they don't understand. We've got such people right here in our own backyard.

According to this AP story by Juliet Williams, A statue of the Virgin Mary at a church in Sacramento "has begun 'crying' a substance that looks like blood."

I understand it's in the church's interest to promote the belief among its members that their God still takes an active interest in the affairs of the world, so I don't object to statements like that of the Reverend James Murphy, who says,
"For people individually seeing things through the eyes of faith, something like this can be meaningful. As for whether it is supernatural or a miracle, normally these incidences are not. Miracles are possible, of course. The bishop is just waiting and seeing what happens. They will be moving very slowly."
Hey, whatever it takes to keep the rubes happy and engaged. More troublesome for me are statements like this, from Williams, the AP "reporter,"
"Thousands of such incidents are reported around the world each year, involving blood, water or oil, though many turn out to be hoaxes or natural phenomena."
Ah yes, many turn out to be hoaxes or natural phenomena. The rest, being neither hoaxes or natural phenomena, presumably really are miracles. Goodness gracious.

Left unexplained (who can explain the ways of God, after all?) is just what a Virgin Mary crying tears of blood in Sacramento the week before Thanksgiving signifies. Just God showing off, maybe, showing he's still got it, however pointless "it" may be.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bombing al-Jazeera

Missing from the stories I saw yesterday regarding the alleged Bush-Blair conversation in which our dim leader mentioned a desire, whether seriously or as a joke, to bomb the headquarters of al-Jazeera in Qatar, was the US military's history of bombing al-Jazeera facilities. Al-Jazeera takes the threat seriously because in April 2003 the network's Baghdad office was struck during a US bombing campaign, killing one of the network's journalists, and in November 2001 a US missile struck and destroyed the network's office in Kabul. Although either of those occurences could easily be explained away as unintended consequences of war, they have to be reconsidered in light of the President's reported comments.

Whether he was serious or not, with that history those comments were more than usually stupid, even for Bush. You don't joke about bombing the facilities of a network whose facilities you have a history of bombing. And of course, if you're the President of the United States, you don't seriously consider bombing the facilities of a press outlet. At least, that's a rule of thumb I think the first 42 US Presidents were able to pretty comfortably live by.

Jesus in Your Corner


Monday, November 21, 2005

Zarqawi Dead?

There are disputed reports out of Iraq that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may have been killed in Iraq on Sunday. If true, this would represent an important victory in the "War on Terrorism" (sorry, I just can't force myself to adopt and write "War on Terror"). It's not irrelevant to point out, though, that such an important step might have been achieved and a lot of subsequent bloodshed avoided, if Bush's National Security Council had not several times squelched Pentagon plans to kill or capture Zarqawi long before the invasion of Iraq. It has been suggested that the plans were spiked because it was more politically useful to have Zarqawi free in Iraq, albeit in an area uncontrolled by Saddam, than to kill or capture him because the Bush Administration could use an active Zarqawi to draw a link between Iraq and al Qaeda as they made their case for war.

Thanks to our most benevolent ruler, the King of Zembla for one of the links.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bush Said it Best

I really do love it that our President is so completely devoid of instrospection that he can say things like
"What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. That's exactly what is taking place in America"
to speak of those who accuse him of manipulating the intelligence to drive this country to war with no hint of irony or a clue that that is exactly what he is being charged with having done.

More Arrested Development

Somebody has developed an on-line petition to save "Arrested Development" from cancellation. Check it out, sign it, and cross your fingers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Arrested Development"

I was channel surfing on a Sunday morning about a year or so ago when I came upon an FX channel marathon of "Arrested Development." Whatever plans I had for the rest of the day went out the window as I found myself hooked watching this family not really so different than mine. I started watching it Sunday nights on Fox, when it wasn't pre-empted by football or baseball or god knows what else may have come along that Fox found more important to air. This year it was switched to Monday nights, with the same pattern of pre-emptions, and its audience never found it again. Now it seems to be on the way out, Fox having ordered only 13 episodes for this, its third, season. This is the way it always seems to be with the few shows I find that I enjoy watching.

Similar sentiments at The Talent Show and Blogenlust.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Save Habeas Corpus

This will be brief, but I think its' important. Please check Katherine's series at Obsidian Wings regarding the Lindsay Graham bill pending before the Senate to abolish habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees. Then call your Senators urging them to support Jeff Bingaman's Amendment 2517 to Senate 1042.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Those Who Support Torture

So I was watching this movie the other night. The protagonist was being whipped. It was pretty bad; the whipping went on almost interminably. It would be fair to say it was a focal point of the film. As this scene went on, as well as during a later scene in the movie when the hero, beaten and bloody, was forced to carry a burden through the streets of the city and up a hill, I kept waiting, though I knew it wouldn't happen, for somebody, some soldier, somebody in the crowd, to step forward and say, "this is wrong; this must be stopped." Of course it didn't happen. The torture continued and the man was put to death.

I'm told that a lot of people who saw this film came away spiritually uplifted, their faith renewed. I'm wondering how that manifested itself in their daily lives though. As near as I can tell, a lot of these people, after seeing this film in the spring and summer of 2004, went and voted for George Bush for President last November. They voted for a man who has presided over an Administration that has institutionalized torture, who has overseen the creation of a system of interogation centers in the old Soviet bloc countries (it apparently wasn't enough for us to torture people where Saddam had done it; we had to torture where Stalin had, as well), who abides "extraordinary rendition" of people never convicted or even charged with a crime to countries, our "allies in the war on terror," that will torture them for us, a man who in fact believes that it would be a grave mistake to pass a law forbidding the CIA from torturing people. Most of this was known about this man and his administration before last November's election.

At the time the movie I was watching came out, there was quite a bit of public debate over who was responsible for the man put to death in the film, whose hands were bloody. For those of you who last November voted for and now continue to support President Bush, the answer is easy. The blood of those tortured by Americans and their proxies under the Bush Administration is on your hands. You don't have the human decency to step forward and say "this is wrong; this must stop." And there's no reason to believe that you would have done so 2000 years ago either.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Party That Supports the Troops Strikes Again

Since the 1950s, veterans groups have had the opportunity to make legislative suggestions at joint Senate-House hearings, usually held about a month after the President submitted his budget requests to Congress. House Republicans are now trying to replace this with a system in which the vets will still have an opportunity to be heard, but not in joint hearings and at roughly at the same time as the President's submission, denying the vets groups a chance to review the White House submission before providing their own input.

The Republihack explanation for the change is that the hearings just weren't very well attended and that meeting with Congress earlier in the process would actually be helpful for the vets.

Oddly, the vets fail to see that as being beneficial. Lobbyists for the vets say the change is prompted by a desire by the White House to avoid having the President's budget for veterans affairs criticized by the vets. Hard to imagine that could be the case with this administration. They've always been so transparent in the way they do business and tolerant of criticism.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Yeah, I think we can all just get along

Writing about the handgun ban voters passed in San Francisco yesterday, Michelle Malkin links to some mook named Neal Boortz who says,
"It is particularly amazing that 58% of the San Francisco voters would support this foolish measure after New Orleans. San Francisco faces the prospect of a natural disaster far worse than Katrina. Do the people of San Francisco think that the criminal element will just stay home and behave after the earthquake hits? There will be no violence? No looting?"
By an odd coincidence, a friend and I were talking on the phone last night about the 1989 quake and the way people responded to it. There were people in San Francisco pitching in to put out fires and people in Oakland climbing up to the freeway to free people from the collapsed Cyprus structure. Despite the obvious diversion for police created by the fire and the power being out throughout much of the Peninsula, I don't recall hearing of any looting, either in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, which was devastated, or any of the other communities struck by the quake. Is my memory faulty? Did I miss something? And even if there was no looting the last time, will that be significant for the next time?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Teach Your Children

I realize there is a huge cultural gap between me and this kid, but even taking into account cultural diversity I find this from the Associate Press disturbing:
John Wagner was 5 when he killed his first deer with one shot from a .223-caliber rifle.

He is now standing in the living room of his family home and recalling with mounting excitement how last December he trained the cross hairs on the 75-pound doe as she paused beneath a tree house where he and his father waited.

"I shot it right behind the front shoulder," the boy said. "Dropped it right in its tracks."

John, now 6 years old, stands about 4 feet tall and weighs about 50 pounds. He's a good student, earning a monthly award for responsibility in kindergarten last year.

But he'd rather be hunting.

"I like it," he said. "Shooting a gun and shooting at the animals and killing them."
I understand that there's some cognitive dissonance going on inside me here. I enjoy a steak or pork roast as much as the next guy and I don't give any thought to the loss of life suffered by the chicken I had for dinner tonight. It bothers me, though, that a six year old kid enjoys killing animals. When I'm hiking or cycling through the woods and I come across deer, I can't help but pause and watch them. They're beautiful, graceful creatures and when they turn to leave me, whether by delicately picking their way across the leafy forest floor or by bounding off, I always feel edified by the experience. It strikes me that there is some spiritual poverty within somebody who would leave such a situation feeling unfulfilled if he hadn't killed the deer. It's really distressing to me when such a person is six years old.

Thank God We're Not in Kansas, Toto

That great sucking sound you hear is the college prospects of Kansas students going down the drain, as the Kansas State Board of Education approves the teaching of "intelligent design" in science classes.

As bad as the California education system has become, our problem here is that we just don't teach well, it's not, as it apparently now is in Kansas, that our teachers just get to make shit up to explain things that are too complex for their tiny little brains. Among other things, "the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena." Isn't that special?

Update: On a more positive note, all eight members of the Dover School Board who had approved the teaching of ID there were swept out of office by voters yesterday.

About that Ethics Training...

Much has been made, and rightly so, about this story that came out over the weekend and how ridiculous it is that people working in the White House would need "refresher lectures on general ethics rules." These aren't the grunts we're talking about here who will be getting this training; these are senior administration officials. If they lack understanding of ethics or, as is likely the case here, simply find them inconvenient, this refresher course is not going to save their souls now. We won't even go into the fact that Harriet Mier's office will be conducting the training.

What I was really amused by was the other topic to be covered in this training, "the rules of governing the protection of classified information." In my job I work with what the State of California defines as confidential information. Things like people's social security numbers, home phone numbers and addresses, education records. Revealing this information isn't likely to cost anybody his life, but it's the kind of thing that, for the most part, people don't want others revealing about them. The rules for handling this are pretty simple; unless somebody has a demonstrable need to know this stuff, I don't tell them, and I don't leave this information lying around for others to see. How much more complicated or difficult can it to be to convey these basic rules to White House staffers with their fingers on vital information that can have an impact on the security of our country? It's really basic right or wrongs stuff; not all that nuanced.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Workplace Diversity

Last week for Halloween I dressed as a half man/half woman (oh what? like you haven't?), shaving half my beard and one leg and wearing make-up on one side of my face, with half a dress sewn to half a dress shirt. Overall it was quite, um, stunning.

A couple of days later I was sitting in a conference room with a dozen or so colleagues for a web conference on Discrimination Law. When it was mentioned that you have to allow it if you have a man in your office who wants to come to work in make-up everybody else in the room, as if on cue, turned and looked at me.

Not quite the reputation I'd hoped to establish at work.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Hate Hummers but don't have a handy litany of reasons why? Now you do.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Once Upon a Meme

From Scaramouche, who, it is rumored, looks divine in macrame’, I have been passed a meme that I think I can actually pull off and pass on. The five steps are to:

1. Delve into my archives.
2. Find my 23d post.
3. Post the fifth sentence (or close to it).
4. Post the text of the sentence in this blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five others to do the same.

My 23d post, from October 6, 2003 and posted at this blog’s original site, addressed the neo-cons’ prewar assertions that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for Iraq’s reconstruction. The post had only four sentences. The one that goes here is, “What kind of fantasy land do these people inhabit back there in D.C.?”

How many times have we asked that question?

Now to pass it on. The Ouija board says it should go next to Samantha Burns, It’s Morning Somewhere, Give Me the Booger, Blogenlust, where John doesn’t usually delve into such shallow past times, and Scamboogah, where Drew needs an easy post, even if it annoys him.

Carry on and good luck.

Taps for the Jukebox

One of the appeals of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is the street performers. Down there now is “the bushman,” a guy who hides behind the leafy branches cut from a bush and leaps out at passersby, startling them, to the vast amusement of the crowd that has gathered around to watch. This is so funny because it doesn’t seem as if it should ever work. The bushman generally assumes his position in some location where there is no greenery other than his branch, which really doesn’t hide him very well anyway. The crowd gathered around him leaves an opening, a natural stage with a radius of about 15’, and stares at the bush man. And always, at regular intervals, somebody comes along, strolling into the middle of this crowd that is watching a bush, somehow unaware of both the crowd and the man hunkered behind the bush, until they draw even with the bushman and he leaps out at them. This act kills every time.

Unlike the cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Fisherman’s Wharf, though, the street performers come and go. After awhile you find yourself talking to old acquaintances and asking, “hey, do you remember the silver couple at Union Square, or the juggle at Pier 39?” The performer mentioned the most was always Grimes Poznikov, the Human Jukebox. We never knew his name then, just his act. When I was in my teens and early twenties he was a fixture down by the waterfront. He worked out of a refrigerator box, with a coin slot cut in the side. You’d drop money in the slot and he’d draw the string to open the top of one side of the box, then play for you whatever song you’d requested. How well he played and what instrument he played depended on how much you paid. If you paid enough you’d get a sterling performance on the trumpet. He seemed to disappear about twenty years ago or so. He didn’t disappear, though. He was still around, just invisible, no longer playing for the tourists, his life overtaken by mental illness and alcohol and the struggles of those who live in the street. His struggles ended last Thursday. He was found lying dead on the sidewalk near the corner of Caesar Chavez Street and Highway 101. He was 59.
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