Saturday, December 31, 2005

Ringing out the Old

It’s customary as any year draws to a close to recount its major events. “From the Home Office” celebrates its first anniversary by beginning its own year-end tradition.

JANUARY – George W. Bush is inaugurated as President, claims his election victory gives him a mandate to act as he sees fit. When an aide points out the dictionary definition of “mandate” implies getting more than 50.000000001% of the votes, Bush replies, “The dictionary’s just a goddamned book. I’m the president, that Constitution thing says words mean what I want them to mean.”

In a related event, the Christian Coalition and Moral Majority remove their endorsements of Bush, stating they’re uncomfortable with the idea of the president having a “man date.”

FEBRUARY – North Korea announces it has nuclear weapons. Former Director George Tenet returns to the CIA to unveil the complicated mechanism through which Saddam Hussein transferred all his nuclear weapons to North Korea hours before the war began in 2003. Tenet also reveals the existence of surveillance photographs of Mohammed Atta meeting with Kim Jong Il in Prague several days before 9/11.

When asked why he didn’t invade North Korea, President Bush says he didn’t want to fool with that International Date Line thing and not know if any news took place yesterday, or was going to happen tomorrow.

MARCH – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist attempts to prove Terry Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state by having her flown to New York to appear “live” in the Broadway musical “Spamalot,” as part of the “I’m Not Dead Yet” number.

APRIL – Pope John Paul II dies, is replaced by Pope Benedict XVI. Vatican announces that in an attempt to appeal to a wider base of Catholics, all Masses will now begin with the Who’s refrain, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

French Catholics surrender in droves to altar boys wearing new “brown shirt” vestments.

MAY – Mark Felt admits to being Watergate’s Deep Throat. Democrats laud him as a man of conscience; Republicans condemn him as a traitor. Bob Woodward pays tribute to the man who made his career by hiding under the bed when the feds come to ask what he knows about the Valerie Plame case.

JUNE – Michael Jackson is acquitted of child molestation charges. Jury members say they think he did it, but so little of Michael Jackson’s original equipment remains, they weren’t sure who it was they were voting on.

JULY – I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Karl Rove are implicated in the Valerie Plame leak scandal. President Bush backtracks from his original pledge of “anyone involved in leaking will no longer work in this administration,” to “anyone found guilty of a crime will not longer work for this administration.” Future fallback positions include “anyone caught red-handed on videotape,” and “anyone caught red-handed on videotape actually shooting Valerie Plame” will no longer work in his administration.

AUGUST – Hurrican Katrina destroys New Orleans. CIA reveals evidence of Katrina having lunch with Saddam Hussein in the days before 9/11. FEMA Director Mike Brown embarrasses Arabian horse enthusiasts by shopping at Nordstrom’s when he should have been watching CNN for updates.

SEPTEMBER – Dennis Kozlowski sentenced to 8 ½ years in prison for bilking Tyco shareholders out of $600 million. Supreme Court decrees this to be the standard for dollars stolen per years sentenced, releases every other thief currently in prison.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay indicted by a Texas grand jury and has his name legally changed to Tom DeNy.

OCTOBER – Chicago White Sox end 87 years of frustration by winning World Series. Harriet Miers nominated for Supreme Court to show Cubs fans the true meaning of “hopeless.”

NOVEMBER – Senate Minority “Leader” Harry Reid invokes a rarely-used Senate rule to demand a closed session when Ted Kennedy is too drunk to tell the difference between “yea” and “nay.” Majority Leader Frist takes advantage of no gallery or reporters to kick Reid’s ass in cloak room, saying, “I used to take Daschle’s lunch money every day. Now I’m going to eat your lunch.”

DECEMBER – President Bush admits to ordering the National Security Agency to perform warrantless surveillance on American citizens inside the United States. Bush condemns the New York Times for breaking the story, claims to have classified photos of Times’ editorial board having lunch with Mohammed Atta and Saddam Hussein shortly before 9/11.

Happy New Year, folks. If the seeds planted in 2005 ripen as expected, 2006 should be a blast.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Great, Not Perfect

No disparagement of the accomplishments of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” will ever be found here. They grew up amid the deprivations of mankind’s greatest economic cataclysm, too young to understand why. That sense of deferred satisfaction served them well during the war, and a profound desire never to do without again probably fueled the duration of the subsequent economic rebound.

They decided their children should not, would not, suffer these hardships. Therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare would say. The Greatest Generation’s greatest strength, their willingness to sacrifice, spawned the subsequent Baby Boomer generation’s greatest weakness, their demand for instant gratification without consequence.

Politics has given us two men to personify this thesis: George Herbert Walker Bush, forty-first president of the United States; and his son, George Walker Bush, President Forty-Three.

George H.W. Bush was a child of privilege in an era when the credo “to whom much is given, much is expected,” held sway, especially in the Puritan-influenced New England of his childhood. Bush was one of the first carrier-based fighter pilots of World War II, a war when the families of privilege considered it a matter of honor for their children to serve. He continued his national service in a number of roles, including Congress, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vice President, and President.

Regardless of one’s opinion of his politics and policies, all can agree George H.W. Bush served his country well and faithfully. The only breath of scandal to touch him was Iran-Contra, when he claimed to be “out of the loop;” no scandal for personal gain or advantage was ever associated with his name. He lost his bid for re-election as president when he did what he thought was right for the country, reneging on his “read my lips” pledge to raise taxes. This probably cost him the presidency, and may well have led to the period of sustained economic growth shepherded by Bill Clinton.

George Walker Bush grew up in post-war boom times, in an era when privilege meant shielding your children from the burdens of your youth. The younger Bush will not (cannot?) account for his first forty years, except for selected excepts beyond his ability to shield. He went to Yale as a legacy, and was given choice duty in the National Guard while his less-fortunate peers were humping mortar plates and body bags through the rice paddies of Vietnam. As some point, even that may have become too onerous for him; the service records of the second half of his hitch are essentially unverifiable.

He firmly believes that finding God at age forty granted him a clean slate. He failed at everything he tried before politics, using his family connections to finally be elected governor of Texas as a “compassionate conservative.” The record shows little record of his compassion; Texas executions rose as quickly as its educational standards declined. He continues to show no tendency to conserve anything except what is his, or that of his friends.

He wants what he wants when he wants it, leaving the bills for future generations to pay. His “conservatism” does not extend to the environment, where today’s children will have to contend with the damage of his policies, enacted with an eye to keeping his backers happy today; later is someone else’s problem. He regularly attacks the liberties his father spent his life defending, because he gets to do what he wants. Others are either for him, or against him; there is no “loyal opposition” in his eyes. Disagreement is disloyalty.

This is not meant as an attack on Bush the Younger. The Bushes were only used here as examples of the sad state we currently inhabit, where primacy is assumed, and no sacrifice is too small to accept if it delays what we want. The Baby Boomer Generation stands on the shoulders of those who came before them and dishonors their sacrifices. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died to defend the liberty they assume as their birthright. The lack of outrage over the current violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Fourteenth, and who knows how many other amendments, all in the name of “protecting the homeland,” show the heirs of the Greatest Generation believe only others should sacrifice.

The greatest accomplishment of the Greatest Generation was to reshape the world they inherited and hand their children a far better place. Their greatest failure was in not passing down the values that made those accomplishments possible. It would be a sad legacy it this was the longer-lasting bequest.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Christmas Miracle

There are more Christmas miracle stories than Liza Minelli has prescriptions. How often to you actually see one? Or have one happen to someone you know? Even rarer, have it happen to you? I have, just yesterday. Don’t believe me? Just look at all the things that had to go exactly as they did for this true, and truly heartwarming, story to occur.

I had one last errand to run at the local mall. I usually spend as much time at malls on Christmas week as George W. Bush spends at Mensa meetings. This year I had to get one special gift for a special someone. My heart was so overwhelmed with the spirit of the season that I took advantage of a rare weekday off work to brave the mall.

I had someplace to be later, so I was in a bit of a hurry. Lacking time to brush my teeth after a quick snack in the car coming home from grocery shopping, I grabbed two sticks of gum from the kitchen counter and popped them in my mouth. The gum had been sitting there at least six months, as I chew maybe a pack of gum a year.

Parking at the mall was at a premium, as you’d expect on December 23. It took ten minutes of looking until I found a spot only a few rows from the entrance. Something looked unusual a lane over from me and, good Samaritan that I am, I went that little bit out of my way to see if anything was wrong.

Imagine my surprise and dismay when I saw a big, honking Dodge Durango parked to occupy three spaces! Pulled in at an angle, the nose filling what might have been a pull-through space, the rest of the Durango parked across two spaces on the side from which the driver pulled in.

You can imagine my concern. What looming catastrophe could cause a driver to park in such a haphazard manner so close to the mall entrance on a day when everyone knew parking would be at a premium? Imminent childbirth? Dire illness? Needing to get to the last X-Box at Electronics Boutique? Whatever had happened, surely this person was in need of everyone’s understanding and sympathy.

I noticed a piece of lined notebook paper under the back window wiper. Thinking it might be a clue to provide more information, possibly allowing me to be of some assistance, I moved closer to read what it said. Three simple words: You are rude.

My heart went out to the poor parker. Surely he or she must have faced a daunting hardship, or the Durango would not have been parked in such a seemingly thoughtless manner. Based on personal experience, owners of enormous SUVs are renowned for their consideration of others, as well as calm and passive driving habits. How would this innocent feel if, bearing parcels of Christmas joy, he or she returned to the vehicle only to find such a snarky insult clipped to it?

I thought of removing the note but stopped with my hand in mid-reach. Who was I to deny the First Amendment rights of the note writer, no matter how distasteful the opinions expressed? Especially at this most sacred season, would not such a gross violation run contrary to everything we hold dear as Americans? I knew in my heart that if I removed the note, the terrorists would have won.

But what to do? The Durango person had to be shown there were those among us who felt his (or her) pain, and were appalled by the fascistic antics of the intemperate note writer. I pondered for only a few seconds before the true meaning of the season brought me an epiphany. A gift! What better way to express disapproval with the nasty note than to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas (Hanukkah) by leaving a small token of our shared humanity?

Now the question of what to leave was thrust upon me. Money seemed too impersonal, and would blow away in the breezy weather. I had little else of even sentimental value on me, as I was on my way into the mall, not laden with gifts as I would be when exiting. I stood pensively, chomping on my now-flavorless gum, until my second, and even more miraculous, epiphany of the day struck me.

I vowed to leave something of myself. Unfortunately, almost all physical aspects of humans are firmly attached. Hair would be blown away by the same avaricious breezes lurking to steal the previously considered cash. Yet there was one item with which I had become so intimately acquainted that it bore my very DNA. What more profound and sincere gesture could be given?

All that remained was to find a suitable location for this simple token. The cool, breezy day would dry it up if left anyplace exposed. It was easy to roll my gum into a properly-sized ball and park it in the driver side door lock with considerably more accuracy than the driver had used to park the Durango.

Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah.

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye

Fear not, Red Sox Nation. Examine how this fall has gone with a clear eye:

Sure, Johnny Damon and his rag arm have left to join The Evil Empire; Corey Patterson and his US trade deficit-like walk-to-strikeout ratio are available.

They traded their primo shortstop prospect for a starting pitcher with enormous potential (cool) and a third baseman in his mid-thirties coming off a season even worse than the year he had testicular cancer (not so cool); immediately turned around and traded the shortstop to whom they gave a 4-year, $40 million contract just last year, leaving the position in the capable(?) hands of Alex “I’m not even Joey” Cora.

They traded Doug Mirabelli, the only man with the Zen-like concentration to catch Tim Wakefield, leaving Jason Varitek to lay awake nights with the sweats over the prospect of having to catch Wake every fifth day. They got a good second baseman in return, but he’s changing leagues and has played 120 or more games only twice in the last seven years.

Things look gloomy in Beantown. Schilling and Foulke are still unproven, most of the guys who made their weird chemistry work are gone, and the only team older than the Sox is the Supreme Court.

Despair not, Chowderheads. It’s early in the off-season and Larry Lucchino’s on the job. Remember the great job he did with the Orioles? How about with the Padres? Lucchino’s greatest accomplishment was hiring Theo Epstein, who spent $100 million a year and did for the Carmines what Kenny Williams did for the Pale Hose for maybe two-thirds as much.

The new boss (same as the old boss) has performed a daring daylight raid, strengthening the Sox while potentially crippling the Yankees with the recent signing of backup catcher John Flaherty. Who has Posada’s back now, Big Stein?

I wonder if Scott Adams is a Red Sox fan. This has Dilbertian overtones all through it.

On a baseball-related note, the United States government has prohibited Cuba from playing in March’s World Baseball Classic. When I first saw the headline on the Internet, I thought it said Cubs Couldn’t play. That I could understand.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why Didn't He Ask Congress?

My opinions are rarely confused with those of George W. Will. That doesn't mean he's always wrong. Witness this column from the December 20 edition of The Washington Post.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Our Protector

What is al-Qaeda’s primary goal? Effectively destroying America’s infidel way of life. Killing and causing mayhem are only means toward this end. We hear regular talk of sleeper cells undermining our society, and of agents who will stop at nothing to destroy all we hold dear. This week exposed the most dangerous terrorist agent working in the United States, the single man who has done the most to destroy our values and system of government: George W. Bush.

Congress passed the Patriot Act in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Liberals decried it as a serious erosion of Constitutional rights; Conservatives hailed it as providing sorely-needed powers in the alleged “war on terror.” The Bush White House said all the right things, which was easy for them. They had no intention of being bound by it.

We learned this week that our intelligence agencies have been spying on American citizens within the borders of the United States. These extraordinary actions have been, Bush says, “critical to saving American lives.” He went on to say that only those with “a clear link” to al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations have been targets.

According to who? If the link is so clear, then probable cause should be easy to establish. Special courts for private hearings were created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Even those secret tribunals are considered too restrictive by Bush. The ultimate criterion for who gets spied on is Bush’s personal judgment, which has already given us the Iraqi quagmire, record deficits, and demonstrated his regard for true homeland security matters by his administration’s “response” to Hurricane Katrina.

“The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. Since he invoked the Constitution himself, let’s see what it says on the matter, specifically the Fourth Amendment: 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. Bush has yet to give a categorical explanation of how his recently exposed actions fit in here.

Caught with his hand in your cookie jar, Bush took the usual refuge of scoundrels and blamed the messenger. The recent New York Times article that exposed him “puts our citizens at risk,” he said, because “our enemies have learned information they should not have.” No methods have been revealed, and no agents’ covers have been blown. (Insert your personal Valerie Plame comment here.) Not just laws, but our most cherished Constitutional values are being flaunted at the highest levels of government. The American people who (barely) elected Bush have a right to know that the protections we have been told to assume since birth only extend as far as a spoiled kid with a messianic complex says they do.

Look at the example we’re setting for Iraq in the way of democracy. We have secret prisons, where people who may (or may not) be terrorists are tortured by our agents. (Bush’s best defense there is to say at least we’ve kept the deficit down by using existing Iraqi prisons.) We plant and pay for stories in the Iraqi press to make the situation on the ground look better than it is. Given some of the existing characteristics of the Iraqi population, how long will it be before Saddam v 2.0 takes over, using our actions as a template for “democracy?” (See this blog’s entry for December 11, titled “What We’re Fighting For.”) The updated Saddam might well be associated with terrorists. Given the religious demographics, he could be assumed to be willing to partner with Iran. We’ll be a lot safer then.

Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about personal matters. He shouldn’t have done it, and may have deserved his impeachment solely for his hubris and disregard of the country’s business by refusing to come clean. On January 20, 2005, George W. Bush raised his right hand and swore an oath in front of millions of people to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Hell of a job he’s doing.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Just Desserts

Natalee Holloway made the cover of the National Enquirer the last two weeks in a row. Once was to report a phone call her parents allegedly received from her; the other was about evidence the Aruban government was covering up.

Is there a lower form of life in America today (other than any visiting Saudi princes) than the employees of supermarket tabloids? We could discuss the merits of those who buy these rags (if they have any), but saying these rodents are just giving the public what it wants is like excusing FEMA for butchering the Katrina emergency by saying other people made mistakes, too. (Not that the Bush Administration hasn’t tried.)

Haven’t the Holloways suffered enough? They aren’t the first to be subjected to this treatment, but it seems more severe for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that Natalee is presumably dead. As a parent, my greatest fear, and one never far from my mind, is that something terrible will happen to my daughter. She’s fourteen; I’m almost fifty, and I suspect my parents still feel that way.

What worse is the Holloways never asked for this. They’re not Michael Jackson dangling his baby over a parapet, or Britney Spears getting married for fifteen minutes and making sure the whole world knows about it. As much as celebrities have to put up with, they at least get some (indirect) benefit: all publicity is good publicity today. Whatever keeps the buzz alive will sell your product, especially if your product is you. At what other time could (alleged) child pornographer R. Kelly sing the national anthem at a fight? Madonna kept her career going through lean singing years by being professionally scandalous.

Ever wonder what you’d do if you won the lottery, one of those hundreds of millions of dollars jobs? High on my list would be starting a my own supermarket tabloid. My rag’s only topics would be the lives of the reporters, photographers, and publishers who make their living from the anguish or embarrassment of others.

Ever wonder if the Enquirer’s publisher likes to get liquored up and paw his secretary? Maybe do more than that? How about the underage orgy that went on at his house while he and the wife were driving drunk through a day care parking lot? How do you think their Holloway reporter would like being interviewed about our pictures of him, Dennis Rodman, and a gerbil? Dirty pictures of Grandma from when she was a struggling starlet? Might be fun to find out.

We’d would lose money; the public is much more interested in seeing people with supposedly perfect lives knocked down a peg. It’s part of the love-hate relationship we have with celebrities. Everyone knows my targets are crudballs, so where’s the fun? That’s okay. I just won three hundred million dollars; I can absorb some losses. Besides, I can probably finance the paper by accepting the occasional “honorarium” for something I could print, but am willing to reconsider. Crudballs like this must have some fully-articulated skeletons hanging in their family closets.

What We're Fighting For

The White House would have you believe over 2,000 Americans have died in Iraq because creating democracy in Iraq will make us safer. Here’s a look at some of the folks who are supposed to do this for us.

It’s not politicians, or closet Ba’athists, or even the insurgents who won’t have blown themselves to tiny bits by then. I’m talking about grass roots, average Joes and Janes who make up the bulk of any electorate, what Nixon would have called the Silent Majority.

The valley of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers is allegedly the birthplace of civilization; since then local civilization has suffered from what is, at best, arrested development, if not profound retardation. Witness the quaint local custom of honor killings.

Honor is important to Iraqis, and is provided by men doing manly (to them) things. Women can dishonor the family a million ways, even though almost all of them requires a man, who may not leave the woman any choice. Women who don’t measure up, regardless of the circumstances, have dishonored the family, and must make amends. We’re not talking about washing dishes for a month, or being banished; they have to die, and a family member has to do it.

National Public Radio recently interviewed an Iraqi family whose sixteen year-old daughter was kidnapped in an extortion plot. The daughter was returned, but since no one could prove she hadn’t been raped, she had to go. Her cousin, a policeman, shot her with his service weapon because, in his words, her father and brother lacked the courage. He made it sound like he did her a favor. She could never have shown her face again. She didn’t go to school, or have a job, so no one there will wonder about her. The only people who know she’s gone are her family and her tribe, and they know why. No charges will be brought because no one sees anything wrong with this.

I’m rarely accused of being politically correct, yet I try not to be too harsh on the customs of others, knowing many of ours can seem pretty strange to someone looking in from the outside. Honor killings are easy: these people are animals. Not “animal,” as in having disgusting personal habits; “animal” as in “sub-human,” or even better, “not human.” George W. Bush thinks it’s worth thousands of young American lives and billions of dollars he won’t spend to ensure Americans’ health care to turn Iraq over to vermin like this. He thinks it will make the world a better place.

Bush and I finally agree: give them the country. Quickly. The elections are December 15. Sit down with the winners on January 1 and give them the timetable by which they’re going to get their army and police in gear, and get our people out of there by Christmas 2006. Then the Iraqis can live in their little cesspool without infidel intervention. The United States has done more than enough wrong in Iraq over the last decade; at least we didn’t create Iraqis.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Rose by any Other Name

The following is a word-for-word transcript of a portion of Charles Gibson’s interview with CIA Director Porter Goss, which aired on November 29, 2005. You may check its accuracy by going to

CHARLES GIBSON: Let me ask you about torture. You said the other day the CIA does not do torture, correct?

PORTER GOSS: That is correct.

GIBSON: How do you define it?

GOSS: Well, I define torture probably the way most people would — in the eye of the beholder. What we do does not come close because torture in terms of inflicting pain or something like that, physical pain or causing a disability, those kinds of things that probably would be a common definition for most Americans, sort of you know it when you see it, we don't do that because it doesn't get what you want. We do debriefings because debriefings are the nature of our business, is to get information. We want accurate information and we want to make sure that we have professional people doing that work, and we do all that, and we do it in a way that does not involve torture because torture is counterproductive.

GIBSON: We [ABC News] reported in the past two weeks about having talked to a number of people who have worked and did work in this agency, about six progressive techniques, each one harsher than the last, to get terrorists to talk, including things like long-term standing up, sleep deprivation, exposure for long periods of time to cold rooms or something called "water-boarding," which involves cellophane over the face and water being poured on an individual. Do those things take place?

GOSS: I've got to say there is a huge amount of disinformation out there on this whole subject because probably there's not very much accurate information available. And the reason there's not very much accurate information available about how we do debriefings and how we deal with people who are in detention is very simply, if we told you how we do that, we would be telling them, and that would lose the edge.

GIBSON: You know what water-boarding is though, right?

GOSS: I know what a lot of things are, but I'm not going to comment.

GIBSON: Would that come under the heading? Would that come under the heading of torture?

GOSS: I don't know. I have—

GIBSON: Well, under your definition that you just gave to me of inflicting pain?

GOSS: Let me put it this way, I'm not going to comment on any individual techniques that anybody has brought forward as an allegation, or dreamed up or anything like that. What we do, as I said many times, is professional, it's lawful, it yields good results and it is not torture.

The English translation of Goss’ comments can be distilled into a three-word statement:
We torture people.

Webster defines torture as:
1 a : anguish of body or mind : AGONY b : something that causes agony or pain2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure.

Goss defines torture as “in the eye of the beholder.” Coincidentally, that’s a traditional definition of beauty. Goss can’t tell the difference.

Remember when we were the good guys? How do you spin this sow’s ear into a silk purse for the rest of the world when you’re telling them about us staking out the moral high ground?

How these guys can stand to look in a mirror is beyond me. Except for Cheney, who I’m pretty sure casts no reflection.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

The following item appeared in Friday’s edition of the Washington Post:

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown, heavily criticized for his agency's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm to help clients avoid the sort of errors that cost him his job.

We all know Bush appointees have no shame; this proves they have no sense of irony.

I haven’t seen any video of Brown statement; I can’t imagine him saying the following with a straight face. "If I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses -- because that goes straight to the bottom line -- then I hope I can help the country in some way,” he told the Rocky Mountain News.

What’s he going to do, show people his press conferences and emails and say, “Don’t do this?” Consulting Michael Brown on disaster procedures is like asking the captain of the Exxon Valdez about safe navigation practices. It’s like Linda Tripp giving makeover advice. Bill Clinton teaching impulse control. Ike Turner as a domestic abuse counselor. Tom DeLay as an ethics instructor. Ozzy Osbourne discoursing about family values. Dick Cheney explaining the value of military service. Madonna praising chastity. George W. Bush teaching grammar.

Brown’s first suggestion is to hire a couple of interns to watch CNN and MSNBC 24 hours a day, so someone knows what’s going on. Next is to leave no record, written or electronic, of any suggestions, orders, or replies. When you have Mike Brown’s skills, deniability trumps all other considerations.

Someone will hire Brown, if only to show they’re True Believers. This essay is intended for anyone living in a jurisdiction that considers engaging Brownie, lest he do another “heckuva job” for you: sell now, before word gets out and property values drop faster than Bush’s approval ratings.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Is the Pendulum Swinging Back?

Political tides ebb and flow with a momentum not nearly as well understood as the seas’. Turning points are reached, often through the action, inaction, hubris, or desperation of one faction or another. We may just have witnessed a rare triple turning point last week, when political thought caught up with reality, and business as usual was a grave miscalculation.

On Thursday Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha opined that the conquest and occupation of Iraq had proven to be a failure, and it was time to start bringing the troops home. Murtha’s no bleeding heart; he was a strong hawk when Dubya requested war powers, with a resume to match: two Purple Hearts, a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, Bronze Star with Combat V, and a Distinguished Service Medal after thirty-seven years in the Marine Corps.

It’s not his style to seek the spotlight; it’s doubtful if he’s ever been on a Sunday talk show before this weekend. Speaking out like this indicates a serious crisis of conscience for a man who has proven his devotion and willingness to sacrifice for his country many times over.

Republicans responded in their tried and true method: they vilified him. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Murtha endorsed “the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party.” Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, said Murtha's call for withdrawal was “reprehensible and irresponsible,” and showed “a policy of retreat and defeatism.”

The House’s most junior member, Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio, showed that while she may be new, she understands contemporary Republican politics. Schmidt told Congress about a call she received from Marine Colonel Danny Buhp, who asked her to tell the House to stay the course, because “only cowards cut and run; Marines never do.”

That almost started a fist fight. Democrats immediately called for Schmidt to retract her statement. When order was restored, Schmidt requested her words be “taken down,” and said her comments weren’t directed at any member of the chamber.

She left unsaid that Colonel Buhp, self-appointed determiner of all things Marine, is a Republican member of the Ohio legislature. He’s also a career reservist who has never seen combat. There’s no shame in that; I’m sure he’s done everything that has been asked of him. For Schmidt to use his comment in that context could not be construed as anything but a direct slap at Murtha by someone of purportedly equal military credentials. (Buhp has since distanced himself from what Schmidt said he told her.)

This is classic Republican 21st Century strategy. No matter who opposes you (John McCain in South Carolina, Max Cleland in Georgia, John Kerry everywhere), no matter how his record compares to yours, malign and degrade him until counterarguments are moot, then make a smarmy disclaimer when it doesn’t matter anymore.

It didn’t work this time. Public sentiment toward Schmidt’s transparent attempt to defame Murtha was quick and hostile, even in her own district. The White House has run away from McClellan’s initial comments faster than France can clear the road to Dunkirk.

Possible Turning Point One: Will Murtha’s comments be as significant as Walter Cronkite’s were about Vietnam? Marginalizing the anti-war forces was easy until America’s most-trusted newsman said it was a lost cause. Murtha’s not as well-known as Cronkite was, but his bona fides are better. McClellan’s linking of Murtha to liberal wing-nut Michael Moore was a clear attempt to marginalize him; it lasted even less time than anyone took Moore seriously.

Possible Turning Point Two: Have Americans finally had enough of lowest common denominator politics? It’s a rough business, but I’m old enough to remember when political argument stopped short of demonizing the opponent, or maliciously spinning a superior record against him. Is it becoming passé for a Republican to praise the military, then in the next breath slur those whose valor and sacrifice made it possible for the chickenhawk to avoid service in the first place? We can only hope.

Possible Turning Point Three: Have the Democrats finally found some onions? After years of being afraid to insult or offend anyone, are they actually going to stand for something, even if it means an occasional intemperate word? Murtha took point again when told of comments Bush and Cheney made immediately after his statement. “I like guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.” When’s the last time a politician with some street cred laid it on the line like that?

Not having served is no disqualification for leadership, but it’s not too much to expect leaders to be willing to learn from those whose experience trumps their own, and to consider opposing viewpoints. Bush and Cheney routinely flog anyone who voted in favor of war powers for even hinting they’ve changed their mind. No congressional vote gives any president a blank check to do as he wishes in perpetuity. Bush won election last year, in part, by criticizing Kerry for changing his positions over a thirty-year career. Bush apparently has never changed his mind. Of course, for him, life truly began at forty; anything before that is off-limits, probably because he can’t remember himself. Never changing one’s mind is a sign of not learning anything, and rarely has any public figure needed to learn as much as George W. Bush.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” A great nation has rarely been ruled by such a large collection of little minds as our selfishness has inflicted upon us now. John Murtha may be right, he may be wrong; he may be remembered as a hero, or become a forgotten historical footnote. For now, he represents what is best about us, right or wrong: a man who has seen his duty, and consistently done it. Even if that contradicts something he’s done before.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Mistake by the Lake

Children growing up in Pittsburgh are taught never to complain. No matter how bad the weather or the economy, it could be worse. You could be in Cleveland.

The Pittsburgh Steelers rolled to another glorious victory last night, trouncing the hated Cleveland Browns 34–21. The game wasn’t that close; Cleveland scored by returning a blocked field goal for a score with 4:23 left in the game; they picked up another garbage touchdown with 21 seconds left, when the Steelers had Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, and Bill Cowher’s kids in the game on defense.

I’d feel sorry for the folks from Cleveland, but, they live in Cleveland. This was such a thorough whipping that Steeler wide receiver Hines Ward not only broke the all-time Steeler record for passes caught in a career; on one play he juggled a pass, caught it while falling out of bounds in the end zone with a Cleveland player grabbing Ward’s face mask, and still put the Cleveland player in the hospital. He was called out of bounds on review, but catching the ball and kicking the defensive back’s ass at the same time is highlight reel stuff.

What’s that? You think it’s terrible to make light of a man being injured so badly he came off the field strapped to a board? He lucked out; the game was in Pittsburgh. Do you know what they call people who go to emergency rooms in Cleveland? Corpses.

Why do Burghers feel so strongly about Cleveland? Easy. Pennsylvania let them use our lake, and they built a Cleveland on it. (Yes, it’s Pennsylvania’s lake; you ever hear of Erie, Ohio?) Besides, no matter how bad Pittsburgh’s pollution was in the days of high steel production and noon streetlights, none of our rivers ever caught fire.

It’s nice to go to sleep at night knowing all is right with the world, even though George W. Bush’s direct line to God doesn’t seem to help much with hurricane prevention, finding weapons of mass destruction, or ethical behavior by anyone who works for him. Next up, the official football team of the anti-Christ (aka Art Modell): Baltimore.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Veterans Day (Plus 1)

The Burgh Correspondent asked me yesterday if I was going to say anything about Veterans Day. I took a pass; it was late to work up anything new, and I didn’t have anything old that either hadn’t been seen before, or was worthy of another airing. Plus, hard as this may be to believe, at times even I get tired of hearing myself rant. My Veterans Day contribution to the Internet’s Tower of Babel was a brief respite. You’re welcome.

Veterans Day is over, and something has come to mind. What follows isn’t anything new, we’ve all seen it before; thanks are due the Dialog Correspondent for refreshing my memory. Watching Dick “It’s Only Torture if the Other Guys Do It” Cheney place the wreath at Arlington Cemetery reminded me of this list, and of the sterling military careers of those who used whatever pretence to place, and keep, today’s future veterans in harm’s way.

My military “career” is hardly worth mentioning: three years in a band in Georgia, 1980–1983. Let it be noted that this was during a period of tension with the original Evil Empire™, Ronald Reagan’s Soviet Union. During my tenure at Fort McPherson, not a single Soviet military musical unit even got as far as Savannah, and I’m damn proud of that.

Silly, right? I’ll stack my record of military service up against any number of our current “leaders.” Look at a few prominent names on the list below. I can at least account for my years of service; George W. Bush can’t. That didn’t prevent him from allowing other to defame John McCain to Bush’s advantage in South Carolina in 2000. (The general gist of the comments was that McCain’s years in the Hanoi Hilton may have rendered him too unstable for the presidency.) Bush showed the same heroic spirit that kept him thousands of miles from Vietnam by his tepid condemnation of their actions, well after it made any difference.

Cheney? Paul Wolfowitz? Bill Frist? Rick Santorum? I’m Audie Murphy compared to these clowns. It’s an unfunny laugh to see those who found the time to serve celebrated by these “leaders,” who leveraged the service and sacrifice of others into the positions of power they have now.

Here’s the list. I make no representations for the complete accuracy, but nothing I could find in either Snopes or truthorfiction says it isn’t accurate. Remember, not serving is no dishonor. Profiting, financially or career-wise, by sending others into service you may have chosen to avoid, is. There’s a word for it. Cowardice. To paraphrase R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, next time you decide who’s a real patriot, remember who was listening to Mick Jagger records and screwing college girls when some others were putting their asses on the line.

Richard Gephardt: Air National Guard, 1965-71.
David Bonior: Staff Sgt., Air Force 1968-72.
Tom Daschle: 1st Lt., Air Force SAC 1969-72.
Al Gore: enlisted Aug. 1969; sent to Vietnam Jan. 1971 as an army
journalist in 20th Engineer Brigade.
Bob Kerrey: Lt. j.g. Navy 1966-69; Medal of Honor, Vietnam.
Daniel Inouye: Army 1943-47; Medal of Honor, WWII.
John Kerry: Lt., Navy 1966-70; Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat
V, Purple Hearts.
Charles Rangel: Staff Sgt., Army 1948-52; Bronze Star, Korea.
Max Cleland: Captain, Army 1965-68; Silver Star & Bronze Star,
Vietnam. Paraplegic from war injuries. Served in Congress.
Ted Kennedy: Army, 1951-53.
Tom Harkin: Lt., Navy, 1962-67; Naval Reserve, 1968-74.
Jack Reed: Army Ranger, 1971-1979; Captain, Army Reserve 1979-91.
Fritz Hollings: Army officer in WWII; Bronze Star and seven campaign
Leonard Boswell: Lt. Col., Army 1956-76; Vietnam, DFCs, Bronze
Stars,and Soldier's Medal.
Pete Peterson: Air Force Captain, POW. Purple Heart, Silver Star and
Legion of Merit.
Mike Thompson: Staff sergeant, 173rd Airborne, Purple Heart.
Bill McBride: Candidate for Fla. Governor. Marine in Vietnam; Bronze
Star with Combat V.
Gray Davis: Army Captain in Vietnam, Bronze Star.
Pete Stark: Air Force 1955-57
Chuck Robb: Vietnam
Howell Heflin: Silver Star
George McGovern: Silver Star & DFC during WWII.
Bill Clinton: Did not serve. Student deferments. Entered draft but
received #311.
Jimmy Carter: Seven years in the Navy.
Walter Mondale: Army 1951-1953
John Glenn: WWII and Korea; six DFCs and AirMedal with 18 Clusters.
Tom Lantos: Served in Hungarian underground in WWII. Saved by Raoul

Republicans -- and these are the guys sending people to war:
Dick Cheney: did not serve. Several deferments, the last by marriage.
Dennis Hastert: did not serve.
Tom Delay: did not serve.
Roy Blunt: did not serve.
Bill Frist: did not serve.
Mitch McConnell: did not serve.
Rick Santorum: did not serve.
Trent Lott: did not serve.
John Ashcroft: did not serve. Seven deferments to teach business.
Jeb Bush: did not serve.
Karl Rove: did not serve.
Saxby Chambliss: did not serve. "Bad knee." The man who attacked Max
Cleland's patriotism.
Paul Wolfowitz: did not serve.
Vin Weber: did not serve.
Richard Perle: did not serve.
Douglas Feith: did not serve.
Eliot Abrams: did not serve.
Richard Shelby: did not serve.
Jon! Kyl: did not serve.
Tim Hutchison: did not serve.
Christopher Cox: did not serve.
Newt Gingrich: did not serve.
Don Rumsfeld: served in Navy (1954-57) as flight instructor.
George W. Bush: failed to complete his six-year National Guard; got
assigned to Alabama so he could campaign for family friend running for
U.S. Senate; failed to show up for required medical exam, disappeared from
Ronald Reagan: due to poor eyesight, served in a non- combat role
making movies.
B-1 Bob Dornan: Consciously enlisted after fighting was over in
Phil Gramm: did not serve.
John McCain: Vietnam POW, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit,
Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.
Dana Rohrabacher: did not serve.
John M. McHugh: did not serve.
JC Watts: did not serve.
Jack Kemp: did not serve. "Knee problem, " although continued in NFL
for 8 years as quarterback.
Dan Quayle: Journalism unit of the Indiana National Guard.
Rudy Giuliani: did not serve.
George Pataki: did not serve.
Spencer Abraham: did not serve.
John Engler: did not serve.
Lindsey Graham: National Guard lawyer.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: AWOL from Austrian army base.

Pundits & Preachers
Sean Hannity: did not serve.
Rush Limbaugh: did not serve (4-F with a 'pilonidal cyst.')
Bill O'Reilly: did not serve.
Michael Savage: did not serve.
George Will: did not serve.
Chris Matthews: did not serve.
Paul Gigot: did not serve.
Bill Bennett: did not serve.
Pat Buchanan: did not serve.
John Wayne: did not serve.
Bill Kristol: did not serve.
Kenneth Starr: did not serve.
Antonin Scalia: did not serve.
Clarence Thomas: did not serve.
Ralph Reed: did not serve.
Michael Medved: did not serve.
Charlie Daniels: did not serve.
Ted Nugent: did not serve. (He only shoots at things that don't shoot

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Scooting into Court

The political right may not be as blind as I thought. Scooter Libby has been indicted on five felony counts, all roughly equating to obstruction of justice or perjury, depending on how strictly you interpret the indictment. The conservative media has been more restrained than usual in their comments so far, exhibiting at least a rudimentary understanding of the “glass houses” principle.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting approach. The WSJ made it crystal clear that lying under oath is wrong, and should never be condoned. Bu-u-u-u-t, they quibbled, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has shown no motive for the Scooter to perjure himself, so they remain skeptical.

This is disingenuous on two levels. This isn’t a murder case, where who did what first might be an issue and the best witness is dead. Perjury is a lot easier to prove. If he said A when he knew B to be true and Fitzgerald can prove it, Libby scoots off to jail. Motive is immaterial if the reasonable doubt threshold is met, much like no one really cares why Sam robbed the liquor store when they catch him red-handed. Libby may well have been caught in the act.

Another flaw in the Journal’s thinking hinges on their childlike innocence. They have no idea why their good friend Scooter would lie. To protect Dick Cheney, maybe. Telling Libby that Valerie Plame was an undercover operative probably isn’t a crime. Cheney may not have known how undercover she was, or had been; telling Libby isn’t the same as releasing the news to the media. It’s still embarrassing as hell for Dr. Strangelove, and Libby didn’t get his job by showing disloyalty to the people who could make or break him. Someone had to take this bullet for Cheney, and Scooter was in the right place at the right time.

Libby’s defense appears to be another insult to America’s collective intelligence: “I forgot.” Another example of naivety, similar to every child’s answer to such probing questions as “Why didn’t you brush your teeth?” or “Why isn’t this room clean?” Summon up an angelic face (a stray lock of hair across the forehead is always a nice touch), scratch your toe around in the dirt a few times, shove your hands into your pockets, and say, “I forgot.”

It’s not like Fitzgerald bumped into Libby on the White House elevator and said, “Hey, Scoot-man, where’d you hear about Valerie Plame?” thus catching Libby unaware. He was sent a formal invitation (doesn’t that sound much friendlier than “subpoena?”) and given plenty of time to prepare. These guys log everything, if only to defend against libel suits when their inevitable book comes out. What’s he going to say now, “Russert, Cheney, don’t you think they look like they were separated at birth?”

An article by two former Reagan staffers in Saturday’s Washington Post said Fitzgerald was a prime example of why special prosecutors are a bad idea. Their reasoning is based on him going back to his master and requesting permission to expand his investigative mandate to include possible perjury and obstruction charges. Well, duh! No one can run an investigation if the subjects or other “persons of interest” don’t have to tell the truth. That’s what investigations are supposed to do: find the truth, or as close as our system lets them get.

Libby did his job well. The old Reaganites also whined about how long Fitzgerald took on his investigation, conveniently forgetting Ken Starr kept his job longer than some Supreme Court justices. Fitzgerald said in his press conference that had it not been for the obstruction and delays by Libby (and possibly others as yet unnamed), the indictments could have come out a year earlier. For those keeping score at home, that would have been before the election. Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe not. As close as the election was, I think “maybe” is a good bet.

The editors of the Wall Street Journal are intelligent men; we can assume they’re too smart to believe half the crap they tried to pass off as valid points in their editorial. The problem is that truth is such a rare commodity in today’s political atmosphere it has almost become like the mysterious quark particles of physics, that can never be seen and must be assumed based on measurements and actions of the particles that contain them. Like a quark, truth cannot exist on its own in Washington; its mass is solely dependent on the spin exerted by outside forces.

Scooter Libby is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Given the state of politics in what passes for the world’s greatest democracy, maybe he should just get a presumption of “not guilty.” No one working in Washington today is innocent of the mess we’ve made.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Two types of people classically suffer from sleep deprivation: the parents of infants, and yours truly, for the duration of baseball’s playoffs. Last Tuesday’s (and Wednesday’s) Game 3 was a killer, running until 2:20 AM Eastern Time. Five hours and forty minutes of Tim McCarver should qualify as cruel and unusual punishment even during these Constitutionally-diluted, Patriot Act times. Fox Sports, get rid of the Tim-inater. Do it for the children, before they are permanently scarred.

Speaking of permanently scarred, how do you rest of you feel, knowing the two men who speak for you to the rest of the world are in favor of torture? The Senate, which has a Republican majority the last time I looked, voted 90 to 9 in favor of legislation to ban the use of “cruel and degrading treatment” of any prisoners in U.S. custody. The Bush Administration, in the person of Vice President Dick “Dr. Strangelove” Cheney, immediately submitted an amendment to exempt CIA employees from the measure. President Bush promises to veto the bill if it comes before him without the exemption.

This borders on the surreal. Bush has not vetoed a single bill since he took office. True, he had a legislature of sheep to work with until recently, herded by shameless “true believers” in both houses into voting however the Administration wanted. You doubt this? Just last month a bill to grant oil companies cost subsidies and sweeping environmental exemptions during Katrina rebuilding was extended to forty minutes from the customary five to give Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert, and Roy Blunt enough time to cajole, threaten, or extort enough votes to put them over the top, at which time the polls closed within seconds.

Bush himself has a disturbing tendency to confuse stubbornness with backbone. He concedes no errors in the Iraq debacle, intends to stay the course at whatever cost because God speaks to him. Apparently God’s interest does not extend to budgetary issues. The recent highway bill overspent the Bush-imposed ceiling by tens of billions of dollars, containing enough pork to kill every Muslim in the Middle East. No veto there; the tide’s been swinging against him lately and he wants everyone whose arm he might want to twist to go home and tell his or her constituents about the great bridge we’re getting so we can cross Ten-Inch Creek to get from the interstate to the Bumfuck County Bass Fishing Hall of Fame without having to drive three miles down the road, saving tens of ounces of oil in the process.

We’re talking about a lot worse than arm-twisting in the current veto threat. The CIA has been at least indirectly implicated in all of the prisoner abuse scandals of the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures. (I’d call them “wars,” but the mission was accomplished two and a half years ago, so the war must be over, right?) Some of these guys watch way too many movies and aren’t wired up the same way as you or me or anyone we’d want to have within two miles of us.

They represent us, too. Many of these nameless (or multi-named), faceless individuals operate under the loosest of controls and act put out at the mention of responsible oversight; yet everything they do reflects on all of us. Have you ever looked at the news after a particularly violent day of terrorism and think, “those people (Iraqis, Chechens, Arabs, Muslims, your choice) aren’t ready (or deserving) of freedom (or decent living conditions, or life itself)?” Be honest. The subliminal urge to generalize, to tar all similar people with the same broad brush, is universal. The world is too complicated to break down each individual motivation, and we’re too busy. This is conceded and understandable.

It’s the same for the other guys.

Every time word gets out that someone was abused, degraded, injured, allowed to die, or killed in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, their families and sympathizers think, “Americans did that.” Who can blame them? Remember, we’re talking about people with less education, who lack our easy access to multiple sources of information, so their opinions aren’t likely to be as “enlightened” as ours.

When they think, “Americans did that,” do they mean, “A small group of potentially sociopathic assholes who have found a job that grants them official indulgence for their acts under the guise of patriotism” did it? Or do they think “Americans” and leave it at that? When (not if) they think “Americans” and leave it at that, they mean me. And you, And my daughter. I have a problem with that. I hope you do, too.

The military has recently resorted to the discredited Vietnam-era practice of reciting enemy body counts to the media. (That’s a different argument, for a different rant.) They do it because they don’t have anything else to measure their activity by. How many times have we “neutralized” Fallujah? Would there be any takers if I offered to bet you we’ll have to go back in there some day? Body count statistics ignore how many new terrorists are created for every one we kill. There is no indication we’re slowing their activities. To the contrary, their Improvised Explosive Devices are becoming more sophisticated and deadly by the day, leading to a logical conclusion that the insurgents (terrorists, if you wish) are either getting better, or working together. Does Cheney still think they’re a bunch of “dead enders” on their last legs?

Remember when we were the good guys? When we fought against those who indulged in torture whether they were Nazis, Fascists, Communists, or Ba’athists? If Bush and Cheney have their way, that’s the column we’ll be in. Americans will be officially-sanctioned torturers, with all the consequences in diminished international stature, disgrace, and increased justification for terrorist acts by our enemies.

I’m not so naïve as to believe we never tortured anyone before. Every war has examples. We used to acknowledge them as aberrations, beyond the pale of American ideals, and treat the perpetrators as the morally hollow cockroaches they are. Now these acts are to be accepted as the price of safety in a dangerous world. I’m old enough to remember denouncing Communism for the philosophy, “The end justifies the means.” With apologies to the comic strip Pogo, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

This isn’t the ranting of a bleeding-heart liberal. I’ll stipulate to John McCain’s bona fides on this issue, as well as John Warner’s and Colin Powell’s. Each has come out strongly in favor of the no-torture legislation. This is about doing the right thing, and about either standing up for alleged American ideals or hiding under the bed while pretending evil done in our name is acceptable because we call ourselves the good guys.

Talk is cheap, and saying we’re the good guys doesn’t make it so; history will stand in judgment of our actions. The cowardice shown by condoning certain acts in the name of our safety implies that the ideals and virtues we supposedly believed in and were willing to die for only have value when there is no threat. It blasphemes the virtue we hold dear, and degrades the sacrifices of those who have died to defend it. We will lose all of what we claimed made us special, and still won’t be any safer. We will have sold out the priceless in a vain effort to protect the valuable.

And then the terrorists will have won, even if they never kill another American.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Fall Classic 2005

Output has been somewhat reduced lately here at The Home office. The company line blames it on a project at work and some family responsibilities. The truth is that October is always a slow month here, mainly due to sleep deprivation brought about by baseball playoff games that run until about 11:30 every night. At 88 days until the Big Five-O and counting, I’m too old to stay up that late and bounce right out of bed when the alarm rings at 5:45. Something has to give.

It won’t be the baseball. This year’s playoffs haven’t been as compelling as last year’s. Big surprise. Last year saw America’s version of Sisyphus, the Boston Red Sox, pull off a trifecta of which legends are made: not only the first team ever to come back from a three games to none deficit in a best-four-of-seven series, they did it against the hated Yankees, the Evil Empire, Sparta to the Athens of America. The Sox then ran the table, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Championship since 1918, crushing the Curse of the Bambino, which the Sox had brought upon themselves by selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees, who at that time were still only Annakin Skywalker compared to the Darth Vader they would become. That’s drama.

This Series has potential. The White Sox are one of only two teams who have waited longer than the Red Sox for a championship. Of course, they earned their curse, throwing the 1919 World Series. (The Cubs are the only team with a longer streak of frustration. They claim their own Curse of the Billy Goat, but they’re playing catch-up. The Cubs aren’t cursed; they just suck. If there is a Cub curse, it’s because the baseball gods can’t bear the thought of their yuppie scum fans wrecking Wrigleyville.) There can’t be more than a handful of people alive who can honestly claim to remember the last time the White Sox won the World Series; most people aren’t old enough to remember their last trip to the big dance in 1959.

No one remembers the last time the Houston Astros won: they never have. Born in 1962, the Astros didn’t win a postseason series of any kind until last year, before losing to the Cardinals in a seven-game thriller eclipsed nationally by the Red Sox-Yankees cataclysm. No matter who wins this year, it will be something new.

The White Sox are favored, having won 99 regular season games. The Astros won 89, sneaking into the playoffs on the last day as the wild card, 11 games behind St. Louis. Of course the Astros have since beaten the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, and people paying attention aren’t surprised. Most mentions of the Astros’ disastrous start this year (15-30) are combined with comparison to the only other team to be 15 games under .500 and still play in the postseason, the 1914 Miracle Braves, lending a mildly disparaging “little engine that could” flavor the accomplishment. Left unmentioned is that the Astros’ record after they got their act together was 74-43, a pace that would have won 102 games over a full season. That’s two more than the Cardinals; three more than the Sox.

A lot has been made of Chicago’s brilliant postseason starting pitching. Deservedly so: four consecutive complete postseason games hasn’t been done since the 1956 Yankees. Good as they are, it’s unlikely they’ll stay that hot. Houston’s top three of Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Roy Oswalt aren’t bad, either. They’ll start six of a possible seven games, with Oswalt the likely Game 7 starter. Anyone who saw him pitch against St. Louis in Games 2 and 6 has to like Houston’s chances in a potential deciding game, and he wasn’t pitching over his head.

Houston doesn’t score many runs, and the White Sox have good hitters up and down the lineup. A World Series foible augurs in the ‘Stro’s favor. The White Sox will get to use the Designated Hitter in Games 1, 2, 6, and 7; pitchers bat in Games 3, 4, and 5. This means the Sox will be without their usual Number Five hitter Carl Everett and his 23 home runs and 87 RBI when playing in the jet engine-equaling noise of Minute Maid Park. The Astros will use their regular lineup.

It’s in Chicago that the Astros get a break. Future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell has suffered through a serious shoulder injury all year, unable to throw even well enough to play first base. He can still hit, and had a decent year playing almost exclusively as a pinch hitter. He’s a rallying presence for the Houston team, and has been a leader ever since the Killer Bees came into existence over ten years ago. (Houston seems to have an affinity for good hitters whose names begin with B. This year’s team features Biggio, Burke, and Berkman, in addition to Bagwell, plus a pitcher named Backe.)

Both teams can manufacture runs with the best of them. Chicago led the American League in successful squeeze bunts; Houston was second in the NL. Both teams have speed and play good defense. One of them will break a schneid of historic proportions in what should be a series of closely-played games. Probably seven of them, with Houston winning four.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


There are several milestones in everyone’s life. (At least, those fortunate enough to not have to skip any.)

First, you’re born. Not much to say about this, since no one remembers being born except Shirley McLaine.

The first memorable milestone is your eighteenth birthday, when you legally become an adult and can tell those penurious sadists who raised you to take a hike, unless and until you need money or a place to stay.

Next is your twenty-first birthday, when you get to see the look on the face of the bartender who’s been serving you for two years when you show him your driver’s license.

No one likes thirty; you’re officially grown up then, and describing an action as a “youthful indiscretion” doesn’t excuse it, unless you’re a politician.

Forty gets mixed reviews. Some say life begins at forty: others view it as the Gateway to Middle Age. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

At fifty there’s no kidding anyone. You’re middle-aged, at the penultimate milestone. The only thing to look forward to is hoping the Icy Hand of Death™ gets you before you have to pay strangers to wipe your ass.

Then comes the pre-ordained stroll down Memory Lane as your life flashes before your eyes, fingers intertwined with the aforementioned Icy Hand.

Only the first and last are mandatory. Fortunately, a majority of us get to have them all. Since each one brings you closer to your rendezvous with the IHD, the latter milestones are often viewed with some trepidation. (The earlier ones are enjoyed, since everyone under thirty knows they’re going to live forever.) Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter where you are in the series, every day you wake up is one less.

Your influence on that is twofold. Your actions can, to some degree, influence how many of those mornings you get to count down. No one has total control; not a week goes by that I’m not reminded of the late Military Intelligence Correspondent, who didn’t smoke, drank very little, indulged in no drugs or life-threatening experiences, and still felt the Icy Hand on his shoulder at the age of forty-seven.

What you can control is how you handle it. To paraphrase a birthday card I bought for a female friend’s thirtieth birthday once, you can view each day as being older than you’ve ever been before, or as being younger than you’re ever going to be. (This might have something to do with why she and I haven’t spoken in over ten years. I guess it’s unreasonable to expect a person that young to grasp certain metaphysical concepts.) I have chosen the latter.

As my penultimate milestone approaches, I have made a conscious decision to embrace it, have some fun with it, thumb my nose at the Icy Hand. Today starts the countdown to The Big Five-Oh; one hundred more days until my forties are but a memory, with no more substance than the Red Sox’ reign as World Champions or Pia Zadora’s acting career. (If that doesn’t show my age, nothing does.)

Let’s have some fun with this. Send in whatever geriatric humor you have; beating a dead horse is rarely as much fun as when you’re reminding some horse’s ass of his (her) mortality. For those of you who are younger than I, take heed; maybe you’ll learn something. For those of you who are older, take care of yourselves. There’s only one way I can catch you, and we’re having too much fun together for either of us to want that.

Friday, September 23, 2005

William Vacchiano, 1912 - 2005

I never had the privilege of meeting William Vacchiano, although he’s responsible for one of my fondest trumpet memories. He was a profound influence on several people who have similarly influenced me, and so I was as saddened by his passing this week as I have ever been for someone I didn’t know.

The name William Vacchiano probably doesn’t mean anything to most of you, certainly not to those of you without some close involvement to classical music. That was probably all right with him. Bill Vacchiano enjoyed what I would consider to be the perfect measure of fame: he could go wherever he wanted without being disturbed by the public at large, while his peers and aspirants parted like the Red Sea to make way for him.

Vacchiano became one of the small handful of truly great orchestral trumpeters by accident. His father sent him to the music store to get a clarinet. Young Bill had a little trouble deciphering the instructions (given in Italian), and came home with a cornet. It worked out well for everyone.

He made his first mark in 1935, fresh out of Juilliard, where he had studied with Max Schlossberg, the father of American trumpet teaching. Auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic on the same day, Vacchiano won both auditions. True, audition procedures were much more relaxed then than they are today; he wasn’t subject to the modern cattle calls of two hundred players that often show up for a single position. Still, playing for Simone Mantia and Arturo Toscanini on the same day was a tough gig; being hired by both is the stuff of legend.

Vacchiano chose the Philharmonic, where he served as associate principal until being promoted to principal trumpet in 1942. He held that position until his retirement in 1973, becoming probably the most visible orchestral trumpeter ever. For those of you old enough to remember, it was Bill Vacchiano playing first trumpet when Leonard Bernstein was televising his Young People’s Concerts and other programs that established Bernstein as the pre-eminent American musician of his time.

It’s only appropriate that Vacchiano was succeeded as principal trumpet by two of his students, Gerard Schwarz and Phil Smith. Vacchiano will be remembered as a player for as long as his recordings exist; his influence as a teacher will never end. He taught at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music for sixty-seven years, from 1935–2002. He also found time to work in some teaching at the Mannes School from 1937–1983.

It would be fair to say that every major American orchestra has had at least one of his students in the trumpet section at some time. I’d be surprised if any major orchestra didn’t have at least one player today who either studied with him or one of his students. There was no template to his teaching, no “one size fits all” approach. His students cover the gamut of playing styles, and encompass more than orchestral careers: Wynton Marsalis studied with Vacchiano at Juilliard.

I never met William Vacchiano, and haven’t played in anything like a serious ensemble in over ten years, yet one of the most cherished memories of my trumpet career involves him. It was the 1990 International Trumpet Guild Conference. I had helped a manufacturer in his display booth, and took advantage of the end of the day to sneak in a little testing of my own. I played the trumpet solo from Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingale to what I thought was an empty room. Played it pretty well, I thought.

I finished with the feeling someone else was still there. I looked up and saw Bill Vacchiano about twenty feet away at the Stork mouthpiece display, getting ready to leave. We made eye contact for just a few seconds, then he nodded once, smiling only with his eyes. I can still see him; I don’t think anyone ever said anything about my playing that made me feel better than that glance.

If that’s how Bill Vacchiano could make a stranger feel at a random meeting, it’s no wonder his students, friends, and intimates, many of whom fill all three roles, feel his loss so strongly today. The rest of us can only imagine what it must have been like to get some of that every week, and be grateful that he has achieved a measure of true immortality. Not only will he be remembered well beyond his time here, but he continues to influence his art, and the lives of those who practice it.

Thank you, Bill.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

What's in a Name?

Ref·u·gee. (ref´ · ū · jē) noun
One who flees in search of refuge.

[French réfugié, from past participle of réfugier, to take refuge; from Old French, from refuge, refuge.]

Americans love to label things; thinking of a good acronym sends some (typically computer types or government workers) in a state resembling sexual ecstasy, or what computer types and government workers think sexual ecstasy might be like if they ever came across any. Many labels, once attached, take on lives of their own, sometimes wildly divergent from the original meaning.

It’s one thing to re-define slang, or words intended to be derogatory. The much-vilified N word, or the famous twelve-letter epithet denoting highly developed Oedipal tendencies come to mind. Sometimes a word is invented for a specific purpose, or shoehorned into a euphemism to keep from saying something is a duck, no matter how it walks or quacks. When our military crossed the border from Vietnam into Cambodia in large numbers, it was called an “incursion.” There was already an appropriate and well-accepted word available; “invasion” was apparently too war-like. (Since we didn’t invade, did we incurse? Where’s George Carlin when you need him?)

Now Jesse Jackson is up in arms because the media has referred to those displaced by Hurricane Katrina as “refugees.” I don’t know what term Jesse prefers, mainly because I don’t care. He’s not upset over the accuracy of the word, which is a good thing for someone who’s supposed to be well-educated. He says the word is racist.

It’s comments like this that have relegated Jesse to the status of Al Sharpton with better hair. Remember when Jesse was considered a role model and inspirational speaker, the most visible disciple of Martin Luther King? Probably not, if you’re under thirty or thirty-five. Now he’s reduced himself to arriving at media events with his entourage to give a sound bite, probably something rhyming or otherwise catchy to better ensure his appearance on the news.

The war in Iraq – pardon me, the peacekeeping in Iraq – has shifted most attention usually paid to civil rights away from the racial issues characterized by the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection guarantees, and back to the Bill of Rights. This means Jesse (and Al, and Lou) are scrambling for time on the news and coming out behind Scot Peterson, Natalee Holloway, and whether or not Jennifer Anniston can be happy with Vince Vaughn since Brad dumped her for that tattooed skank Angelina Jolie.

The sad truth here is that it’s Jesse who’s being the racist. I have no knowledge of him decrying the use of the term when applied to Iraqis, or those fleeing the genocide at Darfur. For him to imply that “refugee” confers an inferior status on those so called, he must therefore imply the same for these others, displaced through no more fault of their own than those in Louisiana.

This should be good news. It’s nice to know Jesse clearly feels race relations in this country have come so far that he can spend his valuable time quibbling over a dictionary definition. Instead of continuing the abstract discussion over how many racists can dance on the head of a pin, his time might have been better spent by using some of his pull with Operation Push to help the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Maybe he could ditch the expensive suit and get down in the dirt with some of the not-refugees he claims to care so much about and actually do something for them.

No matter how anyone feels about who should have done what and when, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a tragedy in the true sense of the word. (Sorry, Jen, no matter how bad Brad the bastard behaved, you don’t qualify.) Of the millions of words of invective and finger-pointing, Jesse’s choice of argument has probably trivialized the situation as much as anything else, coming as it has from an ostensibly responsible and respected leader. Except maybe for Shrub’s comment about what a nice new house Trent Lott is going to have.

Those are examples of what passes for leadership in Twenty-first Century America. They are prosecution exhibits A and B in making the case for why so much of New Orleans isn’t there any more.

(Does anyone else see the irony? The word that means “one who flees in search of refuge” is French in origin?)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Ass on Your Way Out

The Gulf Coast may have turned the corner in its recovery efforts: Mike Brown has gone back to Washington. His onsite post will be assumed by a Coast Guard officer who has seen disasters other than his own performance up close before.

Brown said through a spokesman that he was planning to leave FEMA after the hurricane season, anyway. Did the Prince of Darkness think leaving Brown to serve his nefarious purposes at FEMA any longer would be too obvious? A few weeks ago, this blog commented on how the Nineties and the Aughts were beginning to resemble the Fifties and the Sixties, partly due to government’s inability to be trusted, or to do anything right. While not absolving state and local officials in New Orleans, Brown had become the face that represented the government’s lack of initiative, compassion, and having a clue. Whether Brown really had planned to leave, or if that’s a last-minute cover story, Friday’s move can only be viewed as holding the door open for him.

Brown’s accomplishments as FEMA Administrator were defined when he said he was unaware people were stranded in the Superdome and Convention Center. Camel drivers in East Al-Boumfukk, Libya, knew thousands of people were living under conditions so bad that Sudan was taking up a collection to help them. Even staunchly conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer suggested in Friday’s column that Brown should have hired a few twenty year-old interns to watch CNN and keep him posted on developments as they occurred.

It might have been a coincidence, but Brown’s reassignment came within a day of the Mexican Army entering the United States for the first time since 1846, bringing water treatment plants and mobile kitchens. Is that depressing to anyone else? No insult intended toward Mexico’s generous and humanitarian gesture, but don’t we have any of that stuff? How can any American government official look himself in the eye the next time he criticizes Mexicans for illegally crossing the border? “We saved your pale asses, gringo. Now you see why we going in through Arizona and California. New Orleans makes Tijuana look like Monte Carlo. We won’t even drink the water there. Gives us Napoleon’s Revenge.”

FEMA did their best to keep out the Mexicans, along with the Canadians, Swedes, Germans, and probably several other countries. The Swedes had a state of the art emergency communications system loaded up and ready to fly in; they were told to hold for over three days because FEMA wasn’t ready to receive it. Mike Brown doesn’t know thousands of people are dying in the Dome and the Convention Center, and we don’t need an emergency communications system.

Better aid has begun to flow in. Thanks again to the Mexicans, who used their years of experience to show the rest of the world how to evade American government officials trying to deny them access to this country. And before I get chastised for once again being too hard on France, let’s appreciate their contribution. An elite French commando team snuck into New Orleans late last week to share their centuries of experience in mass evacuations.

For those of you who consider me to be a persistent bleeding heart liberal pussy, here’s the link to Krauthammer’s excellent op-ed piece of September 9. I have little argument with anything in there.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

What is Hip?

What’s it called when ten musicians, ranging in age from thirty to sixty, play a consistent repertoire of tunes, none of which have hit the charts for the last twenty years? If the musicians are known as Tower of Power, you have as good an evening of musical entertainment as can be had.

TOP started in 1968 and had a decent run on the charts. “Don’t Change Horses” and “You Ought to be Having Fun” were probably their two biggest hits. Their current show fits both of these into a medley including a few of their more generally popular songs. It’s nice they acknowledge their past; what they’re about now is pleasing their fans.

They don’t play a lot of gigs anymore. You’re not going to catch them trying to drum up some nostalgia business on a bill with Black Sabbath or Motley Crue. TOP plays fifty or so concerts a year, mostly to true aficionados, and no one has more fun than they do.

They’re a throwback to the days when live performances were more than promotional appearances for the new album. They’ve only made two recordings in the last seven years. Their cult status is secure.

It’ll stay secure, too, since so much of the cult is populated by other musicians, or knowledgeable laymen. There’s nothing new at a TOP gig, no special effects, no whoring to bring in new listeners. They’re happy with the crowds they draw, which overflow the venues they play. They play for themselves, and for their long-time fans. They’re not averse to new believers; my fourteen year-old has seen them twice and loved it both times. TOP just wants to make sure the true believers get taken care of. They’re like the Grateful Dead for people with jobs.

Every concert is an hour and a half of balls to the wall soul, rhythm and blues, soul, and acknowledgements of the greatness of James Brown. The Godfather of Soul can’t be duplicated, so they don’t try. Every tune pays homage without being a rip-off. Brown’s influences are everywhere, but no one sounds like Tower of Power.

They are the coolest act in show business. What makes these pre-geriatric farts so cool? They do what they do better than anyone else, and make no pretense to be anything but what they are. A TOP performance lacks the arrogance of some popular “artists” who treat their audiences like dirt because no one else understands their brilliance. Quite the opposite; TOP makes sure to give their audience what it wants: an evening of flawlessly played, tightly arranged, energetically performed music that can’t be heard anywhere else.

Emilio Castillo, Steven Kupka, and Dave Garibaldi have known what is hip from the get-go. Lucky for all of us they choose to keep sharing it. Everyone should get on down to the nightclub for a soul vaccination once in a while, even when it’s souled out. To paraphrase one of their tunes, wherever I go, whatever I do, one thing remains the same: I’ll still be diggin’ on TOP.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Opportunity is Where You Find It

The people of New Orleans can rest easy, their nightmare is over. George Bush flew over yesterday.

He didn’t land, but the pilot got as low as 1700 feet and flew around for half an hour so Shrub could look out the window like a kid discovering an ant farm. No time to stop, he’d only been on vacation for a month, his busy schedule of dissing Gold Star mothers didn’t leave any time for pressing the flesh, maybe ask how some of these people were doing. No point. He’s not running for anything, he has a mandate.

This is our president, the man who personifies compassionate conservatism. Like so many under that umbrella, the only thing he’s conservative with is his compassion. Certainly not with money; no one ever spent it like he has.

Now it’s time to see if we got what we paid for. Shrub has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to “protect” us from the ravages of terrorism. How can we best evacuate entire cities in the event of a nucular attack? Protect the water supply from contaminants? Maintain order in the face of crisis?

Here’s his big chance. Throwing out the first pitch at a World Series game, then turning out the lights in two countries half a world away is easy. All this time he’s been worrying about towel-headed fanatics living in caves, and who puts the big hit on him? The same God whose Agent on Earth Shrub considers himself to be.

This is his chance to be a hero. With the Iraq situation going to hell in a handbasket, his primary historical legacies will be having the world’s worst terrorist attack take place in his country, on his watch, and leaving the Middle East a bigger mess than he found it, no mean feat.

He said he was devastated, looking out the window as he flew over. “Those people down there must be doubly devastated.” Devastated twice as much as him? People who have lost everything, and have no idea when they can go back to clean up so they can start over? Twice as much as he’s devastated after his month-long vacation at his private ranch, off to spend the weekend at Camp David, unless he rolls up his sleeves and stays in the sweatshop called the White House?

It’s one thing not to be a good president; this clueless bastard isn’t even a good person. Shame on us, shame on us all for letting him happen.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Sibling Ambition

I am fortunate to have friends eager to assuage my divorced father guilt by telling me what a good father I am: responsible adult, role model, all the usual stuff. I’m grateful for that, and to them for seeing those qualities in me, even if I occasionally disagree about how much of each is present.

My recent vacation showed me the real thing (again). Someone who never misses one of his kids’ school or personal events. He’s up early to get them off for school, picks them up from day care when necessary, and more often than not makes supper after work. He’s remodeled the house and installed an above-ground pool and deck for them. There is no task too large to undertake on their behalf, and no detail so small it is overlooked.

He was gracious enough to point out to a friend the many alleged sacrifices I make to be a good father, while acknowledging none of his own. Our “sacrifices” have much in common: I never feel as though I have sacrificed anything for the Sole Heir, I look forward to spending time and doing things with, and for, her. Watch him for a few days and it’s easy to see the same is true.

The difference is that when I found myself in a marital situation I didn’t understand and failed to grasp well, I left. I didn’t disappear (my responsibilities as a father were never too far from my mind and I could always be rounded up with a phone call), but I wasn’t home and certainly wasn’t as close as I should have been for a few years. Say what you want about making the effort, no absentee father can be as good as one who is home and makes the effort.

And that’s what he does. I’m not implying any superhuman endurance for his staying married; he and his wife get along as well, or better, as any couple I know. Still, they’ve been married almost fifteen years, human nature tells us there has been some friction. I’m sure he dealt with it as he deals with everything else: patiently, willing to see both sides, and to place the greater benefit ahead of his own.

This is an impressive guy, there’s no one I respect more. I’m may be four years older, but I want to be just like my brother when I grow up.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

On the Road Again

It’s even money you know someone who has something they’ve always wanted to do. It may even be the person who lives in your mirror. They might want a trip, learn a new skill, or do something they already know but never get around to, whatever. Not to sound too much like I don’t despise Nike anymore, here are two words of advice.

Do it.

I’m not talking about anything destructive, or that might imperil one’s financial security. This isn’t advocating investing all your money in penny stocks or dabbling in recreational heroin use. Nor should this be used as an argument for doing something conspicuous just for the sake of showing off, like spending the food money on a yellow Hummer so everyone can see you driving three blocks to the store. I’m talking about feeding your soul.

This soul food will be different for everyone. For me it’s a vacation. Not too expensive, not exotic at all. It’s a simple matter of packing up my car and daughter and driving to Colorado to visit my brother and his family. It’s a little over 4,000 miles the way we do it (4,069.3 this year, to be precise), and not trying to save too many miles is the secret.

This year’s trip was the southern route. We drove into Virginia, through the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky to Nashville, then across I-40 through Memphis and Oklahoma City to angle north in Amarillo, catching I-25 in New Mexico to come at Denver from the south. Coming home was more or less a straight shot on I-70.

We saw the Kentucky Horse Park, crossed the Mississippi (too late to go to Mud Island), made a slight detour to Toad Suck Park, Arkansas. (No kidding, you can look it up.) Found a great Italian place in Oklahoma City and had lunch at a steak ranch in Amarillo where the 72-oz. steak was free if you could eat it in an hour. (We each had a 16 ouncer and it held us for lunch and supper.) Saw dinosaur footprints in New Mexico and drove through country that probably looks just as it did three hundred years ago. Coming home we rode to the top of the Gateway Arch and watched a Cardinals’ game in St. Louis.

It would be easy to get all Zen about it and say it was the journey that mattered, not the destination. The journey was spectacular, every mile a pleasure, and was still overshadowed by five days in Colorado with my brother’s family. A Rockies’ game, Water World, cookouts, pool time, trips to Boulder and Golden, and just remembering what it feels like to spend time with the most genetically similar person in the world to yourself, remembering you like him and would spend a lot more time like this if you weren’t separated by half a continent.

The cousins, my daughter (14) and his two girls (12 and 10), have been together maybe ten times in their lives, and couldn’t be closer if they were triplets. They were virtually joined at the hip from 3:00 PM Wednesday until 7:00 AM Tuesday. If there was a cross word between them, the adults missed it.

Now we’re home. The Sole Heir is preparing for her vacation with her mother, I’m back to work. Last weekend barely existed for me, as I slept 4,000 miles of driving out of my system and sinuses. Seems hard to imagine all the stuff we did, so far removed it all was from our normal time together. That’s why we’ll move heaven and earth to do it again in two years, then two more, until she’s of an age where adult responsibility overtakes even her father’s ability to keep her a child as long as practical, then a week more.

Such a trip might not be for everyone, but everyone has its equivalent in them somewhere, looking for a chance to break the mold, one seemingly out of character activity that helps to define the rest of your life by what it is not. Not particularly responsible, though great responsibility is required to carry it off safely. Not particularly expensive, though penury is no way to have fun and the budget was gleefully adjusted on the fly. Not difficult, even if being the sole driver for that long is no picnic. Just something you can enjoy without guilt or second thought, your adult responsibilities leavened by childlike release.

I can’t wait for next time. More of a northern route, maybe including Yellowstone…

Friday, July 15, 2005

Not a Helpful Solution

The Literary Correspondent recently forwarded to The Home Office a disturbing e-mail she had received. It should be pointed out that the Literary Correspondent and I have a tendency to look at events from different sides of the political spectrum.

A friend of hers (fortunately for me, I don’t know that I have any “friends” of this ilk, and don’t want to find out) is soliciting support for an anti-terrorist letter to be sent to “Senators, Congressmen and all political figures who need to act now to protect us from the Muslim terrorists.” The accompanying letter is better described as a screed. It begins:

To date, and to the best of my knowledge, we have not heard from any Muslim leaders in our country denouncing the Muslim attacks on us and on our allies. Why do we not expect these people, in our country, to stand with us and loudly denounce the insurgent terrorists?

And concludes:

What can we do about the Muslim invasion in our country?

Some ideas:

Do not allow Muslim schools in this country.
Do not allow Muslim mosques in this country.
Stop all Muslims from entering this country.
Do not support Muslim owned businesses; many are fundraisers for the insurgents.
Do not believe that any Muslims are peaceful, read their doctrines and beliefs.
AND, the ACLU be damned!

First, the personal note. As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I have issues with her presumption of the authority to damn anyone, let alone me. Based on her letter, she’s in way over her head in making those kinds of judgments. She should stick to things more in line with her talents. Coloring between the lines. Not stepping on sidewalk cracks.

You’d think Americans would have learned their lessons from the forced internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II, or the McCarthy-era blacklistings. As much as some Americans claim to love freedom, and are willing to see every Iraqi citizen blown to tiny bits so those tiny bits can be free, we’re willing to deny that freedom to others at the drop of a casualty.

The event that must have triggered this outburst (based on its date) didn’t even happen here. We could learn a lot from the British response to last week’s bombings. The affected areas were cordoned off as crime scenes for a few days; it was business as usual elsewhere. London lost as many as 500 people a night during the Blitz and basically told Hitler to go fuck himself. A lot Brits who grew up then are still around. I don't think half a dozen backpack charges placed at the behest of a guy who lives in a cave is going to faze them much.

The mayor made a speech to that effect the other day. “London has been the target of a cowardly terrorist attack…This was indiscriminate slaughter irrespective of age, class, religion, whatever…That isn’t an ideology. It isn’t even a perverted faith. It is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder…I urge Londoners from all of this city’s diverse communities and faiths to support one another and stand together against terrorism…Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.” (Emphasis not in original.)

That about sums it up, somewhat more eloquently than I would have. I looked through the speech, “and the camel you rode in on” isn’t in the text. It doesn’t have to be; it sits between the lines, holding the speech together like the mortar between bricks.

What might be the most important aspect of his speech is his appeal to all faiths to support each other and stand together. Any overt attempts to marginalize an entire religion even more than it is will only increase the alienation and rancor. Our best way out of this is to establish better rapport with mainstream Muslims. They are best suited to communicate rationally with anyone on the fence about the long-term benefits of working peacefully, and best positioned to provide information on who might be prepared to do us wrong.

Before we do anything we can’t undo and could be ashamed to explain to our children, let’s make sure we aren’t panicking over this. Among my first memories as I became aware of the world around me were the annual summer race riots during the mid to late sixties. I was surprised when they stopped; I assumed black people routinely burned down cities every summer. Time passed, conditions changed, and discontent over civil rights (or the lack thereof) became expressed differently.

Terrorism as we see it now may well be a phase that will pass. That’s not to say we should sit back and do nothing and take our casualties; that's wrong-headed and will only delay the end of the phase. Let’s treat the perpetrators as they criminals they are, and treat law-abiding citizens as the fully functional members of a free society that they are until proven otherwise. If we don't believe the system we claim to have loved so much for 229 years can handle this, then we're even more hypocritical than I have been suspecting.

Walking away from what we are supposed to stand for in the name of nominally increased security is handing the terrorists a greater victory than they could ever hope to achieve by blowing up every building in the country. Their supposed purpose is to undermine our freedoms and way of life. They can’t do that unless we let them. The sentiments in our anonymous letter do exactly that.

The terrorists who blew up London and the World Trade Center are no more Muslims than Timothy McVeigh was a good Christian boy. I doubt the writer of the above letter ever contemplated rounding up all the Christians (or even just the Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, whatever McVeigh was) and shipping them off somewhere. What’s that? They’re citizens, and were already here? So are a lot of Muslims, some of whom probably have a much better understanding of the Bill of Rights than does our letter writer.

Terrorists are an abomination in the sight of decent people everywhere, regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, or national origin. If we want to stop them, let’s make it easier for their unwilling “peers” to speak out against their atrocities. The terrorist mantra is that they’re being ignored, their convictions trampled by a Western world intent on destroying them. Iraq is their greatest recruiting poster. Maybe it’s time to invest in making friends in addition to killing enemies. Just killing enemies doesn’t seem to be making us any safer.