Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Man With No Name Rides Again

Anonymous has entered another sad chapter in his ongoing saga of learning to read for comprehension. I don’t want to keep him away from his normal reading material of “Highlights” and “Jack and Jill,” but he raised a couple of points that I’d hate for anyone to think were an accurate description of what I wrote.

I’ll begin with kudos. At least this time Anonymous addressed something I actually said, instead of riffing on his own inaccurate inferences. His opening paragraph deserves close examination.

He begins:
No, what's "chickenshit" is calling people you don't even know, or have even taken the time to understand, "towel-headed, camel-driving sand monkeys". Have you even considered how many millions of individual people you might have insulted and degraded with such a blanket comment?

Sure I have: none. The people distinctly referred to as “towel-headed, camel-driving sand monkeys” were those who threaten or carry out extreme violence over a cartoon. No one else was implied. If anything, my comments gave such troglodytes the benefit of the doubt. Nothing I say could possibly degrade them more than their own actions.

Anonymous continues:
I am quite sure you don't even know enough about the Muslim faith to write a paragraph, much less justify this denegration [sic] of millions of people that you've never even met.

I doubt too many would say it takes a religious scholar to identify this spade as a spade. We’re not talking about religion; we’re talking about violence and the denial of freedoms (speech, religion, etc.) to others.

He then goes on about my suggestion to the overwhelming majority of law-abiding, tolerant, and peaceful Muslims to cut these extremists loose as “plain lunacy,” saying Muslims have no more control over these extremists than Christians have over theirs, and that if ending the madness was that easy I should just contact any number of “Christian” organizations and tell them to “knock it off.”

This blog is my forum for doing that. If anything, I have even more scorn for the Aryan Nation, KKK, and the other human impersonators he mentions because I don’t want anyone to think their actions represent me in any way. It’s possible the media underreports the denunciation of extreme Muslims by mainstream Muslims. I can only go by what I know.

Anonymous, do us all a favor. Instead of attacking the messenger, why don’t you apply your righteous indignation to telling us what you think of the medieval morons who carried their “Death to Freedom” signs and pledged violence against blameless individuals living in countries who have done no one any harm? You’ve responded as though this was all about me expressing my opinion. It’s not. It’s about those who would deny others the right to express theirs.

So, what do you think about the cartoon violence, Anonymous?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming In

The recent blog post (over)exercising my right of free speech at Mohammed’s expense sure got Anonymous’ shorts in a knot. (See below, “I See Your Intolerance and Raise You,” and the comment that follows.) Getting trashed by a reader is almost as much fun as an appreciation, because no matter what sets them off, the reply is often an amalgam of arguments only tangentially related to the original sentiments, if at all. Anonymous did not disappoint.

Let’s begin with his choice of screen name: Anonymous. He must have sat up all night thinking of that. Granted, the Internet grants even me a fair measure of anonymity; at least have the courage to use a name that could be recognized later so people would have some sense of who you are. What does “Anonymous” tell anyone? “Pussy” was already taken?

As for his argument, his logic is tenuous, at best. (I have too much respect for women to deduce this writer is anything but a male.) He begins with “Ah, so Muslims have a monopoly on terrorist acts, torture, and abuse of those beholden?” Does that appear in my post, or in anything else I’ve ever written? I’ll guarantee it doesn’t, because I don’t believe it. More heinous acts have been justified, and continue to be justified, in the name of religion than for all other reasons put together. Just because Muslims didn’t invent religious evil and don’t hold the franchise doesn’t mean they can’t be taken to task for it.

The rest of his diatribe is a rant against Catholicism. I don’t know where he got his hard-on for the Catholic Church; maybe his last payoff check from the archdiocese didn’t clear. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have a whole lot good to say about that church, either. Everything he said is true. So what? The piece that set him off wasn’t about Catholics. They’ll get their day in the barrel. In fact, they have already, as some of you who received my pre-blog rants may remember.

He doesn’t talk about Muslims much, but infers some comparisons by introducing Catholics into a reply to a piece about Islam. It doesn’t take a major leap of faith (sorry, couldn’t help myself) to see him falling into a logic fallacy perfected by Republicans: I don’t like what you said, but can’t defend my position, so I’ll say your guy is just as bad, everyone does it, therefore what you accused me of can’t be that terrible. Lowering the bar for intelligent argument by too easily accepting that line of thinking could someday lead to Danny DeVito playing center for the Celtics, so we won’t go there.

There’s a lot more to pick on in his reply; I’m moving to a new home and pressed for time, so I’ll stick to two distinct items. Most of his comments are geared toward the pedophilia scandals that have shamed Catholics in recent years, and the money spent buying silence while those responsible were shuttled from parish to parish to prey on other unsuspecting children. There are not words strong enough to condemn the priests who abused those children, or the church officials who allowed this to continue.

That being said, I can’t remember a single instance of any Catholic clergyman, priest, monsignor, bishop, cardinal, you name it, advocating pederasty. I dare anyone reading this to name me one example of any ordained Catholic getting up in front of a crowd and inciting them to bugger little boys in the name of Jesus. Blowing yourself up as a way to kill innocent children is touted as the way to martyrdom and seventy-two virgins by certain Muslim clerics. Not mainstream, true, but how long do you think a priest could remain frocked if Sunday’s homily extolled the benefits of polishing Father Dick’s special chalice?

At least Anonymous has a sense of humor. Toward the end he attacks the Catholic Church’s record toward women by documenting its (admittedly true) abysmal record on the treatment of women, concluding with, “women have it made within this church, sign me up!” Given the choice between being a Catholic woman and a Muslim woman seems pretty clear; he had to be kidding, right?

I know, he never said Muslims were better, or even as good. He sure implied the hell out of it, though. Coupling his arguments to mine leaves him at least as open as me to a verbal bludgeoning, if only to get him to pay attention and read what’s written, not what isn’t. No essay is intended to be a comprehensive listing of what irritates me; I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. Criticism of what I wrote is welcome; I’m always happy to learn something new. Anonymous sniping of what I didn’t write because I didn’t write it is chickenshit.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I See Your Intolerance and Raise You

The surrealism of Twenty-First Century life has been ratcheted up another notch by the recent wave of violence surrounding the publication of some Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in what some of his more zealous followers consider to be a less than flattering light. There have been demonstrations, violence, stuff blown up; you know, the usual.

The Home Office has scrupulously avoided overtly criticizing religious beliefs; I say overtly because you never know what fringe group might be mortally offended and willing to condemn me to eternal damnation because I put gum in a car lock or don’t believe homosexuals will burn in hell. With that in mind, keeping to our devoutly-held philosophy of religious tolerance, I have a simple bit of advice for those Muslims currently acting out their indignity over these cartoons.

Kiss my ass, you towel-headed, camel-driving sand monkeys.

Who the hell do these people think they are? Pledging themselves to an eradication of another religion with a far longer (and greater) history of accomplishment and wisdom, they disdain the principles of freedom and tolerance we cherish while demanding respect for their own barbaric customs of genital mutilation, female servitude, and “honor” killings. Mayhem is their standard response to anything they disagree with, which is anything that doesn’t comply fully with their own paranoid, vengeance-driven vision of how life ought to be.

I’m no Koran scholar, but is this what the prophet Mohammad taught? (Yes, I know today’s accepted spelling is Qu’ran, or some other arbitrary arrangement of letters. Who’s to say which is right? Their alphabet looks like squid shit on the side of an aquarium; let’s stay hooked on phonics and spell it in some manner we can pronounce.) If intolerance and violence are the primary tenets of his “religion,” then the Danish cartoons in question were too tame. If the radicals storming European embassies recently are truly devout and accurate followers of Mohammed’s teachings, then it’s well past time for outing him as the deranged, xenophobic, closet-living incestuous pedophilic fudge packer that he was. Is that derogatory enough for you? Bring it on, asshole.

It should go without saying (but doesn’t) that these comments are intended for a small minority of Muslims. I have known, worked with, and been friends with Muslims, and find them not to be any different than Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and any other religion you can name in how they treat others, and would like to be treated themselves. Even to them, I must say it’s time you cut these alleged zealots loose; they are the face of your religion to much of the world, and it’s not flattering.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Be Careful What You Ask For

I was kidding when I quoted Shakespeare a few weeks ago and wrote, “First, let’s kill all the lawyers.” How was I to know Dick Cheney reads this blog?

Somewhat buried amid the media wailing about the delay by Cheney’s people to notify them after he shot Harry Whittington is the fact that a law enforcement officer was turned away from speaking to anyone about the incident on Saturday night. The local law had an appointment for Sunday morning; common sense implies the police to you at their convenience after you shoot someone, not yours. Not to imply that shooting Whittington was anything but an accident, but overnight is plenty of time for someone to “get their story straight.” If anyone reading this sincerely believes he or she could just tell a cop to come back tomorrow after you shot someone, let me know. I think my Inbox can handle the traffic.

Granting it was an accident, stonewalling the police makes no sense. How tough was that interrogation going to be? “Uh, good evening, Mr. Vice President Cheney, sir, your honor. Um, did you—sorry, what I mean to say is you didn’t shoot that old gentleman on purpose there, did you? No? I sure am glad to hear that. I didn’t think you would, but it bein’ my job and all, you know how it is. I think that’s enough for tonight. I’ll just mosey back on down to the office and not talk to any of them al-Qaedas on the phone.” They had to get their story straight for that?

Speaking to the press on Wednesday, Cheney said he thought it was better for his host to notify the press because it would be important to get “as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting.” Where was Cheney when it happened, having a few laughs over the newest round of Abu Ghraib photos? Cheney didn’t have anything to say because, “The accuracy was enormously important. I had no press person with me.” The man a heartbeat away from being president needed a media adviser to tell him what he just did, which, by the way, happened to be shooting someone?

The White House press office, which hadn’t been caught this unprepared since the last time anything newsworthy happened, uses the word “shooting” in conjunction with this about as often as Dubya uses “perspicacity” in conjunction with anything other than sweat. “Accident” is the spin du jour. It’s accurate, as far as it goes, which is about as far as you can throw Bill Bennett. It was an accidental shooting, which is different from garden variety accidents like falling off a ladder or slipping on the ice or getting love ick on some fat chick’s dress. It’s an accident when you throw a baseball to someone who isn’t paying attention and hit him in the face; it’s a shooting when you use a shotgun.

A headline earlier this week quoted a gun safety expert as saying Cheney violated the first precept of gun safety. I didn’t read the article, but I could guess that rule might be “Don’t shoot your partner.” Maybe Cheney’s gun safety skills would be better if his other priorities hadn’t gotten in the way of his military experience.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Retraction

On September 17, 2005, From The Home Office wrote about the flap revolving around using the word "refugee" to described those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. At the time some had declared the word to have racist overtones in this application, and was inaccurate. From The Home Office stuck to a dictionary definition without political overtones and opined that the word was appropriate in this context.

Recent events have shown the United States government to have paid as much os $438 a night to house these displaced persons in New York hotels. Not even George W. Bush is dumb enough to pay that kind of money housing refugees. They must be something else.

From The Home Office apologizes for any confusion our erroneous conclusion may have caused.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Catch 43

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez appeared in front of a Senate committee to take his lumps over the Bush Administration’s policy of warrantless surveillance this week. (Don’t you just know that at the first meeting to fill this job, Bush looked at Gonzalez and said, “Hey, Alberto-rama, your initials are A.G., just like this job. That must be like, you know, kismet or something. Let’s dump the rest of these resumes and grill us up some felons.”) The Senate seems to have it in for Gonzalez. First they made him renounce torture to get confirmed in the first place. This week they forced him into defending the Administration’s position that a Congressional authorization of force trumps the Fourth Amendment.

Gonzalez did the best he could, considering he had to talk while Dick Cheney drank a glass of milk. According to Alberto the force authorization passed in the aftermath of 9/11 gives the President the authority to do virtually anything he wants, superseding even Constitutional restrictions.

Ignored by this inventive line of reasoning is the fundamental precept of our government: the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. A procedure for amending it was created for times when the original document becomes outdated in some way. Strange that a president who claims to be a strict constructionist ignores the parts of the Constitution that address anyone’s rights but his own.

Presidents have often assumed extra-Constitutional power during time of war. Gonzo cited Wilson during World War I and Roosevelt in World War II; Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War probably springs to mind. There’s a difference. Those were honest-to-Thomas Jefferson wars, where Congress asserted its Constitutional authority to declare war. That has not been done in the present case, for good reason. Who would the war be declared against? A bunch of towel-headed cartoon critics living in caves?

When will these extraordinary wartime powers end? There will never be a peace treaty. One day al-Qaeda will be gone and we’ll still be primed for action. Whoever threatens to blow something up because Daffy Duck looks like a caricature of their god will feel the full wrath of Halliburton descend upon them.

Gonzalez is essentially promoting a variation of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Where’s the authority to perform warrantless searches? There’s a war on. Who says there’s a war on? There must be; we’re conducting warrantless searches, aren’t we?

How odd that a president who values privacy so dearly in his personal and administrative dealings is so quick to arbitrarily deny it to others. Then again, maybe “odd” isn’t the right word. “Scary” comes to mind.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Not a Tough Call

The Home Office is in the throes of relocating, with closing on the new and improved Home Office scheduled to take place on February 22. Toward that end, my current landlord requires written notice of my intent not to renew my lease. What follows is that notice, to be hand delivered this Saturday.

Community Manager
The Lighthouse at Twin Lakes
Beltsville MD 20705

Dear Ms. _____,

What follows is a brief chronology of my tenure at The Lighthouse at Twin Lakes:

March, 2003 – Moved in.

November, 2003 – Leak in kitchen ceiling requires all food and most pots and pans to reside in living room for over three weeks.

March, 2004 – Renewed lease; rent increase.

November, 2004 – Leak in half-bath ceiling requires ripping holes in two walls and ceiling, leaving infrastructure exposed for almost a month.

March, 2005 – Renewed lease; rent increase, plus additional trash fee.

August, 2005 – Returned from vacation to find up to two weeks’ worth of dirty water on floor of full bath. Almost five weeks goes by, with two walls and ceiling of full bath and three walls and ceiling of half bath torn open.

December 2005 – Receive notice that I am welcome to stay as a Lighthouse tenant, but my rent will be increased for the privilege of getting to pay for my heating gas, which will make for a hefty housing cost increase to absorb while waiting for the annual leak. I am also offered the option of a “free” full cleaning (to remove the drywall dust I still find in unexpected places), a “free” carpet cleaning (to remove the traces of drywall ground into the carpets), or a “free” accent wall (hopefully not one you’d have to rip out to find the annual leak).

January 2, 2006 – Kitchen ceiling springs leak during Rose Parade, requiring relocation of food and utensils to the living room.

February 7, 2006 – Running the garbage disposal, George Foreman Grill, and computer simultaneously is too much for the wiring. Breaker trips, halting meal preparation and crashing computer. The drain from the kitchen sink also backed up into the half bath before the crash, leaving half an inch of garbage-laden water on the bathroom floor. I swear to God this is a true story.

Future events at 11920 Twin Lakes, Apartment 1:

March 15, 2006 – The keys will be returned. I have decided not to take you up on your generous offer to stay here for another year. I just hope I can get out before the entire dump falls apart around me, like the Blues Brothers’ car in the movie.


Yours Truly.

I wasn't expecting much of my deposit back, anyway.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Burgh Thing

The Pittsburgh Steelers play in Super Bowl Extra Large later today. It’s their first trip there since 1996, but there was a time when seeing the Steelers playing in, and winning, the Super Bowl was almost as common as seeing a Baltimore Raven taking a perp walk is nowadays. Four times in six years the Steelers took home the big silver football during the 1970s, the high school and college years for yours truly. “Coming of age” years in many ways.

This isn’t going to be some trivial rant about how the Steelers will kick Seattle’s ass this evening. Today’s game is just a reminder about how many people can grow up in or near Pittsburgh, live away for a long time, (twenty-six years and counting in my case), but always be Pittsburghers, even if they have no desire to live there again.

Evidence of this can be found in the oft-cited fact that the Steelers “travel well.” In football-speak, that means that no matter where they play, a large contingent of Terrible Towel-waving Burgh-heads will be there; tailgating, singing, generally making the home team wonder where all this black and gold came from. Does anyone really think Steelers fans by the busload took the week off work to drive to Detroit so they could revel in the Super Bowl experience? Half the people in the Pittsburgh area are either un- or under-employed, or too old for that shit. Where did they come from?

The answer is easy: most of them live in Detroit now. Or Denver. The coaches and mayors of Cincinnati and Indianapolis felt compelled to make public requests to the local fandom not to sell their tickets to anyone from Pittsburgh, lest it seem as though the Bengals and Colts were the visiting team. Several years ago the Washington Capitals hockey team wouldn’t take online orders for playoff tickets for their series against the Penguins unless the order was sent to a local zip code. This was solely to keep Pens fans from packing the MCI Center as they did during the regular season match-ups. I live locally, bought a pair, and still sat in a section full of black and gold.

Pittsburgh’s three teams maintain post-Burgh fandom in proportion to how easy they are to root for. The Pirates were almost as successful as the Steelers in the 70s. Drug scandals and a series of lackluster owners have led to a decade of losing with no real light at the end of the rainbow. Pirate fans don’t hitch their wagons too closely to the team, or any one player. They know as soon as he gets good enough to make real money, they’ll trade him for ten cents on the dollar.

The Pens have struggled of late, but the presence of Mario Lemieux in his adopted city kept the team afloat for over twenty years. Mario wasn’t sure he wanted to come when he was drafted; now he lives there full-time. The affection of even transplanted Burghers is so strong it’s felt by those who had already left before Mario got there.

It’s still the Steelers that have the strongest hold. The Rooney family has owned the team since its inception. They don’t pay the most money, never have, but they keep a core of people together that allows a depth of commitment and personnel rarely seen. The Steelers absorb as many injuries as other teams; they just always have someone ready to step in. No star makes a disproportionate salary, and certain types of conduct aren’t tolerated; responsibilities go along with the perks of being a professional football player in Pittsburgh.

Notice I said “core of people.” Not just players. Sure, Joey Porter runs his mouth and they may have to open the vaults one day to keep Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have a certain type of individual they look for, besides being an excellent player. The media focuses on the number of former quarterbacks they keep around, helpful for flexibility and trick plays. The caliber of people they keep around shows even more.

The 1995 Super Bowl team had Carnell Lake, who was willing to sacrifice a perennial Pro Bowl berth (and accompanying bonus) as a safety to play cornerback while Rod Woodson rehabbed his seriously injured knee. (Woodson missed the entire season except for the Super Bowl; the Steelers kept him on the roster, just in case. Pro Bowl voters appreciated Lake’s selflessness enough to send him to Hawaii, anyway.) Jerome Bettis took less money to stay in Pittsburgh. Hines Ward cut short his holdout without a contract because he wanted to stay, and Bill Cowher said they’d take care of him. Duce Staley took less money to come to Pittsburgh; he was injured early this year and lost his job to second-year back Willie Parker, yet not a game goes by you where you won’t see Staley on the sidelines with Parker and Bettis, encouraging, making suggestions. A reporter found Ward crying after losing last year’s AFC Championship game. When asked why, Ward said it was because they’d blown their last opportunity to get Bettis to the Super Bowl.

Bettis gave them another chance. The Steelers will have the majority of the crowd with them today. In addition to traveling well, Detroit is Bettis’ home town. I’ll be with a small group of native and adopted Burghers, eating kolbassi (no one spelled it kielbasa when I was a kid), pierogies, Clark bars and Klondikes, waving our towels and wearing black and gold. Part of me will be a little homesick, but another part will realize that I never left.

Sports holds disproportionate sway in our society. But for a Pittsburgh native, the phrase “you can’t go home again” only applies until the next Steelers game. It doesn’t matter where you are when you see the Terrible Towels, you’re home again.