Friday, June 29, 2007

In the main, most people can't stand moral ambiguity or paradox, so when Lord-Wife told me about this headline, she got me. More accurately, people can stand moral ambiguity; right until it drives them insane. I got off the Sopranos treadmill a couple seasons back, maybe suspecting multiple mind-rapes were coming compared to the family picnics of the first 4 or was it 5 or 6 seasons. Call me psychic or a coward, either way, now I get to take perverse delight in non-seeing the non-ending that apparently has everyone in conniptions. As per the Onion article:
"I couldn't let it just hang," Bowen told police in a post-arrest confession released to the media. "Eight years of my life, and a fucking artsy cut to black? It was eating me up inside."

In his statement, Bowen also used the word "betrayal" to describe the series's resolution, which he was convinced set up a climactic death for the sociopathic mafia don. The realization that Soprano's brutal life of constant fear and anxiety would have no real end slowly drove the obsessed Bowen over the edge.

"I had to tie up the loose ends, I just had to," Bowen said. "I'm positive this is exactly how [creator and executive producer] David Chase wanted fans to interpret the ending."
The media pundit comintern has, it seems, enforced closure via interpretation, saying that when the screen goes dark abruptly in the last episode, it means that Tony Soprano has been shot in a New Jersey diner after biting into his last onion ring. What else could it be, but the sublimely logical conclusion of a bloody mob war that had been raging all season with Phil Leotardo?

The show's creator, David Chase, has refused to speculate, hint, nod, or wink, basically saying, "It's all there for you to see." He means it. To contemplate moral ambiguities is to contemplate human nature. Correction: all nature. If you kill an enraged, out-of-control driver in a highway incident, we call it homicide. If you kill an entire town in its sleep because you didn't properly maintain your chemical plant, we call it product liability. If you kill millions in a preemptive war to improve your popularity, we call it politics. Not seeing a lot of closure so far. Maybe that's why Hollywood knows to give us their trademark endings. But Hollywood is a business. David Chase is, I suspect, a great artist; The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure, two of my most-savored series, are also his creations. But with the Sopranos, he did something special. He returned to face his childhood.

The greatest art imitates life without sentiment, without morality, without agenda, but only with interest and intense observation. Such art endures so long because, in real life, few things are final, and the complexity of the artist's visions and decisions resonate across time. They probably had to struggle to transcend their own personal fears and feelings, to set them aside for a while to see things as they are, on the surfaces with many faces. The artist applies a technique that is unique to their manner of expression, and simply shows what's already there. One of my favorite painters told me once that he couldn't paint his daughter well, because his sentiments for her overwhelmed his technique; he painted someone different who existed more in his mind, but he loved to paint her anyway.

When someone like Seurat tries constructing the world in a different way, and chooses a bunch of reeds and fishing boats as his subjects, it's because they are in front of him. 1980s rapper Ice-T referred to that process when he testified in front of Congress to his controversial song, "Cop Killer" as a genuine work of art. He said he was simply writing poetry about his environment, which was ruled by gang violence, and turning it into music as personal catharsis.

David Chase has stated that the character of Livia Soprano, Tony Soprano's mom, was an accurate rendition of his own mother. If anyone reading this has not seen the Sopranos series, like perhaps Al C., this is a tremendous admission. One more piece of data to add to the stereotype aggregate about art being often correlated with the catharsis of pain. Livia Soprano, to put it kindly, was a character suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.

Like his fictional creation, Chase grew up in a garden apartment in Clifton, New Jersey. His real name was David DeCesare. He is a mid-level player in a declining, or at least radically changing, industry. I wonder where he got his material from. Nothing ends. Dreams don't, relationships supposedly do, but then a song or smell, a look or sound reminds you of family, friends, lovers and enemies eluded in the temporally syndicated series of lives. The memories and molecules are all still floating, shimmering, right there in you. Chase titled his last episode "American Dream." Maybe I stopped watching because I didn't want it to end.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Introducing: Prozac The Clown

Several Hordies have taken the time to blame me personally for throwing them into spiralling black funks of suicidal depressions, stemming directly from one of my recent book reviews. Hey... guys: look at it this way: at least I saved you from reading the book. Plus, it was on Oprah's Book Club, it won a Pulitzer Prize, and I even told you about the happy ending! Humanity survived in the end, didn't it?! And can I help it if Lord Mother watches Oprah, fer chrissakes? I do feel your pain, and so have decided, just for you, just for today, to become...Prozac the Clown. I am putting on my fake nose right now.

Toot, toot! Hey kiddies! Do you know who Scooter Libby is? He's a clown, too! Only he's a very special clown. His job was to make the President happy. And that's why he was called Scooter Libby, that's right, Emily! Scooter got his federal prison inmate number assigned today. That makes Prozac feel very sad for Scooter because he and many of his friends are fellow clowns. But it turns out that clowns can go to prison, too. Even if they work for the Bush Administration. Having the President's favorite clown go to prison doesn't make sense to poor Prozac, it makes his head hurt, oww-ie, so Prozac will believe it when he actually sees it. Can you say, "the jury is still out?" Sometimes Prozac says that when he doesn't know if something is finished yet. The jury's still out! The jury's still out! Hee-hee! Even so, just in case, Prozac has had a T-shirt made for his friend Scooter to wear in prison:
I'm Here For Dick (Cheney).
Haa-ha-ha-hee! Toot-toot! Kiddies, maybe you've heard your parents or their friends say funny stuff like this:
"If the liberals would stop spending so much money on midnight basketball, free abortions and treasonous investigations of the Executive and Vice-Presidential branches of government, we could afford to build more small-town prisons and boost the local economies."
If you're like Prozac, you know that grown-ups can be ree-eee-ally silly sometimes! This stuff about midnight basketball and treason is just fancy-talk, kind of like when they spell things with letters so you can't understand. What they really mean is that they're freaking out and will beat you with a shoe after you fall asleep. And what's that mean? Right, that means they need a Time Out. Say it with Prozac: "Mommy, you need a Time Out." "Daddy, you need a Time Out." Good! You're such wonderful boys and girls. Oh, and if any of them touch you in or around your "bad places," then you come tell Prozac right away, ok? Then we can report them to the state and send them to prison to keep the economy boosted!

Now, kiddies, Prozac has to go really fast to visit another party, but when you get home he wants you to get out your dictionaries and look up this word: immigrants. Im-mi-grants. Will you promise Prozac to do that? Good! Because then we can talk about it next time! [Prozac mounts brightly painted orange, lime, and purple scooter festooned with pom-poms.] Bye-bye kids, and remember the Prozac Promise: Take Your Ritalin to Be a Good Citizen!

A Melting Pot No Longer

The Supreme Court is thinking, maybe, you know...of trying out a caste system. It just issued an education and race ruling that appears to be so contorted not even court clerks and former Attorneys General can figure it out. Brown v. the Board of Ed was challenged, and here is what came out Justice Roberts' other end:
Race cannot be a factor in determining racial diversity.
Lucky for you, I am smarter than Supreme court clerks. I'll prove it. For starters, I was smart enough to NOT go to Law School, even when they begged me and offered me free money and women of easy virtue. Having passed that test, I can now correctly interpret what the Court means, without reading all of Justice Kennedy's 15-page masterpiece of ambiguity, moral bluster, and bug-like vacillation. I got it by page #1.

Let's compare the American educational system to a restaurant. The meals it serves are not to be from melting pots, they shall not be bouillabaisse, nor even wretched ratatouilles. They're to be a partitioned smorgasbord. On one end is the great food, educationally speaking. It's available in wonderful variety in the private dining room. Out on the main floor is a long table once of pretty high quality, only now it's mostly fast food. There are still the occasional specials, and sometimes even three-day old leftovers show up from the gourmand section. These don't last long and there is some rather unseemly behavior when deciding who gets to eat those choice morsels. Then there's the dumpster behind the restaurant, which can be surprisingly nutritious for those who are absolutely determined to eat.

How can I assert this? Because it's the Republican-theocratic end game. With this decision, the New Court moved one step closer to realizing one of their dearest visions, a vision you could see coming like a far-off freight train. It's not so far off now. The radical social darwinists who call themselves conservatives (Scalia, Alito, Roberts, et al) do not believe government should have any part in education. At all. They don't believe in public schools to begin with, and that's what informed their latest decision.

It's not about overturning Brown v. the Board of Ed. It's about not having a Board of Ed at all. When placed into that context, their legal teamwork is elegant. A thing of beauty, really. There's not a Board of Ed in the country that is going to be able to successfully interpret this decision, and they'll be agonized over it for years. It's bureaucratic Zen. It guarantees that every public school in the country, when faced with an issue of race, will be in automatic violation no matter what they do. There's no way to avoid violating a policy which isn't a policy to begin with. It's an intentional tautology.

Current Reading: The Road, By Cormac McCarthy

I just read this book, which Lord Mom gave me for Father's Day. Whoo. It's a millenial achievement, and it's not comforting. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and I almost picked it up to read it for a second time tonight. What it conveys, in a Hemingway style stripped down of all time and names, is disquietingly close to a near vision of what could happen to our world, a combination of a long dark time wrought by both nuclear winter and climate change. The animals, the plants, and the oceans are all killed. The sun doesn't shine through. It's Kerouac's On The Road without the enlightenment, without the jazz, without the Mexican whores, without the joy, and filled with desperately roving, starving people. The Road without the "On." Here is Dennis Lehane's review of it:
Cormac McCarthy sets his new novel, The Road, in a post-apocalyptic blight of gray skies that drizzle ash, a world in which all matter of wildlife is extinct, starvation is not only prevalent but nearly all-encompassing, and marauding bands of cannibals roam the environment with pieces of human flesh stuck between their teeth. If this sounds oppressive and dispiriting, it is. McCarthy may have just set to paper the definitive vision of the world after nuclear war, and in this recent age of relentless saber-rattling by the global powers, it's not much of a leap to feel his vision could be not far off the mark nor, sadly, right around the corner. Stealing across this horrific (and that's the only word for it) landscape are an unnamed man and his emaciated son, a boy probably around the age of ten. It is the love the father feels for his son, a love as deep and acute as his grief, that could surprise readers of McCarthy's previous work. McCarthy's Gnostic impressions of mankind have left very little place for love. In fact that greatest love affair in any of his novels, I would argue, occurs between the Billy Parham and the wolf in The Crossing. But here the love of a desperate father for his sickly son transcends all else. McCarthy has always written about the battle between light and darkness; the darkness usually comprises 99.9% of the world, while any illumination is the weak shaft thrown by a penlight running low on batteries. In The Road, those batteries are almost out--the entire world is, quite literally, dying--so the final affirmation of hope in the novel's closing pages is all the more shocking and maybe all the more enduring as the boy takes all of his father's (and McCarthy's) rage at the hopeless folly of man and lays it down, lifting up, in its place, the oddest of all things: faith.
The unnamed man loves his son above all things, and his purpose is to deliver him, somehow, to survive in a world in which, he has faith, life will eventually re-emerge. The father is dying from consumption, and has little more than a half-loaded pistol and conviction on his side. His son is probably about 10 years old, about as old as the apocalypse which has enveloped the earth. The son's mother committed suicide. They are traveling across the devouring country, gradually south through manifold difficulties to the ocean, hoping to find deliverance. Their mission, their love, and their bond has three rules:

1) We will not eat children;
2) We will be the good guys;
3) We will preserve the fire of humanity.

I have contemplated these Cormac McCarthy endings. I know the minds of our leaders, who countenance and prefer apocalypse over the compromises they personally find unacceptable. No bullshit. Straight up. I'll say it out loud: they're closer than they ever were to pulling the trigger. Like frustrated, spoiled prodigies when the game turns unimaginably against them, they would rather upend the chess board than admit a loss. Their pride is paramount. Far more important than us. For the rest of humanity, that would be a do-over by the skin of the DNA left on the scum of our teeth. An excerpt, from page 11:
He lay listening to the water drip in the woods. Bedrock, this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void. Carried forth and scattered and carried forth again. Everything uncoupled from its shoring. Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone.

He woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raised his face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God.
Am I scared? Yeah, I am. Damned straight. And so is Cormac McCarthy. I have sat with assholes in their frats, in their bishoprics and in their hypocritical councils, and have been dumb enough at times to do their frivolous biddings. But I'm not doing that anymore, and I'm not going to give up. There is something high above them which I, and our race, must serve. And I trust it will help us serve it. If it does not, our time is soon done.

A man comes up The Road on page 283. He looks responsible. The father has just died. The boy asks the man,
How do I know you're one of the good guys?
You don't. You'll have to take a shot.
Are you carrying the fire?
Am I what?
Carrying the fire.
You're kind of weirded out, aren't you?
Just a little.
That's okay.
So are you?
What, carrying the fire?
Yeah. We are.
Do you have any kids?
We do.
Do you have a little boy?
We have a little boy and a little girl.
How old is he?
He's about your age, maybe a little older.
And you didn't eat them.
You don't eat people.
No. We don't eat people.
And I can go with you?
Yes. You can.
Okay then.
And back at the beginning, on page 4:
He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God, God never spoke.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Dying Order

Thanks to Bruce at The River Blog for finding this sign of hope out in the blogosphere:
"Change is taking root. I think that the part of humanity that resists change is terrified by it, because it is so clearly unstoppable. The Earth herself has joined the struggle. All the surveillance, all the war, all the repression, are the last desperate attempts by a dying order to hold onto power.

The revolution is coming, and when it does, it will come like water: soft, flexible, yielding - but unstoppable in its power."
We are still enthralled by Mayan priests who sacrifice captives on the altars of our pyramids to appease the sun. I hesitate to say where it's from, but a lot of people are realizing what's going on, and that a big change is going to come. Realization is the most important thing. The Wall Street Journal, Meet The Press, The Washington Post, and the Main Stream Media sacrifices aren't helping. Study the water, and the forests. The Mayans who left still live today.

Lewis Black On Neo-Conservatives

And specifically, on Paul Wolfowitz, who saw one of his performances...and liked it. Liked it so much he went up and introduced himself to Black's parents. Who, like most sentient beings, hate Wolfowitz and were chagrined because they felt like they had to be nice to a poison dwarf who they know has spread misery over a good portion of the planet. Black, who compares his elderly parents (who are in the audience) to salt and pepper shakers, defines Wolfowitz and neo-conservatives in this manner:
"And Paul Wolfowitz raced up them afterwards, and you have to realize that Paul Wolfowitz is a neo-conservative who's designed many of the programs that, ah, that President Bush seemed to follow, uh, and he...neo-conservative, by the way, most people don't know what it means--well I know. It's someone who watches the movie 'The Matrix' and believes it's real."
Bravo, baby. Having been thwarted on finding the missing Lewis Black travel monologue on Italy, I was determined to get my fix. You know, people think Lewis Black is a comedian. He's not. Far from it. He's a political genius who has figured out a way to have cheering fans and get rich by telling the unvarnished truth.

Lewis Black On Travel

(Note: I'm re-posting this. It originally went up on December 28th of '06. Someone from Canada (good day, ey?) googled through to this video clip. I was looking for some diversion myself, and this is the ticket. I was on vacation between Christmas and New Year's, so had time to have some fun writing. And now I see that the video is no longer available, nor can I find it on YouTube. We have not made it back to the Caribbean or to Italy. But here's hoping, and I'll leave this up anyway until I find a replacement.)

Lewis Black may be my favorite comedian, and here he's talking about travel. I originally went YouTubing looking for a Lewis Black monologue on the Holiday Season. I found a few, but I didn't want to send anyone over the edge, this time of year can be touchy. Not as touchy as having three kids running around a center fireplace, screaming and chasing a shell-shocked Jack Russell terrier and trying to take her temperature with a rectal thermometer (yes, that
was the Christmas nativity scene at Casa Lord), but touchy nonetheless. And Lewis Black is for people who like their Not just dark or a little off-color, but lovingly charred with a flamethrower, stuck on a spit and marinated in lighter fluid, then thrown into a magnesium barbecue and transmogrified into sooty carbon vapors.

So no holiday commentary from Mr. Black. But travel! Ah, travel. Me sooo trunky. I bought Lord Wife some 2007 calendars of Island Paradises, so she can put them up on her wall and long for them while slaving away on her keyboard editing documents like a washwoman over other people's torn, soiled, and hopelessly ugly clothing. The closest she's going to get to the Caribbean this winter is her corkboard, and hopefully we can set another all-time record for rainfall along about February. Like we just did in November. Me, I'd like to get to Italy. I long for Toscana and the topless beaches of La Spezia, the marble palaces cut out of the hill quarries of Enraux. "Fat chance, you imbecile," and some muttering under his breath was all I could get out of Santa when I brought up the subject. But Lewis Black, now, he made it to Italy:
"I got to Italy, I'd never been there, it's extraordinary. If you've not gone: unbelievable. I didn't know this--but Jesus Christ, he's, like...hoo-hoo, he's big there! Everywhere I turn there's Jesus! There's Jesus! There's Jesus! There's Jesus! He is like the Coca-Cola of Italy! And I'm Jewish, and I have to say, after three weeks there--I started to think he might be the Real Thing."
The inspiration for this blog, other than the need to go on the record about how messed up things are before I keel over and die like a canary huffing gas fumes while caged in a mineshaft, was how difficult air travel has become. (Our last family trip was during this summer's past Extreme Terrorist Scare.) I've lived in a bunch of places I remember with fondness, and like to talk about, and more that I don't but lived through ok, but you can say this about going Other Places: if the scales don't fall off your eyes pretty quick, you are one dumb and lost S.O.B.

Congressional Chicken

On the surface, something rather momentous has just occurred. The Senate Judiciary Committee has agreed to subpoena the White House, specifically the Office of the Vice President, after formally requesting the same set of documents nine times. The docs discussed legal implications of warrantless wiretapping and domestic spying. Since there is no legal basis for it, only practical precedent, they must say something along these lines: "Oh, the heck with it. Let's just go ahead and do it!"

It's impressive that uber-con Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, Warren Commission fixer Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Chuck Grassley of Piggsylvania (alright, Iowans, just a little joke there) finally gave Vermont's Pat Leahy their votes to go after the White House (the resolution passed 13-3). Remarkable. These are veteran politicians who must know what they're going up against. Now, I have one big question, and one prediction:

Question: What is the committee going to do when the White House tells them to go to hell?
Prediction: Cheney's spying apparatus is at this very moment being intensely trained on Senators Hatch, Specter, and Grassley, and the phasers are being clicked to the "Stun" setting. Details of their previous communications and their personal lives including those of their families are being combed through for leverage. I hope their houses are in order.

If this sounds unnecessarily paranoid to you, you might want to consider opening a history book once in a while. Or Wikipedia. Look at the entry for J. Edgar Hoover, then tell me about paranoid. Anyhow, I kind of doubt that Congress is going to win this game of chicken with Dick Cheney. It's encouraging, but one has to be realistic. In the picture above, Congress is metaphorically represented by the water craft on the right. Cheney is represented by the oil tanker on the left. At least on this one issue, Congress is going to lose. Maybe that's fine, because it seems like they're trying to force him to cite Executive Privilege in refusing to hand over the documents. And that greases the impeachment skids.

No one seriously thinks Cheney is going to sit in front of the nation and say, "Gosh, you were right. I was trying to do what was best for the country, but I can see now that I was out of line. I'll stop spying on everybody. Oh, and I'll comply with all your oversight requests from now on. Rahm Emanuel and I talked, and frankly, he rattled me. We don't want him to cut off our funding. The Office of the Vice President will do whatever the former ballet dancer says."

I don't know what Congress is up to, exactly, but this may be part of a wide, well-organized End Game being played on Cheney. They're going to have to go at him from multiple angles. From spying. From refusal of oversight. From corruption. From running 9/11 (whooops that one just sort of slipped out). From jigging up false reasons for war. From outing CIA agents. From kicking his hunting dogs. From being ugly. The cool thing about impeachment is that it doesn't require a good reason. Just a motion, and the votes. If everyone hates you, and stops fearing you, that's good enough. Hopefully that's where this is going.

Courtesy of Think Progress:

Breaking: Senate Judiciary Committee Authorizes Subpoenas For NSA Domestic Spying Documents

The Senate Judiciary Committee just voted 13-3 to authorize chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to issue subpoenas for documents related to the NSA warrantless surveillance program. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) voted with the Democrats on the committee to authorize the subpoenas for any legal opinions and advice the Bush administration has received regarding the NSA program.

The Center on Democracy & Technology has released a list of the seven “most wanted surveillance documents.” See the full list here.

The confrontation over the documents “could set the stage for a constitutional showdown over the separation of powers.” The Senate Judiciary Committee had previously scheduled to authorize subpoenas last week, but Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) blocked the Judiciary Committee from voting on the subpoenas.

On May 21, the Senate Judiciary Committee made at least its ninth formal request for the documents, but the Justice Department continued its stonewalling. Leahy issued the following statement about today’s vote:

This stonewalling is unacceptable and it must end. If the Administration will not carry out its responsibility to provide information to this Committee without a subpoena, we will issue one. If we do not, we are letting this Administration decide whether and how the Congress will do its job. […]

Why has this Administration been so steadfast in its refusal? Deputy Attorney General Comey’s account suggests that some of these documents would reveal an Administration perfectly willing to ignore the law. Is that what they are hiding? […]

Whatever the reason for the stonewalling, this Committee has stumbled in the dark for too long, attempting to do its job without the information it needs. We need this information to carry out our responsibilities under the Constitution. Unfortunately, it has become clear that we will not get it without a subpoena. I urge the adoption of the subpoena authorization.

The House Judiciary Committee has also threatened to subpoena the NSA documents. In a hearing last month, Principal Assistant Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Steven Bradbury refused the committee’s request to turn over the papers, but refused to assert executive privilege in doing so.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Current Reading: The Art Of Learning

Learning is hard. It's mostly a lonely, unsparing endeavor. It involves hard struggles with your pride, your cruzzled ego, the ugly things in your soul and the nearly unwinnable arguments with your giant, excuse-filled demons. Not learning is easier at first, but it gets progressively harder. Someone said that the definition of insanity is performing the same failed behavior over and over again while expecting a different outcome, that is a successful, result. It's true that lotteries can be won on rare occasion, and I don't discount the hope that buying the tickets provides. But real learning is a more reliable way up, even if it proceeds by a shovel strike into hard ground followed by each excruciating shovel pull. Learning is a conscious decision to countenance heartbreak face-to-face.

Josh Waitzkin, the subject of the film 'Searching for Bobby Fischer,' is one of the best learners on earth today. My great friend and prophet Still Life Living (SLL) sent me The Art of Learning as a present. And probably as a curse. SLL is on a spiritual quest which I respect and have sometimes shared, and he has sprinkled more than a few grains of sand into the incompletely clamped shell of my oyster crevice. I have so much to thank you for, V. And thanks for this book.

Josh Waitzkin was a chess prodigy. Chess caught his imagination while walking through Washington Square with his mom when he was 6 and he saw the park denizens playing speed chess. He sat down at a table and didn't look back for a dozen years. He drew Gary Kasparov in an exhibition when he was 13, the youngest player ever to do so. He was the US Chess Champion 8 times before he was 16, was the youngest International Master, and his style of play thrived on chaos and intuition. He was very much like Bobby Fischer, only more sane and better socialized. His parents were loving and ideally supportive, and that was a tremendous advantage. But even so, his quest for excellence drew him to the edge of sanity, and he wasn't ready for celebrity. He turned back from Bobby Fischer's path.

After turning away from chess, he sought peace and refuge in a martial art. Tai Chi. It turned out to be like chess, only with his body and neurons. There are two championships of Tai Chi held in Taiwan every couple of years, and in relatively short order, by learning from each loss, he went on to win both Taiwanese titles in 2004. This is as unlikely an accomplishment as a city in Japan fielding a team to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. Waitzkin re-wired chess moves into his body, rapid-fire, reading the smallest moves and intents. He addressed his weaknesses to become the top martial arts gladiator in the world. Like with chess, only better, he learned numbers in order to forget numbers, and learned forms in order to leave those forms behind. He learned the rules so he could break them. He was able to read the minds of his opponents, and despite their greater athletic gifts, he achieved the impossible in Taiwan, and won their Super Bowl.

In another discipline some time ago, I had the privilege to know a virtuoso. He was possibly the best in the world at what he did. His code name was Krull. By working within the rules and being aware of my weaknesses, I came to be his leader, but I wasn't as good as him. Not anywhere near. He was always great, and could master situations I chose to avoid. He was a martial artist, and his talent was pure. Head-to-head, he would probably have beaten me seven times out of ten. I short-changed myself by fearing his skill, and then compounded it by accepting a role as his manager. I'm not beating myself up for doing a good job or working the system. I only wish I'd left my ego at the door and had been brave enough to learn more from Krull, because he had so much skill to teach.

Paris Hilton Leaves Jail

She was happy, radiant, and left in her mom's SUV to go back to her family's Bel-Air mansion, while behind them trailed a hundred paparazzi. I'm telling you, this woman could end up running the country someday. Oh, and she lost a few pounds while in the impromptu spa, and managed to line up an interview on Larry King for tomorrow night.

After tiring of lampooning her cultivated persona as a clueless child of privilege, she's going to announce an interest in spirituality. She may save the politics for later on. But maybe not. (If you think I'm kidding, here's a test for you: can you think of any other self-lampooning clueless children of privilege who went far in American politics after multiple scrapes with the law? Any beer-swilling, cocaine-snorting, vodka-injecting party animals come to mind??)

In the boring news today, a bunch of Republican Senators led by Richard Lugar said the US should get the hell out of Iraq:
"In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved," Lugar, R-Ind., said in a Senate floor speech. "Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term."
The White House responded by putting up a huge sign on its lawn, which read: NOT DOIN' THE HEARIN'-THING.

Monday, June 25, 2007


It's true that when you travel
there's no avoiding Woody Allen.
Every sidewalk artist knows him, and the four
score and seven more sketch-worthy actors
who ambush you from here to Thailand;
transmutations of the monoculture from which we come.

Such harbingers. It reminds me how the prophets
said all the ends of earth express a single sum.
A few foretold of molten glass and crystal seas;
others were happy with brimstone and great heat.
I want to agree, but the spare visions seem to me
like airports in which we find ourselves undone.

Asphalt we may all become. Finally on vacation,
in Provence with Caitlin, all the ancient prophets
can kindly make a pilgrimage to kiss my ass.
We're staying in the backside of a decrepit hotel.
It has stood longer than our country, inconveniently
near a shifting border in a forgotten city,
where fortresses decay in dignified ways.

The Templars fled here, kapice? They hung 2,000 paintings
by pointillists and Fauvists who knew Picasso and Braque.
Painted for drinks and dinners, they were traded on this spot
for the famous fish soups of Rene and Pauline Pous.
I don't see 2,000, but Pauline was a beauty; Picasso
often did her justice in the hallways, and the rooms.

O'Brian the author chose wisely, and Machado
the poet presaged refugees who've not forgotten.
Above the alleyways before Mediterranean mornings,
we'll make love two or maybe three unhurried times.
I'll throw open our creaking, bleached-blue shutters
to admit insistent suns, and invite ascending diesel
fumes and fresh
baguettes to join our breakfast.

I'll inspect them for guilt and disinfectants.
Listen, you prophets, this is no Disneyland.
Many were the hidden hands that plied genocides
and silenced honest speakers. You see that hilltop castle,
which floats alight on nothingness? It was once bewitched,
and much besieged. Real heads and bodies rolled on down
to where the Irish band plays 'Ghost Riders' on the shore.

Here is where we exported our most sacred
acts of oral sex to Britain. Here is where we formed
the words for cold and hot. It's where we made soap
from old enemies, and fed tobacco to circus goats.
This is where we ate the last bodies of Neanderthals.
Do you see the hilltops? Those are the same peaks
our forebears fled from, and never stopped to tell us why.

The goats ask for more. We had our first fight,
and miles take long to drive. Towns stagger.
One is named for a dead pig at Carcassone.
Another, near Cahors, for a brilliant whore.
But in Coillure, tonight, there was a gentleman
selling lighters deaf and mute in cafes outdoors.
He left a note with his predicaments at our table;
we bought it, and achieved an absence of America.

I still have it. It's curved like an Algerian dagger,
a shiny cerulean blue. When we tried it then,
and once again at 3AM, there shot out two plumes
of honestly dangerous flame. One jet for each cigarette
of the addicted couple we had become. We smoked,
and began to immolate the unframed paintings.
The paintings hissed like dying Cathars, and splaying
flames admitted the existence of a Great Horned One.

Hmmm...What's Up Doc?

Values are not, and will not be, inculcated by the family, the church, or other social institutions in either the present or the future. They are, and will be, inculcated by the visual and electronic media.

Lester Thurow, 1996
It's all about what you see and what you hear when you is a young-un. As a geometric proof, Bugs Bunny is my role model. My exposure to opera came almost entirely through the Looney Tunes, and specifically 'The Rabbit of Seville.' I must also give some credit to running late at night through the streets to the opera houses of Munich, Vienna, Berlin, Basel, London, and Belgrade. But Bugs Bunny had already had formed my artistic ideas of all the operas I ever saw. My wife and I should probably start making lots of cartoons. And plenty of pictures, videos, podcasts, and blogs. The true language of our tribe. We must overwhelm the visual and electronic media presented to us with something better.

They Never Taught Us What Was Real: Iron and Coke, Chromium Steel

Our grandparents had work, more work than they could handle, and then the work stuttered and was gone. We knew that every child didn't have a very good shot to get as good as their old man got, and we knew we had to leave. Some of us are still waiting for the promises our teachers gave, the rewards for working hard, the promised lands we'd reach if we behaved. And here we are today-aaaay-aaa-aaa-aaaa-aaay-a-ayyy-aaay!

Well we're living here in Allentown
And they're closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line.

Well our fathers fought the Second World War
Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore
Met our mothers at the USO
Asked them to dance
Danced with them slow
And we're living here in Allentown.

But the restlessness was handed down
And it's getting very hard to staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay
aaaaaaah aaahhhhh ooooooooh ooooooh ohhhhhhh.

Well we're waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved.

So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coke,
Chromium steel.

And we're waiting here in Allentown.
But they've taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaah.

Every child had a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got.
When something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our faaaaaaaace, oh oh oh.

Well I'm living here in Allentown
And it's hard to keep a good man down.
But I won't be getting up today-aaaa-aaaaaaa-aaaay-yyyyyyy
aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaah.

And it's getting very hard to stay-aaaa-aaaa-aaay.

And we're living here in Allentown!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Land And The King Are One

It's all connected, brothers and sisters. The secret of the Holy Grail is that the land can be no better than its king. When more than 4,500 letters and packets aren't delivered to gravely wounded soldiers at Walter Reed hospital, as Hope reports at Deep Confusion, it's part of the kingdom. When a woman begs for help in an Emergency Room, falls to the floor and vomits blood while while nurses walk past ignoring her for three hours and she dies, it's part of the kingdom. The secret is simple. It comes down from the top. From the King's attitude.
Updated: 2:41 p.m. PT June 22, 2007

LOS ANGELES - When Edith Isabel Rodriguez showed up in the emergency room of an inner-city hospital complaining of severe stomach pain, the staff was already familiar with her.

It was at least her third visit to Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in as many days. “You have already been seen, and there is nothing we can do,” a nurse told her.

Minutes later, the 43-year-old mother of three collapsed on the floor screaming in pain and began vomiting blood. Employees ignored her, and she was soon dead.

As the article makes clear, many nurses walked past the vomited blood, ignoring the woman writhing on the floor. It's what is deemed permissible, it's about what the overarching King or Queen-conscience calls good or bad. Because the current occupants don't give a damn, there are no consequences. Maybe the woman didn't have health insurance, so of course it was ok to not see her. Hospitals have to make a buck, after all, and the profit motive is all-powerful. But even if she had the best health insurance, I suspect the same thing could've happened. I've seen similar things with my own eyes.

Once, years ago and not too long after 9-11-01, Lord Wife got blood poisoning from a bite inflicted during a freak dog-sitting accident late one night. It was spreading up from a puncture wound on her wrist, spreading by the minute up her arm as we sat in an ER the next morning, a Saturday morning in New York City. Starting at dawn, you could see the redness start to travel in an ugly inflamed red up toward her heart. Because it was a weekend, there was no place else to go but to an ER. While we waited in the ER, during the first of our 4-5 hours there, a pregnant woman staggered up to the desk and begged, "Please, I'm going to have a baby, the pain is so bad, please help." The desk clerk yelled at her and pointed back to the chairs, "I told you once and I'm telling you again, ma'am, go sit back down until we call you." The woman leaked her baby's fluids on the floor next to us, hoping for help on a Saturday morning, and like her, we waited helpless. The desk staff were waiting for their shift change at noon, and no patients were being called. The staff was clicking on computer keyboards.

Unlike the woman about to give birth, and paradoxically, we were taken into a spare pediactric room where we waited for a couple more hours. An Indian internist came by and told my future wife by that afternoon, "We might be able to save your arm." Relieved a doctor was finally there, I asked for a bathroom, and he pointed me to the main lobby. I went left and right and left and right again, and was at the bathroom off the main entrance to one of the more reportedly competent hospitals in the US.

I entered the restroom off the main lobby, and upon entering I saw a sixty-ish man, probably Latino, leaning over the sink. He was in shock and leaking steady streams of blood from the left side of his upper chest down his formerly white shirt. He also had a head wound over his eye. I desperately had to pee, and did so. While I did I watched him. He stayed patiently bleeding, moaning, ans swaying unsteadily over the sink. I think he intended to wash his face and shirt, but wasn't up to the task; it might have been a knife. It might have been a piece of a steering wheel, or, less likely, from a small-caliber gun. I tried to talk to him, but we couldn't communicate, and by his moans and by pointing I held his body and he led me back to where he had come from, towards the main entrance, retracing the blood from his wounds which had spilled a trail on the floor from the main doors to the the admittance desk, and then to the bathroom. He had walked to the desk and been sent away.

I marched him up to the admittance guard and said, "You take care of him now. Help him. Your problem." The guard also apparently didn't speak English, and was angry, but saw the blood, coursing, and pushed some buttons. I gestured to the dots of blood coming in from the entryway, pressed the bleeding man in shock to the desk, stared daggers, and shook my head. Then I left. No one took him from me. I don't know if he got care. There was no one there who gave a damn. I couldn't help wondering who did, but had to go back to my fiancee.

There were no sheets or blankets when we finally made it to the hospital bed, and antibiotic IV dripping from her arm at 11PM. The bed was utterly bare to the mattress, and the nurse at the night-station ordered me to go to the linen closet to make it up. In the closet, there were no blankets, and there were only a few sheets. I made the best I could do with 3 sheets, and slept in a chair by the foot of the bed. About then, someone vomited in the hallway outside the nurses' station, where it stayed for 8 hours and I traipsed around it 3 times during that night, while I kept checking the state of my wife's festering fore-arm.

A 92-year old woman raved incoherently in the bed next to us. She finally received some special treatment after the next morning's visit from her Russian mafia son from Brighton Beach, who looked like Tony Soprano and seemed to effectively threaten and bribe the nurses. Her treatment improved immediately, and the nurses became very sweet. Ours didn't, and we still owe more than $4,000 which our insurance hasn't paid, and which we refuse to pony up. On one instance an intern was sent in, looked at my fiancee's chart, said not a word, and left. That chart note was charged out at $770.

Update: Our last trip to the ER was with our baby son, who had managed to fall on a windowsill and put his tooth into his upper lip. I was holding him at admitting, writhing and shrieking on my lap, impatiently answering questions and transferring insurance information to a thoroughly immune, keyboard-tapping clerk. Then she asked me a question which sent me 'round the bend: "What is your religion?" I responded: "Religion?? Look! Are you going to give my son care or not?" As it turns out, they did not provide care. The doctor in the ER, fearing liability, literally dared not touch our baby. The doctor promised him a painkiller, but then did his best to disappear, and in two hours there my son received not so much as an ice cube while the doctor cowered behind the nurse's station. At some point my son's tooth finished pushing out through the front of his lip, and that relieved his pain somewhat. The hospital, known as one of the best in the country, had decided to call a pediactric othodontic specialist who was coming off shift from another hospital in a couple of hours, so rather than deal with us at all and risk liability, they let us wait. Failure to provide care is a liability, too.

We are locked in systems which, more and more, day by day, view us as cattle. The only things which matter are the organizations which have become immortal. The MSNBC article about Edith Rodriguez says the hospital "may" lose its license. Somehow I doubt it will. The rot pervading every system in this country is coming from the top.

The Cheney Entity: Vaporous Apparition? Or Skeksis?

They're not even bothering to write memos to claim power anymore. They're just making stuff up. Government is gone. It has been replaced by the Skeksis, the corrupt, vulture-like rulers of Planet Thra. In case you're not familiar with Thra or the Skeksis, they're from 'The Dark Crystal,' an allegorical movie about the Bush Administration. They inhabit a castle and feed off the world's energy and churn out ruin and decay. Dick Cheney is in the Skekna, or slave-master, as you can plainly see in the photo above.

Yesterday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino defended Dick Cheney’s claim of existing outside the Executive Order (EO) that governs the preservation of classified data, a directive which applies to all Executive Branch officials.

Dismissing the topic as “a little bit of a nonissue,” Perino said President Bush “gets to decide whether or not [Cheney] should be treated separately, and he’s decided that he should.” She then suggested there was textual evidence in the 2003 Executive Order to support the claim that it was not applicable to Cheney:

PERINO: If you look on page 18 of the EO, when you have a chance, there’s a distinction regarding the Vice President versus what is an agency. And the President also, as the author of an EO, and the person responsible for interpreting the EO, did not intend for the Vice President to be treated as an agency, and that’s clear.

Last night, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann reported that his staff fact-checked Perino’s claim, looked at page 18 of the order, and found Perino’s claim to be false:

OLBERMANN: No exemption at all for the Vice President on page 18. So we emailed the White House, which referred us to section 1.3 — which is about something else altogether — and 5.2 — which makes no mention of the Vice President. In fact, there is no exemption for the President or the Vice President when it comes to reporting on classified material.

Watch it:

Sec. 6.1(b) of Bush’s 2003 executive order governing classified material explicitly states that it applies to any “‘Executive agency…any ‘Military department’…and any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.” Olbermann concluded that Cheney’s defiance must lead to the following conclusion: “He’s no longer an entity of any kind.”

(Courtesy of Think Progress and Keith Olbermann)

"Our Strategy Can Be Summed Up This Way: As Iraqis Stand Up,
We Will Stand Down"

President Addresses Troops

Osan Air Base
Osan, Republic of Korea
4:29 P.M. (Local)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Please be seated -- unless you don't have a seat. (Laughter.) Laura and I are so honored to be here. We thought we'd stop by and feel the thunder and the fury of the Mustangs. (Applause.) Thanks for greeting us. It's a privilege to stand with the brave men and women of the 51st Fighter Wing and the 7th Air Force. (Applause.) Our citizens are safer because you're ready to fight tonight. (Applause.) You're serving the cause of liberty on distant frontiers, and I bring a message from home: Your Commander-in-Chief is proud of you, and so is the American people. (Applause.)

The Iraqi people are proving their determination to build a future founded on democracy and hope, and the United States of America will help them succeed. (Applause.)

The fifth element of our strategy in the war on terror is to deny the militants future recruits by replacing hatred and resentment with democracy and hope across the broader Middle East. If the Middle East is left to grow in bitterness, if countries remain in misery while radicals stir the resentments of millions, then that part of the world will be a source of endless conflict and mounting danger. If the peoples of that region are permitted to choose their own destiny, and advance by their own energy and participation as both free men and women, then the extremists will be marginalized, and the flow of violent radicalism to the rest of the world will slow and eventually end.

History has proven that free nations are peaceful nations and that democracies do not fight their neighbors. By advancing the hope of freedom and democracy for others, we'll make our own freedom more secure.

Our strategy can be summed up this way: As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down, and when our commanders on the ground tell me that Iraqi forces can defend their freedom, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned. (Applause.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

More Dots

You want to connect them? Neither do I, not really. But I want to respect the truth, and the most basic way to respect it is by first knowing what it might be. The memo above was written on November 22nd, 1963. It was mistakenly unclassified thirty years later, after George H.W. Bush lost an election to Bill Clinton. The memo places George H.W. Bush in Dallas on the date of the JFK assassination, and reports him calling the Houston SAC to report hearsay, day and source unknown, that one James Parrot planned to kill JFK when he visited Houston, and that Bush would be traveling to Dallas but returning to Houston the following day. Yet another one of life's odd little coincidences.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Melian Debate
You and I should say what we really think, and aim only at what is possible, for we both alike know that in the discussion of human affairs the question of justice only enters where there is equal power to enforce it. The powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must.
Thucydides, The Pelponnesian War

Monday, June 18, 2007

Palestinian Decoder Ring

So, if you were a leader in an Arab-speaking country, maybe like Palestinian Minister Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen, how would you feel if George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had just endorsed you and called you a "good man?" I dunno...maybe like a narc whose high school principal had just come over the loudspeaker and congratulated for helping to break up drug rings? It would be like walking down the hallways with a "kick me" sign taped to your back. Only this high school doesn't stop with kicks. It stops with dead men walking.

As usual, I get confused with Palestinian politics, and who is who.

is Hamas? What is Fatah? Were democratic elections in Palestine a brilliant idea, or what? And as a host, how often should I purify the waters of my hookah? Answers: 1) a revolutionary terrorist organization of long standing, and a paste made from ground garbanzo beans, tahini, olive oil, and garlic; 2) a revolutionary terrorist organization of long standing and a reverse acronym of 'hataf,' an evocative word which fondly recalls the Islamic caliphate's medieval consolidation of the Holy Land; 3) democracy in Palestine is, predictably, as peaceful a prospect as baring Leon Trotsky's neck for a tomahawk in Mexico City; and, 4) at least once a day, every day; the hookah water should be kept hygenically clear.

Hamas is a political party which gets its funding from Arabs. Fatah is a political party which now gets its funding from western nations. Hamas and Fatah are fighting, and have split the quasi-country in two after counter-coups. Arabian nations and the US have both armed their respective champions and sent in sacks of flour, so there's a stalemate in which Hamas has taken over Gaza and Fatah alone can't stop them. After the US inexplicably pushed for democratic elections, the Palestinians chose a government which they felt best represented their needs. As this representative, West-hating government was not a welcome development, the US urged the Saudis to form a coalition government which included both Fatah, and Hamas, in return for aid money to keep its people from starving, agreed. Then thousands of weapons and tons of explosives were sent to Fatah by Egypt, while convicted US felon Elliott Abrams said that "Hamas" must be deposed at any price." Israel is now invading Gaza in order to depose Hamas and consolidate a despised, unelected regime favored by Christians and Jews. What could go wrong?

Here's what columnist Nahum Barnea had to say about the background situation in the Yediot Aharonot:
"The US and Israel had a decisive contribution to this failure. The Americans, in their lack of understanding for the processes of Islamization in the territories, pressured to hold democratic elections and brought Hamas to power with their own hands…. Since the elections, Israel, like the US, declared over and over that "Abu Mazen must be strengthened," but in practice, zero was done for this to happen. The meetings with him turned into an Israeli political tool, and Olmert's kisses and backslapping turned Abu Mazen into a collaborator and a source of jokes on the Palestinian street."
The neocons wanted elections in Palestine, and elections were held, but an 'extremist party' came to power in a landslide. The idealistic desire to install democracy into one of the most uninviting venues on earth put a grass-roots party into power, one which was inimical to Western interests. Of course, we can't blame the idea guys because no one except thinking beings, soccer fans, and voting machine vendors could have predicted that the more 'moderate' party, Fatah, led by a well-financed political tool named Abu Mazen, wasn't electable.

At this date Abu Mazen can't rule, he can't lead, he can't walk the streets and he probably can't breathe. Who could blame him for having his cars armored and his bags packed, and ready to go? (Singing: "Oh I'm leavin,' on a jet plane...don't know when I'll be back again.") For Abbas to bug out is only prudent, because Arabs see him as a minor, excisable cancer worthy of chemotherapy, who can also be blown to pieces with a few pounds of C-4. On the other hand, Abbas is hearing the strains of Metallica singing, "Master! Master! Obey your master!"

Either way, when Israel marches into Gaza, it will surely serve as a rallying cry and fund-raiser for muslim insurgencies all over the world. Charity car washes will be held for the Palestinians in Istanbul, Riyadh, and Dubai.

Retired Gen. George Washington Criticizes Bush's Handling Of Iraq War

WASHINGTON, DC—Breaking a 211-year media silence, retired Army Gen. George Washington appeared on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday to speak out against many aspects of the way the Iraq war has been waged.

Washington likens Vice President Cheney to controversial British Chancellor of the Exchequer and Stamp Act architect George Grenville.

Washington, whose appearance marked the first time the military leader and statesman had spoken publicly since his 1796 farewell address in Philadelphia, is the latest in a string of retired generals stepping forward to criticize the Iraq war.

"This entire military venture has been foolhardy and of ill design," said Washington, dressed in his customary breeches and frilly cravat. "The manifold mistakes committed by this president in Iraq carry grave consequences, and he who holds the position of commander in chief has the responsibility to right those wrongs."

Washington noted that while Saddam Hussein was an indefensible tyrant, that alone did not justify a "conflict that seems without design or end."

"The Iraqi people did suffer greatly under unjust rule," Washington said. "But in truth, it is the duty of any people that wishes to be free to fight for its own independence. Had France meddled in our revolution beyond the guidance and material assistance they provided, I should think similar unrest would have darkened our nation's earliest hours."

Washington made the cable news rounds, telling Wolf Blitzer that the war was a "tragic mistake for our nation."

The Virginia-born Revolutionary War veteran and national-capital namesake also expressed his worry over the state of the American militia, the unchecked powers of the executive branch, and the lack of a congressional declaration of war.

"The very genius of the American presidency is that it is an office held by an elected representative of the people, not by a monarch who can rule by fiat and enact policy at will," Washington said.

The retired general asserted that many of the current problems in Iraq could easily have been predicted by wiser civilian leadership.

"I can say from personal experience that even a malnourished force with feet clad in rags should not be underestimated, even by a far superior power," added Washington, who has disavowed further comparison between the Iraqi insurgency and the American colonists. "There is nothing a committed fighting force cannot accomplish if bolstered by the strength of its convictions."

Washington's critical comments echo those of other retired generals, including Maj. Gen. John Batiste and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark, who attacked Bush's Iraq policy in a series of television ads run by political action committee during the 2006 midterm elections.

"We're very happy that someone of General Washington's stature is speaking out," said Jon Soltz, cofounder and chairman of "He has impeccable conservative credentials, extensive foreign policy experience, is a true citizen-soldier with a proven commitment to his country, and, if that's not enough to get Bush to listen, he's the face on the dollar bill."

However, White House response to the former general's criticism was swift and sharp. Spokesman Tony Fratto dismissed Washington as "increasingly irrelevant" and "a relic" who "made some embarrassing gaffes" during his own military career, such as the Continental Army's near destruction in the Battle of Long Island in 1776.

"The general's reckless and irresponsible comments show that he clearly does not understand the realities of 21st-century warfare," Fratto said.

Conservative pundits moved quickly to discredit the decorated general.

"I don't care who you are—or if you cannot tell a lie—it's un-American to question the president in a time of war," Sean Hannity said on his radio program Monday. "Plus, I find it very interesting that a man who owned slaves and sold hemp thinks he's entitled to give our Commander in Chief lessons on how to run a war."

Toward the end of his Meet the Press interview, Washington expressed fears for the future of Iraq, Middle East policy, and America itself.

"These convoluted foreign adventures were not what I envisaged for my young nation," Washington said. "Certainly the citizens of the republic deserve better than this. Had I but known this was the fated course of my country, I might not have found the strength to liberate Her from the mantle of King George."

(Courtesy of the inspired Onion.)

Blame The Puppet

Last Friday the US Warrior Vice-Czar Bob Gates flew to Iraq to dole out some band-aids and breath mints. The headline of the story was "US Disappointed With Iraqi Political Steps." Umm, yeah, that was my "Thank Allah it's Friday" moment, good for a nice little chuckle. Still, I'd prefer to see a similar headline on a lighter subject, something like: "Sesame Street Producers Pissed About Big Bird's Goofy Walk, Talk."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Paris Hilton, The Death Penalty, And World Peace
Some say the world will end in fire,
some say say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
Paris Hilton would suffice.
(My apologies to Robert Frost.) A lot went down this past week or two. America kick-started the Cold War with Russia, taking up right where other drama series previously left off, one with the anti-anti-missile-missiles, the other with annexing Czechoslovakia and Poland. As a bonus, while America's favorite Preznit keeps stoking the nuclear fallout hopes in Europe and Russia, he also managed to insult the largest, oldest Christian denomination by being the first world leader to ever address a Catholic Pope with the greeting: "Yo, Bo-Peep Dude!" Syria and the United Arab Emirates stopped pegging their currencies to the US dollar, Pakistan and Palestine attacked themselves, and in Iraq, white people keep on thinking that a Christian occupation of a Muslim land can create stability rather than a butcher's banquet. Yet all these disturbances in The Force were inconsequential compared to the irreparable rend in the fabric of reality itself, a rend which widens by the day and betokens a permanent shift of astrological significance: Paris Hilton went back to jail.

Some people think that Paris Hilton is a dumb, grasping glamor-gal, and it's hard to deny that's much of what she is. When it comes to fame, however, this young woman has the genius of the ages. She's Madame du Pompadour, better known as Louis the XV's favorite mistress and closest advisor (pictured above) combined with Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese observer of human nature. From a very young age, she has displayed a deep, apparently effortless and ruthless insight for what it takes to lead. Think I'm stretching it too far? Ok, let's start with the small stuff. Her self-earned income was $7 million last year. She can't sing; she has an album. She can't act; she had her own TV show and is now in the movies. She can't dance; and is the queen of dance clubs. She never completed high school; she runs a highly successful business. Girls and grown women dress like her and try to look like her. Now she's rich, she's in jail, she's self-aware, and she's moving on to bigger things.

I'd like this to be satirical, but I can't honestly foretell how high she'll go or how much she'll do. I only know this: Paris Hilton has the ability to read social intent, to pre-empt it, and indeed to nudge it so she can dictate its terms. Being in jail will prove to be the best thing that ever happened to her because she'll use the adversity to elevate her fame and her game, and she's on a collision course with power. She adds a ton of blond gravitas to her repetoire at the bargain price of three weeks in the clink.

Speaking of prison and the death penalty: if the state can murder people, the overall effect of saying it's ok to kill who you don't like might just out-do the benefits of any possible deterrent effect by somewhere between 10 or 100 to one. The death penalty further cheapens the lives of the victims with yet more death, and takes the prerogative of the most solemn decisions of revenge away from those aggrieved and places them in the hands of the state. Ending the practice of executions moves countries one step closer to world peace.

When Paris Hilton's beauty starts to fade, she will stay in power through her innate intelligence. It's in there, and it's coming to a fame-o-mometer close to you.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Current Reading: People Of The Wetlands--Bogs, Bodies, and Lake-Dwellers

Does that title have you excited yet? Enthralled? It's ok if it doesn't, but the picture should have you at least a little bit curious. It's one of the world's most famous naturally preserved mummies. I suddenly had time to read the book it was in after seriously aggravating a previous neck injury last week, which precluded all non-essential tasks, like most blogging. Nerve pain radiated out from my upper spine, cramping up everything from there to my chest, rib cage, lower back, through my armpits, and having me retching from nausea and missing sleep much of the week. Never knew armpits could cramp up? They can. And, no, they're not pretty when they do.

As there are about 50-100 posts to catch up on,
a book post, being relatively simple, seemed like a good way to start. Plus, I empathize with the poor gent in the picture, which is featured on the cover of the book. He, you might say, ahhh, died of his neck injury. My nerve paths may have complained, but the mummy, now he had some urgent issues. The braided leather rope around this man's neck dug deep furrows into the skin under his jaw and at his throat, indicating he was hung and left dangling for some time before his body was thrown into the Tollund bog in Denmark around 2,400 years ago. He was blond, and he had not shaved in at least a week.

Many of the mortal coils preserved in bogs around the world were, like Tollund Man, the result of executions. Thousands of bodies are preserved in the bogs, along with artifacts, tools, boats, clothing, and objects hinting at technology and customs at the boundaries of history. No place does bog forensic evidence point to execution with such prevalence as in Northern Europe, which in composite tends to confirm Tacitus when describing Geman tribal justice in the late 1st century A.D.:
- traitors and deserters are hanged on trees;
- cowards, shirkers, and sodomites are pressed down under a hurdle into the slimy mud of a bog;
- wives guilty of adultery are taken from the house, stripped, shaven, and flogged by their husbands;
- criminals are taken to their place of execution, and the body from the execution, on a cow-hide so as not to touch cultivated land.
Geez. These precursives are only encouraging in contrast, and at that, there are many here among us now whose views do not provide very stark comparison. Nonetheless these mummies and bog artifacts convey to those of us with northern European roots the first views of our illiterate ancestors. Their sturdy and utilitarian clothes, their great skills with wood and leather, their often under-nourished physical condition, the food in their bellies (often gruel containing a startling variety of seeds and non-local grasses), even their very flesh and hair. All but their blood. As the Irish dramatist R.B. Sheridan once said, "Our ancestors are a good kind of folk but they are the last people I should choose to have a visiting acquaintance with."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Starry Starry Night

(Van Gogh, Vincent Van, the Vin-Man, Vin. The Van-Gopherater!)

I heard Don Mclean's song (he who wrote 'Bye Bye Miss American Pie') about Vincent Van Gogh long before I ever saw any of the artwork it talked about. His hit song, 'Starry Starry Night' was haunting when I was 10 or 12, even without knowing what it was about. Then in junior high and high school I saw a couple pictures of Van Gogh's paintings in textbooks. Little black and white pictures, an inch or two by an inch or three, in textbooks. When I was a junior there was one color picture of Vincent's 'Sunflowers' in our book. It looked thoroughly unremarkable. A painting of flowers, a little twisted, a little off-kilter like you or I might do with limited skill. Sunflowers which nobody had watered lately. And for me and my classmates, it still had no connection with Mclean's maudlin little song.

Later, I shuffled off an exo-skeleton or two and swam naked through oceans, finding myself in places where they kept the real paintings our textbooks had only taken pictures of. I walked in front of 'Sunflowers' in Basel, and it arrested me for an hour. Vincent saw the world on mushrooms, through a prophet's eyes of doom. Where other people were working and toiling in commonplace fields on gloomy afternoons, something different sang in Vincent, and his brush-strokes rose up off the canvas like helium-filled balloons. When you're in front of his works, it's easy to see why they disturbed people so much a hundred and forty years ago. No one else back then perceived the world like him, he strove to paint the overwhelmingly beautiful, ordinary scenes of what he saw, so his paintings were windows into altered states. While foretelling many innovations in technique and style, no one has ever made anything like them since. As Mclean says, "I could've told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you."

This YouTube video is a nice review of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, is far more complete than available in any three museums combined, and matches up well with McClean's song. You can't see the genius of the works first-hand, but you can hear another artist appreciate them in his way as they pass by in montage. And if you ever get a chance to see one or more of Van Gogh's paintings in person, take it. You might be disturbed, but you won't be disappointed.