About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.







Friday, December 30, 2005

Best News Of The Morning

Now, if only the new year brings us more headlines like this:
Pack of angry Chihuahuas attack officer in Fremont
I think that would be the greatest new year's gift of all....

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Manifesto (a re-post)

I posted this first about 6 months ago. I think it is perhaps a good idea to be reminded of it on a regular basis...

I.

I am weary of the crypto-elitist, solipsistic, ineffectual liberal Left.

I am sick to heart of the tendentious, narrow-minded, self-congratulatory arrogant conservative Right.

I believe that government has a duty to its citizens to act in their best interest regardless of their 'worth'.

I believe that citizens have a duty to demand from their government the highest standards of action possible.

I believe that the nature of a market democracy demands at the very least the partial federalization or federal oversight of certain basic needs, among them health care, housing, and education.

I believe that the opportunity to take more responsibility for the self begins at a very local level.

I believe that repealing a tax is less effective in creative an "ownership society" than repealing laws demanding a minimum age and weight limit for children to ride in the front seat of a car.

II.

We are responsible each for our actions, as well as the outcomes of those actions.

There is a time and a place for free market economy, and there is a time and a place for an economy of vision.

The stratification of our society into more and more distinct and disparate classes is an unhealthy trend for the nation, and if unchecked will erode our ability to either grow as an economic power, or to lead as a political entity.

Unless and until we acknowledge our stratification of classes by economic, ethnic, and political association, we will be unable to alter the ill effects of that stratification.

The far edges of either the Left or the Right are dangerous for the welfare of the nation. Ideology as a driver of policy rather than as an informer of political activity is anathema to the basic ideals of America in a modern global world.

There has never been a nation as wealthy and well-poised to do so much great good for its citizens, nor one with such a lack of integrity and will to do it.

The intertwining of higher education with the training for marketable skills has been a failure; the presence of the academy is not to create a worker class, but to provide an arena to promote critical thinking. Therefore a choice must be made: either we disentangle education from practical training for the free market, or we fund its continuation without a view towards the final economic efficacy of its actions.

III.

Nothing is more important than how we educate and treat each upcoming generation.

Nothing has been more of a failure in the last 35 years than our treatment of each upcoming generation, and our lack of provision for them: in education, in economy, in natural resources, and in long term political vision.

Nothing is more unpleasant to our culture than drastic change, and nothing is more dangerous to a politician than to suggest it.

Regardless of the pressures of the political process, if we do not generate a leader with both the charisma to gather the majority of the population to their support, as well as the pugnacity and vision to implement drastic and therefore unpopular change toward a remedy of those issues raised above, then the future of American power beyond the middle of this century is in grave peril.

IV.

So what can be done?

We need to admit the closing of the doors on intellectual honesty on both the left and the right; we must work like hell to reverse the trend.

The incredibly broad spectrum of ideas that are now in turmoil between the two most partisan poles of that spectrum must be recognized as valid lines of inquiry, even if the answer that we arrive at is one that is unpalatable to one side or the other.

We must return to a cultivation of leaders who not only provide remarkable political will, but also have the ability to lend that will to a middle road that provides a non-radical approach to policy, while at the same time aggressively pursuing real change in the basic infrastructure of current government bureaucracy.

We must recognize that to demand loyalty is to destroy our ability to act as a moral nation. The first step toward the failure of democracy is the demand for ideological agreement and loyalty.

We must have the courage of our convictions, and be willing to look at both our actions and their outcomes, and take responsibility for each, on an individual and on a communal level.

I don't believe this is too much to ask. And we must begin now.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Don't Be Fooled Part II

This looks like the battle of the moment in American political philosophy. The battle of this administration to expand the scope of power of the executive branch---and it isn't about specific powers, it is the sensibility of the balance of power itself that is being tried here---continues in fascinating ways. I am surprised at the turns it is taking, but even more surprised that the language being used by the White House and Dept. of Justice is becoming more and more transparent. When the DOJ makes claims that
"...the earlier order blocking Mr. Padilla's transfer to civilian custody represented an 'unwarranted attack' on presidential discretion." (emphasis added)
it takes us right to the heart of the issue: the attempt to promote the prerogatives of presidential power (or "discretion") beyond the bounds of the judiciary. Or, for that matter, the legislature. It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court will hear this case, and if they do, what they rule.

Of course, there is always the subtle question of just what fight the NY Times is fighting with this thread of reporting. And what they expect to win.

U.S. Asks Supreme Court to Transfer Terror Suspect - New York Times
Editorial Note

My apologies to anyone who got stuck trying to read the last few linked articles. I hadn't noticed the bad links; they are fixed now (my HTML posting widget was generating some extra quoatation marks, that's taken care of), so if you are still interested in either Christopher Hitchen's crankiness or Dick Cheney's mendacity, have at 'em.
Do These Jeans Make My Brain Look Big?

Amazing. Someone actually is funding this study. I really should be applying for more grants....

Thank you for the heads up, BBC: Study to answer bum size puzzle

Monday, December 26, 2005

Entre Deux Fêtes

I am more and more ready for this long uphill year to be done with, and to move in to a new calendar cycle. I must admit that this week is even more the Dead Days of the Annum this year than in most: I am sick of the news, and of my semi-routines, and I want to get on with things. Frankly, despite the 12-page opus released from the White House last week of how wonderful this year has been, and all the positive "successes" we have seen in 2005, I think this year has been an uphill slog for all of us: for Bush, and Congress, and the folks in Iraq, and me and my friends, and all the friggin' world. And I am looking forward to getting past the down time of the gap between Christmas and New Year's Day, and start gearing up for a bigger, brighter twelvemonth season.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Christmas Day Thought

I read this article, and a thought struck me:

Looking out at the next 5-10 years, which nation poses the greatest potential threat or risk to global stability?

Iran?
Iraq?
Pakistan?
Afghanistan?
Israel?
North Korea?
China?

I'd say Pakistan, considering the cultural turmoils and war that is intertwined in our "war on terror". On the one hand, I'm glad we are coaxing them to try and keep them on this side of the fence. On the other, I suspect that nothing we do can really alter the radicalized course of history that they set for themselves from the inception of the country to today.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and have a lovely day.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Holiday Presence

It seems that in the last few days, Congress has found some teeth. Small, dull, grey, poorly enameled milk teeth, to be sure. But still, a few bites here and there are better than nothing.

Beyond that, as we head hurriedly into the fray of the holiday season, with a warmish rain dumping down on all of San Francisco, I am going to hibernate for the weekend, I believe: harboring fond wishes for all of you to have a favorable and entertaining time roundabout christmas and hanukah and hurtling madly toward the death of this year and the birth of the new....

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

It's The Time Of The Season

He's a bastard, a liar, a mongerer, and a belligerent bellicose drunk. But boy oh boy, can Christopher Hitchens write a piece when he feels like it. If I could be 1/10 as good as he is on his worst days, I'd be pretty damn happy.
Lordy Lord

Well, this offensive and disingenuous commentary by the VP explains a lot: Cheney misses the Nixon years.

This is about the consolidation of overt power in the executive, and nothing else. Don't be fooled.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Been Meaning To Mention This

A small but amusing freudian slip: each time I go to the gym and turn on the TV at the treadmill (I watch without headphones, reading the subtitles), I turn on CNN, and since the timing of things dictates what I see, the last few weeks it has been Wolf Blitzer and his show, The Situation Room. Only each time they run the intro, with the branded logo on the screen, I see it as The Saturation Room. Which (I think) says worlds about my opinion on TV news in general, and our politically obsessed and divided country and culture.

And the fact that as of this writing, the domestic spying issue has all but obscured the more significant issues of the day (elections in Iraq, the passage of the defense spending bill with the add-on of ANWR drilling, deaths, etc. etc. etc.), and that the president and Condi Rice appear to be on a nonstop marketing blitz for sovereign executive power in wartime---well, I don't know. It just is wild. I do give the Prez some credit for being (at least) more articulate and direct in his speeches and Q&A than I have ever heard him before. I don't like what I'm hearing, and I don't agree with much, but at least he is slightly sort of stating an opinion and a stand. And that, from him, is a sea change.

On the other hand, I've lost nearly all of the little respect I ever had for Dr. Rice. She is a shill, and she knows it, and appears to be too cynical and self-absorbed to give a damn. Sad.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Problem

I've said little or nothing regarding the ongoing attempts of the current government to legalize torture. The banner on this has been carried well by Andrew Sullivan, and I cannot add much to his thoughts or arguments. But I need to say this: the issue cuts to the heart of where we are failing right now as a nation, and a people, and a power. The finessing of legal language, and the splitting of hairs, in order to extract a meaning that will obscure the culpability of America and it's government and agents in act which are reprehensible, shows the guts and soul of the people who lead us right now.

John McCain is making a stand. Nearly all of the Congress stands with him. Against him are arrayed Bush and his White House crew: Cheney, Rove, Hadley, Rice, Rumsfeld over at the Pentagon, John Yoo (that wunderkind of a legal obfuscator), and the Attorney General. I wonder which side wins in the end, and whether too much damage has been done already.

When we degrade the meaning of our honor, we degrade the value of our laws and principles. One of the handful of lawmakers voting against the McCain amendment yesterday said that he did so because to pass it would "provide constitutional protections to terrorists"---and he is utterly wrong. To not pass it is to remove any validity to our upholding constitutional values and freedoms as a model or a moral guide. It is not whether someone else deserves the protections of the Constitution of this nation; it is whether we are principled enough to be deserving of that Constitution itself.

On issues like these, and in times like these---when we are at war in the world to maintain high ideals and a culture which we claim is dedicated to freedom---we must be held to a higher moral standard. To do any less is to become the things we fight against, and to fade ignominiously into the dark.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Another Day

There's a lot going on in the world: people all out shopping themselves silly, Tookie Williams going to his death tonight, President Bush giving a decent (if not quite rousing) speech, and actually answering unscripted questions at the end of it, from friend and foe alike...a busy day. Me? I think that all that is less interesting than the color of the sky as it struggled against the haze today, with the sun shining through like some strange silvery cold fire in the air.

My hope? That we wake tomorrow to clear air, and a fresh day, and that there is more talking to one another, and less fear.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Schadenfreude Mark II

The rumor passed by Andrew Sullivan that Rumsfeld is toast. This could be the most interesting news in a while; coming on the heels of Rice's European tour, and the concessions already seen by the Bush administration to at least the vestiges of truth, the departure of Rummy may be a long overdue breath of fresh air. Let's hope that it isn't just more hot air blown from within the beltway.
Home Again

Right. Back in San Francisco, and after Rome, and London, and New York, this city seems a ghost town. So few people on the streets, so little activity. So quiet. And it isn't helping that I am in transition: looking for a new job, single again and looking for companionship, considering once again relocating to Manhattan...

I feel inured to the news; the politics of the international arena, and the ups and downs of the local California muddle, and all the Beltway bothers in Washington; none of it makes much of an impact on me right now. We are at war, we have been at war, we shall be at war for some time to come. Lives will be lost, and lies will be told. This is something that we cannot change, though to fight against it is anything but futile. But I have no energy to become irate about things I cannot change right now, at the end of the year. I have to focus on the smaller things. Cultivate my own little garden. So for the time being, no rants on the state of the world. No bitterness blasted out toward society and government. Just the random rant on the little things that face me in this life.

More importantly: My latest play will be given in a staged reading at the start of the year; it should be a good lark for anyone interested in coming. We are just beginning to get organized, so if you're an actor and interested in reading for a part, please contact me.

The sun is breaking out between the clouds; it is time for me to get myself in motion, go to the gym, get healthy, and then face the world.

Wish me luck!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving Recap

Perhaps it's being in rome; perhaps it's just the holiday. Perhaps we just got lucky. But dinner yesterday went without a hitch, a feast for nine of us that was lovely, delicious, lengthy, and fully enjoyable. the turkey was cooked to perfection, tender and moist and delicious; the dressing rich and tasty, with chunks of roasted chestnut; the potatoes light and wonderful, the beans crisp and fresh, the gravy rich and hearty and smooth. For dessert the pumpkin and pecan pies were delicious, and the chestnut cream cake was sweet and startling. The wines were elegant: a Vino Novello di Toscana, a California Pinot Noir, a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and a capper of Bonny Doon Vin de Glaciere Muscat. I went home at 9:00 p.m. feeling warm, happy, and sated.

A few food notes: The pumpkin pie was made with fresh roasted Italian pumpkin, not american goo from a can, and you could tell. The turkey, slow cooked for 3.75 hours, with no more than the stuffing inside it and a dash of salt & pepper & olive oil on the outside, was perhaps the best I've had in years. I had worried about both the pie (the crust was a bit dry when I was rolling it out), and the turkey (haven't cooked one in a while), so the fact that everything came out so well was an extra boon. Everyone happy, another year down.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Last Thought Of The Day

There's something about family; as long as they are not actively cruel or evil, they command your love and respect, even when they drive you insane. Sometimes I am reminded the most of how much I love them at the very times when I cannot stand them for another waking moment.

Today is saturday, the 19th of November. I leave Rome in 10 days, and for 8 of those days will be without a moment's solitude, whether with my parents, or my nieces, or my brother and his wife, or any combination thereof. And despite my frustration with them, despite the realization that they at their worst are merely a reflection of me, I will try not to flinch. My parents will be given a gift, my nieces given fond memories, and I will take away the knowledge that there are a few who love me in this world unconditionally, for no other reason than my mere existence in their lives.

God help us all.
A Quick Observation

This morning I sat with two diplomats in Rome as they talked shop. It was neither good nor bad, illuminating or opaque; it was just another two guys trying to get their job done without the shit hitting the fan. After that we went to the country to take my nieces for their horseback riding lessons.

I think the horses have a better sense of it all.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Pictures

These are just a few winners: here, moonrise over Scarborough Castle...

And here is Sunny enjoying a pile of leaves in Roundhay Park....


...And the pile of leaves enjoying Sunny!


Mart taking stock of the view above the harbour....


...And it is quite a view, too.



That's all for now. More soon, with Rome too!
Quick Rant

I've just finished my first run through the park in Rome, and have read the news of the last two weeks to catch up on things.

I should've stuck with just the run. At least that was a positive experience.

Not that the news is ALL bad; just unbelievably aggravating and absurd, as it has been these last many months. What struck me most of late is the election result from California: while all of Arnold's pet pissing matches went down in flames, in San Francisco we pulled yet another daydream moonbeam moment of idiocy. I am amazed that the city was not completely pro-Bush in the last election, as we seem to have exactly the same fiscal sentiment and policy. Spend like a drunk sailor on payday, but demand lower taxation at the same time. And ignore the white elephant across the table from you who keeps muttering under his breath that we are as close to bankruptcy as a city can get without actually calling it that. So we will have more bond debt, more city costs, and of course legal costs defending the no handguns policy which in the end will be knocked down by the courts, though it will take time, money, and enormous wasted effort on both sides. It's a shame we can't take that money and actually use it to reduce crime, increase social services, and provide some support systems in the communities that are so grievously hurting. Thanks, Chris Daly---this was a winner.
Cheese

Eating cheese in Europe is always a fine thing; eating lots of cheese after a good meal is even better.

We went out for a bite at St. John Bread & Wine, across from the Old Spitalfields Market, and even though by the time we all got there the Goose special was done, we made do with grilled sardines, and chitterlings, and foie gras, and skate, and venison. Washed it all down with a nice wine, and then moved on to the cheese course.

Now unfortunately, aside from the Shropshire Blue, I can't remember the names of what we ate. I can only remember sight and taste and texture: one was a brie-like cheese, ripe and sharp and lovely. The other was an herb-rinded goat cheese so runny I was afraid it might escape from our table and head off round the corner to the table where Michael York was having dinner, in order to be better appreciated by celebrity. But it stayed, and it was remarkably wonderful. In fact, it was so nice that Giles inhaled a good portion of it (and the portion were quite generous), and I glanced away, savoring a bite with a bit of wine, and when I looked back it was mostly just cheese rind left on the plate, and Giles was leaning back in his chair, eyes closed, holding his stomach, and I believe the words he uttered were "Oh, my god."

Nothing wrong with a bit of cheese after dinner. Now if only I could remember what it was called!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Travels

I've been on the road for almost two weeks now, and wanted to catch up with things, as I have finally arrived (I've finally arrived! How nice if it were true in the metaphoric sense!) at a place with easy computer/internet access.

I left SF on an upgraded flight with a terrible flight crew, and awoke after 10 hours of champagne to find myself at Heathrow airport with a crooked back and dinner plans. Once ensconced in the flat by my very gracious hosts (thanks again, and still, Matt & Andrew!) we were off to South Bank to have a few pints and watch the fireworks of bonfire night with Matt & Andrew & Neil. Once all the lights were done exploding, a journey back south for some excellent curry in Kennington, and a bit of a time at the local bar, a place called "South London Pacific"---you guessed it, a Tiki bar South of the Thames. Who'da thunk it?

Then, it was wanderings, and lunches, and photos of people taking photos of people in front of picturesque monuments, and a lovely dinner at Neil & Lisa's flat, complete with Lisa's wonderful cassoulet, and far too much wine for the likes of us. A bit more wandering, a few more meals and conversations, and then suddenly it was time to head north.

North. I'd forgotten both how lovely it is, as well as how wretched the weather can be. Setting aside a run to Scarborough, my time in Leeds with Sunny and Mart was full of beer, cold wet weather, good food, very gracious hospitality (thanks again and again to the both of you---and Chloe as well!), excellent conversation, new people, packets of crisps, and, well, more beer. I will never grow accustomed to a winter night that begins at 4:00 p.m.

Leeds was a surprisingly nice city, considering the bad rap it has from years past; full of restored Victorian shopping arcades, a pedestrian downtown, a fine small art museum, and lots of hustle and bustle on the streets, in all a nice place. Not stunning like York, nor rugged and lovely like the coast. But nice indeed.

In any case, time wound up in the UK, I said my farewells, and managed this time to not miss my flight, and here I am in rainy muggy Rome, a full 20 degrees C. warmer than Yorkshire.

Next up: Cheese, and parties, and pictures!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Elections Erections Ejections

I sent in my absentee ballot yesterday for the Governor's "special" election. It included umpteen ballot measures exclusive to the city and county of San Francisco, including a gun ban, a firehouse boondoggle, a handful of bond measures to further indebt the city, and so forth. I can say that I was quite comfortable voting "no" on nearly every measure on the ballot: the Governor's measures against teachers, and public unions, and pro drug-company, as well as the opposing poorly written drug proposal; no on the idiotic budget constraint bill, no no no. It was a no kinda ballot.

Now if only we could join together and try to be constructive rather than divisive, and create a moment in California that provides some reasonable growth along with reasonable governance, and maybe just a little bit less SF-style political lunacy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Today's Quiz

What country is described below?

  • Known as a "superpower" during the 2nd half of the 20th century;
  • Glorified it's military achievements as an aspect of it's spiritual imperative;
  • Invaded smaller sovereign nations when their activities threatened it's way of life and hegemony of power;
  • Managed prisons in which the people held secretly, were without access to the public, were tortured, and whose existence was officially denied;
  • Seen in the international arena as a nepotistic and corrupt bureaucracy without moral scruple;
  • In the face of growing world antipathy, continued to flex it's nuclear military options despite the costs;
  • Utterly convinced of it's ideological superiority to other ways of life.


And if you guess the Soviet Union, you're wrong.

How on earth did we so quickly become a sketch caricature of that which we fought against for so long? I know this moment will pass, but for now, to be a nation that condones torture, that lies to it's people, that believes in the power of power rather than the power of law, it all is rather disappointing. I'd like to feel that we could have a voice, and make change from the grassroots level, but I suspect that it is no longer possible to do so. It seem that the processes which normally provide a means of change are themselves being corrupted. And that puts us in a vicious self-destructive cycle that hopefully will eat itself tail-first as quickly as possible.

I've said for a very long time that even if our leaders are not those I would choose ideologically, even if I am diametrically opposed to the policies that get put forward, that at the very least I expect a debate of those policies, and then that those policies are pursued effectively, competently, and completely. I think that may be a key to my disgust with both the federal state of affairs, as well as California's own particular muddle. Interesting ideas put forward, but the model is always Iraq. Or No Child Left Behind. It's all good intentions, but poorly drafted and conceived, unrefined, and given no legs. No funding, no follow-through. We had no post-invasion plan in Iraq. We have no funding for NCLB.

Short-sighted we've always been, as a nation. But this is getting plain silly. And dangerous.

In the meanwhile, here's today's pandemic scare (sponsored by the president, thanks George!) for your reading pleasure.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"WASHINGTON - President Bush outlined a $7.1 billion strategy Tuesday to prepare for the danger of a pandemic influenza outbreak, saying he wanted to stockpile enough vaccine to protect 20 million Americans against the current strain of bird flu."
--AP: Bush Outlines $7.1B Flu-Fighting Strategy

Now, that's all well and good. But once again, how on earth are we going to pay for this protection? Is this to be yet another pledge like the billions to fight AIDS in Africa--well meant and never spent? It's fine for the President to propose a grand idea, but as his panel today will propose some rather ungainly tax simplification proposals, and we continue to spend like sailors without any increase in government revenue, I wonder if this is just another attempt to change the subject from scrutiny on the VP's office, to anything, anything else.

Keep in mind as well that despite all the grand talk of the last two years on education and NCLB, if this amount were pledged to education, we could fully fund all the programs instituted for good or ill by the feds, as well as give all teachers a moderate incentivized pay increase. Instead, we've had less than a third of that. What's more important: stockpiling vaccine for all us illiterit masses, or having an educated generation who can discover ways to avoid potential pandemics in the future?

Just a thought.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Book Plug

It isn't common for me to promote someone else's work here, but in light of yesterday's explosion in New Delhi, and the "obscure Kashmiri group" claiming responsibility, and the catastrophe of the Kashmir earthquake, and the ensuing back and forth between Pakistan and India in order to ease the rescue and reconstruction efforts on both sides of the line, in light of all that: go out and read Salman Rushdie's latest effort, Shalimar the Clown. It is his attempt to view the current state of the world and it's affiliated messes of secrecy and terrorism and nationalism and globalization and changing values through the prism of love, and desire, and Kashmir. It isn't as sweeping and full of delight in language as was The Moor's Last Sigh, nor is it as focused and sharp as Midnight's Children. But it is one of his better or best books, certainly his finest work in the last few years, and anyone who claims to read it and learn nothing of themselves and others is either a liar, a fool, or Vice President Dick Cheney.

Monday, October 24, 2005

At Long Long Last...

Some news that ever so slightly warms my heart (from the NYT no less):Cheney Told Aide of C.I.A. Officer, Notes Show

What word will the morning bring?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Apologia II

From Reuters today:
"I think one of the things that people want us to do is to play a blame game," Bush told reporters. "We've got to solve problems. We're problem solvers. There will be ample time for people to figure out what went right, and what went wrong. What I'm interested (in) is helping save lives."

He said he would lead an investigation to find out what "went right and what went wrong" in order to improve coordination between federal, state and local authorities because of the possibility of future crises.

"It's very important for us to understand the relationship between the federal government, the state government and the local government when it comes to a major catastrophe," Bush said.

"And the reason it's important is, is that we still live in an unsettled world. We want to make sure that we can respond properly if there's a WMD (weapons of mass destruction) attack or another major storm. And so I'm going to find out over time what went right and what went wrong," he added."
My anger and disgust is too great to express. So I guess the highest elected officials of the land don't yet "understand the relationship between the federal government, the state government and the local government"????

That's it. I'm done. There is nothing left to say from here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Apologia

You may have been wondering where I went. I'm still here; I just find that in terms of the news and currect events, I feel as though we've turned that corner, from Tragedy Lane, to Farce Alley. I can't bear to write about the state of things. It's too depressing, too aggravating, too absurd. But I'm still here. If you want to see what I am thinking in the meantime, check out Things I Smelled Today.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

News Flash

How many people will read this, on top of all the other garbage?
"Prime Minister Marek Belka, whose country has been a close U.S. ally since the invasion of Iraq, said the United States and its allies made a mistake by basing its postwar plan for Iraq on the same model used for Germany after World War II.

'It failed totally,' Belka said at a panel discussion on nation-building at an international forum in Sweden. 'Many mistakes, major mistakes, have been committed.'"
Checked Out, Giving Up.

Bolton. Fahd. Shuttle. Novak. G-SAVE. Sudan. Iraq.

Don't care. Don't care. Don't care. Don't care. Don't care. Don't care.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Terrible Beauty

I haven't been posting the last few days, mainly because the whole world is just getting me down. Today though, two pieces of positive news are worth noting, and mulling over. They don't negate, or even begin to balance all the nasties out there, but at least we have something that doesn't turn the stomach going on.

The first, this bit of health news showing that cancer may at last be succumbing to our attempts to rid the world of its griefs; the other, that the IRA has at last renounced violence and terror in favor of political process and growth.

These things don't end the war----or, forgive me, the newly re-branded Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism---but they do shine a light in a dark moment of our world.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Everything Pisses Me Off Today

So I won't bother you with specifics. There's a full moon and it has affected me, and all world governments, and the stanky-with-stale-smoke-and-cologne consultant guys from Delhi who sit by me at work, and the café baristas, and the bus drivers, and the homeless guys on sidewalk, and the lameass drivers honking their horns at the delivery vans doubled parked up and down the streets and the olives rotting in my refrigerator and the milk that's gone bad and grownups reading the latest Harry Potter on the way to work and everything else too.

On the plus side, the sun is out in the neighborhood today. Probably means we're in for a shitstorm tonight.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Shifting Baseline

I wasn't gonna, but here I am. I just think it's notable that once again in this government we have a shifting line of reality, and a moving target to try and hold on to. I don't know what the story is, or what the end result will be, but this sort of indecently spineless drift from line in the sand to newer different line in the sand is odious to watch: take a gander here or here.

And while we're on about junk of this sort, this wire item from today's right-leaning rag about town, the SF Examiner:
WASHINGTON--FBI agents monitored Web sites calling for protests against the 2004 political conventions in New York and Boston on behalf of the bureau's counterterrorism unit, according to FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union pointed to the documents as evidence that the Bush administration has reacted to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States by blurring the distinction between terrorism and political protest.
Blur that line! Move that target!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

It Makes Me Hate

There will be no posts here for a while. This is because I cannot read the news any longer. I cannot listen to the news any longer. I can't watch the talking heads on Foxy CNN-Land any longer.

The complete polarization of the news, and the lack of any scruple on either side to score a partisan swipe---though I will admit that the concerted offense of the right is to me more offensive, of for no other reason than their smug ability to disregard truth in the pursuit of a greater partisan goal---has made it too repulsive, too obscenely depressing, to review or even comment on the contemporary currents of events.

Perhaps this will pass. Perhaps after the Supreme Court decisions have been made, perhaps after the reviews of military activity have concluded, perhaps after the investigation of Plame-Wilson-Cooper-Miller-Rove is done, perhaps. Perhaps after a new Congressional election. Perhaps after a change of administration in the White House. Perhaps when the war is over. When the hurly-burly's done. When the battle's lost and won.

I read Josh Marshall, and the shrill inside-the-beltway tenor of his focus grates on my brain. I read Andrew Sullivan, and grow mortified that anyone can continue to dwell in a land of such naive faith in the face of admitted and accepted failure, foul play, mendacity and duplicity by and for those in which that faith is placed. I try to read many other blogs, but can't get past most first paragraphs. I have turned off NPR after realizing that even on the News Hour there is not a chance in hell that anyone will challenge blatantly false statements made by either left- or right-wing commentators. I guess the Terry Gross disease is catching across the whole programming schedule.

I don't have an answer; this is only a rant. I just wish there were some spot on the spectrum where people have both integrity and the balls to back it up; where the ethical high ground has not been swept over by the tide of self-righteous morality.

If you find one, let me know.
Betting On Futures

As I watch Rove-ergate unravel, and the Gitmo hearings, and the shifting of the sands with the Homeland Security structure (move around the deck chairs) and funding (sell the deck chairs at a loss to folks without decks) and all the other ugliness in the news this week, I wonder about our future. My great fear is that in 25 years, if the war continues---the Big War, the GWOT, not Iraq---then by force of need we will begin to look more and more like the totalitarian authorities we have railed against, and fought against, and less and less like the nation we dream ourselves to be and have been. This won't be due to a secret cabal--though the current power machinations in the Administration feed the trend--it will be due to the decisions we have made as a nation: sometimes naively, sometimes against our own best judgement, sometimes against the will of the majority.

But my best bet is that when I am of retirement age, I'll be looking at more Duce, more Big Brother, more Franco, and a whole hell of a lot less Hamilton, and Jefferson, and Lincoln, and yes, even Reagan.

God help us all.
Bastille Day

Happy birthday, France!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Stupid Idiots

SAN FRANCISCO / Anarchists protest G-8 -- officer badly hurt
"A San Francisco police officer was in serious condition with a head injury and three suspects were in custody Saturday following a demonstration by anarchists who broke windows in the Mission District to protest the gathering of the Group of 8 leaders in Scotland."
First, since the G-8 meeting was effectively over once they began their little "protest", what the hell was it about anyway? Other tidbits:
  • None of the perpetrators appear to be SF dwellers. Just some hokum fools from Berkeley and the Santa Cruz mountains on a field trip.

  • The officer they attacked now has a blood clot on his brain, which is swelling.

  • They attacked a bank and a locally owned franchise.

  • They "protested" in the least likely, least effective, least politically astute location in the entire city---the heart of the Mission, the heart of the politically and culturally Left and Liberal, the center of, well, where most of the people who agree with this breed of so-called "anarchists" live and play.


I am all for effective protest against things you see as wrong. And I'm all for a bit of political anarchist thinking thrown into the mix. But these fools weren't protesting, they were just acting out. They aren't anarchists, they are simply hooligans. And they certainly aren't thinking, whatever else they are doing.

Read it all here.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

More On Sucking

Frank Rich is unabashedly partisan, but he has a point here. The convolutions of this mess: the whiff of free press issues, first amendment issues, white house scandal and dirty tricks, the possibility of even a hint of a wag-the-dog election year warmongering, and on and on, is far more disturbing than what we saw with Nixon. What troubles me more than anything though is the indifference of so many people to every aspect of it: we have become so louche, so affected in our cynicism, that once we've gotten our 15 minute dose of amusement from an issue on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, we return to our self-obsessed daily lives, cocooned and happily ignorant of how the world affects us each, and how we might effect some change if only we were more awake.
Why We Suck

Newspaper Withholding Two Articles After Jailing - New York Times:
"'As I write this, two stories of profound importance languish in our hands,' Mr. Clifton wrote. 'The public would be well-served to know them, but both are based on documents leaked to us by people who would face deep trouble for having leaked them. Publishing the stories would almost certainly lead to a leak investigation and the ultimate choice: talk or go to jail. Because talking isn't an option and jail is too high a price to pay, these two stories will go untold for now. How many more are out there?'

Mr. Clifton said he was surprised that there had been so little public reaction to his disclosure of 'something that newspapers typically don't reveal - that real live news had been stifled.'

'I hoped the public would be bothered by that,' he said."
He's right: we should care about this. If Watergate occurred today, we'd never know, or worse just not give a damn.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Hit

From the BBC:

Blast Timeline:
0851: Seven people die in a blast on a train 100 yards from Liverpool Street station

0856: 21 people die in a blast on a train between Russell Square and King's Cross stations

0917: Five people die in blast on a train at Edgware Road station

0947: An unknown number die in a blast on a bus at Tavistock Place.


Many Feared Dead and Injured; Blair Sees Link to G-8 Talks - New York Times: "The police official said explosions had taken place at or around the subway stations at Edgware Road, King's Cross, Liverpool Street, Russell Square, Aldgate East and Moorgate. He declined to speculate on the cause, but added, 'We are concerned that this is a coordinated attack.'"

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Real Life Meets Metaphor

Check out president Bush's brush with the law. Seems he can't go anywhere without colliding with those pesky forces of enforcement....

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Apologies

I know I've been remiss in posting the last few days, and so have missed some good ranting: over the NYT article that claims male bisexuality doesn't exist; the article looking at the as yet unpublished study that appears to show a 70% reduction in AIDS infection from HIV positive women among men who have been circumcised; the last minute budget agreement in Sacto today; even just general grumpiness surrounding National Patriotism Day. It's all due to starting a new day job this last week, and being pretty much unable to post between the hours of 8 and 5. I'll try to get back on it over the next few days. I hope you can forgive my slackerdom.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Knell of Doom

wasn't expecting this today: O'Connor Retires From Supreme Court

We've lost a swing vote. And now I wonder what thoughts run throught the Chief Justice's mind?
Economy

On the $35 Billion MBNA purchase, the only thing I can think of is BofA is banking on the continuing decline of the US economy: rising rates, rising debt, and no increase in balanced savings...

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Public Broadcasting Witch Hunt

Listening right now to the reporting on NPR of Tomlinson's secret analyst, who categorized CPB shows and speakers as "liberal", "conservative", and "anti-Bush/pro-Bush". This looks far worse than it did at first. From what I can tell, this smacks of McCarthy style intimidation. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.)was identified as a "liberal," due to his misgivings about Bush policies. The fact that there were more anti-Bush sentiments aired than pro-Bush is implied to be a final outcome in recommendations; but since most polls show that in certain areas there is a majority of Americans who disagree with the president, why is it worth noting that this is reflected in the media? Clearly, the hollerers are right: this appears to be an attempt, conscious or no, to make public broadcasting into a branch of the government propaganda machine.

What on earth are we coming to?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Funny Ha Ha

The NY Times reviews War of the Worlds, and provides this ratings tag:
"'War of the Worlds' is rated PG-13. Much of the earth's population is wiped out, leaving very little time for sex or bad language."
Tee hee hee.
Invocations of 9/11?: 6.
Invocations of WMD?: 0.


That's the score from the president's speech today. I have no comment worth printing. He said very little, and provided no insight beyond the brilliant notion that if we send enough troops to win the war, it will make the terrorists (a.k.a. Iraqi insurgents) think that we are going to stay forever, hence making them even more hateful toward us, and so prolong both the war and the Great Battle Of Our Time. According to "a senior advisor to the president", said CNN,
"This is World War III, and it's raging in Iraq."
'Nuff said.

Monday, June 27, 2005

He Said It Was For Personal Use..

I dunno. 70,000 doses of GHB is a lot of personal use. I mean, even on a less moral level, 70,000 doses is a lot of girls getting a mickey slipped in their drinks.

And with that in mind, this guy deserves whatever nastiness is in store for him.
By The Numbers

Some interesting figures are in the SF Chron today; they list some of the Governator's results financially from his rather lofty pledges, plans, and promises. While it is easy to bash a politician for neglecting campaign promises, when it comes to actual, on the ground actions, we usually expect that the items enacted tend to achieve a bit of what they intend. And with California steeped in debt, the need to raise revenue and cut costs is not a small item to be glossed over. So: what would the bar be set at for someone to claim "success?" For the sake of argument, let's just say that if a body proposed a program to cut costs, or raise funds, and that program achieved a success rate of more than, oh, 50%, then it could be considered a smashing success. Anything above that would be gravy. Sound good? Good.

Now, let's take a look at the numbers from today's paper:
Collection of federal funds due: proposed level? $50 Billion. Actual? About $1 Billion. Percent success? 2%.
Collection of tribal casino funds due: proposed level? $150-200 Million. Actual? About $18 Million. Percent success? 10%.
Government efficiency plans for purchasing goods (contained in the CA Performance Review): proposed level? $96 Million. Actual? About $4.9 Million. Percent success? 5%.
OK. Now keep in mind this ignores any plans that haven't been actually put into place; pipe dreams and blue sky are still just that. These are the figures of what's been done.

Success or failure? We report: you decide!

Imagine that your company's CFO has put in action a grand new scheme to increase profitability and productivity, and has proposed a number of radical innovations that project a ten-fold increase over two years. And after two years, you look at the books, and while there has been a lot of noise and upheaval, the books show that despite all that you have a flat growth rate, productivity is unchanged, and the CFO is still drawing an inflated salary based on the projections from 24 months ago. What do you do? Ok, ok, if you're an Enron, you give him a raise and put him on the board of directors. But in a sane world, you sack his sorry ass. Or at best, cut his pay and put a fire under him to change course and improve the state of things pronto.

Oh, for a sane world to live in.....
I Have A List...

So in a sign of good faith to the rest of the world, as we pursue potential nuclear powers and hound them, we are going to start production of the most toxic nuclear fuel known.

"'The real reason we're starting production is for national security'"

And somehow to me that response just smacks of the sort of lame excuse that will have us trying to cope with a similar announcement soon from Pakistan. And then what sort of security will we have found?
A Narrowly Defined Slice Of Sanity...

Commandments Barred at Courts but Not on Government Land

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Here's A Question

Considering the outcomes of the investigation at the Air Force Academy into religious intolerance, here's something to ponder: do you think that evangelical Christianity, in its current American incarnation, is compatible with a democratic, open society? If so, how do you reconcile the democratic goal of acceptance with its basic view of the non-believer as doomed to hell? And if not, how do you reconcile the American concept of inclusion with the thought of excluding a particular religious ---and Christian---philosophy?
Lame.

Aw, shit: don't these guys have real work to do?: House to Vote on Flag Burning Amendment

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Unable To Write Coherently

...primarily because the news as a whole today is politics. And not just about politics: it is politics. Bill Frist twists in the White House wind over John Bolton and the senate vote. Dick Durbin apologizes for stating the truth in the face of controversy. George Bush retreats tactically on dismantling social security, but still announces his support for the dropped plans. The white house rebuffs a suggestion that an independent inquiry into Guantánamo would help dispel the anti-american fomentation that the prisoner abuse scandal has fed. And so on and so on. Another anti-Syria voice in Lebanon is assassinated. The summit between Sharon and Abbas ends in failure.

Thank the lord for summer sunshine, because otherwise this would start feeling like a pretty crappy day.
Best News Yet


Michael and "Madonna"???: BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Jackson's face 'appears on toast'

Monday, June 20, 2005

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Lebanon Update

As they move into the last stage of elections, it looks heated, fascinating, and disturbing. I will be impressed if the new assenbly lasts out the year, and even more impressed if the divisions which destabilized the country 30 years ago don't bring it to the precipice of collapse yet again:
     Bitter Final Round of Voting Will Be Decisive in Lebanon - New York Times

For some good concise background info on the whole deal, check out AP's pocket timelines and background briefs here, here, and here.
Religious Fervor

At least I can rest easy tonight knowing that there are places on the face of God's green earth where Christianity is even more insane than it is becoming here at home: BBC: Crucified nun dies in 'exorcism'

Chained to a cross, gagged, denied food and water and left to die. It's so enlightened, so spiritual.
"Father Daniel who is accused of orchestrating the crime is said to be unrepentant.

'God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil,' AFP quoted the priest as saying."
We aren't there yet, but we're close. Just this morning I heard a story of an eastern 'Liberal Arts' university where a speaker brought a large wooden cross to assembly and asked all students to write their sins on a piece of paper and nail them to the cross (about 1,200 did); after that the cross was placed prominently on the university grounds.

Can I hear ya say, "halellujah!"

Friday, June 17, 2005

"So-Many-Things-Wrong-Here-I-Don't-Know-Where-To-Begin" Award

I just don't even know what to say to this. So wrong, so very wrong. And, like the bin owner says, "It's kind of ironic, here she is digging for cans in a Dumpster, but yet she has a cell phone."

Read it all here: Woman Dumped Into Rear of Garbage Truck
Note This

It isn't going down. And no one in power right now is going to be very upset about it: Oil sets new record at $58.60

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Spotty Face

This is great: the zits I had as a teen will keep me from keeling over from a heart attack, but will probably kill me with cancer:
"NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The activity of male hormones, androgens, can give rise to acne during adolescence, but may also protect against coronary heart disease in adulthood, UK researchers report.

However, androgens also appear to be associated with an increased risk of dying from prostate cancer, the study in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests."
read all about it here
Just A Thought

For the 19th consecutive year, our state has failed to pass a budget within the constitutionally mandated time limit required. This year, as in many before, it has less to do with the fiscal issues at hand --- which are huge --- and more with the partisan atmosphere that has a stranglehold on our state government.

At the same time, our governor (for what it's worth) is AWOL on the topic, too busy barnstorming for his special election, which will spend money we do not have to decide issues which will not help, and about which very few people care deeply.

My question: Why isn't Gov. Schwarzenegger twisting arms in Sacramento to force a compromise between his minority folks and the bickering swaggering stupefyingly inert majority Dems to craft a budget that can A) fulfill most of his personal reform agenda, B) get passed by the legislature, and C) will not cause further political fallout for the long term health of the state of California?

And while we're at it: maybe it's time to rethink the balanced budget requirement? I mean, two decades and we can't do it, even with the constitutional pressure. What more pressure can be brought? Are we any better off than we were before?
Manifesto

I.

I am weary of the crypto-elitist, solipsistic, ineffectual liberal Left.

I am sick to heart of the tendentious, narrow-minded, self-congratulatory arrogant conservative Right.

I believe that government has a duty to its citizens to act in their best interest regardless of their 'worth'.

I believe that citizens have a duty to demand from their government the highest standards of action possible.

I believe that the nature of a market democracy demands at the very least the partial federalization or federal oversight of certain basic needs, among them health care, housing, and education.

I believe that the opportunity to take more responsibility for the self begins at a very local level.

I believe that repealing a tax is less effective in creating an "ownership society" than repealing laws which demand minimum age and weight limits for children to ride in the front seat of a car.

II.

We are responsible each for our actions, as well as the outcomes of those actions.

There is a time and a place for free market economy, and there is a time and a place for an economy of vision.

The stratification of our society into more and more distinct and disparate classes is an unhealthy trend for the nation, and if unchecked will erode our ability to either grow as an economic power, or to lead as a political entity.

Unless and until we acknowledge our stratification of classes by economic, ethnic, and political association, we will be unable to alter the ill effects of that stratification.

The far edges of either the Left or the Right are dangerous for the welfare of the nation. Ideology as a driver of policy rather than as an informer of political activity is anathema to the basic ideals of America in a modern global world.

There has never been a nation as wealthy and well-poised to do so much great good for its citizens, nor one with such a lack of integrity and will to do it.

The intertwining of higher education with the training for marketable skills has been a failure; the presence of the academy is not to create a worker class, but to provide an arena to promote critical thinking. Therefore a choice must be made: either we disentangle education from practical training for the free market, or we fund its continuation without a view towards the final economic efficacy of its actions.

III.

Nothing is more important than how we educate and treat each upcoming generation.

Nothing has been more of a failure in the last 35 years than our treatment of each upcoming generation, and our lack of provision for them: in education, in economy, in natural resources, and in long term political vision.

Nothing is more unpleasant to our culture than drastic change, and nothing is more dangerous to a politician than to suggest it.

Regardless of the pressures of the political process, if we do not generate a leader with both the charisma to gather the majority of the population to their support, as well as the pugnacity and vision to implement drastic and therefore unpopular change toward a remedy of those issues raised above, then the future of American power beyond the middle of this century is in grave peril.

IV.

So what can be done?

We need to admit the closing of the doors on intellectual honesty on both the left and the right; we must work like hell to reverse the trend.

The incredibly broad spectrum of ideas that are now in turmoil between the two most partisan poles of that spectrum must be recognized as valid lines of inquiry, even if the answer that we arrive at is one that is unpalatable to one side or the other.

We must return to a cultivation of leaders who not only provide remarkable political will, but also have the ability to lend that will to a middle road that provides a non-radical approach to policy, while at the same time aggressively pursuing real change in the basic infrastructure of current government bureaucracy.

We must recognize that to demand loyalty is to destroy our ability to act as a moral nation. The first step toward the failure of democracy is the demand for ideological agreement and loyalty.

We must have the courage of our convictions, and be willing to look at both our actions and their outcomes, and take responsibility for each, on an individual and on a communal level.

I don't believe this is too much to ask. And we must begin now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Just Plain Wrong

It may be legal, but that doesn't make it either right or tenable:

Delaware Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden asked Deputy Associate Attorney General J. Michael Wiggins whether the Justice Department had "defined when there is the end of conflict."

"No, sir," Wiggins responded.

"'If there is no definition as to when the conflict ends, that means forever, forever, forever these folks get held at Guantanamo Bay,' Biden said.

'It's our position that, legally, they can be held in perpetuity,' Wiggins said.

'I think that we can hold them as long as the conflict endures,' Hemingway responded."
We're into Orwell's perpetual state of war, and we don't even spin it. I have a hard time believing that even the most die-hard of conservative, pro-war folks can in good conscience be at peace with the moral and long-term political ramifications of this stance.
Morning Dose Of Caution

Truth. But who will listen?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Why Howard Dean Makes Me Tear My Hair Out

Not his scream. Not his comments about the GOP that get tossed about in all the headlines (they've never had to work for a living, they are a monolithic white christian organization). It's his followup that to me is even worse: "'We have to be rough on the Republicans. Republicans don't represent ordinary Americans, and they don't have any understanding of what it is to go out and try and make ends meet.''"

Note that emphasis (mine, not his). 49% of ordinary Americans voted in our current government. I'd say that's pretty damn representative. Not a majority, perhaps---at least not of voters---but if about half a population buys a view, and ideology, a political flavor, well, I'd say that's a fair indicator that the folks involved are ordinary.

Unless, of course, Dean comes from one of those wonderful places where all the children are above average.

Is this really what we want as Democratic leadership? Read it all here.
unsustainable

This NYT article on the failure of the procurement and development process in the Pentagon is one of the most depressing things I've read today; We can't afford the systems we are building, which, by the way, don't work and no one really thinks we need. And the budget for them has increased 35% above inflation in the last six years. While the education for the people who will need to redesign, build, and deploy them remains underfunded, ill-defined, and in near crisis. The money quote from the GAO:
"We're No. 1 in the world in military capabilities," said David M. Walker, who runs the Government Accountability Office, the budget overseer for Congress. "But on the business side, the Defense Department gets a D - giving them the benefit of the doubt. If they were a business, they wouldn't be in business."
If you're a hawk, you should be distressed. This directly impacts our ability to maintain a military readiness and advantage in the world. If you're not a hawk, you should be distressed. This impacts every other aspect of our current fiscal state. If you care at all about the viability of the US as a major power beyond the next 40 years, you should be distressed. Allowing the mismanagement of the largest domestic recipient of our wealth to piss it away and go unchallenged to the point of disaster is not the way to maintain viability in contest with China, India, South Asia, Europe, etc. etc. etc. And if this is the way we protect ourselves from threat in the post-9/11 world, please, please, please: let me go out and buy some personal armor and my own island. 'Cuz this isn't making me feel 'safe'.
The Next Hurdle In Iraq
"The number of our representatives must be 25 so that we have fair rights with the current constitutional committee," said the alliance in a resolution agreed by delegates.

"If the National Assembly rejects this we will resort to discussions with representatives between us.

"If they stick to their position we suggest suspending our participation and the concerned parties' bear the responsibility of not giving us the chance to participate."
That's the line from the The Gathering of the Sunni People on the upcoming constitutional convention in Baghdad. It seems they have realized that a boycott of the process doesn't really help you to guide the process in your desired direction. So in a way, I guess that is a positive democratic lesson learned.

On the other hand, this is a bit like the Democrats demanding that they get 50 seats in the Senate, in order to have "fair rights" in government. Not exactly a mirror of freedom and democracy for the world. When are we going to let on to people that democracy may be free, but it isn't fair?

And at the same time, the President Talabani and the Kurds are voicing support for Shia militias as a viable bit of the fabric.

Now, if you ask me, Iraq is in the midst of clearing a hurdle that will last through the drafting and implementation of the constitution; either they will clear it somehow, or we will have a new Lebanon on our hands.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Final Pot Post

Seems to me the whole issue of medical pot use can be managed by moving marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance. Doens't seem much of a stretch, looking at it. For your enjoyment, here are some Sched.I items (totally not OK, ever), and some Sched.II stuff to complare (Pretty not OK, but legal for medical use as determined by legislation etc etc)

Schedule I: PCP, MDMA, MDA, XTC, LSD, Marijuana
Schedule II: Coca Leaves, Powdered Opium, Opium Poppies, Laudanum, Cocaine, Crack, Morphine

I guess that's why we let the poppy fields get going in Afghanistan. Feeds the need. And it's relatively legal!
The Supreme Court And Medical Marijuana

I once again find myself in the surprising stance of agreeing wholeheartedly with Andrew Sullivan---without any reservations. The ruling that medical pot grown by an individual, in the home, not for sale, for personal use covered by state law, is trumped by the federal interstate commerce law is a scary-ass precedent. But even more interesting to me is to note who the three authors were of the dissenting opinion on the bench: Rehnquist, Thomas, and O'Connor. So much for predictability on the courts. Even Scalia piped in on this, according to Bloomberg
"Joining Justice John Paul Stevens's majority decision were Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote separately to say he agreed with the result, though not the majority's reasoning."
I'm looking forward to reading the opinion, and dissent, and even Scalia's note, on this one.

UPDATE: Here's the link to the opinion. And here's a key phrase from O'Connor's dissent:
"If the Court always defers to Congress as it does
today, little may be left to the notion of enumerated powers."
Think on that a while, why dontcha. Interesting precedent happening here, and it would be foolish to ignore it.

UPDATE II: From the introit to Justice Thomas' dissent:
"Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers."
Indeed.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

There is so much in flux right now in the world; some of it bad, some of it good, some of it too close and muddy to tell yet. In the microcosm of thinking locally, it is much the same. We have budget battles and growth concerns and transit failures and a mixture of job growth and job loss and wage stagnation and if anyone really thinks that here in California we have a Governor who is going to be able to make transformative change in any regard, in any direction, well...they haven't been paying much attention.

As I get older, I see more and more of a direct relationship between people's fear of change and our resistance to easing the path to change that is inevitable. It's a shame, really: we make things so much harder on ourselves than they need be, in the face of things that are simply unavoidable. Trying to turn back the path of cultural change is like trying to push back breaking waves on the beach with a plastic toy shovel. It ain't happening.

Tomorrow, a Monday. Today, though, is still a bright sun-filled Sunday, full of lackadaisical thoughts and a thorough disregard for politics and a nice hot cup of coffee in the morning.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Lebanon

While I said a while ago that, in regard to the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, that it ain't over till the fat lady sings, we may be hearing the first notes of her aria now. The assassination of Samir Qasir, outspoken critic of the pro-Syrian government, comes at a time when the optimists for this process should be worried. The Syrians have officially withdrawn---though many believe that the intelligence forces have simply gone to ground. Elections have begun, giving a smug headline for Bush and the "democracy is breaking out like roses in the Middle East" folks---but this could upturn that, now that there is a call for the newly elected president to resign.

Let's hope that this is just a false halting warning, and that we are not watching this country descend yet again into sectarian factional disaster.
Deep Throat

"I'll give you a candidate for great man of the era: Chuck Colson. Colson functioned in the Nixon White House as a genuinely bad man, went to prison and emerged a genuinely good man. He told the truth about himself in 'Born Again,' a book not fully appreciated as the great Washington classic it is, and has devoted his life to helping prisoners and their families. He paid the price, told the truth, blamed no one but himself, and turned his shame into something helpful. Children aren't dead because of him."

That's Peggy Noonan in the WSJ. How she can transform Mark Felt from whistle blower whose motives remain uncertain, into a child murderer, at the same time taking a key player in a massive criminal affair perpetrated by our government is, at the very least, a remarkable bit of language mangling. At the worst it is hate-mongering blindness.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Well, I've just returned from a wild fun and all too fast birthday weekend in New York. Yes, I am now OLD. Happily, this does not tarnish my ability to have a good time in Manhattan with friends. This trip my brother was able to join me, which was a very special treat. Nothing quite like rushing around NYC with a diplomat for a holiday weekend.

Mostly it was a few days of food and drink and celebration, and I haven't been paying too much attention to much of anything in the world. As far as I can tell the big news is that President Bush has announced that he isn't a lame duck, and we now appear to know who Deep Throat really was. Honestly, I read the NYT and the FT this morning, and while the news of France giving the boot to the EuroConstitution, that wasn't exactly unexpected.

After turning 39 among friends and family, and now flying back to SF to more of the same, it's hard for me to rant about much of anything this afternoon. I say: more champagne and cake! It'll solve the world's woes as well as anything else.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bolton Delayed

Another win for partisan bickering: Democrats Force Delay of Bolton Final Vote

On the one hand, I'm glad that Bolton's confirmation will be held off until there's more debate; on the other, this is yet another partisan spoiler rather than a vote on merit. My bet is that in a secret ballot, the numbers would have been closer to 35-65, rather than the split-down-the-aisle 56-42.

And by the bye, a huge hand to Senator Voinovich, for standing up for his own beliefs, and for he what he believes is best for the nation, rather than best for the politics of the moment and the GOP agenda of the week.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

...So Goes The Nation
"By a largely party-line vote of 56 to 43, the Republican-led chamber confirmed Texan Priscilla Owen for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals"
So says Reuters.

So: what does it mean when a controversial judge is approved by a party-line vote? It means that this has nothing to do with what our representatives believe, or what their constituents believe. This is about loyalty, plain and simple.

That is so damn sad. The congressional record has not yet posted the roll call vote tally for this. I will be curious to see which Dems decided to run with the pack on this, and if there was a single vote of conscience from anywhere on the other side of the aisle (hah hah hah)...

UPDATE: The vote tally is now online. So Landrieu (D-LA) jumped over to the dark side (no surprise) and Chafee (R-RI) came over to the Nays. And Inouye (D-HI) just skipped the whole shebang. The true colors of America.
Egypt Is Voting

Unfortunately, it is sounding like the so-called 'reform' referendum they are voting on is not being well received conceptually, and the opposition's (aka Muslim Brotherhood, I mean really, who else has a powerful voice/following? Kefaya? Please.) call for a boycott appears to be working. Cynicism, confusion, and apathy. Wow. Egypt really is getting to be more and more like a U.S.-style western political system!
Quote Of The Day

In re my post yesterday on the flight from the fringes, this thought (posted in response to bloviation over McCain and company in brokering the filibuster compromise of the moment),
"The mushy middle in this country isn't about compromise or moderation, it's about a fear of being on the losing team. The mushy middle isn't looking for moderation, it's looking for a leader."
That's from Atrios, and I couldn't agree more. But the question is: what in hell are we doing about it? And if we ever do find a leader for the middle, what will that mean? Do we really want another "team" fighting to "win?"

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Local News

Unclear On the Concept: In the running for best bad quote of the day, this Bay Area business leader voices the basic problem in how we currently conceive of quality of life, as well as intrinsic value of things. I've added emphasis, just in case you miss the punch line the first time around:
"The cost of living in the Bay Area is simply a function of the demand for living here," said Jim Wunderman, chief executive officer of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored association that focuses on the region's quality of life and economy. "The quality of life and things the Bay Area offers are really unmatched anywhere in the United States. We truly live in an incredible place. If we ever forget that, just look at the prices."
Politics As Usual: If you read nothing else today, read Molly Ivins most recent column, on a bill passed in the Texas legislature. A biting and clear insight into the basic failure of ultra-polarized partisan politics in our day.

Where's The Middle?: In this article in the Chronicle this past week, the author took a look at the failure of the Left, and his transit away from the dysfunctional left wing toward the Right. Interestingly, the bulk of the letters section today in the SF Chron was devoted to letters from both sides of the fence, agreeing in principle but outlining a different issue: that both the left and the right have lost their founding of basics, and have driven people away, toward the center. And many of them implicitly voice a concern that upon reaching center, there is no there there. With so many people heading in the same direction, where is the political institution we can build to have this growing Centrist voice heard? Some choice quotes:
"Moderates of both sides are tired of the nonstop finger-pointing and hate. I would love to find a place where men and women of goodwill and spirit could carve out the middle ground and let the extremes of both parties walk the plank without taking us with them."

"When Thompson leaves the left, where exactly is he going to go?"
If anyone has a plan for creating a new centrist voice for the new century, please call me and let me know. I'll sign up.
Senate

After listening to McCain, and Frist, and reading up on it all, I think the compromise was the best of bad options, but still not nearly in a place to be called good. It is a bad compromise that only delays an inevitable conflict---as long as the Republicans maintain their current control over the Senate and the White House. Josh Marshall seems to have the most lucid review of it all, to my mind. The most disappointing aspect to me is the phrase "extraordinary circumstance"; it is up to the party in power to determine what qualifies as extraordinary, and according to McCain's comments today, they will judge it like pornography: they'll know it when they see it.

Not a great standard for maintaining stability between two bands of (again in McCain's words) "spoiled children."

Monday, May 23, 2005

Compromise In The Senate

Listening to McCain talk about the compromise the 14 moderates have made to avert an immediate filibuster clusterfuck. More after he is done talking.

The basics: nobody wins, but the Senate doesn't implode.

El Kabong!

And hot on the heels of all other news, it seems they've developed a new pill for Quick Draw McGraw...
State Of Flux

The world has that texture of change half-made right now; maybe it's just the full moon, maybe it's that my 39th birthday is coming up this saturday, maybe it's the confluence of the judicial filibuster debate and the Bush-Karzai meeting and the UN Security Council failing to update itself and the Supreme Court deciding to hear a parental consent abortion ruling and the continuing rise of violence in the middle east and the potential delay of palestinian elections (and the lack of any move by the US to alter that) and the painful, painful sense of hypocritical mendacity about the political machinations of all sides of the debate, their callous self-interest, and the failure on all fronts of the media to take up the slack.

Maybe it's just the full moon. Maybe.

Friday, May 20, 2005

I hate to say it

...but Andrew Sullivan has it right here, dead on:
"THE SPIN ON TORTURE: It has gone chronologically something like this: 'It's not true. It's not true. It may be true but it's not torture. Okay, it's torture, but isn't official policy. It may be true and official policy, but we changed the policy and we uncovered the abuses ourselves. It may be true, it may have been widespread, but we've punished the culprits. It may be true, it may have been widespread, it may still be happening, but all these reports are old news.' Well, give these guys points for effort. How about: it is true; it should never have happened; the people responsible for the policy as well as the criminals should be punished. Ah, but that would mean taking responsibility, wouldn't it? And we don't do that in this administration, do we? Even at the expense of hurting the war effort and staining the reputation of countless great soldiers in a noble cause. "
This is the crux of the problem with all our actions of the moment, not just the torture hullabaloo. And this is to my mind an inevitable outcome of policy being driven by narrow religious ideology. There is no viable way to take responsibility for outcomes, because that entails the potential for fallibility. And religious absolutism has no room for fallibility.

We are so screwed.
Grrrrr

God it is just so disheartening to realize how utterly oblivious our president is to how other people see us--not to mention his uncanny ability to either miss the point or avoid the question:
"President Bush, when asked if he thought the pictures would stoke more anti-Americanism in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, voiced some doubt. 'I think the Iraq insurgency is inspired by their desire to stop the march of freedom,' he said.

'Remember,' Mr. Bush said, 'these are ideologues that murder innocent people in order to spread their dark vision of hate.'

'You know, I don't think a photo inspires murderers,' Mr. Bush said, at an appearance with Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen of Denmark. 'I think they're inspired by an ideology that is so barbaric and backwards that it's hard for many in the Western world to comprehend how they think.'
U.S. Military Denounces Release of Candid Hussein Photos - New York Times

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Holy Cow

So now we are to have an imperial civil service? Says Prez Bush:
"One of the lessons we learned from our experience in Iraq is that, while military personnel can be rapidly deployed anywhere in the world, the same is not true of U.S. government civilians,' he said in prepared remarks to the International Republican Institute, which aims to promote democracy worldwide.

To remedy this Bush cited an initiative in his budget that would create a corps of trained civilians who could be deployed on short notice to help in crises caused by war or revolution."
It's funny how Bush is learning all these lessons from Iraq, when a vast number of us had already learned them from Kosovo, Afghanistan, Haiti, oh, hell--from Cuba, and the Philippines, and Japan, and on and on and on.

On the upside, at least the administration is willing to make at the minimum lip service to learning. I hope it is soon enough.

Read it all here.
"'If Heritage [Foundation] and Brookings [Institute] agree on something, there must be something to it.'"

A classic example of how we always seem to focus on the wrong thing at the wrong time: this is a must read. Almost Unnoticed, Bipartisan Budget Anxiety

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

WTF???
"'We appreciate the step that Newsweek took yesterday,' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. 'It was a good first step. And what we would like to see now is for Newsweek to work to help repair the damage that has been done, particularly in the region, and Newsweek certainly has the ability to help undo what damage can be undone.'"
Say what? Newsweek has acted in a completely appropriate way: they've said they may have made a mistake. It's unfortunate that they caved to political pressure and retracted the story, rather than modifying it to take into account the now less than authoritative statements of the source. But "a good first step"??? The rumors of desecration at Gitmo did not begin with this story, nor will they end here. The riots did not break out a year ago when the stories first started surfacing, and to blame them on a single sentence that does not even pertain to the bulk of the reporting in the story is absurd. This is another show of force against a once-free press, which is more and more acting like a propaganda branch of an imperious and imperial government.

Shame!

Newsweek must do more about Koran case: White House - Yahoo! News:
Dumbest Lede Ever For An Interesting Media Study

What is actually an interesting survey of what blogs do and where they currently fit in the Great Big American Idea Exchange, is unfortunately reduced to a corollary to the Obvious Theorem:
"NEW YORK (Reuters) - Web logs, or blogs, may be a powerful new force in U.S. politics but they have not displaced traditional media in terms of information and influence, a study revealed on Monday"
Despite the lame headline, worth a quick read to get a feel for where journalism sees itself trending.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Newsweek Caves

So much for the free press. The funny thing is, very few people are willing to go on the record and say that the Qur'an incident never happened. For instance:

"It's appalling that this story got out there." -- Condi Rice.

"Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we." -- Mark Whitaker.

"If it turns out to be true, obviously we will take action against those responsible." -- Stephen Hadley.

Only the Pentagon spokesman is willing to bloviate on a true denial, calling the incident "demonstrably false." But if that were the case, then why isn't anyone demonstrating its falsity?