.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"We are not Seeing...."

After the recent bombing of the major Shiite shrine, the Golden Mosque, located in the mostly Sunni town of Samarra in Iraq, and the ensuing sharp upsurge in violence, an information officer for the U.S. military with the chillingly appropriate name, in this instance, of Lynch, recited a mantra in which he said, several times, that "we are not seeing" dozens of mosques attacked and destroyed and numerous people, mostly Sunnis, being slaughtered by a variety of means. This was despite numerous news reports to the contrary, including one especially gruesome report that 47 bodies were found in one Baghdad neighborhood alone.

But Lynch seemed to be aware that he was handing us a big snowjob -- or either it was just more of his or his subordinates' sloppiness in writing his report -- when at one point in his statement he was trying to laud the Iraqi police forces and he contradicted himself by saying that they were being effective in quieting the "storm." So he conceded that there was something unusual going on after all, and it was no less than a storm.

After a couple of days, those police forces did impose a curfew in Baghdad in the daytime as well as the night hours, and that was so unusual and drastic that it definitely indicated that happenings over and above the usual insurgent garbage were going on in and around Iraq's big city. The curfew did slow up the violence but not entirely, and it soon had to be lifted because of the hardships it was wreaking on an already hard-pressed citizenry. And since then, despite Lynch's assurances of what he and his people are not seeing, the destruction and violence has picked up again and roared on apace. Some American reporters checked out a morgue in Baghdad and were told that 1,300 bodies had been brought in, mostly Sunnis and so presumably killed by Shiites and far above the normal level of the murdered.

That "We are not seeing" statement gives credence to my impression of what the U.S. military is really doing in Iraq, and doing it for good reason. They are not looking for weapons of mass destruction. They are not doing much in the way of law enforcement. They are paying little attention to the reason they are there, the oil. They are not even going around preaching the virtues of democracy and by their behavior giving exemplary examples thereof. Instead I would bet that they are just hunkering down behind their walls and their armor and counting their days till it's time for them to get the hell back out of there, while hoping devoutedly that they are never sent back. They didn't enlist to spend their time fearing a mere drive down a road lest a hidden bomb should blow their vehicles and themselves to little fragments. There is nothing helpful or heroic about that.

The surest sign of the lack of effect that the GI's are having on the Iraqis except being objects of dread and sources of humiliation is that, unlike in many other places, where GI's have established what I call the "candybar presence," it seems certain that you are not going to see many of them coming back with Iraqi wives. There's so much disconnection in fact that they don't even seem to have coined epithets for the Iraqis, at least nothing comparable in virulence to the "slopes," the "krauts," and the "Japs" of the past. ...Unless that is something that we here at home are not hearing because people like the good Sir Lynch are not telling us such, in their efforts to make everything there look peachy keen.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Drunken Driving Duo, Bush and Cheney

In the last two Presidential elections little note was taken of the fact that in their earlier days, GW Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, both ran afoul of the legal system for driving while under the influence of drink. I suppose that one reason is that people were unable to make the obvious inference that, if elected, the pair just might conduct the governmental affairs of the United States of America while in a similarly tipsy condition, with the intoxicant this time being power instead of alcohol -- or both. But so it has happened.

People probably also thought, "Well so what if those ol' young boys got DUI's? That was a long time ago, and boys will be boys. And anyway a good number of us, maybe the majority, have driven at some time or another while our systems were temporarily overloaded with alcohol. That doesn't mean that these boys were or are habitual drunkards, bless their little hearts."

That may be so, but still... Based on the statistic that came out many years ago and to my knowledge hasn't yet been refuted or even seriously challenged, 1 out of every 25 drivers that you see on the road are legally drunk. And that means that it is all but certain that you have already driven a good many times while loaded before one day you weave back and forth across the centerline a little too much, and finally you are easily noticed by someone in his cop car, who stirs himself out of his own sort of daze enough to pull you over for the offense.

I don't recall hearing MADD, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, come out in force against the Bush-Cheney tickets in 2000 and again four years later. But they are so angry and aggressive -- or at least they used to be, and with good reason -- that they are probably conservatives, and maybe that made it possible for them to overlook those clouds in the candidates' past.

Still, in 2000 it could be easily anticipated by all but the feeble-minded and the evil-minded that the broad policies pushed through later by the Drunken Driving Duo would be harmful to the nation and the world. The conflagration to which they lit the fuse in Iraq is the most conspicuous example. But now it turns out that during their terms both men, despite their elevated status, have been highly harmful to others on more personal levels, physically, and to their friends and boosters to boot.

Everyone knows how a few weeks ago Cheney nearly took the life of one of his close friends and supporters by not looking at his target and carelessly spraying the man in the face and chest with a load of pellets fired from a shotgun, while supposedly quail hunting in Texas.

Now, according to the Rachel Maddow program on Air America, we hear that during a trip to the British Isles, GW Bush lost control of his mountain bike while riding "hard" on a wet road. After being struck either by the bike or by the flying, presumptive President of the United States, or both, a Scottish policeman had to be whisked to the hospital, so badly injured that it was 14 (!) weeks before he could go back to work. GW Bush himself suffered some scratches. I didn't catch what happened to the mountain bike.

This happened a while ago, but in keeping with the strictly adhered-to Bush/Cheney policies of Secrets and Lies, we are only now hearing about this mishap, as reported in a Scottish newspaper, just as the hunting accident was only revealed, also a little late, in a Texas newspaper, and not by the White House press corps, the Press Secretary, or even the perhaps more prestigious, these days, Examiner.

These and many other events show beyond any doubt that the good judgment of both men is lower than that of the great majority of American citizens, while their recklessness is higher. On every level they are a threat to the well-being and life of anyone who crosses their path. Yet they are accepted as the best that the country can do for its top leaders.

There's something wrong with everything when you have a situation like this!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Cutting (Everybody's Losses) and Running (Along Home)

For a long time people as far apart on the political spectrum as GW Bush and Al Franken have dismissed with sneers any suggestion that the troops of the Coalition of the Willing, mainly U.S., pull their wagons together into some fearsome convoys and leave Iraq NOW. They and many others apply to this idea what they consider to be the supremely derisive term "cutting and running."

For Franken the presence of the troops in Iraq comes in handy so that he can make himself feel good by going over there once in a while to entertain them under the umbrella of the USO, and so that he can come back and report on conditions there first-hand -- or at least the American side of things. Understandably he sees little or nothing of the Iraqi side, and so, when he gets back, he can never have much of anything worthwhile to report from that considerably more vital direction.

Meanwhile GW Bush won't hear of leaving soon, because he was born with more than his share of the natural human reluctance to concede that one has made a horrible mistake. But, as he was one of the least fit men in the country to be presented with the office of President, nearly everything he and his people have done have been huge mistakes, and it is already crystal clear that in that office he has performed worse than all 40-odd previous holders of the position. That would be true even without the Iraq debacle.

A day or two ago the dome of one of Iraq's oldest, most beautiful, and most revered mosques, in Samarra, was wrecked by a bomb, and that was followed by an upsurge of the already high number of killings of Iraqis, especially in Baghdad, while many other mosques were damaged as well. I think this is a sure sign that all previous pretensions need to be thrown overboard, and the presence of the U.S. troops in Iraq is pointless. When the Shiites and the Sunnis start upscaling strikes at each other's mosques, then you know it's all over -- unless operatives of some kind on the U.S. side had something to do with the Golden Mosque attack, as some Iraqi leaders are charging. The U.S. troops aren't preventing much, because they can't be everywhere, whereas the numerous enraged Iraqis can be anywhere as well as everywhere. They have a 192 to 1 advantage in numbers, and they are at home, whereas the Americans are as far away from theirs as it is possible to be, save for some spot in outer space.

If he doesn't spend all his time in the daze that his behavior habitually suggests, GW Bush must suspect deep down that the forces he sent into Iraq have just made things worse there instead of better, and they will have to leave soon. But he is hoping for time, the time that Johnson and Nixon contrived to get for having withdrawal from Vietnam not happening on their watches, and because of that, GW Bush -- unlike the most rabid, evil, and thoughtless of his supporters -- is probably beside himself with joy that he isn't eligible for a third term.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Appointment in Samarra

I was deeply affected by hearing about the destruction of the dome of the Al-Aksir mosque in Samarra, Iraq a few days ago, and after reading about it in Riverbend's weblog, "Baghdad Burning," and then also after reading about the quick upsurge in the violence in Baghdad and elsewhere that had already been at a level so high that I had long wondered how any country, and especially one as small as Iraq, could endure it. Could there be anything left in it to destroy?

One of the rationales for not taking the U.S. troops out of Iraq quickly has been the warning that to do so would open the way to a civil war in Iraq. But it seemed to me that that war had already started, and the bombing in Samarra only confirmed that hard fact.

Riverbend wrote very movingly about how she and some family members visited that mosque a few years ago, and she made it sound as if the structure was a true wonder in many respects, and in his weblog, "Raed in the Middle," though he is now living in the U.S., I think out of fear of being thoroughly messed up in some manner in Iraq, Raed wrote of how much of a landmark that mosque was, with its golden dome clearly visible from afar on the road from Baghdad to Mosul.

Finally I realized, somewhat startled, that, though I had barely heard of Samarra and had been completely ignorant of what was there, its name had actually been part of the background noise in my head for going on to 50 years! The reason for this is that countless times through that period my eye has brushed over the title of a little novel in my book collection: "Appointment in Samarra," by John O'Hara.

I don't know how well remembered John O'Hara is today, but in the 1950's he was regarded as being a major writer. However, he wasn't one of my favorite authors, and I have no memory of having read this book. I doubt that my wife, a voracious reader, has either, because the pages of this slim paperback, now turned brown and fragile by the years, are nevertheless still largely intact.

"Appointment in Samarra" was copyrighted in 1945, and I bought it soon after a 1957 reprinting. On hearing of the mosque bombing I was puzzled by the title, because I thought of O'Hara as placing all his stories in the U.S. and not in a locale like Iraq, which, in 1945, was somewhat more exotic than it is now. I had to thumb through the book for precisely one second to find the answer to that question. O'Hara started his story with a passage from W. Somerset Maugham, namely a little speech by the figure of Death. It was a very cool way for O'Hara to launch things and to get his title, but it is even more interesting because, though of course O'Hara and Maugham could have had no inklings of events in Iraq half a century later, we can still find meanings that relate to current happenings there, and with much the same degree of surprise to us as is expressed in the speech. Here is that passage in its entirety:

DEATH SPEAKS: There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions, and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place, I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw that it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The master lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

I think we can say that recently that kind of astonishment and realization has applied to a lot of people, when it comes to Iraq.

Friday, February 24, 2006

"Cut and Run" -- An Epithet of Misplaced Scorn

It is popular to immediately dismiss any suggestion of pulling the U.S. troops out of Iraq without further ado. To do that is scornfully called "cutting and running." The same was true a year or more ago when the prospects for stability in Iraq weren't any better than they are today, despite all the delusions that are still so general. These dismissers sold the snakeoil tonic that withdrawal was either not necessary or that it was best accomplished not quickly but gradually. But the "Some Day Soon" people joined the "Nevers" in doing nothing to pull out at any time, and so we have the ever deepening bog that we see today, with the rival sects in Iraq busily destroying each other's mosques and murdering each other wholesale, and with no end of that kind of horror in sight.

Obviously these "Nevers" and "Some Day Soons" don't associate with those small, clever, flexible, and endlessly adaptable creatures called cats. Instead they keep those big oafish animals called dogs. But it is no accident that recognizable cats have been around longer than recognizable dogs, and at one point, after the extinction of dinosaurs, big cats were even the dominant species, judging by what's been pulled out of the LaBrea Tar Pits. And, should humankind extinguish itself, which is an excellent bet, cats in some form will still be around, while dogs, the descendants of wolves, will perish with their masters, having become nothing more than meals of those same wolves, or of the new cats.

Cats are instructive to have around because they show how it is possible to live lives stripped down to the absolute basics, an attitude that helps to explain their long tenure. Among those basics, it's an especially great delight to see how they respond when faced with an Iraq-like situation, on a cat's scale of things. You will see no hemming and hawing, because they are not given to nonsense like hubris and pride. Instead, though they disdain the speaking of English even if they know the language perfectly well, you can still hear what they thinking via the transmission of brain waves.

They will say, "Screw this. I'm outta here!" And they depart the premises post-haste, like a shot.

How unfortunate we are that, no matter how well we think of ourselves, we are not even remotely as unburdened and clear-headed as are cats.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Why Can't Iran Have the Bomb?

For years now a number of countries have had nuclear bombs and the capability to deliver them to distant targets. No one has done that since their first use, in a blow delivered against the civilians of Japan 60 years ago. But occasionally one of these countries will wag its nuclear stick at others. We can even say that the degree to which countries try to throw their weight around is in direct proportion to the number of nuclear weapons that they possess.

These threats to use them, however guarded, ought to be in violation not only of ordinary human decency but also of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but apparently they are not. The main purpose of that treaty, signed by the Haves as well as the numerous Have-Nots of the Bomb in those days, was to get the Have-Nots not to emulate the Haves and develop one or a dozen or a hundred of their own. But times and attitudes change, small countries grow bigger, and can 70 million people really be told that they can't have the Bomb, when, for starters, one particular, much smaller entity right in their neighborhood with a demonstrated taste for preemptive action and with whom they have serious differences, has long had it?

History tells us that patents and the like don't apply when it comes to implements used to hit fellow humans over the head, and from the first tree branch picked up by Sir Habilis, there has yet to be a weapon that didn't in time become the world's common property. It's hard to understand why that reality doesn't extend to nuclear weapons as well. Certainly those weapons are horrible beyond belief, but that monster was let out of the bottle for good -- and bad -- before all his terrible features could be fully made out, way back in New Mexico in 1945. But that doesn't change the fact that nukes are just the latest versions of those tree branches of long ago. Meanwhile it's chilling to note how much farther advanced the nukes are than are the minds of those who wave them. Homo Habilis would find nothing strange in the pugnacity of today.

Who decides which countries are responsible enough to have the Bomb and which are not? The nations that have long been bristling with atomic weaponry think that they are the ones to decide that, even while they have no intention of shedding the missiles that they themselves have long caressed with satisfaction.

It keeps surprising me that Iran doesn't argue over and over that the attitudes of the U.S., the European Union, and Israel toward the possiblity of it going nuclear are weird and hypocritical. The automatic reaction is to accuse Iran of supporting terrorism, but those who have never -- or haven't recently -- experienced it conveniently take little note of how truly terror inducing it is to rain bombs and missiles on someone and to invade and occupy them -- activities in which Iran can claim to have little experience, when compared to the nuclear club members who would exclude them. But I guess that that argument is too simple to use in foreign affairs, where things are much more sophisticated though not necessarily more complicated than they might look to this least of weblogists.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Let's All Move to Texas!

While googling yesterday to see if the questions raised by Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 bombshell, "The Population Bomb," are still being considered -- they are -- I came across an especially memorable counter-argument put forward by one of his many adversaries. To show that the Earth, far from being too crowded, still has plenty of room for many more billions, this person wrote that all six billion plus of the current humans could be comfortably accommodated by Texas alone, each in his or her own house on about 1/8 of an acre.

This argument must've been written by someone whose emanations would be welcomed in the conservative used toilet tissue rags like the Washington Times. Ehrlich's detractors seem to be the same sort of nincompoops -- and worse -- who thought it was such a stellar idea to move in on -- and with -- Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The example is so riddled with holes that it is tempting to say nothing in rebuttal. Except...

There can't be a Texan alive -- even among its numerous insane -- who would welcome having all the rest of the Earth's inhabitants moving in with them on 1/8 of an acre for each. Not even the Chinese or the India Indians, who, consisting of more than a billion persons apiece -- have done their bit to squeeze out species that are far more worthy than human beings -- notably tigers, elephants, and panda bears -- would welcome having the rest of the planet joining them in bursting their seams.

The problem is that all the larger animals, including human beings, need room and plenty of it. Despite the resemblance, they are not to be confused with bacteria. Ehrlich has said that the optimum human population would be two billion, which was about as many as were here during the fateful year when I was born, in 1931. That is three times fewer than what we have now.

Lots of people would say yes, and people have never lived better than now, with their plasma TV's, their SUV's, and their enclosed swimming pools. But I have a notion that the best life in what is now the U.S. was lived by the ancestors of the modern Sioux, Cheyenne, Commanches, and others, before those most hideous of the invaders from across the restless ocean to the east, the Spanish conquistadores, brought them horses and death, and instead they had to get their exercise and fresh air by walking everywhere while looking alive to keep from being trampled by those ultimate badasses of the plains, the hordes of inexhaustible ready-made food, clothing, fuel, and company on the hoof, the bison. Now those were the days in visitor-threatened Texas and thereabouts!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

"The Population Bomb," Revisited

Recently, while looking for something on my bookshelves to read myself to sleep, I came across a paperback of "The Population Bomb," by Paul Ehrlich, published not long before I bought it, in 1968. That book made quite a stir at the time. Among other things Ehrlich predicted famines in the 1970's that would take many millions of lives. He was especially concerned about India. Famines did occur later but not to the extent that he predicted, because they happened mostly in Africa and especially in Ethiopia. India was saved because of the "Green Revolution."

Nowadays you don't hear so much about the dangers of overpopulation. It doesn't carry nearly the urgency of, say, global warming or the Federal deficit. Meanwhile Ehrlich's numerous critics gleefully like to point out how few of his predictions came true.

But it seems to me that we can hearken back to a moment in the largely and unjustly forgotten movie "World War Three," in which the Russian villains are momentarily taken aback when their machinations designed to attack the U.S. preemptively with nuclear bombs seems to be short-circuited by the unexpected murder of the peace-loving General Secretary, whom they had hoped to use as unwitting cover for their plans. The leader of this plot convinces one of his lieutenants that they must go on with their scheme anyway, because "Nevertheless, the principle is correct."

There are two basics to Ehrlich's views, and it seems to me that both have held true since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. One is that the Earth's population, despite war and famine, has kept growing at an ever accelerating speed despite the lowering of birth rates in various countries and and now stands at well over six billion souls. And secondly, the materials that can be ripped out of the flesh of Mother Earth to accommodate all these people are finite and there are lesser and lesser amounts of these things, since no more is being added to the planet, from outer space, inner space, or anywhere else.

So Ehrlich's basic proposition must be correct. It's just that he's a bad predictor and bettor, when it comes to time frames. But that's a risk that anybody runs when they try to get a jump on the future.

I read that in 1980 he told one of his adversaries that he would buy $1,000 worth of five commodities each -- tin, tungsten, copper, nickel, and chrome -- and that if their prices were higher in 10 years time, as he predicted, reflecting the growing scarcity of the metals, the guy would have to pay him the difference, and vice-versa if they were lower. In 1990 he ended up losing the bet and having to fork over $476.

We might wonder why he stuck in blah light bulb stuff like nickel and tungsten. Why didn't he rely instead on the bigtime things that we all know and love? Even by 1980 a rise of oil prices could be foreseen, due to the crisis of 1973. He could've made a killing there if he had waited a little longer. Or why didn't he bet the cost of cars, houses, or land instead?

Overpopulation might not be much spoken of these days, but I think that's because racism in particular has driven people to perfect the art of saying one thing when they really mean another. Overpopulation -- acccompanied in many cases by racism -- is behind the numerous outcries against "illegal immigration." It is behind the unjustified invasion of Iraq and the necessity that Israel finds to lock its own self up behind a wall, ghetto-style. It is behind the outbursts in a number of countries, especially in Europe and Russia, when the people who are used to being the majority and the land's creating citizens now find their status threatened by the higher birth rates of what they judge to be inferior components of their population. It is behind the fear of countries like India and China and their increasing technical and financial prowess and their several billions of people, as they reach out for what they consider their share of the ever dwindling supply of oil and other items considered absolutely necessary for the better life. It is behind gridlock and the drowning of the individual and the inability anymore simply to walk up to the window and buy a ticket and walk into the stadium to see a pro football game, as you used to be able to do 40 years ago, before the travesties of season tickets (though maybe I can better attribute that last-cited to the same mass hysteria that made gladiator fights and the wholesale murder of wild animals so attractive to the ancient Romans).

Friday, February 17, 2006

Four Thoughts on Cheney's Shotgun Affair

1. One of the blurbs or mini-ads that Air America has been running lately features Al Franken speculating "humorously" on what might have happened had Cheney been accompanied on his ill-fated quail hunt by GW Bush and had shot him instead of the Whittington guy. Franken says that, knowing what he knows about the man, Bush would have instead shot right back at Cheney, and the two would have kept firing at each other as if they were in a Tarantino movie.

The humor and the aptness of this "joke" completely escapes me, and I think Franken is as wildly off the mark here as Cheney was on the "line" in Texas.

From where does Franken get the idea that Bush would have reacted so quickly and decisively? In all the major crises since he usurped the big desk in the White House, Bush has never acted quickly and decisively that I know of. Immediately after 9/11 and Katrina, and after this shooting, it was several days before he was heard from. Instead he just boarded planes and flew around, while he waited for his cue cards to be drawn up.

I'm not faulting Bush's slowness to react. Actually it's what I would've done. The difference is that I feel certain that in good time I would've come up with actions that made sense. But Bush took all that time just to work up to saying and doing the wrong things.

Thought # 2: This incident perfectly illustrates how dangerous and out of control Cheney is, not only to the legions that he despises but also even to his friends. His head is obviously in the same twisted condition as his body. How much better it would be for everyone if he and his medical entourage retreated to a snowed-in mountaintop cabin, seldom to be heard from again.

3. I never listen to the right-wingers on the air. To do so strikes me as akin to listening to a chorus of hippos breaking wind. But it is easy to guess that by this time more than one has said that the liberals and progressives are all hoping that Whittington doesn't make it, so as to furnish them more ammunition for firing at the Republican team currently in power.

But to say such a thing blows right back on the right wingers themselves. It's easy for them to come up with such a notion, because it's exactly the sentiment that they would have in the same situation. But the only way a progressive could conceive of such an abomination is in the process of readying themselves ahead of time for the nastinesses that the Limbaughs, the O'Reillys, and all the other stonebrains are sure to fling their way, in this as on every other past opportunity in which the dirt was on the right and not on the left hands.

And that leads me to one other thought for today:

4. The Republicans must be deeply frustrated because there's no obvious way that they can blame Whittington's being peppered with buckshot on the Democrats. There wasn't a Democrat to be found near that line, unless the quail themselves had been so registered. But as the GOPers don't let inconvenient things like facts and logic stand in their way, I'm sure that soon enough they'll come up with something. It will be interesting if sickening to see just what.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Coretta King Funeral

It is highly ironic that the deaths of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 and of his wife, Coretta King, 38 years later, should have been immediately observed by their numerous admirers in some extremely inappropriate ways.

As soon as word of King's assassination spread, so did riots break out in a huge assortment of U.S. cities. The passing of a man who, throughout his highly illustrious career as an advocate of civil rights, had engaged in a strict policy of nonviolence was marked by violence on a country-wide scale that had never been seen before in one day and hasn't since.

During that dark first week of April 1968 I thought that those riots engaged in by people whose freedom and rights King had tried so hard to obtain and to ensure were totally disgraceful, and I still think so today, no matter how much his inheritors tried to softpedal things at the time. I am absolutely certain that King would have bitterly disapproved of having his death marked by people destroying large parts of their own neighborhoods with fire, bricks, and looting on a grand scale, though even he would probably have found ways to avoid saying so.

In a more genteel but still painful way, his wife's following him into the afterlife or Heaven or wherever a few days ago was similarly marked by an occasion that in my book was badly uncalled for: a funeral that lasted six long hours. Six hours!

Sitting through a ceremony for six hours straight, especially one as dreadful as a funeral, is my idea of torture personified, and that goes for any funeral of anybody, no matter how much they might have achieved in life.

Randi Rhodes, the fiery Air America commentator, has spent a lot of time taking great delight in the fact that GW Bush, along with his father and wife, had to endure that exquisite torture (my words, not hers). She happily kept speaking of how uncomfortable he looked, especially while some of the eulogists took the opportunity to throw in jabs of disapproval at some of his policies.

I disapprove of GW Bush so much that I don't even recognize him as being the U.S. President. Nearly all his major acts committed while sitting in the Oval Office strike me as being criminal, and that is especially true of the invasion he ordered of Iraq. Yet sitting through an occasion like that funeral is something that I would never wish on anyone.

Actually I was surprised that Bush accepted the invitation to attend. What happened? Did he find himself in a trap, sprung by the so-called Vice Prez, Dick Cheney, whose office would normally cause him to be the one who would represent the Administration at such events? Cheney didn't come, and he probably told his boss that wild horses couldn't make him. Or maybe he pleaded his weak heart. Or maybe Bush was done in simply by the presence of three of his predecessors in the Oval Office, including his father.

Aside from his family members, there were probably only six Bush votes in that whole 10,000 seat church, and it's always been clear that he only goes to places and supports things that in the past favored him overwhelmingly. That's one reason why the inner city of New Orleans is having so much trouble getting help in recovering from that killer hurricane. In Atlanta, while his Secret Service protectors chafed at a distance, he was literally engulfed by those to whom he had hitherto been indifferent ....for six interminable hours!

If they have any sense at all, future candidates will take note of this event and plan ahead. Presidents of any persuasion get roped into a lot of stuff that can't be pleasant to them, but this was over and above most torture observances. I guess the first thing future Presidents can do is to ensure themselves of having a Vice with a good heart -- good in every sense of the word -- a definition that doesn't fit that Cheney bird in any way.

PS: The news this morning is that Cheney accidentally injured one of his buddies during a hunting trip in Texas yesterday, by firing at him with a shotgun -- a man 78 years old. Ho-hum. And what else is new?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

King's "March on Washington" Speech

Yesterday I listened again to the speech that the Rev. Martin Luther King gave at the "March on Washington," in the summer of 1963. I do this every few years. It is the climax of a four-hour "concept" music tape that I made years ago, using the sound portion of a videotape. The concept was of Rainbow aspirations in the U.S. (For "Rainbow" you will substitute the highly mistaken word "black," if you share the universal laziness and imprecision of speech and thought.)

Once more I was astounded at how this speech, far from being dated despite its age, instead just seems to grow more powerful with the years. It is undoubtedly one of the two most outstanding orations ever given in U.S. history, the other being of course A. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. And world- and history-wide it is probably one of the three greatest of all time, the third being Pericles' Funeral Oration of 2,500 years ago, the text of which you can read in Thucydides' History of the Pelopponesian War.

Extremely luckily for me, fate arranged things so that, at 32 years of age, I was privileged to be actually present and sentient, at the March on Washington. At the time I worked for the Coast Guard, and its government building wasn't far from the march's route. Either I took the day off or we were given the time off, since it was such a singular occasion and downtown D.C. was literally flooded with the demonstrators. And, as the ranks formed and the procession set off for the Lincoln Memorial, I believed I marched for a while, though I honestly can't say that I was a genuine marcher. For this, in what may have been the highlight event of the entire Civil Rights drive, I was largely a spectator, as I have been to all occasions throughout my life.

In this case I was too awed to do anything else. By that time the Civil Rights effort had been in full swing for at least five years, and things had really heated up in the South and elsewhere. And now here were all those veterans who for years had bucked all those Southern sheriffs and Klansmen and resentful "good" citizens who believed that discrimination against Rainbows was just fine and the way of the Lord God Almighty. And these demonstrators, to a man and a woman, had resisted that Jim Crow ridiculousness and evil all in the best way, non-violently. And now those who had survived that strenuous and harrowing effort so far and were not languishing in their graves or in jails were all gathered here in D.C. in one spot, glowing with intense satisfaction at being in the midst of their compatriots and about to make a statement that they knew would be remembered for a very long time.

I suppose, too, that, since I was there, I heard King's speech straight from his mouth during this, the first time that it was ever uttered. There were big loudspeakers directed at the huge throng that spread out eastward from the steps of Lincoln's Memorial, but I don't remember being focused on the words. Since I was as unlikely to go up nose to nose against a bunch of teeth-bared, foaming-at-the-mouth segregationists as I was to do the same with a troop of baboons, I hadn't been a civil rights worker and wasn't likely to be one in the future. You could say that I just didn't have the guts -- or that I was following a principle that from birth I had always followed when confronted with the Nasties. I fought them by avoidance, whether they were school bullies or whatever, and I've always found that this is the best way of dealing with them. I have found that if I stayed away and totally ignored them, when they discover that I'm not concerned with them they get out of my life soon enough while having inflicted a minimum of damage. Of course the principles that guide these people always remain, but since numerous manifestations of nastiness seem to be hard-wired into the human psyche, unlike in any other mammal or other members of the animal world, I don't know what can be done about that.

All in all I totally admired what these demonstrators had done, and I didn't feel that I deserved being counted in their number. So I hung around in the back of the crowd and snapped a few pictures and just took in the spectacle. It was extremely hot that day, and the throng heated things up even more, and generally it was an overwhelming event, as hearing that speech is nowadays, when I listen to it in the much greater quietness of my age.

There are many other things that I could say about King's 1963 speech. In fact, a whole book could be written about the implications that it invokes, and probably one or more already have.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Question for Dr. Maddow

It's amazing to me how much of my time goes by before I feel up to doing anything about it. In this, my latest return to posting on my weblog and on the weblogs of others, it's been my intention, as on all my other returns, to keep at it every day, as I've managed to do several times in the past. But I don't seem able to do more than one thing at a time, and all my other projects keep edging my postings aside, though not a day goes by that I don't compose something in my head that I could post, but I never commit them to paper or the computer.

Anyway, here is a question that I've been trying this morning to send to Rachel Maddow, the Air America host from 7 to 9 in the mornings, EST. My email server doesn't like the address that the Maddow show gives, so I'm posting it here, where I won't lose it and until I can figure something out. It's for a segment of her show that she calls "Ask Dr. Maddow Though She's not a Real Doctor."

I have a lot of admiration for Rachel Maddow. Her felicity in her speaking and in her thought processes is absolutely astounding, especially when compared to the likes of Al Franken and, for that matter, everybody else. No digressions for her. No stumbling. For the full two hours her words and paragraphs leave her bow cleanly and like hundreds of quivers of arrows sail straight through to her destinations, ALL of them.

But here is my question:

Hi, Ms Maddow.

You have a great program, to the point where for me it's the high point of the entire Air America schedule. Nevertheless I have long been troubled and baffled by the fact that you consistently introduce your segments with the sound bites of two stalwarts of the right wing, past and present -- John Wayne and the Limbaugh guy -- and no one else. Surely there have been legions of figures on your progressive end of the political spectrum who ought to have inspired you as much but apparently haven't.. So my question is: what deep point of your choices am I missing here?


My beef here has to do with something that disturbs me about all the hosts on Air America, and that is their liking for airing the words of GW Bush and all the other pre-Fascist miscreants, over and over. I think I know why they do this, including the need for crutches to fill up the air time, but it just makes no sense. It seems to me that they're giving these rascals a lot of extra air time that they don't deserve in any way, shape, or form. And is the compliment being returned by them to the Air America people? I don't listen to any of the right wingers, so I wouldn't know for sure, but I feel totally comfortable with the guess that the answer is a resounding NO!

If I wanted to hear those thugs I would turn to their shows, but I don't. I avoid them like the plague, yet their evil is so pervasive that my eardrums are subjected to their garbage anyway, presented by people who are supposed to be their foes and opposites. That's not easy to accept.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


If he manages to hold on to enough perception and honesty, with time a person might realize that, with regard to all the stupid things that he did in youth and somehow got away with, none were suggested to him by his parents. Instead they were all his own notions or, more frequently, were pushed on him by his friends.