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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.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pet Precepts

Everybody probably has and tries, when they are so of a mind, to go by a string of pet precepts. One of the interesting aspects of these little mottos or whatever is to see how well they hold up under the test of time. As you know, time is like the forces of nature, in that it has a way of slowly and slyly but inevitably breaking down everything, even the beliefs that we may once have thought were truths impregnably sheathed in the thickest stainless steel. Maybe time IS a force of nature.

Nevertheless, of the ones that I didn't cook up myself, here, together with their orginal sources, are a few of my favorite precepts that leap most fondly to mind and so far have shown no signs of deterioration or refutation. I already posted these in a tiny AOL weblog that I had years ago, called "Orbido 727," and maybe I've included them in this weblog as well. But that was a while ago, and, as my mother liked to say, never mind, I'll just say them again.

A chicken ain't nothing but a bird. (Thanks, Mr. Wood!)

There are two sandwiches in every beer. (Thanks, Pierce!)

Never trust a naked bus driver. (Thanks, Jack Douglas!)

The dog barks but the caravan passes. (Thanks "Moon Over Morocco"!)

The day you make a decision is a lucky day. (Okinawan saying)

May the amount that remains in your glass be an exact measure of your evil intentions. (Russian toast)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Things to be Done

Lately I've been absorbed in playing internet chess, by way of the Free Internet Chess Server (FICS). But this morning the consoles on all the graphical interfaces for it have been "rolling," rendering the sites unusable. This is a surefire sign that I have to get busy doing other things that I have left hanging.

Above is a half-section of a 55-gal drum set inside a stout rack made of 2x6's. I have to make another one as well. I intend to use these for growing vegetables on our front deck, safe from the attentions of those twin demons around here, deer and voles. But as you can see, I haven't even put any dirt in this first one.

I have to rework the door that goes in this opening to my greenhouse. I took it out thinking it would be only a one-day job, but that was three days ago. I can't leave the situation like this much longer. "Nature abhors a vacumn," and that goes for unguarded openings, too, as far as the numerous animals on foot and on the wing around here are concerned.

I have to saw up this log from a large and mysteriously dead pine tree and cart the rounds to the house, to help with the heating this coming winter.

This shows a stained glass marble and mirror vase, with our wondrous and wondering cat, Beauty, who took a sudden interest in getting his face into the picture. I've been wanting to make a whole set of little things like this that I saw in a pattern book from Germany, but right now I have less than two weeks to make one to give to a lady who has been working as an apprentice to the potter across the road. She is going back home to Wisconsin.

And all these little jobs are just a few of the huge number of things I have to do.

McCain's Car Battery Prize

J. McCain has been having a good time going around and promising things to everybody. Most recently, on the tightly intertwined environment/energy issues, he thought he would slap down on the podium an especially big gift of his intellect. He proposes offering a prize of 300 million dollars to the person who comes up with a battery that can run cars as proficiently as those now using purely petroleum fuels or some hybrid mixture of batteries and petroleum fuels, but easier on the environment and at only half the cost.

This proposal prompts several doubts. The one that pops quickest to mind is that such a battery has surely been in the minds of many, ever since people discovered that they could build devices that were handier, quicker, and with more endurance than horses. And, given the wonders of the computer and space ages, a variety of such power devices for cars must have already been invented long ago, but the automotive and oil industries have been quick to to keep them under wraps, until such time as much greater profits can no longer be squeezed out of the Mother Earth's constantly violated body.

Meanwhile the news reports are careful not to mention where the 300 million will come from. Surely not from McCain's personal pockets. He said that that amount meant only one dollar coming from each American citizen. That must mean that, should he become President, he will order Congress to come up with the cash.

On that scale, the 300 mil would amount to only the tiniest drop in the bucket, compared to the trillions that are regularly thrown away, to outgun the rest of the world and to keep terrorists from wearing suspicious shoes over here. But it's not so small a sum that you wouldn't expect every tinkerer in the country to immediately set to work, if such a development isn't immediately forthcoming from the vaults of big industry.

We'd better hope, however, that they haven't seen a recent DVD movie called "Longitude." That film is a very well-done chronicle of the trials and tribulations that a British clockmaker named John Harrison had to endure during the 1700's, when the Queen offered a prize of $20,000 pounds to anyone who could devise a timepiece that sailors could use on the high seas to determine where they were, east and west. Apparently knowing where you are, going north and south, is easy, but east and west is something else entirely.

It wasn't long before Harrison, a country bumpkin woodworker to the bewigged, polished types in London town, became the first by far to come up with something usable. But, especially with a sum as tidy as 20,000 pounds involved, the astronomy and other scientific pros put so many obstacles in his way that he was lucky he lived so long, another 40 aggravating years, before he received anything worth thanking the Lord.

Would we expect things to go any easier today for any equally ingenious but otherwise ordinary voter? So to whom is J. McCain really talking when he floats such an idea?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Routine Apology

Every few days an aide or some other person closely connected to one of the Presidential campaigns says something that makes the news, though usually only when an apology is made.

On the Democratic side, I wonder if the first order of business each day in the B. Obama campaign is to ask the question, "Did any of our people say something yesterday that could be a problem for us today? ...Or tomorrow?"

On the Republican side it is certain that such remarks and the quick accompanying cleanup via routine apologies is greeted with great satisfaction in the shrewd exercise once again of political cleverness. These apparent slips are in reality understood by all their adherents as communiques issued by the campaign to its faithful, so that everyone in that demonic choir can remain assured that they are singing from the same pages.

So now this "highly respected" McCain aide ia apologizing for saying what in reality what everybody with even a half a brain knows to be true, or at least expects to be true, going on past experience. He said that a 9/11-type attack on something within the U.S. purview before this coming November would help McCain's chances of winning.

So in effect, along with or in lieu of a Bush or Olmert attack on Iran, another terrorist act on some U.S. property would be just the ticket, similar to the way that 9/11 was a boon to the Bush presidency, by adding to his already false credentials by making him look like a "war president," and gving people the excuse to look away while, in that capacity, he and his people proceeded to commit crimes that very quickly became far more deadly and damaging, even to the U.S., than the crashes into buildings of the hijacked planes in 2001.

With "victories" such as 9/11 having already padded their paunches for years already, and with this all too transparent hope and hunger for more of the same, under the fake snowfall of the routine and clearly non-remorseful apology, one wonders for the umpteenth time what the appeal of that hind end of the political spectrum, not only in the U.S. but everywhere in the world, could possibly be.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Battleground of the Advanced

An article by Doris Lessing in the current AARP magazine quotes Bette Davis, the renowned film actress of old, as saying, "Old Age is no place for sissies." This reminded my wife of a cousin who, when she reached that point, said that she was constantly fighting age with boxing gloves. And it is a huge commonplace to hear people who have reached that state complain as if some perverse entity has dumped them into a World War 1 no man's land from which there is no escape.

So far I have not found things to be that way at all.

Maybe I can say that because I am still not quite 80, the number when things really start getting serious. Also, I've always been aware of what I would be getting into should nothing untoward happen for a long time. And none of the numerous faculties that keep us in operation and reasonably content have become drastically wrecked in me as yet. But the most important reason for feeling that I am in no kind of a battleground is obvious.

Unless sociability is the be-all and end-all of your existence, 98 percent, and maybe even more, of the aggravations in the life of humans are caused by others in the species. It follows, then, that, short of being in some sort of solitary confinement, the fewer people that are around you, the better things are, generally speaking.

That's my explanation.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Russian Ark, All in One Breath

A few days ago, via Netflix, we saw a true cinematic tour de force, made in 2002. It was "Russian Ark," and its makers speak of it as having been filmed "all in one breath." That is, it was photographed in a single continuous shot that lasted for 90 minutes, precisely as long as it takes to run.

Maybe that has been done before, but it would still be a tremendous feat for even the most modest movie. But this is probably as extravagant a film as it is possible to make, within a time span of "only" an hour and a half. The makers claim to have used 867 actors, plus over 1,000 extras, but for me the dividing line between the two was badly blurred. There were a few people portraying various historical characters from 300 years of Russian history, but even the most important of them, considering the buildings in which the movie was set, Catherine the Great, had just a couple of lines. Because of that, and despite all the assembled hundreds of basically party-goers, "Russian Ark" is basically a a one-person though two-voiced film.

That single dominating character, the holder of the first voice, is an extremely knowledgeable Frenchman from the 18th century. He is perhaps a famous writer, and he is always plainly visible because his drab grayish-black garb with some odd humps standing up on the ends of the shoulders is in strong contrast to the bright and highly colorful costumes of everyone else. We see him mostly from the rear, because he is the guide that the second voice and frankly we are glad to cling to, and it is mostly through him that we get an inkling as to what is going on. At first, in the film's mysterious beginning, even this guide doesn't seem to know that.

"What city are we in? Who are all these people? Where are they going? What's up these stairs? Why am I speaking Russian? I hoped to be in Chambord, in the second Directoire. My Russian was never that good. Why are we speaking perfect Russian?"

The guide and the holder of the second voice, operating from our point of view, constantly carry on a conversation like that. That unseen speaker purports to be a ghost, with his words spoken by the director, Sokurov. The French guide has to be a ghost, too, even though once in a while he is seen and he interacts with some of the people milling around, though usually he is unnoticed.

This is exactly the same as things would go with me in that situation. Could this mean that when something decides my time has come, I could argue that it isn't really necessary?

I would think that this film has its strongest impact when you haven't seen it and have no idea of what to expect, so maybe I shouldn't be saying anything at all about it. But I figure that it doesn't matter here because the readership of this weblog is so sparse, and because those one or two readers are not likely to immediately put "Ark" at the top of their Netflix queue. But it could also make the film all the more fascinating when you know about the "one breath" business and that somehow you have gotten mixed up in a melee of the Russian nobility having one last fling of dancing, chatting, being seen, and what-not, in all the vaunted magnificence of the Hermitage and the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, before -- but not in this film -- the last Czar's immediate family, including all five of the daughters, are shot in a basement, and the gray days of the Russian Revolution take hold.

Like almost all grand conceptions, this film is primarily the work of one man with a gigantic vision, a Russian director named Alexander Sokurov. But this film is also unusual in that, as important as he is, Sokorov has to share a great deal of the top credit with the main cameraman, a German named Tilman Buttner, as shown in the added info section, a regular feature of Netflix discs. Among other things Buttner not only had to memorize in complete detail the entire course of that epic trek through all those rooms and people and sometimes out in the fabled Russian snow, but also he had to shuffle along tightly enclosed in a knot of five or six assistants, while he was bent over the entire time, like a very weird-looking zombie, eternally peering through his viewfinder and manipulating this and that. And long before the end of the shot, feeling severe pains in his groin and fearing that he was about to become so ill that he might never walk again, he very nearly had to stop shooting and so break the severe time limit and the conception.

Since it was shot in the Hermitage, you would expect to see a lot of the paintings for which this museum is so renowned. And you do see a few, primarily the huge ones that Catherine the Great collected, by artists like Van Dyck and Rubens. But like the buildings themselves, the artwork serves mainly as background to the people thronging the place, so that the lighting on the paintings is considerably duller and dimmer than it is on the crowds, maybe a constraint imposed by the museum people.

I also couldn't help thinking that despite all the talk about this occasion being about Russia, it represented only a very small part of what I conceive Russia to be, past and present. Nothing that I could pick up was said about all those serfs, peasants, city laborers, soldiers fated to die wholesale, and countless others, out in the cold, surrounding, rough-hewn vastnesses, working hard at all those enterprises that made possible all this finery and revelry by the highly privileged and the long departed czar figures.

The film ends with all the celebrants having disappeared somewhere, while we and the Frenchman and the owner of the unseen voice who has spoken for us look out through a deserted side exit at a frosty sea that is depicted as forever surrounding everything that we have just witnessed and experienced. And the film's last words claim that all those nobles, officers, their ladies, and the like still live and always will, though we know different. The Hermitage is real, but for all their gorgeous get-ups and their supreme self-confidence and their endlessly casual and clever chatter, those hundreds of the joyfully anointed were only ghosts, too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"The Contender"

Yesterday I saw a movie from several years ago called "The Contender." The best thing about it was seeing a film that didn't bow to the Republican bullpoop orthodoxy of these times, so that in it "liberal" wasn't a concept to be despised but instead meant a philosophy to be treasured.

The film starred the endlessly classy actress Joan Allen. She played a U.S. Senator who is selected by the President, a Democrat played by Jeff Bridges, to be his VP, after the one elected with him died. Also prominent in the cast was another of our favorite actors, Sam Elliott, playing Bridges' chief of staff. We like him partly because we have a good friend around here who is a dead ringer for him. But in this film Elliott had to work much harder than usual because it was out of his genre of Westerns. So here in the White House he had to hold his head up straight through the whole thing, instead of his favorite 45-degree angle to his shoulders. Also he had to rant and rage several times, when usually it's part of his eternal cool that he never has to raise his voice even a decibel.

Oddly the last time we saw that friend, he had just been somewhere where they were shooting a film starring Richard Gere, and he was mistaken by some girls to be that actor. But we couldn't see that at all. The friend is Sam Elliott and that's that.

The characters are fictional though mention is often made of real life political figures. Therein, though, was one of the drawbacks of the picture for me, because the characters had a habit of making snide remarks about Bill Clinton, with reference to the sexual junk, and even worse, considering that he is now fighting for his life because of a malignant brain tumor, Ted Kennedy, because of Chappaquiddick. That incident is echoed in the beginning of the film, when another VP hopeful thinks he's pulling a fast one by, as we learn later, very improbably hiring a woman to drive a car off a bridge and into some deep water where this character just "happens" to be fishing, so that he can dive in and become an instant hero by rescuing her. But he can't get the door open in time.

The Allen character goes through some tough sledding from the Republican-dominated nominating committee, headed by a neo-McCarthyite Congressman played by Gary Oldham. The role Oldham plays here is so unflattering that he must be a liberal, because he was one of the executive producers.

Someone had dug up photos allegedly taken of the Senator when she was 19 and a freshman in college, showing her allowing herself to be used as a sex toy by some frat nitwits.

Though the Elliott and Bridges characters, who are still standing by her, beg her to fight back, she staunchly refuses, saying that what happened with her in college years ago was a purely personal matter and, as it was none of their business, and by extension none of the American people's business either, they had no right to even ask her about it.

This is exactly what I always wished Clinton had said, in no uncertain terms, and maybe this film's makers had that idea in mind.

In any case, in the end Allen tells Bridges privately that when she found out what was going on in the frat room, she had left in a hurry, without taking her clothes off, and the woman shown in the photos was someone else. as could be proved by her lack of a birthmark in a prominent place.

Finally principle prevails even without that extenuating info being disclosed, and we are left with the impression that, with a stirring climactic speech to both houses, Bridges shames the Congress into accepting her.

All in all, however, this film did nothing to budge my lifelong gratitude that I am so totally nondescript that I could never ever have been part of settings like those, even though, ironically, I spent the major part of my life just a few city blocks from where a plethora of comparable scenes were actually taking place.

Power is a nasty business, and I must've been able to smell it quite well, especially over that short a distance. I, on the other hand, was doing a multitude of humble, cool things, with scents more like roses or of a dusty path when it is first hit by rain.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Matters of Time

Which is worse? Wasting time, or being too slow in expending it?

This question popped into my mind while thinking about the notorious Rook-Yeager chess contest now being waged. Rook has been guilty of the first sin, while his opponent has been touched by the second violation of good play.

Meanwhile this is a question that applies to life as well, and even to money.

But maybe in chess and in life it isn't a question at all, because being too slow can be a form of wasting time. With money the distinction is much more clear cut. Wasting money and being slow to spend it usually are two very different things.

In this game, the slow side has the pull, and he is also a Pawn ahead. So, if chess parallels life at all -- and I think that often it does -- in this game the verdict would seem to be that, all other things being equal, wasting time, in this case in the form of repeatedly moving a piece in a stage of the game when it shouldn't have even been touched, is worse than being too slow, in this case sticking too close to a plan that may be on the ponderous side, when a quick, sharp thrust might have led to a favorable decision easier and quicker. But all other things weren't equal, and the wastage of moves exceeded the degree of being too deliberate, plus there was at least one case of moving the right man to exactly the wrong square.

Personally, I tend to look more favorably on being slow than I do on wasting time, though there are some who would insist that in my time I have done colossal amounts of both. But I have noticed that wastage usually involves being too quick to do something, when a little more consideration of the consequences would've been all for the better.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Derivative Trillions

In this article by a man named Mike Whitney and republished in Downside World News, you will find a long discussion written ostensibly in English that is even of a vernacular sort yet still is in an impenetrable dialect called Economics.

There are many areas of human activity whose devotees follow the ancient religious practice of cloaking their doings in all sorts of mumbo-jumbo and verbal thickets expressly designed so that the riffraff, the ordinary folk, the uninformed outsiders can have little and hopefully no inkling of what the insiders, the chosen several, are discussing. Most renditions of economics are like that.

But what is one to make especially of the following passage from the cited article?

The $800 billion current account deficit was recycled into US Treasuries and securities creating phony prosperity which the Fed knew was “unsustainable”, but they refused to fulfill their regulatory role. Instead, Greenspan and his Fed-brothers rubber-stamped every hare-brain scheme that Wall Street cooked up including the myriad complex derivatives contracts which ballooned from less than $1 trillion in 2000 to over $580 trillion today; a monstrous bubble which is large enough to send the entire global economy into a decades-long tailspin.

Excuse me. Did he say 580 trillion dollars?

I didn't know there was that much money in the world, much less available to all those guys waving their little slips of paper and shouting indecipherable orders to each other on the Stock Exchanges. If that much money is in a bubble, and in the form of "derivatives" no less, then we are all surely sinking as we speak ...without a bubble.

All I know for sure about economics is that you should always save a little something, you should never go into debt, and becoming rich is a criminal act. Beyond that why has it been necessary to build up money transaction systems that are so incredibly convoluted and beyond the clarities of the English language that periodically they lurch out of control, when they are not eternally hanging dangerously over our heads by threads thinner than that single horse hair of Damocles' Sword?

That's one of the main reasons why those History and National Geographics shows about the world suddenly rendered totally devoid of humans are so comforting. As important as we are led to believe that things like stock options, debentures, and takeovers are, it says something that neither show considers the fate of money-handling on a people-depleted planet to be worthy of the slightest mention, and instead they focus entirely on what would happen with the pets, power plants, tall buildings, dams, the oceans, and so forth. In such a world the normally supremely weighty dollar matters suddenly lose every atom of their importance, and they certainly mean nothing to all the non-human beings that then would stand to take over the inheritance of the Earth.

Such a world is so beautiful and wonderful to contemplate, compared to one controlled by institutions with addresses in the financial districts of places like New York City, London, and Shanghai, that it should make all of us thoroughly ashamed of ourselves.

Friday, June 13, 2008

In Movies

I look at so many movies that sometimes I feel as if I'm moving through my own film dramas. And maybe I am. Lots of strange though small-scale things happen around here, and also in my house are a number of windows inset with second panes of stained glass.

The apparent illogic of the latter part of that statement comes from seeing so much stained glass in the windows and doors of movie settings that I am convinced that movie-makers are highly partial to it when scouting for locations. But maybe that impression comes easily to someone who has only recently taught himself the art and who has his own stained glass workshop. (Below is one of my first results, a pane measuring close to 2x3 ft, a variant of a pattern in a how-to book.)

Still, there's the question of why the moviemakers bother. The answer must be that it's purely to give the general appearance of their films some added flair, because otherwise the characters themselves never notice those beautiful "paintings" made with glass and light, or at least not enough to say anything about them. All the stained glass is just another prop, like a second big interest of mine and another favorite of directors -- chess sets, displayed in atmospheres where you know that words like "the Guioco Piano" or "the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit" have never passed anyone's lips.

Lately my wife's beloved scrabble sets have been trying to make inroads, but I don't believe those little pink and baby blue squares have a chance against the long-established, deep, dark mystique of chess pieces.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Visiting the Hospital

An unusual number of my online friends are having medical urgencies these days, while maybe the most pressing question of the day is how people are to pay for all the highly improved and also expensive services that are available.

Andante of Collective Sigh has been undergoing chemo for several weeks now. Meanwhile Left-Leaning Lady is waiting to hear what her options are on some female troubles she's having, and this morning Guy Andrew H. of Rook's Rant reported to the hospital to get some readings on pains in his gastric area.

I composed but have not yet posted a comment to Rook wishing him well. My delay is caused by feeling too tempted to add saying that 54 years ago, while in the Air Force, I entered the hospital with similar symptoms -- and ended up staying there for two months! But he couldn't possibly be under any sort of threat like that. My experience had to have been in one of the Stone Ages of medicine, compared to now, and anyway my trouble -- an inflammation of the intestine called regional ileitis or enteritis -- is obviously reserved only for the most accomplished citizens. This is shown by the fact that to date, the only person I've ever heard of that also contracted it was Dwight D. Eisenhower, and he did it in that same long bygone year.

Meanwhile I was greatly impressed by LeftLady's forthrightness in giving a highly detailed account of her situation, which she very helpfully warned us of (and maybe drew us in) in the catchy title of her post, "This Post May Contain Too Much Information about the Female Reproductive System, Menstruation, and My Body."

Her report reminded me of what complex and crucial structures women are fated to carry around with them all their lives, compared to men, so that it seems only right and fair that on average they live longer than men. It also reminded me of how horrible and wrong it is that legislative systems are so packed with a segment of the population that is out of all proportion to their numbers. These guys are clearly lacking both in intelligence and in common decency as compared to, in this case, women, yet they are allowed to have all the say in how the law looks at how women should manage human reproduction. To add insult to injury, regardless of all the artificial efforts to get them more involved, men play a relatively minor role in the reproductive process. This is true not only in the carrying and the birth of a child but also in nurturing it through at least the next 18 years, and sometimes also in the grandmother years, when women had hopes to spend their days in more carefree pursuits, like traveling.

Congenitally bad legislatures are one of the main reasons why the affairs of the human animal are so badly out of whack, but that's what you get when they consist mainly of groups with more access to weapons of all kinds and a greater propensity to use them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Weird Disparities in Perceptions

In this twilight world of mine, one of the interesting though uncomfortable phenomena is that now and then things that seem crystal clear to me are viewed by others in a completely different light. This disagreement becomes so stark that it makes me wonder who is being crazy here. One example of this is the chess contest that I have mentioned before and that you can see Rook waging almost daily on his Rook's Rant, against Jim Yeager.

Both contestants have an advanced Pawn that the two players seem to regard as being strong points that they can't profitably assail. I, however, have been seeing both Pawns as being highly vulnerable to attacks that are so obvious that I wondered how they could escape notice, strong consideration, and finally irresistible temptation. Now, however, one side has thrown wet ashes on his shot, and the other quite possibly might do the same with his. (And so he did -- at least on the move that was upcoming at the time.)

These mysterious and glaring disparities in perception carry on even into areas of real significance, such as the highest levels of international politics and warfare.

Congressman D. Kucinich must be wondering similarly. He has just introduced 35 articles of impeachment in the House against GWBush, whose activities as the supposed President have been so criminal, especially in Iraq, that such a move to condemn him would, in a sane world, be unquestionable. Yet Kucinich had trouble even in getting his colleagues to quiet down enough to allow him to present the articles.

Instead, as resolute as ever to brush off all his many transgressions, yesterday Bush said once again that he has absolutely no regrets for the decisions that he has made regarding Iraq, ignoring the fact that that place has become one big graveyard that has become more his legacy than it had been for Iraq's late and largely unlamented dictator, Saddam Hussein.

"Women always change their minds. Fools never do."

The truth of the first part of that old adage could be challenged, but the second part can be confidently carried down from the mountain, indelibly chiseled in stone.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Home of the Brave and the Unsaved

Somewhere I have read that, perhaps in Los Angeles, perhaps in New York City, perhaps in a luxury hotel or some edifice of that sort where lots of film-making folk tend to aggregate, the U.S. military maintains a full set of facilities whose purpose is to furnish film makers with every sort of military props and whatever other such resources they might need to shoot all films that have military content. The purpose is to make sure that every such film is fully in accord with the military's message. And widespread use is indeed made of this "help."

A few days ago on the dish I saw "Home of the Brave," a recent flick starring Samuel L. Jackson. It covers several U.S. soldiers who find out that in just a couple of weeks they are to be sent back home from the continuing hostilities in Iraq. Most don't closely know each other, though they have seen each other around. They happen to become members of a convoy that on a humanitarian mission ventures outside their protected zone and gets trapped inside a town. In the ensuing battle the characters endure losses of friends and various injuries to their physical and mental beings, which persist and add to their difficulties while they are trying to adjust to civilian life back in the U.S.

The film was well made and did a good job of portraying the pain and anguish of those difficulties, but I felt that it was still a massive failure, because, despite the damage inflicted by the fighting on the characters, it was an openly pro-war film, to the point of of portraying the Iraq thing as a matter pertaining only to U.S. servicemen and no others, especially not the millions of Iraqis who had been killed, displaced, imprisoned, impoverished, and otherwise harmed in thousands of different ways.

What is the point of showing how an activity is responsible for so much grief, yet is so necessary and honorable? How can war be both? I would think that for millennia already, since longer even than the days of "Lysistrata," the answer is that it can't be. And, providing that there are degrees of such things, the Iraqi invasion and occupation has been an especially dishonorable and obscene instance of that undertaking.

There is only one scene in the film in which some counterpoint is made to the prevailing pro-war theme, and that is when the sterotypically resentful, rebellious son of the Jackson character makes an anti-war argument that, though comprehensive within the time permitted to it, lasts all of two minutes. Otherwise the returned soldiers never address the root causes, in their own minds and in talks with others, of the effort that led to them being sent to Iraq and to be scarred there, undoubtedly for life. The Jackson character brusquely tells his son that he was "defending his country," without taking a second to say how.

Instead you get such scenes as when one character is telling another of how he likes to look at the History Channel, especially scenes showing World War 2 and its aftermath. He speaks of how in many French towns there are statues commemorating Eisenhower and other foreign generals who headed the armies that liberated those places. (I wonder if, in those places, there are any of Marshal Zhukov?) And these Iraq veterans seem somewhat buoyed as they speculate that in 20 years time there may well be statues in Iraq towns of their "liberators" as well.

The mind recoils at the thought of statues of G.W. Bush or General Petraeus ever being erected and celebrated in Baghdad, Mosul, or Basra. But the film is at pains to dismiss the views of such doubters and detractors, by repeating in a variety of ways the message that the military seems to consider overwhelming to all other reasoning: "You were not there and you don't know."

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Although the national Democratic nominating convention hasn't been held yet, everything is in place for B. Obama to be the nominee for President. The admission of defeat by H. Clinton along with her endorsement of Obama was the clincher.

With that, both candidates must be intensely relieved, after such a prolonged and hardfought campaign. Hundreds of millions in the U.S. and around the world must be happy, too.

I could be one of the few, if any, who are instead not all that overjoyed. In fact I wish that their contest could've somehow gone right on up till Election Day itself, because it had the all consuming virtue of preventing not as much being heard from or about the biggest bane of American life, that huge bloat of the Republican nasties.

Now it will become much more evident that all those villains and harridans are still around and just as toxic as ever. Now more will be heard especially of and from J. McCain, with louder roars and bleats.

But, come to think of it, that might not be all bad. Because what worthwhile program do he and his accomplices have to offer? Merely more of the same fiddle-faddle, so that maybe the shrewder Republican heads have been glad enough that McCain hasn't had a wide enough venue for floating his concepts, which will reveal the bankrupt nature of those and by extension their own "ideas." This is especially true when it comes to Iraq.

Lately McCain, relying heavily on his very loosely defined status as a "war hero," has been trying to use Iraq to embarrass Obama, though in fact, as GWBush's spiritual heir, you would think that Iraq would be the last thing that McCain would want to bring up. So, having been to Iraq eight times, first he scorns Obama for not having been there in two years, and then, in the patronizing style that is all too reminiscent of the Old South, he invites Obama, his idea of the untermensch or perhaps the babe in the woods, to go there with him.

First, however, shouldn't McCain demonstrate how his repeated visits were of any benefit to him, or any other American, or, most important of all, to any Iraqi? And surely -- unless one has tried to remain as ignorant of conditions in Iraq as if humanly possible -- you don't have to go there even once to know that things are in a big mess there, and many of the conditions if not all are worse than they were in Saddam Hussein's darkest days.

Of course, what McCain is thinking about isn't the Bush\Repub-induced plight of Iraq and its people. Instead all he has is mind is the political expediency of appearing to support what he considers to be still his fellow troops. But I would bet that instead of wondering when one of the candidates is toing to drop in there, they are much more interested in hearing someone assure them that the day is imminent when they no longer will be asked to pull still more duty in that land of sand and desolation in which humans have already lived and despoiled things for a millennium or two too long already.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

New Kid on the Sidebar

Following the Andante and NTodd example and now in a pictures mood, I thought I'd include on my sidebar a picture from when I was a small child. I think it's not too much of an exaggeration to say that I'm still recognizable here. The circle of life is fast closing in on itself.

I am four or thereabouts here, so that this photo is at least 72 years old. It was printed on glossy stock,which must have been new in drugstore film developing at the time, and it is badly cracked but not faded. I'm holding what looks to be a candied apple. It must be during one of the cold months because I'm wearing an overcoat and a scraggly cap thing that years ago I made a note of, saying that I remembered that cap and it was a bright orange. I no longer remember that. The Great Depression is in full swing, as is Jim Crow, and Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo are all on the march, but I'm not aware of any of that stuff. In fact I don't seem to be aware of anything of a dark nature here. Instead I'm happy, because I'm at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C, where my father is taking my picture, and maybe the rest of my tiny immediate family, namely my mother and my younger sister, were also there -- all of them now long since deceased.

At this very early stage in a person's life, the process of the blissful ignorance shown in this picture being stripped away by the constant arrival of new information has already started, but it still has a way to go before that process begins to be really revved up. In this case that intensification began with my father, who, following the taking of this picture, turned out to have only two more years or less to spend with us in this life.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Witless Arrogances

There is no reason to deny women high office. The justifications keep rolling in. They are fully as capable of doing the same thoughtless kind of job as men, and that is so often seen that it must be exactly what the public wants, as it imagines itself performing in the same roles. We have Iran to thank for providing the most recent evidence of this.

While in the latter stages of unsuccessfully striving to be the Democratic nominee for President, H. Clinton said that if Iran were to attack Israel with nuclear weapons -- which most authorities are saying the Iranians are years from having -- as President she would not hesitate to order a nuclear attack on Iran. And when asked later if she regretted saying that, she refused to back off that sentiment one inch.

Till she did that I was willing to give her the benefit of all doubts regardless, but that cruel and deeply violent statement and especially her demonstration later that she hadn't come to her senses in the least erased all my support for her. In addition to other criticisms I could make of her declaration, the worst is that it is so incomprehensible.

The main reason that it makes absolutely no sense is that there is a far greater likelihood that Israel will attack Iran instead. They have leaders who have said that they are thinking of doing just that. And, without declaring war, Israel has already staged destructive air attacks on a nuclear facility in Iraq -- some years ago -- and on one in Syria within the past year. But the military forces of Iran have not been known to attack Israel -- or anyone else -- in centuries. Furthermore, it is widely agreed that Israel has already had nuclear weapons for years, while Iran still has none. So who is the aggressor most likely to be, by far?

Would H. Clinton be even-handed as President, so that when, after failing to get the U.S. to do the job for them, the Israelis attack Iran, would she then order U.S. forces to launch a commensurate attack on Israel? Even the stones on the surface of Mars know the answer to that one.

And now we have another iron-jawed woman, Condoleeza Rice, doing as miserable a job of playing at being Secretary of State as her boss has done all along whike purporting to be President. While addressing AIPAC, she hammered nothing less than the rest of the world fof not keeping up with the U.S. and Israel in trying to prevent Iran from acquiring the Bomb.

"Diplomacy is not a synonym for talking," she said, with the implication that it must be combined with pressure tactics.

Does this mean that Iran can and should do the same? Is it in a position to apply pressure on the U.S. as well?

No. What it means is that, as the highest supposed diplomat in the U.S. government, Rice is not interested in negotiation at all. Using the country's preeminent standing, she prefers to use that power to dictate instead. In the eyes of herself and the rest of her faction, a superpower has no need to see diplomacy as anything more than a one-way street.

This is called exercising supreme arrogance, and in an earlier age it would not have been seen as becoming in a woman... or effective. But then, they are not there as women, are they? Yet to be there as anything else would just make them something less.

A Matter of Cargo: Yali's Question

This article tells of how, while studying people in Papua New Guinea, a western anthropologist named Jared Diamond was faced with a crucial and difficult question that has surely already been asked numerous times in other ages in numerous other places, especially in Africa. The article says:

Yali was a political leader and a member of a “cargo cult” that sprung up after World War II. By building ritualistic landing strips and control towers and wearing hand-carved wooden headsets, islanders hoped to summon the return of the packaged food, weapons, medicine, clothing and other gifts from the heavens that had been airdropped to troops fighting Japan.

One day Yali asked Dr. Diamond, “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

The article went on to discuss what this question really meant, with one of Diamond's colleagues arguing that it had nothing to do with the "nifty Western stuff."

What Yali was really asking, she suggested, was why Europeans had never treated them like fellow human beings.

I would take it somewhere else. Taking Yali's words to be stated accurately by the article, I would say he was mainly questioning why it had been seen fit to drop all that gear on New Guinea in the first place, as till then the people there had been doing well enough without it, and since then had not been doing quite as well, and instead even had to suffer ridicule from the same West because of the hunger for more to arrive from the skies, when in reality it signaled the end of the numerous New Guinea societies in their original states.

It isn't quite the same thing, but among the many vagaries that I happened to witness without making much effort to do so, once I saw a stage of this cargo thing in action.

When I was stationed on the island of Okinawa in 1954, only nine years after the disastrous battle there near the end of WW2, the main sights that struck me and that I saw over and over again were the mountains of "materiel" that the U.S. forces had stockpiled there for the invasion of the Japanese home islands that never took place. Now there were fields of those supplies and that equipment all over the place, slowly deteriorating in the tropic sun and the typhoons. And as I watched the largely rural and non-affluent, war-ravaged Okinawans quietly picking their way through and past it all, I wondered what they thought.

Having lived all my life in the strictly non-industrial Nation's Capital, I discovered that I had had no idea of how capable the U.S. was of manufacturing things, cargo, to an unimaginable extent But the more I learned and cogitated upon about that War, I came to think that it was precisely that American almost out-of-control ability to manufacture stuff that had been responsible for the Allied victory as much as anything.

Now all that "materiel" is long gone, and I doubt that the Okinawans spent much time praying for more to arrive. Since then they have rejoined -- willingly or not -- the Japanese, who had even before the War become renowned for their own ability to manufacture stuff by the megatons and spread it around en masse, though now, in their increasing sophistication, both the U.S. and Japan have eased up on that activity and have left it largely to more primitive societies, like those of Mexico and China. Except that they--

Meanwhile, and so it goes.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A First Shot -- This Is Only a Test

This is one of the first five shots that I took with the new Canon S5 IS. It shows three varieties of clematis that I have growing on a "clematis tower." This tower is about 12 feet high and 18 inches in diameter, and it consists of a cylinder of 2x4 wire fencing, inside of which, for the first six or seven feet, is a stout locust post.

I overlooked cutting back the vines last fall, and now one of them is growing up into the limbs of a nearby oak. I think that's cool, though I'm told the vines will produce many more flowers if I prune them. But there are three different ways that clematis is pruned, depending on the species, and of course I also neglected to make note of that little detail during the moment of planting. So the only time I attended to that business, I snipped off all of them, down to a height of about three feet. That was several years ago.

So far I've only taken those five shots. I like the little camera a lot, though so far I've barely touched it. Inevitably the fingers that are put to use on such wonders of minute precision must be cruder than the fingers that put them together. I wonder if that's a recognized and common syndrome, and if so, whether it has a name.

Though it is supposed to be a jpg, this picture takes up 2.4 megs of memory. That's way more than I'm used to transmitting online, and one of the reasons I've posted so few pictures online is that I didn't want the memory they require to bog down the loading time of this weblog. Fifty K would be much more like it. I now have to find out if 's possible to cut the pics down that much.

Living in a Stranger's Closet

This news item tells of a homeless woman in Japan who was caught after she had been living for about a year on the top shelf of a man's wardrobe closet. She was only discovered when the man started realizing that several times lately he hadn't had as much food on hand as he had thought.

Naturally this item raises a lot of questions, especially if, like me, you have been to Japan ...several times. The woman had even put a mattress in the closet and had taken showers in the house during the guy's absence. The police said that she was very clean and neat. Maybe they should have added "quiet and tiny," too.

Can we doubt that this is a growing epidemic of massive proportions in the U.S. as well? We might do well to think about it, and to trust our ears more than our eyes.

Obama's Health

With everything seemingly in place now for Barack Obama to be the Democratic nominee for President, on the heels of extended and repetitive pointing to news items declaring that John McCain, at this moment at least, is physically fit enough to serve as President, Google News is now doing the same sort of thing with Obama.

When they started four days ago, I was all ready to start thinking "Discrimination!" if they didn't similarly keep up that same staccato beat for Obama through at least six days. But maybe they heard my earlier complaints. Regardless, with four days straight of ringing changes on that "news" now under their belts, the machines at Google News have only two more left to keep citing sources assuring us that B. Obama is similarly fit for the job.

But I doubt that many people thought that he wasn't. Even McCain and his fellow GOPpers, whose overreaching to ridiculous extents usually knows no bounds, had not attacked Obama for being healthy. Maybe they will find a way to do that yet, amid the cartloads of dreck that they have been amassing for the really crucial final stages that are slowly revving up.

Update (3 June)
Well, for the last two days nothing more has been said about Obama's health, so that four was all he rated. Charitably, this might be because events threw a distracting bone to the ravenous.

Apparently, while visiting Obama's church in Chicago, a priest said something or another of a controversial nature, and maybe in connection with that or grabbing the opportunity, Obama dropped his longtime membership in that church. But this can be no sort of a victory for the meritorious principle of the separation of church and state. Instead he has to look around for another church to join, because for the usual reasons that defy common sense, all Presidential aspirants are expected to have some sort of link with the Divine.