Brass Knuckle Blogs

Useful Links

Add to Technorati Favorites

[Valid RSS]

Nucleus CMS v3.24

template by i-marco's choice

Dynamic Drive

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional
Valid CSS

31 December 2006

A Realist's Best Shot at New Year's Wishes

by: Dark Wraith

May your job last a few more months.

May your physical maladies be somewhat less than agonizing.

May the wind be from your back and not from your backside.

May your pets not eat you when you die alone in your home.

May you have few and relatively unobtrusive new liver spots on your skin.

May you watch hours of congressional hearings where Democrats pretend to have a spine.

May the emotional problems of your neighbors not involve you too much.

When you lose your job, may you discover that you actually like the flavor of dry dog food.

May you not be sitting on the john in a public restroom when the person in the next stall screams, "JIHAD!"

May your prescriptions cost less than your annual income.

May the disappearance of sensation in your reproductive organs not bother you too much.

May you not hear what kids say about how you smell.

May you continue to live under the illusion that you don't look too bad when you're naked.

May Bill O'Reilly not give out your home address on his show.

May the collapse of the banking system not happen right after your paycheck has been deposited.

May you not be rendered to a secret CIA prison in the Second World.

If you are rendered to a secret CIA prison in the Second World, may you be allowed a latte break each day.

May your dossier at the National Security Agency not be requested by Dick Cheney.

May your dossier with the Mossad not be marked "Pending Action."

May you not be stopped by a cop whose badge reads: "It's Giuliani Time!"

May the RFID chip you are forced to wear to keep your job not have electrical surges.

May the Chinese let you keep the clothes you're wearing when they call in all the debt we owe them.

When you pass through the machine that shows your naked body to the TSA screening guys, may you not hear them laughing hysterically.

May you not hear your surgeon say, just as you're going under anesthesia, "What's the frequency, Kenneth?"

May the administrative director of your region when martial law is declared not be Pat Robertson.

May the genetically modified produce in your refrigerator never say, "Feed me."

And finally...

May you be holding a giant banana cream pie when George W. Bush walks up to shake your hand.

And so, in summary...

May you have a wonderful New Year!

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

2006 ends with a frightful bang.

by: blackdog

Well, we're here. The official American death count is now 3000. I live in a town with less population than that, and I find myself wondering what it would be like to get up tomorrow morning to find that there was nobody here except me. Seems like I saw a Twylight Zone along this line some time ago.

My question is just WTF have we received for this toll? My answer is absolutely nothing except for a government run amock with the power elite sucking the lifeblood out of the nation at a steady pace. Can't even these bastards figure out that nothing that is going on is sustainable? Are we to follow the former Soviet Union down the path to collapse and partition? And they are actually coming out of their maliase now owing to their natural resources such as oil and natural gas. Which we don't have. Oops! We have enough coal to last forever. Anyone seen the latest black cloud pictures from space over China? Looks great to me, the soot should slow down the input of solar energy, right? So we shouldn't worry about global warming.

Blackdog holds his head and tail down in shame for lost opportunities and lost causes for nothing, except for the enrichment of a few. And for the more common types that are too stupid to see that fact, at their own expense.

Update from the Guardian on how the execution was handled, or mis-handled

Father and Son

by: Konagod

Twenty-four years ago yesterday morning I answered the phone around 8:45 and was calmly instructed by a nurse to come to the hospital. My only reply was "OK" and I hung up and began to get dressed. I knew my father had died.

I scarcely recall walking down the hospital corridor to his room. But I shall never forget walking into the room and seeing my mother seated in a chair, and a corpse on the bed. It was my first real experience with death. My brain immediately counted only one person in the room. That which was my father was elsewhere. The body certainly wasn't him and I felt no emotion for it.

My dad and I generally got along fine. However, there were difficulties as I moved into adolescence. He had to suspect I was gay. I went through a phase one summer when I was addicted to All My Children. I would discuss the characters with my parents -- partly to provoke a reaction. I enjoyed hearing my mother call it "trash." Once, my father must have been particularly annoyed because he made a comment I'd never heard him say. Although I can't remember his exact words, he suggested I was a sissy. I was never ridiculed for watching other "sissy" programs like Bewitched, That Girl, I Dream of Jeannie or any of the Doris Day shows and films. He clearly thought soaps were for women and therefore no self-respecting boy would be caught dead watching them.

30 December 2006

We Were Sitting Around

by: Minstrel Boy

Playing, smoking cigarettes, and somebody asked me what I thought about Saddam Hussien's execution. I started vamping my guitar in A minor.

I let Blind Willie McTell do my talking for me. . .

(spoken) This one's for you Saddam

Little Jesse was a gambler, night and day
He used crooked cards and dice
Sinful guy, good hearted but had no soul
Heart was hard and cold like ice

Jesse was a wild reckless gambler
Won a gang of change
Although' a many gambler's heart he led in pain
Began to spend a-loose his money
Began to be blue, sad and all alone
His heart had even turned to stone
What broke Jesse's heart while he was blue and all alone
Sweet Lorena packed up and gone
Policemens up and shot my friend Jesse down

Boys I gots to die today
He had a gang of crapshooters and gamblers at his bedside
Here are the words he had to say
Guess I ought to know
Exactly how I wants to go
(spoken) How you wanna go, Jesse?

Eight crapshooters to be my pallbearers
Let 'em be veiled down in black
I want nine men going to the graveyard, Bubba
And eight men comin' back

I want a gang of gamblers gathered 'round my coffin-side
Crooked card printed on my hearse
Don't say the crapshooters'll never grieve over me
My life been a doggone curse

Send poker players to the graveyard
Dig my grave with the ace of spades
I want twelve polices in my funeral march
High sheriff playin' blackjack, lead the parade

I want the judge and solic'ter who jailed me 14 times
Put a pair of dice in my shoes (then what?)
Let a deck of cards be my tombstone
I got the dyin' crapshooter's blues

Sixteen real good crapshooters
Sixteen bootleggers to sing a song
Sixteen racket men gamblin'
Couple tend bar while I'm rollin' along
He wanted 22 womens outta the Hampton Hotel,
26 off-a South Bell
29 women outta North Atlanta,
Know little Jesse didn't pass out so swell

His head was achin', heart was thumpin'
Little Jesse went to hell bouncin' and jumpin'
Folks, don't be standin' around ole Jesse cryin'
He wants everybody to do the Charleston
(shouted)whilst he dyin'
One foot up, a toenail dragging
Throw my buddy Jesse in the
(shout some more) HooDoo Wagon

Come here mama with that can of booze
The dyin crapshooter's, leavin' the world
The dyin' crapshooter's, goin' down slow
With the dyin' crapshooter's blues

Can't say I'll miss Saddam. I'll never miss him as much as I miss the Bill of Rights and the other things we used to think were protected by the Constitution.

Happy New Year.

We won't have a lot of peace and stuff, but if we keep the old blues songs alive at least we can go down swinging and singing.

Harp and Sword

Justice, the Main Event

by: Dark Wraith


This graphic may be reposted with attribute.

The Dark Wraith thanks the neo-cons for getting the ball rolling with the warm-up act in Baghdad.

This graphic is cross-posted from The Dark Wraith Forums.

New Year's show

by: blackdog

Prairie Home Companion is on right now! Get to your radio! Garrison rules! Am I excited? You bet, I live for this.

My great friend Farmer B and wife G went to a performance in Hot Springs a few years ago. They were eating breakfast in the new Embassy Suite hotel when B noticed that sitting at the table next to them was Mr. Keillor. Bob politely introduced himself and they had evidently a nice conversation. I'm so proud of Farmer B, we call him that for the 5 acres he keeps like an immaculate garden. To visit his house is a treat, the house is like a museum and the grounds are beautiful. Several of our group are responsible for the remodel some years ago. I dug the foundation footings for the new addition with a shovel.

I love my friend B. An interesting fellow who I have known now for about 45 years. And G, his wife is a pure sweetheart. I flew from California to Arkieville to attend their wedding, I was as proud as a father. My old friend Fagan was there for the music, Minstrel Boy, you would approve. He played "Blackbird". For some reason, maybe the homebrew that Mark had made my toung became loose and I whistled the blackbird's response through my teeth. I'm fairly good at it. That brew was incredible and the entire ceremony was a wonder, just before Christmas. I have never been to a better wedding.

Flash Back: "We're taking him out."

by: Foiled Goil

"F___ Saddam. We're taking him out."

Those were the words of President George W. Bush, who had poked his head into the office of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. It was March 2002, and Rice was meeting with three U.S. Senators, discussing how to deal with Iraq through the United Nations, or perhaps in a coalition with America's Middle East allies. Bush wasn't interested. He waved his hand dismissively, recalls a participant, and neatly summed up his Iraq policy in that short phrase. The Senators laughed uncomfortably; Rice flashed a knowing smile. The President left the room.

One year later, in March 2003, Bush tells the public, "I've not made up our [sic] mind about military action."

Google it: "We're taking him out" +"March 2002"
29 December 2006

For Pam.

by: blackdog

I remember an acquaintance from elementary school way back in the 2nd grade that we all knew was a strange guy. We just didn't know exactly how he was strange, but we were pretty sure he acted mostly like a girl, and at that early time in life the line was fairly well identified. But we all liked him, he was popular around school and he had the very best birthday parties. If anybody tried to bully him, they usually got taken aside. He was normal looking from all standards but his behavior was peculiar, although at that time we didn't understand.

Then came the curse of junior high School, where we learned more about the dirty side of the universe than most of us were prepared to handle. We learned such esteemed titles as, but not limited to: fag, queer, pussy, ect. Not that we hadn't been up to the task in elementary school, we were. But there were thankfully several things we simply didn't understand, therefore we couldn't savage it. And elementary school for me was in the early 60's, our vocabulary was somewhat limited.

In the late 60's my parents moved to a new place out in the west of the city in a new development, and lo and behold if my strange friend didn't also do the same with his family. We only lived a few blocks away, so we visited reasonably regularly. At this time I was beginning to understand just what his situation was, although that was never brought up in conversation. He never once sparked fear in me, I trusted him. He was trustworthy.

Some years later for Christmas I got a dream present for a 14 year old kid, a 60mm refractor telescope!! On an equatorial mount no less! I used to set it up in the front yard and you had to really work with it, the mount was wobbly and it only had 0.75" eyepieces, but 14 year old kids are resilient. I saw things that would make Galileo proud.

At this time there was another family in the neighborhood that I had met friends from, three brothers and a sister, a few years later another brother. The oldest was perhaps 7 years older than I and used to walk around the neighborhood at night. He would come by where I had my telescope set up and help by showing me where and how to look, and how to take advantage of the limitations of the scope. I realized that he was a sharp fellow and had been right where I was now, at least with the scope.

We would observe for awhile, then take an extended break on the streetcurb to smoke cigarettes (allowed back then) and discuss the nature of the universe. He was considering going to seminary but wasn't sure. What I always loved about this man was that he was so open and honest with me. Plus he was my mentor at the time, he was a deep thinker and had an amazing mind. And the things we would talk about, at night in the dark street on a warm night with the stars blazing above.

Several years later I had moved to California and received the news that he had died of AIDS. It broke my heart, he was my friend. He never, ever acted in a manner that would cause consternation or concern, even though I had fought with his little brother some years earlier because he told me his older brother was a "fag". I whooped his ass, by the way, and didn't believe a word of it even though it was true, but the language was what set me off.

All of this taught me something important. People are important. Regardless. The lesson never ends, you never actually arrive at a conclusion, it goes on and on, but people are what counts. Regardless. That is the task which awaits all of us, and I hope that some, including myself, are up to it. Its a challenge that never goes away.

Tennis anyone?

One more Crappy Night

by: blackdog

From what I read the nasty deed has been accomplished. Saddam has been executed. The ramifications of this will be many and swift. We might as well have taken him out and shot him in the back of the head with a 9mm. Only time will tell just what will happen, although I do believe that he was a murderous bastard worthy of death, I would not be the one to carry out the deed. Many that are free today deserve the same fate, and many that receive said fate may be innocent. My concern is that the entire process was too quick through an anointed Iraqi government approved in peculiar ways by our executive branch of idiots that circumvented established international law and convention.

I am not a scholar or deep thinker, but I am a concerned American citizen with a wish for a more concerted effort to work with the international community on a host of issues. I (break in train of thought, I had to save a ladybug) believe that we face problems of higher importance than we have ever faced, and in order to solve them it will require more than a national effort, it will require an effort from the entire world community. I believe we call that attempt the UN.

I just watched an excellent program on PBS with (retired) General Colin Powell. In so many ways I respect and admire this remarkably intelligent and articulate man. I think that at one time, he might have made a great President, someone that I could be proud of and listen to. But after his admissions, reluctantly, to the WMD fiasco and Nigerian uranium debacles, plus to the realization that he was NSA director during the shrub 1 regime I have very mixed feelings. And mixed feelings for me mean that I cannot and will not support you for higher office. I thank you Sir, are a great soldier and officer but you failed when it really counted. Your duty to the Constitution of the United States of America. Powell tried and failed to get the shrub administration to stand with the UN. Being the "good soldier" may not be the best for the nation, but I believe that somewhere even in the Military Code it states that you will not obey orders that you deem to deviate from your Constitutional duty. I may not have gotten that right but I bet I'm close.

Well, here we are, the "new world order" of shrub 41 is warping into a mess of incredible proportions, our economy is on the shitter (but some stocks are doing well for now), and the average dipshit on the street can barely spell his name. Makes me feel optimistic. We can solve the problems in the world and our internal ones by "spreading liberty" whatever in the hell that really means. I think it spells o-i-l, but then I am a conspiracy nut.

The myriad problems we face today in the world will not be solved by the actions of one or even several nations. We have arrived at a time where all must rise to the task. That is what the UN was created for. Regardless of it's insufficiency's it must be supported and given the authority to do it's job. The time is now. I realize that now I am officially a heretic.

John Edwards addresses marriage equality question at N.H. town hall gathering

by: Pam

It was an overflow crowd in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that waited in the cold to see Dem presidential candidate John Edwards today, and, given the locale, it's not surprising that the issue of marriage equality was raised at the event.

A gay man in a committed relationship stood up and asked the former senator where he stood on relationship recognition for gay and lesbian couples, given the sky hadn't fallen in Massachusetts with the expansion of marriage to include them. Eric Stern watched the live feed and passed this on.
Edwards indicated that this issue was the "single hardest social issue" for him and that he had engaged in a lot of "personal struggles" over this issue.  He believes that same-sex partners in committed relationships should have civil rights and should be afforded the dignity and respect to which they are entitled.  He struggled with the question of "how we achieve this?.whether it is through civil unions or partnerships." He indicated that he is certainly for all of the non-discrimination and equal benefits provisions.

However, he said that it was a "jump for me to get to gay marriage?I am not there yet." He said that this was a "great conflict for him" and that he continues to struggle with the question internally. He ended by alluding to the fact that his daughter (and most in her generation) support marriage equality.  (The crowd applauded after this last statement).
Aside from the public emotional wrangling over the issue (and admission of differences of opinion within the family household), Edwards' position is not markedly different than in 2004. The nugget of good news is that he's not dodging the general question early on, and has an answer that I believe reflects the opinion of many of the folks out there on the fence.

Open discussions of the issue -- along with a schooling of Edwards to refer to it as marriage equality (as see Russ's framing last night) -- will help shape this discussion in a healthy manner in future town halls, allowing candidates to become more comfortable with open, candid discussion. That was sorely missed in 2004 as Dems ran as fast as they could from this issue -- a reader reminded me that both Edwards and Kerry missed the vote on FMA back in 2004 (the only senators to do so).

We need to have folks get out there to ask this question of every candidate in those venues (and I'll continue to re-post it early and often):

Are gay and lesbian couples entitled to benefits at the local, state and federal levels that currently automatically convey with civil marriage? If no, why not? If yes, why?

You can read more about the Edwards N.H. appearance at 365gay and

If you want to get your hackles up, take a look at the response of someone named, of all things, strategic thinker, who posted on the John Edwards '08 blog about the event. These are the kinds of "supporters" who are all for throwing us under the bus again.

Read and lose your cookies after the jump.


Since I'll be Working

by: Minstrel Boy

The lot of a musician is that most folk's holidays, celebrations, ceremonies, and the like, are another day at the office for me. I'll be mostly on the road back and forth to California for a "command" performance New Year's Eve. One of the reasons I got the gig is that I do the Robbie Burn's version of Auld Lang Syne (not the Jacobite). It's a song with noble sentiments. Guy Lombardo should be flogged in hell for what he did to it. It can be done with the backing of the harp (my version) although, a piper, just makes it nice.

Burns told his publisher that he had written this song, tune and all, down from the singing of an old highlander, he was certain that it had never been published or documented. Without any further ado, I give you

Auld Lang Syne ( 1788 )

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o'kindness yet,
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit,
Sin' auld lang syne.
Sin' auld lang syne, my dear,
Sin' auld lang syne,
We've wander'd mony a weary fit,
Sin' auld lang syne!

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
Bra' seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.
Sin' auld lang syne, my dear,
Sin' auld lang syne,
Bra' seas between us, braid hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.

And there's a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right gude willie-waught,
For auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a right gude willie-waught
For auld lang syne.

(if you are having trouble with the undiluted Scots dialect a translation is posted kindly here )
I likes my Burns like I liked my whiskey. Straight.
Best wishes to all for the coming year.

harp and sword

The Execution of Saddam

by: Dark Wraith

10:20 p.m. EST--Saddam Hussein has been executed.

◊            ◊            ◊

Saddam Hussein is "hours" from execution, according to his attorneys. In my editorial of November 6, 2006, "In Moot Defense of Saddam," I set forth my condemnation of what constitutes yet another brutish violation of international law by the Bush Administration and its various agents of opportunity.

Writing at her blog, BlondeSense, Liz notes that Saddam's execution is the result of conviction on capital charges related to "...killing 148 people who were planning to assassinate him back in 1982." In comments on the thread from that article at BlondeSense, I expressed my assessment of what will result from Saddam's hanging. In edited and expanded form, I herewith publish that assessment as an editorial position of The Dark Wraith Forums.

Spiteful vengeance breeds spiteful vengeance. Despite the belief by neo-conservatives and a fair number of supporters of capital punishment that they are the best at all manner of retributive violence, and despite the American people's belief that we are seeing the worst of the quagmire that has become our unjustified, illegal attack on and occupation of Iraq, we as a nation have not even begun to see what horrors may rise from the sands of that grim and ancient land.

The old saying, "Paybacks are a bitch" is an understatement when it comes to the consequences that will flow from the execution of Saddam Hussein. The Sunnis who were Saddam's associates, allies, and family will ensure that the payback for our killing of him constitutes the kind of bitch that will keep on giving and giving, generation after generation. We are opening something far worse than the garden-variety war we've been losing in Iraq.

We are, in fact, about to open a tribal blood feud.

George W. Bush, the man whose base of support in the Christian Right has long looked to him to return America to a country of traditional values, has now succeeded in reviving for all Americans one of the deepest and most ancient of such values. The right of a tribe to exact revenge upon an offending tribe will now be exercised by the Sunnis, be they Ba'athist remnants, al-Qa'ida terrorists, villagers from Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, or some other force with timeless values, old means, and newly inspired motive.

Whether we in our individual leanings be conservative or liberal, Leftist or Right-wing, we are now—perhaps in a way entirely foreign to us in all our modernity—members of a tribe by virtue of an act by the leader. As such, each of us individually now qualifies by ancient rites and privileges of the aggrieved to pay for what has been done to a member of another tribe, one far more attuned to "traditional values" than we.

And yet, when that payback is visited upon us—and it will come to us—we shall scream bloody murder at the injustice of the outrage. That, of course, is to be expected of a tribe that has lost its understanding of tradition.

The Dark Wraith has spoken.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums
28 December 2006

FDA Approves Cloned Livestock

by: Dark Wraith

Cow of the Future by Dark WraithThe Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it will approve the use of cloned animals by livestock producers. Since 2001, an informal, voluntary moratorium has been in place preventing meat producers from using cloned animals for slaughter and breeding. Having determined that the meat of cloned animals is safe, no requirements will be placed on wholesalers and retailers to disclose that the meat and cow milk they are selling is from cloned animals.

According to the FDA press release,
"[C]lones will be used primarily for breeding, [so] almost all of the food that comes from the cloning process is expected to be from sexually-reproduced offspring and descendents of clones, and not the clones themselves."
The formal approval includes no language, however, prohibiting limited or widespread use of cloned animals, themselves, in the production of food products, leaving open the possibility that meat and other products from cloned animals will enter the food supply: specifically, animals, cloned or not, that have outlived their usefulness in breeding are normally slaughtered; and no prohibition would exist to stop farmers from selling the milk from cloned dairy cattle.

Despite assurances by the FDA, food safety advocates express concern. Although the government claims that cloned livestock is "virtually indistinguishable" from animals bred naturally, that is only the case for animals at or approaching maturity. According to the Consumer Federation of America, cloned livestock experiences higher mortality and deformation rates among the young bred by the technology. This points to potential problems with the underlying animals, themselves, and little research has been conducted to determine the causative factors in these higher rates of fetal deformities and early death, which means there exists no understanding of potential impact on human consumers of the meats of animals produced by cloning. Beyond the lack of regulatory prohibition on cloned animals entering the food supply, it will most definitely be the case that their offspring and decendants will, meaning that any genetic defects driving the abnormally high mortality and deformity rates will likely pass on to the livestock eaten by humans.

Interested members of the public may submit comments to the FDA concerning its planned approval of the use of cloned livestock. Any such comments must be received by April 2, 2007, and may be sent via comment forms available online or in writing to the following:
Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305)
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane
Rm. 1061
Rockville MD 20852
Be sure to include the docket number 2003N-0573.

The Poll

Given that the Food and Drug Administration will not require that meat and milk vendors disclose that they're selling you what might be cloned beef, pork, and cow milk, how is this new technology going to affect you?

  — Poll results —

Bush, The Decider, Decides Stuff in Crawford

by: Minstrel Boy

Today is the big ass information super duper push and surge to end all . . . oh, fuck it.

Bush doesn't care. He doesn't even get that there will be five or six more American deaths a day while he waits for an appropriate "news cycle" to spin around in which he is going to release his words from the mountaintop of decidering and reveal that:


I find no reason for any hope at all for the man, or the country while he's still around.

If they want to talk doing the Agnew on Cheney, then going after Bush hammer and tongs, I'm there. Otherwise, I got horses to feed.

harp and sword

Site Changes on the Horizon

by: Dark Wraith

This is an advisory post to let readers know that, over the next several days, I shall be slightly altering the visual appearance of Big Brass Blog. The only thing I'm going to do is expand the middle column, the one that has the posts. I'm doing this so contributors can put YouTube videos in at their native size and so that other graphical content (including pictures, QuickTime and Flash) can be included at larger, more visually appealing scales. Although this sounds like a minor bit of work, it entails not only resetting all of the column widths, which have to fit together like puzzle pieces, but also reconstructing graphical backgrounds, which also have to fit together like puzzle pieces.

Given my long-standing and well-established history as an incompetent hack when it comes to the coding for Website design, I guarantee you right here and now that my changes will result in a total, unmitigated disaster. I'll look at the mess I've created and rue the days and hours I optimistically and excitedly contemplated making the changes.

I shall curse.

Then I'll get back down to work and make it look right. When I'm finished, I'll say something to the effect, "That's the last time I ever try something that stupid."

The work will be done mostly late at night. That's when hardly anybody comes around, so that's when most readers and contributors won't see how ugly it's going to get. If you happen to visit when work is in progress, you'll see bad, bad things. You might even see me crawling around the cascading style sheets, mumbling to myself about how much better the world was before computers and electronics and information and wheels and fire. Just leave me alone and come back later.

The Dark Wraith should probably go buy a can of coffee before getting started.
27 December 2006

Get Me Through December

by: Foiled Goil

Get Me Through December

Alison Krauss - Vocals
Gordie Sampson & Fred Lavery - Lyrics

How pale is the sky that brings forth the rain,
As the changing of seasons prepares me again
For the long bitter nights and the wild Winter day
My heart has grown cold, my love stored away
My heart has grown cold, my love stored away

I've been to the mountain, left my tracks in the snow
Where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go
I've taken the pain no girl should endure
But faith can move mountains, of that I am sure
Faith can move mountains, of that I am sure

Get me through December
A promise I'll remember,
Just get me through December
So I can start again


Post update note:
See comments for a YouTube link & more regarding this song.
25 December 2006

Jamie, We Hardly Knew Ye. . .

by: Minstrel Boy

But, what we did know, we loved, warts and all. You were the hardest working man in the business. You started to sing and lives were changed. Goodnight my friend. Sweet goodnight.

Harp and Sword

A Christmas Morning Warning

by: Minstrel Boy

WARNING: If your brother, is your neighbor, and a musician, you should be very nice to him all year. Otherwise, this is what your child will see Christmas Morning. Of course, if you're very clever, like my sister, you'll see that and immediately tell the child, "You can leave that set up here at Uncle Stevie's house and practice drums when you come over to play the piano."

(curses, foiled again!)

Harp (with drums now) and Sword
24 December 2006

Christmas 2006

by: Dark Wraith

Christmas 2006 from the Dark Wraith

23 December 2006

"What Would Dark Wraith Do?"

by: Dark Wraith

My recent article, "Words, Pictures, and Reality," crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums here at Big Brass Blog, garnered a considerable and considered slate of comments on the site of original publication, and not all of those rejoinders were laudatory. In particular, my use of the word "savages" to describe the Iraqis who dragged an unarmed civilian truck driver from his destroyed vehicle to strip him and stone him to death garnered strong criticism from more than one commenter. In responding comments, I had my say. The power to shape thinking—not just that of readers, but my own as well—is not always measured by the degree of agreement, but sometimes instead by the level of passion, expressed reasonably and rationally, of dissent from published opinion. In some instances, perhaps including the present case, the most important lesson that can be drawn from civil discourse is the extent to which world views can differ while desired ends remain extraordinarily compatible.

That all aside, a new commenter writing under the pen name "Queen Mum II" at The Dark Wraith Forums posed a question that struck a chord in my mind:
If you were given control of every facet of this war, what would Dark Wraith do? (WWDWD) Really, someone must have a solution and I am nominating you.
I have long been one to suffer little patience for those who lament problems without even the slightest concern for offering realistic solutions, and I have been bothered recently by my own tendency to rail against the situation in which we now find ourselves in Iraq while offering little in the way of solutions other than to bemoan the bleak prospects for the success of any effort.

This is not to say that our prospects aren't dire, regardless of what we do. They are. If we pump 20,000 to 30,000 troops into Iraq, we are doing nothing more than adding ineffective but highly incendiary fuel to what has already become a raging fire. On the other hand, as I noted to one correspondent in an e-mail message this afternoon, "[Those] waving their magic wand and bawling, 'Immediate withdrawal!' are fantasizing with equal silliness because no nation gets to simply walk away from a war, especially one it has started."

It is not enough, however, to play the cynic cutting down everyone's suggestions, well meaning and well thought out as some of them clearly are. If I don't have even the slightest hint of an alternative, it would be best for me to shut my pie hole and let people who are at least trying to work something out do so without my dour naysaying. To the end of diminishing the unproductive naysaying that has come through in my recent assessments, I herewith offer a slightly modified version of the response I wrote to Queen Mum II.
I have gone back and forth in my mind on whether or not to write an article offering a systematic means by which we could resolve the Iraqi crisis we created; but every time I start getting serious about walking through the logical chains of events and necessary set-ups to make those events have a decent probability of leading to desirable ends, I learn more about the situation, and my wonderful ideas become entirely unrealistic.

In my heart of hearts, knowing full well as I do that it simply will not happen, I want to see the Iraqi government release Saddam Hussein to the custody of Sunni authorities. Saddam is the only person who has proven his ability to control the unwieldy, utterly artificial nation we call "Iraq," and he did so through a combination of brilliant political/military governance and brutal repression.

We are now seeing that what the media panted about as his horrific excesses were in many cases precisely against the interests that are now tearing the nation apart, as was (at least in retrospect) inevitable without a dictator in iron-fisted control of it. If it is, indeed, the case that he went to the extent of crimes against humanity with his attacks on Kurds in the northern part of the country, may he burn in Hell or at least live in fear for his life from an emergent and powerful Kurdistan. However, I cannot accept with absolute certainty anything the U.S. government says, or even anything the United Nations says when its information is derived at least in part from our resources. That is the price the United States government pays for lying to me. It is a price everyone should exact from this government, particularly when this government makes statements that sound like predicates to and justification for international violence.

We are not going to get a decent solution to the crisis in Iraq, regardless of what we do now. We are going to have to lose, and losing will entail such a degradation of our circumstances that we'll end up in a situation similar to the final day and hours we were in Vietnam.

That is not to say that we are going to be watching TV images of helicopters pulling up and away from rooftops in Baghdad; but when we finally come to grips with having lost in Iraq, it will be every bit as degrading, while at the same time being every bit as deniable as the final retreat by our defeated forces.

George W. Bush and his neo-con cronies will never admit that we finally lost. Neither will the Republicans. In fact, neither will the Democrats. Every politician who wants a political future will describe the awful end as something other than what it will be, and a good majority of Americans will go along with the lie, even if they do not support the particular politicians who pump it through the compliant mainstream media.

The issue is not one of win or lose for us, but rather one of how to lay the groundwork for something resembling long-term stability in the region we disrupted. Realistically, in the early stages of laying that groundwork, we should construct a fabric of annexation partners for the major factional interests involved. For the Sunnis, that would be Saudi Arabia.

Interestingly, a useful play would be to move the Shi'ites into partnership with Syria, specifically creating an opportunity for Syria to slightly moderate for the opportunity while at the same time putting a small wedge into the long-standing (but not nearly as cozy as the media make it sound) relationship it has with Iran. (As a fellow from the Middle East explained to me several years ago, "The Syrians are assholes, but the Iranians are worse than that." I didn't press for exactly what was worse than assholes, fearing as I did that he would enlighten me.)

In that same vein, we would certainly want Russia to have some role in working with the Shi'ites, simply because Russia is so corrupt that it would be a tapeworm on Shi'ite ambitions to become anything more than a relatively comfortable, if permanently rather weakened, sovereign entity. Given Syria's penchant for political tom-foolery and Russia's penchant for economic thuggery, the Shi'ites in control of what would essentially be the rump Iraq would be quite busy hoping for Iranian political hegemony while trying to extricate themselves from a Syrian/Russian coalition that had substantial incentives to keep Iran at bay while publicly glad-handing the leadership from Tehran on occasional, only minimally productive state visits.

The Kurds are somewhat problematic, but that's okay. Allowing the continuation and formalization of the relationship between Kurdistan as a sovereign nation and Israel serves quite a few purposes, although it will be a long-term thorn in the side of Arab anti-Zionists. Israel is building major political and business ties with Turkey, which is all kinds of unhappy about the prospect of an independent Kurdistan. But that's just the idea: as I've pointed out before, putting Israel in the economically necessary position of having to defend vital political/economic ties to both Turkey and Kurdistan could (and I emphasize could) be a way to move the Jewish state toward greater maturity in its foreign policy. Sometimes, when an irresponsible fellow is placed in charge of raising two kids who hate each other, he learns how to grow up and stop running around the streets doing his own violent thing. It's a long shot, but I think it just might work.

Moreover, getting Kurdistan in order and creating an economic interdependence among Turkey, Kurdistan, and Israel would be a decent and quite useful buttress for containing Iran and quite possibly could be of huge assistance in Iran's inevitable transition away from the dangerously theocratic state it now is. I have been following for some months now a strong, progressive movement in Iran; but unfortunately, the most promising of its inspirations are being ignored by the West, particularly by our own CIA as well as MI6, which are bull-headedly obsessed with exiles of the Iraqi National Congress/Ahmed Chalabi type. Inside Iran right now are simmering, low-flying potential leaders using largely non-violent means to attract interest while at the same time vexing the mullahs about what to do with them. It is those kinds of prospective leaders—not the hillbillie trouble-making bombers in Iran and the Iranian exiles making idiotic press releases and publishing ridiculous "intelligence" documents—we need to be paying attention to and covertly supporting.

Now, as far as the word "partition" goes, that terminology and the very concept underpinning it need to be shot. Iraq can disintegrate into three states without some imposed border that advances Western interests. Neo-cons, including men like Douglas Feith, were drooling in the 1990s about a fractured Iraq where mini-states would be too weak to resist American corporate/government interests. Contemplating that we have any knowledge about how Iraq should actually disassemble is just a further pursuit of our already proven ability to make any mess even worse.

As awful and inhumane as the prospect sounds, we need to let the Iraqis carve their repective nations out by blood. Our job should be to muster the United Nations to set a limit on how long that period should last before the combatants are hauled by their respective partners to the table for a settlement of borders. Recall that, above, I used the term "annexation partners," which I used to convey the requirement the politically strong sovereign states should serve as guarantors in a relatively brief but iron-fisted transitional period for the new nation-states to meet rigorous milestones on the way to provisional recognition by the international community as embodied in the United Nations.

That means, among other things, that we must have the United Nations provide a large, robust, and committed contingent of peacekeepers to the border regions. This would by no means be some transitional or temporary feature of the new political landscape, though: rather, a border-preserving international force would have to be garrisoned for years to come, and it would have to have internationally supported and sponsored teeth that would be able and more than willing to rip flesh on any nation that violated another nation's internationally recognized borders.

As a final word in this offering of fragments of solutions, allow me once again to promote one of my most earnest proposals. We here in the United States need to reconstruct our own "military" into a much subtler, far more complex entity better adapted to the challenges, both internally and internationally, of the 21st Century. Specifically, I am a supporter of required national service for citizens, but only under the circumstance where that national service requirement could be carried out in one of three branches of a new National Force: a conscript could join 1) a traditional armed force; 2) a domestic force similar to the National Guard in structure but not in mission (and it would never be permitted to serve in overseas duty); or 3) a peacekeeping force that exclusively services internationally sanctioned peacekeeping missions across the globe.

This National Force is the most important and productive of any proposals I could make. It is my considered judgment that we as a nation cannot move forward and away from our inevitable loss in Iraq until we come to grips with the fact that our attack on that country was not a "mistake"; instead, it was part and parcel of a basic and destructive flaw in our civil society that compels us to resort with ease to violence, expressed at the national level by our militarism. Unless and until we create institutionally viable and readily deployable alternatives to state violence, both domestically and internationally, we shall not only never come to grips with our loss in Iraq, but we shall surely run headlong into future adventures ending in similar catastrophe.

The Dark Wraith invites comments, including those further chewing him out.

Notes from the Bandstand

by: Minstrel Boy

I know there are those songs that people just love. Songs that if they are absent, they diminish the emotion and enjoyment of the holiday for people.

Two things came from my stint of carols at the mall. I will share them with you now.

The first was a very fetching young thing who came up to me on a break and asked me if I knew her favorite Christmas song. It was "yadda yadda blah blah child" or some shit like that. I said "No." She asked me if I would like to hear it. She said it was a Contemporary Christian Christmas Carol. I'm glad that I had my hair in a ponytail so she couldn't see how the hair on the back of my neck began to curl at the syllabic emphasis she was using. But, as I said, she was fetching, and I'm old and don't get to talk to all that many cute young ones anymore, so I figure "What the hell, how bad can it be?"

I listen, and maintain my composure. She asks "What do you think of it? Isn't it just great? Do you think you could play it?" I say:

"The thing that gets me about most of these kind of songs is that along with being lyrically trite they are musically uninspired. Without the insipid lyrics the tune couldn't compete with such classics as Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Plus they have this whole thing that I simply hate this time of year (remember, I'm on the job right now so I'm trying to watch my langauge, otherwise I would have said fuck at least five or six times by now and thrown in a few shits and craps for good measure)

The song starts out all frilly and fluffy and sweet "Ohh, look at the baby! Sweet little baby in the manger" (Then I switch to my thrash metal System of a Down voice for a totally dissonant) "HE'S GONNA DIE! YOU EVIL BASTARDS ARE GOING TO KILL HIM DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD. What is it about you people that you can't stand a solid dose of peace and love? I would much rather play my Palestrina, Handel, Bach and Pretorius. Those songs have survived all these hundreds of years because they are good music. This new Christian garbage is not only bad theology, it is bad music."

Then I sat down to play my next set. Halfway through the first tune I looked up, she was gone.

Every set, every night, somebody wants to hear "Carol of the Bells." Being your servant, I cannot refuse. It wouldn't be right.

These are the lyrics running through my head while I play for you.

This song is long
Goes on and on
Three fucking notes
Learn them by rote
Repeat again
Three with no end
They will not stop
Until you drop

Now we get to play six more notes
Now we get to play six more notes
Back to the three
Oh, woe is me
This song is long
Goes on and on. . .

37th Street "Holiday Hysterics"

by: Konagod

Austin's 37th Street has long been a spectacular hotspot for holiday lighting and decorations. Things had begun to deteriorate as many long-time residents moved away and were replaced by folks not so inclined to indulge in the electrified holiday excess.

Randy Thompson, a 37th Street resident since 1980, said, "Most years I wouldn't say the [Zilker Park] Trail of Lights is better than ours, but this year it is." Thompson said he opted against putting up lights due to spousal pressure and reported overhearing upset and belligerent onlookers bemoan his lack of lights as well as his next-door neighbor's lackluster illumination effort.

"It's unfair that we're somehow responsible for entertaining the city of Austin," said a 37th Street resident of four years who asked not to be named for fear of darkening relations with neighbors. We'll refer to that source as Rudolph. "The story ended last year. You can observe what happened now that the people who started the tradition aren't here any more," Rudolph said. "It's not the new people's fault that they didn't buy into the lights, they simply saw a house that met their needs." Many of the new homeowners are professionals who come home late and rarely socialize with neighbors, he added.

All is not lost. This could be the winner of this year's most original and comically timely holiday display.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

What the display lacks in shimmer, it has recently made up for in shock – with the weekend debut of a nativity scene featuring Mary Cheney – the vice president's pregnant lesbian daughter – and her partner, Heather Poe, as Christ's parents, along with Dick Cheney and Rummy as wise men and an angelic floating Condi Rice overhead.

Simply brilliant. Not overdone. No horrendously tacky Airblowns. It's just pure Austin class.

h/t to litbrit's Queen Mum II for this piece.

A Christmas Carole for the BBB

by: blackdog

Once upon a time there was an English writer of amazing ability. One of many of course, but I have the privilege of being fairly directly related to this one. His name was Charles Dickens and once he made a visit to Springfield Missouri to see some of his kin there. Family rumor has it that from there he traveled south to Newport Arkansas, but from my work on the matter, I think the Dickens' in Newport went to Springfield.

In any case it should be fairly obvious to all of you here that I did not inherit the writing skills of my great-great-great-great uncle. I may not have even gotten the greats right.

He did however transform what is now our most popular holiday with the promise that change can occur in even the worst examples of humanity. Not that it does, just that it can. Seems like this was also the promise of the New Testament, but religious writings have been so washed and manipulated that the original ideas may have been lost. And nothing in my mind is more capable of starting a fight than religion, therefore I avoid it with others. My personal beliefs are quite frankly, personal.

My Uncle may or may not have been very religious, but he was not afraid to poke satire and allegory into the eyes of society of the time. He evidently really did care about people without means and worked to remind those that had those means to help. This understanding that I had helped to form me. Not that I'm such a wonder, I've failed many times in magnificent ways. But in my heart, I do care.

Now to see the crass commercialism that has resulted from all of this I am somewhat ashamed, although I do not blame my relative or myself. I blame capitalism and it's insistence on the worship of capital at the expense of the ones that can generate that resource, the people.

My wish this afternoon and for the next few days is that people would wake up and see a measure of reality. We have the power to remake this society, if we could only get the attention of said society. Never in history have more informational mechanisms existed for exchange of knowledge. And what have we done with them? How many times must we learn again just what we are for? For me it's our society, we are after all social animals and require each other.

I realize that I have not stated my case very well, but this is about the best I can do. Go read some Dickens.
22 December 2006

Blow This

by: Konagod

Now I know what this obnoxious trash is called: Airblowns.

Ugly trash

I first noticed one popping up in front of a nearby house last year around Halloween. It was round and clear with an internal fan to blow around fake snow in an effort to mimic one of those snow globes. It stayed inflated for about a day before collapsing into an unattractive pile of plastic. I wondered why anyone would spend hard-earned money on something so... worthless.

This year they are in abundance. Especially in a new upscale housing development just up the hill from us. Lawns along one street are littered with plastic reindeer, elves, and some new decorations that are made to look like some kind of crystal formations in familiar holiday-related shapes, and of course... more tacky Airblowns. In that neighborhood alone, I suspect thousands of dollars have been spent on this rubbish -- enough to feed quite a few homeless and needy people. Alas, it shall all eventually wind up in the landfill.

And while I haven't gone out to inspect any of this stuff in stores, I'll wager my last dime all this crap is made in China. Oh well, it's none of my business. I just wish I didn't have to see it every time I leave the house.
Such is the phantasmagoric, Disney-esque experience of the new Christmas custom sweeping the suburbs.
Whatever else Christmas in America means — the birth of Jesus, holly wreaths, the Chipmunks, cultural tension — it now also includes these gargantuan, inflatable outdoor decorations, called “Airblowns” by their chief manufacturer.


Not quite a culture war. Call it an intramural disagreement among the Christmas crazed.

“Appalling,” Catherine Bruckner, a traditionalist who decorates only in holly and evergreen, sneered as she stopped her car in front of an inflated Santa playing poker with two shrewd-eyed reindeer in a menagerie totaling two dozen figures. “It’s bad enough to see those things on Halloween. At Christmas, they rise to a level of tackiness that is horrible.”

Most of this garbage sells for $69 to $300 and is marketed by a company here in Texas (but of course! Make it extra big and ugly, please!) which also came up with some other brilliant ideas -- remember "Big Mouth Billy Bass?"
21 December 2006

Idiot-In-Chief Disconnects With Reality

by: Foiled Goil

Once Again Bush Gets It Wrong. Who'd O' Thunk?

by Scott Shuster, Dec. 21, 2006
It is inconceivable to me that our Idiot-in-Chief in the White House is even THINKING about sending MORE troops into this hell-hole in Iraq where we have absolutely no chance of fixing this problem by military means. I guess he really didn't get the message on November 7th that our country is NOT behind this occupation.

But... I'm sure we have plenty more troops to throw at the problem, even though our National Guard forces are already over-extended there and barely able to secure our own homeland (good thing we didn't have another Katrina this year). So, with our all-volunteer military, having been volunteered for many more tours then they signed up for, we're going to send tens of thousands more targets.... er... troops into Baghdad, and stick them right in the heat of this civil war between the Shiites and the Sunnis.

That's just brilliant. I'm sure the level of violence won't go up, and the body counts won't go up, and in two to three months we'll win the war on terror! We'll declare victory in Iraq and our girls & boys will come home victorious!

Psssssst. Can I interest you in a bridge?

There's a civil war going on in Iraq between the Shiites and the Sunnis, the neighboring countries are taking sides, and the U.S. is sitting smack-dab in the middle of this war getting shot up in the crossfire. Bush and his cabal thought we were simply going to force Democracy down their throats and support the democratically-elected (Shiite-dominated) government as we trained their police & military. But... that has led to Shiite militias carrying out genocide on the Sunnis (euphemism: Sectarian Violence), and the Sunnis carrying out their own form of violence (euphemism: Insurgency).

Meanwhile, George Bush has that deer-in-the-headlights look of "What the f**k do I do at this point now that I've royally f**ked this whole thing up? I know... I'll send in MORE troops to get shot up! Who cares what the American people want. That November 7th mid-term election was just a guideline... I'M THE DECIDER!!!! AND I WANT VICTORY!!!"

What is the U.S. interest?

This is a question I've been asking myself for a long time. We keep hearing that we're there to protect our interests, but what ARE our interests?

Is our interest that of spreading Democracy? Nooooooo.

Is our interest humanitarian? Nooooooo.

Our interest is oil, of course.

What would happen if we pulled out?

Of course this is one of those $64,000 questions. Why don't we just pull all our troops out of the region? Some say that would throw the region into chaos (or KAOS if you're a 'Get Smart' fan). Civil war would break out! Oh Noooooo!!!!

Let's face it.... The region is ALREADY in chaos, and civil war has ALREADY broken out. The American presence only makes things worse, gets a lot of our children killed, and fuels anti-American hatred.

Our best bet is to pull our troops out of this region and let the dust settle. We could be building our homeland security infrastructure while this civil war is taking its course, the centerpiece of which would be the development of alternative & renewable sources of energy so that we're not so dependent on foreign oil. And with all those troops coming home we could secure our borders and inspect all cargo entering at our ports.

With all the money we'd save by not having to fuel unnecessary wars, we could actually provide healthcare for our veterans, elderly, and children. We could actually fund 'No Child Left Behind', after school programs, and college tuition assistance. With all the money we'd save by not having to fuel unnecessary wars, we could legitimately lower taxes withOUT ballooning the national debt.

And... in the process... we might even STOP pissing off the rest of the world.

Photo Captioned

by: Minstrel Boy

This was a "caption this photo" blip over to Shake's and I got all excited and garbled my caption. So, I offer it here. Please, feel free to add your own. The set-up is that Bush is speaking from "The Indian Treaty Room" at the Executive Office Building.

After much soul seaching, President Bush has found the most appropriate room in Washington for a white man to walk right in and start lying.

harp and sword

Words, Pictures, and Reality

by: Dark Wraith

Several days ago at The Dark Wraith Forums, in the sidebar frame entitled, "The Dark Wraith Recommends," I posted the link to a YouTube capture of a CNN story from late November about an attack on a convoy in Iraq. The video was shot by a civilian named Preston Wheeler, an employee of Halliburton who was driving one of 12 trucks with a five-vehicle U.S. military escort.

Iraqi throwing stone at convoySomewhere along the trip, the convoy made a wrong turn onto a road that would prove to be a dead end. As the convoy went along, people started throwing stones at the vehicles. The first frame at left shows a single Iraqi hurling stone at the convoy. Shortly thereafter, what at first appeared to be little more than potshots from AK-47s started hitting the trucks. Truck windshield with bullet holeWheeler's truck got hit. The second frame at left shows his front windshield with a bullet hole. Whether or not he, himself, was hit during this first volley of gunfire is unclear, but Wheeler can be heard on the video yelling, "God damn!" perhaps from the sheer shock of having bullets come that close to ending his life right there and then.

Armored military vehicle pulling around Wheeler's disabled truckThe convoy came to the dead end in the road, and everyone turned around to backtrack. Returning back up the same road they had just gone down, they encountered not stone throwers or a couple of singleton shooters, but instead what the CNN narrator describes as an "ambush." Bullets and rocket propelled grenades started pouring in at the civilian and military vehicles. According to Wheeler, the military escort vehicles started to speed away, leaving the civilian truckers completely undefended. In the first frame at left,View from Wheeler's cab of another civilian truck disabled by RPGs one of the armored vehicles is pulling around Wheeler's truck and leaving the scene, although a military spokesperson disputed that characterization, saying that the vehicle was instead moving to a position away from the "kill zone." Meanwhile, Wheeler was yelling into his two-way radio, "I'm fixin' t' git killed, goddammit!" A rocket propelled grenade had slammed into his truck and disabled it. RPGs and small arms fire were also crippling the other civilian trucks. The second frame at left shows the view from Wheeler's cab of one of the other civilian trucks from the convoy now on its side. Wheeler announced that he had just watched the Iraqi attackers kill one of the truckers up in front of him.

Iraqi fighters swarming truck driver to strip him and stone him to deathWithout the military vehicles to keep them at bay, the attackers had their way with the drivers. The frame at left is from a video taken by a spy plane that was overhead. The men on the ground are Iraqis who have dragged one of the truckers from his cab and are in the process of stripping him naked and stoning him to death.

Mr. Wheeler was rescued 40 minutes later by a Blackhawk helicopter. A subsequent military inquiry into the incident found no fault in the way the soldiers dealt with the situation. In fact, one of the soldiers in the incident was recommended for commendation. The inquiry concluded that the troops' response to the attack was proper: leave the zone of fire and form a defense line from which they could then shoot back into the original area of confrontation.

In his brief statements aired on CNN, Mr. Wheeler was clearly and rather understandably unhappy with what had happened: three of the five civilian drivers had been killed, and he had been left with two AK-47 slugs in his arm to cower in the cab of his wrecked truck for almost three-quarters of an hour.

While the portrayal of the incident by CNN might seem to indicate that the soldiers had acted improperly, it is the report, itself, that gives such an impression, and it does so through a use of words that alters the perception of both what happened to Mr. Wheeler and, much more broadly, what is happening in Iraq.

However, before moving to generalizations, with respect to the incident described above, soldiers do not as a rule simply leave a firefight. Unless panic has set in—something not evident in that video—soldiers stay or redeploy based upon a quick situational assessment. There had to have been a good reason for forming that perimeter—"line of defense outside the kill zone," as the military characterized it—and the most likely reason is that they had come under the kind of fire that is not going to be suppressed by a volley or two of bullets from a couple of M-16s, M-60s, and other, similar weaponry in direct-fire exchange. The inquiry noted that more than 500 rounds were ultimately used to suppress the enemy fire.

The soldiers obviously—and, most probably, correctly—determined that they and their military hardware were at severe risk. Regardless of whether or not five civilian contractors' lives were at stake, a discretionary response that has the potential to wipe out the military personnel in the convoy, disable their vehicles, and ultimately lead to the weaponry on those vehicles falling into enemy hands is not to be chosen if other options are readily available. Moving away from the immediate scene and then firing back into the zone of original confrontation considerably reduces the risk of military casualties and the danger that military hardware will be destroyed and its weaponry transferred to those who could subsequently use its lethality on other American soldiers.

This does not mean, of course, that no concern should be paid to Mr. Wheeler's dismay at how he was treated or how his fellow civilians involved in the incident died. It is far too easy and inhumane to dismiss his anger because he's an employee of Halliburton or because he's over there of his own free will. Nobody deserves to die the way that trucker who was stripped and stoned did; and nobody deserves to sit in a vehicle while soldiers who were there specifically for the purpose of protecting him just leave the scene without so much as an explanation of what they're doing or what he should do.

In the end, of course, 500 rounds of various destructive calibers were most likely sufficient to turn at least some of those savages masquerading as "freedom fighters" into jig-meat puzzles that were pretty tricky to re-assemble for proper burial by bereaved survivors. Allowing for a fairly brutish, paleo-conservative moment, if the attackers pick off unarmed civilian trucks as expressions of their desire for freedom, then they get to risk surprisingly swift death in the process. That is, perhaps unfortunately, how the unapologetic calculus of military violence works. Once we're out of Iraq, we can return to some softer, fantasized belief about the nature and depravity of humanity in conflict.

Here's the core problem with the whole story, though: just a few words of great importance were replaced with words of lesser significance, and such misuse of words creates a persistently deflected understanding of specific incidents and a continuing falsehood about what is happening in Iraq.

Ambush. CNN used that word both in the text overlay for the story and in the narrative, itself. What happened on that dead-end road was no "ambush," which is a pre-planned tactical set-up established with foreknowledge or prediction of a place the opponents will be. That convoy was on that road by accident, so there was no way the attack could have been an ambush in the normal sense of that word.

There is no reason whatsoever to imagine that someone got a whole group of Iraqis together and said, "Let's all hide on a dead-end road, and sooner or later maybe a big convoy of military vehicles guarding some lumbering civilian trucks will accidentally make a wrong turn and end up in our clutches." That's just plain nonsense; but what really did happen on that road leads to the second incorrect word used both in that CNN story as well as all throughout the mainstream and alternative media.

Insurgents. The very word conveys a sense of disaggregation, of ill-defined internal structure, of provisionalism and detachment from a larger socio-political entity. Think carefully about what happened on that road: after what appeared to be some potshots, seemingly out of nowhere appeared a band of enemy fighters with enough firepower to drive a well-armored, fiercely armed slate of American soldiers to choose a military response that involved an almost inevitable loss of American civilians' lives.

Those weren't "insurgents"; that was a squad, and I mean that in the same way I would describe a type of contingent of soldiers in a regular military force. As apparently savage as they were, as apparently impromptu as the battle appeared to be, that was an organized unit with not just hard-core firepower, but organization. When a road in the middle of nowhere has the potential for that kind of incident, the enemy is not some diffuse, thinly spread bunch of thugs. We are not fighting an "insurgency"; we're fighting a military entity that by any honest assessment would be described as an army. Internally fractious and fratricidal as that army might be, what happened on that dead-end road is evidence of a military entity so deep, so seasoned, so dangerous that it can attack a convoy no one was expecting to be where it was, and it can attack with such ferocity—or at least it has the American soldiers convinced that it could do so—that those soldiers pull out of the immediate fire zone and write off the people, vehicles, and materials in transport that were the entire reason for the convoy in the first place.

That's the work of an enemy that has attained the rightful status of an army, and whether or not the Pentagon is using that word or even contemplating its use in describing who's killing our soldiers in Iraq, we are now (and probably have been for a while) engaging the enemy as the opposing military force as it really is: a real, live, lethally effective army, one that is not just kicking our asses, but doing so without the benefit of air power, mechanized infantry, centralized command and control, or even uniforms.

And that leads to the last and most important word, one that is used from time to time but not fully understood for what it means.

War. The United States is not in a difficult, expensive, unsustainable "occupation" of Iraq; we are, instead, in a war—a real, live, full-time war, one that is much more classic than it is unusual, despite the language of obfuscation that favors terms like "asymmetric," "improvised," "anti-government insurgents," "militias," and even "unlawful enemy combatants" to make people believe that the enemy is not the self-legitimized, mature force it really is.

That's why what we're doing over there has gotten so expensive; that's why it has generated so many lies by the ones who started it; that's why it is so difficult to get any decent agreement on exactly what to do. As offensive as it might be to progressives who want us to simply leave in four months, six months, or whatever, this is no longer, and probably has not been for a long time, merely some violent version of trying to wrest control of the channel changer from the idiot who put a bad show on.

Far worse is the fact that various factions of this enemy that has become a military entity—an "army" in my lexicon—are getting funding from sovereign and other entities. The Sunnis are being funded by Saudi Arabia, by Saddam Hussein's family in exile, and by others; the Shi'ites are getting money and other support from Iran, Syria, and quite possibly Russia and China; the Kurds are getting support from Israel and others. We, in fact, are the only ones stupid enough not to be fighting this war by proxy: we're using our own citizens to prosecute what we cannot bring ourselves to call a war.

The best we can do right now is argue about the term "civil war," as if that has anything whatsoever to do with our current military situation in Iraq. From the perspective of the United States, whether or not Iraqis are killing each other is completely irrelevant. The fact that they're killing us is what matters, and that puts the term "civil war" in the category of obfuscating language. We should be talking about war, regional war, and even the beginnings of a low-level global war.

Yes, "global war," and not that worthless "Global War on Terror" spanning the planet, but rather "global war" right there in Iraq, with everybody and his uncle throwing money into what the American and British neo-conservatives, along with their backers in other countries, set up as a high-stakes battle for control of the massive oil fields that will fuel the economic engines of most nations for the better part of this new century.

Wars have winners, and they have losers. Right now, we're losing, and it's because we're fighting an army that has proven to be more than our match in no small part because our political leaders, as well as a fair number of their sycophants in the Pentagon, have yet to face the fact that the diffuse, ideologically pure, well-orchestrated "Global War on Terror" has utterly frustrated any hope of dealing with the very real, terribly dirty, horrifically violent, pretty much garden-variety war we've gotten ourselves into thanks to the Bush Administration, its Republican allies in Congress, and their spineless Democratic colleagues.

We started it; but like most wars, it will end of its own accord once there is a clear winner and an unfortunately large number of losers. Adding twenty to thirty thousand more troops might work if this were some minor problem with an otherwise smooth occupation that had clear milestones on a transitional course out. Adding twenty to thirty thousand troops to a war will have no probability whatsoever of altering the outcome. We'll just get some of them killed, and we'll be escalating the war.

The only good thing about that would be the possibility that the American people and maybe even the media would finally be forced to stop using the wrong words to describe the mess we're in. The longer we keep lying to ourselves about what, exactly, this thing is we're doing over there in Iraq, the more likely we are to lose, and the more catastrophic that loss is going to be.

As the situation now stands, the catastrophe is going to be large. That's what wars do to the losers.

The Dark Wraith has spoken.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

Welcome to my "Church of What's Happening Now"

by: Jersey Cynic

I'm still trying to put together our family's Christmas celebration (I'm the hostess this year -- lucky me!)

At present, none of them can give me a 'good time' to start the festivities because they're all still arguing over what mass and which church to attend. This is a MAJOR deal in my family, as most of them bitch and moan about all the "once-a-year attendees" that crowd their church and how they will have to get there an hour ahead of time to get a good seat and how they'll all probably catch a nasty cold during the sign of peace. This will be the first year I don't make an appearance. It's about time I gave up 5 seats! I probably only attended in recent years just so I could join in on the decision, and complicate it even more. I am sooooo tempted to offer them to attend MY 'church' this year -- Mass begins whenever you get here!

I was hoping to dig up a youtube video of
The Flip Wilson Show and have Reverend Leroy playing as they arrived. No such luck. (I'm such a trouble maker.) For the best, I guess. Apparently, it's only available to purchase on DVD. Too bad! I never realized that the Flip Wilson show was eventually cancelled because he wanted too much money. I wonder who owns the rights now?

Flip Wilson, Johnny Carson and Jonathan Winters were my abosolute favorites as a kid. Look what I happend upon while searching youtube: Flip Wilson on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1965
CLASSIC -- still LMAO!

I think I'll keep the peace this year and tell them whatever works for them -- don't worry about us --we'll fit mass in around their schedules. Maybe I'll come down with a cold, and spare all the parishioners my germs (wink wink).

The one common ground we all seem to share is The Late Show with Johnny. I'm going to keep a lid on it this year and play the many episodes that are now showing up on youtube -- Rickles, Gleason, Winters, Newhart. So many!! We're going to have some good laughs. It should be a great time!

If you click on this video, it will bring up all of the episodes.

Johnny Carson - "What I have Learned"

HAPPY SOLSTICE to my all my BFF(s) at Blondesense and BigBrassBlog
20 December 2006


by: blackdog

A program on PBS right now has a symphony, choir and soprano singing some of the most incredibly beautiful music I have ever heard. Not only is she pretty, but her range and ability are stunning. I am thrilled.
19 December 2006

Exits at the Bus Station

by: Dark Wraith

The writer konagod, cross-posting at Big Brass Blog, published an article entitled, "Lesson in History: Dinosaurs Were on Noah's Ark," describing the school district in New Jersey where a 12-year-old student complained about a teacher who for days was aggressively promoting fundamentalist, literalist Christianity to his students. It seems that, although the teacher has received some unspecified censure, the student who registered the complaint (and who documented the harangue of proselytizing by secret recordings) has been subjected to everything from condemnation by some in the community to an actual death threat.

The comment thread for that article by konagod has been lively. The Fat Lady Sings expressed what might be the sentiment of many progressives with her comment:
I have really had it with these holier than thou hypocrites. So they want the student expelled and killed do they? Fine. Then they can get out. I mean it. Get the fuck out. Go join the Taliban in Afghanistan where ignorance is bliss and women are expected to perform like whores. I’m sure they’d like it fine there. Of course – they’d have to change allegiance form Jesus to Mohammed – but who cares - right? It’s the end result that matters – a theocracy. So I say lets all go to Kearny High School, pack up these assholes shit and send ‘em to the Middle East where their inflexibility and single-mindedness will be appreciated.
As an annex to her comment, and in no small part intended as a taunt to the fundamentalists, I offered the following:
Actually, The Fat Lady Sings, it seems to me that the worst punishment to visit upon these mental dwarves is to force them to live in a culture where the age-old concept of liberal education is forced down their throats every day of their lives.

Lord knows, I do my part at the college level to take religionists' kids and corrupt their minds to the point where they slowly become an abomination to their parents and the culture of ignorance.

My efforts don't get results all the time, but I do get results in more than a few cases. It just delights me to no end to see my work pay off in a young person who slowly grows out of the hateful baby fat of smothering ignorance. Mom and Dad won't be pleased at all, of course; but, hey, they can register for classes, too, and get with it.

Otherwise, they can stay at home and twist their hearts out at a world moving on (and taking their kids) without them.

And as for that school, when a district gets that out of control, reputable institutions of higher learning begin to shy away from the kids: scholarships and other academic opportunities begin to dry up. Eventually, the brighter parents in the community realize that their kids can't go anywhere but to the local Bible Beater University, and the employment opportunities for grads from that place are surprisingly limited. If they've got a nearby, regional community college that has open admissions, they find out fairly quickly that "open admissions" means "we'll take your money until you flunk so many times you can't get any more student loans, and that means it's time to go to work at Taco Bell and start paying off the ones you've already accrued and have nothing to show for."

Yes, it's that harsh, and I have no problem with being a part of that long-term corrective process. Every semester, I deal with a cluster of students from a community just like the one in konagod's article, and the failure rate is nearly 100% for those kids in college classes. This has been going on for a very long time, and it's finally soaking in at school district meetings out there: something's got to give, and it isn't going to be higher education that yields. High drop-out rates; high out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates; meth abuse that's running rampant among the kids; all kinds of rumors of really weird-ass stuff going on with the teenagers and even weirder-ass stuff going on in small groups of adults in the town; and, of course, those nearly 100% failure rates at the college level.

Ouch. Yeah, something's got to give.

Eventually, deviant communities learn a modicum of self-control. If they don't, we've got plenty of kids from decent high schools who are ready to go to real colleges and then go out into the work force with real educational credentials.

That school district can put off making a serious change of course for only so long. Meanwhile, the world will move on.

The Dark Wraith bawls out, "ALL ABOARD!
Unfortunately, as perhaps rightfully should happen, that comment of mine, too flip as it was, proved vulnerable to harsh criticism, delivered in this case by the commenter Aslan365:
Dark Wraith has his head buried. What happens is not that those students can't get into a college and fail when they get there; they simply go to the fundamentalist colleges that are springing up all the time. The money is flowing toward these schools and away from educational institutions--there are enough nuts with big bank balances to found the schools, and enough of the religiously indoctrinated to keep them going. Then they get jobs in Washington. No amount of self-satisfactory dreaming by Dark Wraith or the rest of you impedes this progression one damn bit. It's time to stop ridiculing and start actively engaging the irrational forces loose in this country.
That broadside set me late this afternoon upon a sober mental journey, only partially connected in specifics to what Aslan365 had written.

I shall in the remainder of the present article set aside for some the notion that I know not what I'm talking about as far as higher education goes; but more importantly, whereas sharp criticism is the right of the malevolent commenter, I should lay my own hand to the quality and character of my life and work if I am to get something even remotely close to the condemnation I actually deserve. As such, I offer the following exposition to Aslan365 and to anyone else who can suffer the tediously long read that lies ahead.

◊              ◊              ◊

Let's get down to business, Aslan.

I have lived this scenario throughout my professional life as a college teacher. I know exactly what I'm talking about. I've seen liberals lament the supposedly massive funding of those fundamentalist Christian colleges, and I've seen it with my own two eyes because I've taught off and on at some of those very colleges. It's just not happening the way people think, but the damage they do is far worse than if they were merely generating a legion of academically stunted, religiously zealous graduates.

Those religious institutions to which you refer are, indeed, getting money, but it's a mile wide and an inch deep. The schools use the money to construct externally attractive façades, but the core curriculum is often corrupted, as are the infrastructure and essential base of teaching tools, save for those pictured in the brochures and for the tours to sucker in the parents of potential enrollees.

Quite a long while back, I told the following story in a comment at The Dark Wraith Forums; but while that comment was a rather vague and quite truncated version of how certain events went down a couple years ago, here I shall be far less circumspect and much more vivid in details.

My last gig at one of those religious colleges is instructive on several levels. If I were to tell you the name of the college, you might recognize it right away. It has been the beneficiary of large infusions of cash, pretty much all of which has been spent on a few buildings, including the chapel, a student union, and the administrators' offices. These places on campus are just gorgeous, and people see these in the college recruitment brochures and on the campus tours.

The building in which I taught and had my office wasn't in any brochure and never did get included in tours given to parents and their high school-aged kids. My office was in a room on the top floor. It had no heat, so it was unbearable to be in there during the cold months. My classroom on the bottom floor of that building had water pouring into it through the ceiling every time it rained outside. In the warm months, because there was no air conditioning, the entire building was so hot that teaching and learning were quite a challenge, but no one was allowed to open the windows because the hornets would come in from their nests that had been in the overhangs of the roof for so long they could be seen from the street.

This building wasn't the exception, either. One permanent professor there told me I was lucky to be in one of the "good" buildings, falling apart as it was but protected by its status as a landmark.

Now, let's talk about the students. A handful of religious zealots dominated the campus; everyone else just stayed out of their way. During the 2004 Presidential campaign, the voter registration table was in the cafe where a group of old alumni sat around with the young religious bullies loudly yelling vile, sometimes even sick, invectives against Democrats. This went on every day of the week, all to the tune of Fox News blaring on a big TV in the corner.

Aside from the howling religious nuts, most of the students I met wanted to be elsewhere. Many, many of the kids had become disillusioned within the first couple of years of schooling there; some within the first couple of months. They hated the place, and they knew what prospects awaited them on the outside with their degrees. Only those committed to life within a religious community were very much at peace with their educational progress, but the overriding sentiment felt by students was that they were trapped by financial and psychological dependence on their parents and others. I was surprised by how many grasped that they were not getting anything remotely like a genuine, academically challenging, liberal arts college education.

It took a very short amount of time for the student body to figure out that I was an aberration there, someone who had been picked up because both the institution and I were desperate.

Let me now get to the specifics of just how much I have my head in the sand about religious colleges.

The last significant incident in my mind about that place was trying to help a girl in her first semester hide the fact that she'd gotten knocked up by one of the football players. She was scared to death, and the pregnancy was making her a total physical wreck from the get-go. She was a small, mousy girl who could have passed for fourteen. She had little, puffy cheeks that framed large brown eyes she would raise up to me as she kept her head down out of some kind of deference to male authority figures. She trembled in even the slightest chill of autumn breezes. For this story, I shall call her "Ellie."

She was a stunningly good math student, at least at first. After about a month, though, she started missing more and more classes. Not too long after her absences had become a matter of concern to me, one of her friends in the class told me about the pregnancy. An older woman in the class whom I'll call "Janice" was right there at the time and explained to me that this had to stay a secret: Ellie would be expelled if the administration found out. Ellie's friends were covering for her as best they could. In fact, they were covering for more than a few girls. Janice, who lived in the area and picked up classes from time to time at this dump, explained that it was like this every year: girls getting knocked up and trying to hide it so their parents didn't find out and the school didn't hear about it.

Janice, herself, was bitter about the college. It seems that only a matter of weeks before the semester began, she had undergone a hysterectomy, only to realize that the classes she had already paid for would be a real challenge to attend. The college had no handicap access in the old buildings where most of the classes were held. The administration variously claimed the buildings were exempt from requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act because they're landmarks, or the whole school was exempt because it's a "private religious institution." Whatever. All Janice knew was that she had to have a couple of the big horse-type guys help her up the steep steps so she could get to classes, including mine.

Anyway, Ellie was being torn up by the pregnancy, and her emotional state was something almost indescribable. She came to class only rarely. She'd generally be there if one of her friends in the class told her I was going to do a "surprise" quiz. (I started violating my long-standing policy about not warning of impending quizzes just because I wanted Ellie to know when she simply had to show up at class.)

Meanwhile, Janice—a tough broad who had been everything from a truck driver to an auxiliary law enforcement officer—finally got up the nerve to hint that she could get Ellie to an abortion clinic in the big city. I let her know in no uncertain terms that I would help. That meant I was going to stand ready to pay for the procedure.

My days at that school were numbered, even though I was still lying to myself by thinking that my great teaching would win the day. I had a religious lunatic for a department chairman: he would even sometimes stand outside the closed door to my classroom just so he could listen to my "unacceptable" use of language. In one instance that sent him into a hissy-fit, when I was about to pass back a test, a student asked me how they all did, and with a grin on my face I said, "Well, your tests sucked," to which the students laughed. All except for two, that is: young men with butch haircuts and a mission to tell the school authorities and their parents about every awful, horrible, un-Christian thing that happened at college. Both of those fellows, by the way, were failing my class miserably, and the other students hated their guts, in part because they squealed on everyone and in part because they were otherwise bizarrely withdrawn human beings. As one of them told me as he looked everywhere but into my eyes, "I am in this world, but not of it." (I replied to him with perhaps too much levity that he still had to study for my class and pass my tests or I would flunk his ass cold.)

Returning to the main story, Ellie's friends knew what we were planning, and several of them approached her with the way out of her mess. All I heard about that part was that she couldn't bring herself to reject the idea out of hand, but that she was simply horrified by the very idea of going even further into sin than she already had gotten. She wouldn't even tell anyone who, exactly, it was who got her pregnant; that part was left to one of the other girls at the party where it happened. (The young man, by the way, never suffered any punishment for his role in her pregnancy.)

If Ellie was going to get in even more trouble than she already was, she had no intention of taking anyone else with her. As November progressed, Ellie withdrew even further from those who wanted to help her. She missed the last term exam in my class, and no one volunteered any information about what was going on.

The last time I saw Ellie was in the cafe. The place was eerily empty despite upcoming finals. The TV wasn't even on. But there was Ellie. She was sitting in a chair with her legs pulled up to her; she was curled over in almost a ball. She had her back to the entrance, so she didn't know it was I who had come in until I was just behind her. She turned around and lifted those brown eyes up to me.

That smile across her pale, sunken face nearly made me choke. In her hand she was squeezing a bus ticket. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. Her light flannel hoodie was all that would keep the bitter December wind from her frail body.

I had nothing I could say to her. She'd been ratted out by one of the Christian psycho-bitch enforcers in her dorm. She was expelled, her parents were told about the outrage of it all, and everybody on campus knew she was the latest case study in the wages of sin.

She was so small that she vanished quite easily from that world of decent people.

And there I was. I could have done something about it, but I didn't. All I had was a pat solution that freaked her way too much. I could have put alternatives in front of her: adoption agencies, and not those Christian predators, either; friends who would have gladly taken her in and helped her ride it out if that was her choice. I could have offered her more than a mere cowardly professor's detached, meaningless gestures by proxy. I'd been going extra miles for years, but there I was, off my game, somehow fantasizing for too long that I could make a living for a few years by playing both sides against the middle in that dump. Ellie vanished from my sight while I was standing there flat-footed like every other useless non-player in the high-stakes game of life.

The next semester I got a gig at a regional community college. The first day of the semester, I was out in the smoking area when around the corner came three young men, all from that religious college. They'd had enough, so they were willing to drive more than an hour just to get something approximating a real education.

They all stopped dead in their tracks and stared at me with huge smiles. "Oh my fuckin' God!" one of them said.

I walked right up and shook hands with them, welcoming them to real academia. They were so macho-tough-excited-giddy-laughing-profane. They were so normal, and they were so glad to see a familiar face. I told them I was glad to see them, too; but I told them I was still going to kick their butts if they were unfortunate enough to end up in any of my classes.

They informed me that they were but three examples of a continuing leakage that religious college had of kids who manage to find a way to get out. Apparently, the community college, along with several other colleges and universities in the region, had long been the beneficiaries of that continuing stream of students escaping what would otherwise have been a miserable, pseudo-college experience leading nowhere. One of those young guys even mentioned the "bullshit" that happened to Ellie and how that's the kind of thing that makes students get out of there if they can. It's just that most can't.

There was yet another option I didn't think about in my bag of tricks for Ellie. That community college is dirt cheap, getting a surprisingly generous matrix of subsidies from all kinds of sources.

God Almighty! had I been off my game. What a dumb-ass I'd been through that whole messy experience at that religious Hell-hole.

Four years before, I was running a two-year school that trained paralegals and court reporters. It was in an urban ghetto, about as dangerous as a place could be just going to and from the parking lot after dark. The students were mostly female, mostly urban African-Americans along with low-income Whites. Every last day was a ride through rough terrain, and I was at the top of my game. I could solve any problem, I could get even some of the most hopeless cases through the curriculum and out into decent jobs. I swear, it seemed some days like I could have fixed the whole damned world one person at a time.

God! how far I had fallen by the time Ellie and others at that Christian college needed me.

Someday not too long from now, I'll leave this part of the country where so many churches dot the landscape. Too many people here love their god; they love their god more than they love the child-women and child-men stumbling and falling on the hard concrete of adulthood where they then look up with soulful eyes to see if anyone's there to help show them the way to their feet again.

Someday I'll go back to the streets that are mean in ways I handle better. I'll try to do a lot of good and little harm, and I'll finish this life trying not to think about the awful failures on my conscience. I don't think I'll do too well at forgetting, though, since I'll be seeing Ellie in every class, on every street, and in every bus station where some kid is looking up hoping someone has a good reason that one-way ticket to the end of the line isn't the only choice left.

I'm finished writing for the evening, now.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

Notes from the Bandstand

by: Minstrel Boy

Front Man:

When the band starts to swing with this I want you to really come in with the bottleneck.


Wouldn't it be safer for you to just point at me?

harp & sword
18 December 2006

Why The Greatest Generation is Rinsing Out Ziploc Bags

by: Missouri Mule

I think Tom Brokaw said it best when describing the "Greatest Generation": Why can't any of y'all throw out leftovers?

Okay, maybe it was me, not Tom, who said that, but it's a question that come to mind often, especially around the holidays when my seventy- and eighty- something aunts and uncles lovingly scrape a single tablespoon of pearl onion casserole into a Tupperware container "for later."

Waste not, want, oh, I forget how it goes.

Don't get me wrong. I adore my older friends, relatives, and neighbors. As I write this, my eighty-one-year-old neighbor is on his way to deliver some round bales of hay. He called me at 4:00am to make sure I had the gate unlocked. Said he had a busy day ahead of him and wanted to make our place his first stop. It's best not to taper off.

So, yes, I get the whole war-surviving Depression-dealing-with business, but what I don't get is why somebody who had a $35 monthly farm payment and bought Circuit City stock for a quarter a share is still cleaning and refolding used tin foil and washing out the Ziploc bags. Is there some kind of lesson in this behavior for us?

Long Suffering's aunt once salvaged a piece of mayonnaise-speckled Saran Wrap I had tossed into the trash. She spent a good five minutes sponging it clean again and ave me a look that said I knew nothing of ten-mile walks to school, uphill, both ways, with rickets. Like she had the market cornered on poverty.

The Greatest Generation refuses to throw away disposable cups. Just watch the. Oh, I know. We "young folks" are squandering our natural resources. Truly, great majestic forests of Solo-party-cup-producing red, yellow, and blue plastic are disappearing faster unpierced body parts on a Gen X-er.

For some time now, I've realized that the Greatest Generation has the Greatest Gastrointestinal Tract.

How else do you explain how a very senior citizen can eat and enjoy a three-week-old piece of pork roast with no ill effects while it would send a younger person straight to the emergency room and a close call with the white light?

My friend knows better than to eat her grandmother's food. The woman has been known to thaw, cook, and refreeze a turkey until the poor bird finally just sits up on what's left of its freezer-burned haunches and screams to be put out of its misery.

My friends Pat's mama-in-law, like every woman a certain age, even saves her bacon grease in a fancy jar she make in ceramics that says Drippings and has hand-painted trolls dancing around under a mushroom tree.

As a newlywed, Pat visited her mother-in-law and, being painfully eager to make a good impression, offered to clean up the kitchen. That's when her mother-in-law caught her pouring the bacon grease into an old mayonnaise jar and tossing it into the trash.

What happened next was a blur but Pat said her mama-in-law's reaction was swift.

From the sound of it, she couldn't have been more shocked or hurt if she'd personally witnessed Pat doing the devil's aerobics with the minister of music right there on her new Congoleum.

She sprang like a cheetah across the kitchen, rescued the bacon grease, and holding it tenderly as a newborn slowly poured the still-warm contents back into the Drippings jar.

The Greatest Generation often sniffs conspiracy where there is none.

At the KFC, my elderly aunt narrowed her eyes when told there was "no dark meant available at the moment." "You don't have any dark meat?" she asked, eyes narrowed and sizing up the Gen Y-er in front of her.

Her tone implied that there had been some sort of dark-meat conspiracy and the employees were in the back juggling thighs and drumsticks and joyfully spitting in the coleslaw.

We left and moved on to McDonald's where I was berated for forgetting to order the "Senior Coke."

"I don't know why you don't just slow down and throw that twenty cents out onto the highway," she huffed. "And where's my Senior Fish Sandwich?"

"It's chicken," I said wearily. "They were all out of fish."

"I'll just bet they were."

Sometimes I am aware that I'm turning into my grandmother. I'm becoming one of "them."

Saturday, I screeched to my ten-year-old niece who ha d joined us for lunch that I'd give her a quarter if she'd take my grandson to the gumball machine so I could complete the head-imploding task of calculating the tip.

The girl looked distressed while I, once again screamed "Where's my purse?!" (and, yes, it was in my lap ) and then she quietly informed me that I'd given her a nickel. Oh, well. It's so dad-gum dark in restaurants these days.

I also discovered as I age, less than gracefully, that I have no patience.

The other day, as I stood in the "twenty items and under" checkout at the new Slap-you-Mama-Fine Super Wal-Mart, I grew increasingly irritated. It's supposed to be faster but it isn't because it allows all kinds of credit and debit swiping and swooshing and Espanol and whatnot. No one actually pays with cash money anymore, like when I was a girl. I know this because I gave the cashier a twenty-dollar bill and she looked at it, puzzled, like it was badly aged lettuce.

Before that, I'd tried three lines that turned out to be not moving at all. They were, apparently, faux checkouts. Wal-Mart seems to have more of these than anybody else. People who look like real customers stand for hours at a time talking with people who look like real customers but one actually moves.

Sometimes, you'll stand in line forever and this one goober will come to the end of a long line, then jump in front when a new register is opened.

I had a fight with a line-jumper last week, having invested fifteen minutes in a nonmoving line. A new register opened and he walked right up. I ran over, dropped to all fours, and started gnawing on his pants leg, pulling him slowly away from the register.

"You're a nut," he said, backing away.

"Fair's fair," I mumbled through his pants leg.

Recently, I had the misfortune to get behind a giggly cute young couple who, topside, had selected the only frozen turkey in Wal-Mart that had neither weight nor price on it. I waited and watch my nails grow until this perky girlfriend arrived, triumphant, with the newly weighted turkey. I scrowled and considered wearing my bedroom slippers to the store next time because they're so much more comfortable.

Later on, Cute Couple blocked my car with their cart while they took turns hopping on the back of it and pretending to steer one another on a sled. It was so cute, so joyous, so young-and-in-love. It really pissed me off.

"Hey, Mork and Mindy," I sniped, "get a room!"

I've become the Hallmark crone. And I like it. Can washing the Chinet really be far behind?

No Live-Fire Training On Great Lakes

by: Foiled Goil

The Unites States Coast Guard is withdrawing the “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” to establish safety zones and will not proceed with plans for live-fire training on the Great Lakes.

Coast Guard withdraws Great Lakes live fire plans

Ken Thomas / AP
The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday it was withdrawing plans to periodically close 2,500 square miles of the Great Lakes for live machine gun-firing exercises, responding to safety and environmental concerns.

The plan had been criticized by several U.S. and Canadian mayors, business leaders and environmentalists who said it could be unsafe and disruptive. Environmentalists said they worried about the consequences of lead shots being deposited in the Great Lakes.

Coast Guard officials had stressed in hearings around the Great Lakes in recent months that live-fire practice was an essential part of weapons training; they noted they have safely conducted live-fire tests in the nation's coastal waters for years.

The Coast Guard had said the plan was designed to create test zones and schedules that would have minimal effect on the environment and Great Lakes boat traffic.

The training zone proposal followed the Coast Guard's decision to mount automatic weapons on about 150 Great Lakes vessels as it has done on vessels on the East, West and Gulf coasts.

Each of the 34 "safety zones" on lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario would have been closed to private vessels for four-hour spans about four to eight times a year.

Yousef Islam.

by: blackdog

I may have spelled the name of the former Cat Stevens wrong, but I just heard him sing on NPR "Peace Train". It was as beautiful now as much as it was then. Where is that attitude in people now? This will be really brief since I now go out back to contemplate what the hell to do. Get on the Peace Train.

I had forgotten how much this music had affected me then, and today it really nailed me again. The truth remains the same. This hurts more than a little. I was never for seeing Americans spent like flotsam for a stupid cause that enriches few. What was true 35 years ago is still true today, if only anyone would listen.

This song broke my heart.

Lesson in History: Dinosaurs Were on Noah's Ark

by: Konagod

It just doesn't stop. It's as if these folks have some programming chip implanted which drives them to proselytize and ignore the 1st amendment.
Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.

“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

The student, Matthew LaClair, said that he felt uncomfortable with Mr. Paszkiewicz’s statements in the first week, and taped eight classes starting Sept. 13 out of fear that officials would not believe the teacher had made the comments.

Since Matthew’s complaint, administrators have said they have taken “corrective action” against Mr. Paszkiewicz, 38, who has taught in the district for 14 years and is also a youth pastor at Kearny Baptist Church. However, they declined to say what the action was, saying it was a personnel matter.

“I think he’s an excellent teacher,” said the school principal, Al Somma. “As far as I know, there have never been any problems in the past.”

If he can't make a distinction between what he teaches at the church and what he teaches in a public school, then perhaps he's not the "excellent" teacher after all.

In a bizarre twist (but hardly surprising), most of Matthew's fellow students and the community have rallied behind Paskiewicz. Some have even called for Matthew to be suspended. He has already received a death threat. If you've followed very many incidents such as this, it is rather de rigueur among certain wacko fundies to want anyone who disagrees with them to... DIE.

What I do find surprising is that the school isn't in Virginia or Alabama... it's in New Jersey, 10 miles west of Manhattan.
17 December 2006

The Long Twilight of Economic Empire

by: Dark Wraith

No fewer than six e-mail messages have come to me since yesterday evening concerning what apparently started as a claim on the Hal Turner Show. The gist of the claim is that Monday, December 18, 2006, the Chinese government is going to dump one trillion greenbacks onto the global currency markets in its on-going effort to reduce its holdings of American dollars. The claim was repeated on a thead at the Rigorous Intuition message board.

Worries about the stability of the current international economic regime are not unique to breathless doomsayers. The continuing, unstoppable budget deficits being run up by the Republican-controlled U.S. government have caused great concern among both astute private observers and global currency traders. The U.S. dollar has lost a tremendous amount of value, having now reached a 14-year low against the British pound sterling and a 20-month low against the euro.

But while longer term prospects appear bleak, the short-term outlook is certainly not pointing to any kind of end-time on Monday. Metals prices have backed off, and the overall market outlook is good going into the new week. While some might argue that traders are at the gates of the cemetery preparing to whistle as they take the Monday morning tour, little if any evidence can be found that otherwise cravenly greedy capital markets and their participants are willfully positioning themselves for a relatively calm Monday knowing that they're going to get slaughtered by doing so.

However, setting aside what is not likely to happen tomorrow, the long-term economic indicators do not point to an endless road to riches for the American Empire; and no amount of cheerleading by the Bush Administration, the mainstream media, or the residue of Republicans with their heads in the sand can change the fact that the underlying substrate of economic factors points to a serious and near-permanent re-alignment of currency exchange rates wherein the U.S. dollar will be worth far less against other major currencies than it has been in many decades. These indicators in their scope are telling, but the most damning of all is the chain of federal deficits the United States government has been running: these deficits represent revenue shortfalls that simply cannot be stanched because the American people are so completely ingrained to very low marginal tax rates, and the U.S. is committed for years to come to unchangeable patterns of outlays, both in terms of social programs like Medicare and of military commitments like the Global War on Terror. Draconian as any budget cuts might be in the coming years, they will be a drop in the bucket compared to non-discretionary spending to which the federal government is unavoidably bound. It is those budget deficits that have fueled an otherwise inexplicably robust economy for these past five years, while it is the accumulation of those deficits as national debt that has been digging the grave of the American economy as pre-eminent in the world of the 21st Century.

Last Friday, a post by Jersey Cynic at BlondeSense asked the question, "Do Deficits Matter?" to which I offered a comment with links to previous articles I have written on the subject:
...I have written a number of articles about the subjects of budget deficits, trade deficits, and their interrelationship. I believe the last major pass I made at it was in my article, "Foreign Trade and Debt"; but before that, one of my earlier articles on the subject was, "Seven Principles of Macroeconomics." I also took a pass at the issue of budget deficits of the Clinton and Bush Administrations in a lambasting I did of Bush's former budget director in the article, "Treasury Secretary Calls Clinton Budget Surplus 'a Mirage'."

The folks who promote nonsense about how budget deficits don't matter should be required to read the above articles...
Jersey Cynic came back with a follow-up question:
I read all of your posts...

You say in your link

"Now, the only place the Chinese can spend all those greenbacks they gather is in the country of origin of the currency—the United States of America"

What do you mean by that?

they can only spend (?buy) things in the US and nowhere else. We spend our dollars in other countries, don't we? Don't you just exchange the dollars for whatever currency that country uses?

Why couldn't China say for example, take those dollars and invest in oil exploration and production in say Canada? Bite the bullet, take the loss on the conversion of the money and make it back via investments elsewhere?...

Is it because of the large amount of money were talking here?

Can't they unload some here and some there?
My response, edited and expanded here, was as follows:
...You answered your own question. The Chinese would have to exchange the greenbacks they've earned in trade were they to want a currency other than the greenbacks. In other words, as long as they hold greenbacks, they have to use them in the country of issuance. If they want, say, euros, they'd have to enter the euro/dollar currency market and sell dollars to buy euros.

But let's say they did that. As they sold the dollars, the supply of those greenbacks on the world market would surge, which would drive down their price. At the same time, because the demand for euros was skyrocketing, the price of euros would go up. Thus, were the Chinese to do a wholesale dump of dollars to get euros, they would end up shooting themselves in the foot because they would crash the value of all their dollar-denominated (i.e., American) holdings, while making the value of euro-denominated assets (i.e., things they wanted to buy in Europe) rise to nose-bleed prices.

The short-term rational strategy for the Chinese is to continue to hold the dollars and use them to invest in the United States. Most of those "investments" are in the form of loans to the U.S. Treasury to support the deficit spending of the Bush Administration and its congressional Republican allies. In the longer term, the Chinese can slowly move their dollar-denominated holdings to a more diversified portfolio that includes assets denominated in other currencies; but this has to be done carefully lest world currency markets and the traders therein get skittish and start to "lead the plunge" by selling their dollars first and using them to buy euros, which would drive down the price of greenbacks and drive up the price of euros before the Chinese could unload theirs.

The Chinese have to keep their smiles very tight and act like there's nothing in the world they want more than to get more and more greenbacks because they don't want anyone to jump ahead of them in line for a wholesale dump.

The problem is that small versions of this cascade of devaluation are already happening. Currency traders are already skittish, and they act on visceral instincts. Every time they even so much as smell some desire by the Chinese to re-denominate their portfolio of holdings, those traders do a round of sell-offs.

The central banks of the developed nations do what they can to stop these potential death spirals, so nothing really ugly has happened so far. However, in a seriously ugly scenario, the world currency markets could easily, if the conditions were right, swamp any coordinated efforts by the central banks to defend the dollar, and everyone knows that.

This is why it is crucial for everyone to act like we really can defy gravity and walk miles above the true price level of the dollar for as long as possible. If and when the end comes, it could be spectacular.

More likely, though, is a long-term draw-down scenario, the world finance version of the U.S. dollar going out, not with a bang, but with a very quiet whimper.

Truth of the matter is, that whimper will probably be so quiet the average American won't even hear it. Joe Sixpack and Jill SelfAbsorb will simply wake up one morning and wonder why the American dog is lying tits-up in the global finance swimming pool.

And a lot of those Joes and Jills will be all kinds of receptive to the Right-wing idiots who will tell them that it was the liberals and the secular humanists who drowned the dog.

Sadly, the dog won't be around to tell them that it was the neo-cons who gurgled the pooch.

The Dark Wraith will hold a brief yet tasteful memorial service for the bloated mongrel once it's been drained back down to reasonable proportions.

Returning now to the specific claim that Monday will be the day China unloads a trillion U.S. dollars, such predictions, along with a few others swirling around the Internet, need to be taken out and shot. It's not going to be as simple and swift as some B-grade Economic Apocalypse Now! movie extravaganza.

It is true, as some are claiming, that the United States has issued rules that limit the amount of money in greenbacks that can be converted; and despite one representation or another by the government that this is some kind of counter-terrorism measure, it isn't. It's a circuit breaker intended to limit the amount of self-fulfilling financial collapse that could happen if there were a run on the currency. If too many people started to panic all at once about the soundness of U.S. dollar and tried to exchange large sums of those dollars for euros or some other currency, there would not be enough of those other currencies readily available to immediately fulfill all of the requests, and this would look to the average person like global currency markets were suddenly rejecting the dollar as a medium of exchange. That would serve to "prove" to people that the dollar had become worthless, and then everybody would be trying to unload their dollars, which would exacerbate the situation to the point where banks and other financial intermediaries would have to close their currency exchange windows and eventually their doors as people tried to pull their money out and exchange it for anything commodity-related, like gold, cans of food, or even (God forbid) bullets.

An all-consuming flash-fire of economic panic would be bad, and a limit on the amount of U.S. currency that can be converted in any given period of time is in place to keep that from happening, even though the rule is, in and of itself, a very grim sign of the times. It is not, however, a sign that December 18, 2006—or any other specific day, for that matter—is going to be a good day to stay in bed with a loaded gun, a bag of gold, and an extra-large box of chocolates.

Monday will not be a day of catastrophe for the dollar. Even though it could very well slide further, as I noted in my quoted comment to Jersey Cynic above, the Chinese would be destroying their own portfolio by dumping a trillion U.S. greenbacks in a single trading session. And as far as the slide of the dollar is concerned, the Chinese are as responsible for that as any country since it has in part been their portfolio adjustments that have rippled the markets, even as they continue their long-standing game of undervaluing the yen to boost their own economy while sucking ours dry. The trade talks between the U.S. and China last week weren't particularly fruitful for the American side. The Chinese gave the American authorities a long-winded lecture about the "special" circumstances of China, along with a particularly fatiguing review of 5,000 years of Chinese history. Needless to say, all that fluff resolved nothing, and that was precisely the objective.

The Chinese know exactly what they’re doing: they’re spinning the Bush Administration amateurs around and around just to keep the Chinese economic juggernaut/gambit going, while the Bush Administration officials twirl around getting dizzy and altogether frustrated, unable to do anything worthwhile about the abuse because the Republicans have been on such an irresponsible low-tax, high-spend orgy for the past six years they have no moral platform from which to stand up to the Chinese.

Were we to have actual professionals—maybe even competent ones, at that—running this country, we might be able to do something. As it is, though, we’re on a blood-letting gurney on the slow track to a Second World currency, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We have, as a nation and as individuals, been spending far beyond our means. We borrow money, and we care not a bit from whom we are borrowing. The federal government will accept bids from any country with the money to buy U.S. Treasury debt instruments; and as individuals, we borrow based upon need and terms of repayment without even the slightest concern for exactly who or what is the real source of the money. We bitch about jobs going overseas, and yet we buy the foreign imports with their low-low prices, and we gleefully accept the loans that are made with the very same money we sent overseas. Yes, that's where all that debt capital is coming from: it's coming from us. We are handing China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and a host of other countries the very knife with which they are gutting the domestic holdings of equity in the U.S. economy. (See, for example, my graphical post "A Walk-Down Primer on the U.S. Trade Deficit with China.")

George W. Bush and his miserable, incompetent, war-mongering ilk are not the cause of what is happening; they are, instead, the last and greatest of the opportunistic infections pouring into a body that has for a long, long time been cutting itself open with greater and greater gashes to mask the withering of a real, equity-based growth engine of individual and national prosperity.

We had our chance. It was called the Clinton Administration, which had not only slowed down the deficits that had been the legacy of Republican Administrations going clear back to Ronald Reagan, but had finally reversed the trend and was running surpluses during Clinton's last years in office. Maybe that was too much for an American people who, in their heart of hearts, do not want a government with more fiscal discipline than they, the people, can expect in their private lives.

The truth of the matter is that, despite the continuing refusal by some liberals to recognize Mr. Bush as the genuine winner of Presidential elections by the will of the People, his ascendancy to the highest office of the land is nothing more than a reflection of the rise of the profligate, corrupt Republican Party to majority control of the federal legislature and of the even broader desire of Americans to seek the easy, feel-good way forward. Even when skyscrapers come down, massive federal budget deficits return, poverty rates rise, wars turn into quagmires, and international financial markets start to turn against the American Economic Empire, what happens? Why, we get the election of 2004, complete with another two years of Republican control of Congress and another four years of blistering, demonstrated incompetence elected to the Presidency.

Will the Chinese continue their portfolio re-alignment on Monday? Sure. So, too, will some other countries. That does not mean Monday is Kids Eat Free Day at the American Economic Armageddon Smorgasbord. The big banquet comes later; and for the most part, the vast majority of Americans won’t exactly notice that something’s really wrong when America is the featured special at the carving station. For those who do, there will be the usual line-up of Right-wing pundits and ignoramus mainstream commentators telling everything but the truth about who was responsible for the knife coming down through the meat of the United States High-Speed Debt-Powered Consumption Express.

People don't want to hear that the end was their own doing, both through their personal economic decisions and through their choice of leaders. More extensively, though, people haven't the wherewithal to hear the complicated story of how their over-reliance on debt was the result of decades of earning power erosion that forced them like herded cattle into that over-reliance on borrowed money. Americans of today have been no different from people of almost any country and any era: they wanted to believe that every today was better than the past, and the material goods and services of modernity were theirs to have as tangible evidence of growing prosperity. For a while—in fact, for a decent run of generations—the system and the debt that fueled it were an unbeatable duo; but as time went on, the engine had to be sustained more and more by the very debt that would one day make the days of the future decidedly not so good.

We are not quite yet at the time when most Americans notice that the sky is permanently and decidedly darker than it once was: dusk comes and the twilight of Empire falls not with the swift fury of a hammer, but instead with the false whisper that each moment to come will be as bright as every moment that has already passed.

The Dark Wraith has spoken.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

La Noche Triste

by: Minstrel Boy

"But I declare, that I do not know how to describe it, for neither cannon, nor muskets, nor crossbows availed, nor hand-to-hand fighting, nor killing thirty or forty of them every time we charged, for they still fought on in as close ranks and with more energy than in the beginning.

-- Bernal Diaz del Castillo,
The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico
What the writer is describing was the initial foray of the Spaniards to break out of the fortress at Tenochtitlan, June 24, 1520. They fought on, all day, every single day for another three weeks. They fought through most of the nights too.

The odds were stacked hard against the Spaniards. Outnumbered on a magnitude that defied calculation. Hemmed in by the tall buildings and narrow streets, which negated the Spanish tactics that had made them absolute dominators of every field they engaged. Only the carefully timed and managed volleys from the harquebusiers and crossbowmen, cannon fire from the walls of the citadel and the swords and lances of the mounted knights allowed the intrepid Diegode Ordaz to lead his men back behind the walls to report to Cortez that they were unable to achieve a break in the Aztec lines.

Cortez had gone back into the city against the best advice of his lieutenants, his native allies. The reasons he gives in his journals are twofold. The first was that the emporor of the Aztecs, Monteczuma and his vast, unimaginable stores of gold were in the city, and Cortez's most trusted subordinate, Pedro de Alvarado was there along with nearly one hundred of his finest horsemen.

Cortez had been on the coast, where he had put down an attempt by the governor of Cuba, Panfilo de Narvaez, to curtail his conquests. He was better armed than he had ever been in the entire campaign. More than a thousand Spanish troops. He had formed alliances with Totonacs, the Tlaxcalaan, Otomis and Cholula nations who were eager to trade Spanish domination for the murderous domination of the Aztecs.

Until this night there had been no force assembled by the natives capable of withstanding the Spanish. The "iron cornfield" squares of the "tercio" infantry, mounted lancers, muskets, cannon, crossbows, ferocious mastiffs wearing spiked collars and chainmail, toledo swords, all of these had proven to be unstoppable. Until this night.

Now they were trapped. Their cannonades which would bring down scores of Aztecs with each volley were not breaking the ranks. No matter how many of the foe were spitted on the lances of the mounted, they still kept on coming. From the rooftops rained a steady hail of rocks, tiles, anything loose at hand that was heavy and jagged, thown by women and children. Cortez sat in his study and pondered the death of his dreams. He had envisioned a new Venice. A center of learning and commerce from which he would rule as the good right hand of his king.

The trouble had really begun to brew when, in the absence of Cortez, de Alvarado had massacred thousands of the Aztec nobility and begun a campaign of unrestricted murder and violence against the civilian population. Alvarado claimed that the nobility had resumed their practice of human sacrifice and cannabalism and that he had acted under the banner of God. A more likely explanation is that he had become greedy at the sight of the gold and jewels worn by the nobility as they did their every day business in the city. It might even have partly been the exaltations of a mounted warrior as he rides through a crowd of his enemies, hacking to the right and left. The Spanish under de Alavarado killed over 8,000 in a single day. Years later Aztec survivors reported to the Franscican scribe M. Leon-Portilla that...
They attacked all the celebrants, stabbing them, spearing them from behind, and these fell instantly to the ground with their entrails hanging out. Others, they beheaded: they cut off their heads, or split their heads to pieces. They struck others in the shoulders, and their arms were torn from their bodies. They wounded some in the thigh and some in the calf. They slashed others in the abdomen and their guts spilled all over the ground. Many attempted to run away but began to slip on the stones of the street which were wet and slick with blood. Many had their legs become entangled in the entrails of the fallen.
It had been a month since that night. The water had been cut off for the Spanish. What little they had remaining was brackish and full of algae. His engineers had constructed mantalets, crude wooden tanks from the looted beams of the palace. The nightly missle attacks from the neighboring rooftops had made remaining in the center of this hostile town no longer an attractive proposition.

Cortez tried one last parley with the inhabitants of the city. He brought the shackled and chained emperor to the roof of the palace. Monteczuma was stoned by the citizens he used to rule. Whether he was mortally wounded by his own citizens, or murdered in a rage of disappointment by the Spanish really didn't matter to Monteczuma anymore. He was dead.

Cortez convened a council of his officers and men. They said that they saw but two options. They could flee empty handed or stay and die with the gold. Cortez chose neither option. He would attempt a night retreat in force under the cover of the fog and the darkness. They had constructed a moveable bridge unit to cross the canals. Golden bars were loaded upon horses, the men were allowed to enter the storerooms and take whatever they wished to carry with them. A survivor of that night, Francisco Lopez de Gomara, wrote
Among our men, those who were most encumbered with clothing, gold, and jewels were the first to die, and those who were saved were those who carried the least and forged fearlessly ahead. So those who died, died rich, and their gold killed them.
There was no moon visible through the clouds that night. There was a gentle, steady warm rain falling. The Spanish almost made it. They had crossed over three of the canals that bisected the causeway leading to the shore of the lake to Tlacopan where their native allies were waiting. As they were crossing their fourth canal a woman who was fetching water saw them and sounded the alarm “Mexica! Come quickly, our enemies are leaving!” Within minutes the canal's water was full of war canoes. The streets and the causeway were packed with angry men. Now,
When the Spanish reached the Canal of the Toltecs, the Tlatecayohuican, they hurled themselves headlong into the water, as if they were jumping from a cliff. They all came to the brink and plunged over it. The canal was soon choked with the bodies of men and horses; they filled the gap in the causeway with their own drowned bodies. Those who followed crossed to the other side by walking on the corpses.

--M. Leon-Portilla
The vangaurd of the unit reached the far shore of the lake. Once there, Cortez rallied five of his best and most audacious horsemen, Avila, Gonzalo, Morla, Olid, and the stalwart Sandoval to plunge back into the city to carve out a pathway for the rest of his men. At least once during this action Cortez was nearly captured and bound. Once he was pulled from the clutches of the Aztecs by the suicidal courage of his colonels Olea and Quinones.

Pedro de Alvarado had been fighting the rear guard action. He might have been arrogant, he might have been cruel and greedy, but he was one fighting son of a bitch. Refusing to move himself until he was assured of the safety and escape of his squadron he found himself stranded on the far side of the canal. He seized a lance from the grip of a fallen knight. Plunging it into the bodies of the drowned and wounded in the canal he vaulted across.

More than half of the Spaniards died that night. There was never an accounting of the losses of their native allies. Cortez rallied what was left of his little band and led them into the night, putting as much distance as he could between himself and the Aztecs. Once he felt they were in relative safety he dismounted. He took a few steps and collapsed sobbing. La Noche Triste was over.

Substitute the Aztec citadel for the Green Zone. Change the name of the city from Tenochtitlan to Bagdhad. Think about the eight miles of highway, the most dangerous road in the world right now between the American fort and the airport. Think about nearly eight hundred miles of a single highway to get to the relative safety of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Remember that the last time the Prime Minister of Iraq appeared before his citizens he was pelted with stones. As much as I want this war to be over, I don't think that a graceful exit is something in the realm of possiblity. I don't believe that history really does repeat itself. I agree with Mark Twain who said “it rhymes.” This is not a poem I want to recite.

harp & sword

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

by: Konagod

Many Episcopalians, obsessed with their own intolerance, are on the verge of aligning themselves with their intellectually retarded counterparts on other continents.

As many as eight conservative Episcopal churches in Virginia are expected to announce today that their parishioners have voted to cut their ties with the Episcopal Church. Two are large, historic congregations that minister to the Washington elite and occupy real estate worth a combined $27 million, which could result in a legal battle over who keeps the property.

In a twist, these wealthy American congregations are essentially putting themselves up for adoption by Anglican archbishops in poorer dioceses in Africa, Asia and Latin America who share conservative theological views about homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture with the breakaway Americans.

“The Episcopalian ship is in trouble,” said the Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, one of the two large Virginia congregations, where George Washington served on the vestry. “So we’re climbing over the rails down to various little lifeboats. There’s a lifeboat from Bolivia, one from Rwanda, another from Nigeria. Their desire is to help us build a new ship in North America, and design it and get it sailing.”

Yes, Nigeria -- bastion of tolerance and freedom. Some "lifeboat."

In Virginia, the two large churches are voting on whether they want to report to the powerful archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports legislation in his country that would make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant.

Go ahead, cozy up with another like-minded group so your brains can continue to be eaten away by the poisons of fear, prejudice, and bigotry. This gives a new meaning to the phrase "hell on earth."

In other news, Ft. Collins, Colorado is in another battle of Christians vs. Jews.

The controversy, similar to recent wrangling over Christmas trees at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, centers on the refusal by Fort Collins to allow a menorah to be displayed downtown during Hanukkah, near a Christmas tree and other Christmas displays.

All six city countil members voted against allowing the menorah on city property while allowing Christmas trees and other Christmas-related accoutrements such as a Santa's workshop display.
Several Council members said they were concerned that allowing a menorah display would open the door for other religious groups and organizations to request that their displays also be included.

“Someone said there are 79 recognized religions in the world,” said one member, Karen Weitkunat. “Where do you draw the line?” Another member, Diggs Brown, said: “If we were to open it up to a menorah, then everyone wants to get involved. You’re going to get sued if you allow religious displays, and you’re going to be sued if you don’t have them.”

Let me help you out here. Where you draw the line is having the city council involved in making decisions favoring one religion over another, or over the other 78.

The Ft. Collins city attorney was quoted as saying "a Christmas tree is a secular symbol, while a menorah has both secular and religious significance.” He got that partly right. The "Christmas" tree was a pagan symbol which has been hijacked by Christians (and in turn, hijacked by corporations for marketing purposes, along with most other holidays) to celebrate the birth of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Where do they think the word "Christmas" is derived from? And what would Jesus think of all this crass marketing and consumerism is his name?

Here's a holiday message to all the homeless people. We have 7 shopping days left. Could you please get off the street? It's hard enough trying to find a place to park the Suburban this time of year. And we have lots of stuff to buy for other people so they'll know how much we care about them -- even if they really don't need any of it. The last thing we want to see is someone wanting a handout, or trying to find a place to stay warm and dry, cluttering up the sidewalks and making it just that much harder for the rest of us to get our feet in the door at Macys.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five-and-ten, glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Toys in ev'ry store,
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben;
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen;
And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
There's a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well,
The sturdy kind that doesn't mind the snow.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.
Homeless Veterans

Just When You Think It Can't Get Worse

by: Foiled Goil

An Important Story You Didn't See

by Stephen Pizzo - Dec. 13, 2006

I have no idea why this story was not on the front page of every newspaper and at the top of every newscast yesterday, but it wasn't. The story ran on only one front page, that I'm aware of. And that was on the paper that broke the story, the Wall Street Journal.

Whether you are among the growing majority of Americans that think Bush is doing an awful job, or a member of the shrinking minority of those that believe he's doing a the right thing, you have to be bowled by this story. Just when I think I can close the book on the breathtaking incompetence of this administration, hard facts like this cross my bow and I have to reconsider.

Yesterday the WSJ's defense correspondent, Gregg Jaffe, reported that US Army officials have told the White House they are broke. Worse than broke actually. The Army, despite its $168 billion budget, is out of money and being forced to cannibalize operations, here and in the war zone, just to keep the lights on.

Here are just a few of the grim facts from Jaffe's exclusive:

* See full article at Smirking Chimp *

Oh my. I'm weary. It's all so tiresome. I am so, so, so, so, SO tired of being jerked around by the folks we send to Washington. I'm tired of watching the good ones go bad, tired of watching the bad ones get worse, then get reelected anyway. I'm tired of feeling insulted by the lame-ass lies -- like Hillary's "I really haven't given running for president any serious thought." I am tired of the phony patriotism, the cynical, manipulative, moralistic hypocrisy and the revolving-door-financial/political-mutual-back-scratching. And I'm tired of the kind of bullshit bookkeeping that, if you or I tried it, we'd be sharing a prison cell with Jeffery Skilling. Finally I'm tired of being told it's all going to change for the better now, and then watching it just get worse and worse.

The Iraq Study Group says the "situation is grave, and deteriorating." True, but not just in Iraq, but right here in the USA. We were a great nation, once. Not just a great military power, but, thanks to a rule-of-law, we were a great financial force. And thanks to deeply held, genuine convictions we actually lived by, we were once a great moral force on the world stage.

Today we are still a great military force. But the other two treasures have been squandered.

W's Madness Takes It's Toll

by: Foiled Goil

Bringing the war home
The distinctive nature of the Iraq conflict — with its improvised explosive devices, invisible snipers, suicide bombers and combatants who are indistinguishable from civilians — could lead to a record proportion of soldiers returning home with PTSD, some veterans' advocates and mental health experts say.

Iraq veterans experience many of the conditions that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs list as likely to contribute to PTSD: high-intensity stress, unpredictable or uncontrollable circumstances and a sense of betrayal — which, in military terms, is, the feeling among soldiers, justified or not, that they're being ill-served by commanding officers.

In Iraq, soldiers are in mortal danger even when they are not in combat. In the refuge of heavily fortified bases, a stroll to the mess hall or a routine mail delivery could turn deadly with a rocket or mortar round.

Living with fear 24 hours a day produces an anxiety unparalleled by other wars, said Dennis Reeves, a retired Navy commander and psychologist who was in Iraq as part of a combat-stress team.

"If you cannot predict what can happen to you, it is extremely traumatic," Reeves said. "You can put up with the 24/7 stress for about six months, but after that, it makes you vulnerable to PTSD."

More than one in three Iraq war veterans have sought mental health counseling during the first year home, according to a study conducted by Army researchers.

Nearly one in five returning soldiers has been diagnosed with mental disorders that include post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the study. Other reports estimate that between 30,000 and 50,000 Iraq war veterans have sought treatment for PTSD.

Reeves predicts there will be a "tremendous escalation" of PTSD cases as more soldiers return, possibly exceeding the aftermath of the Vietnam War, when one of every three veterans was diagnosed with it.
16 December 2006

One of the strangest things I ever saw

by: blackdog

One of the strangest things I ever saw was a few years back. I was driving to work in the clusterfuck of Lonoke on the fleaway, taking the exit and crossing said fleaway heading south on hwy 31 which crosses Bayou Two Prairie and turns a little right before coming out of the bottoms into town. Lo and behold, about 100 yards in front of me comes charging out of the woods on the right a JR terrier doing at least 40 mph. This little dog made a beautiful merge across my lane into the right lane lane heading north right in front of a Lonoke County Deputy Sheriff. He actually turned on his blue lights, and I said to myself "that dog ain't gonna' pull over."

Anyway, the sheriff called the dog in to Animal Control, a real strange guy I used to know. The shop where I worked was within a few hundred yards of all this, and as I was pulling in, there goes the dog catcher in his little truck.

Turns out that that little JR had run over 1/2 mile across the fleaway overpass and went out past the McDonald's over there where the sheriff and the DC lost the scent.

At the shop about 30 minutes later I was looking out over the 37 acre lagoons to the east when in a flash goes that JR still doing 40 mph heading east past the shop and out on the levee road leaving a small dust plume. It's about 1.5 miles until you run out of road that way and either
come back or cross the bayou. I got in my truck and not too fast drove out after the JR. After getting about halfway through the second lagoon I saw the JR. I stopped and got out, trying to call the dog. It took one look at
me and took off again, heading east, toward the bayou.

I figure that dog is in Europe by now.

That was one of the damndest things I ever saw. That little dog must have found a meth lab; I'll bet that it ran at least 3-4 miles in a little over a half hour.

It never came back, and its owners showed up later and tried to find it, but to no avail. Poor little dog. It sure could run.

Hats off to Veterans, a short story.

by: blackdog

Why is it that the most abused group of American citizens continue to be Veterans? This transcends all other classifications in my mind since Veterans represent every race, color and creed in the nation, although since now without the draft, it may be possible that socioeconomically the average grunt is even lower on the ladder than during the 1960's.

I lucked out, being born in 1955 the draft for Vietnam ended before my 18th birthday, although I did have a selective service card with a 4H rating. All the time during my High School experience anyone with half a mind could see that Vietnam was a meat grinder with no possibility of an American success. Hell, back then I was sure that the real threat to the USA was from Washington D.C.. Considering that I was not much of a practicing student then, I did learn how to drive a manual transmission with a 16 oz open cup of beer between my legs while rolling a joint, I had no chance for a deferment. In other words I was canon fodder. So the shear luck of the timing was it.

Now I do have several family members that did serve, and amazingly not one of them died during service. I have an Uncle who drove a tank in France and after VE day he was transferred to the Pacific where he actually met his younger brother in the Philippines. My own Dad wanted to sign up during WW2, but his older brother said he would kick his ass if he did, and he was an Army Major. So he enlisted in the Navy and was sent to school where he became a Dentist.Then he ended up in Korea where he had the privilege of identifying corpses from their dental records. My older brother barely escaped Vietnam because of his excellent performance at a Methodist liberal Arts school. but his lottery number was 47 if I recall. Later he tried to enlist in the Navy as an aviator, but was only selected as a flight officer so he turned it down.

About this time as I escaped from High School, my brother went to Japan and enrolled in Sophia University, a Jesuit institution. As I mentioned earlier I was not well prepared for much, but I did get straight A's in senior physics. The only A I ever did get, but I was fascinated by it. I was beginning to meet more and more returning Vets during this time and some of them seemed OK, but not all. Some of them were obviously screwed up and emotionally unstable. Some of them mentioned "Agent Orange", an item that i would become more familiar with shortly. Anyway, I landed a lab tech position for small pay testing water/wastewater samples and doing drug testing for Oaklawn and Greyhound Park. From this I learned a bit.

From here I landed a position with a wastewater utility in a city that had an industrial user that had manufactured 1/3 of the Agent Orange sent to southwest asia. I got the position because I knew what a BOD was, imagine. The utility had two dilapidated pos treatment systems that were hopelessly overloaded and non-performing. Our operating permit (NPDES) was soon to be updated and we were under the wire to build a facility that could comply. My boss at the time thought well of me (??) and promoted me to the position of Industrial Pretreatment Supervisor. But it was just me, I got to boss myself. Part of the challenge was to write a Pretreatment Program for the Utility that would have to be approved by the EPA and the State. So for the next year I got one hell of an education. I learned more about 2,4,5-T and agent orange than I wanted to, and just how the VA was treating Vets with symptoms. Not only that, but since many of the people I worked with for the Utility had also worked for the herbicide manufacturer, not to mention the effects of their process discharge (150,000-300,000 gpd) on the general population and to the receiving stream, which is the largest tributary of the Arkansas River, and once was the largest commercial fishery in the State.

I've been to more than my fair share of funerals and witnessed many strange bad health effects in veterans and ex employees of this facility. And yet we continue to do it again. Now it seems to be depleted uranium. Just ignore it and it just might go away, but I doubt it. I'll save more of my thoughts about DU for later. Out in the desert Rockwell Environmental (a strange group) wanted to send us about 3 tons of DU in a remediation effort at a test site. We were able to say no thank you, we think.
I've been to more than my fair share of funerals and witnessed many strange bad health effects in veterans and ex employees of this facility. And yet we continue to do it again. Now it seems to be depleted uranium. Just ignore it and it just might go away, but I doubt it. I'll save more of my thoughts about DU for later. Out in the desert Rockwell Environmental (a strange group) wanted to send us about 3 tons of DU in a remediation effort at a test site. We were able to say no thank you, we think.

Take care of these poor abused Veterans. Treat them like human beings and never, EVER send them into harm's way without reasonable cause. And then when and if they get back, give them the benefits that they have earned.

Perpetuating The Dilemma

by: Debra

Perhaps we shouldn't be fighting the war in Iraq, has this clown general considered that option? Just because we are at war doesn't mean we should always be at that state and if we have that many enemies, what are we doing wrong? We used to win friends and influence people, not send them into self-destructive murderous rages.

The National Guard and the Reserves are just as tapped out as the regular military. At this point there really is no difference. These people have lives that support the infrastructure of the United States. Robbing Peter to pay Paul has never been an effective strategy, it feels good in the short run and then Kim shows up wanting a slice. Oops.

What you really need is a draft and you can't come right out and say so because that's the third rail, now isn't it? People are not willingly joining the military, so you are going to have to make them in order to increase or even maintain the military and that's going to go over like a personally released fragrance in church. Actually it sounds like you want to make it a forced career by preventing people from leaving when their time is up, for the good of their unit. The only options (surges) being proposed are based on the false flush of too much adrenaline and testosterone without thinking of the long term consequences to America and what we used to stand for.

If this was a just war, if Iraq had ever been a threat to us, if there had ever been a coherent reason for our involvement, I might be able to support these actions. But I doubt it because none of the reasons given so far have had any sense or staying power and throwing good money after bad or live troops after dead ones just doesn't make any sense.

Perhaps a simple demonstration of a timeline would help impart some perspective. Now that was sad, wasn't it? Pop, pop.


"Short-term Surge" of US Troops in Iraq

by: Foiled Goil

Pentagon to move troops into Kuwait

By Lolita C. Baldor, AP

The U.S. military is planning to move a brigade of troops into Kuwait in what could be the first step of a short-term surge of American forces into Iraq to stabilize the violence.

The 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division is expected in Kuwait shortly after the new year, a senior Defense Department official told The Associated Press on Friday. The official requested anonymity because the plans had not yet been announced.

The 2nd Brigade, made up of roughly 3,500 troops, is based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and would be deployed in Iraq early next year if needed, the official said. The move would be part of an effort to boost the number of U.S. troops in Iraq for a short time, the official said. The plan was first reported by CBS News.

In a half-hour video conference with President Bush on Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki outlined plans for the national reconciliation conference taking place in Baghdad on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the commander of U.S. forces in the strife-ridden Iraqi province of Diyala said Friday that tribal leaders and some political groups in the province are turning to terrorists and insurgents for protection rather than trust Iraqi soldiers and police.

The Army is considering ways it can speed up the creation of two additional combat brigades — a move intended to expand the pool of active-duty combat brigades in order to relieve some of the strain on the Army from large-scale deployments to Iraq.

Under the plan being developed, the new brigades could be formed next year and be ready to be sent to Iraq in 2008, defense officials told The Associated Press. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans were not final.

The Army's chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, told a commission Thursday that he wants to increase the half-million-member force beyond the 30,000 troops authorized in recent years. And he warned that the Army "will break" without thousands more active duty troops and greater use of the reserves.

© 2006 The Associated Press.
15 December 2006

The Wall and the Wedge

by: Dark Wraith

At Pam's House Blend, Pam Spaulding published a post today on Sen. John McCain's proposal called "Stop the Online Exploitation of Children Act," which purports to "modernize and expand reporting requirements" for certain types of Websites including what are commonly known as "blogs." I published a comment on the thread from that article, and below I republish it in edited and expanded form.

◊            ◊            ◊

Unfortunately, whenever a free society creates an exception to freedom of expression, what seems like a small and acceptable crack in the wall of liberty will be exploited. It is not a matter of "might"; it is, instead, a matter of inevitability.

John McCain is that inevitability become a politically powerful legislator. We—in what we legitimately believe are tolerable and even rightful areas of censorship—become his unwitting, unwilling supporters. To stand against censorship of any kind is to be accused not merely of tolerating the vile, but possibly even of promoting and liking it. That is the price we pay as free citizens for standing firmly and consistently against even the smallest cracks in that wall of liberty. To imagine, much less to enshrine in statutes and aggressive law enforcement activities, that possession or expression of one kind could be contained was a delusion of Faustian dimensions. As utterly disgusting as exploiting children is, those who would use that vileness to the purpose of a far greater agenda of controlling other speech some deem unacceptable is an exponential increase in the exploitation of children. No person is a defender of children who needs their predators as a bloody shirt to wave in a campaign against the dangers of "too much" free speech.

Now, I shall take this occasion to note an even larger, if rather parochial, point. The idea among many in the Blogosphere that the Internet is just too big, too complex, too overwhelming for anything to ever effectively control it is just plain wrong. Although an underground of it can and will always exist, the Internet as a whole really is vulnerable to being "tamed" by statutory laws, court precedents, regulatory intervention, technology, and social norms.

How many readers and contributors here would actually refuse to comply with an enacted law arising from McCain's legislative proposal? It's one thing to say, "I shall defy this outrage!"; it's quite another to face fines, imprisonment, and societal condemnation with virtually assured, if wholly unjust, accusations of supporting a universally condemned form of pornography. I will tell you right here and now that's a battle almost sure to be lost: even our presumably independent judiciary has been eaten alive when a few of its jurists have tried to insert objectivity into the body of case law on this matter.

Terror is nothing compared to fear. Terror lasts for a moment and far too often sires retributive rage. Fear, on the other hand, is penetrating and far too often breeds surrender justified as willing and desirable compliance.

Technologically, the content of the Internet can be controlled. It is being done in many countries, and it is being done fairly effectively. The control will become more effective with time because the technology of monitoring, tracking, filtering, and blocking is moving forward apace at the same time the content creators most likely to resist control are, as a whole, becoming less and less able to understand the consequences of the coding architecture they use. A prime example of this is the evolving W3C set of standards, which the overwhelming majority of bloggers believe are something desirable, when they are in fact just another brick in the wall of the technological regimentation that is a critical underpinning of thorough, effective, and rapid Internet speech control and suppression.

That same backdrop of misunderstanding is being used by both sides in the "'Net Neutrality" debate: the corporate interests that want to prevent statutory language enshrining neutrality use the sheer ignorance of federal legislators to advance their agenda; but at the same time, the corporate interests that come to the table posing as heroic defenders of neutrality also have entirely self-serving motives, none of which involve free speech of the kind we in the Blogosphere value so highly. Yet virtually all bloggers believe that the 'Net Neutrality supporters like Google are somehow heroic defenders of free expression. They are not; in the long run, they will be its worst enemies. Just ask the Chinese about Google's dedication to free speech when a hugely profitable venture and a repressive regime arrive together at the other side of the fulcrum separating speech and repression.

The curtain is coming down on the freedom of expression the Internet has provided. John McCain is merely a small fob on the end of one of the drawstrings of that curtain. Fighting the nearly inevitable fall of that curtain to the stage floor is in all likelihood futile, and that is why I shall engage that fight for the rest of my days. Should others wish to be effective fighters, I offer this modest advice:

It is not enough to be outraged, and it is not enough even to become "educated about the issues." Neither outrage nor education are particularly useful on a battlefield. The day is won by those most masterful in the use of the weapons of war; the day is lost by those who believe something else matters.

The Dark Wraith has spoken.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

McCain Wages War On Blogs

by: Foiled Goil

John McCain has made clear that he doesn’t like the blogosphere.
Now he has introduced legislation that would treat blogs like Internet service providers and hold them responsible for all activity in the comments sections and user profiles. Some highlights of the legislation:

– Commercial websites and personal blogs "would be required to report illegal images or videos posted by their users or pay fines of up to $300,000."

– Internet service providers (ISPs) are already required to issue such reports, but under McCain’s legislation, bloggers with comment sections may face "even stiffer penalties" than ISPs.

— Social networking sites will be forced to take "effective measures" — such as deleting user profiles — to remove any website that is "associated" with a sex offender. Sites may include not only Facebook and MySpace, but also, which permits author profiles and personal lists, and blogs like DailyKos, which allows users to sign up for personal diaries.

Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that this proposal may be based more "on fear or political considerations rather than on the facts." When he introduced his legislation to the Senate, McCain offered no evidence that children are being victimized by people who post comments on blogs.

McCain’s legislation could deal a serious blow to the blogosphere. Lacking resources to police their sites, many individual blogs may have to shut down open discussion.

More at Think Progress

Another Desert tale.

by: blackdog

When I used to live in the Mojave Desert not too far from the 20 mule team borax mine, a peculiar thing happened. A thunderstorm! Off to the northeast some many miles away but it was a classic anvil shaped cumulonimbus and was large for this part of the world. I grabbed my blackdog Chop and we got in the little pickup, thinking that everything I needed was there (it usually was) and we headed fast toward Trona. The storm was headed southeast, so upon arriving at Trona we continued east until we got to a dirt road that went in a series of switchbacks to the top of the Slate Range, about 8000 feet high. Once we got there we piled out, Chop went into sniffing mode and I was looking east at one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. I believe it was the Panamint Valley, a dry lake that lay before me, with Telescope Peak, a snow-cap over 12,000 feet straight east. Telescope Peak was at least 20 - 30 miles away, the wind was calm, the air crystal clear, and the silence was absolute. My ears were buzzing. Thankfully every once in a while a fly would buzz by and relieve my ears with a real noise. But just imagine, a beautiful snow-capped mountain with a big thunderstorm right behind it, lightning bolts occurring from time to time. And that's when I noticed on the floor of the dry lake something amazing. The storm had drifted across the north end of the lake and rained a lot. The natural slope is to the south, and 5000 feet below me was what appeared to be a delta drainage of the runoff, with swirls of mist coming off from the fierce evaporation rate. As I looked more carefully at something I couldn't quite perceive I realized that I was seeing a mirror image of Telescope Peak with the storm behind it from the reflection of the incredible calm water surface. I ran to the truck to get my camera, a decent Pentax. It wasn't there, I had left it at home. That would have been the photograph of a lifetime. We have some scenic vistas here and all over the country, but what you can see in the great southwest will always take my breath away. The view is still firmly in my memory.

On the Road Home

by: Minstrel Boy

While driving home along I-8 today, I was about ten miles east of Gila Bend. I saw the sunset in my rear view mirror. An Arizona sunset. In all its crimson, gold, purple, and every other color, always changing and shifting as the day ends. Beautiful and glorious.

I had to stop. Get out of the car. Stand there in thrilled awe at its wild beauty. I saw stately sagauro cactus reaching their arms up to the firey sky show. I reached up mine also. Then it was over. The day was done. I drove the rest of the way in darkness. No streetlights. No megawat cities to blot out the stars. Flickering remainders of the Persied meteor shower flared and swooped, brilliant seconds of flashing light, then gone. Into the driveway, the dogs running out to greet me with slobbering enthusiasm.

Home. I love it.

Harp and Sword
14 December 2006

Scholarly Snippets and Quantitative Quandries, Solution Post #1

by: Dark Wraith

This is the first in a small series of posts offering solutions and insights into problems posed in my Special Blog Post of December 12, 2006, "Scholarly Snippets and Quantitative Quandries." As I noted in the comment thread for that article, a goodly number of respondents were hitting right on or close to the correct answers and explanations for the problems and curiosities I offered. With a nod to nightshift66 and others who offered explanations for what was going on, below is one of the curiosities, a math trick, that was presented in the post:
Grab your calculator. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just one that does basic arithmetic operations. Don't forget to turn it on first.

Choose a three-digit number. It can be any number from 100 to 999. Key it in to your calculator.

Now, repeat the digits in the same order so you have a six-digit number displaying. For example, it you had chosen 749 to begin with, you should have 749749 now in the display window.

Remember, I don't know what three-digit number you initially chose, so I certainly don't know the six digit number, right?

But I do know that, whatever number you have on that display, it's divisible by 13. That's right, I know for a fact that it's divisible by 13. Go ahead: hit the "÷" button, then key in "13" and hit "=" to see that I'm right. You've got a whole number displaying, don't you?

But, wait; there's more. I know for a fact that the number you now have displaying on your calculator is divisible by 11. Oh, yes it is. Try it: hit the "÷" button again, then key in "11" and you'll see a whole number show up after you hit the "=" sign. Pretty neat, yes?

And here's the grand finale. The number you now have on your calculator is divisible by 7. Do it: hit the "÷" button one last time, then key in "7" and hit the "=" button.

Lo and behold, not only was I right, but you should notice a much cool something at this point. What is it you see on your calculator's display?

As it turns out, if you follow the instructions, you'll find that, at the end of the run of calculator key strokes, you'll end up with the same three-digit number you started with, no matter what number it was!

So, here's the somewhat formal explanation of why this trick works. I've laid off the algebra as much as possible, but there's still a little, especially with respect to what's called "factoring," which is where the same multiplier of two or more mathematical terms being added or subtracted is pulled out and represented just once outside parentheses, as in 12x+21y being the same as 3(4x+7y).

Suppose we represent a three-digit number by xyz, where x is the hundreds value, y is the tens value, and z is the ones value. So, for example, the number 749 would be such that x=7, y=4, and z=9. Now, we'll write the xyz more formally as


In the example using 749, we can say that this number is really 100·7+10·4+9·1. In fact, any number can be written in this form of descending powers of ten. Notice that this means any number, in base 10 or any other base, is nothing but a polynomial (a sum of powers of the same base).

Okay, we have xyz now representable as 100x+10y+1z. So, let's do the repeating of the digits to get xyzxyz, as in the example where 749 became 749749. Following the same procedure for re-casting as we did for the three-digit number xyz, we can do xyzxyz as


In the example with 749, which could be written as 100·7+10·4+1·9, we could write the number 749749 as 100000·7+10000·4+1000·9+100·7+10·4+1·9.

Summarizing where we are, if we start with the number xyz and then repeat the digits, we're going to end up on our calculator with a number that, mathematically speaking, is 100000x+10000y+1000z+100x+10y+1z.

Let's do some re-arranging of terms, here:


from above can be rearranged as follows (using parentheses to group terms we'll want to play with in just a minute):


Okay, now we're going to pull a couple of common factors out of each of those parentheses groups. Notice that the first little group has a common factor of x and a common factor of 100, the second little group has a common factor of y and a common factor of 10, and the third little group has a common factor of z and a common factor of 1 (which is rather trivial, but it's worth noting just for the record). Here we go with pulling the common factors out of each grouping:


Notice at this point that we have (1000+1) three different places, so in all three places we'll do that little bit of arithmetic:


And now we see that we have a three-term expression, where all three terms have the common factor of 1001, so we can factor that off to have the following (putting the common factor of 1001 on the back side of the resulting expression):


Oh, but wait! Look at that first thing, the (100x+10y+1z): that's just the fancy way of writing the number we started with, xyz! Well, spank me hard and call me Florence: the number xyzxyz is nothing but xyz·1001, for Heaven's sake. So a six-digit number like, say, 749749 is nothing but 749·1001. Ditto for any other six digit number of the same form. As long as the first and second pairs of three digits are identical, the six-digit number will be divisible by 1001, and the result will be one of those identical pairs. So, for another example, 358358 is two identical pairs of 358, so 358358 will be divisible by 1001, and the result of the division (what's called the "dividend") will be 358!

The trick I pulled in the problem was to press into service the rather curious fact that 1001 is 7·11·13, so all I was doing by that run of "divide by this, then divide by that, then divide by the other" was a drawn-out version of having you divide the six-digit number by 1001, which I knew would return you from the six-digit number to the three-digit number you started with.

Very cool, yes?

Okay, this gives you an idea of why it's better to know me in cyberspace than in real life: on the Internet, you can close your browser window, and I go out of existence. Before you do that, though, I've got one more totally arcane piece of trivia about this problem that will probably make you not only want to close the browser window, but also want to clear your Internet cache just to make sure I'm really gone.

Remember that number 1001, and how it's 13·11·7? Here's something strange: 1001 is actually not just a number in base 10; it's also a valid number in base 2 (where only the numbers 0 and 1 exist, the basic language of computers). Well, it so happens that the number 1001 in base 2 is the number 9 in base 10.

Yeah, so? Well, so, remember 13·11·7? Did you notice that this is an ordered sequence of odd numbers (in base 10), except that one number is missing from the sequence? Yes, it's the 9, which is 1001 in base 2, and the 9 is missing from the number 2 position from smallest to largest in the sequence.

Yo. Is that cool, or what?

Okay, if you think it's cool, you're more of a math geek than you probably want to admit. We'll do lunch at the QuantHeads Café next week.

The Dark Wraith will post some more stuff tomorrow.

A 'Nam Vet's Tears - A Powerful Lesson

by: Foiled Goil

Torture, Impeachment and a Vietnam Veteran's Tears

by Dave Lindorff, co-author of "The Case for Impeachment"

The true horror of what President Bush -- and the Republican-led 109th Congress -- have done to all of us American citizens by authorizing torture in our names came clear during a talk I was giving on impeachment to a group organized by the New Jersey chapter of Progressive Democrats of America.

I had been reciting the growing list of Bush crimes against the Constitution and the laws of the land and had gotten to the issue of torture. At that point a large guy in the back of the room, a marine veteran of the Vietnam War who was proudly wearing a baseball hat emblazoned with the words "Third Marine Division" and "Vietnam Veterans Against the War," offered up the comment that he had witnessed torture in Vietnam.

He began to tell us how his platoon had been bivouacked in the jungle about 100 yards away from a unit of South Vietnamese soldiers. He said they had a captured Viet Cong soldier and were torturing him. As he spoke, his voice cracked and he began sobbing. It was hard for him to get out the rest of his story, but he managed to say, word by painful word, that he had heard the screaming all through that night, and that he still "cannot get those screams" out of his head, some 35 years later.

At that point he got up and, using two canes, hobbled out of the room to hide his embarrassment at his tears. He needn't have bothered; everyone else in the room had wet cheeks at that point anyway.

It was a powerful lesson, for those of us who have not been there, of the horror of torture.

In fact, however, aside from the fact that torture is illegal under international law, and that it is illegal in the U.S. as a signatory of the Geneva Conventions, since the torture is being conducted upon captives who have never had their cases examined to determine if they are indeed terrorists or legitimate combatants or just innocents picked up for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it is inevitable that many of those who are being tortured with the president's approval and in our names are simply innocents. Some of those innocents have died at the hands of their tormentors. Others have been driven insane.

What this still haunted veteran demonstrated, by opening a window into his experiences and the demons of war that still plague him, is a dose of reality -- an honest look at what torture really is.

Some Democrats, like Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) have been active supporters of many of Bush's crimes, including the advocacy of torture. Others have cowered, afraid of being branded "soft on terrorism," and have been unwilling to challenge the president. Such timidity and such complicity are no longer possible.

With Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress after January 3, a failure to put an immediate halt to torture, and a failure to impeach the president for his ongoing crime of promoting and approving a policy of torture, would make Democrats as a party fully guilty of the crime along with the president. It would also make us, the voters who put those Democrats into office, accomplices to the crime.

Furthermore, with most Americans now recognizing the war in Iraq to have been a disaster based upon lies and political expediency, and with many recognizing that the so-called "war" on terror itself has been a fraud, no member of Congress need fear such reckless accusations as "supporter of terrorists" or "lack of patriotism," or whatever. The majority of Americans now recognize these charges as the garbage that they are, and as acts of desperation by those whose time has passed.

Torture has no place in American military policy. As the Vietnam vet at my impeachment event Sunday told us, torture hurts not just those who are tortured, but those who are the torturers, it makes the enemy fight more desperately, and in the end it can be turned on our own captured soldiers in a horrible tit-for-tat.

It must be ended immediately, and those who promoted it must be called to account.
13 December 2006

The Truffles Have Arrived

by: Dark Wraith


The picture above serves as evidence that the truffles made by Minstrel Boy of Harp and Sword have made it to their destination. The picture at left, below, shows that they are safely in the hands of the Dark Wraith, enshrouded as he is in shadow to conceal his true identity as he presents the trophy.

The Dark Wraith and the trophyA few observations are in order. First, just looking at those beautiful things made my ass gain weight. Second, the first bite of the white chocolate truffle was a transcendent experience: the thing made my face throb with pleasure as I drew its succulence against my tongue and palate. I felt long-deprived fat cells come to life and rejoice as withered plants heaving back to the sky in the pouring rains after a decade of drought.

After that first morsel, I lifted what remained of the bodacious creature up in the palm of my hand. I held it up high above my head so the angels in Heaven could see the pleasures of the land they, themselves, could never know; and I heard the angels weep, even as the demons of excess, of gluttony, of sheer abandonment of will swirled about me in an orgiastic cascade of heathen dance.

I ate more. Yes, I ate that entire white chocolate truffle with glee and gladness, for I had not eaten anything so sweet in so very long. I ate it all, and then I lay back in my chair and stared upward; and as my stomach began to churn from the unmitigated indulgence, and as my head began to beat like a kettle drum from the rush of sugar, I said, "I'm gonna die. Uh-huh, yes I am."

It was, in summary, the experience of a lifetime.

The Dark Wraith shall eat another one tomorrow evening.

'Cause ya gotta have faith, a-faith, a-faith...

by: Shakespeares Sister

Dem presidential hopefuls and their faith gurus:

Burns Strider, one of the Democratic Party’s leading strategists on winning over evangelicals and other values-driven voters, will join Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as she prepares to launch her 2008 presidential campaign.

…Josh Dubois, an aide in his Senate office, is heading Obama’s religious outreach.

…[Kerry] has tapped Shaun Casey, an associate professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary, to advise him on religious outreach.

…That three of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination will have aides or advisers specializing in religious outreach is a dramatic change from 2004, when Democratic presidential candidates viewed reaching out to values-voters as a low priority.
Do you think Strider, Dubois, or Casey will be trying to win me over? I deeply value equality for the LGBT community, I deeply value women's reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy, I deeply value stem cell research, I deeply value the separation of church and state. I value lots of other things, too, but those seem to be the ones which make me not a "values voter."


Rolling, Tempering, Dipping

by: Minstrel Boy

You can find some alternatives to the tempering process in my initial truffle post. Unless you're willing to fork out big bucks on a tempering machine I would suggest that you use them if you make these yourself. Otherwise you're doomed to a lifetime of sucking up to assholes like me who obtain the technology. The machine I'm using here is a small (1.5 lb batch) version of the 18lb monster Hilliard I use when the shop is open.
The first thing to do is to take an eight by twelve baking pan and line the top half of it with plastic wrap. You'll want plenty of overlap on the sides.

Take the ganache that has been setting overnight out of the refrigerator and unwrap it. Snatch out enough ganache to make a decent size ball. Your goal is to roll six fairly even sized balls that will fit evenly across eight inches of pan. This will produce truffles that average about eight to a pound.

You will need to work quickly. Fine chocolate is a liquid at 8° below body temperature. The cream and the butter don't help either. When I have the right amount of ganache in my hand I form it with my fingers into a cubish, rounding thing. Then I try to bring it into a ball with my closed palms.

Have I mentioned that you need to work fast? As soon as something in my palms resembles a sphere I open my hands, forming a "V" shape to finish off

A perfect ball of ganache which goes immediately into the pan with the others. Blogger is being a bitch about the photos. Althogh it's probably my fault. When I upload a photo it always is placed at the top of the post. You'd think it wasn't that hard to put it where the cursor is but I guess that only shows how little I fucking know. I'll soldier on with text for a while.

I roll in lots of twelve. Like most of my customers, I tend to think in dozens. The other thing is that as you roll there is a slick film of melted ganche that forms on your hands. If this gets too thick you'll end up melting the ganache faster than you can form it. Part of this is the way I make the ganache. I don't boil the cream or do things that will keep it from liquifying quickly. This makes it harder to work with, but I think it's worth it. After I drop in twelve balls I wash my hands, using warm water, then finish off with cold water (because these things hate heat) and dry with at least two towels to ensure that my hands are scupulously dry before I wrap up the dozen balls and put them into the fridge. The wrapped dozens need to be in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before you attempt dipping them.

Since the problem is most likely something I did inadvertently I'm going to close this post and immediately start the post about the dipping. That way we will have pictures.

i hate blogger club

Dipping continued. . .

by: Minstrel Boy

Here's the picture we didn't get at the end of the last post. Showing how the balls of ganache are lined up in two rows of six. You also get a good visual on why I wash my hands every dozen.

Right before I dip I put the balls into the freezer for about half an hour. This gives them a little extra firmness to stand up to the dipping process. The idea is to have things very cold, but not frozen. I keep a dry, clean towel nearby in case there's any condensation that forms when I take them out of the freezer. From now on in the process, water of any kind is our mortal enemy. A single drop can sieze up and ruin a pound and a half batch of chocolate we just spent the last half hour tempering. I keep a stack of towels handy. Every time I wash my hands I finish the drying with a brand new towel.

After the truffle has been dipped and spun around in the tempered chocolate I put it on to a cutting board covered with butcher paper. When there are a dozen it's time to decorate. This is not only a cosmetic thing. There are two solid reasons for decoration. The first being that I use the decoration to identify which flavor of truffle it is. The second reason is even more practical. When the truffles have hardened and go through the trimming and boxing the decoration will protect the surface of the truffle from fingerprints. Some folks wear plastic gloves when they handle the truffles. I have tried and can't get behind that. By stringing colored chocolate melted in the microwave.

Ok blogger's at it again with the lagging on the photos.

I'm going to close this one and start all over with the stringing and trimming.


why i hate blogger some days

Stringing, Trimming and Boxing

by: Minstrel Boy

This is what the stringing looks like

And I'll just keep going until blogger stops me again. Now it's time to trim the truffles and put them into 2oz souffle cups. I have a wicked, curved cleaver that I use for this. I also put the trimmings into a ziplock
bag. I call it "truffle stuffle" and it is pretty cool crumbled over oatmeal, or waffles, or ice cream or. . .

Now they go a dozen into a 9" octagonal plastic thing I found at Smart & Final. When I first opened my shop in Palm Springs I went through about a year of tracking down leads on box makers trying to find a box that would accomodate my truffles. I finally found a custom place that would make boxes to my specs for a horridly expensive price.

I was all set to fork over the money and was talking with my republican uncle. He's a very astute businessman, and a talented enough tax attorney that he has kept my ass out of jail, he asked me a very pointed question: "Are you selling truffles or boxes?"

I went with the fucking plastic.

harp and sword

Do Deficits Matter?

by: Jersey Cynic

While over at san antone rose's blog I came across a post she put up by Larry Beinhart --

Remembering Reagan: Nostalgic Republican Twaddle

"I just received a gang email that contained a group of quotes from the late, great saint of the right, Ronald Reagan.

It even included a conciliatory note: "I know that there are many 'liberal friends' among the addressees, but if you shut your eyes to the author, there's a good chance you will enjoy the quotations."

Here they are


Speaking of Ronald Reagan, does anyone want to help me answer this question: DO DEFICITS MATTER? (as in TRADE deficits)

'Reagan proved deficits don't matter," Dick Cheney told Paul O'Neill during a Cabinet meeting. "We won the (2002) midterms. This is our due." (we all know what happened to O'Neill)

I better back up here a bit.

What's a trade deficit? And, here's what is happening with our trade deficit: It's falling.....

According to this article, it does matter. Maybe not to us, but it seems that it WILL matter TO OUR CHILDREN

And here are a few more opinions

But when much of the world's capital is being parked in US Treasuries rather than wealth-building entities, and when we are spending like mad at home on flat-screen TVs and I-pods, and US stocks have dangerous valuations and entitlement programs are looming large, it is hard to be sanguine about the deficit. In this case, the capital account surplus looks more like a bulge of borrowed money,parked in Treasuries that could be quickly 'unparked' at any given time.



China Has U.S. By The Purse

Yes, the Red Menace that we spent so many years fearing as a military threat now represents a far more serious economic threat. Mao must be turning in his grave with the news that no less than six U.S. Cabinet members are on their way to the Middle Kingdom on Wednesday to beseech, beg, lobby and try to persuade the new mandarins not to sell off their vast reservoir of dollars.

I think I answered my own question.......

War on Christmas Going Well, President to Stay the Course

by: Jersey Cynic

by Robert J. Elisberg

With intense fighting continuing, the Administration claims today that government forces have finally made significant headway in the War on Christmas. The intensity of the conflict, which recently marked its first anniversary, has caught many in the White House by surprise. Experts there initially believed it would never continue long past last Thanksgiving, certain that government forces would be greeted by visions of sugarplums.

It gets even better...

Thank you Mr. Elisberg -- you've made my day.
I am feeling much better already.


***UPDATE****** UPDATE ******UPDATE*******

OMG!!! --- LMAO!!!
Fellow blogger Comandante Agi is recruiting soldiers. Oh somebody help me! I'm on the floor -- I can't get up.....

Democrat Committee Members Announced

by: Foiled Goil

December 12, 2006 - Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi announced today that the Democratic Steering Committee recommended that Members be appointed to the: Ways and Means Committee, Energy and Commerce Committee, Financial Services Committee, Armed Services Committee, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The Steering Committee also appointed freshmen Members to at least one committee.

The new committe members are: ...listed here in the Press Release.
"This distinguished group of Members will be instrumental in Democrats' efforts to take American in a New Direction that increases security, opportunity, and prosperity, while restoring civility and integrity to the Congress," Pelosi said. "These Members will be a strong voice for all Americans, not just the privileged few."

The Steering Committee agreed to continue the Democratic Caucus resolution temporarily removing Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana from the Ways and Means Committee until the ongoing investigation is resolved.

The full Democratic Caucus will vote on these nominations.

12 December 2006

Scholarly Snippets and Quantitative Quandries

by: Dark Wraith

While your host here at Big Brass Blog slogs through finals week, a little bit of entertainment for readers is in order. Below you'll find a random collection of faint facts, interesting insights, and probing problems for thrills and excitement.

Okay, perhaps 'thrills and excitement' is a bit of an overstatement. One way or t'other, here we go.

A Math Trick on the Calculator
Grab your calculator. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just one that does basic arithmetic operations. Don't forget to turn it on first.

Choose a three-digit number. It can be any number from 100 to 999. Key it in to your calculator.

Now, repeat the digits in the same order so you have a six-digit number displaying. For example, it you had chosen 749 to begin with, you should have 749749 now in the display window.

Remember, I don't know what three-digit number you initially chose, so I certainly don't know the six digit number, right?

But I do know that, whatever number you have on that display, it's divisible by 13. That's right, I know for a fact that it's divisible by 13. Go ahead: hit the "÷" button, then key in "13" and hit "=" to see that I'm right. You've got a whole number displaying, don't you?

But, wait; there's more. I know for a fact that the number you now have displaying on your calculator is divisible by 11. Oh, yes it is. Try it: hit the "÷" button again, then key in "11" and you'll see a whole number show up after you hit the "=" sign. Pretty neat, yes?

And here's the grand finale. The number you now have on your calculator is divisible by 7. Do it: hit the "÷" button one last time, then key in "7" and hit the "=" button.

Lo and behold, not only was I right, but you should notice a much cool something at this point. What is it you see on your calculator's display?

A Problem with Gravity
Here's a question for the Isaac Newton fan club. Suppose you're on a sailing ship cruising at a decent speed over the waters. You have a 16-pound bowling ball in your hand, and you climb up the main mast so you can stand with your bowling ball in the crow's nest. Once you get up there, you face the stern (rear) of the boat, which you might recall is flying along at a nice clip, and you drop your bowling ball. Oops. That's going to hurt if it lands on somebody's head.

If someone is standing on the deck, would it be safer to be right below the mast you'd climbed, or would it be safer to stand near the rear of the boat? What's the reason for your advice?

A Weighty Matter
Horace is on a diet, but he's dying to have some delicious pie, so he makes a decision that tomorrow, all he'll eat in a 24-hour period is half-a-pound of pie, and all he'll drink is eight ounces of tasty soda pop. His reasoning is obvious: the total weight of what he consumes tomorrow will be exactly one pound—eight ounces of pie and eight ounces of drink—so the very most he could possibly gain as the result of his one-day excess is one pound. That's all: one lousy pound. And he gets to satisfy cravings that are driving him out of his mind.

Is Horace's logic correct? If not, why not?

And Speaking of Dietary Knowledge
Myles goes to the store, and as he's walking through the frozen foods aisle, he sees a really attractive dessert. He opens the cooler door and grabs the little nugget of joy. The box reads: "97% Fat Free!"

Myles buys the item. When he gets home, his housemates start a conga line because Myles has brought home dessert.

Eugene, the analytic fellow of the group, reads the labeling and says, "And look at this! It says '97% Fat Free!'" But then he pauses. "Hey, Myles, what does '97% Fat Free' really mean?"

Myles stops what he's doing and ponders. "I think that means it's, you know, like, 97 percent of the ingredients aren't fat."

Jake, the other roommate, pipes up, "Actually, I always thought that meant that 97 percent of the ingredients by weight weren't fat."

Eugene comes back, "What if it's volume they're talking about? I'm not even sure what that would mean, though."

Myles, being the practical sort, cuts in, "I think we should eat the dessert, and then we should decide what '97% Fat Free!' means."

Everyone agrees; so they eat the dessert, and it's fabulous. Unfortunately, they get so full that they all go into the living room and fall asleep half-way through their DVD of Dark City.

By the time they wake up, just like in the movie, they've been shifted to other bodies, and all their memories of their previous lives have been erased. Among other things, that means they never return to the question of just what, exactly, that dessert box meant by the label, "97% Fat Free!" that was so much a part of their conversation the night before.

It's up to you, then. What does a label mean by "97% Fat Free"? You'd be surprised at how many people don't know, and you'd be even more surprised by what the right answer implies about the "healthfulness" of the food in the box.

The Myth of the Monkeys and Their Typewriters
Ever hear the one about how, if you put a bunch of monkeys in a room with a bunch of typewriters and have them just randomly pound out letters, you'll eventually get something Shakespeare wrote, provided you give them long enough—as in, say, an infinite amount of time?

Well, it's not true: the monkeys will very likely never produce even a modest page of Shakespearean literature, much less an entire play or sonnet. Random events don't work that way.

Unfortunately, probability theory—which underpins statistics—is so woefully under-taught that all kinds of myths are running through high-stakes statistical analysis, these day; and all kinds of utterly useless results are being pumped out that swiftly come to be unassailable gospel. Moreover, many real results from probability theory are actually kind of counter-intuitive, as we'll see in the next three little snippets.

Phony Data
Doris is the manager of the accounting department of a medium-size firm. Her most reliable confidant in the company has told her that one of two managers, Phil or Ted, has been playing games with expenses in his department for years. The informant refuses, however, to say which one of the guys it is.

In front of Doris are the expense reports for the two departments. Having a really good eye for detail, she notices a difference between the numbers in the two reports. All of the expense amounts in both reports are in the range from $100 to $999, but that's where the similarity ends. The expense numbers in the report from Phil's department are pretty uniformly distributed: there doesn't seem to be any particular bias toward any starting number. A figure in the $800 range is about as likely to appear as a figure in the $200 range. The numbers appear to be quite randomly distributed.

However, the expense numbers from Ted's department—and Ted has quite a few more expenses listed, so the total expenses of the departments come out to be about the same—are heavily weighted toward numbers in the $100, $200, and $300 range. As a percentage of all the numbers, figures in the $700, $800, and $900 are much less common.

Doris does some checking, and she learns that the two departments are virtually identical in their operational details, so this isn't some cost-control thing where Ted is managing department expenses differently from Phil.

This makes Doris very suspicious. Ted's numbers are "skewed" to the low end, while Phil's numbers are "uniform" in their distribution, and there's no good reason why there should be such a difference. She calls Ted into her office, and she tells him point-blank that she thinks he phonied up his numbers to make his per-item expenses look better. Ted goes bananas and says, "Are you crazy? Everyone knows Phil's been phonying the numbers he sends to you for years!"

Ted seems so earnest in his righteous indignation that Doris tells him she'll have to think about it over night.

Based just on the numbers Doris was reviewing, was she justified in hauling Ted into her office, or should she have dragged Phil in there?

Remember: your decision upon whom to suspect is based only on the numbers in those reports.

Birth Dates in a Crowd
Suppose you're in a room with other people. How many people would have to be in that room for there to be a 50-50 chance that someone shared your birth date (month and day)?

A)   Fewer than 25 people.
B)   Between 26 and 50 people.
C)   Between 51 and 200 people.
D)   Between 201 and 365 people.
E)   More than 365 people.

A Coin-Flipping Problem
You have a quarter in your hand, and you know it's "fair" in the sense that the odds of flipping it and getting heads is the same as the odds of getting tails. The coin has been flipped ten times, and every time, it's come up heads. What should you call on the eleventh flip?

A)   Heads.
B)   Tails.
C)   It doesn't matter.

And Finally, a Finance Problem
Ten years ago, you took out a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage loan for $200,000 that carries an annual interest rate of 6.9%. Your monthly payments (ignoring escrows, mortgage insurance, and other nonsense) are $1,317.20. After ten years, what percentage of the original principal (the $200,000) will you have paid off?

A)   Less than 15%.
B)   Between 15% and 33%.
C)   Exactly 33%.
D)   More than 33%.

In Conclusion
There you have it: a nice collection of little facts and problems to take your mind off the monotony of the holidays. Offer answers to the questions, your insights, and/or your thoughts in the comments. Correct answers will be provided in a follow-up post later this week.

The Dark Wraith hopes readers enjoy this kind of intellectual stimulation.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

White Chocolate Truffles

by: Minstrel Boy

Just so you know, this isn't chocolate. White stuff was invented by Albert Nestlé to deal with the surplus cocoa butter that was left over from his dry process cocoa recipe. He tried face cream first. There are some who wax all poetic about the qualities and better "mouth feel" that comes from using a white block of stuff that contains a higher cocoa butter ratio, although I've never been able to either sense a difference or really found anyone who could reliably tell the difference between high end expensive stuff and the stuff you buy at a cake decorating store.

For the ganache of the white chocolate truffles I bought white chocolate chips, house brand, on sale. For the shells I used Mercken white dots which I got from the cake decorating store.


3 pounds white chocolate chips
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped.
3/4 pound of sweet butter
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup water

variation (which is the process pictured)

instead of the vanilla bean and the water use

1/3 cup good bourbon vanilla extract
1 pint raspberries (fresh or frozen doesn't matter)

In the mixing bowl of a high power stand mixer melt the white chocolate, butter and vanilla bean (put the hulls in, you can remove them later) over simmering water, take care not to allow any splashing, even white chocolate hates water. If doing the raspberry version forget the bean.

When the white chips and the butter are completely melted bring it over to the stand mixer and begin to stir with the paddle on the lowest setting. Add the egg yolks one at a time. At this stage it will look like everything's gone to hell. First it will curdle with an oily goop surrounding the curds, but don't despair. Soon it will begin to form a liason that will be quite a bit smoother.

At this time you add the vanilla extract, and things will tighten right up. Add in the raspberries and whip on the highest setting for a minimum of ten minutes.

Pour into a plastic wrap (I adore Press'n'Seal for this stuff) lined pan. Cover closely, and refrigerate overnight. Roll them into balls that will fit five across in an eight inch pan. Put some white chocolate chips or chopped up bits in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for thirty seconds. Stir. Thirty seconds again. Stir. Then give it 10 seconds at a time until completely melted. (you can stop the process when it's down to small chunks, just keep stirring until it's smooth and totally melted) You don't want the chocolate too hot, it should be thick and liquid.

Dunk the truffle balls into the melted chocolate, cover well with the coating. Put onto a cutting board covered with butcher paper and let the shell harden slowly. Stripe with extra white chocolate (or any other color of stuff that suits you) I'll explain the reason for the striping in the next post about dipping and stuff. There really is a reason beyond decoration.

Harp and Sword

Salvaging America: One Committee at a Time!

by: Gary


Websters: free from pretense or deceit : FRANK b : easily detected or seen through : OBVIOUS c : readily understood d : characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.
One day, long ago, our founders envisioned a nation that was governed for the people and by the people. We are a nation founded on dissension; a land where questions are not only valued, they are encouraged and protected.

Somewhere along the course of our history, and most recently by our sitting President, this nation lost it's footing. We came to a place where questions were neither welcomed nor protected. A great nation was suddenly less about the home of the free and the land of the brave and more about the land of the rich, the home of the elite. Where once a great democracy thrived, America slid further and further from her heritage at the hands of a greedy majority swollen with power and corrupted by short-sighted ignorance. The majority ruled as they saw fit without respect for our rights, the rules of law, or our heritage as the model for democracy. Bush and his mindless majority did what they wanted and legislated as if from a thrown, and not the seat of We the People.

They, the hapless majority, either forgot the roots of their responsibility to America or callously calculated the dismantling of this nation one law, one right, and one dead soldier at a time.


Just A Couple of Little Nagging Thoughts

by: Minstrel Boy

Before I dive back into readying the truffles for shipment. Then I am planning to post the White Chocolate Truffle recipe, with pictures. Followed closely by another post showing the rolling and dipping process with the dark truffles.

Regarding the Iraq Study Group. Something has been nagging me every time I hear it cited. They continually speak about "The Iraqi Government" like it is something to be reckoned with. Calling what they have there, a group of mostly former exiles who are holed up inside an American fort a government is an insult to governments anywhere. It's like calling a class that teaches Intelligent Design "science." Same goes for the Iraqi "army."

There has been a lot of Reagan nostalgia flying about, usually using a pretext of writing a couple of sentences about Jean Kirkpatrick, and ending up with a tribute to ol' Ronnie who "won the Cold War without firing a shot. Please. Please. Please. There are shitloads people who got shot in Lebanon, Angola, El Salvador, Nicaraugua, Guatemala, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and many places all over the world who got shot by American guns, either in American hands or in the hands of people trained by Americans. Without firing a shot my half-breed ass.

Harp and Sword

Nigeria Set to Pass Harsh Laws Against Associating with Gays

by: Konagod

If the House of Representatives in Nigeria votes as expected, a citizen there could serve 5 years in prison for the crime of reading my blog.
The legislation adds to the growing isolation of gays and lesbians in the African nation where sodomy is illegal. In northern Nigeria, which is under Islamic law, homosexuality can be punishable by death and in the rest of the country by long prison terms.

Earlier this year Nigeria made it illegal for same-sex couples to go abroad to marry. When they return they could be imprisoned for five years. Even attending a gay wedding could result in imprisonment.

And according to the AP report in the NY Times the law would include sharing a meal in a restaurant.

Just to remind you, in case you believe this has nothing to do with us over here (a common mentality these days), Nigeria, an OPEC member, is the 5th largest source of U.S. oil imports.

Every mile we drive helps support these atrocities. Feeling good about the world yet?

Many conservative blogs, unhappy with the anti-Bush rhetoric of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, have urged a boycott of Citgo, which is owned by the government of Venezuela. Seems to me there is a far greater evil at play on the African continent. I will continue to support Citgo under the circumstances.

Crossposted from konagod
11 December 2006

Truffle Blogging (or, why I missed the overnight cutoff time for shipping today)

by: Minstrel Boy

Let's see, I took eight dozen to San Diego yesterday, my sister took four dozen (pilferage is brutal when I'm in production mode) so that makes thirty dozen sitting on the table to be sorted and boxed.

Shipping tomorrow. I promise.

Kishmesh jooni* ya'll.

willie wonka's table

*Beautiful Christmas in Western Apache

Might as well get started.

by: blackdog

After a lot of thought, sometimes a difficult proposition for me, I have come to a sort of conclusion. We really are being led by idiots. In a post the other day at the Smirking Chimp was an excellent article, originally published at the Huffington Post, that pointed clearly on how to not do things if you are in any sort of supervisory capacity. For that matter, how not to be at all times. And this post only points to the head moron, assuming he is not the puppet we hear about.

Now I'm not sure that he isn't a puppet and that one of my favorite neo-cons that has an ability to shoot his hunting partners in the face on a canned hunt isn't really in charge, I just really don't know. I don't think anyone does, either. We have been so let down by the fearless press in determining who the hell IS in charge that I can't imagine how any one of the MSM types can live with themselves anymore. Compared to the post at the Smirking Chimp, they simply don't ask any questions either. And this from the "Liberal Media." Yeah right, to use a phrase coined late in my life. I'm sure everyone here has seen how the rodents are running from the stink of the ship of state, coming from a group of "conservative", whatever that may truly be, idiots who couldn't budget their way out of a paper sack.

When I think of the 300-400 billion $ thrown down the rathole of Iraq with absolutely nothing to show for it except for close to 3000 American dead, close to 20,000 American wounded, and God forbid, maybe 655,000 Iraqi dead, well, I demure. Sooner or later the world and people that still walk upright will really begin to raise some hell over the good 'ol USA. We very simply dropped the ball as a people and must get it back immediately for our own interest.

Thank you.

Prison Chaos in California

by: Konagod

Not surprisingly, California is at the top of the heap when it comes to "festering" prison problems.
By nearly every measure, the California prison system is the most troubled in the nation. Overcrowding, inmate violence, recidivism, parole absconders and the prison medical system are among its many festering problems.

State lawmakers seem poised to finally tackle the problem for the first time since the 1970s. Governor Schwarzenegger has even declared a state of emergency in the ailing system. And the system has been described as a "powder keg" by James E. Tilton, secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Overcrowding is so severe that 16,000 inmates are assigned cots in hallways and gyms; last month, the state began asking for volunteers to be moved to prisons out of state.

The system’s medical program is in federal receivership and much of the rest of the system is under court monitoring. Cellblocks are teeming with violence. Seven of 10 inmates released from prison return, one of the highest rates in the country.

As I've indicated in a recent prior post, one of the causes of excessive incarceration rates is for relatively petty crimes and drugs, and particularly in the case of California, a system so rigid there is too little wiggle room when it comes to sentencing.
Like so many things in California, the scope of the prison problem stems largely from its size. The system houses 173,000 inmates — second-place Texas has 152,500 — and has an $8 billion budget.

Its population explosion is in large part an outgrowth of a general increase in the state’s population, its unusual sentencing structure and parole system, a legislature historically enamored with increasing penalties, and ballot measures like the three-strikes initiative.

And here's a clincher:
Further, most rehabilitation programs have been eliminated from the system in recent years, which some criminal justice experts believe has increased the rate of recidivism.


Under laws passed in the 1970s, ironclad sentences for crimes are set by the legislature, with little discretion left to judges. Looked at simply, people sentenced to prison for three years get out in three years, whether they have behaved, gone to school or stared at the wall.

Once out, prisoners are assigned to parole and can be sent back to prison for automatic sentences for technical or criminal violations.

States must not eschew their responsibility for rehabilitation efforts, nor should they rely on the one-size-fits-all metality of three-strikes-you're-out. These neglects, coupled with corruption and violence within the prison systems is a recipe for disaster resulting in outrageously overcrowded prisons with a war-zone atmosphere.

Let's hope California sets the standard for prison reform, starting with the concept of a sentencing commission.
...a consensus has been building over the last six months, with union officials, the governor, public policy experts and many members of the legislature agreeing that a sentencing commission is in order.


Used in many states, the commissions, armed with empirical data, establish sentencing grids, with the offense on one axis and the offender’s history on another, forming a narrow range of possible sentences.

These grids are presented to judges, who have discretion to go outside the range in light of extenuating circumstances. One of the system’s greatest advantages, its proponents suggest, is that it depoliticizes sentencing by taking it out of the hands of elected officials.


The best commissions, criminal justice experts agree, are those in which violent criminals spend more time behind bars than they did before the commission’s creation, and nonviolent offenders are placed in treatment programs, county jails or other alternatives.

Joan Petersilia, director of the new Center for Evidence-Based Corrections at the University of California, Irvine, and one of the state’s leading experts on prisons, summed up the situation succinctly:
“The way our current system works, all you have is sticks. But we want to give carrots, too. If in fact you can show us stable housing and drug treatment program for six months, you are off parole. The benefit of that is self-selection. Inmates who are low risk and who are motivated will do it, and then we reduce caseload size and let officers target very violent offenders.”

Correcting the problems in California, as in the rest of the nation, will be a huge challenge requiring some detailed self-examination, but it must be done. Too many lives have been destroyed already which could have been salvaged with the application of simple logic and compassion rather than all-too-common knee-jerk politically-inspired reactions.

Prior posts in the series:
Bribing Prisoners for Jesus
US: A Nation of Prisoners
Mama’s New House

Bribing Prisoners for Jesus

by: Konagod

As a footnote to the last post regarding prisons, check out the article in the New York Times regarding American religious organizations benefiting from "an increasingly accommodating government."

The cells in Unit E had real wooden doors and doorknobs, with locks. More books and computers were available, and inmates were kept busy with classes, chores, music practice and discussions. There were occasional movies and events with live bands and real-world food, like pizza or sandwiches from Subway. Best of all, there were opportunities to see loved ones in an environment quieter and more intimate than the typical visiting rooms.

But the only way an inmate could qualify for this kinder mutation of prison life was to enter an intensely religious rehabilitation program and satisfy the evangelical Christians running it that he was making acceptable spiritual progress. The program — which grew from a project started in 1997 at a Texas prison with the support of George W. Bush, who was governor at the time — says on its Web site that it seeks “to ‘cure’ prisoners by identifying sin as the root of their problems” and showing inmates “how God can heal them permanently, if they turn from their sinful past.”

That's interesting. It didn't seem to help Karla Faye Tucker when the arrogant pseudo-Christian prick bastard denied her clemency. Once on death row I guess there's no turning back and no repenting allowed. But I digress.
For Robert W. Pratt, chief judge of the federal courts in the Southern District of Iowa, this all added up to an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money for religious indoctrination, as he ruled in June in a lawsuit challenging the arrangement.

The article goes on to state that since 2000, more than a dozen other programs have been cited for similar unconstitutional use of taxpayer money to promote religion. But that hasn't stopped the progress of the programs.
...the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest prison management company, with 65 facilities and 71,000 inmates under its control, is substantially expanding its religion-based curriculum and now has 22 institutions offering residential programs similar to the one in Iowa. And the federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs at least five multifaith programs at its facilities, is preparing to seek bids for a single-faith prison program as well.

And there is no significant penalty imposed on these groups -- usually they are barred from future financing and not required to repay monies used in the past for these unconstitutional activities.

Just a quick reminder:
Bill of Rights

Amendment I: Freedom of speech, religion, press, petition and assembly.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
10 December 2006

Dying For A Comfort Level

by: Foiled Goil

How Many More Will Die For Bush’s Ego?

Paul Craig Roberts
The report from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group has made it plain as day that the US is accomplishing nothing in Iraq except the destabilization of the entire Middle East. As Middle East expert Anthony Sullivan writes in The National Interest, the ISG report "constitutes a massive repudiation of the policy of the Bush Administration." The war is lost and cannot be retrieved militarily. "Staying the course" is the path of total folly.

Yet, the White House Moron says that it is better for 100 US troops and 3,000 Iraqi civilians to die every month than for him to admit that he is wrong.

To date the cost of Bush being wrong is 25,000 US casualties (dead and wounded) and approximately 650,000 dead Iraqis. No one knows how many have been wounded. How many more will die before America drowns in the shame of the blood that is being shed for no other reason than the American people were so stupid as to elect a president who cannot admit that he made a mistake? The same stupid American people elected a Congress that is too corrupt to impeach a president who is a liar, a war criminal, and a tyrant. Instead, they are prepared to let Bush off with a mere "mistake," a courtesy denied to President Clinton. Lying about sex is an impeachable offense. Lying about war is a mere mistake.

Are the American people, Congress, and the American Establishment going to let the death toll continue to mount day by day for the two more years it takes for Bush to become history?

How do America's military families feel about the loss of loved ones for no reason except President Bush cannot admit a mistake?

How do the troops themselves feel about it? On December 8, a US Marine who has spent 7 months fighting insurgents in Anbar province answered this question on (A Young Marine Speaks Out) as follows: "I'm sick and tired of this patriotic, nationalistic and fascist crap ... How do you justify 'sacrificing' your life for a war which is not only illegal, but is being prosecuted to the extent where the only thing keeping us there is one man's power, and his ego." US Marine Philip Martin says he joined the Marines to protect the US Constitution, not to serve as an imperialist storm trooper.

I couldn't believe my ears when I heard talking heads worrying about Bush's "comfort level" with the Iraqi Study Group's unanimous report. Bush's comfort level? What about the comfort level of the Iraqis and Americans who are losing family members while idiot talking heads worry about Bush's comfort level with the facts!

Try to imagine the impression the US gives to the rest of the world: The US cannot stop a war that is a catastrophe becoming a calamity because it would interfere with Bush's comfort level.

This disastrous war is a testament to the irresponsibility of the American people and their elected representatives. There were, of course, many dissenters. But the majority were too lazy and irresponsible to take the trouble to be informed. Most Americans allowed themselves to be deceived and emotionally manipulated. The consequence of this failure of the American people has been brutal for countless people and their families in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon and for the thousands of American families who have suffered because Bush sent US troops on a fool's mission. The American people are stained with the blood of innocents. Are they still not sufficiently angry with the president who used them for his crimes to demand his impeachment?

Do you need to be reminded? Do you need to see it again?

OK, I'll spell it out: George W. Bush and his entire senior administration lied, and continue to lie, flagrantly, openly, knowingly, with full intent, about the need to drive this nation into a brutal and unwinnable and fiscally debilitating war, one that protects no one and inhibits no terrorism and defends nothing but BushCo's own petrochemical cronies and political stratagems.

When Even the Republicans Go, "YEESH!"

by: Dark Wraith

Rep. William JeffersonRemember Rep. William Jefferson, the Democrat from Louisiana who's being investigated by the FBI? The guy caught on tape taking a hundred thousand dollar bribe? The guy who stashed ninety grand of it in hundred dollar bills in his freezer? The guy Rolling Stone calls one of "The 10 Worst Congressmen"?

Yeah, well, the fellow just won the run-off election down in New Orleans against an African-American woman who had five times as much money in her campaign warchest.

This is where we get to see if the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have more spine in dealing with their own than they had in dealing with the Republicans for six years.

The Dark Wraith isn't holding his breath.

And The Winner(s) Is....

by: Minstrel Boy

(note) I've been on 18 hour days for a while doing this truffle project, I neglected to crosspost the announcement of Jeff's winning. I apologise.

Jeff (no, the other one). He left a comment the very first day here at 3B's that said with the arrival home of his son Jackson (yeah!) he and his wife were too tired to have sex.

Chocolate's better than sex. For many reasons. So, Jeff, as soon as you read this email me with your shipping information and I will overnight your dozen truffles.

Pissed off Patricia

email your shipping info (it's on my profile page) and I'll send yours off too.

Once the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared if I have any left we can do a fire sale.

Congratulations Jeff!
09 December 2006

US: A Nation of Prisoners

by: Konagod

More news which casts the United States in an unflattering light is the prison situation. Prisons are popping up like dandelions in the spring. These statistics are absolutely embarrassing:

According to the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College in London, more people are behind bars in the United States than in any other country. China ranks second with 1.5 million prisoners, followed by Russia with 870,000.

It wasn't so long ago the United States was consistently in concert with Western European nations in a broad range of positive criteria. Increasingly we find ourselves lumped in with such non-luminaries as China, Russia, even Iran.

The U.S. incarceration rate is 737 per 100,000 people .... followed by 611 in Russia and 547 for St. Kitts and Nevis. In contrast, the incarceration rates in many Western industrial nations range around 100 per 100,000 people.

Reports such as this should be throwing up red flags in the minds of all thinking Americans, and I still cling to the belief that is at least 51% of us. Unfortunately, in our fear-based society this news will most likely be shrugged off or perhaps even praised, without so much as casual examination.

"The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. We rank first in the world in locking up our fellow citizens," said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports alternatives in the war on drugs.

Never mind the number of non-violent offenders, many of whom are locked away for drug charges, being given ridiculously long prison sentences.

Ryan King, a policy analyst at The Sentencing Project, a group advocating sentencing reform, said:

Drug offenders account for about 2 million of the 7 million in prison, on probation or parole, adding that other countries often stress treatment instead of incarceration.

The criminal justice system in the US is abysmal and getting worse.
"If these were public schools or publicly traded corporations, we'd shut them down," said Alexander Busansky, executive director of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, established by a private think tank in New York. Rather, the commission said, Americans view prisons with detachment or futility, growing interested when a riot makes the news and then looking away, "hoping the troubles inside the walls will not affect us."

Here are some highlights from the report mentioned in the link, titled "Confronting Confinement," by the National Prison Commission:
*Violence remains a serious problem in prisons and jails, with gang assaults, rapes, riots and, in Florida, beatings by "goon squads" of officers.

*High rates of disease in prison, coupled with inadequate funding for healthcare, endanger inmates, staff and the public, with staph infections, tuberculosis, hepatitis C and AIDS among the biggest threats.

*The rising use of high-security segregation units is counterproductive, often causing violence inside prisons and contributing to recidivism.

In California, the Office of the Inspector General acts as a watchdog, investigating reports of abuse, assaults and fatalities. But the media are limited in their access to the state's 33 prisons, and legislative efforts to overturn such restrictions have been vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his predecessor, Gray Davis.

All 20 members supported the report's findings, concluding that "we should be astonished by the size of the prisoner population, troubled by the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and Latinos, and saddened by the waste of human potential."

Not only are we not astonished, the vast majority of Americans have no idea, nor do many of them have any interest in understanding this problem.

Another growing facet of this is the issue of privately-run prisons. As with any business, they are in it to make a profit. To make a profit, they need a steady supply of customers. How perfect that their customer base just happens to be delivered to them in large numbers.

Read the article at The Drug Policy Alliance site called A New Slavery.

Who is Profiting?

In the United States, prison architects and contractors, corrections personnel, policy makers and academics, and the thousands of corporate vendors who peddle their wares at the annual trade-show of the American Corrections Association - hawking everything from toothbrushes and socks to barbed-wire fences and shackles. And multi-national corporations that win tax subsidies, incentives and abatements from local governments -- robbing the public coffers and depriving communities of the kind of quality education, roads, health care and infrastructure that provide genuine incentives for legitimate business. The sale of tax-exempt bonds to underwrite prison construction is now estimated at $2.3 billion annually.(5)

Last year, the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation - which manages or owns 37 prisons in the U.S., 18 in the U.K and Australia and has one under contract in South Africa -- tried to convert a former slave plantation in North Carolina into a maximum security prison to warehouse mostly Black prisoners from the nation's capital. Promising investors to keep the prison cells filled these corporations dispatch "bed-brokers" in search of prisoners - evoking images of 19th century bounty-hunters capturing runaway slaves and forcibly returning them to the cotton fields.

I do not understand why this infuriating situation continues to fly under the radar.
Geo Group, Inc., located in Boca Raton, Florida, is a company that specializes in privatizing prisons. Recently, Geo Group, Inc. was awarded a $20 million contract just two months after giving a $10,000 contribution to Governor Schwarzenegger's Recovery Team. Not only have they given large sums of money to Schwarzenegger and his campaign, they also hired lobbying firms and consultants with close connections to the Schwarzenegger Administration.

Correctional Properties Trust, a spin-off of Geo Group, named former State Finance Director Donna Arduin to their board of directors. If that isn't bad enough, according to a recent article in the Palm Beach post, Geo Group overcharged the State of Florida by $5 million.

Not surprisingly, this has been very much on the radar in the financial sector...
3 prison stocks poised to break out.
In what might be a revealing commentary on our country's state of affairs, the nation's private prison companies look like solid investments for the next several years.

Sorry, I'm all for making a profit in the market, but not on the backs of the incarcerated. It seems rather... criminal.

Related post: Incarceration of women.
Crossposted from konagod

Bursting Bubble Boy's Bubble

by: Debra

Isn't going to happen. In the real world it would have burst on impact but his has shown great resiliency, even now. Historically when things haven't gone the way he wanted, he called Poppy to bail him out. Having spent the last six years trying to show the world that in all things Oedipal he was better than daddy, accepting help no matter how badly needed, is not what he has in mind for his "legacy."

He made a point of saying a few years ago that he takes advice from a "higher power" than his father which only showed that he doesn't listen to anybody, not even God. Because if he did, he would have obeyed at least one of the Ten Commandments, you know the one. Honor thy father (not touching the mother thing!) doesn't exist in the Bush bubble. Actually he treats the Commandments the way he treats the Bill of Rights, with absolute utter disdain. Between the killing, the stealing, the coveting, and the worshiping of false idols there isn't much left to accomplish that God said don't do.

Meanwhile, back on this side of the blogosphere we notice that more than one columnist now feels brave enough to point out that the emperor has no clothes. The ever popular Modo (behind the hideous NY Times paywall) lets loose once again with the aptly titled Oval Intervention, the so-called "fictional" behind closed doors attempt to bring Junior back to reality.

From the until recently quiescent Eleanor Clift, comes another observation on Poppy's little breakdown from earlier this week, which happened to match my own. Wrong boy got the right job and destroyed everything that Poppy had worked for, I almost feel sorry for him. Not.

You raised a son whose idea of a consensus is for everyone to do what he wants, not for him to compromise for the greater good. The greater good to him is whatever makes him feel good at the moment. Great parenting, no wonder you were a one term President.

Picking and choosing intelligence (!) is part of the reason we got into the mess in Iraq and bubble boy still feels confident picking and choosing which parts of the Iraq War Group's report that he thinks are important and the advice that should be disregarded. It doesn't matter that the American publics wishes mirrors the recommendations in the report or that the Iraqi peoples wishes mirror the American peoples. What matters is that he can use one line to justify his position. As if that makes everything right.

Nice way to run a country. Into the ground.

Anybody seen that Osama (not Obama) bin Forgotten guy lately? Dead or alive, another promise conveniently forgotten.


Most Secret Impulse Revealed

by: Foiled Goil

Perhaps the most striking thing about Bush administration officialdom was that, before they reached for their waterboards, they reached for their dictionaries; and so, out of their world of secret imprisonment, humiliation, and pain emerged an unending stream of twisted definitions of otherwise common terms in classified but quickly leaked documents. Karen Greenberg, executive director of NYU's Center for Law and Security and co-author of The Torture Papers (which collected all those grim classified memorials to these last years of excess), now considers the most secret impulse of all revealed by this sordid collection of documents – the impulse to confess.

In a Confessing State of Mind

by Tom Engelhardt and Karen Greenberg
Confession, the time-honored, soul-soothing last resort for those caught in error, may not survive the Bush administration. It has, after all, long made a mockery of such revelations by manufacturing an entire lexicon of coercive techniques to elicit often non-existent "truths" that would justify its detention policies. And yet, without being coerced in any way, administration officials have been confessing continually these past years – in documents that may someday play a part in their own confrontation with justice.

On January 9th, 2002, just as Guantanamo opened for business as a detention facility supposedly beyond the review of American courts, John Yoo and fellow Office of Legal Counsel member Robert Delahunty explained why a breach with international law would not constitute a crime for the Bush administration. In their secret memo, the United States, through the Justice Department, was to exempt itself ahead of time from the laws it was about to break. In essence, it was to give itself the equivalent of a hall pass for future illegal activities in the new policies and practices of detention.

The memo contorted the Geneva Conventions into a pretzel of excuses for America's impunity on the matter of war crimes; it offered tortured reasoning about the inapplicability of Common Article Three of the Conventions – guaranteeing humane treatment during armed conflict to those individuals who are not engaged in battle (non-combatants, prisoners-of-war, those who have lain down their arms, etc.) – to the conflicts then at hand. Thus, the Taliban was redefined not as a state but as a failed state; Al Qaeda became a non-state actor; the Conventions, they now claimed, were created largely for civil wars, not for "other types of internal armed conflict." As the memo asserted over and over again, "As a constitutional matter, the President has the power to consider performance of some or all of the obligations of the United States under the Conventions suspended."

In this way, any captives from our Afghan War were redefined as possible subjects for utterly lawless behavior, while the President was given the right not to follow international law. They put the matter this way: "The President could justifiably exercise his constitutional authority over treaties by regarding the Geneva Conventions as suspended in relation to Afghanistan."

What more could a prosecutor want than a trail of implicit confessions, consistent with one another, increasingly brazen over time, and leading right into the Oval Office? For five years now, the Bush administration has given itself an inviolable command: declare immunity for what you have done, what you are doing, and what you are about to do. When the President's Military Commission Bill did pass, its many astounding "reforms" actually codified immunity retroactively for a range of abuses against detainees.

To overlook the trail of confessions that is part and parcel of the administration's torture narrative is to perform an act of extraordinary rendition not just on the truth but also on the importance of confessions themselves. Professional interrogators, priests, psychiatrists, and others who deal with confession regularly say that people normally want to talk, that they want to tell you their story, that confession is a deep and satisfying part of all our lives.

In the case of the Bush administration, it is the documents themselves that seem to want to confess, that are bursting with the desire to talk, to tell the story of these last years of illegality. Americans, and the Congress they have just elected, should take heed.

*** Nemo Me Impune Lacessit ***
08 December 2006

Pelosi Contacts Congressional Committees Project And Offers Help!

by: Gary

My friend (greenreflex) and the creator of The Congressional Committees Project spoke to a staffer from soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's office. He was recently contacted by a staffer who expressed an interest in helping this fledgling citizen media accomplish the stated goal of creating, seeking, and insisting on Congressional transparency. Well that conversation moved forward tonight.

Allow me to offer his post from KOS from tonight. It speaks volumes.

The New House

Our discussion has made me feel, even further than before, that most of us have no idea just what it is that we've won. A majority isn't just more votes. We'll have the chairs of the committees, a majority in each committee, a bigger budget for each committee, and more staffers for each committee.

That is big news for anyone who is interested in being able to pay attention to what goes on in committee, since the committee transcripts are very hard to obtain. With a larger staff, politicians interested in sharing information with the public will be able to do that. The politicians interested in doing that are the democrats, of course. And they're in charge now, for the first time in twelve years.

So What's Going to change?

Well, that's where you all come in. The staffer and I discussed several things that will hopefully be changing with the passage of the The Honest Leadership & Open Government Act. These things (that, as far as I know, should be happening soon) include: the text of bills being posted before their consideration, and conference committee hearings being held in the open.

That's not all, though. Speaker-to-be-Pelosi's office is interested in seeing our suggestions about how Congressional Committee websites are set up, and also on how they can most effectively share information with the netroots and the public.

I suggested the best I could think of: transcripts of all hearings that are open (some are closed due to what has to remain secret in them) available as soon as possible after they occur, along with audio or video of the hearings and meetings available nearly immediately if not live, with public archives available, and all of this available from a centralized location.


Not all of that is going to happen. Not right away at least. The response, however, made me as happy as the ability to make the request. Pelosi and her staff seems to me to be completely committed to transparent government, and also sees the internet as essential to that goal. (That's a paraphrase.)

We discussed two things that are more likely to be doable in the near future without severely changing the way things are done. First, we talked about a House Committee RSS feed, which could signal the availability of things as they're public: transcripts, testimony, the text of bills up for consideration. We also discussed making the information not posted in .pdf format whenever possible.

Your input needed!

We're looking for your suggestions. They're going to be heard. Now is the right time to enact these changes, since the new power of the democratic congressional majority can now give us the power to see into and interact with our government like never before! As the staffer said, what was the internet in 1994?

I didn't know that much about congress a month ago, and I've done what I can over the last month, with the help of an amazing group of you. This is your opportunity to help shape the divide between government and public. They're not used to having a majority yet, and we're not used to having a government that actually appreciates the people they represent. There's only one way to feel out that relationship, and that's to begin.

What do you want? What might committees do to help share information with us? What should we know?
So there ya go...A great idea is well on it's way to becoming something powerful & significant to We the People, and potentially something that can restore the fabric of America and our system of representative government.

I told you something huge was on the way, didn't I?!

Check out the Congressional Committees Project:


and sign up to contribute to governmental transparency at our own demand!

Yesterday in the World of Truffles

by: Minstrel Boy

Picked up a nice, used fridge in Calexico, melted and mixed 30lbs of bittersweet chocolate with 4.5 lbs of butter, three gallons of heavy cream and various flavorings. Six pounds of white chocolate was mixed with 1.5 lbs of butter, 12 egg yolks, vanilla beans, and other wonderful things.

My niece photographed the rolling and dipping parts of the dark truffles and the melting and mixing part of the white ones. as soon as she gets the pics uploaded i'll post them with commentary.

These are the flavors that are being rolled and dipped over the next few days. The decoration scheme is how I tell them apart.

Raspberry- - - White Stripes, Red Sparkles
Jessie’s Peppermint Stick - - - Peppermint bits, White Stripes
Sofia’s Mexicali Spice- - - Cinnamon Dust, Dark Stripes
Classic Bittersweet- - - Dark Stripes
Chambord- - -Milk Stripes, Red Sparkles
Frangelico- - - Milk & White Stripes
Starbuck’s Coffee- - - Milk and Dark Stripes
Calvados- - -Red & Milk Stripes
White Chocolate- - -White Stripes
Jessie O’s Raspberry Creme - - -White Stripes, Red Sparkles

The next few days are all about rolling and dipping.

harp and sword
07 December 2006

Pah! Dump A Dumb Rum

by: Foiled Goil

Rumsfeld Faces Lawsuit From Detainees
On Friday, the U.S. District Court in Washington will be the scene of a parting shot at outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Former detainees represented by human rights groups accuse him — along with a top general of the Iraq war, a former commander of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and a commander of U.S. military intelligence and police forces — with "derelictions of duty and command" and promoting the practice of inflicting "physical and psychological injuries" on civilians held by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The case of Ali v. Rumsfeld, to be heard before Chief Judge Thomas Hogan, pits lawyers from two human rights organizations representing nine former detainees at Abu Ghraib and the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, with attorneys representing Rumsfeld, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski and Col. Thomas Pappas.

The case is an attempt to have U.S. officials held accountable for alleged abuse of Iraqi and Afghan civilians who were never held as enemy combatants or charged with any crime.

The former detainees accuse Rumsfeld and others of being personally responsible for approving torture techniques and violating the U.S. Constitution. Rumsfeld argues that they are all immune from liability.

Rumsfeld, to be replaced later this month by Robert Gates, who was confirmed by the Senate this week, argues "that alien military detainees held outside the United States are not generally entitled to constitutional protections."


Details and Devils

by: Dark Wraith

Last Sunday, the blogger litbrit of The Last Duchess crossposted her article entitled, "The Dead Don’t Give A Damn What We Call It" at Shakespeare's Sister. Her post concerned a New York Times article by Frank Rich about the use of language by the media to frame the situation in Iraq and by Mr. Bush to literally construct his own perception of what's happening there. Mr. Rich used as an example of Mr. Bush's extraordinary disconnect the recent incident with newly elected Senate Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia: Bush asked Webb how his son (a soldier in Iraq) was doing, and Mr. Webb responded by saying, "I’d like to get them out of Iraq," to which the President snapped that he didn't ask what Mr. Webb wanted.

The comment thread from litbrit's post included a running exchange between Minstrel Boy of Harp & Sword and your host here at Big Brass Blog, with others, including litbrit, herself, offering thoughts on Rich's column and on Mr. Bush's state of mind.

As is often the case, conversations with Minstrel Boy can be interesting and informative, his words being the product of both his experience as a soldier in the Vietnam War and his extensive knowledge of military history. During our discussion in that comment thread, he offered an important judgment that I wish to emphasize and then use as a touchstone for a point of my own; but first, it would be proper form to reproduce here some of the exchange on that thread from litbrit's post.

◊      ◊      ◊
just a quick expansion of the webb story. three days before the reception at the white house webb's son's unit was ambushed in al-anbar province. the vehicle next to his son's was bombed, killing three members of the unit. young corporal webb behaved like the webbs have behaved in battle since the french and indian war for this country. with courage, compassion and selfless courage. senator elect webb had a lot on his mind and went to the reception because of his sense of duty and deference to the institutions of this nation. he purposely avoided the reception line because he did not want to make nice with the man who is stubbornly and idioticly putting our children's lives at risk for no good reason. mr. bush (who knew exactly what the situation was with webb's son, he fucking knew exactly) broke ranks and sought him out for a little session of frat boy bullying. the implied threat of "i can kill your son if you fuck with me." asshole. reprehensible asshole. i would have bitten throat out of that rear echelon mother fucker. then hit the buffet. webb has a lot more character than i do.

— The Minstrel Boy

Thanks, MB. I wasn't sure what would happen if I put up the whole thing (men in black NYT vans suddenly pull up outside my house and pull me from my laptop while I'm still in my pink, sock-monkey-print PJs?) so I excerpted as heavily and as appropriately as I could.

You gots more balls than I do, Sir! (As Son Two would say, Well, Deet-dee-dee..., which I'm told is the new Duh in Hipworld.)

The Webb incident was just the latest installment of what has become a far-reaching collection of utterly unbelievable, utterly disrespectful Bush declarations. Think Cindy Sheehan. Think every parent or loved one of every soldier, the fallen and the still-standing alike.


— litbrit

Good morning, litbrit.

While I am glad for Frank Rich's column, allow me a tempering thought, here.

Poll question for the American people:

Which would you prefer?

A) A change of military strategy by the Administration that would allow us to win in Iraq.

B) A change of political strategy by the Administration that would allow us to leave Iraq.

In my judgment, Choice B) is the runner-up, the one the electorate has now chosen merely because Mr. Bush lost his credibility in delivering A).

When this war in Iraq is over for the United States—and that, by the way, will be a long, long time from now—I shall be woefully impatient with the inevitable "soul searching" in which politicians, pundits, and commoners will engage. They got what they wanted when they wanted it: razzle-dazzle, slam-bam, shock-and-awe right on the tellie. Must-see TV for the Payback Time Generation.

Senator Webb's son gets to have the other side of the coin: while we as a nation will someday gladly leave Iraq, those soldiers of our country who stood that ground in a miserable Middle Eastern country will get to have their own version of the old Charlie Daniels Band Song. Anyone remember it?

"I Am Still in Saigon."

Mr. Bush might very well ensure that soldiers remain in Baghdad for quite a while to come, but it was the American people who were ultimately responsible for ensuring that Mr. Webb's son and tens of thousands of others like him will spend the rest of their days still in Iraq, regardless of how far from that awful place they run for the rest of their days.

Let us never forget to thank the voters for that for the rest of their days.

The Dark Wraith has had his say.

— Dark Wraith

...[T]o answer your question, I choose B because I was always against the illegal and immoral invasion; now, as then, I believe our military muscle and national treasure are put to their best and noblest use protecting and providing for Americans right here at home. Defending the Constitution, fighting "food insecurity", and all that.

I should add that A is probably impossible, unless you're one of those who'd happily wait for that infamous infinite number of monkeys--the ones with infinite typewriters and limitless time--to churn out a bit of Shakespeare.

Something tells me you're not, though. B it is.

— litbrit

I find it altogether troubling that Mr. Bush is still able to frame the debate about "pullback" in terms of "win" and "lose" being mutually exclusive opposites, which is not the case in a conflict that has become a slow-bleed war of attrition. Only by allowing a failed military/political strategy, one that from its inception included both lies and wholly silly theoretical underpinnings, to distend into what Iraq has become for us does "losing" become the alternative to "winning."

Mr. Bush has dug his own grave, and he continues to do so. I just wish he would continue his descent into Hell using a shovel not made from the bones of Americans and Iraqis.

The Dark Wraith can't wait to see the look on his face when he makes it all the way down to Satan's office complex.

— Dark Wraith

another factor to consider in "get out now" (which by the way is something that should be done except for the reasons i'm about to go into)

for the last eight months or so i have been pointing out to people (along with wes clark, colin powell, david hackett fisher and a few others) that the situation on the ground in iraq, the geography and the mood of the people there precludes us pulling out without a bloodbath along the lines of la noche triste where cortez had to fight his way out of tenochtitlan. there was another british retreat from afghanistan (i think 1920's about the time they made up the concept of iraq and set the stage for today's current clusterfuck) where they were slaughtered by small tribe after small tribe.

the distances, the anger of the people, the geographic choke points, the fact that our forces have been stretched and bled dry on this misadventure for the last five years all show that a quick bug out is not wise or even plausible.

so then, what to do?

some folks argue that forting up might be the key. turning the u.s. presence into knights in a castle who ride out when the residents light a bonfire (or flash the bat signal to the sky). great idea except that then we have sitting targets for mortars, rockets and other long range weapons. which they will get, and use. because they hate us so much.

a massive rescue effort (taking far more personnel than the suggestion of john mccain's 20,000, which by the way, is troops we do not fucking have). link up, join in and (to quote the old good bad movie "the warriors" bop our way home. this would require the saudis to accept another massive u.s. ground presence. the turks also.

withdraw to kurdistan (a de facto entity folks it was that before we invaded and will remain so). same as a retreat to the south except with a much more harrowing final exit route. (north through the soviet union, or through turkey, the turks might be bought off with an entry ticket to the EU so there's some small hope)

this scenario plays out like the crows anthem from the wiz which is returning to broadway soon, but i digress.

you can't win
you can't get even
and you can't get out of the game.

this is a clusterfuck of monumental proportions. bush is the spiritual heir to quintus varius. (look it up)

— The Minstrel Boy

"These (Aztecs) then came and I told them to observe how they could not triumph, and how each day we did them great harm and killed many of them and we were burning and destroying their city; and that we would not cease until there was nothing left either of it or of them. They replied that they had indeed seen how much they had suffered and how many of them had died, but that they were all determined to perish or have done with us, and that I should look and see how full of people were all those streets and squares and roof tops. Furthermore, they had calculated that if 25,000 of them died for every one of us, they would finish with us first, for they were many and we were but few."

--Hernan Cortés--

— The Minstrel Boy

And so, then, we came to the only possible option remaining.

We fed them to each other; we pitted them against their own brethren in a spiraling vortex of blood spraying up into the caustic sky. Hatred that had festered in rotting tombs for centuries, we dredged it from the very soil, itself, and we made them to feed; and so they did. Great was their hunger, and flesh—any flesh—was their supper that night as we watched in awe at what we had done.

But anon, we would have to leave; and leave we did, amid the screams, amid the wailing, amid the roar of war become the glowing iron of self-destruction.

We departed, and they did not see us in our quiet flight.

We departed, and they did not care, for we had shown them an enemy to hate far more than they could hate us: we had shown them the enemy that is themselves.

One day, God forbid, we shall see that enemy here in this land, too, for that enemy lives in the hearts of all men who would surrender, willingly or by duress, to the animals of our nature.

Already, I can hear it howling patiently from my shores, even as I come marching home.

Even as I come marching home the defeated hero that I am.

--Dark Wraith--

— Dark Wraith
◊      ◊      ◊

The American pullout scenarios envisioned by many on the Left and even some on the Right merit in their details the kind of harsh light Minstrel Boy brings to bear. One solution touted by the some was mentioned favorably by Andrew Sullivan in a December 5, 2006, column entitled, "The Gathering Storm," a wide-ranging op-ed piece that begins with his own, personal endorsement of Robert Gates as the new Secretary of Defense, this despite Dr. Gates's status as what could easily be described as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Reagan Administration's criminal acts collectively known as the Iran-Contra scandal, as recapped by, among others, Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran of the CIA.

After the endorsement of Dr. Gates to resume his former career as a public official with a history of manipulating intelligence to get Congress to do Presidential bidding, and before launching into a simplistic characterization of 16th and 17th Century European history as "...a massive, sectarian, regional bloodbath" that will happen all over again in the 21st Century, Mr. Sullivan makes this passing statement about the situation in Iraq:
"The best hope for Iraq is perhaps a temporary surge in U.S. troops to make one last effort at some effort at a relatively peaceful de facto partition, before the near-inevitable U.S. withdrawal and subsequent involvement of Saudis and Egyptians in support of the Sunnis and the Iranians on the side of the Shia."
Mr. Sullivan puts it on the table, the emerging silver bullet: partition. His version has the shiny, testosterone gloss of one last roar of U.S. troops kicking serious booty to get all those fractious Iraqis into line before we bug out.

Oh, yes, and the Saudis will flow in to see to it that our will be done as far as that partition goes, this despite the rather inconvenient situation on the ground with the House of Saud having to deal with its own running battle with internal anti-government militants. We'll get this mess under control, if only Dr. Gates can get Bush to see the light of letting Iraq break apart into three states, something called "Kurdistan" for the Kurds, some miserable piece of left-over turf for the Sunnis, and the rump Iraq with lots and lots of oil for the Shi'ites.

Yes, that's a good endpoint at which the United States should now aim, according to Mr. Sullivan. Unfortunately, that scenario, or some minor variation on it, has a good chance of becoming the widely preferred combo meal at the American Opinion Drive-Thru Solutions Diner.

Now, let us briefly but objectively think about the details of the pieces of this partitioning solution.

First, whether or not "Kurdistan" will ever be recognized as a full-fledged state, it already exists, but that does not mean it's not going to be a problem. Neighboring Turkey will have on-going and serious issues with even an unrecognized but de facto homeland for the Kurds since provisional Kurdish militias still routinely make cross-border, terrorist-type raids into Turkey, and Turkey routinely reciprocates with cross-border, punitive attacks to kill Kurds who might or might not have been involved in the original raids. That conflict will continue to simmer for decades, and it will inevitably flare up every now and then into something that looks an awful lot like war. And adding a rather strange twist to that mix will be Israel, which has a difficult but deepening matrix of commercial, political, and military ties with both Turkey and Kurdistan. One might argue, of course, that perhaps Israel's greatest movement toward maturity as a nation-state will be when it finds itself in the unenviable and entirely novel position of having to act as a peace broker between two of its allies that it really wants to keep from each other's throat.

So Kurdistan—what was once northern Iraq—will be a source both of hope for stability and of spasmodic warfare in the coming decades; and as a point to Mr. Sullivan, that on-going tension and occasional, open conflict will not be "sectarian," nor will it necessarily be a "bloodbath."

Below Kurdistan is another matter: a bloodbath awaits almost any solution at this point, but no matter how many times the mainstream news media and some bloggers call it "sectarian" violence, that does not make it so. The Sunni/Shia distinction is obvious right now, but that is merely a pair of focal points for many issues that internally divide Iraqis, those being the divisions that Saddam Hussein was so masterfully able to contain in a way that makes George W. Bush look like an utter, incompetent, pathetic, rank amateur by comparison.

Cleaving a border to wedge the Sunnis and the Shi'ites from each other is a fool's goal, and the tragedy is that it has a very good chance of being the final solution, once President Bush is no longer an impediment. In any partition, the Shi'ites will get most of the territory that has the oil under it. The Sunnis will get dirt, and it will enrage them for generations, if not centuries, to come. The talk of bringing Iran and Syria into the brokered settlement is just brilliant, too: they're going to broker the maximum deal for the Shia majority of Iraq, and then they're going to run that new, rump Iraq of the Shi'ites like their own fiefdom. Lebanon under Syrian political and military domination was nothing but a shell of a state. The difference between Lebanon and the rump Iraq of the Shi'ites under the political shadow of Iran and Syria is that there won't be any chance whatsoever for an eventual Cedar Revolution for the latter, but there will be a very high probability that, sooner or later, Israel will feel compelled to use military force to contain what it will perceive as a clear and compelling threat to it.

The very idea that Iran needs to be brought into any "solution" to the crisis in Iraq shows just how miserable the choices are at this point. Any place where you find yourself in a poker game where the Devil is welcome to the table is a casino you never should have entered. But here we are: a weak, annoying little state that once in a while used to sponsor terrorism—despite Dr. Gates's mid-1980s lies to the contrary—has now become a regional pain in the backside able to just sit back and wait for us to come begging.

As a rhetorical question, just for the record, who brought us to this unhappy place, the poker table where the Taliban and Ba'athist enemies of the hegemons in Tehran are no longer around to keep Iran in a vice grip? Why, that would be none other than George W. Bush and his neo-conservative genius war-mongers.

And finally, let us be clear about the on-going and coming "bloodbath" in Iraq: whether we stay or leave, for a long time to come, that word will characterize the miserable land we invaded. All we're debating right now is how much American blood will be in the rivers of it that flow through the coming decade. Is anyone bold enough to openly say the awful truth about our eventual departure?—that part about how we Americans have made an unbelievably huge mess, a human tragedy of just about epic proportions, but now we need to leave so those Muslims can kill each other and leave us out of it?

Whether the President who caused this eventually goes to the gallows or into disgraced obscurity, we as a nation now must carry the blame for a catastrophe we simply cannot undo, cannot fix, and cannot find someone else upon whom to lay the blame.

Fortunately, we can always use our wholly facile, irrelevant language of "sectarian violence," "civil war," and "pullback" to assuage our national conscience and mitigate the glaring discomfort that comes with direct, unavoidable culpability; and we can bring back to power a skillful liar from another deceitful Administration; and we can put into power a party of men and women who consistently, for six long years, cowered before the neo-conservatives when the winds of popular support blew far from the world of measured skepticism that should never have been abandoned as the hallmark of statesmanship.

The good news is that it really is okay if we walk away from Iraq without feeling overwhelmingly mortified by the bloodbath that bears our imprimatur. Someday, just like always, we'll pay, and we'll pay dearly.

And when we do, watch just how morally outraged we'll be by the injustice of it all.

The Dark Wraith has spoken.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums
06 December 2006

Little People: Short in Stature, Big in Everything Else

by: Konagod

When I was growing up I never had exposure to little people other than what I might see at a circus or a carnival sideshow. They tended to be grouped together with anyone else who was considered a freak: people with extra body parts, or parts in the wrong places, the extraordinarily obese, or any abnormality that might elicit some oohs, ahhs, or yucks from an audience willing to part with some loose change for some grotesque "entertainment."

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

In some circles, a midget is the term used for a proportionate dwarf. However, the term has fallen into disfavor and is considered offensive by most people of short stature. The term dates back to 1865, the height of the "freak show" era, and was generally applied only to short-statured persons who were displayed for public amusement, which is why it is considered so unacceptable today.

By the time I was in my teens, having traveled around the country with my parents, I'd occasionally have a sighting of a little person out in the real world. Like most folks at the time, we called them midgets. My adolescent instinct was to think of them as freaks. Although it was not something I dwelled on for more than a few minutes, I would wonder what their horribly pathetic lives must be like. I lumped them in with the retarded and others with deformities.

I am ashamed to admit that I never altered my opinion very much as I moved into adulthood. Chalk it up to being misinformed and a lack of interest in exploring the issue on my own. I honestly didn't want to know much about it. Life can be miserable at times for anyone, and I didn't want to imagine or explore the lives of people I deemed horrible.

"Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable."
--Woody Allen

So, here I am in my mid-40s and finally having a truthful awakening.

txrad is somewhat more intellectually curious about certain things than I am. He finds programs to watch on tv and I'm often reluctant to watch because I don't find the theme or subject matter appealing. I'll usually come around to his side eventually. Such was the case with Iron Chef America -- a program I initially had zero interest in watching, and now it's one of my weekly addictions.

Recently he started watching a program on The Learning Channel called Little People Big World. The first time he had the show on, I figured that was a good time for me to go read blogs or do something I wanted to do. The last thing I wanted to watch was a reality show about midgets little people. It just seemed depressingly gross.

Several weeks ago he had the show on again and in the midst of my huffing and puffing to express my displeasure, he said to me, "I think you'll enjoy this. Watch it."

So I did. Within about 10 minutes I was not only watching it, I was hooked. And not in the weird freakshow sense. I sat through a marathon viewing of several episodes. This is probably the best series I've seen in a long time -- and if you want to categorize it as a reality program, then it's probably my all-time favorite since I'm not that gung-ho about the genre. If that seems like I'm diminishing the program, I'm not. This clearly would be in my top-10 favorite programs of the past decade or two.

For starters, it immediately gave my preconceived belief system a case of whiplash. How on earth could I have been so ignorant all my life? Little people are not freaks, nor are they miserable. Well, maybe when they are having to undergo multiple surgeries to correct various complications, but generally they are as happy with their lives as the rest of us.

Meet the Roloffs.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

They are a remarkable family, and the program does an incredible job of illustrating just how normal they are compared to the rest of society. Some of them are just shorter than average. Amy Roloff, the wife and mother of four, is sublime. She reminds me of Cheryl Hines -- in both appearance and personality.

If you haven't seen this series, I give it my highest recommendation. I am thankful to have one more horrendously ugly stereotype blown away.

Matt Roloff and his family are actively involved in the Little People of America, a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families.

Learn more about Dwarfism.

* is a condition characterized by short stature. Technically, that means an adult height of 4 feet 10 inches or under, according to the advocacy group Little People of America (LPA).

*can be caused by any one of more than 200 conditions, most of which are genetic. The most common type, accounting for 70% of all cases of short stature, is called achondroplasia.

*can and most often does occur in families where both parents are of average height. In fact, 85% of children with achondroplasia are born to average-size parents.

Dwarfism isn't:

*an intellectual disability. A person who has dwarfism is typically of normal intelligence.

*a disease that requires a "cure." Most people with the condition can live long, fulfilling lives.

*a reason to assume someone is incapable. Little people go to school, go to work, marry, and raise children, just like their average-size peers.

Crossposted from konagod

Herbs And The News

by: Debra

Ed over at the Tao of Politics sent me a few links related to herbology this morning. In regards to the link about some herbal medicines causing liver damage, I have this to say.

Number one, two cases does not an epidemic make. They conveniently don't mention all of the documented cases of drug interactions and deaths caused by western medications. Number two, one of the reasons why you go to see a licensed acupuncturist is because we are trained and tested regarding interactions and appropriateness of herbal care. Any competent practitioner should know that you NEVER prescribe liver qi movers to a compromised patient. Ever. This is one of the many reasons that I object to vitamin and herb stores such as GNC or drugstores selling single herb capsules. We have very few single herb formulas and they are for emergencies.

Not every herb is appropriate for every person. A proper herbal formula can cause as much harm as the prescription the western doctor gives you. Herbs should only be prescribed after a full intake which includes how you eat, sleep, fart, crap, sweat, dream, your favorite flavor, sex drive and that's just for starters.

While in school I helped give an herbal presentation to the San Diego Hospice and the whole intent was to show them that they couldn't just keep a few prescriptions on hand and then use them whenever they thought it was appropriate because a few symptoms matched. Two hours later they had agreed with us because it is much more involved than it looks on the surface.

Yes, cinnamon will help regulate diabetes, if you happen to be one of those people who are cold, sluggish and have a tendency to retain water. But, it needs to be the bark of the cinnamon, not the twigs and leaves. There is a difference. Ginger is another example. Fresh, it is used to relieve the surface (make you sweat). It harmonizes the digestion and helps to prevent damage from other herbs in a prescription. Dried ginger is extremely hot and is only used medicinally for a few formulas, most of which involve cinnamon. Both of these herbs are considered to be very tonifying to the kidney and are used to build energy. But if you happen to run warm already and find it difficult to keep still these two herbs will ramp you up and make you very uncomfortable.

Mushrooms (the ones that end in ake) have been used for many centuries because they tonify the system. One of the ways that Chinese Medicine attacks disease is by supporting the healthy and encouraging the rest of the system to do a better job. We have toxic herbs that are only used under certain circumstances and for an extremely short period of time. Gingko biloba springs to mind. It is used in our major asthma formula and we recommend a period of six weeks at a time, then you should take a break. Don't even get me started on ma huang and how it has been abused by the dieting craze.

Japan also has a high rate of stomach cancer and for the same reasons. Pickled and smoked foods. They may taste good but just like anything else, moderation is the key.

Well, that woke me up, didn't it?

Crossposted at Debsweb.

Washington Makes Silly Plans, Marines Use Silly String

by: Minstrel Boy

What the Marines Need

right now. Not in a few months, but right now. Is Silly String. From this morning's San Diego Union. . .

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton wanted "Silly String" – lots of it – while it is in Iraq.
Mark McLain, the General Services Administration's customer service director in San Diego, asked some skeptical questions in his e-mails to the troops overseas. They persuaded him: he took the order and got the goods for the Marines – at a party store.

The request for Silly String, the foamy stuff in aerosol cans that becomes string when sprayed all over, seemed more fitting for a playground than a war zone. Yet, once McLain got the gist of the Marines' plan, he was convinced.

Marines told McLain they wanted to spray Silly String around unexploded ordnance to check for trip wires, or warning systems. If any of the Silly String got caught on wires, they believed, it would indicate the wires were booby traps.

"They need it, and I get it," McLain, 45, said. "The Marines are pretty inventive."

So, I'm sitting here at the computer at Mom's house, MSNBC is waxing all fucking poetic about the "Message From the Mountain" delivered by Baker/Hamilton.

Here are guys who are wearing boots on the ground. This is something they need. If you are putting together care packages or other things for the troops. Hit the party store. Clean out their Silly String. Send your soldier or Marine a case. They need it most in Al-Anbar and Kirkuk and the other places that are fighting house-to-house.

Oh, and how about this? Instead of asking Jim Baker, Gates and the rest of these statesman/philosophers what we need in Iraq. How about asking the kids that are right there, right now? They'll tell you "Silly String."

Hoo-rah. Carry on.

Harp and Sword
05 December 2006

An Important Alliance

by: Foiled Goil

To expand on Dark Wraith's poll dance below, here is an editorial that perhaps is worth considering...
The Democrats and the Anti-Bushite Movement:
How This Important Alliance Should Work

by Andrew Bard Schmookler

The most important task facing America now, after the election, is the same as it was before the election: it is to discredit the Bushite forces in the eyes of the American people, to drive the Bushites from power, and to repair the damage that those dark forces have done to America and to the world.

For the achievement of these goals, the Democrats in Congress and the anti-Bushite movement are natural allies. And how well both sides of this alliance manage their relationship, and perform their complementary roles, will be one important determinant of how successfully this task is accomplished. [...]

In an ideal scenario, this discrepancy would not only be predictable, but also desirable. Ideally, the movement's loud cries --for bolder moves, for more direct confrontation, for more aggressive investigation and exposure, for more flexing of political muscle-- can strengthen the Democrats' hands. The greater the popular groundswell to go after the lies and crimes of the Bushites, the safer it will be for the Democrats to move in that direction. The congressional Democrats and movement can enact, in other words, a variant on the "good cop/bad cop" routine. [...]

And in addition to having some humility enter into our critiques of these important allies, I suggest also that we show some patience. [...]

So I suggest that we hold off from denunciations and condemnations for a few months. Wait for a while before deciding that their dithering or their confusion or their caution means their goals are not the same as ours. Give them the benefit of the doubt --letting things unfold a few stages-- before jumping to the conclusion that these allies of ours are too cowardly or foolish to be our champions in this battle.

The alliance is just too important not to give it every chance to succeed.

And the Democrats will have plenty of other enemies to contend with without our being in a hurry to pile on as well. The Bushites will doubtless play their usual dishonest tricks-- the character assassinations, the scare tactics, the accusations of virtual treason, the deliberate distortions. And the corporate media, one can anticipate, will play along with those Bushite distractions and obfuscations Fifteen years of right-wing propaganda --abetted, no doubt, by the actual shortcomings of contemporary liberalism and the Democratic Party-- have left the Democrats weakened in the eyes of the American people. Given what they are up against, we would be foolishly undercutting our own cause to be in any hurry to belittle them.

The time may come for blame and complaint. But it would be a mistake to go there with haste. [...]

What the Democrats need from us is not our scorn but our encouragement. They need not our contempt for their lack of boldness but helping them to screw their courage to the sticking place.

They need for us to provide the arguments and the scenarios that show plausibly that the right thing can also be the advantageous thing. They need for us to supply good battle plans. They need for us to pressure them-- in wise and constructive ways.

They need for us to engage them --through the blogosphere-- in a good conversation about how they should proceed. They need for us to supply a vision of what the healing of America can look like.

They need for us to rouse our countrymen to cry out for the truth and justice we'd like to see become the American way again.

Politicians rarely lead, but when there's already a parade for them to get in front of. It's up to us to form a parade promising enough that prudent politicians will judge that it leads to political success. That's how politics works, and we ought not blame politicians for gauging things in political terms.

Indeed, at this crucial moment in American history, that's our job, too.

Full article.
04 December 2006

Truffle Contest

by: Minstrel Boy

Since truffle production will start Wednesday (watch for the step by step posting of the process with pictures) I figured I should get the "Win A Dozen" contest up and running. I've thought long and hard about it. Of course, all that long and hard thinking came up empty. So, I figured, since we are in midwinter, nearing the solstice and the new year. How about this?

Why chocolate is makes life better, and why I am so fucking deserving of it.

The first prize is one dozen truffles, shipped overnight, on my dime. Second place is a dozen, you pay the shipping. (retail value is $45.oo per doz)
There are those of you who are already on the list. You either know who you are or I've been a git and not told anybody. Sarah In Chicago, already rates, just because. If she were explain why, she would still win, but along with the dozen that's going to her, she could designate a beneficiary (including claiming two dozen all for herself).

Somebody in, say, the metropolitan Chicago area, could name deserving friends in their circle and volunteer to be the delivery elf. Same goes for New York. or. . .

To riff on a comment offering from litbrit, if you live in a scandalous region that is not Florida, and are tired of them getting all the press, testify on the corruption and venality that you live right in the middle of and you might be a winner.

I promise that the selection process will be arbitrary, flighty, and most likely unfair. I have been known to take and offer bribes.

One of my favorite things to do is to give someone a truffle for the first time and watch the look on their face when they take that initial bite. Promise of pictures would be a bribe that I might succumb to easily. (that and permission to post the pictures).

Anyway, such as it is. That's the contest. Have at it troops!

Harp and Sword
03 December 2006

Big Brass Blog Poll: The Priority

by: Dark Wraith

It is time for you the readers here at Big Brass Blog to tell Congress what to do for the next two years. Should the newly empowered Democratic majority go about the unglamorous but entirely responsible work of trying to repair the village the Republicans have torn up for the past six years, or should they take on the flashy but risky work of building the gallows for the cabal that created the mess? It's your call; help the next Congress choose the right path by voting in our latest Big Brass Blog poll.

Which should be the priority of the 110th Congress?

  — Poll results —
02 December 2006

They the People

by: Dark Wraith

In a post published at Shakespeare's Sister, The Heretik comments on a Sunday, December 3, 2006, op-ed column by Eric Foner in The Washington Post entitled, "He's the Worst Ever." As the title of the Post article suggests, Mr. Foner proposes that George W. Bush will go down in history as one of the worst Presidents, if not the worst, in the history of the United States. He argues that Mr. Bush shares qualities of leadership style similar to others in the 'bottom rung' populated by the likes of Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, James Polk, and Richard Nixon. Having shown similarities between Bush and others considered among the worst, Foner concludes of George W. Bush:
"[I]n his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors."
For his part, The Heretik concludes on a resonant note with the following:
"People who go with their gut feeling and brag about it regularly eventually are recognized for who they are: people too lazy to use their brains. This White House has been run by people who have presumed the people could be fooled all the time. We are smarter than that. We have the heart and the compassion our leader does not."
While Pierce, Buchanan, and (let us not forget) Hoover might indeed have been bottom-rung, failed leaders, it is important to keep in mind that every one of them was, as is George W. Bush, an elected leader. The very real possibility that Mr. Bush's two election victories were the result of fraud does nothing to mitigate the glaring fact that a large number of Americans from time to time vote into office, and then choose to retain to that office, extraordinarily incompetent, venal, corrupt, ineffective, and/or just plain bad individuals.

That quite a few of Mr. Bush's former supporters now want him out of office is no evidence of fundamental change within them; they remain what they were when they voted for him, praised him, and supported his actions: they are a deep shadow cast by the American psyche, something to which this nation in its elected officials will revert again and again.

These people, just like those who ultimately repudiated the likes of miserable Presidents before, are not supporters of progressivism, not in any meaningful sense of the word; they are instead fickle users, people who will in the fullness of time return to their tendency to find mean-spirited stupidity in those they hold in esteem. Neo-conservatism in general, and George W. Bush in particular, offered methods of governance that voters found attractive. That neo-conservatism as it was operationalized by Bush failed merely means he failed. Offer up to those same voters another Republican or even a Democrat every bit as pretend-tough, "down-home" mean, "gut"-oriented in decision making, and they will jump right on the bandwagon.

Below is a graphical presentation of the latest Quinnipiac University National Thermometer poll of "warmth of sentiment" held by voters toward prominent politicians.

Warmth of Sentiment

Published on November 27, the results are telling. Topping the list is Republican Rudolph Giuliani, whose supposedly "liberal" views on matters such as choice are at least arguably overshadowed by his legendary reputation as a get-tough law enforcement type. More tellingly, setting aside Bill Clinton, who cannot run for President in 2008, the top of the chart is dominated by Republicans and their ally, Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat in name only when it comes to many of his foreign policy positions, which are stikingly neo-conservative.

But some might point out that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) certainly seems to hold a good second place in the graphic above. Unfortunately, other data collected during the Quinnipiac survey reveals that, while Mr. Obama scores high on warmth of sentiment, that might be only because many of those surveyed don't know much about him. The graphic below shows the percentage of poll respondents who didn't know enough about the politician to offer a response to the "warmth of sentiment" question. Obama scored 41 percent on the lack of recognition component of the survey, placing him in the lower half of the 20 on the list.

Lack of Recognition

This is even more troubling than it first appears. The simple correlation coefficient for Democrats shows a slightly negative relationship of -0.092 between "warmth of sentiment" and lack of recognition. This is barely if at all statistically significant and means respondents were slightly more likely to associate high warmth of sentiment to those Democrats about whom they knew. The correlation coefficient for the Republicans is even less significant at a value of -0.065.

Sen. Obama bucks the slight overall tendency evident for both Democrats and Republicans: he scores high on the "warmth of sentiment" measure, but also scores high on lack of recognition. In fact, the extent of Mr. Obama's anomalous combination of results for warmth of sentiment and lack of recognition is revealed when the correlation coefficient for the Democrats is run removing his data: the value of the correlation coefficient more than doubles from -0.092 all the way to -0.22. This indicates that, taking out the only Democrat in the top four, respondents reveal a statistically significantly greater warmth of sentiment the more they know about Democrats. But because no Democrats are among the top four when Sen. Obama is removed from the poll results, that warmth of sentiment for Democrats is shared by fewer people than is the same sentiment for Republican candidates.

That does not bode well for Democrats going into the 2008 Presidential campaign and renders at least superficial evidence that the underlying current of sentiment among the majority of Americans remains Republican-leaning conservative.

Indeed, it was not conservatism or even perhaps neo-conservatism that the voters rejected in the rout of Republicans on November 7 of this year; instead, it was the incumbents who were implementing conservative policies who were thrown out of office.

No doubt, a sound argument can be made that the results of a single Quinnipiac University poll should not be used to make some sweeping statement about current, general voter sentiments. On the other hand, it is no less a sweeping statement to declare that the very same electorate that twice put a man like George W. Bush into the Oval Office has somehow in two short years had a fundamental change of mind about what constitutes desirable qualities in a President. To assume that a welcome transformation of the majority of Americans toward progressivism is underway is folly. Far more likely, the majority is looking for what George W. Bush was supposed to be as a conservative that he failed to be in that role.

Should that be what was truly behind the Democratic gains in November, the outlook is bleak. Republicans could very well hold the White House in 2008 and might even re-capture either the House or the Senate then. Any reciprocating "warmth of sentiment" Democrats might have toward the majority of voters right now must be tempered by the real possibility that a care-taker Congress has been put into place while the electorate sorts out which purveyor of Right-wing policies can best achieve the results Mr. Bush could not. This possibility makes the next two years crucial for the newly elected Democratic majorities in the House and Senate because they will have but 24 months—just one session of Congress—to do what they can to repair the damage wrought not merely by George W. Bush, but by the politics of a Republican Party that remains incapable of wise, prudent, and responsible governance.

It is altogether possible that the moral and financial mess wrought by the Republicans cannot be undone, but it is the duty of the Democrats to do what they can. Sadly, though, they should not labor under the misimpression that any repair they do will be rewarded by the voters in 2008, at least not as far as the Presidential race is concerned. The majority two years from now will be quite a bit like the majority that put a failed President back in the White House in 2004. To imagine that those voters have really learned their lesson is to ascribe to them something last month's elections did not and certainly could not demonstrate, something the Quinnipiac poll shows is still missing. The people who voted for Mr. Bush have not learned contrition, much less have they become ashamed of themselves for what they did in 2000 and 2004.

There is precious little evidence that the majority of Americans understand that George W. Bush is more than just another failed President: he is, in fact, a failed President they chose, not once, but twice.

It would be nice if someone would bluntly point that out to them.

They the People deserve to be reminded not just of what they've done to this country, but also of what they are for having done it.

The Dark Wraith has spoken.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

Keep Your Rosaries Off Our Ovaries!

by: Foiled Goil

Bush Appoints Ideological Quack: Women's Health At Risk

Bush pick threatens women's health

Last week, as most Americans busily prepared for Thanksgiving, President Bush chose another extremist ideologue to a powerful post. To lead Title X, the nation's family planning program, Bush selected Eric Keroack, a fanatic who doesn't believe in birth control. Keroack is notorious for peddling bad science to spin his anti-sex education, anti-contraception hardliner views.

Keroack is currently the medical director for A Woman's Concern, a network of so-called Christian "crisis pregnancy health centers" in the greater Boston area. In addition to their strict anti-choice policies, under Keroack's supervision, AWC health centers will not even distribute, encourage the use of or offer referrals for contraceptive drugs and devices.

Advocating abstinence until marriage, Keroack and his group are even opposed to dispensing contraception to married women! Instead, their Web site describes contraception as "demeaning to women" and "adverse to human health and happiness."

Given that the vast majority of American women welcome and use contraception, the White House searched high and low to find someone with such crazy views. It's an obvious effort to placate Bush's ultra right-wing base, which is still smarting from the recent election results.

Yet the appointment, which does not require Senate approval, has unfurled a wave of condemnation across the country; even The Salt Lake Tribune is calling for the Keroack nomination to be withdrawn.

It would be an affront to women to elevate Keroack to such an important post.

"Appointing an individual who has crusaded against birth control to head the nation's family planning program makes a mockery of women's health," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. It's like giving the worst polluter the top post at the Environmental Protection Agency.

More than 30 years ago, with strong bipartisan support, Congress created Title X, the first federal program dedicated to the provision of family planning services. Since then, Title X has enabled millions of women to plan their pregnancies, prevent unintended births and receive desperately needed reproductive health care by building a network of high-quality, low-cost family planning clinics.

Last year alone, Title X enabled 126,000 women in Washington state to obtain free or subsidized contraception, cancer screening and critical health care services.

Full article here.

What Kind of Reader Are You?

by: Minstrel Boy

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Well, really this one got fairly close. I haven't been keeping up my book log on the sidebar like I intended too. Usually I have at least three books going. But the genres and the styles change, and I am not all that rigid in my organization. Some of my titles are grouped by subject (like half a row of Lincoln stuff or the Founding Fathers/American Revolution shelves). Some are grouped by author (I have hardcovers of everything written by more than a couple of writers)

People sometimes get blown away by the music stuff scattered all through the house (I don't have any guitars on a stand in the bathroom or kitchen, but every other room is fair game) but I love it when a bibliophile sees the library. They gasp audibly. It's a room for books and reading. Four walls, floor to ceiling shelves, one chair, one small table, one lamp. They see that and know exactly where I'm coming from.

harp and sword

A Bigger Focus on Gender Identity in Children

by: Konagod

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

A boy, 5, left, who identifies as a girl, plays with a friend in Northern California. He began emulating girls shortly after turning 3. Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

This is so refreshing to see. I encourage comments from the trans community on this -- especially if you are willing to share early childhood experiences. I would guess very few adults who have grappled with gender issues ever received this kind of support as children. It will be fascinating to observe how such open acceptance and support might improve the lives of people who otherwise may spend decades grappling with their gender and the disapproving societal garbage surrounding it.

Children as young as 5 who display predispositions to dress like the opposite sex are being supported by a growing number of young parents, educators and mental health professionals.

Doctors, some of them from the top pediatric hospitals, have begun to advise families to let these children be “who they are” to foster a sense of security and self-esteem. They are motivated, in part, by the high incidence of depression, suicidal feelings and self-mutilation that has been common in past generations of transgender children. Legal trends suggest that schools are now required to respect parents’ decisions.

Personally I think this is great. The early years are critical for a child to begin developing confidence and self-esteem and there is absolutely nothing wrong in supporting them. I do not understand why our society can be so accepting of little boys being boys, and little girls being girls, but so overwhelmingly convinced that crossing any lines or breaking any barriers is such an unnatural negative.
Cassandra Reese, a first-grade teacher outside Boston, recalled that fellow teachers were unnerved when a young boy showed up in a skirt. “They said, ‘This is not normal,’ and, ‘It’s the parents’ fault,’ ” Ms. Reese said. “They didn’t see children as sophisticated enough to verbalize their feelings.”


At the Park Day School in Oakland, teachers are taught a gender-neutral vocabulary and are urged to line up students by sneaker color rather than by gender. “We are careful not to create a situation where students are being boxed in,” said Tom Little, the school’s director. “We allow them to move back and forth until something feels right.”

For families, it can be a long, emotional adjustment. Shortly after her son’s third birthday, Pam B. and her husband, Joel, began a parental journey for which there was no map. It started when their son, J., began wearing oversized T-shirts and wrapping a towel around his head to emulate long, flowing hair. Then came his mothers’ silky undershirts. Half a year into preschool, J. started becoming agitated when asked to wear boys’ clothing.

En route to a mall with her son, Ms. B. had an epiphany: “It just clicked in me. I said, ‘You really want to wear a dress, don’t you?’ ”

Excellent thinking outside the usual rigid confines. It should be that simple.

Crossposted from konagod
01 December 2006

Truffle Plans

by: Minstrel Boy

Today I'm heading back to Arizona but only for a couple of days. My mother's health has been deteriorating (note to the evangelical assholes who oppose stem cell research, they have been succesfully treating golden retreivers with Muscular Dystrophy with stem cell injections you hidebound agressively ignorant shitheads). My kitchen is still mostly torn up and most of the truffles I'm planning to make are going to be distributed in California anyway. What I'm going to do is gather my equipment, bring it back to California and batch up the truffles (32 doz or so) at Mom's.

My neice WWW (we've been calling her that ever since she was cast as the Wicked Witch of the West in the high school production of "The Wizard of Oz" this year) is a budding photojournalist and has volunteered to help me put out a series of posts that show the truffles as they are being made.

The tentative flavor assorment for the year is this:

Classic Bittersweet
Peanut Butter
Starbucks Coffee Liqueur
White Chocolate
White Chocolate Raspberry

I haven't posted my white chocolate truffle recipe yet but I will. The white stuff (which isn't chocolate at all folks) doesn't require the tricky tempering process.

I haven't decided on a format for the "Win A Dozen Truffles" contest. Frankly I'm kind of at a loss. I've already promised to send Sarah in Chicago a dozen. Litbrit has rated a couple dozen because I'm sure that it take at least that many to safely deliver a full ration to her alone.

If you can think of a good contest I will send you a box of eight.

Shipping is only done overnight and the costs are brutal. These truffles are worth it though, totally worth it.

Mas tardes Chicos. el rancho harpo