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31 October 2007

Passed: H.R. 3920, Overhaul of Trade Adjustment Assistance Act

by: Foiled Goil

House Passes Overhaul of Trade Adjustment Assistance

Posted October 31st, 2007 at 1:51 pm @ The Gavel:
The House has just passed the Trade and Globalization Assistance Act, H. R. 3920 by a vote of 264-157. The bill would overhaul the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program – expanding opportunities for job training to transition workers into 21st Century jobs to take advantage of increasing globalization. The White House has issued a veto threat on the bill.

The bill extends TAA job training and health benefits to service workers who lose their jobs due to global trade and covers more manufacturing workers. It dramatically improves TAA health care benefits and strengthens job training benefits so that workers have a real opportunity to strengthen their skills for good-paying jobs. The bill explicitly prohibits undocumented workers from receiving any TAA benefits or services.

It also creates new benefits and tax incentives for industries and communities that have experienced manufacturing job losses, promotes long-needed reforms in unemployment benefits, and strengthens notification of workers laid off in plant closing or in mass layoffs. As our nation moves forward with expanded trade, this is a first step to ensure that it won't be at the expense of American workers.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: For a long time, unfortunately Mr. Speaker, trade policy has focused more on opening new markets and has dismissed the real consequences faced by those who lose their jobs, as well as their communities across the America that are hard hit.
Rep. George Miller: We could leave this to the marketplace, and you could just throw your workers out on the street with no notice, no health care, no training, and that's it. And just tell them, 'welcome to the globalized world.' We thought we'd try a different tack.
Rep. Rob Andrews: Under the present law when you hit your 59th birthday if you don't have another job with health insurance, you're out. And you've got six years to go until you qualify for Medicare. We are changing that in this bill.
Rep. John Lewis: How can we oppose, how can we be against investing in our greatest access, the American work force. We can spend hundreds, thousands, millions, and billions of dollars on war. Can we spend just a few dollars on the workers of America?
Rep. Bill Pascrell: Mr. Speaker, to the gentleman from Texas, he obviously didn't read the bill. I recommend that you read the bills before you get up on the floor and make a fool of yourself. It says right here, section 114, 'no benefit allowances, training or other employment services maybe provided under this chapter to a worker who is an alien unless the alien is an individual lawfully admitted for permanent residence to the United States, is lawfully present in the United States or is permanently residing under color of the law.' You stoop to conquer, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Every time you get in the corner, you got to bring up illegal aliens. It says it in the law and by the way, any law that I know of dealing with people who are out of work deals only with those people who are here legally. Get it? It's easy. It's simple.
Highlights of the bill:

• Extend Trade Adjustment Assistance to service workers.

• Expand Trade Adjustment Assistance to more manufacturing workers.

• Double job training funding & expand job training support.

• Improve health care tax credit.

• Incentives to redevelop communities hit by loss of manufacturing jobs.

• Reform Unemployment Insurance.

• Fully paid for — by delaying tax break for foreign interest payments and extending unemployment tax.

• Strengthen Notices to Workers Affected by Plant Closures or Mass Layoffs.

• Extend Health Care (COBRA) for Workers Affected by Plant Closures.

· · · · · ·
30 October 2007

Modernity and a Teacher's Answer from the Cave of Antiquity and Irrelevance

by: Dark Wraith

Information Technology Services (ITS) at the college where I teach has in the past couple of years been a veritable fountain from which has flowed a slew of new technology products for the classrooms and, just this semester, a whole new student e-mail system supported by Google G-mail. The people in ITS haven't heard much in the way of faculty dissent, but they are nonetheless dismayed: my conversations with several people in ITS have revealed that they are frustrated with the many professors who are not rapidly embracing the idea of fundamentally integrating the students' new campus Google accounts into curriculum. It seems that, among other things, ITS wants us to make e-mail messages through the system a key means, if not the primary vehicle, by which information, assignments, and messages are communicated to students.

My own efforts to convey to these specialists a few of the issues surrounding the use of e-mail as an integral part of courses has fallen for the most part on deaf ears. For example, not one of these computer "experts"—such as what passes for an expert on the budget of a public institution of higher learning—has even the slightest clue that there might be an issue with handing a suspect behemoth like Google wholesale access to faculty-student communications. For another example, the folks in ITS seem put out by suggestions that professors are genuinely and legitimately concerned with the possibility that ITS technical people are encroaching on the absolutely sacred ground that is the academic freedom a professor has in his or her own classroom.

In the continuing effort to harp on the theme of teachers at the college getting with the program, the chief of ITS late last week sent out a mass e-mail to every faculty member; the subject line of the message was, "Worth a Look," and the body of the message was nothing but a link to a YouTube video, which is herewith presented below.

Readers are encouraged to watch the video in the entirety of its four minutes and forty-four seconds before proceeding to the remainder of this article, which resumes with the e-mail message I sent out this afternoon as a "Reply All," meaning that everyone who had been sent the original e-mail message with the link to the YouTube video has now received my response to it.

Enjoy the show.

Now, this is the message I sent to every faculty member. It also went to several deans and the director of education, those being people to whom I did not realize I was broadcasting until about two seconds after I had hit the "Send" button.

I am deeply unimpressed by the latest in centuries of calls for a "new" way for a "new" age. Until such time as we can effectively teach students the fundamentals of coherent, rational thought processes conveyable through constructively coherent writing, the digital age can find its acolytes and promoters in another teacher's classroom. Google is not part of the solution; neither is Wikipedia; neither are any of the legion of online and other innovative ways to "connect" and "collaborate." To the extent that they are treated as other than convenient tools of modernity, they are all part of the problem, and that problem has persisted from age to age. (Here's a hint: the problem, for lack of a more diplomatic wording, is called ignorance with a side of cultural sloth.)

To represent that those signs the students in that act were displaying were shocking messages from the post-modern world of the young is to deny that students have been bemoaning their teachers, their assignments, and their very lots in life since the beginning of time... or, at the very least, since the first professor held up a stone tablet and called it "Neolithic PowerPoint."

Nothing is new. The only differences from one generation to the next are the particulars of the "solutions" that avoid the hard-core duty of teachers to teach well, test rigorously, and show compassion while awaiting their students' slow, uncertain decision about whether to find an individuating reason to succeed or a tired excuse to fail.

Forgive me my bluntness. I'm a teacher. (I'm also a blogger.)

Having sent the above e-mail message to everyone, I awaited what I expected to be the brutal backlash against my Luddite-oriented lifestyle. I was quite surprised at first to find that the messages to me were uniformly favorable, some even glowing. Words such as "erudite" were used. One commenter wrote to me, "I was beginning to think I was alone."

Another faculty member wrote, "Hurrah! I have been meaning to reply to the video but wasn't sure how to put my thoughts into words with sounding like something out of the stone age. I found your response on the money. I'm sorry to think the next generation cares more about the internet and text-messaging than reading a book or actually researching a paper without the benefit of the internet."

I was most happy that my thoughts had resonated with so many of my peers. How uniformly favorable were the comments I was receiving!

It then occurred to me that I had become the academic equivalent of toast.

In higher education, praise is readily at hand, generally conveyed in unabashedly kind words, friendly banter, and the occasional, stale doughnuts left over from meetings among important people. Praise comes quickly and generously.

Retribution, on the other hand, comes slowly, in its own time, in its own way. Almost always, it comes from behind, and its effect is as a blade of unforgiving certitude. Revenge in academia has both patience and stealth.

How do I know I am going to face the wrath of a few who matter? That's easy: I received compliments from many who do not.

I shan't concern myself with that eventuality, though. The worst that can happen to me is the punishment which has already occurred, perhaps the greatest curse and the highest reward a teacher could anticipate. For the sin of speaking my mind—indeed, for the far worse error of doing so in such a manner and tone that I was for a moment actually heard—I shall remain in obscurity.

Economic poverty and bouts of self-condemnation are just the gravy on the banquet meal of hierarchical intolerance at once so vigorously enforced and so roundly denied by the practitioners of group-think in higher education.

Here at Big Brass Blog, of course, I can speak my mind without much concern; and that is the most delicious of ironies for one who cannot countenance this "Information Age" that is inexorably separating me from relevance in my own profession. It is, in fact, irony of the highest order, irony worthy of a good belly laugh.

The Dark Wraith will try to muster that laugh once the smell of toast has dissipated.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

· · ·

Long Dark Night / I Can't Take It No More

by: Foiled Goil

John Fogerty:

George is in the jungle
Knockin' on the door
Come to get your children
Wants to have a war

Come on, Lord you'd better run,
Be a long dark night before this thing is done

Brownie's in the outhouse
Katrina on the line
Government's a disaster
But George, he says it's fine

Come on, Lord you'd better run,
Be a long dark night before this thing is done

Rummy's in the kitchen messin' with the pan
Dickie's in the back stealing everything he can
Come on, Lord you'd better run,
Be a long dark night before this thing is done

You better run, you better run,
Lord you better run, Lord you better run,

Runnin' down the highway
Shoutin' to the Lord
George's got religion
And you know he can't afford more, yeah

Lord you'd better run
Be a long dark night before this thing is done
Be a long dark night before this thing is done, oh Lord

I can't take it no more
I can't take it no more
I'm sick and tired of your dirty little war
I can't take it no more

I bet you never saw the old school yard
I bet you never saw the national guard
Your daddy wrote a check and there you are
Another fortunate son

I can't take it no more
I can't take it no more
I'm sick and tired of your dirty little war
I can't take it no more

· ·
29 October 2007

Blackwater Promised Immunity By State Department

by: Foiled Goil

Immunity deal hampers Blackwater inquiry

Associated Press:
The State Department promised Blackwater USA bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its investigation of last month's deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, The Associated Press has learned.

The immunity deal has delayed a criminal inquiry into the Sept. 16 killings and could undermine any effort to prosecute security contractors for their role in the incident that has infuriated the Iraqi government.
State Department officials declined to confirm or deny that immunity had been granted. One official — who refused to be quoted by name — said: "If, in fact, such a decision was made, it was done without any input or authorization from any senior State Department official in Washington."
Three senior law enforcement officials said all the Blackwater bodyguards involved — both in the vehicle convoy and in at least two helicopters above — were given the legal protection as investigators from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security sought to find out what happened. The bureau is an arm of the State Department.
The FBI took over the case early this month, officials said, after prosecutors in the Justice Department's criminal division realized it could not bring charges against Blackwater guards based on their statements to the Diplomatic Security investigators.

Officials said the Blackwater bodyguards spoke only after receiving so-called "Garrity" protections, requiring that their statements only be used internally — and not for criminal prosecutions.

At that point, the Justice Department shifted the investigation to prosecutors in its national security division, sealing the guards' statements and attempting to build a case based on other evidence from a crime scene that was then already two weeks old.

The FBI has re-interviewed some of the Blackwater employees, and one official said Monday that at least several of them have refused to answer questions, citing their constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination. Any statements that the guards give to the FBI could be used to bring criminal charges.
Garrity protections generally are given to police or other public law enforcement officers, and were extended to the Blackwater guards because they were working on behalf of the U.S. government, one official said. Experts said it's rare for them to be given to all or even most witnesses — particularly before a suspect is identified.
It's not clear why the Diplomatic Security investigators agreed to give immunity to the bodyguards, or who authorized doing so.

Bureau of Diplomatic Security chief Richard Griffin last week announced his resignation, effective Thursday. Senior State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said his departure was directly related to his oversight of Blackwater contractors.
UPDATE – October 30, 2007

Iraq bill would lift contractor immunity


A Post About Not Posting

by: Minstrel Boy

This isn't one of those "fuck it i'm outta here posts." I have a down day, after a down day, I'm in beautiful San Francisco, which is vibrantly the city that most other cities aspire to be.

I have been hoping to do a performance snapshot (sorry, no pictures, I've been asked to refrain from that) except my experience has been weird. Fun weird, but weird nonetheless.

I'm playing with the founder/leader of a group that had a strong cult following through the eighties and nineties. When we're playing stuff from that era I often get the "nags" from my little voices. Stuff like "Yeah, fun. Contrived fun. Fun that's hard work. Fun from twenty years ago." Then the voices start in with "And twenty years ago kid, you were over forty."

With the WGA strike looming over Hollywood threatening to put sand in the jingle gig gears I'm also looking at having to put in a lot more performing time. Which I'm not all that enthused about. I've been doing this a long time. Frankly, I'm tired.

I've been giving lots of thought on what to do next. Go through with the threats to open my truffle shop, start up a non-profit business helping folks rebuild sober lives after they go through drug and alcohol treatment. Lots of stuff.

Like the politicians claim when they talk about Iran. For me, right now, everything's on the table. The difference being, that when I say it's all on the table, I'm not bullshitting. It's not the "Valley of Decision" or drastic stuff like that. It's just time for a sober assesment of what I would be pleased to find myself doing five years down the road from today. I know that living out of a suitcase, playing the current gig with only the next gig to look forward too doesn't really sound that attractive to me. As a matter of fact, it sounds like something I don't want to do.

I have some advantages other folks at this kind of crossroad don't have to face. I've already made enough money to truly retire. I'd have to totally scale back my lifestyle, cut back on spoiling the kids with material shit (although they are all pretty much set), but the possiblity of kicking back and spending most of the day reading books is on the table with everything else.

We shall see. I've felt like this before. I'm glad that I'm a pretty deliberate soul and not given to rash or drastic actions.

Then again, like Socrates said:

An unexamined life is not worth living.

Peace ya'll.

harp and sword

Exxon Valdez Supreme Oil Case

by: Foiled Goil

Court to hear Exxon Valdez case

Associated Press:

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether Exxon Mobil Corp. should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages in connection with the huge Exxon Valdez oil spill that fouled more than 1,200 miles of Alaskan coastline in 1989.

The high court stepped into the long-running battle over the damages that Exxon Mobil owes in the spillage of 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound, the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The Exxon Valdez supertanker had run aground on a reef. A federal appeals court already had cut in half the $5 billion in damages awarded by a jury in 1994.

The justices said they would consider whether the company should have to pay any punitive damages at all. If the court decides some money is due, Exxon is arguing that $2.5 billion is excessive under laws governing shipping and prior high court decisions limiting punitive damages.
Justice Samuel Alito, who owns between $100,000 and $250,000 in Exxon stock, recused himself from the case.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, some of whom are deceased, said the damages award is "barely more than three weeks of Exxon's net profits." The plaintiffs still living include about 33,000 commercial fishermen, cannery workers, landowners, Native Alaskans, local governments and businesses.

The Irving, Texas-based oil company marshaled more than a dozen organizations ranging from groups of shippers to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to support its bid for Supreme Court review.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reduced the punitive damages because, in part, the company tried to clean up the spill and didn't spill oil from the tanker Exxon Valdez deliberately.

The disaster prompted Congress in 1990 to pass a law banning single-hulled tankers like the Valdez from domestic waters by 2015.

The case is Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 07-219.

· · · · ·
28 October 2007

Truth in Life

by: blackdog

I seem to be at a crossroad, watershed or whatever event. There are multiple choices I can make but there is no promise of success in any of them. I have read the post from Peter of Lone Tree at Blondesense and several other sites that evidently felt the importance of the seriousness of the issue, suicide in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. This one touched me more than most since I have been there as well, as I think some others have. I just haven't been able to carry out the finality.

At several times in my life I have been in a good condition which is almost always followed by a really bad one, but at one time if it could be graphically represented it would look like a sawtooth with increasingly higher teeth after the drops. Now it seems to have flatlined. All because of a letter to the editor of the local newsrag.

If it sounds like blackdog is bitching you sure got that right, I am. To lose a job for an opinion published in a legitimate (??) rag is not cool, it smacks of exactly what is wrong with this excuse for a nation. Compasionate conservatives. Give me a break. These asswipes would execute you for attempting to exercise your rights while placing your children and pets on a grill for a BBQ, all the while dancing around in their white bucks and screaching hate and intolerance in the name of a major religion (myth?) to justify their existance.

Now that we have given these sorts power we have no choice but to suffer their rule. And I say we, because we had a choice once, the goal of the religious right was never a secret, but we held it up as a joke for way too long. Like the Japanese in the auto industry, these sorts did their homework and performed their plan, namely to work into the system at all levels and never let up the pressure. Today they have succeeded. We exist under them. And I do own a Japanese truck, it is a fine machine. It was assembled in Tennessee, go figure.

Now the question becomes how do we get out from under these radical idiots that shun everything rational that has been the flower of western civilization for almost it's entire existance? I get way too much practice dealing four days a week with my parents and their few friends. Step over that line that you may or may not see and war is upon you. To attempt logic or reality with factual basis is worthless, they will not listen and will only harden their position that you are the one with major problems, hellfire and damnnation being obvious. Attempting to access their emotive parts is even more perilious, seeing that this is the root of the problem.

The best way to deal with these sorts is to simply say "fuck off". At least then you have crossed all of the lines of bad behavior at once and you don't have to worry about that anymore. Hopefully you are not beholden to them in any way, you are independent.

Now back to the beginning. I am now not independent, I owe more than I may have ever made, and life seems untenable at best. But I do have some measure of responsibility, I have a blackdog that seems to unconditionally love me and I try to return that as best I can, I have to stick it out for awhile because I do have something to give, and I just hate giving in to assholes.

So my demise is not in the immediate future. After all the investment (HA!!) in my abdomen over the last year I owe it to the human race to continue for awhile.

I can only hope.

I'll get up tomorrow to see the beautiful astronomical view to the east again, did it this AM too. Too bad I can't set up my 10" SC, still a little bunged up for that.

Maybe in two weeks. Best to all BBB'ers.

And I know that I never tie up loose ends. That's why I don't and can't write. Can barely speak. WOOF!!

Time For Her To Go

by: Debra

My least favorite Demowienie, Dianne Feinstein, needs to find a new line of work, preferably something more in keeping with her loose morals and urge to please men in power. She is nothing but a traitor, both to her party and to her constituents. Voting to confirm Leslie Southwick was just one more in a series of bad votes, once again demonstrating that she is a woman of questionable ethics, nothing more than a government paid camp follower masquerading as a Senator. She is so desperate for approval from her pimp that when he finally stops beating her and gives her a little attention, she gushes all of over herself. For her, politics isn't about helping the people of her state, it's about keeping herself available for the head of state and assuming whatever position he wants.

Way past time for her to retire and torture her grandkids instead of us.



Comcast Filtering Service

by: Foiled Goil

Comcast really does block BitTorrent traffic after all
CNet – October 19, 2007

Comcast to face lawsuits over BitTorrent filtering
CNet – October 23, 2007

Congressman to Comcast: Stop interfering with BitTorrent
CNet – October 25, 2007

Senators want probe on content blocking
AP – October 27, 2007:
Two Senators on Friday called for a congressional hearing to investigate reports that phone and cable companies are unfairly stifling communications over the Internet and on cell phones.

Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said the incidents involving several companies, including Comcast Corp., Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., have raised serious concerns over the companies' "power to discriminate against content."

They want the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to investigate whether such incidents were based on legitimate business policies or unfair and anticompetitive practices and if more federal regulation is needed.

"The phone and cable companies have previously stated that they would never use their market power to operate as content gatekeepers and have called efforts to put rules in place to protect consumers 'a solution in search of a problem,'" they said in a letter to Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the committee's chairman.
An Associated Press report on Oct. 19 detailed how Comcast Corp. was interfering with file sharing by some of its Internet subscribers. The AP found instances in some areas of the country where traffic was blocked or delayed significantly.

Comcast — the nation's No. 2 Internet provider — has acknowledged "delaying" some subscriber Internet data, but said the delays are temporary and intended to improve surfing for other users.

Verizon Wireless in late September denied a request by Naral Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, to use its mobile network for a sign-up text messaging program.

The company reversed course just a day later, calling it a mistake and an "isolated incident."

AT&T reportedly changed a service agreement that previously included language permitting the company to cancel accounts of Internet users who disparage the company.
The AT&T agreement can still be found here:
Failure to observe the guidelines set forth in this AUP may result in AT&T taking actions anywhere from a warning to a suspension of privileges or termination of your Service(s). When feasible, AT&T will provide you with advance notice of an AUP violation, via e-mail or otherwise, and demand that such violation be immediately corrected. AT&T reserves the right, however, to act immediately and without notice to suspend or terminate Service(s) in response to a court order or other legal requirement that certain conduct be stopped or when AT&T determines, in its sole discretion, that the conduct may (1) expose AT&T to sanctions, prosecution or civil action, (2) cause harm to or interfere with the integrity or normal operations of AT&T’s network(s) or facilities, (3) materially or repeatedly interfere with another person’s use of AT&T’s Service(s) or the Internet (4) damage or disparage the reputation of AT&T or its Service(s), or (5) otherwise present a risk of harm to AT&T or AT&T’s customers or their employees, officers, directors, agents, etc.

· · ·
27 October 2007

Our Mr. Brooks

by: Jurassicpork

Newsday Brooks
Ironically, David H. Brooks didn’t prove to be so bullet-proof, either. No, not that David "Bobo" Brooks or the producer of The Simpsons.

Remember the jerkoff who’d spent eight to ten million dollars on himself his daughter’s bat mitzvah a couple of years ago, featuring acts like members of Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles, including Kenny G. and Fifty Cent? No? Lemme refresh your memory: That would be the same slimeball who made shitty body armor that our government then bought for our troops. Well, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus because David Brooks, the aforementioned slimeball, got pinched by federal authorities in his Manhattan apartment last Thursday morning in a classic dawn raid.


The Victim and His Victory

by: Dark Wraith

Blogger Peter of Lone Tree, writing at BlondeSense offered news of a man in Spring, Texas, just north of Houston, who refused to vacate the house upon which lawful foreclosure had been declared. The Houston Chronicle article about the incident pumped the officially created propaganda that the well-educated man, a Mr. James Hahn, was "divorced, depressed and struggled with financial problems and drug addiction." After 12 hours of stand-off, including the lobbing of Molotov cocktails at encroaching police, Mr. Hahn took his own life.

In the comment thread at BlondeSense, I offered this:

Without so much as a bat of the eye, the Federal Reserve took such action as was necessary—including multiple infusions into the top end of the banking system of tens of billions of dollars—to save the credit markets from the wrath of the free market.

By allowing banks to increase their exposure to 30% of assets to buoy their irresponsible credit operations, the Federal Reserve has also laid to rest the last vestiges of enforced prudence embodied by the old Glass-Stiegel Act.

By pretending to exercise tight monetary policy while continuing to print money hand over fist to finance the extremist Bush Administration's tax cuts, wars, and large-business welfare programs, the Federal Reserve has savaged any remaining credibility it might have had, such that it was under the increasingly capricious and partisan leadership of former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Now, let's be honest for a second. Who here thinks—I mean, really, really believes—that any rich person, spitefully, blithely hateful to the working class, or pandering and blubbering to it, fundamentally has even a clue?

Let's see a show of hands. Does Bush care? That's not the question.

How about Hillary?

How about Barack?

How about Johnnie Boy?

No, none of them get it. The virtuous center has passed from the American political landscape, and all that remains is a wasteland of hateful Right-wingers and clueless Democrats who can't even so much as slow down, much less stop, a monstrosity of a useless, debilitating war.

That fellow down there in Houston? He finally figured it out. When hope is gone, all that remains is the one thing almost no authority can prevent a person from having:

The right not to die on his knees.

The Dark Wraith has spoken.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

· · ·

Hallowe'en 2007 Graphic #2

by: Dark Wraith

Continuing my Hallowe'en tradition of delivering gruesomely ghoulish graphics, herewith is presented the second of this year's offerings.

Bush Lives!

Hallowe'en 2007 Graphic #1 was certainly decent, but this one, which may be reposted with attribute, should be a good reminder to people everywhere that no grave can hold the brain-dead as long as there is still misery, fear, and wretchedly incompetent policy to be visited upon the world of the living.

Remember to lock your doors tonight.

The Dark Wraith will deliver yet one more graphic for this Hallowe'en season.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

· ·
26 October 2007

Dancing Snowball

by: Foiled Goil

Snowball the Cockatoo – boogie bird fever:

25 October 2007

WWSD (What Would Santa Do) - The Race to the North Pole

by: Jersey Cynic

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need

That's what I think Santa would say.

I don't know where to begin here folks. I'm all over the place this trying to get a grasp on this morning's headline in my e-mail:
Coast Guard Plans to Set Up Arctic Base

and now, all of a sudden, I can't get that Door's tune When the Music's Over out of my head --

What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down


I'm pretty sure that setting up an Artic base has something to do with that flag the Russians placed on the sea bed under the North Pole back in June:Kremlin lays claim to huge chunk of oil-rich North Poleand.....
The President's Statement on Advancing U.S. Interests in the World's Oceans back in May

It has to do with the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST)

The United States has signed the treaty, but the Senate has not ratified it. Mr. Bush wants it ratified.

What do you think?

Here are some links that I found while searching this topic:

The Law of the Sea Convention: The Case for Senate Action (from Brookings Institute)

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(A historical perspective)

Who owns the north pole (from the Socialist Courier)

Who owns the north pole (from the new scientist)

Bush wants Law of the Sea approved, but some conservatives balk (from msnbc)

Nations Dispute 'Arctic Sovereignty' (from NPR)

Seward's Folly (The Alaska Purchase - from wiki)

I hear a very gentle sound
With your ear down to the ground
We want the world and we want it...
We want the world and we want it...

So when the music's over
When the music's over, yeah
When the music's over
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights

Well the music is your special friend
Dance on fire as it intends
Music is your only friend
Until the end
Until the end
Until the end!


Theory of the Firm, Industry Structure, and Regulation, Part One

by: Dark Wraith

Dark Wraith's Pulp EconomicsIn a recent comment on a thread at The Dark Wraith Forums, columnist and economist Paul Krugman was quoted: "My personal peeve — it plays a role in the story I tell in COAL [The Conscience of a Liberal] — is the way the right has managed to spin a few bad years in the late 1970s US, mainly the result of oil shocks, into 'proof' that progressive policies don’t work — this in spite of the fact that the 30 years after the New Deal were the best economy America has ever had."

The follow-up question posed was thus: "[W]ould big business agree with him? Or, would they prefer the economy as it is now, with less regulation, and less oversight?" This edition of Pulp Economics is the first in a three-part series that begins by addressing the matter of what 'big business' seems to want in terms of a lax regulatory environment versus what is not only preferable for both workers and the economy, but also perhaps more desirable, at least in some cases, for businesses themselves in large-scale industries dominated by only a few companies. A widely applicable answer to what business wants versus what it needs must necessarily address different industry structures, even when discussing 'big business' since at least several broad and fundamentally different kinds of firms populate the large-scale enterprise landscape. To address the different types, they must be categorized and distinguished, which will be done in the second part of this series. The third part will then use the classification system so motivated to demonstrate a somewhat surprising result for a certain type of industry, a result which renders the very concept of a "free," private market moot in the instance.

For this first part of the series, however, the focus will be on introducing and demonstrating the use of a few key economics concepts in industries dominated by a relatively small number of very large firms. The emphasis will be on how they naturally tend operate in a relatively free, unregulated environment—one they might seem to desire—and the consequences to them of that freedom from a government exercising control over the competitive conditions they face.

What big business wants and what it needs are two different things; and what big business thinks it wants and what it really wants are two different things, also. Right now, large-scale business enterprises are simply delighted with the regulatory environment, although parts of the old system are still functioning, much to the chagrin of those who are still under the thumbs of those regulatory bodies. That general sense of joy notwithstanding, the business environment always has always had a love-hate relationship with regulation because, while there was plenty to dislike about administrative agencies courts were reticent to control, establishing strongly enforced, consistent, well-thought-out ground rules that every business had to obey was a godsend to business as a whole because it created a less risky, less speculative environment in which day-to-day and year-to-year operations could be managed.

Even big companies are beginning to grasp that being on their own—left to their own devices to deal with certain forces to a greater or lesser extent beyond their control—has created a fairly brutal environment, especially in the wide swath of corporations that operate in what economists call "monopolistic competition," where short-term economic profits can be garnered through product differentiation, while long-term competitive entry absorbs those short-term gains. In this sector, a set of clear, consistent, well-enforced rules applied by overseeing regulators at the federal level might be glad news; for one thing, the federal government exercising the full extent of its authority under the so-called "commerce clause" of the U.S. Constitution keeps states from getting into the act and passing crazy-quilt patchworks of legislation enforced by sometimes less professional, sometimes more parochial state officials. That "commerce clause"—the clause that gives the federal government broad power to regulate commerce within the U.S.—when properly utilized by the government and applied by the federal courts, allows businesses across the country to understand that there is a uniformity of procedural and operational standards from one coast to the other and from one state to the next. No business need concern itself with the several states having too-lax or too-aggressive enforcement within their own borders, and no business need worry about some competitor using a loose-regulation state as a platform from which to project unlawfully uncompetitive practices upon interstate competitors.

On the other hand, if the discussion is about industries where market concentration reaches what economists describe as "oligopoly" or possibly even near-"monopoly," there is going to be little cheer in board rooms for any level of regulation since the industries can self-regulate by one or another mechanism broadly called "collusion" (perhaps less harshly described as "congenial competition" or maybe even "touch football"). Unfortunately, wide exemptions in anti-trust laws have always allowed for collusive behaviors under the general banner of "self-policing" or some other such term. This is the case in industries such as major league sports, city newspapers, HMOs, and others. In some cases, this kind of internal regulation might work, but only when there remains a federal regulatory framework that can and will come down as needed on the self-policing bodies and those they are supposed to regulate.

The problem becomes deeper with larger and larger scales of enterprise. One of the most fascinating places to look is in industries where economies of scale extend to such large scales of production that the industries become dominated by "natural monopoly" types of companies, which will be surveyed in Part Three of this series.

Just short of pure natural monopolies is what can be an ugly world of brutish competition that quite frequently has undesirable effects both upon the companies therein and upon the wider, national economy. Such industries were arguably far better off when a deeply committed, federal regulatory environment allocated market share and oversaw pricing while maintaining an iron fist of regulatory control over the corporate beneficiaries. The balance of the present article will survey the characterizing cost structure of firms that are "nearly," but not quite, natural monopolies and how this cost structure can lead to dire long-run consequences for typical firms within such industries left to their own rational incentives and the harsh realities of more-or-less "free market" action.

The term "nearly" qualifies the description of certain firms because of the extent to which long-run economies of scale are realized. A firm is said to be realizing economies of scale if, as the company produces more output, the average cost—that is, per-unit cost—of the output declines. For example, if the per-unit cost for a firm's first 10,000 units was $8.25, but the per-unit cost for that firm's first 12,000 units was $7.95, then the company was realizing economies of scale between 10,000 and 12,000 units. Economies of scale are quite frequently the result of huge, up-front, costs, the kind that exist even before output begins: as more and more units of output are produced, those massive start-up costs get spread, on average, over more and more units. Economies of scale are best considered a long-run kind of concept; most companies for a while realize falling average costs, but it's what happens over a longer period of time—the forces that shape the long-run structure of an industry—that should be the focus of policy at the government level, even though no firm, by itself, can or should think about the "long run" so long as the short run, attended as it is by everything from marketing products to meeting payroll, is nipping at the heels of executive decision-making.

Although Part Two of this series will reinforce this point, average costs for a company are driven by what economist call marginal cost: the cost of the very last—or very next— unit produced. If the cost of the last unit produced is less than the average cost of all units produced so far, then the cost of that last unit will pull down the average cost. On the other hand, if the cost of the last unit produced is greater than the average cost of all units produced, then the cost of making that last unit will drive average cost up.

If that explanation of the relationship between average cost and marginal cost doesn't mean much, think about it this way. Suppose a bunch of people take a test, and the average comes out to be, let's say, 78 percent. In other words, the overall, per-person test score was 78. Now, suppose one more person takes the test, and this person (being, for example, a neo-conservative Republican) gets a 62 percent. His score, which is the last (or "marginal") score, is going to pull down the overall average when it gets entered into the calculation. Thus, when the last is below the average, it causes the average to fall. On the other hand, if the overall average was 78 percent to start with, and someone then took the test and scored, say, a 90 percent, that score would pull the average up. Thus, when the last is above the average, it causes the average to rise. This is why economists draw average and marginal cost curves as depicted at left, below.

Marginal and Average Cost CurvesNotice how the graphs show a mathematically necessary relationship between marginal and average: when the marginal cost of the last unit produced is under the per-unit cost, average cost is being pulled downward; but when the marginal cost of the last unit produced is higher than per-unit cost, average cost is being pulled upward. This is not some economic phenomenon; the example above was with test scores, not costs. The relationship between marginals and averages is purely an arithmetic result; it's just that this mathematical phenomenon plays a powerful role in how costs shape not just the decision-making within individual firm, but also the overall structures of industries.

In the bestiary of industries prowling the planet, there are more than a few where extraordinarily steep fixed costs make per-unit costs very high at low output levels. For the most part, the cost of making the goods, themselves, isn't all that bad; it's just those up-front ("overhead") costs that are the killers, and it is these costs that create barriers to entry by young, start-up firms. That means the typical company in such an industry would, at low output levels, have its average cost curve way up and a marginal cost curve far below it. Recall from above that, in such a situation—where marginal cost is below average cost—the result would be a falling average cost curve. Not only that, the firm would experience falling average costs for a long while as it produced more and more and more, just because it would take a whole lot of output for per-unit cost to get down to the level of the cost of the last unit produced. That's the same thing as saying that the typical firm in such an industry would realize economies of scale (falling average cost per unit) over an enormous range of production levels, as depicted in the graph below, which shows a classical, "U"-shaped average cost curve.

Long-Run Average Cost Curve

The graph above exemplifies the usual situation, one where the marginal cost curve, hidden as it is in this picture, finally begins to close in from below on the average cost curve, slowly coming up to finally meet it, and then pulling above it, thereby ultimately drawing average cost per unit upward. The relatively flat part of the long-run average cost curve above might go on over quite a range of output levels—a range of output levels where constant returns to scale are being experienced—or the relatively stable per-unit cost might not exist over more than a quite narrow range; but it is depicted above to show all the possible long-run situations a firm might encounter. Sooner or later, though, the cost of the last unit, in many cases, will be greater than average cost per unit, and that is when a company is said to be experiencing diseconomies of scale. At what point this happens, if ever, is entirely dependent upon forces only partially within the control of the executive management of the company, itself.

If an industry is such that companies can configure themselves in a way so that their long-run average cost curves keep declining clear up to very large levels of output, the market will probably be dominated by these big behemoths since, the bigger they get, the cheaper the next unit is for them to produce. As long as such companies are realizing economies of scale, they will tend to keep expanding output, and this can go on in some cases to enormous output levels.

Nevertheless, unless the companies are what economists call the pure "natural monopolies" mentioned above, the economies of scale will eventually end: at some point, perhaps at a truly huge level of production, the cost of the last unit will be more the cost of the average unit, and the average cost curve will have bottomed out and begun the inexorable rise into the scale of output where diseconomies of scale are being experienced. The output level where long-run average cost bottoms out is called the minimum efficient scale of production, and it is a relatively logical long-term output level at which a firm would settle.

But what would happen in an industry where this long-term output level, even though huge, of the typical firm was well short of that necessary to satisfy the demand of the entire market? It is not difficult to imagine how such a situation would cause an industry to have awful cycles of entries and exits of giant competitor companies, with each downstroke attended by large-scale employee layoffs and substantial market disruptions.

Consider this example: an industry exists where the long-term minimum efficient scale of operation for the typical firm is at an output that would meet, say, 40% of the market demand at the prevailing price level. In other words, the cost structure of the industry is such that a single company would be at its long-term most efficient by providing the product to a very significant, but not overwhelming, part of the market. The graph below shows the scenario.

Long-Run Average Cost Curve of Typical Firm in Duopoly

This is an industry where two very large companies could co-exist quite comfortably, pretending to compete against each other while enjoying a joint market share of 80%. It is possible in this industry for lots of small competitors to handle the other 20%, but that's not guaranteed since it could be the case that the reason economies of scale extend so far is because the fixed start-up costs are very high, which would create a more-or-less natural barrier to entry for small firms. Still, it is most definitely possible that, at least in some industries, we could see two-tiered competition; in others, however, those steep costs of entry would pretty much ensure that only big companies could even start, which means that their joint market share, 80 percent, would be insufficiently supplemented by smaller firms to satisfy the entire consumer universe of demand. That would mean the most logical route for the 20 percent deficit of output to be met would be through the entry of a third, very financially well-off company that could handle the high fixed start-up costs along with the attendant, low profits while ramping up to get unit costs down to minimum efficient scale. The big inducement to entry would most likely be prices in the industry. With only two competitors and 20 percent of a huge pool of demand not being met, the bait is almost too tempting to resist, especially for a firm that has known only success in its traditional arenas of activity.

But wait a minute. In this industry, minimum efficient scale for a typical company is at a production level satisfying about forty percent of the market, which means this new entrant is going to have to try to get big enough so that it and the other two companies are jointly producing one hundred twenty percent of what the consumer side of the market needs! That means the third entrant is going to kick the industry supply curve outward so hard that the three competing firms will all have to lower their prices and engage in the kind of competition that big companies have a really hard time handling because of the scales of their operations. First will come the price competition, which consumers will love and conservative pundits will declare as proof positive that a free market works; then, however, will come the company losses because of those massive fixed costs that made the long-run average cost curves so steeply downward-sloping in the first place. The lower prices they're being forced by competition to levy on consumers will force the companies to cut costs the only way possible: since, in the short run, the companies can't very well do anything about their huge fixed costs of operations, they'll have to go for the only type of costs they can affect: variable costs, the most vulnerable of which is labor. That's right: industry-wide, mass layoffs.

This won't fix the problem because, even though the three firms are, indeed, lowering total costs, they're also scaling back output, which means they're pulling back from that golden, minimum efficient scale of output. Long-term average costs are rising as the firms "downsize," and the competitive environment is still putting downward pressure on prices they can charge consumers, so sooner or later something is going to break; and it will probably be one of the three firms, which will finally go bankrupt, simply leave the industry, or, more likely, become so weakened that it will be receptive to a merger/acquisition arrangement with one of the other two companies. That, or it will become so debilitated that it will be vulnerable to a hostile acquisition by some other company, perhaps one that thinks it can make a buck in the industry that's already shown how it can wreck companies that step up to the plate without thinking deeply about long-run average cost curves, minimum efficient scales of operations, and market shares.

A market free of government interference will, of course, take care of the problems: over a long period of time, large firms will come and go, mass layoffs will happen, and industry consolidations will occur; then all will be well for a while, until the next time the incentive to enter a market with high profits and unmet demand draws in a large firm looking for a place to flex its competitive, well-financed muscles; and then the cycle will start all over again.

As an alternative—the one vigorously pursued in the Keynesian era of American economic policy-making—the federal government could place a firm, steady hand of regulatory control over such industries. Policy could be to the end of ensuring that a sufficient number of companies was permitted to operate in an industry to satisfy most, if not all, potential demand, and the firms allowed to operate were guaranteed that, in exchange for abiding by tight regulation, they would be allowed to charge prices sufficiently high to earn a decent return on investment for their shareholders without breaking the wallets of consumers or making their industries so attractive that competitors would beat on the doors to get their shot at market penetration and eventual, almost inevitable, market disruption.

But that was the way things used to be done, for a while, anyway, during the era when the country was doing pretty darned well and even most of the conservatives bawling for free markets didn't believe their own drool. Fortunately for the United States of that era, neither did the politicians.

The Dark Wraith will continue this series in the weeks to come.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

· · · ·

Christmas In Washington

by: Minstrel Boy

By Steve Earle is a very good song. Add in Joan Baez and it gets even better.


It's Christmastime in Washington
The Democrats rehearsed
Gettin' into gear for four more years
Things not gettin' worse
The Republicans drink whiskey neat
And thanked their lucky stars
They said, 'He cannot seek another term
They'll be no more FDRs'
I sat home in Tennessee
Staring at the screen
With an uneasy feeling in my chest
And I'm wonderin' what it means

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

I followed in your footsteps once
Back in my travelin' days
Somewhere I failed to find your trail
Now I'm stumblin' through the haze
But there's killers on the highway now
And a man can't get around
So I sold my soul for wheels that roll
Now I'm stuck here in this town


There's foxes in the hen house
Cows out in the corn
The unions have been busted
Their proud red banners torn
To listen to the radio
You'd think that all was well
But you and me and Cisco know
It's going straight to hell

So come back, Emma Goldman
Rise up, old Joe Hill
The barracades are goin' up
They cannot break our will
Come back to us, Malcolm X
And Martin Luther King
We're marching into Selma
As the bells of freedom ring
So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

harp and sword

Bush Foreign Policy Collapsing

by: Foiled Goil

The collapse of Bush's foreign policy

From Turkey to Iraq to Pakistan, the mounting chaos proves the White House is just winging it.

By Juan Cole

The Bush administration once imagined that its presence in Afghanistan and Iraq would be anchored by friendly neighbors, Turkey to the west and Pakistan to the east. Last week, as the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to deteriorate, the anchors themselves also came loose.
The Bush administration's entire Middle East policy is coming undone -- if it even has a policy left, other than just sticking its fingers in the multiple, and multiplying, holes in the dike.
In Iraq, the Kurds of the north are the United States' most reliable allies. In addition to the 5.5 million Kurds in Iraq, however, persons speaking dialects of Kurdish constitute around 11 million of neighboring Turkey's 70 million citizens. There are another 4 million Kurds next door in Iran, and up to 2 million in Syria. All three of Iraq's northern neighbors fear that Kurdish nationalism, which has been fostered by the U.S. occupation of Iraq, could tear them apart. Opposition to that nationalism could provide a platform for an alliance of Syria, Turkey and Iran -- a nightmare for the Bush administration. Washington had hoped to isolate Syria, an ally of both Iran and of Hezbollah in Lebanon. That's not how it is turning out.
As usual, the Bush administration has reacted to these predictable problems in a purely ad hoc manner. There is no evidence that anyone in the administration has crafted a policy for dealing with tensions between Ankara and America's Kurdish allies. The U.S. State Department has designated the PKK a terrorist group, but the PKK is given safe harbor by the Kurdistan Regional Authority of northern Iraq. What will Bush do about having wound up as the de facto protector of a radical peasant guerrilla group that is attacking the troops of a NATO ally? If the United States acts against the PKK, it risks alienating the Iraqi Kurds, whose pro-American peshmerga fighters perform security duties and enlist as troops in the new Iraqi army. If Bush does not restrain the PKK, then he is playing Mullah Omar to its al-Qaida and "harboring" terrorists, which he trumpeted six years ago as grounds for war.
Along with the failed state in Iraq, which has neglected to use any decrease in violence temporarily provided by the recent U.S. troop escalation to effect political reconciliation, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan raises the specter of a collapse of both of Bush's major state-building projects. The turmoil in Turkey and Pakistan damages U.S. relations with two allies that are key to shoring up the countries under American occupation.
Like a drunken millionaire gambling away a fortune at a Las Vegas casino, the Bush administration squandered all the assets it began with by invading Iraq and unleashing chaos in the Gulf. The secular Baath Party in Iraq was replaced by Shiite fundamentalists, Sunni Salafi fundamentalists and Kurdish separatists. The pressure the Bush administration put on the Pakistani military government to combat Muslim militants in that country weakened the legitimacy of Musharraf, whom the Pakistani public increasingly viewed as an oppressive American puppet. Iraqi Kurdistan's willingness to give safe haven to the PKK alienated Turkey from both the new Iraqi government and its American patrons. Search-and-destroy missions in Afghanistan have predictably turned increasing numbers of Pushtun villagers against the United States, NATO and Karzai. The thunder of the bomb in Karachi and the Turkish shells in Iraqi Kurdistan may well be the sound of Bush losing his "war on terror."

· · · ·

State Department Security Chief Resigns

by: Foiled Goil

State Dept. security chief forced out

Associated Press:
The State Department's embattled security chief stepped down under pressure on Wednesday as the fallout from last month's deadly Blackwater USA shooting of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad claimed its first political casualty.

Richard Griffin's forced resignation came amid growing questions about the use of private contractors to protect diplomats in Iraq, according to officials familiar with the circumstances of his departure.

Griffin, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, made no mention of the furor in his resignation letter to President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But his decision to step down came at a time when the department is facing withering Iraqi and congressional criticism for its security practices.

It also followed by just a day the release of a report commissioned by Rice that found serious lapses in the department's oversight of private guards, who are employed by Griffin's bureau and report to it.
Griffin, an ambassador-rank official who was previously deputy director of the U.S. Secret Service and inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs, had been in his current job since June 2005. He served 36 years in the U.S. government, according to his official biography.
The change comes at a critical time in the debate over the State Department's reliance on private security guards and the rules under which they operate after the Sept. 16 shooting in which Blackwater personnel are accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians.
The Iraqi cabinet also renewed calls for Blackwater's expulsion from Iraq and set up a committee to look into repealing a 2004 directive that gives private contractors virtual immunity from prosecution.

On Tuesday, Rice ordered a series of measures to boost government oversight of private guards the department uses to protect its diplomats in Iraq, including the introduction of more explicit rules on when and how they can use deadly force.

The steps were recommended by the review panel that Rice created after the Sept. 16 shootout.

"Prompt measures should be taken to strengthen the coordination, oversight and accountability aspects of the State Department's security practices in Iraq in order to reduce the likelihood that future incidents will occur," the panel said in its 24-page report.

It did not, however, single anyone or any agency out for criticism.
The panel made no specific recommendations about what should happen to Blackwater but it did recommend that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad assess "whether the continued services of the contractor involved is consistent with the accomplishment of the overall mission in Iraq" once an FBI investigation of the incident is complete.

· ·
24 October 2007

UN Chief: Violence Against Women Surges - The Council also demanded that women be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking

by: Jersey Cynic

Just when I was giving up on the United Nations. Let's hope it's not just all talk and wishful thinking.
This is EXACTLY what the UN is good for.

Can you imagine this really being put into action???? What a wonderful world this would be.

From AP writer EDITH M. LEDERER:

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. secretary-general warned that violence against women has reached "hideous" levels in some countries trying to recover from conflict, and the U.N. Security Council demanded an end to impunity for rape and other sexual abuse.

The council expressed deep concern Tuesday that despite its repeated demands for an immediate end to violence against women caught in armed conflicts, "rape and other forms of sexual abuse, as well as all other forms of violence, ... remain pervasive, and in some situations have become systematic, and have reached appalling levels of atrocity."

"The council stresses the need to end impunity for such acts as part of a comprehensive approach to seeking peace, justice, truth and national reconciliation," it said.

The council statement was read at the end of a day-long open meeting on implementation of a resolution adopted in 2000 that called for the prosecution of crimes against women and increased protection of women and girls during war. It also demanded that women be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking and peacebuilding.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said "violence against women has reached hideous and pandemic proportions in some societies attempting to recover from conflict." He did not name any countries.

"Together, all of us need to strengthen our collective and individual response to it," Ban said. "This is essential if we are to reverse the damage done by conflict, and to build more inclusive, accountable and cohesive socieites, underpinned by viable democratic institutions."

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno stressed the U.N.'s "zero tolerance" for sexual exploitation and abuse by its more than 80,000 peacekeeping troops.

"While rape is used as a weapon of war in situations such as ... Congo and Darfur, addressing this war crime requires going beyond political compromise, power and resource sharing agreements," he said. "Instead, combating rape and other forms of sexual violence calls for concerted, robust and ongoing action on the part of both national actors and also the international community at every level of engagement."

Assistant Secretary-General Rachel Mayanja, the secretary-general's special adviser on gender issues, urged all governments, parliaments, international organizations and civic groups to join a worldwide campaign on violence against women and girls that Ban will launch later this year.

"Impunity for perpetrators and insufficient response to the needs of survivors are morally reprehensible and unacceptable," she said. "Sexual violence in conflict, particularly rape, should be named for what it is: not a private act or the unfortunate misbehavior of a renegade soldier, but aggression, torture, war crime and genocide."

crossposted at Blondesense

Anti-Nuke Rockers

by: Foiled Goil

Rockers renew 1970s anti-nuclear theme

Associated Press:
Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash are putting a new millennium twist on their 1970s anti-nuclear message, urging Congress not to approve federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants.

"Thirty years ago, we felt that this monster was dead," Nash said. "It's trying to raise its ugly head."

Nearly three decades ago, the three were prominent in the anti-nuke movement, helping organize the "No Nukes" concerts at Madison Square Garden that stirred public opposition to nuclear power.

Tuesday, they were on Capitol Hill warning that a Senate version of a new energy bill contains a provision, backed by the nuclear industry, for loan guarantees that could serve as a "virtual blank check from taxpayers" to help build more nuclear plants.
The musicians have launched a petition drive and YouTube music video. They have backing from environmental groups and dozens of artists such as R.E.M., Ben Harper, Maroon 5, Pearl Jam, Patti Smith and Wynton Marsalis. They said they have collected more than 120,000 signatures to present to Congress.

"We're going to encourage our lawmakers to know that the American people are paying attention," said Browne.
Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a leading Democrat on energy issues, and Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., said the musicians will provide more lobbying muscle on the energy bill. Hall, once part of the group Orleans, helped organize the 1979 "No Nukes" concerts.

For What It's Worth:

'No Nukes' rockers renew fight decades later

USA Today:
Jackson Browne says he thought his group of politically active musicians "really dealt the nuclear industry a blow" with a series of 1979 concerts opposing nuclear power.

Nearly three decades later, Browne and fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Bonnie Raitt and Graham Nash are in Washington to resume the fight. The three, all founders of the Musicians for Safe Energy group that organized the No Nukes concerts, are delivering petitions to Congress today urging lawmakers not to make it easier to finance nuclear reactors.

In a 21st century update on the concert series, the trio created a website,, featuring a YouTube video. It asks viewers to sign a petition opposing a provision in an energy bill before Congress that would expand federal loan guarantees for nuclear plants. Raitt isn't ruling out an encore of the concerts — which produced an album and a movie — but said the Internet got the word out quickly.
Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission accepted its first application to build a nuclear power plant since 1978, the year before an accident at the Three Mile Island reactor in central Pennsylvania. Three or four more applications to build reactors could be filed by year's end, says Scott Peterson, a vice president at the Nuclear Energy Institute. He credits a 2005 bill that streamlined the licensing process for reactors and provided loan guarantees.

The musicians were galvanized into action by new energy legislation that House and Senate negotiators are trying to hammer out. A provision backed by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., would exponentially increase the amount of federally backed loans.

This year, Congress has provided $4 billion for loan guarantees, which Peterson says is enough for one plant. He says the industry requires about $25 billion for reactors now on the drawing board.
Browne says heightened terrorism concerns bolster the argument for looking other sources of power. "The consequences of blowing up a field of wind generators would not be the same as blowing up a train full of nuclear waste," he says.

The anti-nukes musicians have at least one friend in the corridors of power: Songwriter and guitarist John Hall, who helped found Musicians for Safe Energy, was elected to Congress last year. Hall, D-N.Y., arrived in Washington just in time to perform with his friends at a VIP reception on Capitol Hill Monday night.

On the proposed playlist: "Plutonium is Forever," a Hall song about the difficulties of disposing of nuclear waste. Browne described it as "rock music for policy wonks."
Psssst... Do something.

· ·
23 October 2007

Don't Fence Me In

by: Konagod

Believe me, the border fence and the passport requirements (oh, how nice of them to exclude Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands!) will not slow me down when I decide to leave the grand old USA because when I do, I may not return.

If shit like this doesn't stop soon, I'll be feeling the urge to pack my bags and vacate for some more reasonable climes.

you say potayto, I say potahto.

And not to let Osama Obama off the hook, this shit pisses me off to the extreme.

What are these guys thinking? I'm sorry, but if this busy working stoner in Austin, Texas has time to educate himself about who I'm associating with, and how it might be perceived across Americana, then I sure as hell expect a presidential candidate who is spending tens of millions of dollars to lock down my vote to know the right thing and the wrong thing. And this is wrong.

Fuck him. He just lost my vote. Are there no gospel groups in South Carolina that aren't homophobic?

And what's up with the Disaster-in-Chief asking for another $46 BILLION on top of the roughly $150 billion he’s already requested?

I'm sick of Bush, I'm sick of the disgusting pandering for right-wing voters by those who seek to sit on the potty that he has taken a dump in for the past 7 years, and I'm sick of two-faced politicians who would do just about anything for a dollar. Up to and including selling out the United States of America for what it's worth, which isn't a helluva lot these days.

And I'm sick of us pumping money into a failed drug war.

This shit must stop, and soon.

And don't even get me started on Mike Huckabee.

I swear it seems like the ENDA times.
Concerned Women for America (CWA) thanks President Bush for signaling a likely veto should the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) be approved in Congress this week. Matt Barber, CWA's Policy Director for Cultural Issues, said, "This dangerous bill would pit the government directly against the free exercise of religion, a situation which is unconstitutional on its face. Members of Congress should join the President and exercise their sworn duty to defend the U.S. Constitution by voting 'no' on ENDA."

Concerned Women for America need to go fuck themselves.

This concerned fag for America is way more concerned.

There IS NO SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE so get the fuck over it, bitchez.

Crossposted from konagod

SHOWDOWN WITH IRAN -- Tonight on Frontline (PBS)

by: Jersey Cynic

As the United States and Iran are locked in a battle for power and influence across the Middle Eas— with the fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon looming in the background—FRONTLINE gains unprecedented access to the Iranian hard-liners shaping government policy. In Showdown with Iran, airing Tuesday, October 23, 2007, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE examines how U.S. efforts to install democracy in Iraq have served to strengthen Iran's position as an emerging power in the Middle East.

"You will not find a single instance in which a country has inflicted harm on us and we have left it without a response," deputy head of Iran's National Security Council Mohammad Jafari tells FRONTLINE in his first television interview. "So if the United States makes such a mistake, they should know that we will definitely respond. And we don't make threats."

Read the rest of the press release here.

crossposted at Blondesense

Cheney's Law -- Frontline (PBS)

by: Jersey Cynic

For three decades Vice President Dick Cheney conducted a secretive, behind-closed-doors campaign to give the president virtually unlimited wartime power. Finally, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Justice Department and the White House made a number of controversial legal decisions. Orchestrated by Cheney and his lawyer David Addington, the department interpreted executive power in an expansive and extraordinary way, granting President George W. Bush the power to detain, interrogate, torture, wiretap and spy -- without congressional approval or judicial review.

Continue reading....


watch the full program online

I missed the program last week. Did anyone catch it? I just learned about today from a friend who cannot stop thinking about it. She said it was the most frightening thing she ever saw.

crossposted at Blondesense

And The Winner of the Book Giveaway

by: Minstrel Boy


He answered first, and answered best. Only missed one, and he figured that shit out too.

Congrats Kona, you'll dig this book.

harp and sword

Here's Something You Can Do

by: Minstrel Boy

This comes from Tata over at Poor Impulse Control.

A few weeks ago I was challenging people to find ways to make this war personal. Here's a way to do just that.

Mr. Sasha, my son-in-law, is stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Miss Sasha points out Vandenberg's got a care package project going.* I hope you'll be inspired to either help out or call up a base near you and find a project you can get involved in.

The following items are of great use to the deployers:

Black/brown t-shirts and black socks
crystal light packets
individual size beef jerky
energy bars
lip balm
sun screen
foot powder
baby wipes
hand/antibacterial soap
individually wrapped hard candy
phone cards
blank greeting cards/letter writing materials
sunflower seeds
assorted snack items

You can send some items, all these items, a case of any one kind of item. They will be grateful for what you send, regardless. Also: they especially want hand sanitizer and baby wipes.

Not on the list: I have heard that eye drops are also prized. Books are also great.

My contact with the program, who shall remain charmingly anonymous and not a person I made myself, says also:

We also have a program for our families called Operation Sweet Dreams. In this program the family member sends us a digital photo, we transfer to a pillowcase and the family gives to the deployed member to take with them or is sent to the deployed location. With that we would need plain white pillow cases.

Donations can be dropped off or mailed to:
Airman & Family Readiness Center
706 Washington Ave
Bldg 10122
Vandenberg AFB, CA 93437

*The short version: I'm 100% opposed to the war and have been since 9/12; even so, our military comes down to individual persons who in my opinion should never get the idea that individual civilians don't give a shit what happens. This is not a contradiction. It is the simple notion that every person - every single person - matters just as much as I do in the world. And they might need socks.

harp and sword
22 October 2007

Blackwater: Back Taxes?

by: Foiled Goil

Waxman: Blackwater may have engaged in tax evasion

Klaus Marre, The Hill:
The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee asserted Monday that Iraq security contractor Blackwater USA "may have engaged in significant tax evasion."

In a letter to Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince, panel Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) noted that the IRS earlier this year ruled that the company "violated federal tax laws by treating an armed guard as an 'independent contractor,'" Waxman said. "The implication of this ruling is that Blackwater may have avoided paying millions of dollars in Social Security, Medicare, unemployment and related taxes for which it is legally responsible."
The lawmaker stated that his panel has found out that "Blackwater required this employee to sign a non-disclosure agreement before it agreed to pay the back pay and other compensation that he was owed. The terms of this agreement explicitly prohibited the guard from disclosing any information about Blackwater to 'any politician' or 'public official.'"

Waxman charges that "it now appears that Blackwater used this illegal scheme to avoid millions of dollars in taxes and then prevented the security guard who discovered the tax evasion from contacting members of Congress or law enforcement officials."
Waxman is calling on Prince to provide the committee with documents regarding the issue, including all communications between the government and Blackwater with regard to the classification of the company’s employees, non-disclosure agreements and documents related to the security guard who requested the IRS ruling.

The panel also set up a tipline to allow people with knowledge of Blackwater's potential tax evasion to come forward.
Waxman Accuses Blackwater of Millions in Tax Fraud, Cover-Up

Spencer Ackerman, TPM Muckraker:

21 October 2007

Cheney: Threat To Peace

by: Foiled Goil

Cheney calls Iran an obstacle to peace

Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday described Iran as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East and said the world could not stand by and allow it to develop a nuclear weapon.

Cheney's comments underscored a ratcheting up of U.S. rhetoric toward Tehran and came just days after President George W. Bush warned that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three.
"Our country and the entire international community cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions," he said.

Cheney discussed Iran in a speech in which he emphasized the importance of continued U.S. engagement in the Middle East and said the United States seeks stability there but not the kind that "simply keeps a lid on" problems.
Cheney said progress toward a more stable and peaceful Middle East would depend on responsible conduct by countries in the region, such as respect for neighbors' sovereignty and compliance with international agreements.

"If you apply all these measures it becomes immediately clear that the government of Iran falls far short and is a growing obstacle to peace in the Middle East," Cheney said.
Bush, who has insisted he wants a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue, is pushing for a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran.

But he faces resistance from Russia, a veto-holding member of the U.N. Security Council which backed two sets of limited U.N. sanctions against Iran but has been cool to the idea of any tough new measures.
Bush, at a news conference last week, said a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a "dangerous threat to world peace."

"We've got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel," he said.* "So I've told people that, if you're interested in avoiding World War Three, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
Analysts who attended the think-tank forum where Cheney spoke were struck by his tough line toward Iran, especially in light of Bush's recent comments.

"The language on Iran is quite significant," said Dennis Ross, a peace mediator under former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton. "That's very strong words and it does have implications," referring to Cheney's warnings of serious consequences for Iran.
Cheney: Iran faces 'serious consequences' over nuclear drive

AFP (Agence France-Presse):
Cheney, considered the US administration's toughest hardliner on Iran, did not mention the possibility of military action amid reports that President George W. Bush could be laying the stage for war with the Islamic republic.

"The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences," he said in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," he said, after Bush warned last week that a nuclear-equipped Iran evoked the threat of "World War III."
Speaking on CNN Sunday, Democratic Representative Jane Harman said the administration's threatening language against Iran was "very dangerous."

"We heard about mushroom clouds and other images before the military action in Iraq. I wish the president would avoid that," she said, calling for tougher UN sanctions on Iran instead of "war-mongering threats."

Unbowed by the morass faced now by the United States in Iraq, and by warnings that the US military is dangerously overstretched, the hawkish Cheney reportedly favors attacking Iran.

In a New Yorker article last month, celebrated investigative reporter Seymour Hersh said there was US planning for "surgical" raids against Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which Washington accuses of targeting its forces in Iraq.
Iran, which insists it only wants peaceful nuclear energy, has brushed aside US warnings, and announced Saturday that its top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani had resigned and was being replaced by an ally of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a gloomy speech that ranged over threats facing the United States from Islamic terrorism, and the need for Congress to renew controversial surveillance tactics, Cheney also said that Washington would not abandon Iraq.

"We're going to complete the mission so that another generation of Americans does not need to go back and do it again," he said.
"The language on Iran is quite significant," former Middle East presidential envoy Dennis Ross said. "That's very strong words and it does have implications."

Commenting on Bush's "World War III" warning, Jane's Information Group Alex Vatanka said: "The United States could take care of Iran militarily in short order.

"But it's still not useful for policymakers to use this kind of alarmist talk, even if Bush feels that Iran is an urgent issue that needs to be dealt with in his remaining time in office," he told AFP.
*Ahmadinejad did not threaten to "wipe Israel off the map."

"Wiped Off The Map" - The Rumor of the Century

20 October 2007

A Perfect Day Gets "Perfecter"

by: Minstrel Boy

This morning, a couple hours before the parade (me and the banjo are riding the "bandwagon" with some floozies from the Oriental Saloon) I am in the dusty streets of Tombstone, enjoying the perfect weather, the brilliantly bright but not oppressive sun, trying to teach two German girls the fine art of "moseying." The mosey is an essential gait to master if you wish to be comfortable in the west. It is done at a leisurely pace, not aimless, but not driven either. I'm pointing out some of the beautiful customs of the Old West. Hats are tipped, strangers greeted politely, children addressed as equals. The German girls are getting into the whole thing. We stop by the Dry Goods store so that they can buy some appropriate apparal for the shows today. Last night they felt very left out because they were dressed in modern clothing. We aim to remedy that, but, this is the west, there ain't no rush.

They are Germans though, their eyes keep leaving the street to check our progress toward our goal. Their strides lengthen, they begin to ignore passersby and purposefully move toward their goal. I gently remind them that there is plenty of time in the day. We ain't burning daylight mien damen.

We settle back into a gentle mosey when from out of nowhere I am grabbed about the waist by two sets of arms. Then the joyous shouting starts "Uncle Minstrel! Uncle Minstel!" I look down to find the Sgt. Major's beautiful twin daughters. Hugs and introductions are made and they girls breathlessly tell me that their father is riding with the 9th Cavalry Color Guard for the first time in today's parade. One of the beauties gives me a very solemn look and says "He's real nervous. He's riding on a borrowed horse and he thinks that it doesn't like him much." I begin to laugh it off and the other girl says "Did you bring your horses Uncle Minstrel? If he could ride Sally or Rosalita it would make him feel so much better." I tell them that I did, indeed, bring my horses. Except it might not be proper, that Color Guard is a very important duty and that the horses they have are trained especially for staying in line and close together. I suggest that there is something I have back at my trailer which will help to make their father less nervous. First however, we have to get the Germans to the store, and, giving a wink to their mother, "I think that they have some good old fashioned Wild West Candy at that same store." The little girls tell me I'm a genius.

We are chattering and having a great time the rest of the way to the store. The girls want to know what I'm doing down here and I tell them about the two shows we're doing at the opera house today, then I ask their mother if they would like to be my guest for tonight's big show. She promises to talk it over with her husband but she can't think of anything else they would want to do tonight.

Clothes and candy are purchased and with only a short stop into the Oriental Saloon for a Sarsaparilla on draught we head to my trailer digs. I duck in to change into my show duds. Nothing outrageous, just a bit cleaner, and brighter colors of my usual jeans, shirt and hat. I'm wearing the pearl grey, gunfighter blocked, Stetson with the coral snake hat band and two eagle feathers. I snatch up my banjo and grab my present for the Sgt. Major out of a drawer.

We head off to the staging area for the parade and the girls drag me at a rapid clip off to where their father and the other 9th Cavalry troops are putting the final spit and polish touches on themselves and their mounts. He beams 200watt brilliance when he sees who is with his girls. He looks perfect. They are wearing their "dress" uniforms, with full medals and I can tell at a glance that the Sgt. Major has seen the elephant a time or two himself. He introduces me to the other members of his unit and we shake hands and go through the required pleasantries. Just when the pauses begin to feel pressured I remember that I have brought him a gift. I tell him that the 9th and the 10th Cavalry were both stationed up in the White Mountains and that their scouts and a good percentage of their complement was made up of full pledged White Mountain Apache troopers. I tell them that my grandfather remembered making a little extra change when he was a boy by shining cavalry boots and always said that African Americans were among his favorite white people, they were in a tie with the Irish, who are only technically white. Then I open my banjo case and bring out a little bundle of red cloth. I tell them that when the Apache and the Buffalo Soldiers rode together the Apache gave battle honors to the Cavalry troopers in the exact same way they had always done. I open the bundle and hand a red-fluff-tipped eagle feather to the Sgt. Major. I tell him that I can see that his Bronze Star has the "V" device and Oak Leaves. I tell him that an eagle feather decorated like this one is the highest honor that an Apache Warrior can give to another.

Then we go over to the Sgt's mount and I braid the feather into the mane, just behind the ears. It looks gorgeous. I tell them that I have to find the people that I'm riding with in the parade but hope to see them all after the show.

As I track down the bandwagon and the floozies and see the owner/producer of the Birdcage there. I suggest to him that the Color Guard and their families would be a great thing to have in the Mayor's box at the afternoon show. He agrees that this would be a wonderful idea and scurries off to work it out with Buffalo Soldiers.

I get "Susannah" (my banjo was given a name by the people that made it instead of a serial or model number) and tune up.

The parade begins and the floozies and I begin to sing

words and music by Daniel Emmett

I come to town the other night,
To hear the noise and see the fight
The watchman was a running around
He hollered "Old Dan Tucker's come to town!"


Get out the way for Old Dan Tucker
He's to late to get no supper
Supper's done, breakfast's a cookin'
Old Dan Tucker's jest a standin' there a'lookin'

Old Dan Tucker was a mighty man,
Washed his face in a frying pan,
Combed his hair with a wagon wheel,
Died from toothache in his heel.


Old Dan Tucker he come to town,
Riding a billygoat, leading a hound,
Hound dog bark and the billygoat jump,
Throwed Dan Tucker on a stump.


Old Dan Tucker, he got drunk,
Fell in the fire and he kicked up a chunk,
Red hot coal got in his shoe,
Oh my Lawdy how the ashes flew.


Old Dan Tucker, he come to town,
Swinging the ladies round and round,
First to the right and then to the left
And then to the gal that he loved best.


Ol' Dan Tucker clumb up a tree,
His Lord and Master for to see,
The limb it broke and Dan got a fall,
Never got to see his Lord at all.


Ol' Dan Tucker went to the mill,
To git some meal to put in the swill;
The miller swore by the p'int of his knife
He never seed such a man in his life.


Dan Tucker begun in early life
To play the banjo and the fife;
He'd play the boys and gals to sleep
And then into some bunk he'd creep.


harp and sword

Death in the Real Press

by: blackdog

Just found out today that a really talented writer died Thursday. His name is Richard Allin and he had a column in the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi for decades called "Our Town".

His column always had a postage stamp sized photo of him, always looking over his readin' piecies at you with a mild smirk on his face. The kind of look that you grew to want directed your way. A sort of look that a loving grandfather might give. I always wanted to meet this man, he was a true gem.

The Arkansas Gazette was a damn good newsrag, well worth a read anytime. But then some butthead named Gannet bought out the competitor, the AR Dixiecrap and flushed it with lots of money. The Dixiecrap was not even a good rag, not enough paper in it to have a good bowel movement on some days, to read it only made you despair and have high blood pressure.

Anyroad, with all that infused money the Dixiecrap started something that all trailer trash can really get behind, free want-ads. Amazingly this pulled the monetary plug on the Gazette which even more amazingly was bought out by the Dixiecrap a few years later. Some of the best journalistic writers in the nation were handed their hats and simply dumped to the extreme crowing of the white-bucked right wing crowd who hated any aspect of truth that did not agree with their interpretation of it.

Some of these good writers went to non-profits and continued to write in Arkansas, providing a much smaller venue for anyone wanting to hear or read about it, but the nail in the coffin had been driven home, what had happened here locally was about to occur nationally in a much bigger way. But I do digress.

My intent is to celebrate Richard Allin. He continued with the new masters of the Dixiecrap but it became apparent to some that he was no longer enjoying his work as he had. His column had been famous locally for his articles on train rides, he always loved to travel by train and continually extolled the virtues of it. Also BBQ restaurants, bacon and tomato sandwiches, and the early tomatos that made this possible.

He was a great read, one that would start your day off on the correct foot. I would read his column by moon and starlight while throwing that paper back in the 60's.

Konagod, I bet you remember him too. He finially got canned by his new masters and lasted about three more years.

I tip my hat to him, and my heart is broken.

But what happened to a great paper and Mr. Allin is now standard procedure and has damaged the media possibly beyond repair.

Am I bitter? You fucking bet.

Comcast "Services" Customers

by: Foiled Goil

I thought I had a handle on the meaning of the word service: "The act of doing things for other people."

Then I heard terms like:

Internal Revenue Service
Postal Service
Telephone Service
Cable Service
Trash Pickup Service
Restaurant Service
Technical Support Service
Civil Service
Social Services
Selective Service
City Public Service
County Public Service
Customer Service
Service Station

After a lifetime of using these services I became confused about the word "service." What they did to me was not what I thought "service" meant.

Then, I overheard two farmers talking and one of them mentioned that he was having a bull over to "service" a few of his cows.


It all suddenly came into clear perspective.

Now I understand what all those "service" agencies are doing to us.

And, how Comcast decides what kind of "service" they will give you:

AP tests Comcast's file-sharing filter

To test claims by users that Comcast Corp. was blocking some forms of file-sharing traffic, The Associated Press went to the Bible.

An AP reporter attempted to download, using file-sharing program BitTorrent, a copy of the King James Bible from two computers in the Philadelphia and San Francisco areas, both of which were connected to the Internet through Comcast cable modems.

We picked the Bible for the test because it's not protected by copyright and the file is a convenient size.

In two out of three tries, the transfer was blocked. In the third, the transfer started only after a 10-minute delay. When we tried to upload files that were in demand by a wider number of BitTorrent users, those connections were also blocked.

Not all Comcast-connected computers appear to be affected, however. In a test with a third Comcast-connected computer in the Boston area, we were unable to test with the Bible, apparently due to an unrelated error. When we attempted to upload a more widely disseminated file, there was no evidence of blocking.
Further analysis of the transfer attempt from the Comcast-connected computer in the San Francisco area revealed that the failure was due to "reset" packets that the two computers received, carrying the return address of the other computer.

Those packets tell the receiving computer to stop communicating with the sender. However, the traffic analyzer software running on each computer showed that neither computer actually sent the packets. That means they originated somewhere in between, with faked return addresses.

In tests analyzing the traffic received by a computer on Time Warner Cable that was trying to download a file from a large "swarm" of BitTorrent users, more than half of the reset packets received carried the return addresses of Comcast subscribers, even though Comcast's 12.4 million residential customers make up only about 20 percent of U.S. broadband subscribers. It was the only U.S. Internet service provider whose subscribers consistently appeared to send reset packets (which are occasionally generated legitimately).

Comcast subscriber Robb Topolski, who discovered the blocking earlier this year and traced it to reset packets, pointed out that a Canadian company called Sandvine Inc. sells equipment that promises to save bandwidth for Internet service providers by managing and redirecting file-sharing traffic.

19 October 2007

SCHIP Right-Wingers On Stark Raving Mad

by: Foiled Goil

Rep. Pete Stark (D–Cal), from House debate on override vote for SCHIP:
"I'm just amazed that the Republicans are worried that we can't pay for insuring an additional 10 million children. They sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal War in Iraq."
"President Bush's statements about children's health shouldn't be taken any more seriously than his lies about the War in Iraq. The truth is that that Bush just likes to blow things up – in Iraq, in the United States, and in Congress."

In response to Republican attacks, Congressman Stark issued this statement:
"I have nothing but respect for our brave men and women in uniform and wish them the very best," said Stark. "But I respect neither the Commander-in-Chief who keeps them in harms way nor the chickenhawks in Congress who vote to deny children health care."


A Sure Fire Show Stopper

by: Minstrel Boy

(Note: I'm down in Tombstone for "Gunfight Week" with a beautiful violinist from ASU and a couple of German girls)

With about an hour and a half to go before our show walk through my violinist and I have been going over some of the tunes. We try to remain true to the era, which means that most of the songs we perform will be well over 150 years old. I have a great deal of respect for songs like that. There were times when singing for my children at bedtime I would get into that whole human continuity thing, amazed that I was part of nearly a thousand years of lullaby when I would sing Bhaidin Fheilimi or some other ancient tune. I often wonder when I look at the music people play now whether or not any of them will still be sung after that amount of time has passed.

Music at that time (circa 1880) tended to be shamelessly maudlin and emotional. They were great weepers and wailers when they gathered to sing. So, here's our showstopper.

Click Here For The Tune

Father, Dear Father, Come Home From The Bar
Words and Music by Henry Clay Work

(spoken introduction)

'Tis the song of little Mary
Standing at the bar-room door
While the shameful midnight revel
Rages wildly as before. (/into, begin music)

Father, dear father, come home from the bar!
The clock on the steeple strikes one;
You said you were coming straight home from the shop,
As soon as your day's work was done.
Our fire has gone out, our house is all dark,
And mother's been waiting since tea,
With poor brother Benny so sick in her arms,
And no one to help her but me.
Come home, come home, come home!
Please father, dear father come home.


Hear the sweet voice of the child,
Which the night winds repeat as they roam!
Oh who could resist this most plaintive of cries,
"Please father dear father, come home."

Father, dear father, come home from the bar!
The clock on the steeple strikes two;
The night has grown colder and Benny is worse,
But he has been calling for you.
Indeed his is worse, Ma says he will die
Perhaps before morning shall dawn;
And this is the message she sent me to bring,
"Come quickly! Or he will be gone."
Come home, come home, come home!
Please father, dear father come home.


Father, dear father, come home from the bar!
The clock on the steeple strikes three,
The house is so lonely, the hours are so long
For poor weeping mother and me.
Yes we are alone. Poor Benny is dead
And gone with the angels of light,
And these were the very last words that he said
"I want to kiss Papa goodnight."
Come home, come home, come home!
Please father, dear father come home.


The chorus of this song is a breeze, very easy to teach to a crowd. I do, however, intend to cheat. When I'm trying to get something like this going I have great success when I "seed" the crowd, with folks from the acts, stagehands, bartenders, the German Girls (I had to promise that we would play Der Lorilei oh my what a sacrifice! Force me to play something that beautiful!) Who pick up the chorus around the room. If there is a quiet voice, or a dry eye when we're done with this one I will be surprised.

harp and sword (and sixgun)

18 October 2007

SCHIP Override Failed

by: Foiled Goil


Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act

Yeas: 229 – Nays:     2 – N/V: 2

Yeas:   44 – Nays: 154 – N/V: 2


Yeas: 273 – Nays: 156 – N/V: 4

Transcript of Speaker Pelosi's Press Conference on SCHIP Override Vote:
In the next two weeks, we intend to send the President another bill that provides health care for 10 million children in our country. Over two thirds, today it was 81 percent, of the American people expressed their support for health insurance for America's children. This isn't even an issue anymore, it is a value. It is a consensus in our country from which the President appears to be isolated.
Children are telling the Congress what we should know. The American people, to the tune of 82 percent, are saying this is a value that we all share. That is a consensus in our country.

What is it that the President doesn't get about this?
And if is the President is saying we can't afford the bill, then I would just say and remind that for 40 days in Iraq we can insure 10 million children for one year in America. Mr. Rangel mentioned that this is about the leaders, the intellects, the innovators of the future: Our children? It is also about our soldiers and sailors and Marines. So if we are going to have a strong America in terms of the health and well being of our country in terms of our military strength, we have to invest in our children. That's what this bill does. Eighty two percent of the American people understand that. The President just doesn't get it.


Book Giveaway Time Again!

by: Minstrel Boy

I just finished a great little book by Bob Harris of Prisoner of Trebekistan a Decade of Jeopardy called Who Hates Whom

He goes region by region around the world and gives a thoughtful and incisive analysis of the conflicts. In the course of the book you learn little tidbits like

Which countries are fighting over an uninhabitable glacier with no real strategic value at an annual cost of half a billion dollars?

Which under-reported war has been the deadliest since World War II, worse than Viet Nam, with a continuing aftermath worse than most current conflicts combined?

Which royal family members were respected as gods, until the crown prince machine gunned the king and queen?

Which country's high school students think that the Nazis had a "good side"?

Which nation's readers recently put "Mein Kampf" on the best seller list?

Which country watches itself with more than four million security cameras?

(hint, the last three countries are all U.S. allies)

So, here's the deal. As with all of my give away contests I promise that the judging criteria will be unfair and arbitrary. I will further state the the judging panel (Me) will prove to be corrupt and easily swayed by off topic pleas. I am also very easy to bribe.

The contest is who ever can give the most correct answers to the above questions will get a copy of the book, sent by me. The beauty of the whole thing is that somebody who knows all of that shit already won't be the one who needs to be reading it.

Leave your answers in the comments at harp and sword
17 October 2007

The Sutras of Abu Ghraib, Prologue

by: Aidan Delgado

Publisher's Note: Aidan Delgado is a veteran of the Iraq War who has written the book,The Sutras of Abu Ghraib: Notes from a Conscientious Objector (©2007: Beacon Press). Mr. Delgado has agreed to be a contributing writer here at Big Brass Blog. This, his first post, is an excerpt from the Prologue of The Sutras of Abu Ghraib. Readers are encouraged to purchase the book by clicking on the text link or the cover page image here or by buying a copy at a favored bookseller.
Dark Wraith

The Sutras of Abu Ghraib, by Aidan Delgado, at Amazon.comPrologue

How to begin? It's 2005, I've been back in the States for over a year, and nothing about my time in Iraq seems clear anymore. Ten thousand people have already weighed in on my story, and I am sagging under the weight of their words. I have never been a "man of principle" before, nor have I ever been a "communist" or "barking moonbat," and never at the same time. Sometimes when I read about myself, I think, Was I even there? It fades in and out of focus. Did any of this really happen? Maybe I am a fraud, just as they say. The prison swells and recedes in my memory until it's just a dark blot on the camera lens. Maybe I'm just remembering it wrong, filling in the gaps, making it up...
Then it comes back into focus.
It's 2003: we've been at Abu Ghraib for only a couple of weeks. It's evening, just about sunset. There's no light or heat inside, so we gather to make a little fire. We're sitting around a fire barrel, reclining into bright red canvas chairs, just a couple of guys lounging around outside the barracks building. There are no showers yet, so everyone's dirty as hell and itching in the thermal underwear and field jackets we've just pulled out of our B-bags. It's late November; my birthday was last week. It's very cold. Shoe is trying to cook popcorn on a piece of sheet metal. Someone tosses another piece of crate on the fire and the popcorn begins to make noise. Sergeant McCullough wanders over, kneels down next to the fire barrel, and starts to talk. His face is young, bright, and friendly: a good guy, nicest sergeant in the world, everyone knows that.
You guys hear about the riot? he says in his agreeable southern drawl. No, we say, what happened? They killed some prisoners, shot one guy in the face, split his head open. Laughs all around.
Then we're all talking about the riot, asking about it. What happened, Sergeant? Details, details, details. They were throwing stones. Hit a couple of our guys, bloodied Pitts's face. It was fucking crazy, man.
He says they've got some photos of the riot in the TOC, the Tactical Operations Command, real nasty ones. You can see the looks on everyone's faces change. Wish I'd been there, someone says. The sun's gone down. People wander off. Shoe busts open the popcorn from his metal cup and it's wrecked; all but a few kernels are too blackened to eat.

What follows is a record of my time in Iraq, my own best effort at my story and my truth. Is it a transcript of reality? Hell, no. I defy anyone to produce one. Like any story, it is interwoven with my own reflections, wishes, judgments, and prejudices. Is every word I spoke, every word spoken to me during that year, exactly recorded exactly as it was said? No. It's a memory, recorded and set down as well as memory ever can be. But it's all true, to the best of my knowledge and the knowledge of some of the guys I served with.
In a larger sense, what happened to me in Iraq is completely irrelevant. The sights, the sounds, the tastes are all just curiosities that I present in an effort to paint the picture. I could give you an endless series of vignettes: what Iraq looked like, what we ate, the interesting characters in my unit, but it would all be meaningless. If you want to read about daring military exploits, there are many authors with stories more dashing than mine. It would be vain and empty merely to chronicle what happened to me, as if I were somehow so important that you needed to hear every event of my life in excruciating detail. I am not telling parlor stories. I wrote this book because I want to share a lesson I learned in the desert, in the hope that it will inform your view of the war in Iraq, of politics, of religion, of all the choices you make as a moral person. I can't bear to hear any more stories about battles and uncompromising heroes, with flags waving gently in the background. I want this book to serve as a hanging question about what it means to be an ethical soldier, to live an honest life. I want to give you a military life in shades of gray, filled with doubt, moral courage, and moral cowardice.
This book is not about who I am and what happened to me, even though you will read about who I am and what happened to me. It is a story about a struggle that we all face, a story about deciding what you believe is right and upholding that belief to the bitter end, come what may.
That's my invocation. Give me the strength to remember.

Aidan DelgadoMr. Delgado, the son of a diplomat, joined the United States Army Reserve in 2001. Finding that the war into which he had been thrust ran counter to his deeply held Buddhist beliefs, he sought conscientious objector status. He completed his term of service in the armed forces and was awarded an Honorable Discharge. He is now active in the anti-war movement. He has appeared on Democracy Now and CNN and has been noted by Bob Herbert of The New York Times.

· ·

Andrew Sullivan on Watching Larry Craig

by: Minstrel Boy

I read Sullivan pretty regularly. There are times where he and I certainly part company, but, at our core, we are in the same boat, as essentially libertarian conservatives who found our party co-opted by racists, sexists, and christian extremist whack jobs.

This one, though, is a thoughtful, and humanely generous account of the emotions raised by issues like this.

Like when he says:
And he constructed an identity in opposition to this "lifestyle" early, out of pain and defensiveness and terrible fear. He is now wedded to this life he created - more than to his wife

or this:
If you want an argument for why the cause for gay visibility, dignity and equality is necessary and indeed noble, just watch that interview again.

or especially this:
Craig was seeking in that toilet stall a connection, a shard of intimacy, that the world would not give him, or that he could not give himself. No one should have to live without that intimacy and dignity - no one. Living a life like that - a deeply lonely, compromised, painful interior existence - is a very sophisticated form of hell. No human can keep it up for ever. No human should have to keep it up for ever.

He is a hypocrite; and he made his choices. I am not going to dispute that. His voting record helped sustain the misery for others that he lived with himself. He is for ever responsible for that.

But he is also a victim. And to see such a victim's pain exposed brutally in a public restroom pains me. He needs help. So do millions of others.

Bravo Mr. Sullivan.

harp and sword

· · ·
16 October 2007

Shadows at Eight Degrees

by: Dark Wraith

Shadows at Eight DegreesLynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, disclosed today that, while researching the geneology of the Cheney family for a book she's writing, she discovered that the Vice President is related to Democratic presidential candidate and Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

The story about Cheney and Obama being blood relatives comes on the heels of a September report by the Chicago Sun-Times that Sen. Obama and President George W. Bush are 11th cousins.

The Dark Wraith herewith vows never again to ask, "Could things get any weirder?"

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

· ·

So, Where Does My Money Go?

by: Debra

Food, rent, gas, the internets, basic satellite access, three-at-a-time Netflix, and car insurance. One week's pay for rent. Those were the days, I pay more. Health care? Not eligible. Child care was never necessary which eliminated college costs for everyone but me and I have the loan to prove it. The car was paid off at the beginning of the year but due to last week's boo-boo, it might become a major expense I can't afford.

I'm not a fashion plate kind of girl, clothes are to keep me warm and to prevent arrest. I'm over fifty, I like elastic waists. I've ranted several times about the benefits of not wearing makeup (science is proving me right) and of having really short hair. Food is the second largest expense after rent. Fresh is my first choice and since I'm not all that fond of packaged goods, it is a substantial portion of the budget in order to eat healthy.

Back in the eighties I was able to afford all of the above except the internets which didn't exist in normal space yet, had cable instead of satellite, went to the video store to pick up videos, ate out more frequently, went on vacation, ate really good food at home, wore nice clothes, didn't have an advanced education and had money left over at the end of the month instead of bills. Yes, life really is harder now than it was then.

I can't cut my housing expenses any more without being homeless, so that leaves the food variable and then you have to wonder, what's the point? How much chasing of the brass ring am I willing to do? Frankly, a roof over my head, food to enjoy and the internets are necessities, everything else is a perk. Ones that I like to enjoy which means I need more money.

I need a legitimate home based business. On the computer.


Cool Halloween Idea

by: Minstrel Boy

My niece is down with home made Halloween costume stuff. Our little enclave of houses is also into making our own treats and since we all know each other it's not one of those danger things.

But the subject of the post is her costume idea. It's brilliant. She took a shipping box and painted it up to look like it was a box of Cheerios. Then she took a knife handle and made it look like the box was stabbed.

She proudly showed me. I said "But what is it dear?"

She looked at me like I was stupid (I get that look a lot from kids and girlfriends) and said,

"I'm a Cereal Killer."

I collapsed with laughter.

el rancho harpo

News Framing at

by: Dark Wraith

The graphic below is a screen capture from the main page of on the afternoon of October 15, 2007. The headline, highlighted for emphasis in this article, links to a story about Lindsay Roberts, wife of the president of Oral Roberts University. She is at the center of a scandal involving improprieties alleged in a lawsuit file by three former professors against the private, religious college. The most salacious of the allegations—backed up by pictures, cell phone records, and other documents—involve Mrs. Roberts' interactions with underaged males, one of whom was photographed in a car with Mrs. Roberts after midnight even though a local curfew prohibits minors from being out after 10 p.m. without their parents. Among other allegations are some backed by extensive records of late-night text messaging between Mrs. Roberts and underaged males, as well as representations that the boy who was in the car with her was ultimately moved into the Roberts family's university-provided home to the dismay of her children. Further allegations have to do with the firing of a long-time employee, who was replaced by a convicted sex offender, and lavish clothing expenditures by Mrs. Roberts, purchases paid for by the ministry because she was to wear the apparel in her television broadcast appearances.

Screen capture from on October 15, 2007

Note carefully the manner in which the headline is presented:

Claims sicken Christian school president's wife

The reader who clicks on the headline finds that the associated article recaps the highlights of what is on an official Webpage of Oral Roberts University, wherein Mrs. Roberts is given space to express her dismay about the allegations being leveled against her.

That front-page headline might, however, give a somewhat different impression, possibly even that the allegations have actually made her physically ill. Once a reader clicks on the headline and goes to the article, the word "sicken" is in quotes because it is how she, herself, on the official Oral Roberts University Website, is characterizing how she feels about being accused of improprieties.

Now, let us pull back to exactly one week before, on October 8, 2007, when Blackwater USA was still headline news at and many other media outlets. The Iraqi government had just ordered Blackwater out of the country. An official investigation by the Iraqi government concluded that 17 Iraqi civilians killed when Blackwater employees opened fire in a town square were murdered by the mercenaries. Gruesome photos and moment-by-moment accounts of the massacre had been delivered by news media outlets for more than a week, with at least one account by the Washington Post providing multiple, eyewitness accounts and on-the-scene interviews with those who saw and survived the relentless onslaught of firepower by the private American security firm's personnel. So, on October 8, recounting the conclusions of the Iraqi government report, which held Blackwater criminally and civilly responsible for the deaths and injuries of Iraqi citizens from the September 16 shower of gunfire in a Baghdad square, had the headline, again highlighted here for emphasis, in the screen capture graphic below:

Screen capture from on October 8, 2007

Note, again carefully, but this time also comparatively, the manner in which the headline is presented:

Iraqi panel: $8 million per Blackwater 'victim'

Note the single quotes around the word victim. Such quotes have the effect of removing a word or term from the realm of the factual and placing it squarely in the wide-open field of the claimed, the alleged, the scrutinizable, the questionable. That's the intended effect of so-called "scare quotes": they diminish the representation made by the words within them; and that's exactly what those single quotation marks did with respect to the use of the word victim to describe a person killed or injured in the September 16 Blackwater shooting incident at a square in Baghdad.

According to, then, allegations sicken Mrs. Roberts, but someone killed or wounded by Blackwater mercenaries on September 16 is a 'victim' of the attack. A civil lawsuit backed by extensive photographic and textual, documentary evidence can sicken a wealthy, religious, American defendant in a sexually charged lawsuit; but when extracted from a foreign government's official report that included dozens of appallingly gruesome photographs and testimony from many eyewitnesses, the term 'victim' must have quotes around it. has used and avoided using scare quotes before, and it will undoubtedly do so in the future as a way of subtly shaping the perception its readers have of information it reports. Although journalism students are taught about this and other means of "framing" early in their training, many people, even those well-educated, are not consciously aware of it in actual use, even when it is deployed repeatedly, over an extended period of time, by a single news source deliberately attempting to shape perceptions and opinions. While it might have been hoped that, by now, framing would be relegated to local media, is demonstrating that what is considered at best disingenuous news presentation and at worst dishonest journalism is alive and quite well in the ranks of 'professional' 'news media' outlets.

The Dark Wraith encourages readers to keep a close eye on for more 'journalistic' hijinks.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

· · ·
15 October 2007

"September 11th Changed Everything"

by: spyderkl

That's what we've been told. From allowing 77-year-old men to be strip-searched at airports because they "look suspicious" (read: vaguely Middle Eastern) to having our telephone conversations overheard without our knowledge or consent, the reason for our eroding freedoms has been "September 11th changed everything". Now, September 11, 2001 was a frightening, sad day. It certainly was. I don't intend to minimize that.

However, there is growing evidence that certain actions had been decided upon 7 months before the actual event. As Melissa wrote this weekend, "(a)nother day, another impeachable offense that will come to nothing."

There is a lot I'd like to say, but cannot. Pretty much for the same reasons why I blog pseudonymously. I will say this: Please don't make this into "Joseph Naccio is a saintly man, concerned about our civil liberties". There is a very good, valid reason why Naccio, or more accurately, Naccio's legal team, has come forward with this particular information about the Bush Administration's illegal wiretapping inquiries at this time. I've said too much already. Anybody else is free to comment at will.

Crossposted (with one slight change) at Evil Mommy.

14 October 2007

A Hill People Story for Sunday Night

by: Dark Wraith

The blogger konagod just published an article entitled, "Reducing Dependency on Oil: An Easy Start" (with a cross-post at Big Brass Blog), in which he rightly rails against the systematic, willful wastefulness of Americans when it comes to their gasoline consumption habits.

In one passage, he notes one of his own fuel saving habits: "Put in more personal terms, I'm probably keeping an extra $100 in my pocket each year by coasting when possible, and accelerating only when necessary."

That brought back to my own mind some fine, fine memories, along with some extensions into seemingly unrelated topics of current interest. To me, it all has a unifying theme and character; but I don't think it will to very many others. Nevertheless, I'll tell you a little story from my own time and the place whence comes my sometimes unpopular perspective.

I grew up in an old family. My father was born before the turn of the 20th Century (or just after, depending upon whose account is to be believed), and my mother was born at the end of the second decade of that magnificently complicated hundred-year stretch.

Both came from the hill country, and neither ever trusted the wealthy people. Didn't trust fancy technology all that much, either.

They hated FDR, too. Just the flip side of Hoover, selling snake oil to the desperately poor instead of the wickedly rich. The older I get, the smarter those two old folks are. That's a little strange, considering they've both been cold in their graves for many years.

My father's people came from Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Dutch, in fact, but my grandfather broke away to make some actual money; he settled in Kentucky in the early 1800s. The census records show that, unlike just about everyone else in the county, he had no Negroes in his possession. He did, however, have no fewer than five unrelated girls between the ages of 13 and 20 in his household. We Germans are always supposed to be on the sociable side, or so I've been told.

My mother's folks came just about from the very soil of Kentucky: French and English trappers in the lower Ohio Valley. Just don't mention the Indian women some of them hitched up with, though; that was almost a worse secret than the European Jews in my father's bloodline.

When I was growing up, I did more than my share of time in hill country, and every last time we'd be at the top of a big rise, the manual transmission would get popped into neutral, and we'd coast down the road. Most of the time, my mother or father would say something like, "Time t' cheat ol' John D. for a while." This was, of course, a reference to John D. Rockefeller and the monopoly power he'd once had over the gasoline markets. My father even recounted watching as a youth as some towns fell to John D.'s gasoline station spatial monopolies created through predatory pricing.

Understand that, down in the hill country of Kentucky, West Virginia, and southeastern Ohio, it's not just that some of the hills go on for a long way down, and it's not just that they can get steep. The excitement comes with the surprisingly abrupt turns those roads can take. That, and the perilously icy conditions that prevail in the later Autumn, all through the Winter, and into the early Spring.

Although the seemingly uncontrolled descents into the valleys never bothered me at all, there was the occasional passenger who would get fussy when we were cheating ol' John D. and my dad would suddenly, in a small voice, say, "Shit."

It always worked out for the best, though.

Until I finally got an automatic transmission car, I would cheat ol' John D. whenever I could, except for when I had old junkers with bad (or, in one case, pretty much no) brakes.

To this very day, I still have my routines, but they're not so much with automobiles; instead, I have a Linux (SUSE) partition and a DOS (Novell 7.0) partition on my hard drive. Whenever I boot to one of those systems instead of Windows, I tell my cat, "We're gonna cheat ol' Bill G. for a while."

My cat understands. Sometimes, he even asks me to tell him again about the magnificent DLC/neo-Keynesian President and his Internet-inventin' Vice President who should have stopped ol' Bill G. in his tracks and thrown him in prison back in the mid-'90s but didn't, either because they really were clueless or, more likely, because they actually thought the Information Age needed its own round of Industrial Policy, complete with monopolies and oligopolies for a new American century.

Darned, but Mom and Dad were right when they said, "His mug's no better'n t'other one's butt." (They might have been right when they said Eisenhower was the last great President, too.)

I should go, now. People are suddenly standing around outside saying someone told them the sky is falling. I don't think they're really going to believe me when I tell them the inconvenient truth of this new American century.

The sky already fell.

It seems that last hairpin turn, the one into post-modernity, was a bit much.

The Dark Wraith should probably just stay inside and write code tonight.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

· · ·

Reducing Dependency on Oil: An Easy Start

by: Konagod

I get so angry and frustrated when I keep hearing the Bush administration, or anyone else for that matter, talking about long-term plans for reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil.

From ramping up more nuclear power plants, to drilling in Alaska, to increasing our use of ethanol, all the ideas are goals set in the distant future. And that's fine, but I don't think raising the fuel efficiency standards from the current 27.5 mpg to 35 mpg by 2020 is really a plan. How many more cars will be on the nation's highways by 2020? And what good is that extra 7.5 miles per gallon average going to do if the price of a gallon of gas happens to be around $8.00 in 2020, if not by 2010!

But, whatever course of action we take, and it probably needs to involve some of everything -- including a tax increase on consumption, here's one idea that could cut dependency right now. Today. And you don't even need to go trade in your GMC Sierra for a Prius. In fact, this idea doesn't cost you a cent.

There are about 243,023,485 registered vehicles in the US. Let's say 150 million are in daily use, just to be extra conservative.

I don't know how people drive where you live, but I suspect it's not vastly different from how they drive right here in liberal Austin, Texas. I don't have what I'd consider to be a fuel efficient vehicle. I get about 23 mpg going to and from work each day. What my car does have is a MPG display in the dash which allows me to monitor my slurpage. I think these nifty little devices should be mandatory in all vehicles, not that I'd really expect most Americans to pay attention to it.

Even modest acceleration in my car gets me about 10-12 mpg, and less than 9 mpg on an average acceleration. However, when I remove my foot from the pedal it jumps to well over 50 mpg.

I pay particularly close attention to this when I'm on the freeway and see that traffic ahead of me is slowing or stopping, or when I'm on a street or freeway access road and approaching a red light. If I'm going 50 mph I can coast quite a distance and reap the benefits of minimal fuel consumption.

Now contrast my behavior with that of so many others who will accelerate to PASS ME as we're both approaching the same red light or traffic jam. They not only accelerate but they continue accelerating until the last few seconds when they have to apply the brakes. I see this phenomenon day after day, week after week, and it seems as if 90% of the drivers on the road feel they are in some kind of race to see who can get to the stopping point the fastest. It's mind-boggling, and almost all of them are driving vehicles with far less fuel efficiency than mine.

Getting back to those 150,000,000 vehicles in daily use, let's assume with the adoption of some less stupid driving habits, each of them could save 1/10 of a gallon of gas per day. Obviously some of the more aggressive drivers with longer commutes could save more.

That's about 15,000,000 gallons of fuel saved each day, or more than half a billion gallons of fuel saved each year. And that's just from adopting less aggressive driving habits. And again, I'm trying to be conservative with my non-scientific figures. The actual savings could be considerably higher.

Eliminating one or two unnecessary trips per week could save much more. We could literally stop using well over a billion gallons of fuel each year with minimal and almost unrecognizable changes in our driving habits.

It sounds like a lot but given the thirst of so many behemoths on our highways, it probably amounts to an annual savings equal to one or two days' consumption. But it's a start.

Put in more personal terms, I'm probably keeping an extra $100 in my pocket each year by coasting when possible, and accelerating only when necessary. That's about 2 1/2 tanks of fuel. And I pull away from those red lights at the same time as the assholes who whiz past me in some unpatriotic piece of shit like this adorned with Bush/Cheney stickers and Support Our Troops ribbons, imported from China along with just about everything else. And how much oil does that waste?

And who is the real conservative here? A Bush/Cheney war hawk or this radical hippie Kucinich supporter?

If you think I'm angry now, don't even get me started on the folks who sit with their engines running for 5 minutes or longer each day in a drive-thru waiting on their burgers and fries. Do the math.

crossposted from konagod

The Sunday Stupids

by: Debra

Taking care of other people, in whatever capacity, is hard work with very little return. Another report that falls into the "no shit" category. Literally. What genius had to have a study to determine that people with the crappiest jobs suffered from the highest rates of depression? Maybe because they see what the end of their life is going to be like and that once a person is considered to be of no value to society they are pushed into the background and marginalized by society? Then the writer jumps to a false conclusion, stating that depression could be improved if everybody worked full time. What is wrong with these people? Most of the personal care jobs are part time, but having a full time job changing diapers isn't going to improve their rates of depression. Being paid well and being respected for doing the jobs that have to be done and nobody else is willing to do might go a long way towards preventing depression. Engineers, architects and surveyors are happier because numbers usually make sense, minimal interaction with people who can't help themselves and the job doesn't involve bodily fluids.

Yes, we did. What else would you expect from the crew without a clue? In the "who appointed us king department", we seem determined to pretend that other countries might like us, even though they say otherwise, to handle their own problems. Our Middle East policy must be to destroy relations with every ally we can find. Who the hell are we to talk about genocide when we systematically lock up and execute minority Americans for the flimsiest (no money) of reasons?

But what about his eyeballs? In the "have they no shame department?" we have more sleaze from the government. They get found negligible in providing services or preventing harm and then turn around and sue for the same amount saying that it covers the cost of the care and the person is no longer indigent. Still harmed and still crazy. What a crock.

In the "people are going to get screwed" category, we have the lovely entry of messing with people's pensions. As if making workers pay for their healthcare from rapidly dwindling wages and forcing them to fund their retirement out of those same funds while corporations collect obscene profits and the present administration trying to eliminate privatize Social Security wasn't bad enough, now they are trying to sell off pension plans to financial institutions. The reason is supposed to be that since the financial institutions are all about making money that the pension plans would profit. Right. More like they would find ways to cut expenses. That would be the pensioners.

· ·
13 October 2007

Iraq War: "A Nightmare With No End In Sight"

by: Foiled Goil

Sanchez, former U.S. commander in Iraq, calls war
'a nightmare with no end in sight'

Stars and Stripes:
The former top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq slammed the handling of the war and gave a bleak assessment of the current situation in Iraq.

"There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight," retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told a convention of military journalists on Friday.
But Sanchez reserved most of his venom Friday for U.S. officials, saying the U.S. government still has not brought all the resources needed to win in Iraq.

"From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan, to the administration’s latest surge strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize the political, economic and military power," Sanchez said.

Continuing changes to military strategy alone will not achieve victory, rather it will only "stave off defeat," he said.

"The administration, Congress and the entire inter-agency, especially the State Department, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure and the American people must hold them accountable."

Even now, the U.S. government has yet to launch a concerted effort to come up with a strategy to win in Iraq, Sanchez said. Such a strategy should involve political reconciliation among Iraqis, building up the Iraqi security forces and getting Iraq's regional partners.
Ex-general: 'No end in sight' in Iraq

Associated Press:
The U.S. mission in Iraq is a "nightmare with no end in sight" because of political misjudgments after the fall of Saddam Hussein that continue today, a former chief of U.S.-led forces said Friday.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded coalition troops for a year beginning June 2003, cast a wide net of blame for both political and military shortcomings in Iraq that helped open the way for the insurgency — such as disbanding the Saddam-era military and failing to cement ties with tribal leaders and quickly establish civilian government after Saddam was toppled.

He called current strategies — including the deployment of 30,000 additional forces earlier this year — a "desperate attempt" to make up for years of misguided policies in Iraq.
Sanchez avoided singling out at any specific official. But he did criticize the State Department, the National Security Council, Congress and the senior military leadership during what appeared to be a broad indictment of White House policies and a lack of leadership to oppose them.
The retired soldier stressed that it became clear during his command that the mission was severely handicapped because the State Department and other agencies were not adequately contributing to a mission that could not be won by military force alone.

When asked when he saw that the mission was going awry, he responded: "About the 15th of June 2003" — the day he took command.

"There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope" that things are going to change, he said.

· · ·
12 October 2007

Hallowe'en 2007 Graphic #1

by: Dark Wraith

Cheney Behind the MaskContinuing my tradition from Hallowe'en 2006, in which season of festivities I created and published Hallowe'en Politics Graphic #1, Hallowe'en Politics Graphic #2, and Hallowe'en Politics Graphic #3, this small animated graphic launches the current round of fun-filled horror.

Pleasant dreams, readers.

The Dark Wraith will deliver further troubling images in the days to come, so be forewarned: it's not just your imagination; there really are things that go "BUMP!" in the twilight of Empire.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

· ·
11 October 2007

Made it, at least to now.

by: blackdog

Yep, I be back. The whole damn world seems to be in more of a dire state of shit than it was, this is not related to me being under anesthesia I sure do hope, but I am suspicious.

Being that I am a chickenshit, not a chichenhawk, and there sure is a damn big difference, I have to think about whether or not I do my bandage tonight or blow it off until tomorrow morning. Just got in and sprayed the Woof for fleas, waded through some mess so that I may be able to light the gas fire tonight and all that other important crap.

I can now cough without real pain thank gawd, and am in the middle of a decision whether or not to ever smoke again. I have had a few cans of suds, but I will be very careful and not overdo it. It has been almost three weeks and my filet and incision are improving, but I do not like looking at them. I am also now hooked up as a normal coelamate(?) and can make the proper noises through the proper apeture.

Got a bit of catching up to do, may actually have something to say over the next day or two, just purchased Stephen Colbert's book and am having a great time imagining that I could be something like that.

I did miss you guys alot.

Shrub still seems to suck even more than ever.

The 21st Century, Epilogue

by: Dark Wraith

The 21st Century, Epilogue

In 1999, the PBS series NOVA presented a documentary on the manned space race to the moon. Visually fascinating and quite informative—even to those who were thoroughly engrossed in all things NASA during the 1960s—the producers expended no small effort convincing viewers of the enormity of the technological, logistical, and theoretical challenges that faced the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as it prosecuted fulfillment of President Kennedy's 1961 vow that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of that decade. So much had to be done to make this happen. Technological achievements were abundant, and no less so were large leaps in understanding of how everything from massive ships to human beings can move in space. Engines more powerful than anything ever before built by humankind had to be designed, constructed, and then used to heave thousands of tons up the sky, into orbit around the Earth, and then out of that gravity well into the black, barren ether from our planet to a child world we had seen since forever but had touched only in our dreams and literature.

What was done—what they who accomplished this did, what we as a very species did—was genuinely epic. The science fiction writer Ray Bradbury summarized the 20th Century processual change in our thinking with the titles of his two books, R Is for Rocket and S Is for Space.

Of the U.S. space program of the 1960s, the narrator of that PBS television program said that it was as if a slice of the 21st Century had been carved out and placed right in the middle of the century before it.

"Disruptive technology" is the name sometimes given to a feat of engineering because it is so extraordinarily different: so much more efficient, so lacking in use of existing ways of doing things, so innovative. Frequently, however, the disruption is only apparent: the technology that seems so radical is built upon ideas, work, and understandings that have been in development or even use for quite some time, perhaps even decades or centuries. Yet, still, the disruptive aspect is there because almost no one knows about all the work that came to be embodied in the amazing technology that suddenly arrives, seemingly in the blink of a single generation's eye, into the world of the known.

As the great achievement of putting a person on the moon illustrated, however, sometimes a disruptive technology can seem to vanish as quickly as it had appeared. After a few years and a few more manned missions to the moon, we stopped going; and we never went back, not for the long remainder of the 20th Century, not even in this first decade of the following century. It is as if the manned moon missions were, indeed, an out-of-place, out-of-context slice of another century set into the middle of a far less technologically advanced, far less prepared world. And so, even as a living thing that could manage to be born and grow to stun the 20th Century peoples of the Earth, its maturation required far more nourishment than that time, place, and people could give it; and so it died, leaving its seed for a more inviting, better prepared world of some tomorrow in the century from which its slice of life had been carved.

Although the mission to put a person on the moon might seem unique when described as a 'slice of the 21st Century' placed in the century before, it certainly was not: the 20th Century was a veritable grafting tree for apparently disruptive technologies that would come into the world of perception only to go away. Nuclear weapons are a striking example: used twice in short succession, these bombs so phenomenally more powerful and destructive than any war weapon ever before built then simply vanished from use to their intended purpose. And just like how the technologies and work on space missions survived the end of the successful Apollo program, so too did the technologies and work on nulear weapons continue apace after the successful attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Certainly, people talked endlessly about nuclear weapons after World War II, just as people went on, sometimes breathlessly, about missions to the moon and beyond after Apollo; but neither moon landings nor nuclear attacks ever again occurred. Historical records have the last say: both technologies vanished from operational use.

Yet another technology came and went in the middle part of the 20th Century; but to note this one, the term "technology" must first be elucidated in a way somewhat unusual to common understanding. In typical usage these days, "technology" carries a connotation of something improved, probably electronic or otherwise employing very modern devices, but this usage of the word is only exemplary of technology as a much broader thing. "Technology," in its general sense, is just the combination of the five production factors—land, labor (brute muscle), human capital (knowledge and learned skill), physical capital, and (in capitalist types of economic systems) entrepreneurial skill—used to produce a good or service. To make or create something, various combinations of the input factors might be employed, each with some total cost associated with it. Some combinations work better than others to make specific things and provide specific services, and as a general rule, the most efficient combination to a given purpose tends eventually to dominate, although efficiency might be measured in some societies by measures other than mere cost per unit of output.

In terms of what is produced, technologies are always, by definition, being deployed. Some goods and services do not exist because no combination of inputs has been found to render the needed result. Before any "thing" can be made, of course, the very idea of it must first come into existence, and this is where the essence of human imagination has its great strength; but the idea must be brought by some means from the mind to the world of reality, and this requires the imagination of a combination of the factors of production that might accomplish the realization of the idea. In capitalist societies, the factor of production called entrepreneurial skill takes on this task: some person or group bears risk in combining the other four factors to the conscious or unconscious purpose of garnering a reward at least as great as he, she, or they would earn from doing the next best thing with their time, minds, resources, and energy. In what are called "command economies," this task of bringing together those four factors of production is assumed by a central authority acting perhaps for the good of the society or for those in control of the machineries of state. But whether by the initiative of those pursuing free choice in trying to make money or by the authority of sovereign controllers pursuing large ambition, ideas are brought to reality by combining factors of production in such a way that output is created; and the number of ways of combining the production factors is so vast that it might be that there is simply no limit on what can be made once the idea of it comes to someone and then one or more ways of combining the factors can be worked out to get an actual product or service into the world.

Technology, then, is a possibly infinitely large set of variations on land, labor, human capital, physical capital, and the willingness and ability to combine those first four. For example, one technology for making fire might involve flint, stone, and some dry grass, along with a bit of brute muscle (labor) and a learned or developed understanding (human capital) of how to use the muscles and other stuff to get the fire going; yet, that same flint, stone, dry grass, labor, and human capital might be used to make something else, instead. Furthermore, other technologies exist for making fire, technologies that employ quite different levels of some factors and perhaps not a bit of others that are used to make fire the old-fashioned way. Even more astonishing upon careful thought is that some of the very same factors of production (labor and human capital, for instance), combined with other resources, can be used to make something completely and fundamentally different from fire, something like, say, an axle for a truck, a masterpiece of sculpture, relief from a hard day at work with a back massage, or the pleasurable sensation of good music.

Technology is capable of rendering anything, and all that separates the 'what might be' from the 'what really is' boils down, first, to what has been imagined as possible and, second, to what combination of productive factors can make it real.

In this light, "disruptive" technology is nothing other than a combination of productive factors far outside the typically marginal steps that are taken from one means of production to another. Flying to the moon and back—certainly imagined for ages—required an extraordinary effort to develop the full gamut of inputs and combinations thereof that would be capable of turning the idea into reality. Annihilating cities with single bombs, once again, required extraordinary effort to develop a previously uncontemplated inventory of inputs and combinations thereof that could turn what was also an age-old dream—in this case, utterly staggering, city-wide, virtually instantaneous destruction of property and lives—into reality.

Briefly stepping back from the truly awesome aspects of lunar landings and nuclear annihilations, though, the disruptiveness of the end results of such technologies is only relative. Over and over again, across the world, adventurers had throughout history flung themselves on voyages of unimaginable duration and peril; and by the same token, so too had the belicose wrought upon others unimaginably horrific destruction in what to the times was the blink of an eye. The great "disruptive" technologies of our own ages are but the most recent in a continuing history of technologies disrupting the world and leaving its people in awe and wreckage.

Nevertheless, traveling to another celestial body and wiping out entire cities with single bombs were both extraordinarily impressive to the peoples of the mid-20th Century, and so each rightly stands as disruptive to its time: they were, indeed, slices of the 21st Century arriving, then departing, a world not braced for the impact of the profound novelty of the end results.

Taking "technology" in its broadest sense, the 20th Century holds in its fading inventory another disruption worthy of note. This other disruptive technology was one of governance, a means by which society could be organized to the desired—not necessarily achieved, but nevertheless desired—end of maintaining internal stability and external security. In the celerity of its rise from the ashes of a defeated state, the scope and scale of its outward, militaristic push, and the sheer phenomenality of its willingness and ability to kill people by the millions, European fascism rightly stands as a disruptive technology of the 20th Century. Other states in historical proximity might have carried one or more of its striking features—certainly, Stalinist Russia and Maoist China qualify as superficially comparable experiments—but fascism stands alone in the technology it employed to govern by means of power consolidation within the states it infected, the speed and power with which it projected outward from its ideological and political bases of birth, and its sweeping, rapid, systematic, conscious use of human slaughter to achieve its perception of what constituted both internal stability and external security. And just like the other disruptive technologies described above, fascism was disruptive only in a relative sense: history offers many examples of quickly rising, unbelievably violent, hegemonic states; yet, just like the lunar landing program and nuclear weapons program, fascism stood in its time as a technology that legitimately merits the term "disruptive."

And there it was, right smack in the 20th Century. It arrived, it shocked an unprepared world, and then it seemed to vanish. As if by the magic of the words "never again," fascism evaporated in the overweaning hubris of the Allied victors hanging the men who had served their purpose as the faces of something far more evil than human souls, even in their collective madness, could construct from mere ideas brought to the world of the real by some remarkable combination of productive factors.

Only those completely bereft of futuristic hopes would claim people will not return to the moon and, in fact, go far, far beyond that small staging ground to the planets and then, someday, to the stars. That slice of the 21st Century will find its way back to where it belonged in the first place, not because it will again be disruptive, but rather because the process never ended, even as the outward product of the process was no longer seen by the common person. By that same motive force defying the terms of a single age and the limits of imagination of the people who populate it, nuclear weapons will again be used, not as disruptions to the time of their reintroduction in 21st Century war theatres, but as the inevitable operational outcome of processes that never ended even though use of the final products stopped so abruptly in 1945.

So, too, will fascism return, motivated as it was in its first instance by forces featured in awful ideas and violently sweeping solutions never globally addressed when its European version was crushed and hauled away in body bags from the gallows at Nuremburg.

The slices taken from the 21st Century will find their own ways home to their own time, where they will no longer be disruptions, but instead, anticipated arrivals to the world that will surely believe it needs them.

Anticipate too soon the return of previously disruptive technologies and thereby find frustration; believe that the undesirable of those old technologies can be stopped and thereby find even greater frustration. We will return to the moon and then go on to the planets, finally settling some of our kind there, not because we want to do that, but because it is the way we will escape, as people always have, the pressures of states and their weapons of repression that always attend too many people and too many ways to deny them their mind to free will, mythical as that might or might not be.

We will use nuclear weapons on one another again, and all the angry demands to forestall that time will be for naught because sovereignties and people cannot be stopped in the long run from manifestly fullfilling their belief that what they will do, however horrific it is, simply must be done because beliefs must endure, even if millions must die for the immortality of the imagined.

We will return to repressive states—to fascist and quasi-fascist means of governance—and the frustrations now evident as those who apparently could stop it, like the Democratic majority in the United States Congress, simply cannot stop it. Despite their representations to the contrary, Senators and Representatives just keep allowing further and further inroads into what at one time were unassailable and precious liberties of the "We the People" of this nation.

The re-emergence of the fascist technology of goverance is the Hegelian "historical inevitability," only Georg Hegel perhaps did not appreciate the processual imperative driving what is easily mistakable for mere similarities of precedents leading to similarities of outcomes. The world is, in fact, far more consistent: rending the weed from the soil does nothing to its roots; tearing the roots from the ground does nothing about its seeds; burning the very ground on which the seeds have scattered does nothing to prevent nature from bringing back, in another time, the very same intruder which, when all have wearied of the fight against the menace, will finally be accepted as part of the landscape. Stories about the weed when it first arrived will become fables about the flowering vine that was always there, even when no one could see it.

The 21st Century will proceed through its course, no less and no more than that for which it was born. Its peoples might have been prepared for its grand and fearsome inevitabilities if not for the awe with which they were blinded to forethoughts of inevitable, unstoppable triumph and grief in the generations and times to come. Even then as it proceeds, the 21st Century thus stands in epilogue.

The Dark Wraith has spoken.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

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Coat of Many Colors

by: Minstrel Boy

This is a beautiful rendition of this song. The main thing that struck me is the look on Dolly's face while Melissa sings this story. You can see the truth there.

Let the blubberin' commence.

Back through the years
I go wonderin' once again
Back to the seasons of my youth
I recall a box of rags that someone gave us
And how my momma put the rags to use
There were rags of many colors
Every piece was small
And I didn't have a coat
And it was way down in the fall
Momma sewed the rags together
Sewin' every piece with love
She made my coat of many colors
That I was so proud of
As she sewed, she told a story
From the bible, she had read
About a coat of many colors
Joseph wore and then she said
Perhaps this coat will bring you
Good luck and happiness
And I just couldn't wait to wear it
And momma blessed it with a kiss

My coat of many colors
That my momma made for me
Made only from rags
But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money
I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me

So with patches on my britches
Holes in both my shoes
In my coat of many colors
I hurried off to school
Just to find the others laughing
And making fun of me
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me

And oh I couldn't understand it
For I felt I was rich
And I told them of the love
My momma sewed in every stitch
And I told 'em all the story
Momma told me while she sewed
And how my coat of many colors
Was worth more than all their clothes

But they didn't understand it
And I tried to make them see
That one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
Made just for me

harp and sword

Not Dealing With Reality -- a social commentary by Rob Sheffield

by: Jersey Cynic

From Rollingstone's 2007 Hot Issue

America's Latest National Pastime: 'Not Dealing With Reality'

(thanks for posting this meowblogger)

crossposted at Blondesense

10 October 2007

Glimmers of Hope, Words of Comfort

by: Minstrel Boy

As I look at the coming year, seeing how rabid and vicious the right wing of our nation is already when they attack children, soldiers, and anyone who disagrees with their warped and bizarre construction of reality I tend to just shrink back.

I tend to lean toward retreating behind my cactus fence and concentrating on nothing but living as nicely as I can from day to day.

I tend to wonder if any of this is worth the slimy and stinking fight they will present.

Then, I get an email from a friend who makes me promise to write before I give up.

I promise.

Then, the phone rings. There has been a baby born. Her name? Jooni (beauty in Apache) Harper (after me). She is 14 inches long and weighs seven and a half pounds. I'm going to go meet her this afternoon. I'm bringing presents for her mothers and for her. I promise to dote on her and spoil her shamelessly.

harp and sword

Poor Overworked People

by: Dogmom

I just read an item at Think Progress that about nine Repub. congressmen will not be running for re-election because of the 5-day work week which has been imposed by the Democratic leadership. Well, boo-freakin'-hoo. Since when is a 5-day work week an aberration? When have these people actually WORKED? I would love to see a resume on one of these clowns.

Happy Birthday Boss

by: Minstrel Boy

Eagerly anticipating the release of "Magic" and hoping to start some sincere shit during the next election.

harp and sword
09 October 2007

Scripture Cake

by: Minstrel Boy

I have had this recipe for a long time. Longer term readers might remember that on the rez when I was a kid the schools were pretty much in the hands of missionaries who would volunteer to carry the word to us little heathens. Sometimes we could even manage to get a bit of learning in. Their Ladies' Aid Society would send boxes of books, and if we could get to them before the censors we could steal some pretty good stuff.

I first was exposed to Scripture Cake when Mrs. Tondevald was teaching 4th grade during "Lutheran" year. She brought in a lot more ingredients than we would need to have, and her trusty King James Bible. We would look at the recipe, look up the appropriate verse and try to figure out the ingredients. While it didn't have the intended effect of making a bible reader out of me, it did show me that you can always look stuff up. Plus, on the rez back in the 50's, sugar was a huge ass treat, and cake, even more so.

In the end I figure that the folks who did the missionary work were usually pretty decent sorts who were trying to do the best they could. Some of them, like Mrs. Grove in the 5th grade (during "Quaker" year) did it pretty up and walking good too.

I have the same respect for those folks that I do for the Mormons who found a way to get kids like my cousin and I off the rez for high school. Yeah, we had to wade through a bunch of magic jesus stuff to get to our education, but you know what? Nobody else was offering.


1 cup 1st Samuel 25:18 (a hundred clusters of raisins)
1 cup chopped Isaiah 34:4 (figs from the fig tree)
1 cup chopped Numbers 17:23 (bore ripe almonds)
1 cup chopped Exodus 15:27 (there were seventy date palms)
1 1/2 Cups Leviticus 2:5 (fine flour, unleavened)
1 pinch Leviticus 2:13 (season with salt)
1 teaspoon Exodus 30:23 (of sweet cinnamon)
1 dash Song of Solomon 4:10 ("all manner of spices," in this case we used ginger and allspice)
1 tsp. Amos 4:5 ("of that which is leavened," baking powder)
3 large Isaiah 10:14 (one gathereth eggs)
1 cup Jeremiah 6:20 ("and the sweet cane," sugar)
1/2 Cup Numbers 11:8 (cakes baked with oil)
1 tablespoon Judges 14:18 (what is sweeter than honey?)

Preheat oven to 325°, with the rack in the middle rung. Combine the fruit and nuts in a bowl off to the side. In another bowl mix the flour, salt, baking powder and spices. Beat the eggs until smooth and lemon yellow, add the sugar and beat until creamed and fluffy. Add the oil and the honey, a little at a time and beat until fully mixed. Add in the flour, salt, baking powder and spice mix. Beat until very smooth. Fold in the fruits gently with a rubber spatula and pour into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for about 90 minutes.

This is a decent fruit cake. I have threatened more than once to make up a recipe that would be Shakesperian Sonnet Cake, but I've never gotten around to it.

Scripture Cake did fine. So did the missionaries. I think they knew all along that we were stealing the books they didn't want us to read.

harp and sword


1-2-3-4 Cake

by: Minstrel Boy

Over at Big Brass Blog my fellow blogger, and horse lover Ms. Mule from East Jayzus Mizzurah was talking about a recipe for a cake her grandma called 1-2-3-4 Cake. That got me thinking about it and I recalled dimly that somewhere in the little boxes of recipes on index cards I have handed down from generations of cooks in the family that I had seen that one. It took a couple of dusty crawls through the attic before I found the right box that held the right little box, but damn, I did.

This is another great recipe to make with a kid. There are no excessively dangerous or complex steps. Just straightforward basic techniques. It's not a bad cake either. So let's get at it.


1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour
4 eggs
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350°, grease and flour (or hose down with baker's spray) three 9" round cake pans. In a large mixing bowl cream together the sugar and butter until it is light and fluffy. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl. With the mixer at medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time to the butter and sugar. Mix with each egg until smooth and totally mixed and scrape down the sides of the pan. Add in the milk and the dry sifted ingredients together alternately, making sure everything stays smooth and then add in the extracts. Keep mixing until totally smooth. Pour evenly into the prepared cake pans and bake at 350° for 20 to 30 minutes. A perfectly done cake will spring back when the center is poked. Overbaking will toughen it and tough cake is some tough shit.

Cool on racks for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely before frosting with what ever frosting the kid you're doing this with picks out.

harp and sword

08 October 2007

Variations on a Curd (not to be confused with Kurdistan)

by: Minstrel Boy

The steps and the proportions of juice and sugar remain constant as with lemon curd. What will vary are the amounts of sugar and the final temperature.

My nieghbors who have citrus trees have quickly figured out that if they leave sacks of fruit on my doorstep (or, in the case of the ones who are intimidated by the cactus fence, the gate that has "Desajunes Solos" arched over it, and then the dogs) outside the entrance gate, that there will be marmalades, and citrus curds in the pipeline coming back to them.

I already gave the variations for lime curd at the bottom of the lemon curd recipe, but, in case you missed it, they are to reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup and the final cooking temperature to 185°. The lime curd is something I often substitute for lemon curd in things like blueberry tarts, or kiwi (kiwi tart mmmmmmm!) because it is a far subtler touch. Even though the natural color is a pale pale yellow, it tastes green. Some folks throw a couple drops of green food coloring into the finished product to have their tongue's experience match up with their eyes. I don't, but suit yourself.

Bitter Sevillanas are the oranges that are most used for marmalade. The juice from these oranges also stands up to the cooking process far better than any other. Their resulting curd is vibrant and muscular. The only concession I make to these is because their skin is so thick, and so bitter that I use the zest of the more gentle navel orange or the valencia instead. For a Sevillana curd I use 4 teaspoons navel or valencia zest, and, depending on whether or not I am looking for a more tart or balance out a batch of bitterness, I will vary the amount of sugar between 3/4 cup and 2/3 cup. The temperature for the finish is 185°.

Blood Orange curd. Because the blood orange is a far more delicate flavor to obtain the proper vigor I always start with twice as much juice which I then reduce by half and then cool to room temperature before making the curd. Decrease the sugar by taste to somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 cup. By the reduction process there is already twice as many sugars present in the juice itself, so force yourself to taste this one constantly during the process. A teaspoon of this over a Crème Brúlee is something that must be experienced to understand.

Valencia oranges are a little different. These are superb juicing oranges but it is a far less intense flavor. Start with enough juice to be reduced by three quarters, and use twice as much zest. A little kiss (1/4 teaspoon) of orange oil will added will really punch up the impact flavors of this one. Decrease the sugar from 3/4 cup to somewhere between 1/2 to 2/3 cup. Final temperature is 180°.

Passion Fruit also makes a sublime and vibrant curd. I warn you, it is addictive as crack and might lead you to disgusting excesses of danish pastries and ice cream, or ostentacious slatherings of peach pies.

Use a fresh purée or a commercial (any respectable cake or baker's supply will have decent passion fruit purée or juice available) for this. Use fresh lemon zest as if you were making a lemon curd.

Take 6 tablespoons of passion fruit for the cooking process and after it is finished and strained add in another 4 tablespoons with the zest, into the finished product.

The finish temperature for passion fruit is 190°.

el rancho harpo

Bits & Pieces

by: Missouri Mule

I'm sure very few reader here remember "broomstick shirts" mad out of feed sacks. Do any of you remember when flour came in sacks? So did sugar. I remember when my grandmother would make the 1-2-3-4-cake. That was the name of the recipe. One cup of something, probably butter, then 2 cups of something, and 3 and 4 more ingredients. We know they must have included butter, eggs, flour, and sugar. And the flour came in a sack. I hate waste of any kind. I long for a day when we return to some of the old ways.

Do the lines below bring back a memory to two? Or is this crowd too young? Please indulge an old fart by reading this by Collen B. Hubert.

The Flour Sack

In that long ago time when things were saved
When roads were graveled and barrels were staved
When worn-out clothing was used as rags
and there were no plastic wrap nor bags
And the well and the pump were way out back
And a busy item, the flour sack.

Pillsbury's Best, Mother's And Gold Medal, too
Stamped their names proudly in purple and blue.

The string sewn on top was pulled and kept;
The flour emptied and spills were swept.
The bag was folded and stored in a sack
That durable, practical flour sack.

Bleached and sewn, it was dutifully worn
As bids, diapers or kerchief adorned,
It was made into shirts, blouses and slips
And Mom braided rugs from one hundred strips.
She made ruffled curtains for the house or shack
From that humble but treasured flour sack!

The sack could be filled with feather and down,
For a pillow, or used as a quite nice sleeping gown.
It could carry a book and be a school bag,
or become a sack slung over a nag.
It made a very convenient pack,
That adaptable cotton flour sack!

As dish towels, embroidered, or not,
They covered up dough, helped pass pans quite hot.
Tied up dishes for neighbors in need
And for men out in the field to seed.
They dried and rinsed dishes who had a rack
That absorbent, hand flour sack!

We polished and cleaned the stove and table.
We dusted the bureau and oak bed post,
Made costumes for October (a scary ghost)
And a parachute for a cat named Jack,
With that lowly, useful flour sack!

So now my friends, when they ask you
(As curious youngsters often do)
"Before plastic wrap and Elmer's Glue
And paper towels,what did you do?"
Tell them loudly and with pride don't slack,
"Grandma had that FLOUR SACK!"

There's got to be a country western song in there someplace, eh?

Columbus Day

by: Minstrel Boy

On this day, in 1492,
Columbus, while lost at sea.

Was discovered
And rescued

By Native Americans.

harp and sword

Bush Torture Lies

by: Foiled Goil

Bush and Torture
by Dave Lindorff
President Bush says America "doesn't torture people."

He has said this before. The last time it was when Congress had been confronted with the atrocities at the US military-run Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and was passing legislation that would outlaw torture.

That was when we learned for the first time about the president's unique and un-Constitutional practice of issuing a "signing statement" upon signing a bill into law, declaring quietly that since he is commander in chief in the so-called "war" on terror, he doesn't have to enact laws passed by Congress. He issued one of those little addenda to the torture bill, recall, in which he said he wouldn't be bound by it.

At the same time, he assured Congress and all Americans that he was repulsed by torture, and that America would never torture.

Turns out that was a flat-out lie. At the urging of ueber-President Dick Cheney, Bush's new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in 2005, wrote up a memo authorizing all the worst torture abuses--simulated drowning, slapping around and sleep deprivation, for example--which Congress had specifically banned.
The White House has tried for years to make the argument about "getting tough" with "evildoers" to "protect Americans." In fact, six years of official torture policies haven't prevented one terror attack, but they have profoundly hurt the nation, its troops and its reputation.

It's long past time to call this the crime that it is. The president and vice president are clearly war criminals, and need to be brought to justice for their crimes.

Instead of getting caught up in yet another dead-end "investigation," Congress should start impeachment hearings against both men on a charge of authorizing war crimes in violation of the Geneva Conventions and US law.

07 October 2007

Big Brass Blog Poll: Dealing with Iran

by: Dark Wraith

Based upon your information and belief, which statement most closely comports with your opinion about Iran's nuclear program and the appropriate response of the United States thereto?

  — Poll results —

· · ·
06 October 2007

As Long As You Stand

by: Foiled Goil

Stand by me.

05 October 2007

"This Country Does Not Torture...

by: Jurassicpork

…even when our own partisan Justice Department, eager to obey our sociopath commander in chief, secretly says we can.”

I honestly don’t know why Dana Perino even tries, anymore. She has about as much credibility as a whore that says “I love you” and she can’t even come up with denials that sound any different than the lockstep drumbeat we were hearing about torture back in 2005.

It had come out yesterday a 2005 secret torture memo that was written, surprise surprise, right after Gonzo was installed as Attorney General, seems to contradict the 2004 anti-torture memo written by Ashcroft's Justice Department, the one piously held up by the Bush administration as the standard to which they still adhere.


Secrecy, Classification, and Torture (and snickerdoodles)

by: Minstrel Boy

I understand the need for secrecy in government action sometimes. I do. Operational security can often be one of the most critical places of strength.

The Bush administration claims that the legal opinions regarding what is, and isn't torture, what is and isn't allowed or constitutional or legal regarding treatment of prisoners are matters of operational security don't even stand up to a casual critical assault. Not even close.

They claim that these things need to remain classified because they do not want the enemy to know what methods of interrogation will be used to prevent them from developing countermeasures against them.

Bullshit. The prisoners and their commanders and comrades in the field already know exactly what will be done to them. Because You're doing it to them you dumbshit!

When my unit in Vietnam crossed the borders on classified operations to harrass and inhibit activity on the Ho Chi Minh trail, the NVA, the Cambodians, the Laotians, all knew what we were doing, because WE. WERE. DOING. IT. TO. THEM. If I shot an NVA Colonel with a sniper rifle, every troop in his command knew that there was an American with a great big fucking elephant gun up in the hills. They had a dead guy with a big ass gushing hole the size of a gatorade bottle through his chest to prove it.

It was a secret from my Mom. It was a secret from the American Press. It was a secret from you.

Bush and his partners in this particular crime are very interested in keeping this from you because they do not want to be in the position of having to defend their reprehensible actions and their casual depravity when it comes to matters of simple human decency.

As to the question of what is and is not torture I humbly suggest this. Bush, Cheney, and each lawyer that defended these tactics as humane and legal each submit themselves to one week under that kind of treatment. I did. I lasted a whole 35 agonizing minutes on the waterboard. I impressed the living shit out of my pretend "captors." They called it off, not because I broke, but because they didn't want to do permanent harm to me. I held out because I knew that they would, and must, play by those rules. That, and the fact that the last time they poured the water over my face I purposely inhaled and swallowed some, making me puke all over those cocksucking bastards. I promise you that if I were to ever encounter one of them on a street, or preferably a dark alley, mayhem would ensue, even today.

Now, fuck all this. I'm heading back to the kitchen. My neice is here visiting and we're making Snickerdoodles.


This post had not been up for fifteen minutes before there were two angry emails demanding the recipe for Snickerdoodles. OK.


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°.

Cream together the butter, shortening and sugar. Mix in the rest of the ingredients except for the two tablespoons of sugar and the 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon. Spoon out the dough and roll into walnut sized balls. Roll those in the mixed sugar/cinnamon and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 7-8 minutes to get a crispy on the outside chewey on the inside cookie. Remove from cookie sheet immediately. Eat just as immediately.

harp and sword

· · · ·

Equality: America's Greatest Hoax!

by: Gary

I am so frustrated by this nation, and the high-and-mighty attitude of so many Americans when there are questions of equality.

Why do we have to debate marriage equality?

Why do we have to debate ENDA?

Why do we have to debate women's rights? Gender issues? Issues of age?

It seems the greatest failing of this nation is the need to debate weather some American has the right to be equal to another American -- For any reason!

Equality in this nation is something we love to proudly brag about to others. We embrace freedom, and as of this latest administration, we go to other countries and force our "freedom" on them. But are we really free, when we are first not equal?

I don't think so.

I think the ideal of "equality" in this nation is a giant hoax. It's a talking point that at one point in our history (long ago) meant something, but now is just another political football to throw from one party to the next.

What I was taught, and embraced, is that we are all created equal in America. No matter your hair color, facial profile, skin color, religious belief, race, or affiliations. As Americans at our birth we are all granted by right a level playing field.

The unfortunate reality is that the field was never level, and gets less level with age and experience.

You see, as "freedom loving Americans" we are by right allowed to pursue "happiness" by which ever way we feel is best for us so long as we don't break laws or willfully hurt others along the way. Surely as that baby, born American, is a clean slate; entitled to all the glorious birthrights of American citizenship, it shouldn't matter what biases he or she is born with, or will be later taught at the hands of peers, parents, and life.

We are a land that claims to love equality, but spend our lives focusing on the differences. We have never been generous with freedom, equality, or the pursuit of happiness. Some American of influence has always stood at the gate to determine who is worthy of equality and who isn't.

Just as we now wrongfully debate the rights of queers and transgendered Americans, we follow in a pattern of debate over that is patently wrong. The elite, the vocal minority, and the woefully hateful "equal" have determined the results of equality. They have sought to keep some Americans in a class of less equal. They have fought to actually deny the rights of one American in a false front of protecting the right of some other.

Rights are to be without color, creed, or interpretation.

The title that matters is to be American. Once you have that, all else is to be academic.

You're a woman? So what? You're an American, and by right you are thereby equal to all other citizens?

Gay? So what? You're an American, and by right you are thereby equal to all other citizens.

Transgendered? So what?! You're an American, and by right you are thereby equal to all other citizens.

Black, White, Hispanic, or Asian? So what?! You're an American, and by right you are thereby equal to all other citizens.

Equality is not to be debated. Equality is not to be discussed. Equality is not to be defined.

Equality is to be defended!

Discussion of equality is only necessary to protect those whom are treated less equal than the majority of citizens. Those who aren't protected, aren't equal, and need to be...Because they are Americans. Period.

Does no one see that one of things our soldier dies to protect is our equality? It is a fundamental base right in this nation of freedom, and it is the key to our national heritage that we are willing to die to defend. Yet, in the same breath as we brandish our lives to preserve our equality, we are equally willing to cast a vote to deny it to our fellow citizens.

This is a failure. A catastrophic failing of America to be the land of the free.

Are transgendered Americans fired from jobs because of a characteristic other than their status as a citizen? Yes.

Are gay Americans fired from jobs because of a bias other than their status as an American citizen? Yes.

Is this right? No.

Would it be a violation of law in America to fire an employee because she's a woman? Yes.

Would it be a violation of law in America to fire a person for being of African descent? Yes.

Would it be a violation of law in America to fire a citizen for being Catholic? Yes.

This list can go on and one.

The bottom line is that all Americans are to be equally protected, equally provided for, and equally acknowledged as Americans first, and all else second.

The subcategories matter not, its the citizenship that trumps all in this land of rights, responsibilities, and democratic freedom.

Yet they debate. Yet the powerful decide who is equal and how. Yet they cast judgement on other supposedly equal citizens and cast them to a second class.

Worse yet, they do this in good conscience. They do it seeing no wrong in what they have done, and how they have ostracised another equal citizen from complete freedom.

Being equal in this nation is a nice idea, but it's a hoax. And ultimately, it's our fault that it means less than it should.

We are Americans. But we are only equal...If...

· · · · · ·

Bring in the Anthropologists

by: Jersey Cynic

Liz - I see a bright future for your son. We need more kids with degrees in Anthropology. They will fix everything. I know yours will!! I hope the Army's recent enlistment of Anthropologists in the war zones is truly sincere and in no way political (a recently authorized $40 mill isn't really that much is it?).

I read a book review in the WSJ yesterday sitting in the dentist's office. I can't link it because it requires a membership.

It's all about how our colleges and universities have lost touch with the teaching of humanities.

Here is one from

After stepping down as Dean of Yale Law School in 2004, Sterling Professor of Law Anthony T. Kronman returned to full time teaching, dividing his time between the Law School and Yale College, where he teaches in Directed Studies, a year long program for freshmen. His experiences teaching led Professor Kronman to questions about the philosophical underpinnings of undergraduate education and inspired the subject of his new book, Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life (Yale University Press, 2007).
The question of what living is for, Professor Kronman argues, is the most important question a person can ask. Yet under the influence of the modern research ideal, our colleges and universities have expelled this question from their classrooms, judging it unfit for organized study. In this eloquent and carefully considered book, Professor Kronman explores why this has happened and calls for the restoration of life’s most important question to an honored place in higher education.

In particular, teachers of the humanities—who once felt a special responsibility to guide their students in exploring the question of what living is for—have lost confidence in their authority to do so. And they have lost sight of the question itself in the blinding fog of political correctness that has dominated their disciplines for the past forty years.

Yet Professor Kronman sees a readiness for change—a longing among teachers as well as students to engage questions of ultimate meaning. He urges a revival of the humanities’ lost tradition of studying the meaning of life through the careful but critical reading of great works of literary and philosophical imagination.


read some opinions from prawfsblawg:

In the Yale alumni magazine, there's a short essay adapted from the book, called "Against political correctness: a liberal's cri de coeur." (Kronman, it should be emphasized, writes and worries as a liberal and a "secular humanist."). Kronman writes:

[W]hen a presumptive commitment to the values of political liberalism begins to constrain the exploration of the personal question of life's meaning -- when the expectation that everyone shares these values comes to place implicit limits on the alternatives that may be considered and how seriously they are to be taken -- the enterprise itself loses much of its power and poignancy for the students involved and their teachers lose their authority to lead it. . .

Today's idea of diversity is so limited that one might with justification call it a sham diversity, whose real goal is the promotion of a moral and spiritual uniformity instead. It has no room for the soldier who values honor above equality, the poet who believes that beauty is more important than justice, or the thinker who regards with disinterest or contempt the concerns of political life. . . .

and one of their readers - frank - writes:

"Kronman urges us to broaden our horizons, to make room in the educational process for considering the “soldier who values honor above equality, the poet who believes that beauty is more important than justice, or the thinker who regards with disinterest or contempt the concerns of political life.”

But at least when it comes to “beauty over justice,” I think our society provides ample illustration of that value. The new celebristocracy provides ready-made models of that good life. National honor appears to be doing pretty well, too--it seems to be the main justification for ongoing involvement in Iraq. And the “thinker[s] who regard[] with disinterest or contempt the concerns of political life” are exactly the people he’s ostensibly criticizing. . . .those who ignore the lessons of, say, Nussbaum on the importance of humanistic learning to citizenship, or Benn Michaels on inequality, or Perry on the centrality of concepts of human flourishing to coherent social criticism.

In any event, I think Kronman is a deeply wise man whose book The Lost Lawyer is a classic work of jurisprudence. I just wish this first excerpt weren’t grounded in the “culture wars” . . . the problem’s a lot bigger than that, as Bill Readings has noted in The University in Ruins. The bottom-line imperative is a much bigger threat to the humanities than an underpaid adjunct who’d rather have her students read Junot Diaz than Faulkner.


Sorry about all that copy and pasting. When I went on line this morning to look up this book, somehow I got over to the NYTimes for this related headline:
Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones

In this isolated Taliban stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, American paratroopers are fielding what they consider a crucial new weapon in counterinsurgency operations here: a soft-spoken civilian anthropologist named Tracy.

Tracy, who asked that her surname not be used for security reasons, is a member of the first Human Terrain Team, an experimental Pentagon program that assigns anthropologists and other social scientists to American combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her team’s ability to understand subtle points of tribal relations — in one case spotting a land dispute that allowed the Taliban to bully parts of a major tribe — has won the praise of officers who say they are seeing concrete results.

Yet criticism is emerging in academia. Citing the past misuse of social sciences in counterinsurgency campaigns, including in Vietnam and Latin America, some denounce the program as “mercenary anthropology” that exploits social science for political gain. Opponents fear that, whatever their intention, the scholars who work with the military could inadvertently cause all anthropologists to be viewed as intelligence gatherers for the American military.

Hugh Gusterson, an anthropology professor at George Mason University, and 10 other anthropologists are circulating an online pledge calling for anthropologists to boycott the teams, particularly in Iraq. has a link to the full pledge.


US military and intelligence agencies and military contractors have identified “cultural knowledge,” “ethnographic intelligence,” and “human terrain mapping” as essential to US-led military intervention in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. Consequently, these agencies have mounted a drive to recruit professional anthropologists as employees and consultants. While often presented by its proponents as work that builds a more secure world, protects US soldiers on the battlefield, or promotes cross-cultural understanding, at base it contributes instead to a brutal war of occupation which has entailed massive casualties. By so doing, such work breaches relations of openness and trust with the people anthropologists work with around the world and, directly or indirectly, enables the occupation of one country by another. In addition, much of this work is covert. Anthropological support for such an enterprise is at odds with the humane ideals of our discipline as well as professional standards.

I think I want to become an anthropologist. At this point, it doesn't even really matter how the job market is. Maybe I'll take a few courses.

We could all do with some old fashioned instruction in the humanities. What a wonderful world that might be?

I hope Professor Kronman writes about this "new weapon in counterinsurgency" that some of his colleagues are calling "mercenary anthropology". I wonder what he thinks.

Crossposted from Blondesense

106 Books Meme

by: Minstrel Boy

Being a committed and shameless bookworm I loved this one. Got turned on to it through PZ Meyers. The original is from Evolving Thoughts through Science Blogs. You take the list of 106 books, bold the ones that you have read, italicize the ones you have partially read. Here goes.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies

War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad

The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences

White Teeth (own but haven't gotten to this one yet)
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

I read, all the time. I usually have at least two books in progress and can produce a volume of most of the ones that are in bold. Right now I'm reading The Coldest Winter, David Halberstram's final book, on Korea, and Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood Station. Fuck you and your judgements, I like Wambaugh.

harp and sword

File Sharing Verdict

by: Jersey Cynic

I am going to COPY and SHARE Ray Beckerman's comment on the Jury Verdict in Virgin v. Thomas

Ray hosts the blog Recording Industry vs The People:

A verdict of $222,000.00, for infringement of 24 song files worth a total of $23.76?

In a case where there was zero evidence of the defendant having transferred any of those files?.

It is one of the most irrational things I have ever seen in my life in the law.

If the Judge doesn't set aside the verdict sua sponte, I expect there to be motion practice to set aside the verdict, based on its obvious unconstitutionality and numerous other reasons, and if that fails I expect there to be a successful appeal.

It is an outrage, and I hope it is a wakeup call to the world that we all need to start supporting the defendants in these cases, and the attorneys who are sacrificing so much to represent them. And the support cannot be with words, it must be with check books. And it cannot be next year, it must be now.

All the business people who make a living from the vibrancy, democracy, and freedom of expression which is the internet, need to get behind the RIAA's victims; if they do not, the world in which they hope to thrive and prosper will disappear rapidly.

The RIAA ghouls smelled blood in Duluth, and I guess they were right.

But it isn't over.


THANK YOU RAY!! (We should to do what he says.)

I wish all recording artists would just sell their music directly via their websites or myspace. Rent a recording studio, cut the CD. Sell them on your site. WE WILL FIND YOU - don't worry. WE ARE ALL CONNECTED NOW (for the time being anyway). Do you really need these monkey men who call themselves the RIAA to get you noticed?

When I go to (I am a 50 year old music addict who works overtime trying to feed her kids good tunes), I get directed to hundreds of songs that I can "sample".
And, if they can't accommodate you at the moment because of the millions of other music addicts like myself visiting there daily, you will get THE most lol message ever!!!!!

Hypem directs you to the music bloggers who are "sampling" the song. If I like the artist, all of these blogs direct me to itunes/amazon/or wherever, to buy their music. I can't afford to pay 15 dollars for the entire album and won't if I only like a song or 2. At least I can (most of the time) buy the song for a buck at itunes. and BLESS ME FATHER FOR I HAVE SINNED (it's been 3 minutes since my last download)....if I can't get the tune there, being the addict that I am, I must resort to other means!!! So There!! I've done what all the big boys do - confessed my sins. I won't ever do it again. My computer spoke!! I should be safe from the RIAA goons right?
Since we live in "Clear Channel Airspace" and all they let the radio stations play is RAP CRAP, I don't allow the kids to listen to the radio, but OF course they do - no way around that. They agree that most of the music sucks. (I'm pretty sure it's a conspiracy.) They would not know this if I didn't provide them with music that I have "shared" with other music addicts. It's one of the hardest jobs and takes up a lot of my time -- what's a mother to do??! It's worth my time. I'll do anything for my children!!!

I think the fact that Brittney is the best that this country can give us as a music goddess, says it all about the RIAA!! I heard some of the networks interrupted regular broadcasting the other day to let us know the fate of her spawns.

Can't these artists let us buy music directly from their own site? Can't they record a CD without signing over their life to a recording industry guy in a suit? They can't possibly be getting the cut they SHOULD BE getting from CD sales.

Here's the low down from blog.wired:

DULUTH, Minnesota -- Jammie Thomas, a single mother of two, was found liable Thursday for copyright infringement in the nation's first file-sharing case to go before a jury.

Twelve jurors here said the Minnesota woman must pay $9,250 for each of 24 shared songs that were the subject of the lawsuit, amounting to $222,000 in penalties.

They could have dinged her for up to $3.6 million in damages, or awarded as little as $18,000. She was found liable for infringing songs from bands such as Journey, Green Day, Aerosmith and others.

"This is what can happen if you don't settle," RIAA attorney Richard Gabriel told reporters outside the courthouse. "I think we have sent a message we are willing to go to trial."

Still, it's unlikely the RIAA's courtroom victory will translate into a financial windfall or stop piracy, which the industry claims costs it billions in lost sales. Despite the thousands of lawsuits -- the majority of them settling while others have been dismissed or are pending -- the RIAA's litigation war on internet piracy has neither dented illegal, peer-to-peer file sharing or put much fear in the hearts of music swappers.

The case, however, did set legal precedents favoring the industry.

In proving liability, the industry did not have to demonstrate that the defendant's computer had a file-sharing program installed at the time that they inspected her hard drive. And the RIAA did not have to show that the defendant was at the keyboard when RIAA investigators accessed Thomas' share folder.

Also, the judge in the case ruled that jurors may find copyright infringement liability against somebody solely for sharing files on the internet. The RIAA did not have to prove that others downloaded the files. That was a big bone of contention that U.S. District Judge Michael Davis settled in favor of the industry.

Here is ABC's coverage of this story -- LOTS AND LOTS of lawyers talking out of both sides of their mouths -- I can't follow those conversations -- maybe you guys can.

Crossposted at Blondesense

2008 GOP Convention Logo (and Suggested Revision)

by: Dark Wraith

With thanks to Foiled Goil for the information about the dramatically modern logo for the 2008 Republican National Convention being held in Minneapolis-St. Paul, presented below on the left is the official version of the Convention logo and on the right the suggested final version of the logo. Readers are encouraged to decide for themselves which is more representative of the Grand Old Party as it swings into the coming election year.

Republican National Convention 2008   Republican National Convention 2008 Revised

The Dark Wraith herewith states that the Republican National Committee will undoubtedly stick with the convention logo on the left, unfortunate as that choice may be.

· ·
04 October 2007

Tahitian Vanilla Cheesecake Tart

by: Minstrel Boy

That just sounds astonishingly good doesn't it? Sweet milk chocolate dancing jesus, you simply have no idea! I have had people call this elegant, powerful, subtle, sublime, decadent, just about every adjective imaginable, and many clearly unprintable. I tried to put something together today about the article in the New York Times about the breathtaking and certainly criminal behavior of the Bush administration but it was beginning to sound like "Fucking. Motherfucking. Bastard. Cocksuckingmotherfuckingfuckstickbastardgoddamnbitchmotherfuckers!" So, I gave up and went into the kitchen.

You'll need a very specific item. If you buy yourself a 10 by 2" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and the only thing you ever do with it is to make this recipe just once you will call it money well spent. You can substitute a 10" springform pan, but it won't have the visual impact that goes with the fluted tart pan. Do it. Trust me. Do. IT.

There are some things you need to do ahead also.

So, first things first, you need a good glob of crème fráiche, also, you must have a layer of light sponge cake. Two days before, you might as well start on the crème fráiche.


2 cups (1 quart) heavy cream (try to find cream that is not ultrapastuerized)
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 Tahitian* (fresh, not dried) vanilla bean, split lengthwise

*if you don't have access to an ultra snooty gourmet store you can use two regular dried madagascar beans from any store.

Combine the ingredients in a sterilized canning jar with an airtight lid. Set them in a warm place, on top of the refrigerator, or the cupboard over the oven for at least twelve hours, but as long as 36. You want the resulting crème to be thick but still barely pourable. Then refrigerate, it will continue to thicken as it chills.

Make the sponge cake the day before so it will be cool and resiliant. If you haven't made some already, make a batch of lemon curd.


1/3 cup sifted cake flour (sifted and leveled off with a knife)
2 1/2 tablespoons unsifted cornstarch
4 large eggs (room temperature)
1 large egg yolk (room temperature)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon superfine confectioner's sugar
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Grease two 9" cake pans generously and flour. Tap soundly and shake to remove any excess flour. (you can also spray with Baker's Joy® which is canola oil and flour in a spray can. I loves me summa this stuff)

Preheat your oven to 450° with the rack on the lower level.

In a small bowl whisk the cake flour and the cornstarch to combine them evenly.

Separate 2 of the eggs into a large mixing bowl with the whites in another. Put the next two eggs in the yolk bowl along with the extra yolk, add 1/2 cup of the sugar. Whisk this until it is light, lemon colored and fluffy, and at least tripled in volume. Then whisk in the vanilla. Sift half of the flour/starch mixture over this and gently fold it in with a rubber spatula, until it has disappeared into the mix. Then repeat that with the rest of the flour.

Beat the egg whites until foamy. Add in the cream of tartar and whisk mercilessly until soft peaks form. Beat in the remaining 1 tablespoon of confectioner's sugar and whisk until stiff peaks form.

Fold the egg whites gently into the yolk batter and pour into the prepared cake pans. Tap them sharply on the countertop (I lay a towel down to muffle the noise, otherwise the dogs get all agitated thinking there are bad guys outside the door) to raise up any bubbles. I also run a thin blade knife all through the batter to nail any nasty little buggers that might be trying to hide from me.

Bake at 450° for seven to ten minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back when lightly tapped with your fingertip. Place on a cooling rack and immediately run around the inside of the edge of the pan, invert over the cooling rack and remove the cake from the pan. If you don't do this while the cake is still hot it will weld to the sides of your pan and you'll never, ever, get it out. If you can find removeable bottom cake pans, so much the better. Allow to cool completely.

You'll only need half of one cake for the tart. In a 9" pan these will be about 1/2" thick. I have a little 1/4" knife jig that I made which guides my knife and keeps my cuts level as I slice each cake horizontally. The rounds that I don't need are wrapped individually in Press 'n' Seal® and frozen for later use.

Now you're ready to make Sweet Cookie Tart Crust. Hose the tart pan you bought and washed throroughly down with Baker's Joy®. The Baker's Joy is the only real option here, unless you want to try and invert a pan with a removable bottom to shake out the excess, but then you'll have a total mess on your hands and feel like an idiot to boot. Better to just get the stuff. House brand baker's sprays from a bake shop or Smart & Final are just fine.


8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 1" cubes
1/4 superfine confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose (bleached) flour (it's alright if this is a little scant)
1/8 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream

In a food processor with the metal blade pulse the butter and sugar until totally combined. Add the flour and the salt until it is the size of small peas.

In a small bowl, use a fork to combine the yolk and the cream. Dump this into the food processor and pulse it until just incorporated, about 8 or 10 times. It will still be somewhat crumbly. Empty this into a plastic bag and press with your fingers until it starts to hold together. Remove this from the bag, and place it on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to knead the dough until it is one smooth piece. Flatten that into a 6" disc, wrap it well with the plastic and stick it in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

On a marble or other absolutely smooth and level rolling surface (marble is the best because it remains a bit below room temperature all the time) place a sheet of plastic wrap and flour it lightly. Bring your 6" disc of pie dough and cover that with another lightly floured sheet of plastic. Roll it out as evenly as you can until it is a fairly circular disk that overlaps the bottom disc of the tart pan by about 3". The best way that I've found to transfer the crust is to take the whole plastic dough thing up by the plastic and drape it over a regular inverted cake pan, then remove a layer of the plastic, pick up the dough by the cake pan and put it into the prepared tart pan, then lift off the last of the plastic.

Now, after all that work you're only ready to start on the big stuff. Usually I have discs of dough, and rounds of sponge cake stashed in the freezer with my jars of lemon curd waiting for me in the pantry. Aren't you jealous? The thing is having things like stocks, mother sauces, and other essentials already laid up is what brings dishes like this one a bit closer to the realm of impulse. Stuff like that comes in real handy.

Have the tart shell with the crust in the main working area. Preheat the oven to 350° with the rack in the middle position.

Brush the lemon curd evenly onto the bottom layer of the crust, making sure to go at least 1/4" up the sides. Place the sponge cake round, crust side down onto this. Now we will make the cheesecake filling.


1 cup + 2 1/2 tablespoons softened cream cheese
2/3 cup baker's sugar (I use the vanilla sugar from the pantry)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 large room temperature eggs
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 recipe Crème Fráiche

Just before the final mixing, remove the split vannila bean from the creme and use a small spoon or a knife to scrape out the caviar specks. Dry the bean husk and put it into the container that you use for your vanilla sugar.

Use the big stand mixer for this. This is a very thick batter and unless you have Popeye arms, hand mixing simply will not do. The attachment should be the balloon whisk. Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and cornstarch until very smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth with each egg and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber or silicone spatula. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt and beat until incorporated. Beat in the crème fráiche just until blended. Do. Not. Over. Beat.

Pour this over the top of the cake layer in the tart shell. It will reach almost to the top, but the center will settle down nicely as the sponge cake works its magic and absorbs liquidity and flavor. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and let stand, without opening the door, for another hour. Open the door just enough to where it will hold without snapping shut and cool for another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack until it is room temperature. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

To unmold, simply pop the bottom disc of the tart pan, then use a very thin metal spatula to separate the tart from the bottom disc onto a cutting board. To cut, use a thin bladed, very sharp knife that has been heated in hot water and wiped dry. Wipe it clean, heat it again, wipe it dry between each cut.

If this is your dessert you can serve shitburgers for dinner and people will talk about your wonderful dinner party for the entire holiday season.

harp and sword

Taking A New Stance!

by: Foiled Goil

The GOP's new convention logo:
And yes, this is real, not an extremely clever photoshop job, and truly encapsulates what the Republican Party is all about.

Wide stance? Check.

In Minneapolis? Check.

Prison stripe-wearing? Check.

Starry eyed? Check.

As for the elephant humping the "2008"...
And there are some good giggles in the KOS comment thread, too.


· ·

Mail Call

by: Minstrel Boy

This morning made me choke all up. There were two cards from the Sgt. Major's daughters. Both were hand drawn with crayon.

One shows their father, dressed in his uniform on a horse, I'm portrayed as an indian, with feathers and warpaint on a horse, and the girls are each on a horse, as princesses.

The other shows us all around the pool with the BBQ going, and the horses and dogs at the table with us. In big block letters underneath it says "Our Happy Family."

They are mounted in the hallway, right next to a Chagall lithograph. He'd understand.

el rancho harpo art gallery
03 October 2007

Key Lime Pie. . .(my version, not the classic)

by: Minstrel Boy

I have heard people wax on and on all poetical and stuff about the wonderfulness of Key Lime Pie. I love pie, I love the keys, all that stuff, but to my taste, most of the pies you get there suck out loud. Sticky sweet and not even close to bringing the wonderful flavor of the small, thin skinned, full of seeds, key lime.

I can almost hear the screams of the butter clogged southern tracheas and the fossilized Florida "purists" for my having the audacity to call this "Key Lime Pie" when it isn't swimming in all that good southern standby ingredients like sweetened condensed milk. I say, "Fuck you" back. In the first place, there ain't no such thing as Key Limes anymore. They cut down all the lime trees and built trailer parks.

Botany Note Before Oddjob Busts My Chops

What is called a Key Lime is no longer grown in the keys, hurricanes, pollution, and human encroachment wiped it out as a commercial crop. When you see Key Limes in the store, you're buying Mexican Limes.

Step 1: Gingersnap Crust


1 1/2 cup finely ground gingersnap crumbs (you can go ahead and use commercial gingersnaps but i recommend using Pal Cookies all you have to do is leave them out on a plate overnight and then rip them to shreds in a food processor)
2 tablespoons baker's sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Mix all the ingredients together and using your very clean fingers or the back of a spoon (in your very clean hands of course) press the mixture into a 9" pan looking for total coverage and an even distribution. Be creative or not when forming the edge of the crust. I usually just pinch it to form a little ridge along the edge of the pan. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

Make a double batch (2 cups finished product) of Lime curd and chill that.

In a small bowl soften 1 envelope of unflavored gelatin in 3 tablespoons good amber rum. (I use Havana Club because even though I'm sober I remain partial to communist hootch. Their economy and government suck out loud but the Cubanos make a beautiful rum. Mount Gay® from Barbados is a close substitute or even a Puerto Rican Añejo would do, but no dark rum please, if you would rather do without the rum use water) Also allow 8oz of cream cheese to come to room temperature in the bowl of your stand mixer.

Cream the softened, moistened gelatin and cream cheese together at a low speed using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Add in the lime curd. Mix it very well. Put it into the crust and chill in the refrigerator.

For topping you can use fresh whipped cream, piped in any decorative manner you wish, or since you have some left over egg whites from making the lime curd I figure might as well go with a light Italian meringue. You with me? (I knew you were brave)


1/2 cup powdered sugar, measured then sifted to remove any lumps
2 tablespoons water
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Have a 1 cup heat proof (like tempered glass) liquid measuring cup handy by the stove.

In a small heavy saucepan stir the sugar and water together until the sugar is completely moistened, then heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring and turn the burner down to its lowest setting. On an electric range, turn the burner all the way off and leave the pan on it.

In a mixing bowl using the balloon whip or a hand whisk beat the egg whites until foamy. Add in the cream of tartar and and beat until stiff (Viagra stiff) peaks form.

Increase the heat under the the syrup and boil until your candy thermometer reads 236° (soft ball stage), pour the mixture into the measuring cup (which you can lube with a bit of cooking oil or spray to make the pour easier) to stop the cooking.

If you are using a stand mixer, or doing this by hand (my choice), pour a little bit of the hot syrup over the egg whites and mix vigorously for about 5 seconds. Do this until all the syrup is mixed in (don't forget to use a rubber spatula to get all the syrup out of the measuring cup).

Take the pie assembly out of the fridge and mound the meringue all over the top. I like to use a small silver spatula to make little peaks and decorative swirls, but then I'm a total kitchen show off, do what makes you happy. For a great little added touch I like to dust the very top of the meringue with a bit more powdered sugar because it gives it such a wonderful little caramel flavored crunch.

Put this all under the broiler for 20 seconds to a full minute, watching carefully to prevent any burning, but waiting for that beautiful golden brown of a perfect meringue. Cool, away from any drafts for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To serve, cut with a wet, thin bladed knife, wiping with a napkin between cuts.

Give this one a try. Serve it to your Southern Friends and watch them as they struggle with the instinct to call you a Goddam Yankee Carpetbagger but fail to do it because this pie is way better than the crap they've been serving.

Laughing at their cognitive dissonance is allowed and encouraged.

el rancho harpo

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Lemon Curd

by: Minstrel Boy

This is a great filling for pastries and many great pastries. (like the tahitian vanilla cheesecake tart, even thinking about that one will make you gain six pounds)
Tata over at Poor Impulse Control was asked if she had her father's recipe. This is a very classic, very common recipe. It's where most very good pastry chefs would begin.

It is one of the better reasons I can think of to make friends with someone who has a lemon tree. Tree ripened lemons are essential for the richest flavors. Commercially picked lemons will not have the needed sugars or the complexity something like this requires. If you can't find backyard or homegrown lemons, hit the farmer's market. Grocery store lemons will only suffice if there is no other alternative.


2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
4 large egg yolks
3/4 sugar (again, i use the vanilla sugar that is in the pantry)
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (strained of pulp)
4 tablespoons softened sweet butter (cut into 1/4" cubes before softening)
pinch kosher or sea salt

Put the lemon zest into a medium mixing bowl and suspend a fine mesh strainer over it.

Using a heavy non-reactive saucepan, beat the yolks and sugar until well blended and creamy. Stir in the lemon juice, butter and toss in the pinch of salt. Cook these all together over a medium heat, stirring constantly. Hint: Use a wooden or a slotted spoon, not a whisk, we're not trying to whip up volume but to keep the ingredients moving.

The mixture will thicken and begin to coat a wooden spoon. Now comes the trick. This mixture must Not Be Allowed To Boil. That will make the yolks curdle and that means you have to throw it all out and start over. Whenever you see steam starting to appear, take the pot off the stove and keep stirring away, remembering to scrape the sides. When the mixture has gotten silky thick and reads 196° pour it at once into the strainer. Press the mixture through with the back of the spoon until only a thick residue remains. You can throw the residue away or smear it over a toasted bagel like I do. No one will call you foolish if you do. Gently stir into the zest, and while still hot place in a sterilized small canning jar. Seal tightly.

You can also substitute limes for the lemon to make the base for a wonderful version of Key Lime Pie that doesn't involve sweetened condensed milk. Use equal parts for the zest and the juice. Reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup and when cooking reduce the ending temperature to 185°.

This makes about a cup of finished curd. It. Rocks. Out. Loud.

harp and sword


The Outrage This Time

by: Dark Wraith

Empire at PeaceYet again, it is happening. The bloodhounds of the mainstream media have found a means by which responsibility for the systematic, outrageous violence of an unjustified, illegal war can be deflected. Abu Ghraib was a testing center for how mainstream media wannabe hunting dogs and their lesser, subscriber-deficient, me-too pups in the Blogosphere can make one group, essentially loathsome and faceless, the roguish out-group of American militarism, allowing those in authority all the way to the top of the chain of command endless opportunities to show their concern for—indeed, their very umbrage at—threats to Americans' sense of propriety when it comes to brutality.

The corporation of mercenaries called Blackwater now stands in line for its turn as the whipping boy. Tuesday evening, October 2, 2007, two—count 'em, two!—headline stories at "Mom: Blackwater should never forget my boy" and "Blackwater pilot before crash: This is fun." The New York Times, that bastion of doggéd investigative journalism that served as the Bush Administration's top propaganda tool in the run-up to the American-Iraqi War, pounds it out: "Chief of Blackwater Defends His Employees," a headline that belies the framing in the story intended to deepen readers' sentiment against mercenaries, as brave and controversial an approach to journalistic subject matter as declaring that Mom and apple pie are good.

First, mercenaries are a dislikable breed through and through. They have been in wars, on battlefields, in state-sanctioned military activities since time immemorable. They are thoroughly hated in many situations. Even the putative godfather of irascibility in realpolitik, Niccolo Machiavelli, found them wanting. That said, they can be quite effective, which is why Alexander the Great was so merciless in butchering fellow Greeks fighting for the Persian Empire: those Greek mercenaries were among the best soldiers Persia was fielding, and Alexander wanted to send a message to fellow Greeks everywhere that they might want to consider an occupation other than fighting for the enemy.

The history of mercenaries and their venality aside, Blackwater mercs are doing exactly the same things that are being done by special ops, black ops, and other actual soldiers of the United States armed forces. Special units of real, uniformed, American soldiers are prosecuting a global war of staggering brutality. President George W. Bush gave an order—at one time referred to as a “GADA” (go anywhere, do anything)—similar to, but far more extensive than, the GADA issued by President Ronald Reagan years ago: assassinations; field executions of unarmed people stopped for questioning; violent, on-the-spot interrogations of detained individuals; and other activities abominable and o-so-necessary in the passions of the age and the minds of those with no better solutions to a world in which others hate us and want to hurt us.

As explained in Robert Parry's recent article, "Bush's Global 'Dirty War'," at Consortium News, violence in contravention of international law, American law, and plain decency is happening all over the world, and it is our soldiers committing these unspeakable cruelties. Parry relates the following incident from Afghanistan, one for which two soldiers faced disciplinary action:
"Two U.S. Special Forces soldiers took part in the execution of an Afghani who was suspected of leading an insurgent group.

"Though the Afghani, identified as Nawab Buntangyar, responded to questions and offered no resistance when encountered on Oct. 13, 2006, he was shot dead by Master Sgt. Troy Anderson on orders from his superior officer, Capt. Dave Staffel.

"According to evidence at the Fort Bragg proceedings, an earlier Army investigation had cleared the two soldiers because they had been operating under 'rules of engagement' that empowered them to kill individuals who have been designated 'enemy combatants,' even if the targets were unarmed and presented no visible threat."

So now the mainstream media have the private contractor Blackwater for their whipping boy du jour, a boy, it must be stipulated, wholly worthy of being whipped mercilessly and sent to bed without any supper; but this is nothing more than the latest episode in the continuing gambit of pointing to the minor actors like those same dedicated media hounds did with the hillbilly trash at Abu Ghraib. The ruse should now be so transparently obvious: its intention is to keep the klieg lights from turning on the central, spreading, ungodly cancer that has come to be “the American way” in trying to control a world that is leaving America behind. A few heads rolled and got prosecuted for Reagan's dirty war in Central America, a war that ultimately, by some accounts, left more than 45,000 people dead. In that instance, the major players in the Reagan Administration who were actually prosecuted and convicted were ultimately granted clemency by President George H.W. Bush, and some of them, along with those like John Negroponte, who was never prosecuted, are now working for the Administration of President George W. Bush. A few heads rolled in the Abu Ghraib scandal, but those poor suckers—being nothing other than deliciously villifiable, common, poor trash—are in prison, while their superiors, all the way up to President George W. Bush, himself, proceed onward, pursuing the very same, if not even more systematic and aggressive, policies of torture, renditions, extra-judicial executions, and other mayhem.

Readers are, of course, encouraged to enjoy what will come to be the mainstream media's continuing, exciting coverage of all that is evil about Blackwater Corporation and its venal mercenaries and their terrible, terrible ways. It is good theater, and it will sell newspapers for a while. Official outrage will attend this media circus: the Democrats in Congress are already jumping on the bandwagon, declaring their disgust, anger, and outright shock at what Blackwater mercs have been up to, these being the same Democrats who just slipped the Bush Administration a quick, cool $70 billion in stop-gap funding to continue the American-Iraqi War while they finish work on a final Defense Department budget for the fiscal year. Eventually, the President, himself, will visit the podium and intone gravely about the matter. Good theater, all around; the American people will get to feel the pulsating power of moral rectitude, and the politicians will pop a feather in their cap and call it righteousness.

But only a very few will wallow in exquisite frustration, especially at the news media, groveling once again as its august and worthy legion always do to this Administration as it leans forward with wholesale, systemic, unlawful extremities of violence that have become the vast tapestry of cruel and pale substitutes for compehensive, intelligent, forward-looking foreign policy. The mainstream media grapple mightily with miserable tidbits they can use to show their diligence in reporting the "truth"; and all the while these toothless, cowering watchdogs of public interest deliberately, with calculation and prejudice, ignore the larger, far more comprehensive and ugly truth that stands before them, the great truth of our time hiding right in plain sight lit so brightly that it would veritably blind the American people, even as it enraged them to self-righteous denials. For the record, here is that larger truth:

We are Empire, and we commit evil neither as error nor incidence, but as policy reflecting our very nature.

If you disagree with that, you are probably already looking forward to the next war scandal at which you can either shrug your shoulders or shake your fist and demand yet more flesh of the low-lives who merely carry out the orders of Empire as it backs further and further into the corner of history closing in on its final chapter.

The Dark Wraith has spoken.

Crossposted from The Dark Wraith Forums

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02 October 2007

A Couple of Things

by: Minstrel Boy

Wesley Clark has a petition and a campaign up to pressure congress to Dump Rush from Armed Forces Radio. From what I remember troops in the field will listen to the enemy's radio if they play better music. Dump Rush, play the new Bruce Springsteen, or what ever else the troops want to hear.


Eric Massa calls Rush out. Although because he's running for congress he only takes it as far as saying he'll appear on Rush's show.

The only thing I have to discuss with that fat, cowardly, lying fuck is choice of weapons. I would love to not only let him choose the weapons, but would further say that if it's pistols, he can borrow mine to practice if he doesn't own his own, then pick the hand I use. Same deal with swords. Rapiers are my favorites, but I wouldn't hesitate a lick if he chose sabers, samurai swords or fucking Kabars. Again, he can choose if I'm right or left handed for the duel. Oh, yeah, and Rush, under the code duello which our founders operated from, there will be an agreed referee with a shotgun to shoot down cheaters.

(it really doesn't make a difference, I can shoot and use a sword or knife equally well from either side. It just sounds so fucking cool to let them choose the hand you use.)

harp and sword

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Blackwater Prince's Cronies and Connections

by: Foiled Goil

Erik Prince is 37 years old. He founded Blackwater in 1997 with money he inherited from his father, Edgar Prince, the head of Prince Automative. The elder Prince and his wife were major Republican and conservative activists and funders. And [Ed] Prince himself co-founded The Family Research Council with Gary Bauer and apparently provided the key early funding for the group.
Prince's sister, Betsy DeVos, is former Chair of the Michigan Republican Party and her husband is Dick DeVos, failed candidate for governor of Michigan and scion of the DeVos family, founders of Amway [parent company: Alticor] and major funders of Republican and conservative causes.

Amway is privately owned by the DeVos and Van Andel families. And to give some sense of the scale of their political giving, according to a 2005 Center for Public Integrity study, Dick & Betsy DeVos were the fifth largest political givers in the country during the 2004 election cycle. Richard DeVos Sr. & his wife were ranked third. And Jay Van Andel was ranked second.

Let's just say they give some real money to the Republican party and its candidates. And of course there are the DeVos Family Foundations which give money to conservative causes.
Back in 1990 Prince interned for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Blackwater's lobbyist in DC is Paul Behrends, a former Rohrabacher aide who he met when the two worked for the congressman. Later he interned in the first Bush White House. But after doing so, he and his father broke with President Bush and supported the insurgent candidacy of Patrick J. Buchanan.

The then-22 year old Prince told the Grand Rapids Press, "I interned with the Bush administration for six months. I saw a lot of things I didn't agree with -- homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kind of bills. I think the administration has been indifferent to a lot of conservative concerns."

In addition to running Blackwater Prince also serves on the board of Christian Freedom International.
Sam Seder Show -- a commenter cites Wayne Madsen (registration req'd):
June 7, 2007 -- Like a cancer, private mercenary firm spreads influence in local communities

When the private military company Blackwater USA, a firm tied to the Bush family through marriage and to right-wing extremist and racist groups through politics and money, established its headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina in an former military reservation in the Great Dismal Swamp, just south of the Virginia border, practically no one noticed.

Blackwater was founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a former US Navy SEAL and right-wing fundamentalist Christian from Michigan. Prince's father is Edgar Prince, who founded the Family Research Council with Gary Bauer. Erik Prince's sister is Betty DeVos, who is married to Dick DeVos, the son of Amway co-founder and Mormon bigwig Richard DeVos. The General Counsel for Erik Prince's Blackwater parent company, the Prince Group, is Joseph Schmitz, the Pentagon's former Inspector General. Schmitz's brother, John Schmitz, Jr. deputy counsel to George H. W. Bush and who is married to the sister of Columba Bush, Jeb Bush's wife. The father of John and Joseph was extreme right-wing Republican Congressman John Schmitz, Sr. Their sister is Mary Kay Letourneau, a former Washington State schoolteacher jailed for having sex with a thirteen year old American Samoan student who she later married.

Safely ensconced in North Carolina and flush with money as a result of Pentagon contracts ensured by Joseph Schmitz and the Bush family, Blackwater began to expand nationally. Using stealth and guile, the company targeted small communities in order to establish regional military training centers.
Blackwater Heavies Sue Families of Slain Employees for $10 Million in Brutal Attempt to Suppress Their Story:
The families of four American security contractors who were burned, beaten, dragged through the streets of Fallujah and their decapitated bodies hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River on March 31, 2004, are reaching out to the American public to help protect themselves against the very company their loved ones were serving when killed, Blackwater Security Consulting. After Blackwater lost a series of appeals all the away to the U.S. Supreme Court, Blackwater has now changed its tactics and is suing the dead men's estates for $10 million to silence the families and keep them out of court.

Following these gruesome deaths which were broadcast on worldwide television, the surviving family members looked to Blackwater for answers as to how and why their loved ones died. Blackwater not only refused to give the grieving families any information, but also callously stated that they would need to sue Blackwater to get it. Left with no alternative, in January 2005, the families filed suit against Blackwater, which is owned by the wealthy and politically-connected Erik Prince.

Blackwater quickly adapted its battlefield tactics to the courtroom. It initially hired Fred F. Fielding, who is currently counsel to the President of the United States. It then hired Joseph E. Schmitz as its in-house counsel, who was formerly the Inspector General at the Pentagon. More recently, Blackwater employed Kenneth Starr, famed prosecutor in the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal, to oppose the families. To add additional muscle, Blackwater hired Cofer Black, who was the Director of the CIA Counter- Terrorist Center.

After filing its suit against the dead men's estates, Blackwater demanded that its claim and the families' existing lawsuit be handled in a private arbitration. By suing the families in arbitration, Blackwater has attempted to move the examination of their wrongful conduct outside of the eye of the public and away from a jury. This comes at the same time when Congress is investigating Blackwater.


Out With the Old… On a Revolving Door.

by: Jurassicpork

The travesties and near-travesties of justice (meaning, also, the absence of it when it concerned whites) in Jena, Louisiana last month shouldn’t have surprised nor shocked us yet it did. Even after the GOP/Willie Horton debacle and John Rocker, Trent Lott, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, George Allen, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, Don Imus, Bernard McGuirk and countless other incidents and slips of their forked tongues, we keep getting slapped back into an ugly, antebellum reality that we keep forgetting exists as if we’re Drew Barrymore’s character in 50 First Dates.

Indeed, one could make non-racist counterarguments that the sudden and massive descent on Jena, LA by what passes for today’s civil rights activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton highlighted not the necessity of civil rights (hence their media exposure, relevance and livelihoods) but the ongoing failure of a civil rights movement begun by their predecessors. It’s a movement that, as with all others, lost steam after gaining some modest to more than modest ground and grew complacent. As with the Vietnam-era peace movement and its brief resurrection under Cindy Sheehan’s vigil in 2005, the women’s rights movement, civil rights in America proves time and again that no revolution, even Castro’s Cuba, can be indefinitely maintained.


Housing's Toll Rises

by: Jersey Cynic

NEW YORK - Citigroup Inc. and UBS AG warned that they suffered significant loan-related losses in the third quarter, becoming the latest and biggest banks to reveal huge ill effects from the spike in mortgage defaults and freeze-up in the credit markets.

Shares in both companies rose, though, and the Dow Jones industrial average jumped to a record above 14,000 as investors who sold off the financial sector this summer bet that the worst is over for the banks.

I bet that The President's Working Group on Financial Markets aka the PPT (plunge protection team) is going to be working hard today!

I'm not EVEN going to try to figure this one out.

Don't EVEN get me started.

My forehead already hurts from repeated blows to it via my computer desk while reading this morning's headlines. I have to be careful. It's a glass top table.

I'm sure Citigroup has its very own PPT

Carry on soldiers.

Nothing we can do quite yet --wake me up when these bloggers are ready! I wonder what happened to them? It's been a few weeks now. I'm getting worried.


Crossposted at Blondesense
01 October 2007

On The Senate Floor: Condemning Limbaugh

by: Foiled Goil

From Think Progress:

Harkin: 'Maybe Limbaugh was high on drugs again.'
Today on the Senate floor, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) condemned Rush Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" comment, saying that the radio host makes these "provocative things to make more money." He then offered another possible explanation for Limbaugh's "over-the-line" remarks:

"Well, I don't know. Maybe he was just high on his drugs again. I don't know whether he was or not. If so, he ought to let us know. But that shouldn't be an excuse."

Watch it here.
Reid On Senate Floor: Republicans Who Criticized MoveOn Must Condemn Rush 'With Equal Fervor'
Last week, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh declared that soldiers who support American withdrawal from Iraq are "phony soldiers."

Today, Majority Leader Harry Reid gave a seven-minute speech on the floor of the Senate condemning Limbaugh and calling on his colleagues — both Democratic and Republican — to sign a letter of disapproval to the CEO of Clear Channel. He said that Limbaugh, whose show is broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, "owes the men and women of our Armed Forces an apology" for his comments that "went way over the line."

Reid also hit the hypocrisy of his conservative colleagues. Last week, 72 senators voted for the highly politicized, "bait and switch" resolution that condemned a newspaper ad by Yet most of those lawmakers have been silent on Limbaugh’s comments. From Reid's statement:

"If we take the Republican side at their word that last week's vote on another controversial statement related to the war was truly about patriotism, not politics, then I have no doubt that they will stand with us against Limbaugh's comments with equal fervor.

"I am confident we will see Republicans join with us in overwhelming numbers. Anything less would betray a double standard that has no place in the United States Senate."

Watch it here.
Reid Calls On Senators To Join In Condemning Limbaugh's Attack On Our Troops

Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Freedom of speech is one of our country's most cherished values. Nothing sets us further apart than the countries and regimes we oppose than our belief that everyone's opinion matters, and everyone has the right to express it. That is why, when we hear things on the radio that are offensive, by and large, we tolerate them.

"But last week, Rush Limbaugh went way over the line – and while we respect his right to say anything he likes, his unpatriotic comments cannot be ignored.

"During his show last Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh was engaged in one of his typical rants. This rant was unremarkable and indistinguishable from his usual drivel, which has been steadily losing listeners for years – until he crossed that line by calling our men and women in uniform who oppose the war in Iraq 'phony soldiers.' This comment was so beyond the pale of decency that it cannot be left alone. And yet, he followed it up with denials and an attack on Congressman Jack Murtha, a 37-year active member of the Marine Corps.

"We have been debating the Iraq war here in the Senate and throughout the country for not months, but years. There are good, patriotic Americans who favor the war – and good, patriotic Americans who oppose President Bush's handling of it. Neither party holds a patent on patriotism. I know all my Republican colleagues would agree with that.

"Yet Rush Limbaugh took it upon himself to attack the courage and character of those fighting and dying for him and for all of us. Rush Limbaugh got himself a deferment from serving when he was a young man. He never served in uniform. He never saw in person the extreme difficulty of maintaining peace in a foreign country engaged in civil war. Ye he thinks that his opinion on the war is worth more than those who are on the front lines.

"And what's worse – Limbaugh's show is broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, which means that thousands of troops overseas and veterans here at home were forced to hear this attack on their patriotism. Rush Limbaugh owes the men and women of our Armed Forces an apology.

"On Friday, many Democrats joined me in drafting a letter to the Chief Executive Officer of Clear Channel, Mark Mays that we will send out this week. Here is what we wrote:"


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