Saturday, October 10, 2009

Just In Case You Don't Return My Phone Calls, Here's The Big News

Starting Tuesday, since Monday is Columbus Day, I'm the communications director for Rep. Raul Grijalva from Arizona's seventh district. He co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and is, from what I can tell, a more serious thinker than Sarah Palin. Now you know why I keep calling you and leaving messages.

What this means, other than the obvious, is the following:

1) I quit bartending just in time for winter. No 2 a.m. trips home in a snowstorm on the bus.

2) I can finally afford brand-name toilet paper, not "the other kind."

3) I got a nice haircut. No more shaving my head clean every six months.

4) I have to know what I'm talking about from now on.

5) Time to go clothes shopping.

More as it develops.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Tea Party Anecdote

As many of you know, I bartend a few nights a week for extra cash, and there was a big all-day street festival yesterday on the block where I work, so I had to go in early to sling booze to the partiers. About five o'clock this Hispanic guy in his late twenties came in with a Buccaneers hat and ordered a shot of Cuervo, two limes and salt, and started talking about how much he loved the neighborhood and how he was lucky to be in town for the street fair. I asked him where he was from, and he told me he was going to school in Panama City, Florida, but was in town with his uncle for the 9/12 protest. "I don't really pay attention to politics," he said, "but my uncle is biiiiiiiiig into it. He'll talk to you for hours about this stuff. So he got me started watching Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, and I've started listening to their point of view on things, and I've been meeting all these people who are dissatisfied with Obama's health care agenda and what have you."

Another Cuervo.

"I'm Puerto Rican, Cuban and Cherokee Indian, and I have no problem with people who can speak English, but a lot of the people down in Florida, they speak Spanish but they don't speak English. I don't speak fluent Spanish, but I understand it all, and you need to be able to make yourself understood in English, you know what I mean? There's so many fuckin' Mexicans where I live. . ."

Another Cuervo.

"The conservatives are the ones who've done good in their life, they have a house, they have something to lose. The liberals are mostly on the poorer side of town, the blacks, the Mexicans. If you just want to sit on your ass and take other peoples' money, why can't everyone just do that? You know?" He talks to his uncle on his cell phone about how the town might be dead where their hotel is, but he's having a great time where he's at. Then he turns back to me.

"Someone brought a sign to the protest saying 'Public Opinion Now,' like, they don't think the protesters represent public opinion, and he was trying to provoke a fight, you know, to show that this was all just some violent thing. There were some of the stupider people there trying to get in his face, and the smarter people were, like, don't let him make you lose your temper, you know, stay peaceful and respectful."

The sign actually said "Public Option Now," and there was a picture in the Washington Post the next day of people screaming at him.

I say something about how I think anyone who objects to Obama's plan should have their own alternative to offer, because the status quo doesn't work. He nods and actually seems to take my point. "Man, I'm not embarrassed to say this. When I was a kid, there was a robber trying to get into my house, and I had a gun. I was going to the door, and I bumped into a dresser or something and shot a big hole in my foot. When I went to the hospital, they took the bullet out and put a pin in my toe so the bones would grow back straight, and when they grew back, two of them were fused together. You know how much that cost?" The point of his story is that it was expensive.

Then he surprised me: "I actually think there's a method to Obama's madness. I haven't given up on him yet. Hey, I'm going to go walk around the street some, but I'll be back later, okay?"

He came back later and had another two Cuervos. Good tipper.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How is Bosnia Today?

Not so good. This article explains how the Republika Srpska, a semi-independent Serb-controlled region of Bosnia, is threatening secession, and how the country is still run by a "viceroy" (yes, they still call it that) from Austria with near-imperial powers to make a budget and fire public officials. One source in the story says it's almost boring to explain to outsiders how Bosnia works today, because it's the same dysfunctional story it's been for a long time.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Did Serbia Commmit Genocide?

Not in Kosovo, from the available evidence. That was an ugly civil war, not a one-way slaughter. The genocide occurred several years earlier in Bosnia, especially the killing of about 8,000 unarmed Muslim civilians at Srebrenica. Noam Chomsky's doubts notwithstanding -- see the comments to the last post -- no sane jury would acquit the perpetrators of that atrocity, and the capture and trial of Radovan Karadzic will go a long way to establishing justice in that regard.

The presence of the Omarska and Keraterm concentration camps, where Serbs routinely raped non-Serb women and beat people to death whenever they felt like it, should be more than enough evidence of Serbia's intent at the time. From the Omarska link:
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, located in The Hague, has found several individuals guilty of crimes against humanity perpetrated at Omarska. Murder, torture, rape, and abuse of prisoners was common. About 6,000 Bosniaks and Croats were held in appalling conditions at the camp for about five months in the spring and summer of 1992. Hundreds died of starvation, punishment beatings and ill-treatment. The prosecutors compared the camps to those run by Nazis.
I know it's hard to say anything is or was "similar" to Nazism, which has become the untouchable extreme extent of human evil, but the only difference in Serbia, from what we can tell, was the scale of the horror. The intent and behavior were the same.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

War Crimes Justice -- The Wheels Grind, Slowly and Out of Sight

No, this post isn't about the people screaming bloody murder at the health care town halls around the country. Let other people deal with that phenomenon. This is about recent successes at the war crimes tribunal set up after Milosevic perpetrated genocide in the Balkans.

I recently read the memoir of Carla del Ponte, who for years was the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). One passage stood out, and will probably never leave me: her description of the crimes of Milan Lukic, whom her prosecution team had dubbed "Lucifer" in its files. I won't recount them here, except to link to this item relating the happy news that he has actually been caught, tried and now sentenced to life in prison. His cousin Sredoje got 30 years, which was a light sentence.

As a side note, I loaned the book (Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations With Humanity's Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity) to a Serb friend of mine whom I know to be, by American standards, a left-of-Kucinich raving socialist. I thought she'd appreciate the opportunity to hear about the international efforts to bring to justice the people who had ruined her country. Her verdict: "Oh, she hates Serbs." She thought the court was focusing too much on Serb perpetrators and not enough on others.

Let this tribalism be a lesson to us all.

Monday, June 08, 2009

A Career Track in These Unsettled Times: Working The "Head Table" at a Slaughterhouse

I've been going through my old e-mails today, and I found one I sent to myself a while ago that I mean to write a blog post about but never got around to. There's no real short version of this story -- you really must read it all.

In a rapid-fire process that is noisy, smelly and bloody, severed pigs' heads are cut up at the head table at a rate of more than 1,100 an hour. Workers slice off the cheek and snout meat, then insert a nozzle in the head and blast air inside until the light pink mush that is the brain tissue squirts out from the base of the skull.

Kruse, whose job was to remove meat from the back of the animals' heads, said she doesn't recall any spray or mist from the de-braining. The head-table workers were protected by safety glasses, helmets, gloves and belly guards, but none wore anything over their mouths or noses, she said.

Why this interest in what they were wearing? Because 11 employees at the same plant in Minnesota got a strange nervous system disorder after working the head table shift one too many times, and they think it came from pig tissue.

Anyway, something to think about if you're tired of interviewing at Macy's.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Weird Season

I've started bartending for extra money, since I have no steady journalistic income right now, and I worked five nights last week. I was getting exhausted and even slightly depressed (from fatigue, not soul-crushing run-ins with drunken louts -- those have been rare). I will forever think back on this brief time, when I transitioned from journalist to gin jockey, as the Early Bartending Era, and I will remember how I got to bed late, woke up late, didn't make it to the gym -- my fitness regime has been totally derailed -- and didn't work on what little remains to be done for my novel.

I think now is the time to find a new equilibrium and get things back on track. Thankfully my official schedule, now that I'm done training, is down to two nights a week. According to the friend who got me the job, I should make at least enough to pay rent each month, so that should take the sting out of riding the bus through the ghetto every Sunday night and walking home down empty streets at three in the morning.

I'm an unlikely bartender, and will never love the work the way some people do, but the job is better than expected. It's either fast-paced enough that you don't have time to think or slow enough that you can chat with people and easily pass the time. I even get compliments; usually they're after a fifth shot of Woodford, but it's nice to be recognized for something. I already have a small store of "hilarious bar stories" that will only continue to grow. Now that I have some clarity on when I'll be working, instead of being at the night-to-night mercy of the manager's cell phone, I think I can integrate this into the rest of my life and move forward with a smile and some cash in my pocket.

I will never forget the exhausted feeling of falling into bed at 4:30 while Stephanie mumbles something about Battlestar Galactica. I hope that part's over. Now it's on to dropping hints at cocktail parties about how I can make that drink and bragging about how cool I am.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Arizona Republicans Vote Against Funding For -- You Guessed It -- Elderly Abuse Prevention

When the voters don't want you in Congress any more, I guess you decide turnabout is fair play. Or something.
The House took up H.R. 448, the Elder Abuse Protection Act, which would establish specialized elder abuse prosecution and research programs to aid victims, and would provide training to prosecutors and other law enforcement personnel related to elder abuse prevention and protection, and establish programs to provide for emergency crisis response teams to combat elder abuse. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), passed on a 397-25 vote. [roll call 62] All members of the Nevada Congressional delegation voted in favor the measure. Our neighbors to the south may be interested to know that Congressman Flake (R-AZ) and Congressman Franks (R-AZ) were among the lonely 25 voting in opposition.

I'd suggest you call or write these men, but honestly, do you want to hear their reasons?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Vegetarianism: The Case We Can All Get Behind

Over at Turn Left, where most of my political writing ends up, I'm haggling with another lefty about why on Earth anyone should be a vegetarian. Frankly, I think I'm winning, and this guy doesn't like to admit defeat.

One thing about his argument puzzles me: he doesn't see why he should care about inflicting pain on animals because they're not part of what he calls "the moral community." My latest riposte (of many) is reprinted here. Read the whole thread if you're curious about how we got to this pretty pass. His comments from an earlier post are in italics.


Pigs can navigate mazes but they can't speak. Where do you put that on any intelligence scale? It's difficult to assign any score or confidence level to something for which we so obviously lack a vocabulary. All we have are approximations, and anyway it's not like a lot of scientists devote their careers to pig cognition, so we have little overall data compared to, say, astrophysics. Which explains. . .

I've no idea why it took you this long when I've told you so many times exactly what you needed to do.

There isn't much in the way of the smoking gun you're after, which made me think the project was hopeless in the first place. I'm trying anyway because I think there's enough to go on to at least demonstrate the seriousness of the matter to anyone else reading this thread.

You're talking to a pacifist. I do have an aversion to unnecessary violence against people. But you've yet to convince me that pigs are people.

Yours is a limited and highly qualified pacifism. As Wikipedia tells us: "Pacifism covers a spectrum of views ranging from the belief that international disputes can and should be peacefully resolved; to calls for the abolition of the institutions of the military and war; to opposition to any organization of society through governmental force (anarchist or libertarian pacifism); to rejection of the use of physical violence to obtain political, economic or social goals; to the condemnation of force except in cases where it is absolutely necessary to advance the cause of peace; to opposition to violence under any circumstance, including defense of self and others." I usually consider pacifism as such to entail the penultimate if not ultimate definition, and the others as more good common sense and belief in democracy. You take things further than you realize in saying that you can't decide whether two-year-olds are people and wouldn't necessarily have an aversion to seeing them tortured. This isn't really pacifism at all. Any Quaker meeting would throw you out on your ear. I'm not saying you don't believe your own words, I'm just saying you're stretching the definition of pacifism pretty thin.

If not all pain is equal, then we should not presume that pig pain is morally equivalent to human pain.

You're turning a question of unnecessarily inflicted pain into an occasion for semantic niceties. How could I ever prove to you that pig pain is "morally equivalent" to human pain, given your standards of evidence? What do you want, to hear the pig say it out loud? You want someone to invent some universal pain-o-meter? You can see them squealing in horrible distress, see factory farm workers beating them with metal rods for no apparent reason, see them panting and covered in blood while they die standing up in tiny crates -- I confess, once again, that I don't know what else to tell you. The circumstantial evidence, which is all we'll ever have, indicates that they don't want to be beaten, kicked or killed, that they have an ingrained survival instinct (like nearly all animal life above the microscopic) and clearly cry out when they're injured. I can't invent a machine that will tell you more than you already know. You seriously want me to find some scholarly scientific papers discussing pig intelligence?

Our work shows that pigs have good spatial memory abilities that can be disrupted by common management procedures. If this extended to social memory, it could help explain increased aggression levels in previously familiar pigs after routine procedures. We have also found that pigs adjust their foraging behavior depending on the presence or absence of a subordinate, exploitable co-forager that knows where the food is.
But what will all this tell you that you don't have already? And anyway, why set your bar so strangely high? The intelligence of a three-year-old isn't a very meaningful barrier to compassion, especially for a "pacifist." In fact, I'd say it's arbitrarily and inappropriately high, given the conditions you've already seen in the videos.

If these animals were killed humanely, I'd still have a problem with the sheer waste but I wouldn't view it as so clearly and unnecessarily cruel. But not only are they not killed humanely, there's a lot of evidence that slaughterhouse employees become extremely desensitized and vicious over time.
"It's the same thing with an animal who pisses you off, except it is in the stick pit, you are going to kill it. Only you don't just kill it, you go in hard, push hard, blow the windpipe, make it drown in its own blood. Split its nose. A live hog would be running around the pit. It would just be looking up at me and I'd be sticking, and I would just take my knife and -- eerk -- cut its eye out while it was just sitting there … One time I took my knife -- it's sharp enough -- and I sliced off the end of a hog's nose, just like a piece of bologna … I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose … I stuck the salt right up the hog's ass … It's not anything anyone should be proud of … It was my way of taking out frustration."
How do you account for the pigs' aversion to being injured? Why do they run around and try to get away? Why do they get upset when you hit them? Is this just random behavior?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration: The View From A Porta-Potty

It's not often you mount a public bathroom to get a better view of a black man on a JumboTron, but like the pundits are saying, these are exciting times. What better way to honor America and our new president's call to service than to climb on top of a reeking privy and try to see over the crowd, I said to myself, so that's what I did on Inauguration Day. It didn't really work.

I wouldn't have bothered, except that being such a shutterbug made me lose the rest of my entourage in the hustle and bustle. As many of you know, left to my own devices I usually gravitate to the least sensible option, so I pushed my way through the masses and hoisted my way up in the wake of a thirtysomething couple who'd had the same idea a moment before. We couldn't see any big screens or anything, which they'd sprinkled all over the Mall, but we could see the crowds better than anyone standing at ground level, so we just listened to the PA system and tried not to let too many others up there with us for fear of tipping the damn thing over.

I took a few pictures, including one of some National Guard soldiers trying in vain to direct foot traffic, but mostly there was nothing to do but wait and try not to get too cold. Then the characters started showing up. It wasn't exactly our Porta Potty, and we couldn't tell people not to come up unless actual collapse was imminent, so first one then another started joining us. (This was in a semicircle of maybe twenty identical units, all equally filling up with onlookers.) First came one guy with a few gold teeth and some very neatly pressed jeans, plus a cowboy hat and ranch boots, who called over and over for "Larry!" to join him. (I couldn't ever figure out who Larry was.) He tried to jump from the top of the bathroom into an overhanging tree, but gave up when he realized the branches wouldn't support him. It was weird being up there with that guy. He wouldn't sit down even when it was clear the roof was crumpling under his feet.

Some kids came up here and there. One woman handed me her little son, then her other little son, and I had to grip them (no doubt uncomfortably) under the armpits and hoist them up before she tried to follow. At that point it was pretty clear the thing was unstable, so I handed them back down and she left. Over the course of the festivities we had anywhere from two to five people up there -- I sort of straddled two of them by sitting where the tops touched. At the end, after I jumped back down, I looked into one of them to survey the damage and could see the roof had basically caved in. You couldn't stand up in there any more. Luckily, I never had to use one.

There wasn't a whole lot to do except listen the whole time. Rick Warren was obnoxious. The wind was cold. Obama's speech I thought was pretty average -- I think it may, in the history books, come off a little better on paper than it did in person. The musical number starring Yo-Yo Ma was great. I don't have a single favorite moment of pure being-there experience. The whole thing was awesome to see, especially because of the size of the crowd.

I'd post my pictures, but I'm so old-school that I only took black-and-white film shots. You'll have to come by if you want to see them.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Eventful Trip Home

I'll talk about my novel, Christmas and everything else shortly, but before I forget, a quick anecdote. My flight home on the third (Saturday) included not only Janet Napolitano sitting in first class -- I shook her hand, told her I volunteered for her in college and admonished her to "help fewer people die in the desert" -- but also myself sitting right next to newly minted freshman Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D), who took over the seat in the nothern part of the state formerly held by the corrupt Rick Renzi.

I didn't know it was her until we'd almost landed. She'd been in my window seat during takeoff, so I was sitting in the middle and Stephanie was sitting near the aisle, and I spent most of the time reading or sleeping or talking to Steph or trying not to step on the other woman's violin case, which was parked under the seat in front of me for space reasons. (She was at least nice about it.) Right before we landed, she mentioned she was trying to play more often and then said, "I'm about to start my first term in Congress, so I don't know how much time I'll have." I asked what her name was, she told me and I said with surprise, "You're Ann Kirkpatrick?" She said something like, "Oh, you don't really know. . ." But I cut her off and said "You took over Rick Renzi's seat." She was impressed that I knew who she was, and we talked for six or seven minutes about her kids reminding her that she's still their mom, not to get any ideas, etc. etc. and how, basically, I'm looking for a job. So I'm going to head into her office later in the week. She said she didn't know which positions her chief of staff had filled already, but I think I at least made a good impression.

Also, I can say with all honesty that she's a very nice person. She said her favorite freshman reps that she met during orientation are Leonard Lance (a Republican from New Jersey) and all the new Dems from New Mexico (Harry Teague, Marty Heinrich, one other I can't remember right now). She's trying to get on the Homeland Security Committee to work with Napolitano on border stuff, even though her district is about as far from the border as Arizona gets. When Steph and I were picking up our luggage, we saw her talking to Napolitano and her entourage and I wished I could go over there or had something substantial to say, but we just grabbed our bags and went home. Anyway, it was fun. I wish I'd known earlier who she was -- I could have bent her ear a little more.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Weirdest Pro-Franco Blog You'll Ever Read

I don't want to get into a shouting match with someone I don't know, but this guy -- a student at Assumption College -- is so readably eccentric and out of it that I wanted to bring his blog to everyone's attention. The short, short version (as told by himself) is that he grew up in an atheist family and converted to Catholicism at some point, and is now headed toward a political science degree. The slightly longer version?
I love this democratic Republic, but want to make it Roman Catholic. Although I support the restoration of those monarchies that were overthrown in the Masonic
revolutions of the 18th and 19th Centuries, our Nation would be, I believe, best served by a Malta-type Republic with Catholicism as the official religion.

While this is unorthodox enough (not to mention delightfully oddball), he's not done with the antiquated political rhetoric.
I feel like Franco. Although ever at the service of God, or rather attempting to be, I give my all in combating the forces of evil in the world (and occasionally throw a good punch), while I consistently find myself having no core philosophy. While I always try to follow all the defined dogmas of the Faith, and outside the bounds of doctrine to support whatever is reasonable and in favor of individual liberties, the marketplace of ideas is full of those claiming to represent the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, to the exclusion of all other beliefs.

What a strange thing to say, no? But the more you read his posts, or save yourself the trouble and do a search for "Franco," the more you realize that Dear Leader isn't just some kind of model citizen to him, he's a secular saint. To spend time inside the mind of Leslie Higgins is to wonder how Spanish Carlist politics found its way to New England with the original slogans intact.

There's a certain twisted allure to outright fascism, with the military braid and the flags and the "unity of purpose" talk, but on a subtler level, if you're not careful, there's also the dangerous possibility of misunderstanding someone like Franco (who only died in 1975) as a merely conservative politician and statesman. I doubt Mr. Higgins wants to bring back the torture chambers, but from reading him, you can't tell whether he knows they existed in the first place. There are lots of soft-focus pictures of El Caudillo sprinkled here and there, and he comes off not as a bloody-minded opportunist but as the Catholic savior of virgins and nuns everywhere.

There are further oddities -- his love of Nicaraguan Contra Daniel Ortega, for instance, for being apparently pro-life ("some Marxists aren't even that bad") -- and his belief that his "homeboy" will be canonized is more than reason enough not to take him seriously. But if you ever wondered what a Franco/Coolidge Republican looks like, you owe it to yourself to give him five minutes.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Almost Done With The Novel

From the time I woke up yesterday (Saturday) to the time I went to sleep around five this morning, I wrote two chapters in one long sitting. I took breaks, I watched some Arrested Development to clear my head, and of course I had to eat occasionally, but I wrote sixteen pages by forcing myself to work until I collapsed. If sixteen pages doesn't sound like a lot, consider how long an average double-spaced college paper is. Twenty pages? Twenty-five? Sixteen times two is, well, my eyes were too bloodshot to do the math on the piece of paper I'd started drawing doodles on with a magic marker, but you get the idea.

Why am I pushing so hard to finish it up? Because I want to have a draft done well before I go home for Christmas (so readers can read it and give me feedback), and also because I yearn for the day when I wake up and there's nothing left to write. I can just run around naked at the zoo and enjoy the freezing cold wind on my face, instead of holing up in the apartment or a cafe and writing writing writing. Even unemployment happens for a reason. I've always wanted to write a novel, and now I'm this close to finishing a first draft of a real, honest-to-God publishable book. I now steel myself for the climb up the final hill.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Narrating The Sarah Palin Turkey Slaughter

Even if you're really, really busy, you have to take six minutes out of your frantic schedule to watch this. Imagine the surreal depths to which our great nation could have sunk, like a wounded octopus slowly descending into the blackness of an ocean trench, if the election had gone any differently.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Election Day Victories For Animal Rights

As a vegetarian, I don't often get to see one of my biggest pet issues hashed out in an election year. But Nov. 4 brought with it two major wins for animal rights, and may point the way to further victories in coming years. The Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are wising up big time about electoral strategy, using the pocketbook rather than an infrequently successful moral appeal as their weapon of choice. The New Republic has the story:
I spoke with Michael Markarian, Executive Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States, who said that such ballot measures, introduced in states where they are likely to pass, do much more than reform a single states' animal treatment laws. They are a message to American industry as a whole that considering animal welfare is increasingly within their economic self-interest. California agribusinesses, fearing a rise in operating costs, spent heavily to combat Proposition 2 and have nothing to show for it. Markarian is hoping that all animal-related businesses will draw the lesson that it is simply cheaper to improve animal treatment of their own accord, rather than risk a costly political fight they will probably lose.
Proposition 2, which passed with 63 percent of the vote (63 percent!), says that confined animals must now be able to "lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely." If you've ever seen a vegetarian information pamphlet, you'll know how impossible this currently is given factory farming practices.

Animal rights aren't by any means a political issue per se. There are a few notable Republican animal rights activists (even a Bushie or two). It's a good day for everyone when we outlaw veal crates and battery cages, no matter who you voted for.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Just The Thing To Keep The Good Mood Going

I've been at the apartment all morning because maintenance had to come by -- apparently the last seventy people to live here liked to smear grease inside the walls of our oven, which smokes like the fires of hell every time we turn it on, so hopefully that's taken care of. Anyway, I'm heading out soon to finish chapter 11 (halfway done!) of my novel, but while I'm here I've been looking around at the morning-after coverage and this tickled me in a way the pundits never could.

As long as you're there, scroll down into the comments a bit. There are a few priceless pictures. You'll see what I mean.

I Partied At The White House

I'm sure you've all heard or read about the celebration outside the White House last night. After seeing some local news footage, with Obama already declared the winner and little left to worry about, I decided to leave my apartment and go join in the fun.

I've seen crowd estimates settle around 1,000, and although I have no talent for estimating these things I'd say it was more like double that, especially considering the stragglers and people at the margins of the glut. I'd also say, from the time I spent there, that it was about 90 percent college students, something I'm not sure has been mentioned in the press reports. So, enough with the dry statistics. . .

It was fun as hell. Knots formed in the generally milling crowd and started chanting or singing at the drop of a hat. A lot of girls were riding around on guys' shoulders, and pot use was pretty open, but there was none of the stupidity and tawdriness of spring break shitkickers. Everyone was there to celebrate, not just to get wasted, and people were for the most part sober except for being really happy. I found the best way to enjoy the whole thing was to make my way back and forth through the crowd from one end to the other, stopping whenever I saw a group I wanted to join or it looked like one would form. We sang "Ole, ole ole ole" and the national anthem (a lot) and God Bless America. On too many occasions to count, people would start up cries of "Yes we can!" or "No more Bush!" or "O-ba-ma" or the occasional "Si se puede!" and the next twenty people in each direction would join in. One game that emerged was spotting the bright white glare of a television camera and trying to get through the crowd to make it into the shot. No one pushed. There were no fights. It was all in good fun. I never got interviewed, but I'm positive I ended up cheering and chanting on one Canadian broadcast. After the correspondent signed off, everyone in the crowd went nuts around him with cheers and he smiled and, frankly, joined the party for a moment before having to leave.

As the night wore on I started to see a few middle-aged and older people in the crowd, including one guy who was shouting "You fascist motherfucker!" and balling his fists with victorious glee, facing down the White House like the Scots taunting the British in the middle of "Braveheart." I ended up on a home video being made by Frank from Winona, Illinois, who asked me as I passed him why I'm so happy to be rid of Bush. My answer, as best I can recall (with a big grin on my face): "Oh, man, there are a million and one reasons, I could never get to it all. I thought I wouldn't have a job when I graduated college. I thought there would be a hole in the sun by the time he left. But now, not only are we getting rid of Bush, we're replacing him with someone who actually knows what he's doing. Save this tape. You'll remember this." Then we introduced ourselves, shook hands, he said he totally agreed with me and we kept going our separate ways.

Most of the fun came from just being there. It felt good. Everyone was partying for the best of reasons. A few people carried Obama cutouts above their heads, making for good photo ops when they lined up nicely with the White House. Two or three people crowd-surfed, prompting someone next to me to say to his friend, "Come on, this isn't a Hootie concert." At one point a big group had formed and started singing, of all things, the Georgetown Hoyas fight song. I was standing right there but didn't know the words. One college guy was smoking a cigar and sprayed his Heineken beer foam over his head, splashing everyone around him, but no one seemed to mind very much.

For the record, there were a lot of sexy coeds. I spotted a few guys I thought might have been there to pick up chicks, but I didn't see anything happen. Everyone there seemed to be with a group of friends, and people would often link hands and go through the crowd in fours and fives. I never saw anyone I knew, so I was free to kind of roam the scene and stop to sing or whatever or, once, join a temporary drumming dance circle. The snipers were visible on the White House roof despite it being the middle of the night and completely overcast, but they didn't ruin the picture for us -- everyone seemed to take it all in good fun, as if to say, "Ha ha, we get that roof now." At one point, I think probably around 1:15, the White House floodlights went off for the night and everyone took it as a chance to start chanting "No more Bush!" at the top of their lungs. I shouted "Address the nation, George!" and a few people laughed.

Anyway, I could go on, but you get the picture. When I left at 1:30 it showed no signs of slowing down, and several hours later, watching the local news hoping to get some late Senate election returns, I saw that by 4:00 it had finally petered out. Every account I've read of it includes quotes from security guards or police or whoever saying they'd "never seen anything like it." I hope we keep seeing that kind of jubilation on election day from now on, because that's how people should feel.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Clown Prince of The Hill

Anyone who hasn't been following the budding career of Bill Sali, the rootin'-tootinest Republican in Congress, can do themselves a favor and start watching now, because the next two months are going to be hilarious.
It took these clowns twenty-six days to figure out how to file their report (the law gives you 15), and even then it was still a shambles - just like the rest of Sali's campaign. He opened an office in - I kid you not - the wrong congressional district (Idaho's only got two). But the best was announced just recently: as a cornerstone of his fundraising plan, Bill Sali plans to hold yard sales to fill his campaign coffers. No word yet if Plan B is to rummage through the county dump for some discarded treasures - but I think we can assume that's probably on the list.
Believe it or not, this doesn't even scratch the surface. Idaho's other representative, Mike Simpson, threatened to throw Sali out a window. People back home hate him. It's really all too much to take in one sitting.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Hey, Remember That Sordid Torture Issue? It's Back

This is a must-read article, whatever your political persuasion.

At Bagram, Lasseter wrote, guards kicked, kneed, and punched prisoners with systematic brutality. Former guards as well as detainees told McClatchy reporters about what Lasseter called sadistic violence. According to them, the brutality reached a peak in December 2002, when two Afghans were hung from ceiling chains by their wrists and beaten to death by American soldiers.

Two soldiers were prosecuted for those killings. Specialist Willie Brand admitted that he hit one of the Afghan men thirty-seven times. He was sentenced to be reduced in rank to private. The other person prosecuted was Captain Christopher Beiring, who commanded an army reserve military police company. He was given a letter of reprimand.

The army lawyer who investigated Beiring, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Berg, urged leniency because "the government failed to present any evidence of what are 'approved tactics, techniques and procedures in detainee operations.'" In other words, members of the United States Army are no longer expected to know that beating a prisoner to death is against the rules.

Why were the guards so brutal? Anger at the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Lasseter suggests - and a sense that their superiors in Washington wanted "the gloves off." President Bush's decision to eliminate the protection of the Geneva Conventions sent the message that there were no rules.


Another notable point made by the McClatchy articles was that the mistreatment of prisoners made some who had no previous connection with anti-American movements profoundly angry at the United States. It is hardly a surprising result to report, but the articles gave chapter and verse. They quoted a Pakistani intelligence report on men released from Guantánamo as saying that they had "extreme feelings of resentment and hatred against USA."

It's important to understand that at this late date, we now know for a fact that torture was official policy coming directly from the Pentagon. Military officials called it other things, but there was constant consternation that the Red Cross would blow the whistle or that one day a legal decision would shut them down. Any excuses made for this unconscionable behavior come in one of two flavors, the "bad-apple" theory and the idea that everyone we tortured was a hard-core terrorist and somehow deserved it. We now know that neither of those excuses is even remotely defensible.

I wouldn't post this -- it's depressing enough to read without the thought that the perpetrators will probably go unpunished for the rest of their lives -- but it's important to keep these things in mind when you vote, donate or decide just how politically engaged to be this year. These things were done in the name of keeping us safe. How does that make you feel?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sarah Palin: Not Even Bringing In The Hillary Voters

I have precious little to add to the ever-growing tornado of awesomeness that is Sarah Palin's demise, except to point out that even if you strip away all the weird stories about the Alaskan Independence Party and her pregnant daughter and her wanting to ban books when she was mayor (look that one up). . . Even if you ignore all that and pretend she was a good choice, you still have to admit that she's not doing what she was picked to do: attract Hillary voters.

There's a lot of good analysis and fresh news at that link, and I can't summarize it all, but I will say this: in a recent Rasmussen poll, 75 percent of respondents say they think McCain picked her because he thought a woman on the ticket would help him win. Female voters said 48 percent to 25 percent that Palin isn't ready to be president.

Now, the important thing to remember is that the idea of Hillary supporters flocking to McCain en masse in November was always a media creation with little substance. Unless you think woman are dumb, you have to account for the fact that they vote, like everyone else, on the basis of whose policies they agree with. When the Hillary so-close soap opera was winding down and Obama was obviously going to get the nod, The Media (C) decided to give it one last push and put together a scenario in which "disgruntled" Hillary voters were so furious at their candidate's fate that they'd walk out and vote for McCain because. . .

We never really heard the end of that sentence, but one person was apparently convinced, and he picked Sarah Palin to help the process along. However, after only a week of the media asking questions about this newcomer, those 17 disgruntled Hillary supporters and the rest of us now know what an odd pick she was, for the following reasons:

1) She wants to teach creationism in public schools.

2) She not only belonged to the Alaskan Independence Party up to 1994, she taped a support message for them earlier this year telling them to keep up the good work -- despite the fact that the party thinks the U. S. government is unconstitutional.

3) As mayor, she looked into starting a book-banning campaign at the small local library.

4) There are serious questions about the circumstances of her fifth child's birth and whether it was hers or her daughter's. [I don't post this out of malice, and frankly I wouldn't blame her if she's covering an uncomfortable family situation, but the situation adds to the PR problem nonetheless.]

5) She basically has no relevant experience, and even CNN -- which loooooves John McCain in most circumstances -- is starting to ask a few simple questions that the campaign can't answer. To whit: Campbell Brown asking a McCain spokesman to name a single "foreign policy" decision Palin has made as head of the Alaska National Guard, something Republicans have started using as a talking point. Short version: he spends four minutes coming up with nothing.

The gimmick didn't work. The Hail Mary pass fell a few yards short. In other words, after eight years of Bush, the Republican Party is slowly imploding in on itself like a dying star. I confess to a certain amount of malicious giddiness. Not only do I now feel more confident than ever that Obama is going to win -- and I'm on record with all my friends as never having had any doubts -- but I think the GOP is headed for a stint in the political wilderness, much like Democrats during most of this decade. Their house, dear reader, is not in order.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Writing A Book

As many of you know, I've finished a draft of the first four chapters of the novel I'm working on while I'm unemployed. (Don't feel bad if you didn't know -- I don't keep in personal contact with everyone as much as I'd like, and at first I even forgot to send a copy to Mom.) This is going really well, but writing feels a lot like sitting on your ass even if in the long run you're being "productive," and it can be hard to convince myself to continue before I've gotten things more settled in the immediate term. Nevertheless my confidence in the value of artistic genius is stronger than my fear.

I'm about to head out for another smackdown with the Muse at this place I like where they let you sit on the couches and listen to music all day. Sort of like home, but without a TV or anything to distract you. If you've ever thought about writing a novel or a short story or anything creative, you should really try it. It's fun once you get the hang of having a story already in place before you get going. This has always been my problem before -- 50 pages in and then, uh oh, what's supposed to happen? I never really knew. Now I know. This is why I am going to be a millionaire and everyone will read my book on the beach next summer. You wait and see.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Romulans Will Soon Appear Off The Port Bow

Invisibility isn't science fiction any more, and we're getting closer, according to stuff some scientists just found out.
One approach uses a type of fishnet of metal layers to reverse the direction of light, while another uses tiny silver wires, both at the nanoscale level.

Both are so-called metamaterials -- artificially engineered structures that have properties not seen in nature, such as negative refractive index.

The two teams were working separately under the direction of Xiang Zhang of the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center at the University of California, Berkeley with U.S. government funding. One team reported its findings in the journal Science and the other in the journal Nature.

Each new material works to reverse light in limited wavelengths, so no one will be using them to hide buildings from satellites, said Jason Valentine, who worked on one of the projects.

I'd like to just quote the whole story, but I'll trust you to read it. The Klingons are already way ahead of the curve here, so you kind of owe it to your species to keep up.

In other news, I've finished the first two chapters of the first draft of my novel and have sent them to a few people for feedback. I have a plan to send chapters 1-4 to a second group, etc. and get (hopefully somewhat ) continuous input while I keep moving forward, rather than waiting weeks for everyone to chime in. I've clocked my pace on a pages per day basis, and if I'm as diligent as I'm capable of -- not that I don't get distracted -- I can have a full draft of a 400-page novel ready in November. It'll require discipline, but I'm steadily becoming more disciplined. My life is largely going to the gym, practicing kung fu and trying to write. I wouldn't mind it if I were even more of a monk at this point, to be honest, but I'm happy with the balance I've struck.

So what about y'all? Drop me a line or leave a comment.