Saturday, December 31, 2005

Images of New Mexico


(click for larger)

The Brazos Cliffs, from US 64 near Amarilla, looking north. The Brazos Cliffs are composed of 1.8 billion-year-old granite, formed about the same time as the Blanca Massif, the Wet Mountains and the Front Range of Colorado.

Previously, in the archives:
Shiprock (I)
Very Large Array near Soccorro, NM (II)
Flightline, Cannon AFB (III)
Taos Church (San Francisco de Asis) (IV)
US 84 Roadside (V)
Valley of Fires (VI)

Nearly Gone

2005. The general consensus, from most of the folks I read is "good riddance." Me? I'm ambivalent. 2005, while not bringing anything I would call "good," didn't drop anything particularly nasty on my doorstep, either. And at my age, that's a good thing.

I've run across a few interesting predictions for the New Year in my 'net travels. Here are two of the best...

NRO's 2006 Predictions A few of my favorites:

Abu Zarqawi will be caught alive. But he will hang himself in his cell when Reuters reports that Iraqi authorities found the director's cut of Brokeback Mountain in his portable DVD player.

Maureen Dowd becomes an eharmony.com success-story commercial.

Air America will finally go under, ironically undermined by "competition" from the taxpayer-supported NPR that they vigorously support. Distraught listeners in search of liberal viewpoints will be forced to turn to CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, The New York Times, etc...

The California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union makes a shocking discovery: Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco have Spanish names meaning "The Angels," "Holy Cross," and "St. Francis." It sues to rename them "The Angles," "Cruising," and "Frank."
And The Anchoress has predictions, too. My fave:

5) Some people will look at New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia and other cities wherein liberalism has become entrenched, and they will discover that the Great Society has done little good for poor urban communities, in all these decades. They will begin to suggest that the Democrat party has for too long held too much power within those communities while giving them nothing but lip service and paranoid suggestions. As some black Democrats become Republicans, Wolf Blitzer will wonder how they can leave the party in good conscience, when they are “so poor and so black.” Morgan Freeman, having finally had enough, will smack him silly.
I definitely wanna see it when Blitzer gets bitch-slapped. My favorite Blitzer moment of all-time was during the 2004 election eve coverage when CNN initially predicted Florida would go for Bush. I swear to Gaia I thought Blitzer was going to burst into tears. The man was distraught!

All y'all have a SAFE and Happy New Years Eve!

Q: How do you pay homage to a towering musical genius?

A: With a bra that can play Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

From the Times of London (UK):

GOOD news in time for Mozart’s 250th birthday next month: listening to his music, according to the latest research, boosts IQ, squeezes more milk out of cows and makes rats more loveable.

Judging by the frenzied commerce in the narrow streets of his birthplace, Salzburg, it also makes the cash tills ring.

Austria is gearing up for a year-long celebration of its best-known composer. With 500 events planned for 2006, it hopes to use Mozart to rebrand itself as a serious European player, the place where the big issues of European identity can be hammered out.
At the risk of identifying myself as a classical music tyro, Mozart is my favorite classical composer. Although I don't think his music has made me any smarter, it certainly has given me hours of enjoyment. Austria's Mozart Year will feature a tremendous amount of his music:

“It will be an artistic feast,” says Inge Brodil, a former set designer who is helping to co-ordinate the programme for the Mozart Year. Salzburg alone will host 260 concerts and 55 masses. “For the first time, all 22 of Mozart’s operas will be staged,” Frau Brodil says.
Some quick Wolfie facts:

Born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756

Educated by Leopold, his father, a professional musician

First musical piece written aged 5; first stage work aged 11

Mozart spent a third of his life on tour

He is said to have suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder compelling him to repeat obscene words

The Abduction from the Seraglio, written when he was 26, was Mozart’s most successful musical work during his lifetime

He died on December 5, 1791, from a fever
An amazing man with an amazing body of work for someone who died just before his 36th birthday.

Friday, December 30, 2005

A Few Follow-Ups to that WaPo CIA Article

Time for the President to call their bluff, by Tony Snow (via PowerLine)
... the president ought to open his State of the Union Address by asking Congress to give him official authority to approve warrantless searches of known and identified terrorists, or of people in regular contact with those terrorists whom authorities reasonably suspect of plotting to commit acts of murder, terror or sabotage. These activities ought to be subject to monthly review by the attorney general. The administration also ought to be required each month to brief the top four congressional leaders, both intelligence committees and the head of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

...

Note who has not spoken against the NSA program since the Times story broke. The list includes Harry Reid and Dick Durbin in the Senate; Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer in the House; and members of both intelligence committees. In other words, Democrats in the know either have supported the surveillance program or just kept their mouths shut.
Ooh, it's good.

A complete fisking of Ms. Priest's WaPo article at Blackfive.

And, in the counter-point department ("Jane, You ignorant slut!") Maha rants (among other things) about how it will be easy to try Dubya at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Too bad the US never ratified that treaty. Well...too bad for Maha, good beyond belief for the rest of us. I'll bet Tony Blair wishes the UK had opted out of the ICC, too.

And finally, Scott Ott gets it right, as usual.

In Today's WaPo and NYT

Front page of the WaPo: Covert CIA Program Withstands New Furor; Anti-Terror Effort Continues to Grow. Buried near the very bottom of the article are the following grafs:
Attacking the CIA is common when covert programs are exposed and controversial, said Gerald Haines, a former CIA historian who is a scholar in residence at the University of Virginia. "It seems to me the agency is taking the brunt of all the recent criticism."

Duane R. "Dewey" Clarridge, who directed the CIA's covert efforts to support the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s, said the nature of CIA work overseas is, and should be, risky and sometimes ugly. "You have a spy agency because the spy agency is going to break laws overseas. If you don't want it to do those dastardly things, don't have it. You can have the State Department."
All too true. I'm old enough to remember the dark days of the late 70s and early 80s when the CIA was essentially gutted. We're paying the price today for that over-reaction. Let's hope the Left's current faux outrage over "spy scandals" doesn't result in similar counter-productive investigations, legislation, and the resulting exodus of intelligence professionals from the CIA and like organizations.

E. J. Dionne, in What Readers Taught Me:
Ah, yes, the president and his people have a lot of enemies out there, but his friends are just as exercised. A reader from San Diego offered a view that was repeated in many forms: "Most liberals and some Democrats hate this president and will do anything to bring him down, including siding with terrorists against the president."

And here is where I start worrying about our national mood. I don't mind being assailed myself -- even by a theologically minded reader who called me a "badly catechized Catholic." (Blame me, not the nuns and priests who taught me!) But when big chunks of the country begin to view their political adversaries as something close to traitors, we have arrived at a very dangerous time. For this badly catechized Catholic, it's a reason to pray hard for something better next year.
On the whole, not a bad column. I would suggest to Mr. Dionne if he has any influence at all in Washington, he direct the comments in his last two sentences towards people who make statements such as "the war is unwinnable" and "our troops are terrorizing Iraqi families" (both quotes paraphrased). Perhaps if the usual suspects toned down their rhetoric we on the right wouldn't "view (our) political adversaries as something close to traitors." Honest disagreement with, and debate on, policy issues are completely different than providing aid and comfort to the enemy, ya know. Just sayin'.

In yesterday's NYT: In Pursuit of Unhappiness, by Darrin M. McMahon. Excerpt:
Sociologists like to point out that the percentage of those describing themselves as "happy" or "very happy" has remained virtually unchanged in Europe and the United States since such surveys were first conducted in the 1950's. And yet, this January, like last year and next, the self-help industry will pour forth books promising to make us happier than we are today. The very demand for such books is a strong indication that they aren't working.

Should that be a cause for concern? Some critics say it is. For example, economists like Lord Richard Layard and Daniel Kahneman have argued that the apparent stagnancy of happiness in modern societies should prompt policymakers to shift their priorities from the creation of wealth to the creation of good feelings, from boosting gross national product to increasing gross national happiness.

But before we take such steps, we might do well to reflect on the darker side of holiday cheer: those mysterious blues that are apt to set in while the streamers stream and the corks pop; the little voice that even in the best of souls is sometimes moved to say, "Bah, humbug." As Carlyle put it, "The prophets preach to us, 'Thou shalt be happy; thou shalt love pleasant things.' " But as he well knew, the very commandment tended to undermine its fulfillment, even to make us sad.
I'd like to see a survey delineating "happiness" by political affiliation. I'd venture a guess that conservatives are a helluva lot happier than liberals. Not for nothing are entire liberal communities known as "The Perpetually Offended."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Out and About

This week is arguably the slowest week of the year for news. The Beltway folks are at home with their families and constituents; the pundits lack fodder for their columns and opinion pieces when the players aren't playing.

That said, there's still some stuff out there worthy of a read. Newsweek has a short Q&A interview with Markos Moulitsas Zúniga on upcoming elections that's somewhat interesting. Kos makes some valid points in the interview, but misses the boat here:


How will the Democrats use the war issue?
This is a little frustrating for me. Here’s a perfect opportunity for Democrats to have led on an issue, and they haven’t. The problem is that part of the Democratic caucus thinks it’s manly and tough to be for the war. They are afraid to basically state what the reality on the ground is.

Did Congressman John Murtha’s criticism of the war embolden the Dems?

The Democratic caucus should have rallied behind Murtha. That was all the cover they needed to come out on this issue. But they were sill weak. The reason I loved Paul Hackett in the Ohio (2005 House) race is because he didn’t equivocate about war. Hackett is an Iraq war veteran who ran as a Democrat in Ohio’s Second Congressional District outside Cincinnati—one of the most Republican districts in all of Ohio. He was viciously critical of George Bush and how he’s handled the war. Hackett lost, but only by 2 or 3 percent of the vote, which is an incredible margin in that district. [Hackett is now running for the U.S. Senate from Ohio.]
Let's hope the Dems take Kos' advice. Kos is also down on John McCain, calling him "the Republicans' Joe Lieberman." Damn, but I'm glad the Dems still don't get it. I believe a lot of independents and socially-liberal Republicans would vote for Lieberman in a heartbeat.

And then there's this in The Guardian (UK): Population gloom. The article serves up some shocking facts about Russia:

Life expectancy for a man has sunk to 58 years (72 for women), the lowest bar two of the 52 countries in the WHO European region.

Russia's population has plummeted by almost 7% to 143 million in the last 15 years, and is predicted to drop by another 20 million by 2025. And as Moscow gears up to take over the presidency of the G8 on January 1, the Kremlin is being urged to meet the crisis head on.
Those are apalling statistics for a nation that had aspirations of world domination only 20 short years ago. Poor health care, rampant alcoholism, AIDS, and low birth rates are cited as the primary causes. Most of which are symptoms of despair, in my eyes, although the Guardian doesn't come right out and say it.

Let's Play Slime-Ball: NBC's Norah O'Donnell (in for Chris Matthews) and Guests on last evening's Hardball, discussing whether accused and/or convicted terrorists will bring civil suits against the President and/or the NSA:
Let's now bring in two lawyers involved in potential cases. Edward Macmahon is lawyer for Ali Al-Timimi, a Muslim scholar who is serving a life sentence for inciting followers to wage war against the U.S. overseas.

And John Zwerling is representing Siefullah Chapman, a follower of Al-Timimi, currently serving a 65-year sentence in federal prison.

Let me ask each of you briefly, does this now mean—you guys are lawyers for these clients—that the president is going to be sued?

EDWARD MACMAHON, ATTORNEY FOR ALI AL-TIMIMI: Well, I can't say that Al-Timimi is going to file a lawsuit against anybody, but I'm sure that somebody that's the target of this warrantless surveillance will in fact sue the president. It's just a matter of time.

O'DONNELL: John, do you think the president will be sued?

JOHN ZWERLING, ATTORNEY FOR SEIFULLAH CHAPMAN: Well, not my client in the near future. He's more concerned with his liberty. He's more concerned with getting out of the trap than nibbling on the cheese.

O'DONNELL: But you have read this story now which is a huge story about what the NSA has been involved in. On what grounds now do you believe you have legal recourse for your clients who are currently serving jail time and have been convicted for terrorist ties?

MACMAHON: Well, I listened to Pete's intro. If the government has evidence in its possession that would help a defendant defeat charges—these guys essentially are serving life—the government doesn't have the right because of national security of any other reason just to sit on evidence that would help somebody in a criminal case.

O'DONNELL: Of course. But as Pete pointed out, you're never going to know because it's secret. That's the point of it, that they used this stuff. They didn't have to go through FISA in order to get this, so they may have obtained some information about your clients that you'll never know about it. What makes you think that you're ever going to find out about it?
This is a classic example of why some enclaves in the Fourth Estate seems more like a Fifth Column. Read the whole thing.

Related: Americans split on feds listening in
...in the first survey that directly addresses the controversial program. The online Zogby Interactive poll, taken Dec. 20-21, found that nearly half of likely voters, 49 percent, say Bush has the constitutional powers to approve such a plan, while 45 percent say he does not.
Or, the approximate split demonstrated in the 2004 election. If MSNBC and their fellow-travelers have their way, more Americans will be hostile to surveilling terrorists. I have faith in the public, however, to resist defeatists and Bush-haters.

Semi-Decadent

That's the way I feel this morning, er, afternoon. I'm sitting here by my window, bathed in warm sunshine, contemplating what's left of the day, having just poured my third cup of coffee. I've been completely awake since 12:30, but I woke up the first time at 10:30 this morning. Given that I didn't go to bed until just after 7:00 a.m. this morning (see the post below), 10:30 was way too early to be up and about. Nonetheless, I did get up, turned off the ceramic heater that did well by me when the outside temperature was 28 degrees but was slow-roasting the interior once the temp rose to 65, opened a window, made the coffee, and returned to bed until the coffee finished brewing. Two hours later...

It's only semi-decadent to sleep until well after noon in my current circumstance. Why, you may ask? Well, it's hard to be truly decadent on the wind-swept and nearly treeless High Plains of Eastern New Mexico. I also awoke this morning alone and with a clear head. Way too Red-State. I've sampled true decadence, and New Mexico, you're NOT decadent. Well, some parts of Albuquerque might qualify. I've heard stories.

No, achieving true decadence, in my eyes, requires an accomplice or three; proscribed substances (optional); copious amounts of Singha, Stella Artois, or San Miguel; a cultivated attitude of nonchalance; and suitable venues wherein one can put that attitude on display. A tropical or semi-tropical clime helps, but isn't a strict requirement...witness certain parts of New York City, London's West End, and the underground clubs of Moscow or Prague. I much prefer Bangkok or any of several camp towns outside the gates of American military bases, however. Willing accomplices abound in those places. It's easy to feign nonchalance, and you can assuredly awake with much less than a clear head, usually in the company of a woman unfamiliar to you when the night began, in a place no more familiar. Life is usually exciting in those circumstances, or, at the very least, stimulating. And most definitely decadent.

Ah, nostalgia. Sometimes I wonder if maturity is worth it.

Circadian Rhythms and Other Things

Mine are hosed, as demonstrated by the fact I'm writing and posting at an hour when most rational people are asleep (shift workers obviously excluded). I've been this way for some time, and aside from the fact I question my "normalcy," there are no negative consequences I'm aware of. I sleep at odd hours because, frankly, I can. No job, and no external commitments of any sort makes for an erratic life. Today was no exception.

After a hard day of doing laundry and wondering what it would be like if an impossibly thin old man were to have sex with a VERY large woman (e.g., 5' 4" and 200+ pounds), I decided around 4:30 I'd take a short nap and then get up and fix dinner. The "large woman" fantasy bears a bit of explanation. This was an intellectual exercise rather than a classic fantasy; more like an extended rumination on the mechanics involved. I won't go into a great deal of detail here (ed: thank you.), but suffice to say I was thinking of set and setting and who could possibly be where, and for how long. I thought a bit about the possibility of physical harm, too. Then I went back to reading the NatGeo until the dryer was done. Yeah, all this occurred within the confines of the laundromat. And reoccurred later, also, just before I fell asleep. No adverse impact on my nap. Actually, I came to the conclusion that not only would the activity just discussed be possible, in my state it might even be plausible. Think on that.

So. I layed me down around 4:30 and slept until 10:15, waking up rather hungry, as one might expect. So much for a short nap.

Dinner was a relatively quick affair. Freezer inspection revealed two packages of shu-mai (among other things), those wonderful Chinese/Japanese steamed dumplings you get in dim-sum places and Japanese restaurants. The frozen variety aren't bad, but they do require an ability to temporarily suspend your beliefs in all that is good and proper about Japanese cuisine. Not bad, just different, I suppose one would say. Actually, the secret is in the dipping sauce. No cutting corners here; I make my own, and it's a relatively simple exercise: about a half-cup of mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine, for cooking only), a tablespoon of prepared Colman's English Mustard, and a tablespoon of Kikkoman. The ingredients are estimated, in actuality I wing it, never measuring anything. Dry Colman's is better than prepared, but my local grocery store has been out of the dry variety for a while. Make a salad while the shu-mai are subjected to five minutes of intense radiation, and voila! Dinner is served. Oh, yeah: uncap a Fat Tire, too. Or two.

Washed the day's dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. Resolved to go out to the base tomorrow and do some serious grocery shopping. Sat down and decided there wasn't a single thing on TV worth watching, as usual. Surfed and read more than a few blogs, winding up on the Claremont Institute's site, which resulted in the post below. And now it's 3:00 a.m. and I'm not sleepy.

Looks like a long night! But that's OK. I don't have to get up later this morning and join the rat race. Life is good.

Two Worthwhile Essays...

...disguised as book reviews. Before I give you the links and a few excerpts from the essays, let me bore you for a moment with why I feel these essays are worthwhile.

I'm not a neo-con, in the sense my conversion to conservatism occurred on or about September 11, 2001. I converted a lot earlier than that, say around 1980 or so. My older reader will recognize that year as the watershed year in the chronology of modern American conservatism, the year Reagan was elected. And I voted for the man...not as a "Reagan Democrat," but as one who was completely and totally fed-up with the Left's angry rhetoric of discontent. Reagan's absolute faith in America and his contagious optimism appealed to me, especially when contrasted with the Perpetually Offended culture of the Left. It didn't help the Democrats' cause at all when Jimmy Carter told me that I, and all other Americans, suffered from malaise. Bullshit. One political conversion coming up. That's the Reader's Digest version. There are other reasons, too. But for brevity's sake, plus the fact I know you really don't give a flying fig, I'll spare you an extensive discussion.

So. I converted and never looked back. There's another reason I think these two essays are worthwhile. Ever since the 2000 election I've been amazed and disappointed in the increasingly hysterical opposition to President Bush. The corollary to that amazement is my attempt to understand it, i.e., how can supposedly rational, intelligent Americans be so very wrong when it comes to politics, and specifically, to foreign policy? The facile answer is Bush Derangement Syndrome, but I believe there's more to it than that. There has to be. I cannot, will not, accept as fact that 48% of Americans are mentally ill. So, I've been trying to understand modern American Progressive, or Liberal, or Left...call it what you will...politics. Enter these two essays from the Claremont Institute.

In The Crisis of American National Identity, Charles R. Kesler discusses two books (Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity and American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony) by Samuel P. Huntington and the books' implications on American identity. Mr. Huntington is, in Charles Kesler's words, "a University Professor at Harvard (the school's highest academic honor), he has written a dozen or so books including several that are rightly regarded as classics of modern social science. He is a scholar of political culture, especially of the interplay between ideas and institutions; but in this book he calls himself not only a scholar but a patriot (without any ironic quotation marks). That alone marks him as an extraordinary figure in today's academy."

The essay's opening paragraphs:

About a decade ago, when he was vice president, Al Gore explained that our national motto, e pluribus unum, means "from one, many." This was a sad day for knowledge of Latin among our political elite—and after all those expensive private schools that Gore had been packed off to by his paterfamilias. It was the kind of flagrant mistranslation that, had it been committed by a Republican, say George W. Bush or Dan Quayle, would have been a gaffe heard round the world. But the media didn't play up the slip, perhaps because they had seen Gore's Harvard grades and figured he'd suffered enough, perhaps because they admired the remark's impudence. Though literally a mistake, politically the comment expressed and honored the multicultural imperative, then so prominent in the minds of American liberals: "from one," or to exaggerate slightly, "instead of one culture, many." As such it was a rather candid example of the literary method known as deconstruction: torture a text until it confesses the exact opposite of what it says in plain English or, in this case, Latin.

After 9/11, we haven't heard much from multiculturalism. In wartime, politics tends to assert its sway over culture. In its most elementary sense, politics implies friends and enemies, us and them. The attackers on 9/11 were not interested in our internal diversity. They didn't murder the innocents in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon or on board the airplanes because they were black, white, Asian-American, or Mexican-American, but because they were American. (Although I bet that for every Jew they expected to kill, the terrorists felt an extra thrill of murderous anticipation.)
and later:

Multiculturalism likes to assert that all cultures are created equal, and that America and the West have sinned a great sin by establishing white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian, heterosexual, patriarchal, capitalist—what's next, hurricane-summoning?—culture as predominant. The problem with this argument is that it is self-contradictory. For if all cultures are created equal, and if none is superior to any other, why not prefer one's own? Thus Huntington's preference for Anglo-Protestantism—he never establishes it as more than a patriot's preference, though as a scholar he tries to show what happens if we neglect it—is to that extent perfectly consistent with the claims of the multiculturalists, the only difference being that he likes the dominant culture, indeed, wants to strengthen it, and they don't.

Of course, despite their protestations, multiculturalists do not actually believe that all cultures are equally valid. With a clear conscience, they condemn and reject anti-multiculturalism, not to mention cultures that treat women, homosexuals, and the environment in ways that Western liberals cannot abide. Unless, perchance, such treatment is handed out by groups hostile to America; for Robert's Rules of Multicultural Order allow peremptory objections against, say, the Catholic Church, that are denied against such as the Taliban. Scratch a multiculturalist, then, and you find a liberal willing to condemn all the usual cultural suspects.
There's much more here than a critique of multiculturalism. Mr. Kesler discusses the interplay between culture and the concept of "creed," and the historical origins of these concepts as applied to America. You could look upon this essay as an intellectual explanation of the "Culture Wars." It gave me some insight as to how the political mind of the Left works.

Next up is Rebels Without a Clue, wherein William Voegeli reviews Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture, by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter. The opening grafs:

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, the Canadian professors of philosophy who wrote Nation of Rebels, are men of the Left. "The reason we're leftists," Heath told the Nation of Rebels, "is that we actually share the core left-wing critique of capitalism…. [When] it comes to the environment, the stability of the banking system and the importance of macro-economic stabilization, labor-market policies, welfare, unemployment, health insurance—the Left has been absolutely right on every single issue."

Their sensibilities, however, are conservative. Nation of Rebels can sound Burkean: "[The] only way we are able to go about our business in society is by trusting other people…. One way in which people establish the requisite trust is by demonstrating their willingness to play by the rules in small symbolic ways. This is the core function of courtesy and good manners." At one point Heath and Potter say to their allies on the Left, "[We] really need to stop worrying so much about fascism. What our society needs is more rules, not fewer." Elsewhere they contend that for adolescents the sexual revolution "was not liberation, it was hell. The absence of settled rules meant that no one knew what to expect from anyone else."
Voegeli closes with:

The 2004 election results triggered dismay and incredulity across the Left. Liberals have begun saying, "We've got to get serious." A 2004 article in the radical journal LiP, for instance, echoed the Nation of Rebels thesis: the Left has been undone by its own "activistism," an ideology combining "moral zeal" with "political illiteracy." The antiwar movement, for example, understands "success" to mean that "actions take place, conferences are planned, new people become activists," even though "it's no longer clear what war we're protesting." Details, details. "[It] turned out to be important to have something to say to skeptics who asked: 'What's your alternative?'"

Is an ameliorative Left possible? Heath and Potter are participants in an interesting experiment. If liberals' self-marginalizing narcissism is an accidental quality, one that can be cut away to leave behind a stronger determination to enact a better reform agenda, their efforts might succeed. If it's an essential attribute that can't be removed without killing the patient, then the task is hopeless.

For conservatives, the easy part is to agree with the book's devastating critique of countercultural inanities. The hard part is to know what to think of its authors' political project. A serious Left could be: a welcome change from the gassy self-righteousness of the transformative Left; a newly formidable adversary; or people one can do business with, to borrow Margaret Thatcher's remark about Mikhail Gorbachev. Of course, a serious Left may turn out, instead, to be simply impossible—a contradiction in terms.
And there's lots of good stuff in between. All in the service of understanding, ya know.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Random Notes

Today was errand day...Post Office, Laundry, some miscellaneous shopping. A couple of observations:

Post Office: I had to buy some two cent stamps, coz the USPS apparently isn't making enough money so first class rates go up by two cents the first of the year. I noticed a poster on the wall at the Post Office, advertising "Holiday" stamps. One can buy Hanukkah stamps, Kwanzaa stamps, and stamps featuring "Holiday Cookies." No Christmas stamps, however. None. I asked about Christmas stamps and got a glare and a shrug in reply, as in "don't go there." Something's wrong with this picture.

Laundromat: One of the downsides of living in an RV is no washer and dryer. Other downsides are no dishwasher and a ridiculously small fridge, but I digress. Of all the things I gave up by "going mobile," I think I miss my washer and dryer the most. Today's outing featured the usual Ritalin-deprived small children terrorizing the place, a couple of VERY large women, and the interminable dry-cycle. The cost of laundry has gone up, too. It now costs $1.75 to activate a standard washer, $3.50 for the Industrial Strength Machines; well over ten bucks to do my laundry, all told. I hate laundromats. Flipping hate them!

I think I need to re-think my position on entering into another relationship...

Terrorists, Surveillance, and the Law

So here it comes, and you just knew it would, didn't you? An article in today's NYT tells us...

Defense lawyers in some of the country's biggest terrorism cases say they plan to bring legal challenges to determine whether the National Security Agency used illegal wiretaps against several dozen Muslim men tied to Al Qaeda.

The lawyers said in interviews that they wanted to learn whether the men were monitored by the agency and, if so, whether the government withheld critical information or misled judges and defense lawyers about how and why the men were singled out.

Predictably, there's lots of gnashing and thrashing on the Left (and the Right, too) on the subject. Kevin Drum writes a piece that is representative of the Left's point of view, here. A couple of grafs:

The bottom line is the government and prosecutors are required under a Supreme Court ruling known as Brady v. Maryland to provide defendants with all "material" information affecting their case, including derogatory information that could impact the credibility of prosecution witnesses. This includes information that might impact their guilt or their sentence.

Another Supreme Court case, Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995) held that the duty of disclosure is not limited to evidence in the actual possession of the prosecutor. Rather, it extends to evidence in the possession of the entire prosecution team, which includes investigative and other government agencies.
In a previous post I pointed both of my faithful readers to an article by former Federal Prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy that discusses the points Mr. Drum makes. Let's review:
Under discovery rules that apply to American criminal proceedings, the government is required to provide to accused persons any information in its possession that can be deemed "material to the preparation of the defense" or that is even arguably exculpatory. The more broadly indictments are drawn (and terrorism indictments tend to be among the broadest), the greater the trove of revelation. In addition, the government must disclose all prior statements made by witnesses it calls (and, often, witnesses it does not call).

This is a staggering quantum of information, certain to illuminate not only what the government knows about terrorist organizations but the intelligence agencies’ methods and sources for obtaining that information. When, moreover, there is any dispute about whether a sensitive piece of information needs to be disclosed, the decision ends up being made by a judge on the basis of what a fair trial dictates, rather than by the executive branch on the basis of what public safety demands.

It is true that this mountain of intelligence is routinely surrendered along with appropriate judicial warnings: defendants may use it only in preparing for trial, and may not disseminate it for other purposes. Unfortunately, people who commit mass murder tend not to be terribly concerned about violating court orders (or, for that matter, about being hauled into court at all).

In 1995, just before trying the blind sheik (Omar Abdel Rahman) and eleven others, I duly complied with discovery law by writing a letter to the defense counsel listing 200 names of people who might be alleged as unindicted co-conspirators—i.e., people who were on the government’s radar screen but whom there was insufficient evidence to charge. Six years later, my letter turned up as evidence in the trial of those who bombed our embassies in Africa. It seems that, within days of my having sent it, the letter had found its way to Sudan and was in the hands of bin Laden (who was on the list), having been fetched for him by an al-Qaeda operative who had gotten it from one of his associates.
I'm no lawyer; I have, aside from my divorces, zero experience with the American legal system. Still, as a relatively well-informed and interested citizen, I don't see much, if any, good coming out of the impending legal challenges mounted by lawyers defending accused terrorists. There are some bad actors in the legal biz, two come immediately to mind: Lynne Stewart and Ramsey Clark. Both of these individuals are classic examples of intelligent but misguided (at best) practicing attorneys working against the "greater good" of American society.

As I see it, the best we can hope for is the legal challenges to work their way up to the Supreme Court as quickly as possible. And then pray the Court concurs with the President's Constitutional right (and duty) as the nation's wartime Commander-in-Chief to order the types of surveillance at issue here. We are at war, folks, make no doubt about it. It's a pity that a significant portion of the population, and the power structure, in this country fails to recognize that fact.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Must See

Christmas at Arlington National Cemetery

I'm late to the party with this (again. what's new?), but please, do go. If you can look at this picture without tears coming to your eyes...well, I just don't know what to say.

hat tip: Dr. Sanity

James Wolcott Goes Slumming

And he doesn’t like what he sees over at Little Green Footballs. For what it’s worth, I don’t like the comments section over at LGF, either. I’ve never cared for hyperventilating, hyperbole-laced comment sprinkled with liberal (sorry!) doses of profanity. I can swear with the best of ‘em, after all, I am a retired sergeant, but a public forum isn’t the barracks. You’ve sacrificed your credibility the very second you begin to hurl insults instead of reasoned opinion, backed up with facts.

Now, all that said, Wolcott is indulging in a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black. Am I to believe James has never read the comments section over at dKos or, God Forbid, Democratic Underground? You can’t read a damned thing at LGF that isn’t equaled or eclipsed by the moonbats at DU.

Fortunately, John Hawkins reads DU so you don’t have to. Mr. Wolcott might do well to read the Annual Ten Worst Quotes from DU – 2005. And if that ain’t enough, Jamesy, here’s 2004 and 2003.

Now just shut up, please.

Gub’mint Eavesdropping Ain’t the Half of It

In the Times (UK): Googlestalkers know that there's no such thing as a private life anymore

“But having money stolen from us is not the only way in which our identities seem to be under greater assault than for some time. In many ways the most amazing story of 2005 concerned the 15-year-old boy, conceived from donated sperm, who found his anonymous biological father through two internet searches. In possession of nothing more than his own DNA profile and his father’s date of birth and graduate status (presumably supplied to the mother by Spermulike as proof of the youth and genetic quality of her purchase) he checked out matches on FamilyTreeDNA.com, and found two men with similar names. He then fed their names into Omnitrace.com along with what his mother knew — and Bob’s your dad. Some guy who was paid a tenner a shot way back got a call he hadn’t been expecting.”
I think Mr. Aaronovitch nails it. We do more to damage our privacy than the government ever could. Any Main Street merchant knows more about you than your Mom, when you come right down to it. Any business owner or potential employer can run an Equifax or Trans-Union check and find out where you live, how big your mortgage is, how much you make today and how much you made ten years ago…on and on, ad nauseum. These folks, and others, have the power to delve into your life, with or without your permission. And we’re worried about the government reading our e-mail?

Signs of the Impending Apocalypse, Automotive Division

Toyota to build engine plant in MICHIGAN?

As the article notes, what was once unthinkable is not only acceptable, it’s desirable. My, how times change.

Let's say Toyota builds the plant in Michigan. I wonder if they’ll have a separate parking lot for workers who drive domestic cars? When I lived and worked in Detroit and had to visit a GM facility (I worked for a GM subsidiary back in those days) I always had to either (a) share a ride with a buddy who drove a Big Three vehicle or (b) check out a pool car. I wasn’t about to drive my German car to a GM plant…I really didn’t want it keyed. And I didn’t want to have to park my car a half-mile from where I was going, either. The UAW didn’t allow furrin cars to inter-mingle with the domestic variety – there was a separate parking lot for non-domestic cars. I doubt that’s changed.

Related: Toyota, With 2006 Forecast, Challenges for Top Car Maker GM has been Number One since 1932. That may change, unfortunately.

Monday, December 26, 2005

It Only Took Me 41 Days...

...and several hours to figure out why the titles to my posts in the "Recent Posts" sidebar all had following text. (Duh.) So, after much gnashing and thrashing, I finally got it. Not to mention reading the "Help" file -- "When all else fails read the book" actually WORKS! Then I proceeded to fix over a hundred posts before I said to myself "You're being obsessive here. Stop."

I also figured out how to change the default color in the title field. The default title color in the template is the VERY obscure notation "color:#c60", which translates to orange. I hate orange; I like blue much better. My new Title color is "color:#000091." You can see all those obscure color codes here.

And that's how I spent my evening. Do I need a life, or what?

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

I had to pop out to do a little grocery shopping. All the way to Wally-World and back I was thinking about Christmas' Past and the strangest thing struck me. I cannot, for the life of me, remember a single thing about the last Christmas The Second Mrs. Pennington and I spent together (1997). Nothing. Zip. Nada. I think it’s because the cataclysmic events that unfolded over the eight months following that Christmas completely obliterated all memories of times immediately preceding. It was, after all, the Winter of Her Discontent, and I was completely oblivious. Quite another story.

It is more than passing strange, however. That Christmas was my youngest son’s First Christmas. Even though he was only ten months old at the time I’m sure he had a great old time tearing into boxes and playing with the wrapping paper, as very young children do. But I don’t remember any of it. I don’t remember the tree. I don’t remember taking any pictures. I don’t remember what I gave or received that Christmas. I don’t remember a damned thing, except for the fact we were in Rochester. That’s the sum total!

I did recall, in great detail, the year we spent Christmas night on a British Airways flight from Detroit to London. Our flight left sometime around six or seven in the evening on Christmas Day, and we were at the airport a good three hours before that. There were three of us: TSMP, our great good friend Kim, and myself. It was Kim’s first trip outside the US, and she was as excited as is humanly possible. The flight was nearly empty because, who, after all, travels on Christmas Day? Just us bargain hunters. TSMP and Kim stayed awake most of the flight. I, on the other hand, found an empty row and slept. Don’t you just love empty airplanes on transatlantic flights? It doesn’t happen a lot these days, from what I read.

We arrived at Heathrow around 0700 and were completely through customs and baggage claim in about an hour. The Captain, although he was either a Buck Sergeant or a Staff Sergeant stationed at RAF Lakenheath at the time, met us at Arrivals. We loaded up the luggage and piled into his ratty old British Ford Cortina with the broken heater and leaky floor and did the patented B&P nickel tour of London for Kim’s benefit.

Sidebar: I use the term “B&P nickel tour” in a very personal sense. TSMP and I lived in London from 1980 - 1983 and we had a LOT of visitors. After the first wave of visitors had come and gone we developed our own little two-hour driving tour of London that hit all the high spots: Buckingham Palace, Westminster, Picadilly Circus, Tower Bridge, et al. We also threw in a few of our favorite places. It was great fun reliving that tour!

So. After the tour we grabbed lunch and went to the hotel for a little nap before our evening out. And thus began the ten-day England Christmas Tour of 1990-something. I don’t remember the exact year, actually. But I sure remember that trip…one of my BEST Christmases (and New Year’s), ever.

Got the Holiday Blues?

The NYT understands. Commiserate here and here.

I'm not denying the holidays are stressful and fraught with opportunities for family bickering or outright combat. Examples are legion and form a nasty little undercurrent to the Tidings of Comfort and Joy gestalt of the season. Nonetheless, after reading these two articles I'm left thinking some people just don't know how to have a good time.

Now, that said, I have my own ritual for handling the Holiday Blues. It's been my habit for the past few years to spend Christmas day completely alone, interrupted only by the ringing of the phone, when I take "Merry Christmas!" calls from my sons. It's not that I don't know how to have a good time; I certainly do. It's the fact that Christmas is all about kids, family, and reunion. I don't need to be reminded that, through no choice of my own, I cannot rejoice in that manner any longer. Sometimes it's just best to be alone.

Well, What Did You Expect?

In today's NYT: On Gulf Coast, Cleanup Differs Town to Town.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harrison County, the home of Biloxi, and Jackson County, where Pascagoula is located, each had about 10 million cubic yards of debris to clean up. Both counties took up the federal government on its offer to foot the bill.

But while Harrison County and all but one of its cities hired contractors on their own, Jackson County and its cities, at the urging of the federal government, asked the Army Corps to take on the task. Officials in Jackson County said it was a choice they had regretted ever since.

The cleanup in Jackson County and its municipalities has not only cost millions of dollars more than in neighboring counties, but it is also taking longer. The latest available figures show that 39 percent of the work was complete in Jackson County, while 57 percent was done in Harrison County and its cities that are managing the job on their own, according to federal records.
If anyone is surprised at this revelation they've either been in the cave way too long or else they are politicians with "(D)" after their names. Here's a wonderful illustration:
In Hancock County, Miss., where the Army Corps is in charge, contractors in protective suits carefully open refrigerators and meticulously clean them out, sanitizing the interiors with a cleaning solution. Workers remove Freon gas. Quality-control supervisors watch every step. Army Corps officials would not say how much the operation costs, but in Louisiana they are paying more than $1.8 million to process and dispose of these so-called white goods.

In neighboring Harrison County, once the refrigerators are dropped off at a landfill, the government's financial obligation ends. A recycling contractor, eager to get the scrap metal, removes the Freon. In most cases, the spoiled food is removed by lifting the refrigerator atop a lined dumpster and shaking it. No biohazard suits are involved.

Some local officials said they were glad that the Army Corps was spending the extra time and money.

"Twenty years from now I don't want young mothers giving birth to kids with birth defects because we found out we did not do proper dumping," said Representative Gene Taylor, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis, Miss., where the Army Corps is in charge of cleaning up.
I've thought, from time to time, that a biohazard suit would be appropriate attire for cleaning out my fridge. Whereas I'm just joking, the Feds apparently are serious. Never underestimate the power of a bureaucracy to drive costs up and slow things down.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Track Santa!

NORAD tracks Santa.

Back when I was in the radar biz we used to do this sort of thing locally, for the families of the guys at the radar sites where I was stationed. Back in the day every radar site had a video mapping device that fed programmed exercise video to Operations; the normal output from the video mapper was "canned" and consisted of video blips simulating actual aircraft. On Christmas Eve we'd load up a special video overlay and route it to the intercept control scopes in Operations. While "exercise" video consisted of fake bogeys (simple blips) and tracks to train intercept controllers and technicians, the special Santa video showed a sleigh and reindeer on the scopes. Not nearly real, but real enough for the kids that saw it!

The kids always got a big thrill out of the radar displays. Doing the Santa video was one of the most fun things I ever did while I was a radar guy.

Updated on 12/25/2005 0215: correct typos and grammar plus add a small amount of content. I shouldn't post after I've been into the egg nog!

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine, IV

End of the Night

Lompoc, California. Summer, 1965

Some are born to the endless night

It’s late, just past 1:00 a.m. I just dropped the girlfriend off at her house, now I have to get to work. My shift began at midnight, but it’s OK. I greased it with the guy I’m relieving last night; told him I had a date and would be an hour or so late. Close enough. But first I have to do a little favor for a friend. My best friend Pete, a sky cop who works the same shift rotation I do, asked me to drive by his apartment to see if there was “anything strange goin’ on” before I head up the hill. So, I drive by Pete’s place, and sure enough, there is something strange. All the lights are off in Pete’s apartment, but there’s a car parked outside, and it ain’t Pete’s.

Just as he suspected.

So, I point the Triumph up the hill and motor on up to the site. 15 minutes later I pull up to the gate. Pete steps out of the gate house, opens the gate, waves me in, and pulls the gate closed. I pull up to the gate house and get out of the car. Pete walks over.

“So?”

“Yeah, you were right. He’s there. No lights.”

“Will you do me a favor?”

“I just did. What now?”

“Loan me your car and watch the gate for me for an hour.”

I frown.

“Damn, Pete! That’s asking a lot, Buddy!”

"Asking a lot" is a classic understatement. Pete is going to desert his post and I’m going to be a freaking accomplice. If we’re discovered the best that would happen would be a real ass-chewing and extra duty. Worst case, we could be court-martialed. I’m thinking worst case.

“C’mon. I really need to sort this out.”

I realize he’s really hurting and there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind he’d do the same for me if I asked.

“OK. An hour, no more. If you’re not back in an hour…”

“I will be.”

“Let me go relieve Bob and I’ll be right back.”

I drive up the top of the hill to the radar tower, park the car and go in. Shift turnover takes less than five minutes, and that includes Bob’s mandatory debrief on my date. Nothing’s going on (Thank God), all the systems are up, and there’s nothing unusual scheduled for the rest of the night. Bob walks out the door, I hear his car start up and he leaves.

I take about five minutes to step through my routine shift checks and then go out, get in my car and whip down to Ops. I go in, make my presence known, exchange small talk with the Ops shift supervisor and then get back into my car and drive down to the gate.

Most of the guys in Ops were already asleep, and the shift supervisor gave every indication he was gonna get that way as soon as I walked out the door. Such is life on weekend mid-shifts.

Pete’s pacing up and down outside the gate when I get there. I get out of the car and Pete says “Damn! That took long enough!” I smile and toss him my keys. He’s in the car and gone before I can say “Be careful!”

I swing the gate closed and watch the headlights of my car disappear down the hill. I watch until the car is out of sight and then go into the gate shack, pour a cup of coffee and fiddle with the radio. It’s about a ten minute drive from the site in to town, so an hour is more than enough for Pete to get to his place, kick our friend out, confront his girlfriend, do what he has to do (whatever that may be), and get back. It’s not quite 2:00 a.m. so I figure I’ll see Pete somewhere around 3:00.

And then it hits me. Pete didn’t leave his gun. He’s armed, pissed off, and he’s on his way to roust some poor SOB out of HIS bed. Goddamn! I tell myself Pete’s level-headed and won’t do hard time for that wench. I try and relax. It’s no use. Why didn’t I think about the freaking gun?

Three o’clock comes and goes. Four o’clock comes and goes. I’m outside, pacing back and forth, scanning the road below for headlights. Pitch dark. Five o’clock comes and goes. No Pete.

I’m pretty damned frantic by now. My imagination is running wild. Double-murder. Suicide. Worse. I’m wondering what Leavenworth is really like, sure in the knowledge that I’m gonna find out, up close, personal, and real soon. I can’t call Pete’s house, there’s no direct dial off the site. I’d have to dial zero, from the freaking gate shack, fer God’s Sake, and ask the Comm Center operator to put me through. That’s a serious no-go, a dead give away something’s not right. Besides, the freaking operators listen in on phone calls. So, I stew. And sweat. A lot.

Half an hour later the sky is rosy pink…dawn is nearly here. At 5:45 I see lights in the canyon. I go outside and watch the lights crawling up the hill, praying it’s Pete and not some other guy, or God Forbid, an officer. Two or three minutes later I can hear the car. It’s mine. Thank God!

The gate is wide open by the time Pete gets to the top of the hill and he roars in and cuts the motor. I scream ALL the curse words I know at him before he’s even out of the car, and probably made up a few new ones right on the spot.

“Coffee fresh?” he says. I could freaking KILL him, and all he can say is “coffee fresh?”

He grins and says something like “Be cool, everything’s OK,” and we go in the gate shack. He sits, I stand, and he fills me in. He never drew the gun, but told me our friend saw it in his holster right off the bat. The boy was scared shitless, and I don’t blame him for being scared. He should have been damned scared! Pete didn’t even smack him around, although he admitted he wanted to. Pete said he threw him out the door in his underwear, clutching his clothes. We laugh. Pete tells me about the ensuing conversation with the girlfriend. I try and be as empathetic as I can, considering I'm still six different kinds of pissed.

I told Pete I thought he really abused me, told him how freaking worried I was, and on, and on. Pete apologizes. I go out, get in the car and drive on up to the search tower to complete the night's work and fire up the coffee for the day shift.

Eventually I would forgive Pete. But not that night. Not even that week.

One week later and Pete moves out. The girlfriend is never going to change, and Pete is smart enough to realize that. And better off for it, too.

As for me, I never, ever, did a “favor” like that again. For anyone, in or out of the service. One Endless Night is enough for a lifetime.

Lompoc AFS
(click for larger)

WSIGM I
WSIGM II
WSIGM III

An Amazing Essay

In Praise of Vulgarity
How commercial culture liberates Islam -- and the West

In Reason magazine.

Sample:

Pulitzer Prize winner Quindlen had given voice to the Cultural Sputter of the bien-pensant, a well-known reaction afflicting people of taste forced to live in a world of vulgarities. It’s an act with a very long pedigree. Eighteenth-century aristocrats by the palaceful were appalled when professional writers first appeared. Writing in exchange for money, they thought, would be the ruin of letters. John Ruskin, King of Victorian Sputterers, couldn’t stand Rembrandt because the Dutch master’s paintings lacked "dignity": All those paintings of self-satisfied, bulbous-nosed burghers made Ruskin gag.

The sputter is endlessly adaptable. A notorious space-age version choked Norman Mailer half to death. He was watching astronaut Alan B. Shepard walking on the moon in 1971, when Shepard suddenly took out a secretly stowed golf club and launched a drive at the lunar horizon. Mailer was spiritually mortified. Humankind should have been humbled, literally on its knees, as it entered the cathedral of the universe; instead it drove golf balls through its windows. What’s the matter with people? Give them infinity, and they make it a fairway. Give them liberty, and they reach for a Lucky. Or they go shopping.
and this:
The West has never been comfortable with its own cultural vulgarity. Such anxiety is arguably strongest in the United States, which has long nursed a cultural inferiority complex vis-à-vis more-established British and European practitioners of high art. Popular, commercial forms are not thoughtful. Rather, they are temporary, noisy, intense, ecstatic. They are sensual and disruptive. Because they are frequently set in motion by powerless and even despised outgroups, they appear subversive. They not only threaten social morals, but challenge established power relationships.

The result is that such ecstatic forms are attacked not only by the West’s left-liberal critics for their commercial origin, but by the West’s conservatives for their disruptive power. Cultural ecstasy may have billions of participants, but it hardly has a single friend.

For the last 200 years, vulgar forms and subcultures have often set off a series of "moral panics" among those who perceive a threat to their own cultural power and status. The popular novel, when it first appeared, set one off. So did penny dreadfuls and pulps. So did melodramatic theater. So did the music hall. So did the tabloid press, and the waltz, and ragtime, and jazz, and radio, movies, comic books, rock music, television, rap, and computer games.

All of these -- and more -- led contemporary critics to declare the end of civility, to worry over some newly identified form of supposed "addiction" (to novels, to TV, to video games, to pornography, to the Internet, to Pokémon, etc.), to announce that the coming generation was "desensitized," and to rail about childishness and triviality. It’s the cultural sputter that never ends.

It's a long piece, but chock-full of interesting detail and esoteric examples of the high impact of low-culture, from the Soviet Union in Uncle Joe's time, to Algeria of the 50s, to liberated Afghanistan.

hat tip: Positive Ape Index, via Iowahawk.

Get Thee Over to Iowahawk...

...or else you'll miss stuff like this (and these are excerpts, far from the whole thing!):

NY TIMES: CLAUS OK'D ILLEGAL SURVEILLANCE

The New York Times reported today that Polar authorities are engaged in a secret program to conduct warrantless monitoring of private communications and activities among U.S. minors. Anonymous sources within the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency said the program, codename "Operation Coal Lump," dates as far back as 1879, and recieved approval at the highest echelon of Polar administration, including President Santa Claus himself.

The disclosure of the program sparked an immediate furor among civil libertarian organizations and brats right groups. ACLU spokesman Dan Knaggs said "that chill in the air isn't December -- it's Big Brother Kriss Kringle unconstitutionally watching, and following, and evaluating your every move."

Josh Cleland, 9, a spokesboy for the Council For Misbehaving Americans, decried the program as "a looming threat to the economic rights of millions of young Americans, many of whom may be guilty of nothing more than a wedgie or Indian burn of self defense."


and this:
EXPERTS WARN ON SEASONAL RAGE TRIGGERS

The American Psychology Association released its annual ranking of causes for seasonal rage today, and for the seventh consecutive year the list was topped by the "Lexus Holiday Sales Event" commercial.

"For whatever reason, exposure to this stimulus can transform a normal, well adjusted adult into a cauldron of destructive psychopathy, harboring lurid fantasies of sneaking through the snow on Christmas morning to destroy bow-tied gift luxury cars with a tire iron," said APA scientist Rachel Sternthal. "This is usually accompanied by associated desires to hide in the bushes and laugh maniacally when the recipient uncovers his or her eyes to find $70,000 of smashed precision engineering burning to a crisp in the snowy driveway of their McMansion."
And you know there's MORE.

Protest Songs

In case you were wondering, protest songs are alive and sorta well. People of my generation cut their teeth on protest music; we sang along with CCR's "Fortunate Son," Edwin Starr's "War," CSNY's "Ohio," and lots of stuff from Dylan (e.g., Blowin' in the Wind, Subterranean Homesick Blues, The Times They Are a Changin'). Even if you didn't sing along, you couldn't avoid the genre...it was all over the radio. That's not the case today, unless the hip-hop guys are doing it. I'll freely admit I'm oblivious to what the rappers are doing, for all I know there are 39 anti-war raps out there. I just don't go there.

So while I'm not aware of any mainstream, commercial radio protest songs these days, I am very much aware the genre survives in niche markets served by college radio and Pacifica outlets. I listen to KPFT, Pacifica's Houston's station...in fact, I'm listening to Spare Change, a weekly show hosted by a DJ named Larry Winters. Winters specializes in protest songs. Here's a few songs I've heard him play this morning:

Steve Earle's "Home to Houston" (2004)

Great God A’mighty what was wrong with me
I know the money’s good but buddy can’t you see
You can’t take it with you and that ain’t no lie
I don’t wanna let ‘em get me I’m too young to die
If I ever get home to Houston alive
Then I won’t drive a truck anymore
Iris Dement's "Wasteland of the Free"

We kill for oil, then we throw a party when we win
Some guy refuses to fight, and we call that the sin
but he's standing up for what he believes in
and that seems pretty damned American to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

(Chorus)

While we sit gloating in our greatness
justice is sinking to the bottom of the sea
Living in the wasteland of the free
Living in the wasteland of the free
Living in the wasteland of the free
John Fogerty's "Deja Vu All Over Again" (2003)

Day by day I hear the voices rising
Started with a whisper like it did before
Day by day we count the dead and dying
Ship the bodies home while the networks all keep score

Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Could your eyes believe the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say
I've heard it all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again
KPFT publishes their playlists, but they're a week in arrears. You can see Larry's entire oeuvre here. A casual scan of the playlist(s) reveals Larry's an equal-opportunity protester. Granted, most of his songs are decidedly anti-right-wing, anti-war, but there's a lot of social-ills protest, too. Like Brando replied when asked "Johnny, what are you rebelling against?" Larry will say "Whattaya got?" This is good. You don't want to be a one-note anything in life, let alone a one-note protester!

I searched for Winters' bio but came up empty. At the risk of stereotyping, I suspect Larry's an old hippie. God knows they're coming out of the freaking woodwork these days. And it's mostly the old hippies that are manning the anti-war barricades, too. And they need some new anthems; the old Viet-Nam stuff is nice, but it's not very topical, is it?

({1303 MST} Oh My God...Winters just trotted out "Imagine." Excuse me, I'm gonna be sick.)

I'm back. God, I can't stand cliches!

Where was I? Anthems, yes. There are none, yet. I believe the lack of a general air-play, genuinely popular anti-war song is a good sign for those of us who support the war. The lack of popular anti-war songs tells me the anti-war movement hasn't gained any traction. Another sign of a lack of traction is the fact songs like "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue," "American Soldier," and "Have You Forgotten" get lots of airplay, even though those songs are all two years old, or older. And country music artists create new songs every month...and they get airplay. Lots of it.

So. I'll keep listening. Ol' Larry's doing his part, but he seems to be pissing in the wind. Thank God.

(Here's another view on the Protest Song genre, specifically its resurrection.)

Maybe the US Needs One of These...

From the Times of London:

Ms Renshaw may be the most unusual social worker in Britain: as head of player services for Camelot, the operator of the National Lottery, her job is to offer advice and support to people who have become suddenly, unexpectedly and fabulously rich. She is Britain’s foremost wealth counsellor.
We've all heard stories of suicides, rapid descent into alcohol/drug abuse, divorce, and other calamities befalling the winners of big lottery jackpots. "Wealth counseling" sounds like a pretty good idea on the surface, but the ol' adage about horses and water immediately comes to mind.

Surprisingly, Ms Renshaw claims 98% of Britain's lottery winners are "as happy or happier after winning." Perhaps she's just shilling for her services, who knows. My personal opinion is a windfall creates more problems than it solves. Still, I'd like the opportunity to prove myself wrong.

Gotta buy a ticket, first.

A Lonely Voice from Gdansk? Warsaw?

From the comments section of the WaPo's Early Warning column, by William M. Arkin:

A POLE ON MSNBC STATES 87% of RESPONDANCES WANT BUSH IMPEACHED. WAKE UP ROYAL SCRIBES, THE MINISTERY OF INFORMATION (US MAIN STREAM MEDIA) IS OUT OF TOUCH WITH AMERICA. TIME FOR A LITTLE SOVIET STYLE ROTATION??? FOR ALL OF YOU????
Posted by: IMPEACH BUSH Dec 24, 2005 8:34:39 AM
Perhaps the commenter saw Zbigniew Brzezinski on MoreStoriesNotingBushCrimes and confused him with a real Pole? Nah. Don't think so.

I wonder if Mr. or Ms. I. Bush has a date for the Respon Dance?

Friday, December 23, 2005

A One-Woman Link Machine

That would be Dr. Sanity, who is single-handedly responsible for eating up about two hours of my day by posting links to the following articles/essays:

One Cosmos, with On The Bizarro World of the Left: Krystallnacht Comes to AmeriKKKa.
Yesterday on dailykos (I believe the most popular Democratic website), there was a piece entitled Slouching Toward Kristallnacht, outlining all of the eery parallels between pre-nazi Germany and contemporary America. For the hundreds of frightened posters that commented on the article, it is not a matter of if, but when Bush suspends the charade of democracy and imposes a fascist state on us. As Kos himself wrote, "It won't come in the same form. It never does. But it's coming. The lure of fascism is too powerful for men like the ones currently pissing all over our Constitution."
Dr. Helen writes a note to the American Psychological Association:

I am writing because I would like to stay a part of the APA--but when I see articles advocating diversity--but only if one is politically correct--I feel discouraged about the future of psychology. Left leaning politics may fly within APA and the academic world but in the real world--there is a mixture of people who share all kinds of world views. How does it help our profession, its students, and our clients when we tout diversity but only if it is the left leaning kind?
Varifrank offers Congratulations (to) Time Magazine, wherein he takes exception to Time's "Person(s) of the Year" (Boy, does he ever!) and offers some alternatives...

And finally... Andrew McCarthy of National Review Online on "Warrantless Searches." This one sent chills up my spine because it's all so true.

Reading these articles was time well-spent, believe me. And the best part? There's more, much more. I stand in awe of The Good Doctor.

The I-Word

Charles Krauthammer, in today's WaPo:
Administration critics, political and media, charge that by ordering surveillance on communications of suspected al Qaeda agents in the United States, the president clearly violated the law. Some even suggest that Bush has thereby so trampled the Constitution that impeachment should now be considered. (Barbara Boxer, Jonathan Alter, John Dean and various luminaries of the left have already begun floating the idea.) The braying herds have already concluded, Tenet-like, that the president's actions were slam-dunk illegal. It takes a superior mix of partisanship, animus and ignorance to say that.

And then there's this, quoted from a Salon article (free, but you have to watch an ad to read this):

On Dec. 18, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, released a 250-page report detailing Bush's misconduct and, on his Web site, called for the creation of a select committee to investigate "those offenses which appear to rise to the level of impeachment." Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said in a radio interview that he would support trying Bush. "If there is a move to impeach the president, I will sign that bill of impeachment," he said.
The moonbats over at DU are all over this, as one might imagine. I spent some time this morning reading a few threads on this subject and it's all too typical. No link; I won't dignify the batards by linking to them.

When you come right down to it, Krauthammer is oh-so-correct in his observation that there's a unique combination of animus and ignorance exhibited by those people calling for impeachment. The animus originates with the 2000 election; everything else that has followed is simply a manifestation of the Loony-Left's outrage over their defeat in that election.

I'm hoping the Left continues with the impeachment clamor; I really can't think of anything that would mobilize the conservative base more than a drive for impeachment.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Images of New Mexico


(click for larger)

Valley of Fires, four miles west of Carrizozo, NM on US 380. One of the largest lava flows in the United States, the Malpais lava flow extends over 44 miles in a southerly direction towards the White Sands National Monument.

Previously, in the archives:
Shiprock (I)
Very Large Array near Soccorro, NM (II)
Flightline, Cannon AFB (III)
Taos Church (San Francisco de Asis) (IV)
US 84 Roadside (V)

Who Watches MSNBC?


Moonbats. (You too can vote to impeach here.)

It's nice to know MSNBC doesn't attract that many viewers. Chris Matthews must feel pretty lonely these days. Good.

The Federal Budget, Pork, and Things YOU Can Do

The WaPo reports, in a Page One story this morning, that the Senate approved the "budget cuts" that were on the table. The budget issue isn't resolved, however:

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) sent a letter to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), asking that the House pass the new version of the budget by unanimous consent, ending the need to summon lawmakers back to Washington.

But even before the request, Pelosi had promised to force another vote.

"Democrats believe this Republican bill has the wrong priorities," she said in a statement. "That is why we will request a recorded vote where all members return to Washington to make clear their values to the American people."

A coalition of labor unions and liberal interest groups immediately swung back into gear, drafting a list of 18 House Republicans in hopes of persuading eight to change their vote.
{sigh} Where to begin? I've not seen any counter-proposals (other than repealing tax cuts) from the Democrats on how to rein in federal spending. Instead we have "a coalition of labor unions and liberal interest groups" who seem to be driving the Democrats. But, what's new? The interesting thing about these so-called budget cuts is the "cuts" reduce the growth of spending over the next few years, rather than implement actual spending reductions. And these proposed cuts are modest, at best.

A $40 billion spending cut, spread out over five years, ain't a lot. The federal budget could be reduced by $72 billion immediately simply by abolishing the Department of Education, an agency that's only been in existence for 25 years. We got along fine without this bureaucracy before 1980; I submit we could muddle through without it in the future and go a helluva long way towards financing the Katrina recovery, just to cite one example, by using its money. But I digress, as usual.

There are a number of other approaches to reducing federal spending. How about a one percent across the board budget cut for ALL federal agencies, with the exception of the Department of Defense and (possibly) the Department of Homeland Security? How about cancelling all the earmarks in the recently passed and pork-laden Transportation Bill? How about delaying the Medicare prescription drug benefit for a year or two? Any one of these options would yield more savings in the first year than the "cuts" just passed by the Senate.

I know. I'm dreaming.

There are some things we, as individual citizens, can do about runaway federal spending.

First of all, you can help identify and eliminate budget fat by joining the Pork Busters movement. The Bear's site has a (House) district-by-district accounting of pork in the federal budget, and it's a real eye-opener. If you have a blog, include the following statement in your blog to identify yourself as a supporter of the PorkBuster movement: I support the Fiscal Watch Team Offset Package. Contacting your Representative and your Senators and making your feelings known on the subject is another step you should take.

You could also join Citizens Against Government Waste. They have a fine web site and conduct worthwhile campaigns against waste.

The Heritage Foundation is another organization with good information on spending excess.

OK, that's it for starters. I wish we could "earmark" our tax dollars, i.e., instruct the Feds on how to spend our money. I'd designate my taxes be used to buy JP-4 for the Air Force and the Navy, and a couple of cases of M-16 ammunition for the Army and Marines. But that's just me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dunno How I Missed THIS...

Glenn Reynolds put up a Digital Camera Carnival last week. Some great links about all things digital photography...reviews, tips, and other assorted good things.

It seems all of America is interested in digital photography. I saw yesterday that "digital camera" was Yahoo's number one product search for 2005. If you're looking for a new digital camera, the best digital camera site, by far, is DPReview.

Photography has always been a big interest of mine. My middle son has boxes and boxes of the photographs I've taken over the years stored in his basement, and I have over five gigs of digital photos on my hard drive. Even though I still have my trusty Olympus OM-1 and a gaggle of lenses, the digital camera has completely replaced my old SLR. I probably only keep the OM-1 out of sentimental attachment...I've had the thing for 30 years (!) and it was a constant companion in some pretty strange and interesting places all over the world.

I went digital in 1998 with a one-megapixel Kodak camera. I'm currently on my third digital camera, a Canon Powershot G5. My next camera will probably be one of these, or one of these (or its successor). But that's a while off...the G5 is meeting all my needs at the moment. A digital SLR falls into the "nice to have" category. It's not "essential," by any means.

Sounds Reasonable to ME!

My Buddy Ed in Florida sends this Clavin-ism:

"Well you see, Norm, it's like this. A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.

In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Now, as we know, excessive intake of alcohol kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine.

And that, Norm, is why you always feel smarter after a few beers."
Or single malts. Or martinis.

And while we're on the subject of folk wisdom, there's this. Gee, who knew? Halliburton, they own us! via Lileks.

Two "Don't Miss!" news items from Scott Ott: Qaeda Relocates to US for Spy-Free Calling and
Bush Announces "Do Not Wiretap" List. I'm definitely signing up for the latter.

That Other Big Story

Judge Rules Against 'Intelligent Design'. Page One news in most of the country, but not here at El Casa Pennington. I don't have (much of) an opinion on this issue, to me it's Much Ado About Not Much (apologies, Willy).

There are those who would say: "But, Buck! What about separation of Church and State? 'Intelligent Design' is a blatant attempt to force fundamentalist values down our throats!" Chill out, is my reply. As I understand the issue, the ID folks are simply asking for equal time, an acknowledgement that there are theories other than Darwinist Evolution that answer the "how did we get here?" question. If you see this as a fundamentalist foot-in-the-door ploy on the way to establishing a Christian madrassa system, I'd say that's a personal problem. I'm not a religious freak, but on the other hand, I'm no screaming secular humanist, either.

I wouldn't have issues with my child being told there are alternate theories about the origins of life. I would have issues if he were told there are absolutes...what would amount to a "my way or the highway" type of education. But then again, I also believe that parents should bear the largest part of the burden for their child's education, NOT the school system.

Just sayin'.

Tech Junkies

So there's this article this morning about an AP/Ipsos poll that sez Americans are becoming high-tech junkies. Here's a graf:

The bill for being thoroughly plugged in to entertainment and communications runs more than $200 a month for a third of the households in this country. Four in 10 spend between $100 and $150 a month, according to the poll of 1,006 adults taken Dec. 13-15.

Sounds about right. I'm right at $150.00 a month when you add up the bills from cable TV (basic, not digital), internet (a 300Kb connection) and my cell phone (I don't have a land-line for what should be obvious reasons). I don't call myself a "gadget guy." I don't have a BlackBerry, an iPod, a TiVo, a stand-alone DVD player, nor an XBox or equivalent. I don't think I'm a Luddite, either. I just have no need, interest or desire for the things I don't have.

Try as I might (and I tried, believe me) I cannot find the breakdown on this poll. The Ipsos site doesn't have the data and it looks like you need to be a subscriber to get details, anyway. I think the details, rather than the generalities, of this poll would be fascinating!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Single Best Thing I've Read Today

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former chief assistant U.S. attorney in New York, wrote an article in Commentary magazine titled "The Intelligence Mess: How It Happened, What to Do About It." The article was published back in April of 2004 but contains relevant information and invaluable discussion that is a great backgrounder for the current NSA kerfluffle. Mr. McCarthey led the 1995 terrorism prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in connection with the first World Trade Center bombing, and as such, knows a bit about the law and the intelligence community, both FBI and CIA.

An excerpt:

But cataclysmic changes were ahead, and their harbinger was President Jimmy Carter’s acquiescence in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Here, for the first time, Congress and the courts undertook to regulate the gathering of national intelligence, particularly by electronic eavesdropping, against agents of hostile foreign powers. In the Nixonian afterclap, it was adjudged that the executive could not be trusted unilaterally to wield this power, which might secretly be used against political opponents.

Of course, such wiretapping was already illegal, and the Nixon experience had amply demonstrated the political price to be paid for engaging in it. No matter. Henceforth, the executive branch would not be allowed to use whatever tactics it, as the branch with the most expertise and information, determined were necessary to protect the nation. Rather, it would be compelled to go to a federal FISA court newly created for the purpose, and, as with the procedure for criminal wiretaps, it would need to establish probable cause that the target was an agent of a foreign power. Electronic surveillance would be permitted only if the judges approved.

The impact on intelligence collection was serious. Previously, it would have been laughable to suggest that foreign enemy operatives had a right to conduct their perfidies in privacy—the Fourth Amendment prohibits only "unreasonable" searches, and there is nothing unreasonable about searching or recording people who threaten national security. (The federal courts have often recognized that the Constitution is not a suicide pact.) Now, such operatives became the beneficiaries of precisely such protection. Placing so severe a roadblock in the way of a crucial investigative technique necessarily meant both that the technique would be used less frequently (thereby reducing the quantity and quality of valuable intelligence) and that investigative resources would have to be diverted from intelligence-collection to the rigors of compliance with judicial procedures (which are cumbersome).

This was only the start of the debacle. Courts and the organized defense bar soon began to ply the FISA statute with hypothetical governmental abuses. What if, they worried, a national-security wiretap yielded evidence of an ordinary crime—not an unlikely event, given that terrorists tend to commit lots of ordinary crimes, including money laundering, identity fraud, etc. This was no problem under FISA as written: intelligence agents could simply pass the information to agents of the criminal law, who could then use the damning conversations in court. But what if such law-enforcement agents, for their part, were to try to use FISA as a pretext to investigate crimes for which they themselves lacked probable cause to secure a regular criminal wiretap?

In one sense, the suggestion was not out of line—wiretap conversations are devastating evidence, and defense lawyers routinely strain to have them suppressed. But the notion was logically absurd. If a criminal investigator was going to act corruptly, it would be far easier for him to fabricate evidence showing probable cause for a regular wiretap (by pretending, for example, to have an anonymous source who had bought illegal drugs from the target) than to trump up a national-security angle necessitating an additional set of internal approvals. Nor was there any indication that such chicanery was actually afoot. But reality is rarely an obstacle for those who see life as an ongoing law-school seminar. Gradually, courts rewrote FISA, grafting onto it a so-called "primary purpose" test requiring the government to establish not only probable cause that it was targeting operatives of a foreign power but also that its real reason for seeking surveillance was counterintelligence, not criminal prosecution.
And this:

In 1995, just before trying the blind sheik (Omar Abdel Rahman) and eleven others, I duly complied with discovery law by writing a letter to the defense counsel listing 200 names of people who might be alleged as unindicted co-conspirators—i.e., people who were on the government’s radar screen but whom there was insufficient evidence to charge. Six years later, my letter turned up as evidence in the trial of those who bombed our embassies in Africa. It seems that, within days of my having sent it, the letter had found its way to Sudan and was in the hands of bin Laden (who was on the list), having been fetched for him by an al-Qaeda operative who had gotten it from one of his associates.
The conventional wisdom is our intelligence apparatus is broken. The truth is we probably don't know the half of it. Mr. McCarthy provides a brief history of, and the reasons behind, the decline of the U.S. intelligence community. He also offers opinions and specific recommendations about what can and should be done to fix it. An invaluable read.

An unintended consequence of reading this article was my increased appreciation for what the Bush Administration is doing to correct the deficiencies Mr. McCarthy describes. The flip side of that coin is the increase in the scorn and contempt I feel for those who actively undermine the President at every turn. Although I try to tell myself "reasonable people can disagree on these issues," I keep coming back to the conclusion that the President's detractors aren't reasonable people at all.

h/t: Neo-neocon. If you don't read this woman, you should begin today. Bookmark her.