20 April 2007

Versus/Reversus for 20 April 2007. John Maraniss at The Washington Post: This is What Happened.

SunburstIf you can bear to know what really happened to the students at Virginia Tech, and in defense of the survivors (who, inexplicably, seem to need defending), here is an excerpt from a much longer article by David Maraniss at The Washington Post. 

I hope that reading this will make people on the immoderate ends of the Right and Left stop pointing fingers, let go of their anger, and sit with their sorrow. 

Before I read this, my anger at those who attacked the survivors kept some of the horror at bay.  This made it sink in.  So you've been warned. 

To read more, go to Versus/Reversus....

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13 February 2007

The Flatland Chronicles for 13 February 2007. Reality Bites Back---The Righter They Are, the Wronger they Get.

SoftlightstarxlAh, the GOPpers.  You just never know what they'll be getting up to next.

FOR EXAMPLE:  John McCain is going to be addressing a religious think-tank which, among other things, thinks or "thinks" about creationism.  I mean there's nothing really to think about, is there?  Either you think the Genesis story is a parable (much like the ones told by Jesus and other Jewish scholars), or you think it is a literal, word-for-word account of exactly how---and, I guess, when----God made the world. 

Yes, and John Boehnert cried touchingly on camera today, evidently overcome by the significance of the war debate.  Then he made an impassioned argument that disagreeing with the Bush Administration's plan for troop escalation in Iraq means playing into the hands of Al-Quaeda and other baddies.


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04 February 2007

The Flatland Chronicles for 4 February 2007. Polar Bear Games.

Curlywurlyxl_1 You'd think that if there was ever an issue that could unite people around the globe, it would be this one.  Maybe that will happen if people will shut up screaming at one another for being the wrong color and believing the wrong things long enough to pay attention.

Deadly tornadoes, in Florida, in the wintertime?   Yes, definitely unusual.   Or, to quote, Naomi Foner, "You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing." 

In the meantime, even the people who understand what's at stake, and how exceedingly soon, seem to be moving in slow motion.  Do politicians and pundits really think that things can continue as they are, or that once the first wave of the changes can no longer be denied,  the people who don't (presently) believe in global warming aren't going to be seriously pissed with them?

Seriously, Rush, the very people you are most likely to persuade with the whole "polar bear games" line of argument are the very ones who are going to want your head on a spike when it turns out you've misled them.  They aren't going to read the scary bad news and work out for themselves what they think, because they trust you.  Does it ever occur to you that there are degrees of being wrong, and that being wrong about an impending global cataclysm is likely to be much more dangerous than being wrong about, well, everything else? 

I suppose human beings just naturally need a human enemy.  If only we could prove that global warming was being driven by someone else.  If we could pin it on the greed and overconsumption of people who are not us, then you'd see action.


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02 February 2007

The Flatland Chronicles. REALITY BITES update: Lessons Learned from Watching Bravo and the Passion of Marcel.

PeacockflowersxlSo, despite those who don't like it may believe, there are lessons concerning the human condition to be derived from watching reality TV.   It's not all schadenfreude and voyeurism, especially if you watch the competitive reality shows brought to you by the fine people at Bravo ("Watch What Happens") TV. 

At least till this season's Top Chef.  Always interested in watching people who know what they are doing doing it, I tuned in for the second season of Top Chef because----well, because Project Runway was over, and there was no immediate prospect of getting to see and hear the glorious and intellectually stupendous Tim Gunn for some time to come. 

And the first season of Top Chef was pretty good, actually.  I liked it.  I liked even the "villains," despite all they and their fellow contestants could do to convince me I shouldn't. 

But this season?  This season we were treated not only to relentless product placement by commercial food vendors, but to the seemingly relentless hazing of one of the contestants, the---when all was said and done---likable if somewhat odd "molecular gastronomist," Marcel. 

And the lessons were all about how even adults, seemingly nice ones, will band together in a tribe, even when the show isn't about that, for the purpose of excluding and harassing a lone (and sufficiently arrogant, self-sufficient outsider).   

It was never clear to me what Marcel did to get himself so disliked, unless it was making no attempt to conceal that he thought he was probably the best chef there.  I don't know.  I'll have to take the word of the other contestants that he was really, really, really annoying, annoying enough to make the other contestants obsess about him constantly, and annoying enough to make some of the last few standing think it would be amusing to themselves and the rest of us to have him yanked out of a sound sleep and held facedown on the floor while they shaved his head with an electric razor.   

What, exactly, did he do?  Damned if I know.  I didn't see it.  We were never shown.  Which makes me think that he didn't do a lot except be personally objectionable to the others.  Perhaps he lectured them behind the scenes about technique.  One particularly embittered contestant, in the final hour, accused him of "cheating" on the ground that he had moved one of her pots from where it was sitting on an inactive, stone-cold burner.  The judges just stared at her incredulously. 

In the end, I was fascinated to see how ignoring one's detractors really is the best revenge.  While Marcel continued to roll his eyes and laugh at the stones they were throwing at him, their conduct (evidently, I mean; I'm going by what we were shown) became more and more unprofessional, childish, and bullying.  Whatever he may have done to them behind the scenes, he certainly succeeded in ruining their behavior.

Oh, and if you think it doesn't matter that a lot of reality show contestants all joined together to punish the one misfit, think again.  It may be a hell of a long skid down the slippery slope from there to making videos of kids beating up homeless guys for a laugh, but it's a slide along the same damn trajectory:  thinking it's okay to single out, mock, or ostracize people you find objectionable isn't so different from thinking it's okay to terrorize and do harm to the ones who have been successfully marginalized.

Astonishing what happens to otherwise kindly people when they get together in little groups allied against a common "enemy." Because almost of these people clearly think of themselves, and are, good, kindly, warm-hearted people who in their day to day lives doubtless do a lot of good.  They are. 

And that, for me, was the most troubling aspect of the whole mess. 

So, anyway, this one's for Marcel, who proved to me once and for all that my mom really did have it right.  "Take no notice.  It'll drive them crazy."  He also proved to me that I am right.  Demonstrating a little humility, Marcel, in between displays of arrogant self-confidence (however well-earned or justified)  makes the people who would otherwise fear and hate you your friends for life.  Take a look at Gordon Ramsay and learn!


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01 February 2007

The Flatland Chronicles for 1 February 2007. Reality Bites: Nobel Nominees Gore and Limbaugh; Climate Change---One Think Tank's Quest for a Balanced Look; Al Franken

Ribbonart345xlYes, it's a beautiful and endlessly surprising world, where both Rush Limbaugh and Al Gore can be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Not only that, but now that the IPCC has issued a report that a large number of credible people say is authoritative on the causal connection between fossil fuel and "climate change"---GLOBAL WARMING---an American think tank is allegedly offering money to scientists and economists who are willing to step up and politely contradict them. 

Is there a causal connection?  I have no idea.  It's not something you can really prove beyond a reasonable doubt, I expect.  And no doubt you can't really prove beyond a reasonable doubt  that GLOBAL WARMING is a threat until it is actually well and truly and unstoppably under way.  And maybe not even then.  After all, there are still people who believe the earth is flat and that the moon landing was a government hoax.

Still, if I were one of the many, many Republican parents I know and love, busy putting away money for my child's education and in the hope of ensuring that child a good life, I would definitely be taking a long look askance at the enablers and supporters of my favorite no-more-taxes Republican candidate.  But what do I know?  I'm just a credulous, soppy liberal who believes in GLOBAL WARMING. 


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27 January 2007

The Flatland Chronicles for 27 January 2007. Reality Bites: Stewart on Cheney; Cheney v. Blitzer; Arianna v. McCain.

Columnsl For those who enjoy black comedy:  Jon Stewart on Dick Cheney, courtesy of Salon; Cheney on Wolf Blitzer, ditto; and Arianna vs. John McCain.   Stewart is always funny;  Cheney's funny when he's being baited; and Arianna Huffington is funny provided she's not trying to be (and her feigned or real surprise at McCain's response to her baiting has kept me chuckling incredulously all day).  I hope she chases him till the election's over, asking him complicated questions loaded with embedded premises like Russian dolls.

Oh, Arianna Huffington, how I love/hate thee.  You and The Huff Post are such a gift to slightly leftward tilting moderates who need something to keep them centered.  And the daily round up of news of interest to me (slightly leftward tilting moderate) is just  the luscious icing on the delicious cake.


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28 August 2006

To Congressional Democrats: For God's sake, REPRESENT.


For the record, this article in the New York Times---Bush Cites Progress in Gulf Coast Visit---upsets me too.  In fact, his speech in Biloxi is far more interesting for the subtext than its actual content.

[quote from article Bush Cites Progress in Gulf Coast Visit begins]

Mr. Bush praised the optimism and grit of the people of Mississippi, and he reaffirmed his belief in neighborly cooperation as well as government help. “A year ago, I committed our federal government to help you,” he said. “I said we have a duty to help the local people recover and rebuild. I meant what I said.”

For truly effective rebuilding, he went on, “there has to be a partnership with the federal government and the state and local governments. Here’s my attitude about the partnership. You know better than the people in Washington the needs of your communities. I’d rather listen to local mayors and county commissioners than folks sitting in Washington, D.C., about what this part of Mississippi wants.”

Acknowledging the shortcomings of the federal government’s response, Mr. Bush said every department in his administration “came up with practical reforms, ways to do things better.”

The truth of the matter is, we can work together and will, but when disaster strikes, the first people that you rely upon, the people that matter most, are your friends,” Mr. Bush said at another point. “It’s friends helping friends that turns out to make an enormous difference in saving lives and helping to get by the trauma of the first days.”

[quote ends (emphasis added)]

My, he is a Republican, isn't he?   

And I am prepared to believe that there was a time in the history of this country---perhaps at the turn of the last century and during its earliest pre-Depression years----when no one would have expected the government to solve problems of this sort.  It would have been all about the community.  But things have changed since then.  And I am not sure what help friends can give friends when everyone in the community has suffered tremendous losses.

Redbottles_1  The thing about being a Democrat is that the Democratic representatives to the U.S. Congress so often make you want to sit down and weep with frustration or else run around sticking straws in your hair and tearing things.  Sometimes it seems that they take advantage of the fact that American liberals have no viable options.  There is simply nowhere else for the intelligent liberal or progressive to turn.

The problem isn't the Democrats' platform or their beliefs or the truths they hold to be self evident;  according to me, they have the more acceptable objectives and the more laudable ideals. It's just that they so often fall short when it comes down to the fundamental task:  actually doing the work of representing the people who voted for them and who are forced---having done so--- to depend on them to do that. 

As usual, I owe the ready availability of grist to my mill to HuffPost.

The facts in evidence:

Mask_2 First, a blog by Nancy Pelosi, bashing the President and the Bush Administration specifically and the GOP generally for inept dispersal of federal funds to Katrina victims, which we all already know, thanks mainly to Spike Lee. 

I have nothing against her personally.  What follows is a reaction to what she says in this specific blog, and not even so much to that, as to what it implies she thinks Democrats like me want to hear.  Reading it caused me to lose my temper, but not with the writer or rather not only with her. 

[quote begins from blog by Nancy Pelosi, "While the President Pats Himself on the Back"]

House Democrats have been examining many of the Administration's failures affecting our Gulf Coast citizens. As everyone who lives there and has volunteered or visited already knows, in order to rate the Administration's performance, there needs to be a grade lower than "F." Last week, House Democrats formed a Waste, Fraud and Abuse Truth Squad, chaired by Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Dennis Cardoza (D-CA). They will conduct oversight of the Bush Administration's handling of taxpayer dollars, giving the Golden Drain Award to those who fail to provide meaningful oversight or hold the Administration accountable despite documented instances of waste, fraud and abuse.

[quote ends (emphasis added)]

Gaaaah!  NO.  "Golden Drain Awards" are for newspapers and media pundits and voters to bestow; the House Democrats---who have access to resources provided to them for exactly that purpose---need to concentrate on fixing the problem, not gleefully announcing a new plan to stand on the sidelines and jeer.   What are these people thinking?  Do they think voters want to hear this?   We can get our entertainment elsewhere; we need for our representatives to be serious.

Do they not realize how frivolous such an undertaking sounds, given the desperate straits of Katrina victims?  Sitting around picking holes in what's already been done is--again---for the media and the voters to do; and why?  BECAUSE WE DON'T HAVE THE DIRECT POWER OF A REPRESENTATIVE TO CONGRESS TO EFFECT CHANGE.  It's something you do when you're on the sidelines. 

But people in Congress are not on the sidelines; by definition, they're in a position of power, even when they're the minority power.  The Democratic party collectively may consider itself to be on the sidelines, but that's no excuse for individual Democrats not to be busying themselves all the hours God sends trying to FIX PROBLEMS.   

What I want to hear from Democrats is boasting about many, many crucial bipartisan efforts initiated by them to help the helpless individual victims of Katrina; and about the enormous efforts they've made against all odds to reach out to Congressional Republicans.  When they've done that, they can take whatever steps are required to hold the Administration "accountable", provided that they can also demonstrate how such "accountability" is going to fix actual problems. 

I was pissed by the attempt to impeach Clinton because it bogged Congress down with stupid irrelevant crap when there were plenty of actual issues that they ought to have been working on.  Instead, Republicans wasted everyone's time trying to discredit Clinton.   And in the event, he didn't get impeached.  That was enough of a waste of public time, attention, and resources to last me the rest of my life.  I want to see Democrats doing the opposite, even if in (the short term) it helps the Republicans avoid making mistakes. 

I know---okay, trust--- that there are many Democrats working overtime doing exactly this.  Unfortunately, Congressional Democrats seem to have bought into the notion that voters don't care about results, let alone the processes that get you there.  And this blog certainly highlights for me the disjunct between what I as a Democrat expect of Democrats in Congress and what they think I want.

And this is the sort of thing I personally do not need to hear.

[quote begins from Pelosi blog, "While the President Pats Himself on the Back..."]

These reports should serve as a reminder to President Bush that a photo op on the South Lawn of the White House is not going to help the tens of thousands of survivors who are still waiting for housing aid, for their schools and hospitals to re-open, for electricity to come back on in their homes and businesses, and for safe drinking water. The President promised a plan for the region, but all there is to show for it are 10,000 empty, unused trailers in an airfield in Arkansas. I will be traveling to the Gulf Coast today, as will many House Democrats, not to smile or pretend we're doing all we can, but to listen firsthand to residents about what Congress needs to do. As survivors are rebuilding their lives, House Democrats will work to rebuild trust and faith that the federal government is truly working for the people of the Gulf Coast region.

[quote ends]

It's the opposite of reassuring, implying as it does that they are only just now realizing that there is a problem.  Reading this I thought, a year has passed and they are just doing this now?  Didn't they know before now that the people of New Orleans weren't receiving the promised help, but only more broken promises?  Even I knew that. 

And I also know that the Katrina victims can't eat "trust" and "faith" or float to safety on them if the levees break again. 

Am I supposed to be impressed that House Democrats are apparently just now realizing that it would be a good idea for them to monitor closely what's going on with funding to Katrina victims?  Or that it might be a good idea to find out from the victims what's happening with them?   Or that they still don't have any clear ideas about how to do a better job than has been done up to yet?   

The conclusion of this piece is the part that makes me grind my teeth almost as hard as I do when I hear what the other side is saying:

[quote begins from Pelosi blog,

One year later, the Gulf Coast continues to need the financial, health care, education, housing and small business support that they deserve to turn devastated neighborhoods into thriving communities. And we still need an independent commission, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, to find out what exactly went wrong, why it went wrong, and how to fix it.

I can even give a hint about where the biggest problem is. Start at the top.

[quote ends]

Don't  we know what went wrong:  insufficient preparation, no plan, Army Corps of Engineer, poor people without transportation, no buses, jurisdictional bickering or back and forthing between the state and the federal government, resources deployed elsewhere, overextended insurance companies, and on and on?  What is an independent commission going to tell us that's different from that?  Does it matter to the Katrina vicitms exactly which persons at which agencies have let the ball drop, and why?

Those are rhetorical questions, of course.

What I want to hear from Democrats is how, specifically, the problems can be solved.  And I want to see them reaching out to Republicans who can help them get the job done.  Sometimes it looks, it really looks, as if the Democrats in Congress aren't all that interested in doing anything that might conceivably make things better, since Republicans would inevitably claim the credit.  I expect it seems that way to other voters as well. 

I don't give a damn who claims the credit.  If the parties could work together, I wouldn't give a damn which one is in power.  I'm sick of them building their power bases on the backs of the voters.

Individual members of Congress have a duty to their constituents that ought to supersede their obligations to the party and that duty is to REPRESENT.  I'm sick to death of the squabbling; if the Democrats currently in office want to remain there, they need to start showing us that they know how to do the job of fixing problems, and not after they've stood by and watched Republicans fail:  right away, as soon as the problems occur.

Here's something that the minority party always tends to forget:  YOU'RE THE GOVERNMENT TOO. 

And speaking of accountability, if Democrats now in Congress can't get the job done, then maybe we need better Democrats to represent us.  I for one, being sick of the squabbling, am going to start demanding results from Democrats; and deducting points for gestures (starting with the "Golden Drain" awards).

Bluebottlesplanetsmall If that wasn't enough, there's also this.

Adam Hanft:  The High Cost of Bashing Wal-Mart:  Another Democratic Miscalculation.  As the man says, it's too late to discover that Wal-Mart is a menace to the community, particularly now that they've been called out and are trying to mend their ways.  And the very fact that the focus is on Wal-Mart and not other corporations I could reel off without thinking shows just how far Democrats underestimate the voters.

It's too late to make "Midnight madness is killing my country!" a rallying cry.

[quote begins from blog by Adam Hanft:  The High Cost of Bashing Wal-Mart:  Another Democratic Miscalculation]

I can't think of a single national election where the Democrats gained any real ground by taking the evil corporation route. And the choice of Wal-Mart over Halliburton or Bechtel is a curious one. Which leads us to one unavoidable conclusion: Wal-Mart has learned and changed, but the Democrats haven't.

[quote ends]

What he said.

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27 August 2006

Eating her words; eating their losses


As I predicted, Katherine Harris is claiming that her incomprehensible statements were quoted out of context.  To be honest---and as I said----I don't think she intended to condemn separation of church and state, but to say that religious people have a role to play (I guess).  But whose fault is it if she can't string a sentence together well enough to make herself understood? 

Jeb Bush doesn't support her campaign.  The rumors, allegations, and reports currently abroad reveal her to be a person with a number of complicated whorls to her personality, some of which ought to make her supporters, assuming she still has any, question whether the assertion of common religious faith is enough to ensure that she is the best person to represent them.

[quote begins from article at, "Harris clarifies comments on religion"]

Fundraising has lagged, frustrated campaign workers have defected in droves and the issues have been overshadowed by news of her dealings with a corrupt defense contractor who gave her $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions.

[quote ends]

Call me naive, but to me, being deeply religious means that you should be resistant to underhanded dealings even on this (relatively) petty scale.  There are other issues too that should give people pause, such as the whole endorsement flap that was big news a week or so ago. 

Here are some additional allegations concerning Katherine Harris that people who think of voting for her should at least read.  Link to article in St. Petersburg Times by Anita Kumar.  These allegations go to what I have referred to as "the complicated whorls" of her personality.  And the famous blogger "Wonkette" has this to add to the account.  And much else besides, actually.

And that's where I'm leaving it for now. 


It's hard when you're also within the potential path of a hurricane to feel that you'd rather it go anywhere other than anywhere else, but that's how I feel about New Orleans.  Having just watched When the Levees Broke----we saw the last two parts last night----I just don't think the country can stomach any further damage to that already wrecked city.

But then I think of what Katrina did to Biloxi.   As Spike Lee's film reminds us, Katrina didn't destroy New Orleans; New Orleans survived the hurricane.  In fact, I remember my semi-relief the day after, hearing that New Orleans had been bypassed and seemed to be all right.  It wasn't till later that day that my dread started rising with the waters.  And the flooding and massive death and destruction distracted attention from what had been done in Biloxi Mississippi and the Delta generally.

The hurricane laid waste to Biloxi.  It's easy for people to forget this in light of the massive suffering that the breach of the levees caused to the people of New Orleans, but I don't;  I can't forget it because my friend Frannie's sister lives in Biloxi.  For several months, their family was torn apart while the parents returned to Biloxi to try to put their lives back together and the daughter lived with Frances and her partner in North Carolina so she could go to school without interruption and have a decent roof over her head.  Finally, when the parents couldn't bear the separation anymore, they sent for their child.  And they were the lucky ones to have loving relatives with a sense of duty to family.

At the end of the day, what is there to pray for?  The best I can do is to pray that the hurricane does the least damage possible to the fewest number of people.  Last year, I watched footage from Galveston as Rita headed toward what looked like the destruction of that town;  I watched aghast as an elderly woman in a fragile house told reporters that she would not leave; she would not let the hurricane push her off her own porch.  In the meantime, the ill-conceived evacuation of Houston and left thousands of people stranded on the highway as the storm approached. 

What's needed to deal with what looks like being a long spate (in the best case) of severe hurricanes in the Gulf state is:  careful preparation, crisis management, a reconsideration of the existing policies regarding coastal construction, and a whole slough of exactly the sort of long-term strategies that Americans (and particularly the Bush Administration) like least. 

It's astonishing to me that with all the work to be done we don't have plenty of work for everyone in America:  first the cleaning and reconstruction of the previous damage; then the preparation and planning for the damage that's coming round and round again. 

Pendantgold_1    THE LOST CITY.

Thanks are due to The Huffington Post, as always, for putting out the bad news that would otherwise be buried under the OTHER bad news.

The Spike Lee film, and then this article in the L.A. Times, should break American hearts, but we've had so much to cause us pain in the last five years that we are growing resistant to letting all that suffering in. 

[quote begins from L.A. Times Article, Katrina Aid Far from Flowing]

From the ghostly streets of New Orleans' abandoned neighborhoods to Mississippi's downtrodden coastline, the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's onslaught is arriving with emerging signs of federal money at work — rented trailers parked in the driveways of flood-ravaged homesteads, teams of Army engineers overseeing levee repairs, beaches swept clean of debris.

But the federal government has spent less than half the rebuilding funds that it amassed for Katrina recovery, which has raised sharp questions about the Bush administration's stewardship of the Gulf Coast's reconstruction and has provoked a chorus of complaints about excessive delays and government sluggishness.

Despite four emergency spending bills approved by Congress to provide more than $110 billion in aid, federal agencies have spent only $44 billion. Even as President Bush insisted last week and in his radio address Saturday that $110 billion was a strong commitment, he conceded that the recovery effort was plagued with bureaucratic hurdles.

The scale of the catastrophe continues to overwhelm the government's capacity to respond. Aid agencies are only now contending with the long-term needs of hundreds of thousands of evacuees and with the landscape of shattered houses and public infrastructure that will take years to restore....

The telltale effects of the unspent billions emerge in the bitter accounts of homeowners who have waited for months for trailers that have not arrived, merchants who agonize over government loans still pending, town officials frustrated by rebuilding efforts stalled by the vagaries of federal regulations....

[quote from article ends]

Since a city hit by a terrorist attack would be in exactly the same position, this ought to scare the shit out of all the people whose political choices are governed by fear of terrorism, except they're already too scared of death to think about what follows if you survive.  It's better to be homeless than to be dead, I suppose.  But not by much it needn't be---particularly if you've also lost your family, your cat, and all your possessions.

This last bit---the waiting for help----is the slow, grinding, tedious part of the horror; the hellish part that goes on after the death you didn't die where you've seen all your life laid waste without even the dignity of judgment.


Katrina teaches a lot of lessons to those with ears to hear, one of which is that you can't expect humanity from inhuman entities, i.e., corporations.  Since we don't live in communities anymore in which neighbors get together to shelter those who have suffered misfortunes, we pay lots of money to insurance companies to ensure that someone will.   

Why isn't the average person on the street more disturbed by allegations such as the ones concerning State Farm? 

[quote begins from Yahoo News article Sisters Blew Whistle on Katrina Claims]

That startling admission — and their subsequent resignations — ended a risky charade. The Rigsbys say they spent months collecting reams of internal State Farm reports, memos, e-mails and claims records before they gave them to Scruggs and state and federal authorities.

The sisters, who managed teams of State Farm adjusters, say the documents show that the insurer defrauded policyholders by manipulating engineers' reports so that claims could be denied.

"I think we've given him the smoking gun," Cori Rigsby, 38, told The Associated Press during a recent interview at the home she shares with her sister near Ocean Springs....

Hundreds of homeowners on Mississippi's Gulf Coast have sued their insurance companies for refusing to pay for millions of dollars of damage from Katrina. A judge who presided over the first Katrina insurance trial ruled this month that Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. must pay for damage caused by wind but not from flooding, including storm surges....

The Rigsby sisters were both eight-year employees of E.A. Renfroe, a firm that helps State Farm and other insurers adjust disaster claims. Although they weren't State Farm employees, the company issued them computers and business cards that identified them as State Farm representatives. They also had confidentiality agreements with State Farm.

"We have always been proud to work with State Farm," Cori Rigsby said.

The sisters say that pride faded, however, as they began to suspect the company was pressuring engineers to alter their conclusions about storm damage so claims could be denied.

Kerri Rigsby says her suspicions grew in November after finding a handwritten note attached to an engineer's report that read: "Put in Wind file — DO NOT pay bill. DO NOT discuss."

She said the engineer's report, dated Oct. 12, concluded that Katrina's wind caused most of the damage to a Biloxi policyholder's home. That should have been good news for the policyholder, she noted, since State Farm's policies cover damage from wind but not water.

But when Kerri Rigsby pulled the policyholder's file, she said she found a subsequent report based on a second inspection of the home Oct. 18. This time, the same engineering firm concluded that water caused most of the damage, according to the report, which the AP reviewed.

"The policyholder did not get a copy of the one that said wind," said Kerri, 35. "He should have gotten lots more money."

It wasn't the only case in which State Farm's engineers drafted conflicting reports on storm damage, according to the Rigsbys. They say managers were surprised and disappointed that many initial engineering reports blamed damage on wind.

[quote from article ends]

I don't know whether there was malfeasance by this insurance company or not, but if you pay attention---and alas, people never do---you know that insurance companies are not in business to PAY OUT claims.  They live by collecting premiums and by avoiding pay outs as much as possible.

The good ones---and I've been MOSTLY lucky with mine----will do the right thing when the time comes, but when disaster strikes and your company is asked to pay out large amounts of money to many subscribers all at the same time, then they are going to do whatever they have to to cut their losses, even if it means you eat your own. 

But this sort of thing never matters to anyone when they go to the polls because they simply don't scrutinize the links between insurance companies and candidates for political office.  The insurance industry, like the health care industry and many other industries, really needs to be monitored and reined in to ensure that their shareholders' dividends don't end up taking priority over their subscribers' losses; but their contributions to your favorite candidate's political campaign buy them way more influence than your contributions buy for you.  It's as simple as that.   

Thus the Katrina victims:  eating more and more of their own losses with every day that passes.

Darkglassl    THE LOST CULTURE.

There's also this article in the BBC:

[quote begins from BBC news online article by Stephen Sackur One Year On:  Katrina's Legacy]

[T]he photogenic French Quarter and the grand homes of the white establishment in the Garden District have regained much of their former charm but don't be fooled - even on Bourbon Street amid the jazz clubs and stores touting souvenir kitsch there is a pervasive sense of desolation....

More than 1,000 people lost their lives to Katrina - the floodwaters left the city uninhabitable.

A year on and still New Orleans is eerily empty. Of a pre-Katrina population of half-a-million fewer than 200,000 have returned.

Ken Wilkens, social worker by day and a rapper known as Snoop by night...took me on a drive down Interstate 10, into the Ninth Ward, the heart of the city's black community.  "Katrina still has a smell," he said and he was right.

Sickly sweet, fetid fumes were still coming up from the residue of filth left behind when the floodwaters receded....

On my most recent visit to New Orleans, just a week ago, the housing situation was little better. Snoop had finally moved himself out of his run-down hotel room into a small apartment, but most of his friends are still stuck in faraway cities, exiled from their pre-Katrina lives.

"If you don't get these people back then you gonna kill the whole spirit of New Orleans," Snoop told me, "because that's where the food, the music, the language comes from - that's the flavour in the gumbo."

But there are powerful forces in New Orleans who are not interested in restoring the city to the way it was before.

Boysie Bollinger, doyen of the white business elite, is one of them....

He lost most of his African-American workforce when Katrina destroyed their homes - he has replaced many of them with Mexicans. He is thinking about hiring Filipinos and Romanians too.

Boysie wasn't enamoured with the way New Orleans was going before Katrina - he points to the drugs, the crime, the endemic poverty in some of the African American neighbourhoods. He talks about the "cleansing" effect of Katrina.

"You're going to see a culture change," he told me, with the confidence of a man used to getting his own way. "A lot more Latin people here as permanent residents, people who want to come and create new communities."

It is a message which sounds like a veiled threat to many African-Americans, but Boysie doesn't care.

"We want people who are willing to work. It's not directed at blacks, or at whites, just anyone who fits the description," he adds.

Boysie is a good friend of George W Bush. He is a key player on the Bring New Orleans Back Commission and a host of other influential bodies. When it comes to finalising the plan for the rebuilding of New Orleans it is likely to have the Bollinger stamp of approval....

New Orleans is a city where the heart has always ruled the head. Good times today have always outweighed worries about tomorrow. But maybe that's not sustainable anymore.

[quote ends from BBC article by Stephen Sackur]

Idon't know what to say about this.  Will New Orleans become "the New Orleans theme park"? 

To talk of rebuilding the true original city is in many senses----we all know this---a dream that not only won't come true, but should not come true.  The Big Easy has been famous for a lot of things, one of which is crime. 

It's profoundly troubling to me that the automatic underlying assumption of the press and the media is that to bring back the African-American population is to bring back the criminal class and the class of layabouts. 

I strongly suspect that the so-called "carpetbaggers"who are currently invading the city will bring their own particular brand of crime.  And IF we adopt the assumption of those who assume that the lost black population = the former criminal classes---and it's my personal belief that those African-Americans who were engaged in criminal activities were at the bottom of the criminal food chain---we are simply trading one sort of opportunism for another.  And what we're getting in return isn't coming to us with the history, the traditions, the roots, the color of the true New Orleans culture.  It's bland, watered-down, not the real thing.

If we can't have New Orleans back the way it was?  With its beautiful and flawed culture, its beautiful and flawed people, and its unique traditions?  Well, I'm sorry, but in that case I don't want it back at all.  Better to mourn the loss of the true and unique city than to bequeath to future generations a shallow and sanitized theme park New Orleans.  I'm not willing to have my tax dollars used to help finance a giant "tourist attraction." 

If people want tourist attractions, let them come to Florida.

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24 August 2006

Res Ipsa Loquitur: The sayings of Katherine Harris; ALSO--A good time for Democrats to start reaching out.

Chinesepattern  Can I take back taking back my previous rather mean snipe at Katherine Harris?  From "Florida Baptist Witness" via "raw story" via the indispensable Huffpost:  this interview.

[quote begins from Katherine Harris interview in The Florida Baptist Witness]

The Bible says we are to be salt and light. And salt and light means not just in the church and not just as a teacher or as a pastor or a banker or a lawyer, but in government and we have to have elected officials in government and we have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women and if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected than we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our founding fathers intended and that’s certainly isn’t what God intended. So it’s really important that members of the church know people’s stands.

[quote from article ends (emphasis mine)]

Who in the what now?   Don't senators undertake to uphold the Constitution?  What is KH on about here?

I certainly don't know.  If you can parse through all that, you've got more patience than I have.  I have no idea what she is saying, unless it's "more Christians should run for office; and all Christians should vote for me."   Once the italicized quote gets around, she'll be telling everyone that she was quoted out of context, and she'll be right about that.   

Here's another quote from the same article:   "The other candidates have no records and while they have certain stands there is no evidence that they are going to be able to stand as I have proven."

Somehow, her way of talking sounds familiar.  She reminds me of someone---another Republican, it seems to me----but I just can't think who.  Man, it's right on the tip of my tongue... Who is it?   Who? 

The interviewer asked her a lot of really cool, really probing questions.  Such as:  "Some day all of us have to give an accounting before God for what we have done.  Are you certain in your own heart that when you come to that point of accounting that you'll spend eternity with God in Heaven?"  Harris's response:  "No question."  [God:  "Um, I'll be the judge of that."]

When asked how her faith "impact[s] the way she views her responsibilities as a public official," she said, "They animate."  Which in the who now?

Maybe it's true that I'm harder on Republican women than on Republican men.  Maybe I just expect more from women; I don't know.   Note that I haven't said anything unkind about K. Harris here.  Sometimes it's better just to let people speak for themselves. 

Numinouscross Interestingly, it seems that some self-styled religious people are losing faith in the GOP.  According to the poll cited in this article, "The number of people who consider the Republican Party friendly to religion has dipped below half in the last year, with declines among white evangelicals and white Catholics."


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It's an OUTRAGE! They're TAKING AWAY Pluto!

Hiddenplane2tsmall_1 How DARE they? 

Dammit, I grew up with the planet Pluto.  It was part of the model I made of the solar system as a child (and of the one that I gave my nephew for his birthday!)  It's mentioned in the Animaniacs' song about the planets (WAKKO:  "You forgot yer anus"), for God's sake!    Yakko specifically mentions it:  "And cold and tiny Pluto/ It's the furthest one of all."

Sure, sure; we all knew that Pluto was different from the other planets.   But that didn't matter.  There it was, a tiny erratic wanderer, valiantly riding aroud the sun way out there on the edge of the solar system.  Nobody told us just how very crowded that solar system is, though even during my childhood we knew that there was discussion of adding another planet or three.


[quote begins from article "Pluto Gets the Boot"]

After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The new definition of what is -- and isn't -- a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one....

The decision by the prestigious international group spells out the basic tests that celestial objects will have to meet before they can be considered for admission to the elite cosmic club.

For now, membership will be restricted to the eight "classical" planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Much-maligned Pluto doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.

Instead, it will be reclassified in a new category of "dwarf planets," similar to what long have been termed "minor planets." The definition also lays out a third class of lesser objects that orbit the sun -- "small solar system bodies," a term that will apply to numerous asteroids, comets and other natural satellites....

Just a few days ago, I celebrated the addition of three new planets to the solar system.  Now they're not only NOT adding those three, they are taking away Pluto!  What gives them the right to do that?  Bastards.  And get this: 

[quote begins from article "Pluto Gets the Boot]

Now, two of the objects that at one point were cruising toward possible full-fledged planethood will join Pluto as dwarfs....

[Michael] Brown [of the California Institute of Technology] was pleased by the decision. He had argued that Pluto and similar bodies didn't deserve planet status, saying that would "take the magic out of the solar system."

"UB313 is the largest dwarf planet. That's kind of cool," he said.

[quote from article ends]

WHAT?  What does he mean it would "take the magic out of the solar system"?  Consistency, Dr. Brown, is the hobgoblin of little minds.  The solar system---with Pluto---had plenty of magic, just as it was.  Plenty of magic.   Who are the International Union of Astronomers to interfere, or to decide what is---or is not---"magical"?   Man, two weeks of arguing back and forth over this

If they didn't want to add three new planets, then fine.  FINE.   (Though they shouldn't have teased us with the prospect).

But now they are not only NOT giving us three more, they are taking away Pluto.   YOU BASTARDS.

Do not despair, tiny Pluto!  You will always be a planet to me!

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22 August 2006

Mmm, cupcakes. Also [finally] the Return of Real Time with Bill Maher.

Pinkdogwoodl Re:  the August 28 Time, watch me thumb straight past the cover article on Hillary Clinton and go straight to Joel Stein's piece in the "Food" section on one of the many apparently unnumbered pages (what's that about?) in the YOUR TIME section.

In his article, Cupcake Nation, he discusses a boom in specialty cupcakes and cupcake stores of which we in this unfashionably behindhand cultural backwater are still unaware.  Cupcakes. Really?  I haven't eaten a cupcake in 20 years.  I love sweets, but the thought of the super-sweet frosting they use in cupcake icing---and for that matter the supersweet cake that constitutes the "cake" portion---makes my back teeth buzz and my forehead ache.  I see them in the bakery section of the grocery store with their day-glo frosting, but even the chocolate ones can't tempt me. 

The cupcake is part of my heritage.  They were a key part of every birthday party of my childhood when---this was back in the innocently pleasure-loving early Sixties when we weren't being told about rising obesity rates and childhood diabetes----traditional birthday refreshments consisted of:  birthday cake (yellow cake with sugar roses), a round plastic carton of Dixie Ice Cream (chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry), a cupcake (same as the birthday cake, only different), and if the hostess was really generous, cookies from the local bakery.  It was the perfect food to get 15 or 20 kids in the correct frame of mind for shrieky games. 

I asked Nick if they have cupcakes in England.  "Little individual round tarty things with fruit jam on?" he asked.  Well, no.  The cupcakes I know don't have jam on them or taste in any respect of fruit.  "What are those cakes called in England?"  I asked him.  "Cupcakes or fruit tarts," he said.  Sorry;  not the same.

Anyway, I rather resent Joel Stein's resentment of the power of the cupcake.  He quotes the owner of a "cupcakery" in his article.  "These are scary times.  That's when people crave comfort food."  To which he says:

[quote begins from Cupcake Nation by Joel Stein, Time Magazine August 28]

That's what bugs me about cupcakes; they're fake happiness, wrought in Wonka unfood colors.  They appeal to the same unadventurous instincts that drive adults to read Harry Potter and watch Finding Nemo without a kid in the room. ...They are the dessert of a civilization in decline.  The worst part is, I want a cupcake right now real bad.

[quote from Cupcake Nation ends]

He couldn't be more wrong.  To eat a cupcake (or any sweets really) is to experience a temporary sense of melting sweetness in a world that offers little relief from the pressure of constant expectations and events out of one's control.  It's not the dessert of a civilization in decline so much as a refuge from a civilization that constantly asks too much.

And I haven't seen Finding Nemo but I just ordered The Animaniacs DVD; and I have no children. There is nothing unadventurous about cartoons like The Animaniacs; and the adventures all end in the triumph of the subversive, the irreverent, the happy

I don't do Disney/Pixar but perhaps someone who watches such films can tell you their appeal.  At any rate, it's probably not because they are "unadventurous"---they're all about the adventure. 

And as for Harry Potter, bite your tongue, Joel Stein.  The Potter books are appealing partly because the characters are fully realized, completely distinct, and grow and develop over time and partly because of the amazing attractiveness of their world.  But there's nothing "small" or "safe" about them, or at least the later ones.

Besides!  If real happiness isn't happening for you, moderate doses of fake happiness beat the hell out of no happiness.  If Americans are increasingly overweight, I see this as a response to increasing anxiety and the deterioration of communities more than a sign of greed.  When you're afraid, you want to find some sweetness in the world, even if it's the temporary sort with chocolate icing.

Comfort foods, including cupcakes, are the sign of a civilization in transition and under pressure, and that still remembers under stress how to party like it's 1959.  Don't say it like it's a bad thing. 

Glassflowerl_1 AAAAAAND opposite page 43 in Time....BILL MAHER AND A PENGUIN.  ON A MELTING ICE CAP.

"Inconveniently telling the truth," the ad says.  Okay, that's going on the wall over my desk to remind me of what we all ought to be doing.  It's an ad for REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER which begins on HBO this Friday.  FINALLY.

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19 August 2006

Hard to Swallow.


According to quite a few of my fellow liberals, the answer is yes. 

Maybe they did exaggerate.  The allegations, as far as I can tell, are that the terror plot wasn't as far along as represented or as near implementation.  So maybe they did.   

But isn't the extent of readiness something you might not know for sure till after you arrest the suspects?  At what point are they allowed to intervene?  If they suspect that something of the kind might be in train, shouldn't all doubts be resolved in favor of taking every possible precaution?  If they didn't, and they were wrong, wouldn't they be culpable?

To exaggerate the extent of the danger isn't quite the same as inventing the danger.  I'm not really sure what my fellow Democrats want me to conclude from the "so-called terror plot" allegations.  What do they want me to think and feel?  Less relieved that a ring of would-be terrorists has been identified and is being investigated? 


I am not saying that the Bush Administration isn't working the "foiled plot" for all the mileage they can get out of it, which is way less than I imagine they expected.  I can't help noticing that the reaction of a lot of people is, "How fortuitous!" rather than, "Phew, we dodged that bullet."  I'm not sure who needs the reality check, but I am guessing that everyone---Bush, Blair, the press, and all members of the American and British public--- does. 

Here's  another blog at Huff Post on the general subject. 

[quote begins from "Bush's Weapon of Mass Deception" by Larry C. Johnson]

The initial story out of London gave the average traveler the clear impression that Muslim terrorists were thwarted at the last minute from planting bombs made of liquid explosives on board aircraft. Since then, the facts about the story shifted significantly. It is true that some of the people in the custody of British and Pakistani security forces had thought about bombing airplanes. But there is substantial evidence that the plot was far from implementation.

First, no evidence has emerged that the plotters had in hand a functioning prototype of the device they wanted to take on board a plane. That's an important point.

There is a press report from Pakistan that monitoring of one of the plotters, a fellow named Rauf, revealed that:

the plotters had tested the explosive liquid mixture they planned to use at a location outside Britain. NBC News has previously reported that the explosive mixture was tested in Pakistan. The source said the suspects in Britain had obtained at least some of the materials for the explosive but had not yet actually prepared or mixed it.

We'll say it again--the plotters had not yet actually prepared or mixed a potential explosive. More importantly, they did not have a working prototype of a viable explosive charge that would pass muster at a screening checkpoint. The British plotters reportedly did have hydrogen peroxide. Big deal. Go to your local drug store and you too can buy some. Hydrogen peroxide is not an explosive and there is no easy, safe way to make an explosive with it. The plotters in Britain still had a lot of work to do in order to carry out their plot.

Second, no evidence has emerged that the group had purchased tickets or even had passports that would allow them to board a plane to the United States. How exactly were they supposed to bomb planes that they could not even board.

[quote from blog entry ends]


Johnson goes on to say, "I have no doubt that British intelligence had succeeded in penetrating a group of Muslim extremists who had big dreams about hurting the United States but they lacked a viable terrorist plan ready for execution."  So the question really is:  how far along were they?  And was it sufficiently far along to be cause for alarm? 

I'm prepared to be as cynical as all hell if someone can really convince me that there was NO plot, but assuming that the answer is that the people arrested were taking steps to implement one---however farfetched (Richard Reid) it might have been or how unlikely to succeed---I have to say, I'm all for strong measures.  I am for strong measures against people in the initial stages of conspiring to engage in a terrorist action, at least if there is sufficient evidence to warrant an arrest. 

I don't much care if it's a hare-brained scheme or 100% credible.  Who wants to be on the same plane as a couple of would-be terrorists doing chemistry experiments in the bathroom?   If they tried and failed, what might they do instead?  And who wants the police to wait till they perfect a "prototype" and test it out on some unfortunate person or persons? 

It may be that the Brits, abetted by us, set up a group of completely innocent people to further a political aim.  If so, that would be truly evil.  But I'm not going there, not yet.

I am not sure what the Huff Post bloggers (including Harry Shearer here and David Goldstein here)  want or expect from the government.  If a Democrat were President, I'd want that Democrat to be extra-attentive to preventing terrorism (which would be easier if we weren't engaged elsewhere).  I don't think there are many Americans so naive that they haven't worked out that the tail sometimes wags the dog.

Don't worry, Larry C. Johnson and Harry Shearer!  Scaring people with terrorist threats is as likely to backfire as not;  it simply points up even to rock-ribbed Republicans (some of whom are my dear friends) the absurdity of expending our resources on a war that is at best tangentially related to the threat at home.  I don't think they are going to be able to carry on having it both ways. 

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Bitter Bad

Neongreenstar_2_1 IT TEARS AT THE HEART.

So hurtful; so heart-searing.  It's not what we want our country to be about. 

[quote begins from "Officer called Haditha Routine" by Thomas Picks at] 

The Haditha incident first attracted notice when Time magazine reported in March that the official U.S. account attributing most of the Iraqi deaths to a roadside bomb was incorrect, and that the Iraqis instead had been killed by U.S. troops. It became more controversial in May when Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who had been briefed by top Marine officers, said at a news conference that what happened in Haditha was "much worse than reported in Time magazine" and that Marines had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

Commentators likened the incident to the Vietnam War's My Lai massacre and predicted that it would damage the U.S. effort in Iraq more than the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse scandal had.

Several Marines are under criminal investigation in connection with the incident. Their lawyers have indicated they intend to argue that those Marines followed the rules of engagement during a difficult day on a chaotic battlefield.

....After the killings, the Marine Corps issued a statement that Iraqis had been killed in Haditha by a roadside bomb. Chessani said that he did not see the statement then, and that the first time he read it was when an investigator showed it to him about three months later.

"I knew this was inaccurate when I saw it," he stated. The Marine Corps has not issued a retraction, saying the entire matter is under investigation.

At one point, Col. John Ewers, the Marine lawyer who took the statement, seemed almost exasperated with Chessani's passive approach to the incident. Using a profanity, he told Chessani his own reaction was "15 civilians dead, 23 or 24 total dead, with no real indication of how it was that we arrived at the enemy KIA number."

Ewers asked: "Did it occur to you that you needed to do an investigation simply so you could go to the locals and say, 'This was righteous'? . . . And be confident that you were speaking with certainty?"

Chessani responded: "Sir, I did not think about it like that. . . . Enemy has picked the place, he had picked the time, and the location for a reason. . . . [H]e wanted to make us look bad."

[quote ends]

You know, Chessani may be right to this extent:  such acts---assuming that this is what it was--- are virtually certain to occur during wartime when the circumstances are right.  Civilians who did not deserve death, die; and the kids who inflicted death randomly/wantonly are punished for it.  And they should be punished. 

But then Americans everywhere feel painfully that those kids are not solely to blame.  I'm thinking of My Lai now. 

I remember My Lai and Lt. Calley and my father shouting that Calley was being "scapegoated." 

I've also read the shattering testimony of Senator Bob Kerrey.  According to him, the killings of civilians were a mistake, but they weren't any less dead because of this, and he wasn't any less scarred as a result. 

After Vietnam, we all thought we had learned our lesson about wars that you don't absolutely have to fight.  We thought we had learned what happens when you train very young people to kill strangers and throw them in circumstances when they (or their friends) are in danger, terrified, and enraged by being targeted or pursued or brutalized by the enemy.

If I pointed fingers it wouldn't be only at the very young people who committed this war crime, or at the Bush Administration and Tony Blair,  but at myself and every other enabler who brought this situation into being, including the representatives of the people who authorized it own our behalf and all of us who picked them to represent us, and who supported or failed to protest this action.

The fact is, there was a critical period of time---no more than 24 hours--- when I allowed myself to believe that the war in Iraq might be "necessary" and that it might be something we needed to do.  I'm part of the problem too.

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18 August 2006

Raw Reality.

Pinkblackstone   For starters and because nothing clears the palate for grim reality like a dollop of inanity: 

Hollywood Calls for A Stop to Terrorism.

Yeah, that'll work. From The herald Sun, an Australian Newspaper.

Kidman Condemns Hamas, Hezbollah.

Aw, that's sweet.  Isn't it?   It wasn't just Nicole Kidman, but a host of other "moguls" and "heavyweights."  It's "a powerfully worded full-page ad." 

[quote from The Herald Sun article begins]

We the undersigned are pained and devastated by the civilian casualties in Israel and Lebanon caused by terrorist actions initiated by terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah and Hamas," the ad reads.

"If we do not succeed in stopping terrorism around the world, chaos will rule and innocent people will continue to die.

"We need to support democratic societies and stop terrorism at all costs."

[quote ends]

To return to this pronouncement:  The language bothers me, more for what it doesn't say than for what it does.  Is it a statement of support for Israel or for Bush's policies? 

As with everything else I read these days (including Israel), I am of two minds about the sentiments expressed, to which I say both "yes" and "no" simultaneously.

As to the publication of this piece, I am of one mind, and what it says is, "Um....?"   If they are trying to change my mind, it isn't going to work.  I support Israel, but that doesn't mean that I have to approve of its every action.  I don't approve of everything my own government does, for God's sake.

"Moral Equivalency."

I do get fed up with the (typically) black-and-white view of events which says that you must either be with Israel or against it, and that any criticism means that you are anti-Israel.  That is arrant nonsense.

It's quite possible to feel critical of the action of a person or a whole nation because you have a high opinion of it and its people and wish them the best.  You can believe that a particular action is wrong or mistaken while still feeling exactly the same about a person or a nation. 

And you can believe that the action in Lebanon was wrong without holding the opinion that it was the "moral equivalent" of the sort of action engaged in by Israel's enemies.  Of COURSE you can. For someone to say, "I expected better of you," signifies that the person sees and appreciates the distinction and continues to honor the character of the person at the receiving end of the criticism.

I'm responding here to an article by Tim Rutten in the L.A., deploring "the obscenely anti-Israeli tenor of the European and world press."  He's talking about some allegedly fake photographs from Lebanon that I haven't seen, and don't want to see, which he believes are anti-Israel propaganda designed to stir up anti-Israeli feeling.  That seems quite possible to me. 

Where I think he misses the point is in assuming that people need photographs of dead children to make them feel critical of Israel in this instance or that to criticize Israel is to side with Hezbollah.  It's not that simple. 

Here's the quote: 

[quote from LA Times article begins here]

What the major news organizations ought to be doing is to make their own analysis of the images coming out of Lebanon and if, as seems more than likely, they find widespread malfeasance, some hard questions need to be asked about why it occurred. Some of it may stem from the urge every photographer feels to make a photo perfect. Some of it probably flows from a simple economic imperative — a freelancer who produces dramatic images gets picked up more and paid more. Moreover, the obscenely anti-Israeli tenor of most of the European and world press means there's an eager market for pictures of dead Lebanese babies.

It's worth noting in this context that there is no similar flow of propagandistic images coming from the Israeli side of the border. That's because one side — the democratically elected government of Israel — views death as a tragedy and the other — the Iranian financed terrorist organization Hezbollah — sees it as an opportunity. In this case, turning their own dead children into material creates an opportunity to cloud the fact that every Lebanese casualty, tragic as he or she is, was killed or injured as an unavoidable consequence of Israel's pursuit of terrorists who use their own people as human shields. Every Israeli civilian killed or injured was the victim of a terrorist attack intended to harm civilians. That alone ought to wash away any blood-stained suggestion of moral equivalency.

[quote ends here]

He's right about this:  "Every Lebanese casualty...was killed or injured as an unavoidable consequence of Israel's pursuit of terrorists."  The question is whether using a sledgehammer to kill a few vicious wasps is an acceptable strategy if you kill everything else in the vicinity.

I maintain that it is not.  Furthermore, I maintain that it is unlikely to accomplish the intended results---rooting out terrorism----as though by killing a few terrorists, you kill terrorism's root cause.  That position is patently absurd.  I will be very happy if I am wrong, but I suspect that this recent action is going to substantially worsen the problem----and not just for the Israelis.

Perhaps the rest of the world simply doesn't wish to suffer the consequences of what even to Israel's friends appears to be a misguided strategy.  Israel's friends may be unwilling to condone what by their lights appears to be not only a morally questionable action but also a tragically misguided strategy. 

Finally, I'd still think that Israel's action was misguided if there had not been a single civilian casualty.  While casualties were the "unavoidable consequence," they are not the reason why the action was---according to some sincere well-wishers of Israel---the wrong thing to do at the wrong time.

And I am as pro-Israeli as it is possible to be.  But I am also pro non-terrorist Lebanese civilian.   

And being generally supportive of Israel doesn't imply that one will necessarily support every policy of the Israeli government, particularly one that strikes the observer as self-destructive as well as generally destructive.

What was achieved by all the death and destruction?  An Israeli soldier answers this question.

"We Fought For Nothing."

It's a quote from an Israeli soldier from an article at CBS   Here's what the war did to Israel's own young:

[quote begins]

Israeli soldiers returning from the war in Lebanon say the army was slow to rescue wounded comrades and suffered from a lack of supplies so dire that they had to drink water from the canteens of dead Hezbollah guerrillas.

"We fought for nothing. We cleared houses that will be reoccupied in no time," said Ilia Marshak, a 22-year-old infantryman who spent a week in Lebanon.

Marshak said his unit was hindered by a lack of information, poor training and untested equipment. In one instance, Israeli troops occupying two houses inadvertently fired at each other because of poor communication between their commanders.

"We almost killed each other,” he said. "We shot like blind people. ... We shot sheep and goats." ...

[quote ends]

Poor sheep, poor goats.  They didn't deserve it either.  Better to wait and let God sort them out.

And in the end, what?

[quote from article begins]

When soldier Gil Ovadia returned home, his commander made no mention of victory in an address to their battalion. Instead, the commander told them the war was over, said they did a good job, and advised that they be prepared to come back soon and fight again.

"We'll be back in Lebanon in a few months, maybe years," Ovadia said.

[quote ends]

He could be wrong; and so could I.  We can only hope.

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17 August 2006

Sweet & Sour with a caustic aftertaste

Cherub Should I be filtering my daily news through The Huffington Post?  I do ask myself this question from time to time, but not with too much anxiety.  It isn't as if Fox News and CNN aren't infused with a certain bias.  At least The Huffington Post's is right out there on their sleeve.  And I like them because they make me feel more centrist by comparison.  They help me find my own center by giving me something to react against?

Or is that too Zen? 


"There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution," the judge wrote, dismissing the Bush administration's argument that the warrantless program falls within the president's inherent wartime powers as commander in chief.

The judge, who was appointed by President Carter in 1979, also dismissed the government's request that the suit be thrown out because of the "state secrets privilege," which permits the government to suppress a lawsuit that might lead to the disclosure of military secrets.

Hee.  "No hereditary kings."  That's a bit out of order, I think, when as far as I can tell, the Justice Department wasn't arguing that Bush in fact has the powers of a king?---but she's a Carter appointee, so fair enough.

If the point is to articulate the limits of executive power, I'm down with limiting them.  Republicans really ought to be as well.  Those who'd like to give Bush unlimited power to take any steps he and his advisers deem necessary to track down terrorists need to stop for a minute and envision those same powers in the hands of a Democrat----Hillary Clinton, say, whom they all seem to loathe.  Or how about Howard Dean?

This posting by Mark Green at The Huffington Post, "Losing Our Democracy to the New Authoritarians" frames the concern of progressive Dems and worried would-be centrists like me very succinctly.  It's at least refreshing to hear someone acknowledge that "President Bush does not wake up everyday wondering how to sabotage democracy," before launching into a description of the factors that are combining to threaten such a result.  Quite frankly, I am more worried about Justice Scalia and his ilk----who are going nowhere for a long time---than I am about President Bush. (In a note that's about a Carter appointee putting the smackdown on the Justice Department, this statement may come across as a bit rich, but SO BE IT.)

There are three factors cited in this article that I think people should be way more worried about than the average American probably is: poor voter turnout, the power of corporations to purchase legislators, and MOST ESPECIALLY the failure of the Congress to act as a check on the President.  It's a good thought-provoking piece.

Back to today's decision.   

Here's the ACLU's Director, Tony Romero, as quoted in this article at AOL News.

[quote from article begins]

The ACLU said the state-secrets argument was irrelevant because the Bush administration already had publicly revealed enough information about the program for Taylor to rule.

"At its core, today's ruling addresses the abuse of presidential power and reaffirms the system of checks and balances that's necessary to our democracy," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero told reporters after the ruling.

He called the opinion "another nail in the coffin in the Bush administration's legal strategy in the war on terror."

[quote ends]

Yes, and he says it like that's a good thing.  I wonder.  What they were doing was a long, long way from the sort of surveillance that my progressive friends fear.  I realize that the Orwellian comparisons just can't help coming to people's minds, but it's really not at all the same kind or quality of surveillance.  I suppose any step in the direction of a slippery slope is a step toward sliding down it.  I just have no idea---because, no doubt, I haven't sufficiently educated myself about the issue---whether it's just a step in that direction or the actual beginning of the slide. 

I am not going to join the savage chorus of dear fellow Democrats because I can't help seeing a down side to this decision, assuming it's affirmed on appeal.  I would like to know, just for the sake of knowing, what sort of wiretapping/surveillance the Brits had to use to track down their 24, and what would have happened if they hadn't done it.  They don't have the same obsession with privacy or free speech, of course. 

After all, they recently foiled a large scale terror plot last week....or did they?


This from Harry Shearer, via Huff Post.  Was the British terror plot a hoax aimed to stir the Brits up against their Muslim citizens? 

[quote begins]

It's useful to remember the audience to which Tony Blair is playing. Having just spent two weeks in London, I can tell you that virtually every taxi driver I talked to (and there were quite a few) is upset over the increasing visual Muslimization of the Capital--viz., the predominance on many streets of groups of women walking the sidewalk in full-bore burkas, only eyes visible. People I know quite well are very upset about the continued existence of mosques whose imams are frequently reported to be making pronouncements about the desirability of jihad. This is the ground into which news of the alleged terror plot was planted.

Obviously, at this point, none of us--nobody reading or writing to this site--has a real basis for knowing whether any of this is true or not. Nor do most of the people speaking and writing at us in the media. Responsible skepticism--not imagining conspiracies, but a demand that governments, even governments with a history of severely spinning the truth, be held to a standard of veracity--is a voice that needs to be heard right about now.

[quote ends]

I am not able to be that sceptical---or as I call it, "cynical."  I particularly am not able to believe in a connection between Lieberman's defeat and this arrest in London, a theory which someone aired last week and which some of the comments to this blog post indicate is seriously entertained in some quarters.  It strains common sense.  It also contradicts the all too credible information in two articles that I read last week and posted here.

Conspiracy theorists always assume that governments are far more efficient and well coordinated than actual human beings ever are.  I don't know whether the Brits have sufficient evidence to get a conviction, but the Metropolitan police as well as MI-5 were involved in the investigation, and so it would have to be one hell of a carefully coordinated snow job.

No, I'm calling bullshit on that one, in the absence of actual evidence.   So I'm sceptical, all right---of people who regard the theory of the evil, power-mad government as intrinsically more credible than the theory that there are a few other people out there who might wish to repeat 911. 


Are the Republicans "endorsing" or "supporting" Lieberman against Lamont?

From The New York Observer:  The Politicker by Jason Horowitz:  NSRC Takes Lieberman.

[quote from article begins]

The state and national party, it seems, have concluded that they can't succeed in Connecticut this year under any circumstance, and would rather see Joe Lieberman win -- which polls show he's likely to do, absent a credible Republican candidate -- than risk handing the election to Democrat Ned Lamont.

This morning, a source at the National Republican Senatorial Committee confirmed in a phone interview that the party will not help Schlesinger or any other potential Republican candidate in Connecticut, and it now favors a Lieberman victory in November.

....An NRSC spokesman just called to make clear the distinction between actively and openly supporting Lieberman, which they're not doing, and merely opting not to support a Republican in Connecticut.

"The NRSC is not supporting Lieberman," said Brian Nick, a spokesman for the NRSC. "He is a Democrat who votes 90 percent of the time with the Democrats. The race isn't competitive at this point -- our resources will be used elsewhere."

[quote ends; emphasis mine]

You know, if the Republicans really wanted him or if he really wanted to join them, he wouldn't be the first to desert.   

I bring this up because that "90% of the time" is the thing that worried me most about the Democrats' determination to treat Joe Lieberman as an arrant traitor to the cause.

I didn't really get angry with him until it became clear to me that he was serious about running against Lamont as an independent.  He IS---or HAS BEEN---a Democrat.  I don't like the idea that everyone has to sing in unison, but I also don't like a defeated Democrat making plans to undermine the one who actually won.  He has the right to do it, but it does feel as if he is putting his own interests well ahead of the people who sent him to Congress in the first place. 

What can I say?  Up to yet, whether we like it or not, Lieberman IS a Democrat.  If he'd give up the idea of running against Lamont, I'd give up being angry with him. 


She is Florida a Republican I truly dislike.  I shouldn't pretend I'm chortling. when in reality I'm deeply afraid of her.  She has that delicate, laquered, pointy look, like a finely chased letter opener that could easily wind up between your ribs.

Again, via Huff Post, this article by Anita Kumar in the St. Petersburg Times

[quote begins]

In the U.S. Senate primary, Rep. Katherine Harris has been touting key political endorsements from fellow Republican lawmakers. The problem is, some of them never endorsed her.

Several members of the U.S. House called the Harris campaign to complain Wednesday after the St. Petersburg Times notified them of the endorsements listed on Harris' Web site. Minutes later, their names were removed.

The list of politicians whose names came down includes Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville, Cliff Stearns of Ocala, Mark Foley of West Palm Beach and Jeff Miller of the Panhandle.....

Chris Ingram and Glenn Hodas, who both recently worked on the Harris campaign, said Harris told them to use the endorsements of members even if they hadn't confirmed their support in writing.

[quote ends]

Jeb Bush has criticized her too, of courseAnd here's more.

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12 August 2006

Spewing Out the Whole Cup of Joe.



Oh, man.  What?

[quote from Think Progress begins]

Today on CNN Headline News, anchor Chuck Roberts discussed the impact of the foiled British terror plot with Hotline senior editor John Mercurio. Roberts asked Mercurio, “How does this factor into the Lieberman/Lamont contest? And might some argue, as some have, that Lamont is the al Qaeda candidate?”

[quote ends]

  See for yourself.

Has anyone made this argument?  I mean really come out and said this?  Well, no, not exactly; so far---till now--- it's merely been heavily implied.

Even the worst sort of right wing pundits haven't stooped this low so far, so I assume that they are starting to get pretty desperate.   But saying that a vote for a Democrat (or any Democrat) is a vote for Al-Quaeda will definitely be a new low.  And considering that one of the main traits of the far-right is constant generalized rage (with a huge helping of fear), this is a dangerous tactic for the Republicans to take (dangerous for Democrats, that is).

But whether such an argument would be helpful in an election remains to be seen.  I don't think the majority of Americans are as stupid as politicians and their handlers assume and we may be slow learners, but sooner or later we do, learn.


I was wrong about Lieberman.  I defended him initially because I thought he was a man of principle, but there is nothing principled about implying that the voters who chose Lamont were voting in favor of terrorism.  Republicans do as Republicans do, but for a Democrat to make such an allegation about another Democrat?  Inexcusable. 

I think it's hilarious that Cheney sees something wrong with the Dems' repudiation of Lieberman.  From the transcript posted at Think Progress:

[quote begins]

And as I look at what happened yesterday, it strikes me that it’s a perhaps unfortunate and significant development from the standpoint of the Democratic Party, that what it says about the direction the party appears to be heading in when they, in effect, purge a man like Joe Lieberman, who was just six years ago their nominee for Vice President, is of concern, especially over the issue of Joe’s support with respect to national efforts in the global war on terror." 

[quote ends]

Well, Cheney would think that, wouldn't he?  God knows he doesn't want voters to think they can "repudiate" a candidate whose performance has disappointed them if he was their candidate for Vice President six years ago!

We were wrong, all right?  And I have been wrong.  What was I thinking?  So I am "flip-flopping."  As I've said before, failing to flip-flop when you receive evidence that your prior view was wrong is the sign of a...well, of a person of limited intellectual capability.

All the hype from the Republicans and the right about how principled and indispensable and necessary to the "global war on terror" Joe Lieberman merely indicate that he must indeed be indispensable to the Republicans.


The message from Connecticut Democrats isn't "We prefer terrorism" , but "You haven't done an adequate job of representing us."  They are doing what voters do:  throwing out the guy who isn't conveying their message.

A really scary number of politicians and pundits seem to forget that our government is not in fact intended to be an oligarchy.  No one is entitled to serve in the Senate; a Senator must convince the voters that he will represent their views.   

In other words:  Joe Lieberman isn't in Congress to represent himself and his principles, but to represent the people who sent him there.  Clearly, however useful to the Republicans his views may be, Connecticut Democrats don't want him representing Democrats.


I am, like, a Z-list blogger, so I am okay with relying on David Sirota's blog at Huff Post as my source for this quote.  I really can't afford to subscribe to New York Times Select, so I'm going to quote from Sirota's quote for my next point. (Bad form, I know, so sorry).  I'm bringing it up because it's an interesting point.   

[quote from David Sirota's blog, Finally, the Media Elite Admit the Truth...About Themselves]

New York Times columnist David Brooks's piece arguably the most brazen admission of elite disdain for democracy that has ever been printed in a major American newspaper. Before you dismiss that as hyperbole, read the third line of Brooks' piece:

"Polarized primary voters shouldn't be allowed to define the choices in American politics."

Yes, you read that correctly: According to one of the most prominent columnists in America, "voters shouldn't be allowed to define the choices in American politics." Sure, he tries to couch his statement by targeting "polarized primary voters" (because, of course, in the world of David Brooks - a chickenhawk who avoided military service himself but aggressively pushed the Iraq War - the 60 percent of Americans who are now "polarized" in opposition to the war should have their voting rights immediately revoked). But his underlying message is, again, right there in black and white: "Voters shouldn't be allowed to define the choices in American politics." Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the first major American newspaper columnist to officially go on record publicly demanding that American democracy be substitued with dictatorship - and one undoubtedly run by a small, bodyguarded council, cloistered in a luxury Manhattan high-rise, made up of David Brooks, a few of his country-club golfing buddies and maybe - if Davey decides billionaire Tom Friedman is deserving enough - a few other select New York Times columnists.

[quote ends]

Sirota's blog is very funny, but of course that isn't what Brook means at all    What I suppose he must mean is that voters in primaries---who are people who belong to one of the other political parties and who feel strongly enough about the issues to turn out at all---shouldn't be allowed to limit the choices of other voters who can't vote in the primaries.  In other words, why should a bunch of "polarized" Democrats be permitted to choose the Democratic candidate for the whole rest of the state of Connecticut?

I felt that way myself a bit during many a Republican primary. Why should a lot of "polarized" Republicans get to pick the person to run for the Republican party?  And why should my fellow Democrats get to shove John Kerry down my throat?

Which is why we allow independent candidates.  Which is why Lieberman has a perfect right to run as an independent.

But he does not have the right to run as an independent and continue enjoying the prestige he has gained as a high-ranking Democrat.  Which brings me to the next point. 


Lieberman's remarks were inexcusably insulting to the Democratic voters of Connecticut.  Fortunately, he's being called on it :

[quote from begins]

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who backed Lamont after he won the Democratic primary on Tuesday, also rejected Lieberman's remarks.

``Connecticut voters certainly aren't supporting terrorists," Reid said. ``Joe has to play on the field of Connecticut; this is Connecticut politics. The people of this country and the people of Connecticut want a change in direction."

[quote from ends]

General Wesley Clark---my first choice in the last election---is calling on Democrats to urge Joe Lieberman to STEP OFF.  In a message posted at WESPAC, he says:

From General Clark at WESPAC:

[quote from WESPAC begins]

On Tuesday, the message sent by Connecticut voters was loud and clear. They want change, and they want Ned Lamont to represent them in the U.S. Senate, voting for Ned by a 52% - 48% margin over Senator Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary.

You see, despite what Joe Lieberman believes, invading Iraq and diverting our attention away from Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden is not being strong on national security. Blind allegiance to George W. Bush and his failed "stay the course" strategy is not being strong on national security. And no, Senator Lieberman, no matter how you demonize your opponents, there is no "antisecurity wing" of the Democratic Party.

Indeed, Connecticut Democrats recognized all of this, and yesterday they chose Ned Lamont as their nominee for the U.S. Senate. Now, I hope you'll join me in supporting Ned as he heads into the general election this November.

Stand with Connecticut Democrats. Send a message to Joe Lieberman to end his Independent campaign for CT Senate.

As a Democrat, I respect the will of the Connecticut Democratic voters and their decision to make Ned Lamont their nominee. Even before the election results came in on Tuesday, Ned Lamont showed his respect for the voters by committing to abide by the Democratic primary result and support whoever won.

Joe Lieberman, on the other hand, began collecting petition signatures to run as an Independent several weeks ago while concurrently running in the Democratic primary. In short, he wanted to have his cake and eat it too.

Despite his efforts to appear on the November ballot as an Independent, I held out hope that Joe would withdraw from the Connecticut Senate race after the primary votes were counted. Unfortunately, Joe has announced his candidacy as an Independent candidate, running against Ned, the Democratic nominee.

[quote from WESPAC ends (link in original); (emphasis mine)]

Arianna Huffington discusses how the Democrats should respond if Lieberman continues on this self-destructive course. 

[quote from Joe Lieberman:  Spoiler-ed Rotten (Arianna Huffington) begins]

[I]t's not enough for party leaders to back Lamont, they have to do everything in their power -- publicly and privately -- to pressure Lieberman to drop his For the Sake of My Ego run.

And that includes making it crystal clear that if Lieberman insists on running and somehow wins, they will refuse to allow him to caucus with them in the future. They should also, as David Sirota and Kos suggest, remove Lieberman from his committee assignments.

What Lieberman is doing is an act of betrayal and should be treated as such. Democratic donors, as Rick Jacobs suggests, need to let it be known that no Democrat running for office will see a penny from them unless they support Lamont.

[quote ends; links to other relevant blogs in original]

I don't approve of any such course of action as a means to force someone to fall into political line---it's reminiscent of the tactics the Republicans supposedly use to create solidarity---but in this instance, given that Lieberman has essentially chosen to repudiate Democratic voters, I think it's appropriate. 


If they really love him, of course, they'll encourage him to cross to their side of the fence, not foster his run as an independent.  I wonder what they'll do?

[quote from begins]

Lamont's campaign manager, Tom Swan, blasted Lieberman for suggesting on Thursday that leaving Iraq would be ``a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes."

``Joe Lieberman's fear campaign is off to a quick start, and it won't be long until Republican money starts completely funding his campaign," Swan said in a fund-raising appeal sent yesterday.

[quote from ends]

This blog by Jane Hamsher suggests how Lieberman, whatever value he may be in the "war against global terror," can be useful to Republicans in holding on to control in the Senate.  She says: 

[quote from blog begins]

Rove has put the word out that Connecticut Republicans are no longer supposed to push Alan Schlessinger and his awkward gambling problem out of the race, because he wants Joe Lieberman and his giant wounded ego running against the Democrats from within the Democratic party.  It doesn't look like Joe will see his dream fulfilled of getting the GOP nomination in CT after all.  His useful idiocy depends on his willingness to keep the Democratic party in chaos and running against their own in November...

[quote from blog ends]

Hmmm, we'll see whether Lieberman falls for it, or whether he'll cave under pressure from his old friends and colleagues. 

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11 August 2006

Painful to Swallow.

Chrysanthgreengold An article in Salon about some key differences between Britain and America.

What America Doesn't Understand:  Homegrown UK Terror is a Growing Threat, Multicultural "Tolerance" Can't Combat It, and the War in Iraq Will Only Make It Worse.

[quote from article by Andrew Brown begins]

As far as can be told, every single one of the suspects arrested here was born here. One was a white convert, known until a year ago by the strikingly un-Muslim name of Don Stewart-Whyte. We are not dealing here with something wholly foreign. The discovery of the plot comes less than a week after a poll for a reputable television program suggested that between a quarter and one-third of young British Muslims say they understand the motives of the suicide bombers who struck London in July 2005; about the same proportion would be happy to live under sharia law. Given a Muslim population of about 1.6 million, this translates to something between 100,000 and 200,000 people who could be described as terrorist sympathizers.

Now, from an American perspective, that can seem incredibly dangerous....Of course, the presence of a large disaffected and angry bloc of Muslim voters who believe that British foreign policy is immoral and misguided creates a problem. The fact that our army in Iraq will almost certainly have to retreat, defeated, makes the problem worse. It looks as if the army in Afghanistan is fighting a much harder war than some politicians foresaw; it's also clear that America will have to pull back from Iraq, and the British army is hardly going to stay there on its own.

One may not like the fact that the invasion of Iraq has made homegrown British terrorism more likely. But it is a fact, acknowledged by almost everyone except Prime Minster Tony Blair. The trouble is that a defeat in Iraq will make the invaders seem both weaker and more immoral. This is a dangerous position to be in.

[quote from article by Andrew Brown ends]

A similar article, also posted at Salon by MarK Benjamin, makes similar points.  Is the UK better than the US at Stopping Terrorists?  Americans bust the hapless Sea of David gang.  The British round up real terrorist rings.  But experts say the UK arrests more extremists because more of them live on British soil.

[quote begins here]

Sir Ian Blair, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, reported last December that there had been a 75 percent increase in the antiterrorism operations carried out by his officers in the five months since the bombings in London on July 7, 2005. Between 2001 and those attacks, according to the New York Times, British law enforcement had already broken up seven or eight major terror plots. Since the attacks, there have been at least four more serious terror plots in that country, including the widely reported incident just weeks later when four suicide bombs failed to explode. In April 2006 alone, according to the Daily Telegraph, police were involved in 70 antiterrorism investigations, and officials said the pace was "accelerating." Of the more than 60 people facing trial on terrorism charges, two-thirds were arrested after the 2005 attacks.

Do those numbers mean the British are better at rooting out real terrorists than we are? Maybe not. Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank and a terror expert, has a simple explanation for why it seems like the Brits are arresting scarier people and more of them: "There are scarier people over there than there are here."

The difference in arrests in the United States and Britain appears to have much more to do with demographics than the relative skills of law enforcement. Most terrorism experts say the most insidious threats from terrorism now come not from organized terror organizations launching attacks that were hatched overseas, but from disenchanted Muslim extremists at home. And Muslim communities in the United States are generally more affluent and less dogmatic than those in Britain, which has a Muslim population of nearly 2 million. O'Hanlon described Muslim communities in Britain as "more cut off and more isolated" than in the United States.

"In the United States, the problem is one of dangerous people infiltrating the country, but the domestic problem is quite limited," said Daniel Byman, a terrorism expert and a professor at Georgetown University. "In the U.K. and in Europe in general, there is a large, unsatisfied Muslim population. It is a completely different issue. We think about bad guys overseas. They think about bad guys down the block."

[quote from article ends here]

I  had no idea that there was so much activity of the sort happening in England (where my husband's family and a couple of my close friends currently reside).   Nick says that he knew and he was unsurprised when I read him the statistics.

This can't be good for the British people who are Muslims with no such sympathies or aspirations.  According to this article at BBC Online, the British police are currently very concerned about the possibility of violence to Muslim members of this population.

[quote from article begins]

The head of the Muslim Council of Britain said Muslims were "fully behind" efforts to prevent attacks.

Dr Mohammed Abdul Bari said the community supported curbs on terrorism, but warned of "a distance" growing between them and the police.

Peter Fahey, the communities and diversities spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said forces would be "very alive" to any threats.

He added that he was aware that there was a distrust among the Muslim community.

"It is something that we take very very seriously and we are working all the time to break that down," he said.

Dr Bari warned police must be very careful, as the failed raid in east London in June created "a distance" between them and Muslims.

"The people that I have been listening to - the old, young, men and women - they are saying that they are fully behind the police when it comes to national security and the public safety," he said in an interview with BBC Radio Leeds.

He called on his community to "work together" with detectives, saying: "This is our society and we could have been victims as well, so there is no second thought on that."

[quote from article ends]

In additon to police raids, British Muslims have faced what Dr. Bari calls "Islamophobic acts."  Watching BBC World tonight, I felt like crying when I watched the stunned, weeping father of two of the suspects trying to cope with the information.  Next we saw two good-looking young Muslim men saying that they did not believe that one of the suspects could possibly be guilty.  "He just got married!"  they said.  "He's too nice a guy to be involved in something like that!"

Of course, the British have lived with terror and terrorism; and according to me, one reason they're good at tracking it down is that they've had years and years to learn the ropes.  There's a lot we could learn from them. 

For one thing, we could learn to do the necessary without excessive rhetoric.   In fact, I imagine that most ordinary people could do without it now.  Passionate speechifying just doesn't cut it.  His writers must grasp this fact to some extent, because they've ramped up the rhetoric to the point of offending U.S. Muslims.  His free use of the phrase "Islamic fascists" was unfortunate.

[quote from article from BBC Online, Bush's language Angers US Muslims, begins]

Mr Bush used the term on at least two separate occasions this week.

On Monday, during a press conference from his ranch in Texas, he said terrorists "try to spread their jihadist message - a message I call ... Islamic radicalism, Islamic fascism".

A moment later, he said "Islamo-fascism" was an ideology that is real and profound".

Then, on Thursday after the arrest in Britain of two dozen people suspected of plotting of bomb planes travelling to the US, he said "Islamic fascists... will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom".

That day, the Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote to him to complain.

Its chairman Parvez Ahmed condemned his "use of ill-defined hot-button terms", which, he said, "feeds the perception that the war on terror is actually a war on Islam".

[quote from article ends]

Furthermore..."fascists"?  Both Nick and I turned to one another when we heard this and said "That's not right." 

And I'm glad to say that Security Expert Daniel Benjamin of the Center for International and Strategic Relations agrees. [quoting from article] ""Security expert Daniel Benjamin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agreed that the term was meaningless. "There is no sense in which jihadists embrace fascist ideology as it was developed by Mussolini or anyone else who was associated with the term," he said. "This is an epithet, a way of arousing strong emotion and tarnishing one's opponent, but it doesn't tell us anything about the content of their beliefs."  [quote ends]

For the president's speechwriter, some helpful advice from Mark Twain:  "Use the right word, not its second cousin."

I felt that his delivery of these strong words was oddly lacking in force and conviction; he really looked as if he were dialing it in.  I don't imagine for a moment that he chose those words, or that he thinks that all Muslims are fascists, but he really ought to give the person who did choose them something else to do. When the president starts calling names he is opening the door for people (I call them "bigots") who can only think in categories to do the same.  Which is the beginning of the end of civility.

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Nasty aftertaste: 11 August 2006

Wallflower_1 OH THE HUMANITY


[quote from USA TODAY (WORLD) begins]

The top U.N. humanitarian official criticized Israel and Hezbollah on Thursday for hindering aid agencies' access to trapped civilians in southern Lebanon, saying it was a "disgrace" they had failed to allow convoys to get through.

The plans the UN tried to work out with Israel and Hezbollah have not worked out.  People are dying because relief workers can't get to them.  Egeland is blaming "all groups" for the failure.

[quote from USA TODAY article begins]

"The Hezbollah and the Israelis could give us access in a heartbeat," Egeland said at the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva. "Then we could help 120,000 people in southern Lebanon. I don't think that any military advantage has been gained in these last days or will be gained in the next few hours."

[quote from USA TODAY ends]

The bitter taste is somewhat mitigated by this:  "The international Red Cross said it has received a personal commitment from Israeli Prime Minister Eahud Olmert that "everything possible will be done to facilitate access for our teams on the ground."

And in this, hinting that a diplomatic solution acceptable to Israel may be in the works:

Israel Delays Push into Northern Lebanon

Even a grain or two of sugar helps the medicine go down at this point.

Copperbox_3  OH FOR GOD'S SAKE

From The Huffington Post (David Mamet),  BIGOTRY PINS BLAME ON JEWS.

This note makes many of the same difficult-to-refute points about Israel that my own Jewish friends keep presenting to me, then pisses me off completely by saying what most of them have too much sense to believe or assert.

[quote from blog begins]

That the Western press characterizes the Israeli actions consistently as immoral is anti-Semitism. What state does not have the right to defend itself - it is the central tenant of statehood.

The Jews are not the victims of bad p.r. They are the victims of anti-Semitism.

[quote from blog ends]

In the same blog, he says that Israel wants peace.  I believe this, certainly,  but it is plain to any objective observer that you do not achieve peace by waging war, unless by "peace" you mean "the silence born of fear."  And that's not going to happen here either, because a sure way to create hatred for generations to come and terror for your children is to go for the short-term solution.

Mamet can pin that label on people critical of Israel, but he can't make it stick.  As he perfectly well knows, the issue is a hell of a lot more complicated than "Israel wants peace; it's the other side who are making all the trouble."

The plea of self-defense is only credible when there is or has been an attack---not in the past, but IN PROCESS.  It's a hard truth for a lot of people to swallow, but you can't both act preemptively to kill or maim your enemies and retain the moral high ground.  And if in the course of a preemptive search and destroy mission you kill the innocent along with the guilty, you are now in precisely the same moral position as those we all deplore.

So anyway, nice one, David Mamet!  Accusing well-meaning pro-Jewish people of anti-semitism because they don't like this latest development is a very good way to win support for the parts of your argument that are valid and that do make sense.   Except not so much, judging by some of the comments (some are quite good and supplied a grain or two of sugar to this nasty dose). 

I am so very sick of people using emotional arguments to score points.  Judging by responses across the country to yesterday's news from England, so are a LOT of Americans. 



Well, it will make for some compelling footage in the biopic they'll doubtless make about him in the not so very distant future.  It's not as if he stopped at making anti-semitic remarks.

[quote from article at Times Online]

In more affable vein he greeted a female officer with the line: “What do you think you’re looking at, sugar tits?” Locked up for the night in the Lost Hill sheriff’s station, he reverted to his character Martin Riggs, the emotionally unstable Vietnam veteran escaping his tormentors in Lethal Weapon. Gibson swung like a monkey from the bars of his cell and allegedly threatened to urinate on the floor.

[quote from article at Times Online ends]

Hee.  Okay, I do still feel sort of bad for him--it's always upsetting to watch someone implode--- but setting aside his vile anti-Jewish tirade, could he have made more of an ass of himself?   Jesus must have been so proud.

Man, the guy is his own bad karma.   

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11 July 2006

The Joys of Apartment Dwelling

Embroideredviolets2sm [first published in "The Flatland Oracles," my previous blog]

I've been regarded by certain of my friends and family throughout my life as something less than a fully realized adult.  There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is the fact that since my first marriage 26 years ago, I have never owned a house---excuse me---home.  Nope.  I am over 45, employed full-time, and not a homeowner nor yet an aspiring homeowner. 

I've had the tax and finanical advantages of home ownership explained to me repeatedly.  I understand them.  I have a certain amount of anxiety about the future.  What if I can't keep a roof over my head when I'm old? 

Although there is the whole thing of spending money---over the years, lots of money---and having 'nothing to show for it.'

But here's the thing.  In the here and now, Nick and I live in a fairly inexpensive place we like a lot, in an amazingly beautiful part of town where there are many glorious liveoak trees, a city park across the road, easy access to shopping, and two swimming pools.  We have two screened porches:  one upstairs and one downstairs. 

The down side is:  we don't own any of it.  The up side is:  we don't own any of it.  Today we had to have a plumber in to clear out some sort of problem that was causing the toilet to leak.  It ended up taking not one but two plumbers.  Total cost to us:  $0.

We live at the bottom of a hill because---contrary to what you might think---Flatland ain't so flat.  Over the last couple of years we've had a lot of rain, even in the winter.  In a particularly heavy rain, some of it came under the door.  The apartment complex promptly hired people to dig out and replace the existing drains.  It's their property and they don't want it flooded.  Total cost to us: $0.

I'm not an idiot so I have renter's insurance and flood insurance and other than that a (comparatively) relaxed attitude about hurricanes.  A couple of my friends spent months getting all the downed trees removed from their lakefront property after the hurricane last year; and others have had to spend a fortune on repairs. 

There is a grasshopperish aspect to my failure to commit to a particular piece of land that I recognize in myself and certainly deplore and yet I just can't seem to get past it.  I hate all of the maintenance that goes into a 'home.'  Neither Nick nor I are at all adept at construction or repairs or housework and we both loathe 'yard work' with a deep loathing.  I really can't see how we'd manage with a house.  Actually, I can't think of anything worse. 

So there you are and here we are.  I go through spells of being terribly embarrassed to live in an apartment and by the obvious efforts of certain of my friends (you know who you are!) to be politely enthusiastic about my 'arty' display of colored glass and bright cushions when they visit my apartment.  I can see that some of them, contemplating their elegant Architectural Digest-style homes, feel sorry for me.   

But though I feel embarrassed, it's strictly a social embarrassment, the embarrassment that a social animal feels about making the choice to live in a tree because, you know, she just likes living in a tree, when the rest of the herd prefer to live in nice spacious caves made of solid stone and with hot and cold running underground streams and stalactites hanging from the ceilings.  I can't explain or justify it; but I just don't like owning too many things I have to look after or worry about.  And I like knowing that if something happens (like a tree through the roof), I can leave.

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