Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bits and Pieces

*109 American soldiers killed so far in Iraq in December, 2006 (as of 12/30) - we are now only 2 away from the not-so-magic number of 3000. We may hit that tragic milestone in 2006 and be ready to start a'fresh on the next 1000 in 2007. Update - the 3000th soldier died in Iraq on New Year's Eve.

- Well, what a surprise - another Bush crony, another screw-up. Donald Bolinger is a Bush Super Ranger, the designation for those who brought big bucks ($300,000 plus) into the Bush political campaign. Bolinger is also the Chief Executive Officer of Bolinger Shipyards. Turns out that a few year's ago, the U.S. decided to up-grade the Coast Guard. Instead of letting this branch of the military plan the logistics of what was needed itself, because we believe everything is better if it is privatized, don't you know (sound familiar, Hoosiers?), the job was handed over to Lockheed Martin and Grumman. They in turn, subcontracted to Mr Bolinger, one of their business partners.

Even before 2003 when the actual upgrades began, Coast Guard engineers expressed doubts about the feasibility of the conversion of boats Bolinger had come up with. Chris Cleary of the Coast Guard Engineering Logistics Center is quoted as questioning whether the boats could bear the extra weight. "You could have a buckling of the structure of the ship."

Nope, Bolinger Shipyards insisted, not to worry, all is well. But all wasn't well. The Coast Guard critics were right. Bolinger can't explain how it happened. In a New York Times article, T.R. Hamlin, Bollinger senior manager said, "the computer broke for some reason, whether it was a power surge or something, who knows?" Sounds a little casual about a program that started out with a $17 billion dollar price tag that has now ballooned to $24 billion and nary a ship or helicopter in sight, doesn't it? But that's what crony capitalism gets you, I guess. We ought to be used to this by now what with FEMA trailers that don't get delivered and gazillion dollar construction projects in Iraq that don't get built and oil tax revenues that don't get collected......I could go on......

- According to an article by Jonathan Amos, Science Reporter for BBC News, 10,000 U.S. scientists, including 52 Nobel Laureates, have issued a statement protesting the injection of politics into political research.

They claim scientists working for federal agencies have been asked to make their data conform to political policies, ranging anywhere from sex education to global warming. They say their work has been censored by agencies, such as the EPA and the FDA. The American Union of Concerned Scientists has released a guide that illustrates dozens of recent charges involving censorship and political interference.

- Similarly, Grand Canyon National Park employees are not allowed to tell visitors the scientifically estimated age of the Grand Canyon, because of Bush administration appointees. In fact, the Grand Canyon gift store sells a book that claims the Grand Canyon wasn't created by geological forces at all, which is what scientists believe, but was instead, created by the Biblical flood, "A Different View," by Tom Vail.

"In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology," said Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Peer. Because of protests, the National Park Service promised a review of the issue but according to the response to a Park Service Freedom of Information Act request, such a review was never requested, conducted or completed.

Park Service officials pass off on this book, claiming that the gift store offers a wide variety of "opinions", this just being one of them, but according to PEER, in 2003, 22 books and other products were denied while they approved only "A Different View."

What in the world is going on in our country when science is perverted into politics? Science and religion are two completely different things. Religion is based on faith and science is based on evidence. Most people are able to interweave their faith with the facts of science. The age of the Grand Canyon doesn't reflect one way or the other on whether it was God's plan unless a person believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible AND that everything in the Bible has been interpreted correctly by its human interpreters. It almost seems that while the rest of the world is leaping into the high tech 21st century, anxious to compete in the global marketplace, America is sliding backwards toward ignorance.

- Have you ever noticed how almost everyone who dies becomes a saint overnight? The television has been All Gerald Ford, All The Time as his several funerals take place. For someone who has been described as a humble, unassuming man, his family sure did go to excessive lengths to bury him. Well, that's okay. If my father was an ex-president, I would probably do the same. But, in the way of the media, Gerald Ford has been re-cast from a somewhat mediocre president (my opinion) to practically the savior of his country. I totally disagreed with Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon after Watergate and I still think he set the stage for diminishing America's belief that we are a country that lives by the rule of law. I didn't want Nixon burned at the stake but I at least wanted him indicted in the interest of "no one in America is above the law". Since then, George Bush, Sr. pardoned the key Iran-Contra figures and I expect that George W Bush will pardon Scooter Libby, proving that, in fact, elite Americans often are above the law.

Even as one of his last acts, Ford didn't shine. In 2004, he gave an interview to Bob Woodward, saying that he thought our Iraq War policy was a mistake but the interview was embargoed until after his death. I guess his rationale was that it is unseemly for a former president to criticize the decisions of the current one which seems pretty gutless to me. After all, we are talking about people's lives here, not some aspect of presidential protocol. If he could have made a difference, then it seems to me, it was incumbent upon Ford to try to do it for the sake of all those who have been killed and wounded since 2004. After all, if anyone ever has, Gerald Ford had seen first-hand via Vietnam what the costs of "going along" with a war can be.

In the same way, James Brown has been elevated since his death. I loved James Brown's music and I think he deserves a lot of the credit for pioneering the type of music he performed, leading the way for the Michael Jackson's and Prince's and many other black stars. I'm sure James Brown did some really good things with his fame and money. On the other hand, in some ways, he was a garden variety drug-abuser and wife batterer, just like people we see right here in the courtrooms of Wabash County and everything that he was doesn't excuse that - even now that he's dead. One thing I will say though, comparing the dry, droning of boring old white men at Ford's funeral with the performance art of Brown's, you have to give African-Americans credit for knowing how to turn the celebration of a loved one's life into a joyous occasion.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

America the Conformist

I saw the day as a double opportunity. First, I visited Tim in the VA Hospital in Indianapolis and then Christmas-shopped my way home - going to Castleton and some of the strip malls in the area, then proceeding on to Noblesville to visit some of the shopping centers strung out along Highway 37. I plodded through Target and Kohl's and Meier's, looking for stocking stuffers. I went to Linens and More and Bath and Body and Penney's and Macy's and Pier One and Barnes & Noble - in other words, exactly the same stores I'd have visited to if I'd gone to Fort Wayne instead of Indianapolis. I bought a few things but then I came home and found different gifts that really pleased me at The D Shoppe and Billings and Treasured Dreams Cottage.

I have certainly noticed this before but on the trip to Indianapolis, I was especially struck by how generic we are becoming as a nation. Lazarus used to be one of my favorite department stores but Lazarus is no more. It has now become Macy's. L.S. Ayres used to be one of my favorite department stores but now L.S. Ayres is no more. It has now become Macy's. In the same way, we long ago lost the big department stores that we used to find in most downtowns - stores that were so much fun to shop in like Wolf and Dessaurs (I think I have the spelling wrong) in Huntington and King Leeson's in Elwood and Olsen's in Logansport. And here in Wabash, shopping downtown was great with individually owned stores like Beitman & Wolf, Resneck's, Wassman's, P.N. Hirsch, P.K. Department store and the Francis Shoppe. Now only the Francis Shoppe remains. I also loved to go to downtown Marion back then because the whole square was packed with stores.

I bought some things in Macy's and I guess the advantage is that it will make it easy for the kids to return anything they either don't like or doesn't fit because the store in Indianapolis is the same store they have in the mall at Fort Wayne.

If someone put you on a plane with a blind fold and ear plugs, then put you in a taxi to a main highway anywhere in America, there would be few clues to tell you where you were. You would see the same fast food restaurants, the same Lowe's and Office Depots, the same Walmarts and Radio Shacks and Cracker Barrels and Outbacks.

Maybe you'd know you were down south if you saw some palm trees or Spanish moss. Maybe you'd know you were in the west if you saw some towering mountains in the distance or in the southwest if the malls were built to look like adobe haciendas (although even this isn't necessarily true). Some different regions of the country have their own department stores but I believe Macy's is national (or international) so it is probably only a matter of time before those stores are bought out too. Some areas have their own restaurants. You are probably in the south is you spot a Po' Folks but if that franchise is anything like Cracker Barrel, they are probably building northward even as we speak.

And if you think turning on the radio would help you to identify where you were, you'd be wrong. Newscasters and deejays all have generic American voices now. Even when we lived in Charleston, South Carolina back in the late 70's, we loved listening to some of the local news anchors because of that slow, gracious Charleston accent but I expect that is a thing of the past in the 21st century. Probably all modern media people have to go to a special school to eliminate any trace of accent or regional dialect from their speech - and that's because they want to jump to a bigger market someday or expand their market - Bob and Tom are heard all over the country now.

The most fun I ever had Christmas shopping was one year when Bryan and I had to pick up a prisoner in Fort Lauderdale. Poor Bryan got deathly sick with the flu and had to spend a full day laid up in his hotel room. I felt bad for him but that left me free to take the car to a shopping district called Las Olmas Boulevard which consisted of blocks of unique shops and restaurants. I spent the whole day there and came back thrilled with gifts I wouldn't have found anywhere else.

I really hate our tendency toward more and more conformity. Part of the fun of traveling the highways and by-ways of America was the interesting individuality of our different regions of the country - the sights and the sounds and the smells. You can still find some of that if you get off the beaten track but mostly, you're going to find more of the same everywhere you go.

Iraq

* 86 American soldiers killed in Iraq in December, 2006, as of Christmas Day

- I simply do not understand why Americans aren't raising all kinds of hell about the war in Iraq like we did back in the 60's and 70's about Vietnam. Most of us are opposed to the war. A large majority of us have decided it wasn't worth what we've had to give up in lives and dollars. We believe, collectively, that there is no way America can win anything that could be remotely called victory, unless you're looking at the situation from behind the Bush looking glass. We voted that way in November. But even electing a Democratic congress isn't going to end the war when the Commander-in-Chief is determined to fight on, even most likely, increasing the number of troops by at least 20,000 - this is called "surging", the media's new favorite word.

This war has had so many "last chances". In fact, in the blogs, a six-month period of time is called an F.U., for Friedman Unit, for the number of times the famed New York Times (this would be on the editorial page of the oh-so-liberal New York Times) columnist has said he thought the next six months was critical in Iraq. When that six months had passed without progress, he extended it for another six months and another. (Now his position is "10 months or 10 years" - either give it all we've got for 10 months and get out if there is no real improvement or be prepared to stay for the long haul). Generals have described a relatively short "window of opportunity" which has passed and passed again. Now, we are most likely (Bush will give us a speech about Iraq in January) going to surge in what has been described as one last chance to salvage Iraq. It is almost like, "well, okay, we have to give Bush his last shot." But I don't think we need to give him any more last shots or surges or F.U.'s. He's had all the opportunity he needed. His last chance could result in being the last day for lots of young Americans or maybe the last day they can walk or the last day they can see or the last day they can think.

Someone told me not long ago that he didn't feel sorry for the soldiers in Iraq because, after all, they are all volunteers and knew what they were getting into when they signed on the dotted line. But I don't think they did know what they were getting into. I don't think anyone ever expected that America would, for the first time, send the same soldiers into a theater of war for two and three and four tours. I don't think they expected that their country would initiate a "stop-loss" policy so that even when their commitment was over, the military could just say, "sorry, we're keeping you - off to Iraq you go - again." I don't think most National Guard soldiers thought that would end up giving over their lives and their families and their careers to practically a full-time military assignment. Maybe if they'd read the fine print, they would have realized all this was possible but even if they had, I doubt they would have thought their country would really do this to them.

Now Bush wants to increase the size of the Army and Marines. Maybe this is a good idea but I don't see how he's going to do it. Already all the Armed Forces have lowered their standards for recruits in order to meet their goals. They raised the age limit and lowered the educational level and allowed minor criminal records that wouldn't have passed muster several years ago. And if it wasn't for Iraq, would this be considered necessary? Afghanistan was the righteous war and I expect we'd have plenty of soldiers to send there if Iraq wasn't sucking up all the resources in both manpower (I don't know the pc term for manpower - man/woman power? body power?) and material.

As it is, we spend more on our military than the next 20 countries in the world combined!
So it isn't like we nationally stingy with our tax dollars. But nothing is ever enough for Bush. He is now going to ask Congress for another roughly $100 billion for Iraq. This is on top of the $70 billion already approved for 2007. So I say, Congress should say no to the president. No to a surge. No to billions more dollars. I think they should simply say that Americans gave him almost 4 years and it hasn't worked out and now they want their kids brought home. I think they should tell him, "game over, Mr. President. You lose."

And if they don't, I believe the American people should once again put on their walking shoes and take to the streets.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Coat-aholics

I really need to get rid of some coats. Between Mom and I, and a few residual coats John left here, we have not seen the individual hooks on the hall tree for years. I had Brenda order this hall tree from a guy at her factory who makes them as a sideline. It is made of oak and has two hooks on each of the four sides - a total of eight hooks. I envisioned how convenient it would be if Mom, John and I could simply pluck our coat from a hook on the hall tree instead of having to dig around in the coat closet.

The reality is that it is much more difficult to find your coat on the hall tree than it is in the closet because each hook holds two or three or four coats. The hall tree now appears as a gigantic mound of outer garments. Spray it green and it would seem that I had physically moved one of the smaller Appalachian mountains directly into my dining room. You can see almost nothing of the actual structure except for the very bottom.

It now takes actual skill to place your coat on the hall tree in such a way that it doesn't slide immediately onto the floor because it is being set over several other coats so that there is really no defined hook any more. You have to sort of tent it over the other garments hanging there. Sometimes you skip the hooks and simply float it over the top of the entire pile. Over the years, Mom and I have mastered this technique to a T.

The over-abundance of coats, jackets and vests hanging on the hall tree make it extremely difficult to find the actual coat you are looking for. Say you want your black jacket with the fur collar. You first bury you head into the pile of coats, looking for some tell-tale sign of the one you want to wear. Possibly you spy a black sleeve that you believe is part of that particular coat. You then grasp the sleeve and follow it through the stack to where the main body of the coat is located. You note that this particular coat has 12 other coats hanging on top of it. You now have two choices: 1) you can decide, "the heck with it" and abandon that coat in favor of one that is closer to the top or 2) you can persevere in trying to extricate the black jacket. This will mostly likely mean that approximately 47 coats will all fall to the floor, the ones above this one as well as those on either side, which are so precariously balanced that a butterfly could drift past and cause a coat avalanche.

You might wonder why we have such an abnormally large number of coats. After all, we are poor people, not rich fashionistas like Paris Hilton. There are two reasons:

First, Mom is a garage-saler. No matter how many coats we currently have, if she finds a practically brand-new London Fog for $3, she can no more pass up that bargain than an alcoholic could pass up a free beer.

The second reason we have such an abundance of outerwear is my forgetfulness and/or bad weather luck. Invariably, when Brenda and I take one of our mini-trips, I forget to take a coat or jacket. Perhaps, it is in the heat of summer and I think a jacket isn't even necessary. But I guarantee you that if I leave home without a coat, an unseasonable cold spell will strike wherever I am at. I went to Las Vegas once and nearly froze to death until I broke down and bought a white knit jacket with "I (heart) Las Vegas" across the back. At that point, the temperatures dropped even more and I nearly froze to death until I bought furry blue jacket with LAS VEGAS across the back. (It is almost impossible to buy a piece of apparel in Las Vegas on which the city's name does not appear). Naturally, after I bought not one, but two coats, Las Vegas resumed its normal pressure-cooker temperatures.

I forgot to take a coat when Brenda and I went to Lake Erie in April. It was warm and beautiful here in Wabash but at Lake Erie, February had set in to stay while. It wasn't long before I was shivering and Brenda and I hit the strip mall where I bought a pink and gray reversible coat - and then, well, we found these darling white jackets with all the Lake Erie Islands printed on them in red and we just had to have one. I resisted because I'd just spent money on a coat but Brenda bought it for me as an early Birthday present or maybe it was a late Christmas present.

When Brenda and I met LeAnn in Iowa and decided to take a ride on a riverboat down the Mississippi, you could tell it was going to be chilly out on the river - so I had to purchase a jacket prior to going or I knew I could never enjoy the view.

Anyway, I could go on but I won't. I've told you enough to explain the stuffed closet and the hall tree volcano that erupts with coats in all materials, shapes and colors, until lava-like, they ooze down onto the floor periodically. Sometimes when this happens and you are picking them back up, you find a garment that was on the bottom that you forgot you even had, which can be pretty exciting.

Occasionally, either Mom or I will make the comment that we should go through the coats and get rid of some of them. The other one will nod vaguely, saying, "mm-hmm," and that's pretty much the end of that for another year or so. In the meantime, the coats keep coming.

Monday, December 4, 2006

So far in December.....

*39 US military killed in Iraq so far in December

- The Iraq Study Group finally provided its report and it turned out to be much ado about nothing. Looks like more of the same to me - playing around the edges. A little bit of acknowledgement that things aren't going so hot, a little bit of recommendation that we might need to start withdrawing some troops at some unknown point in the future, a little of bit suggestion that, you know, maybe the Iraqis themselves could pick up the pace. Meanwhile our president was first snubbed by the leader of the Iraq government and then taken to task for not providing them with the equipment they need to kill each other in even greater numbers, even though we are practically bankrupting our own damn country to prop up his. We let one of our own great cities die, so we can send the money to Iraq. Meanwhile, Bush stated that there is no graceful exit from Iraq. Well, finally, he gets something right! It probably doesn't matter what the Baker/Hamilton group come up with anyway. I don't think Bush has any intentions of taking anyone's advice.

I think we ought to just bail. Just say, "see ya" and pull our troops. Tell them we got rid of their awful dictator for them, gave them over 3 years and almost 3,000 lives and God knows how many grievously injured, both physically and emotionally, and about a gazillion dollars - now its up to them to do the best they can. Of course, that probably means Sunnis and Shiites will blast each other back to kingdom come but you know, that's what they are doing anyway. I think it is what they will continue doing, with us or without us. Only difference is that our soldiers won't be caught in the cross-fire.

- As an aside, I saw former Chief-Justice Sandra Day O'Conner being interviewed about the Iraq Study Group report. She would hear no criticism of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq. "We didn't look back," she said, "only forward." I wondered if she felt some responsibility for the tragedy Iraq has become seeing as how she was one of the 5 votes that put Bush in the White House despite a significant majority of Americans having expressed their preference for Al Gore. Doesn't she ever second-guess that vote, do you suppose?

- No, no, no! I don't want to hear about the 2008 presidential campaign! Please, national media, leave it be. You can report who is announcing they will run and who is forming an exploratory committee but beyond that, just shut up! It is too early for the prognosticators to begin telling us who is going to win. There may be someone out there we've never even thought of who will catch fire with their party's supporters. The front-runners of today are not necessarily the front-runners of two years from now. I don't want to listen to endless hours of how Barack Obama affects Hillary's chances and whether Republican evangelicals will vote for the Mormon Mitt Romney and how much the media loves the "maverick" McCain and on and on and on. Give it a rest for a year or so.

- There is a great dispute in the Washington in-crowd about an incident that occurred between President Bush and newly-elected Senator from Virginia, Jim Webb. Webb attended a ceremony at the White House along with other incoming freshmen Congresspeople. He deliberately avoided the Bush receiving line as well as not having his picture taken with the president. He didn't make a big issue of it but simply stayed out of the way. But Bush sought him out especially and asked him how his boy was doing. Webb's son is a Marine in Iraq. Webb believed we should never have invaded Iraq and campaigned on that issue. He responded to Bush - "I'd like to get them home, Mr. President." Bush snapped back, "that's not what I asked you, I asked you, 'how's your boy?'" Webb replied, "that's between me and my boy, Mr. President."

Oh, my goodness, what an uproar erupted in the media. This simply isn't how it is done in Washington. Our capitol city survives on charade. People who despise one another refer to their congressional brethren as "my esteemed colleague, the honorable...." Hypocricy is elevated to the level of Olympian skill. (Unless, of course, you are the vice-president and tell a senator to "go f--k yourself", then it is simply an amusing little side story but then, that's our liberal media for you.) But honest emotion on the part of a father concerned about his son's safety in Iraq and no doubt bitter toward the president who put him in harm's way, that is simply unacceptable in a city where insincerity is an art form.

- And speaking of hypocricy, Mary Cheney, that would be the Vice-president's lesbian daughter, is pregnant and whew, Baby, is she ever catching it from her father's so-called friends and allies. The right-wing has gone off the map registering blistering criticism. You just have to wonder how much of a split personality you have to have to be a conservative religious-right Republican and also a pregnant gay woman. Talk about working against your own self-interest. Mary was officially involved on the Bush/Cheney ticket even as they were trumpeting their disapproval of her very situation. Mary and her "wife" live in Virginia which passed one of the most onerous anti-gay marriage laws in the country. Mary's partner will have no official right to a claim on this baby. Should Mary die, I guess it would fall into some kind of familial limbo state (although I presume, the Vice-president would ride to the rescue when his very own grand-child was involved). If Mary's father were't the Republican vice-president, wouldn't her natural home be with the Democrats who tend to get more exercized about thousands of military deaths in Iraq than two people who love each other choosing to have a baby, be they man and woman or two women?

- In the same way, the evangelical Christians saved most of their outrage against the Reverend Ted Haggard for engaging in homosexual sex. They barely mentioned what I thought was much the more serious of his failings, buying and using meth. If I was a member of Ted Haggard's family and loved him, I'd be much more concerned about his use of meth than his gayness.

In fact, the whole issue of gays is one that puzzles me. I have gay friends and family members. They are just like straight people in every way except who they are sexually attracted to. They have the same strengths and weaknesses; they love their kids and worry about paying their bills. Some of them hate their jobs and some of them hate to get up in the morning. Some of them drink too much and some of them are active in their church.

- In the same way, I am taken aback when told by the media that some people simply wouldn't vote for a black person, even one like Barack Obama, who is only half-African American. Can that really be so? In the 21st century? I barely even notice that Barack Obama is black and if I do, I certainly don't care. What is Black anyway? If you are half white and half black, are you black? If you are one/fourth black and three-fourths white, are you black? In the old days (and even in the not so old days) in Louisiana, if you were even one 32nd black, you were black. Isn't it ridiculous to label a person based on some tiny percentage of ethnic heritage? If we have moved beyond declaring a person black if a 32nd of their DNA is black, then where is the line to be drawn?