Thursday, December 23, 2004

Slow Adults

When I was but 19, I lived briefly in Englewood, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. If I missed the first bus to work, I caught the second bus, which numerous retarded people also caught on their way to their work. It was a loopy good time, singing songs and sharing stories with these civil folk.

One weekend in downtown Denver, quite by accident, I ran into several of my retarded friends, who were busy talking to a businessman. My friends immediately pulled me into the conversation. The businessman assumed that if I already knew these folks, then I must be retarded too. None of my carefully-worded thoughts shook his considered judgment - he simply responded, in a slow sing-song voice: "So, do you go to a workshop every day too?"

It's fun trying to shake the settled opinion of someone who knows you are retarded. There is a certain contentment that comes from being misunderstood, despite one's best efforts. No need to pose: you can be exactly who you are, without apologies.

(After all is said and done, it's too bad Howard Dean didn't win the 2004 Democratic nomination.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Seconding a Worthy Opinion

Over at Legal Fiction, the conservative case for outrage over Abu Ghraib:
You can’t defeat an insurgency – whether in Iraq or in the war on terror, which is essentially a global insurgency – by military force alone. That’s because an insurgency isn’t finite. Its numbers and resources expand and contract with public opinion. (This is the main reason why the whole "so-we-don't-fight-them-at-home" line doesn't make much sense, logically speaking. Our efforts have increased the ranks of those that hate us.) We can raze every city in the Sunni Triangle (and we’re well on our way), but we will never defeat an elastic insurgency if we can’t win the hearts and minds of the local population. If you care about the success of this mission, both in Iraq and more globally, logic demands outrage.

Canned Air

One of the consequences of a scientific education is a kind of literal-mindedness that can cause me trouble. At the 'Office Max' checkout counter, they have a sign that reads:
We ID! You must be 18 or older to purchase canned air

Immediately, I'm thinking, empty cans will collapse if there isn't air in the can. Does everything have a price these days? But I guess they are talking about cleaning agents for electronics, sometimes abused by thrillseekers, and not actual 'canned air.'

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Iraq and the Stupid Party

In today's Wall Street Journal, the principal editorial (Review and Outlook) shows why conservatives can't be trusted in foreign affairs.

Referring to recent assassinations in Iraq, the WSJ asserts: "these events ought to put to rest the canard that what we are facing in Iraq is some kind of 'nationalist' uprising." Wake up, guys, it's not a canard! A nationalist uprising, led in part by Baathists and Salafists, is exactly what we are facing. We are the foreigner, they aren't, and in history, there is no battle-cry more persuasive than "evict the foreigner!" Besides, who is the WSJ to presume to state who the 'real' nationalists are in Iraq anyway? The WSJ are foreigners!

"If Mr. Rumsfeld has made a single large has been underestimating the resilience of the enemy." Well, duh! that's what non-neoconservatives have been trying to say for a year-and-a-half!

"The CIA seems to have completely missed that Saddam's strategy from the beginning was to disperse his allies and conduct a decentralized insurgency." No, Saddam boasted for years before the invasion that, if ever attacked, he would pursue exactly this strategy. The WSJ must have been off on a blue dress hunt and missed Saddam's memo.

Warnings of such a strategy "were dismissed at the time, especially by the CIA, which still believed that Iraq could be pacified with a 'decapitation' strategy eliminating Saddam and his top aides." No, the CIA adopted the decapitation strategy from the Administration and the Pentagon, not the other way around. Fearing decapitation himself, Dick Cheney certainly favored a decapitation strategy. Notice how the CIA gets made the scapegoat no matter what their opinion actually was?

Referring to the need to completely eliminate the Baathist enemy in Iraq, the WSJ opines "the number of U.S. troops on the ground matters much less than the intelligence our forces can get from the Iraqis." This statement suggests that conservatives see intelligence as a much stronger force-multiplier than it probably merits. Push intelligence-gathering too hard, and you get torture and a mountain of bad intelligence. Plus others gather intelligence too: Ahmed Chalabi and the Iranian mullahs. In guerilla war, you need much more than intelligence - you need a presence, to make a difference. Boots on the ground. For a long time. And lots of help from the locals. Otherwise, you are doomed.

"When these columns endorsed the war in Iraq, we didn't sign up for a short or easy war." Well, the American people did, under the blowhard leadership of the WSJ, among many others. Remember how easy it was going to be? Flowers in the street? And I see no spirit of sacrifice anywhere, because conservatives insisted there didn't have to be any. Soon, we'll be hearing stab-in-the-back theories from the WSJ. Who would have thought: Reichstag Fire = 9/11 Attacks?

Liberals have been there, warning all along about the dangers of opening Pandora's box. Too bad George Bush's lies about knowing for certain there were WMD in Iraq proved so effective (and please, stop blaming the CIA for this lie: the analysts always said they didn't know for sure, and their leadership, under George Tenet, bent to Administration wishes for war). Conservatives (and now, conservatives alone) bear responsibility for what will come to pass from this misadventure. The blame (and glory, if there ever is any) will be theirs, and theirs alone.
Steve Forbes, Idealist

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine, gave vent to a variety of radical recommendations to Treasury Secretary John Snow, including:
  • tossing out the federal tax code, and starting over with a flat tax;
  • stop messing with the dollar's value; and,
  • borrow vast sums of money, to allow workers to put most of their Social Security payments into private accounts.

Most remarkable was Forbes' statement that:

The dollar's value is, fundamentally, a moral one. When an individual receives a dollar for his labor, what right have politicians, central bankers, or other "we are smarter than the American people" Mandarin types to change the value of what that individual receives for his or her labor?

I love it when the rich elite spout on in faux-demagogic fashion about siding with the common man. The flat tax does not benefit the common man nearly as much as it benefits the rich. Also, capitalism gauges the value of everything by the market, including the value of the dollar: American Mandarins, ordinary Americans, foreign Mandarins, and foreigners, in general, deciding altogether. Markets aren't moral - never have been, never will be. Markets require rules, however, and moral people tend to be better at running markets, because they tend to follow rules. Moral people aren't absolutely required to run markets, though, just people who follow orders. Just ask Saddam Hussein (Oil-for-Food), or Lockheed/Martin (aerospace contracting scandals), or people in the San Fernando Valley porn industry.

Forbes does make some good observations regarding the connection between inflation and the decay of morality:

Criminologists, sociologists and economists still haven't connected the dots - it was no coincidence that the rise of inflation in the 1960s went hand in hand with economic stagnation and saw the rapid rise in social pathologies, including crime.

These professionals may not have connected the dots, but historians like Godfrey Hodgson ("America in Our Time") already have. The pathologies of the 60's didn't happen all at once either - as I recall, in the order: crime first, then inflation, and finally, stagnation. There was cause-and-effect going on that was often difficult to spot.

Also remember that when all this was going on, the Johnson Administration was waging war without raising taxes - guns and butter, the primary source of the inflation of the 60's and 70's, and the most dishonest event of the decade - very much like events of today! There are deep connections between McNamara's Whiz Kids and crime in the street, as there will be between today's Neoconservative ideologues, and the crime wave yet to come. As far as reforming Social Security, it sounds like a big Ponzi scheme to me: borrow money, skip out on the responsibility to the aged, saddle taxpayers with the debt, and keep the cash - another form of intense, ugly dishonesty, that will lead ultimately to the capitalist's bete noire: stagnation.

Republican, heal thyself.

More Tales of Sacramento at Night

I was trying to chat with the clerk, barricaded after-hours within the quick market, when the couple appeared. The man and woman had had several drinks, and were desperate for a lift. This being the Christmas season, I obliged, and drove them a mile down the road, to another quick market, in appearance all but identical to the first quick market, but for some reason the preferred store. The man lost a paint scraper in my car, which I returned, and we all agreed that people spend way too much during the Christmas season.
Christmas Shopping

Went over to Arden Fair Mall this evening. Christmas season wouldn't be complete without at least one mall visit. People looked just fabulous. I don't know whether it was because they were young and well-dressed, eagerly listening to their cell phones, or whether, with my old eyewear (3 years old+, and aging by the day), everybody looks just fabulously fuzzy these days, and maybe it's just a fad for everyone to hold the side of their head.

I was having serious deja vu moments too. I constantly felt like I KNEW these people, or had seen them all before. Perhaps I had: last Christmas at Arden Fair Mall, and the Christmas before that. As I get older and forget everybody's name, in compensation, everyone seems to be becoming SO familiar. In a couple of decades, I'll be a familiar face at the Arden Fair Mall Food Court, rocking back and forth on my chair, calling everyone Bob and Kathy, smiling and babbling (and blogging, of course).

There was a department store security camera pointed directly at the door of a women's changing room, in just the right place to catch the bald spot on my head. I never get to see that view in normal life, so I started pacing back and forth directly in front of the door, trying to size up that spot. Pretty soon women, with odd furtive smiles, began queueing up. They too seemed surprised by the size of the bald spot.

There was a good T-Shirt slogan at Hot Topic (all the wrong sizes for me, unfortunately): "It's Fun Until Someone Loses an Eye. Then Hey! Free Eyeball!"

California mall shoppers are so multi-colored and multi-racial. It isn't like when I lived in Salt Lake City, greeting Bob and Kathy at the downtown ZCMI Mall. In Utah, there seemed to be about eight different general types of alarmingly-white facial types, all seemingly descendant from the same set of Mormon pioneers (with an odd African-American, here and there, to jar one's sensibility). Not Sacramento!

This year, I was surprised by all the Russian-speaking teenagers. I guess they are the same Russian kids I used to see about a decade ago at Arden Fair Mall. Surprisingly, their names were all Bob and Kathy too.

I caught some snippets of conversation:

  • the odd cell phone utterance ("I know you know that");
  • shopping plans - or maybe dating plans ("we want the cute one that doesn't look all cheap");
  • trying to eat with the herd ("maybe something at that Mexican place - it's popular!");
  • the realistic 12-year-old girl in Sear's ("we're too poor for this store"); and,
  • the philosophical question I'm sure to answer in my Arden Fair Food Court dotage, decades from now ("are you at least happy?")

Monday, December 20, 2004

My Favorite Things

A 'Weird Al'-type moment, to ease you through the daily grind. For all you Michael Jackson fans, the One-Gloved Wonder sings from "The Sound of Music!" (Courtesy of Noel)
Big, Bald Blog

Ray Fisher, the maestro of local musical theater himself, is taking the blogging plunge! The very best to you and your blog, Ray!

Sunday, December 19, 2004


So close, and yet so far! Martian rover Opportunity was able to get very close to Burns Cliff, on the inner eastern rim Endurance Crater, but couldn't hack the steep slope to actually touch the rock. So, like a frustrated tourist, Opportunity had to be content with high-resolution snapshots, and chemical analyses of nearby rocks. Some of Opportunity's research findings recently were published in the December 3rd issue of Science magazine.

To this Earth-bound tourist, Burns Cliff sure looks like it's made of compacted sand dunes, but they may be water sediments instead, or a complicated mix of both. Figuring out the sequence of events in its assembly will prove an interesting exercise in Martian geology.

So now, having left Endurance Crater, Opportunity heads south, to make morphological studies of Martian "etched terrain."

Purge Update at TNR

What gives? Peter Beinart takes a somewhat overwrought plea from for the U.S. to avoid indiscriminate bombing in Kabul, and deduces "by any reasonable standard, that is opposition to war in Afghanistan," even though the U.S. military heeded exactly this advice with its own targeted bombing campaign. I'm a subscriber of a quarter-century standing, and I've never seen such asininity from the TNR Editors. Beinart cannot persuade anyone of anything with such crude misrepresentations.
Civilized Sunday

Nice show on PBS last night: Sugar Plum Dreams, all about Indiana University ballet company's annual staging of "The Nutcracker."

At the end of ballet class today, Charlotte sprung a birthday surprise on Pam: a little party, featuring cake, cheese with crackers, and champagne, on a little card table, with nice china. What an excellent thing to do! I propose we end every ballet class henceforth with cake, cheese, and champagne. It's SO civilized!