Thursday, September 27, 2007

Last Laugh

I don't feel like adding to the hundreds of thousands of words that have already been written, spoken, and spouted concerning Ahmedinejad's visit to New York this past week and the domestic hatefest it generated. It's enough to say that the president of Iran has now been designated our current Satan incarnate, and that Saddam Hussein has a worthy successor, and one whose country contains almost as much petroleum as the dead dictator's.

I'll leave it to Dennis Perrin to sum up (from his blogpost, Booga! Booga!): "(W)hat (Ahmedinejad) says isn't important. He's merely an archetype that American politicians and their media megaphones can pelt with self-serving garbage. From Romney, to Hillary, to Rudy, to Pious Joe Lieberman, no one can overstate their case. The wilder, the better. In fact, I'd wager that Ahmadinejad is playing these and like-minded Americans for howling chumps. His ever-present grin is a giveaway."

Besides setting off ten thousand cable news replays of the two-minutes' hate, Ahmedinejad's visit was the subject of countless debates in internet discussion groups. It was at one of these I found myself entangled with a poster who referred to the Iranian prez as "subhuman scum," condemned him for homophobia among other things, then loftily opined that "some cultures are better than other cultures." I had to agree.

You have to wonder about cultures that don't lose old habits and attitudes that imperil their own survival. The Romans, for example, just kept on expanding their empire and making new enemies. It wasn't the smartest thing to do, in the long run.

An Associated Press story on the financial page on Thursday, 9/27, provided an example of what I'm talking about.

"Oil and other petroleum futures surged Thursday amid supply concerns sparked by a decline in crude inventories at a key Oklahoma terminal and the confrontation between the West and Iran."

So with oil at record high prices, we invite the prez of one of the world's largest oil-exporting countries over here so we can take target practice at him.

"Many traders are betting the West will take action against Iran before the end of the year, and worry that economic sanctions or a military strike will result in the disruption of oil supplies from the Middle East."

It's the mark of a superior culture I guess. Having allowed itself to become addicted to petroleum, the political arm of said culture responds by shooting itself in the gas tank.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fight for Peace

Yesterday, September 21, is designated the Internatinal Day of Peace.

Of course, we're at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and maybe Iran is next if Dick Cheney has his way, so the International Day of Peace kind of got lost in the shuffle.

Now, we all know that the way to get peace is to go to war and shock and awe people with how many bombs and whizbangs you've got. Any fool knows that.

So with that in mind, On Memorial Day, 2005, President Bush urged Americans to pray for permanent peace.

"I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Memorial Day, May 30, 2005, as a day of prayer for permanent peace," he said.

This sorta reminds me of a send-up Mad Magazine did years and years ago of the teevee show, "The Rifleman."

Johnny Crawford: You shot all those people because you believe in justice, didn't you dad? That's why you do it. Because you believe in justice. Isn't that right, Pa?

Chuck Connors: No, son. I do it because I believe in killin' people.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Harajuku Girls

"Harajuku Girls" is a pop song by Gwen Stefani. It's a celebration of the trend-setting Tokyo neighborhood where fashions destined to cross the wide Pacific and invade California originate. Like most trendy, in-crowd songs, it's kind of dumb and childish.

What this has to do with the Southwest Airlines flap is not immediately apparent. Indulge me for a minute.

By now everybody is familiar with the story of the woman who nearly got kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for being dressed in a way that some airline personnel thought was "too provocative."

Like most Americans, I'm a live-and-let-live type of person. I see no point in trying to control other adults' behavior if that behavior is not overtly anti-social or dangerous. I believe in minding my own business and letting other people mind theirs. And I don't sweat the small stuff.

Though we may not be aware of it, a tolerant attitude as a cultural trait is a very important facet of democracy. Describing democracy in 500 BC, Pericles of Athens (acccording to Thucydides) said: "Just as our political life is free and open, so is our day-to-day life in our relations with each other. We do not get into a state with our next-door neighbor if he enjoys himself in his own way, nor do we give him the kind of black looks which, though they do no real harm, still do hurt people's feelings."

Nicely said. But then I saw this gal, supposedly a victim of Southwest Airlines, on "Today," and didn't like her. A bottle blonde who works at Hooter's, she'd be rather undistinguished looking if not for the hair coloring, the makeup, and the clothing which is engineered to attract maximum attention.

"You obviously wanted attention, honey," I thought to myself, "you just don't like the kind you got."

I got an e-mail this morning from a former colleague of mine about the "latest style" in Japan. It's a type of skirt that appears to be transparent. They're actually not see-through, but are printed to create the illusion of a diaphanous material that reveals the entire body, including whatever undergarment the wearer might or might not have on, from the waist down.

"Coming soon to a Wal-Mart near you," this much-forwarded e-mail warned in a shrill tone.

So I was in Harajuku in April, and didn't see anyone wearing anything even remotely similar to what the pictures attached to the e-mail showed. "This must be a very recent development," I thought.

But an internet search turned up that these garments have been around since 2003. So why didn't I see any examples of this "new craze" when I was in Harajuku in 2007?

Because this is an internet hoax, that's why, as I soon learned by consulting The Snopes entry, "Rear Admirable," even included the same pictures as were in this morning's e-mail. They've been making the rounds for four years.

Beware the internet hoax. The net makes urban mythmaking a lot easier than it used to be.

And also be reassured now that there are boundaries to people's foolishness. Despite Madonna's launching the ridiculous trend of wearing one's lingerie on the outside (presumably so the underwear police can "check it"), and Britney Spears's half-length shirts which encourage naval engagements, and men's pants that are always falling off, there are still some ways of making an idiot of oneself that are off limits.

There will be times, being as how tolerance and outrageous behavior reinforce each other, that some girl will get on a plane with her butt hanging out. My advice is pay no attention to her.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Highly Recommended

Time to take a break from the war and other depressing subjects. Onward and upward with the arts! Here are three artists no dilettante should miss.

Flannery O'Connor, IMHO, was the greatest American writer, Her mercilessly, precisely drawn characters and powers of description were frightening. She wrote a couple novels, neither of which is up to her prodigious standard. Her forte was the short story, a concentrated form that lends itself to an unrelenting intensity which no writer (or reader) could sustain for more than 20 consecutive pages or so.

All of O'Connor's short fiction is impressive, but one of my favorites is "Revelation," which concerns a middle-aged southern lady forced by violent and unanticipated events to confront her own mean, judgmental nature. In it O'Connor shows off her talent for reproducing dialect, a technique devastatingly effective when done well and disastrous when done badly.

The woman with the snuff-stained lips turned around in her chair and looked up at the clock. Then she turned back and appeared to look a little to the side of Mrs. Turpin. There was a cast in one of her eyes. 'You want to know wher you can get you one of themther clocks?' she asked in a loud voice.

'No, I already have a nice clock,' Mrs. Turpin said. Once somebody like her got a leg in the coversation, she would be all over it.

'You can get you one with green stamps,' the woman said. 'That's most likely wher he got hisn. Save you up enough, you can get you most anythang. I got me some joo'ry.'

Ought to have got you a wash rag and some soap, Mrs. Turpin thought.


Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds recorded and performed in Natal, and their 1939 South African hit, "Mbube" (The Lion) eventually became the 1961 a.m. radio hit, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." It's accessible on Yazoo's "The Secret Museum of Mankind Ethnic Music Classics: Vol. 4, 1925-48" DVD. The original is decidedly superior to the American versions, although the Tokens' hit carries a lot of nostalgia.

Wikipedia has a wonderful page on Solomon Linda. Be sure to follow the link to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." It tells how Linda's creation was brought to America by that tireless collector, recorder, and publisher of obscure and beautiful music, Alan Lomax, and was kept alive and passed along by the eclectic folkie, Pete Seeger.


I discovered Sandow Birk when I happened into the generally deserted and generally undistinguished Palm Springs Art Museum a few days ago. There hidden away in a pedestrian collection of western (as in cowboy) art was his "Great Battle of Los Angeles."

Birk is young (I can't find his exact age) and decidedly post-modern, which as nearly as I can figure it, means all his work is referential, frequently in a mocking but also reverent way. He sends up famous paintings and imitates without exactly copying the styles of Caravaggio, David, Goya, Daumier, and many others. He has a special flair for a kind of mock-heroic mode in the manner of Revolutionary War painters such as John Trumbull, except in Birk Trumbull's grandeur is replaced by a sort of campy sleaze, even though the hyperbolic gesturing is the same.

Birk is prolific, technically adept, in demand, and represented by major galleries in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. His website is here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Fred Thompson is the biggest zero to run for the White House since Millard Fillmore. The fact that some Republicans and movement conservatives are looking at him as their knight in shining armor shows just how desperate they are.

He's avoided debating and I don't blame him. He's got nothing to say, or at least has said nothing so far that I've heard.

For example, in an AP story from the Iowa campaign, Thompson said people around the world are looking for any signs the U.S. is relenting in combating Islamic radicals, and boldly added "It is extremely important that we not show weakness." He only speaks in vague generalities, and on this occasion was extremely careful to say not one word about the Iraq War. Presumably he believes we ought to keep doing the same thing that hasn't worked for the last five years.

Click the "Principles" tab at the Fred08 website and all you get is a long, boring essay on Federalism that takes about 10 times longer than it needs to to convey the message that Fred is a small-government conservative, like Reagan was. I've never seen a candidate so utterly devoid of ideas.

The opening page of this website, incidentally, is a masterpiece. It contains what I assume is a mission statement, an amazing string of platitudes that slither off the page and generalities that glitter, and is completely content-free.

Sort of the like the candidate.

I can see already what kind of campaign Deputy Dawg is going to run. It's going to be one of those image jobs: so here's Fred in blue jeans and a big cowboy hat, getting in his red, American-made pickup truck to go out and "mend fences" while his biscuits-and-gravy baritone resonates with meaningless bromides about, security at home and strength abroad, prosperity, keeping the government out of the people's business, mom, apple pie, and patriotism.

No plan. No ideas. Just an armload of tired, recycled chliches about big government being bad and the need to smite our enemies. Mostly though, DD is just about that southern-fried, real macho man image.

And the first time he shows up for a debate, the pros like Giuliani and Romney are gonna stick this guy in the blender and turn it on to "puree."

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Bush, accompanied by Secretaries Gates and Rice, "diverted" his flight to Australia last Tuesday to make a surprise visit to Camp Cupcake in Anbar Province, ostensibly to meet with Petraeus and other brass.

However, the real purpose of the visit was to spin the U.S.'s loss of Anbar. Through the magic of public relations, Bush has turned that loss into a successful counterinsurgency campaign, which by coincidence also illustrates how wonderful the "surge" has been.

Anbar today is administered not by the U.S. military, but by the Baathist forces who have fought us to a standstill there for the last three years. They're a remarkably forgiving bunch, and seem happy to cooperate with the U.S. in return for being back in charge. This despite the destruction of Fallujah and other savage acts perpetrated against them.

From the website of Middle East expert Professor Juan Cole: "These Sunni tribal sheiks were one of Saddam Hussein's central constituencies. They supported him, provided him with manpower and officers, and benefited hugely from his largesse. They and their constituencies were the ones who suffered most from the fall of Saddam, the rise of Shiite power, the growing Iranian influence, the Kurdish efforts to recover claimed territory, the adoption of a national constitution that failed to take account of Sunni interests and the looming possibility that they will be denied what they would consider a fair share of future oil revenues."

So the Baathist Sheiks of Anbar are doing what Shi'ites and others have done before them: finding a way to get the U.S. to support their objectives.

They're getting weapons and training from the Americans, ostensibly for use against al-Qaida in Iraq. But one day when they no longer need the support of U.S. forces, they will turn those weapons against the Americans, if any are still around, and reassert the total control they lost when Saddam was toppled. They're just biding their time.

This reminds me of a passage from Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall:" "The most important condition of peace was understood rather than expressed in the treaty. Aurelian withdrew the Roman forces from Dacia, and tacitly relinquished that great province to the Goths and vandals. His manly judgment convinced him of the solid advantages, and taught him to despise the seeming disgrace, of thus contracting the frontiers..."

Also from Juan Cole, the Mahdi Army is warning U.S. expeditionary forces not to try to re-occupy the area around Basra recently abandoned by the departing British army. British casualties from IED's were extremely heavy in 2007, and the Madrists have served notice that they're quite capable of defending themselves.

The final disposition of Iraq is beginning to take shape, and the administration's "official" version is already under construction. We will, of course, declare this disastrous humiliation a victory, and head for the exits. This is the start of the end game we're seeing. Baghdad still needs to be fully resolved, although it looks like the Shi'ites will prevail there.

Then we can come home.

Looks like Bush and Cheney won't get their oil. But I'm sure they'll figure out a way to spin that, too.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Bin Laden Triumphant

On the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it's painfully clear that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, accomplished everything they hoped to achieve with 9/11 and more.

Three of the four planes hijacked in the attack struck their targets, and the two that hit the World Trade Center completely destroyed both buildings. This was, by bin Laden's own admission, more than he expected.

The United States, led by an idiot who is backed by a crew of attention defecit-disordered pirates, was manipulated into cocking back its massive right arm and throwing a roundhouse sucker punch at the wrong target. I find it hard to believe that bin Laden didn't plan this outcome also.

The Iraq War has been a more effective recruiting tool for Islamism world wide than bin Laden and others like him could ever have devised.

Bush, bin Laden said in his latest tape, is "like the one who plows and sows the sea: He harvests nothing but failure." And who can argue?

In the process of our falling into the Mesopotamian pit he dug to trap us, we destroyed one of bin Laden's old enemies (bin Laden habitually referred to him as "a socialist infidel"), then murdered him along with his depraved sons. How sweet this must have been for the "crazed" Islamist, who in today's tape looked and sounded anything but.

After six years of fruitless and disastrous war, the United States has lost nearly a trillion dollars, nearly 4,000 of its best and most passionately committed young people, its global reputation and credibility, and its ability to control events around the world by threatening military force.

Local revolutionaries and malcontents everywhere now know that a gigantic, heavily-armed, technically sophisticated war machine can be easily defeated simply by decentralizing the battlefield. This was the lesson of Vietnam. Bin Laden and other Islamists learned it. Bush and Cheney and the American arms industry never will.

Bin Laden still hasn't achieved everything he wants. He would like the U.S. to work to re-establish Sunni dominance over the Shi'ites before we leave Iraq, and he needs our "help" in bringing down the Saudi royal family. Once he accomplishes those objectives, he can die a natural death at home in bed, with a smile on his face.

Besides the work bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have left to accomplish, they have to live with the fact that nearly a million Iraqis, most of them innocent of any involvement in this struggle, have been snuffed out by the war they enabled. But bin Laden is a fundamentalist, and painful death here on earth means little to him. I'm sure he believes that God will sort out the dead, reward the virtuous, and punish the evildoers.

Bin Laden also encouraged Americans to consider taking up Islam, or at least threatening to do so, as a means of ending the Iraq War, because, he said, "as soon as the warmongering owners of the major corporations realize that you have lost confidence in your democratic system and have begun to look for an alternative, and this alternative is Islam, they will run after you to please you and achieve what you want to steer you away from Islam."

Is bin Laden really our enemy? I believe he is, and so far he's won every round. He's got us outfoxed, outclassed, outmaneuvered, and tied up in so many knots we can't get out of our own way. We're going to have to play our cards a lot smarter if we ever want to have any chance against enemies as good as this guy. Because right now the U.S. is looking like, in the immortal words of Richard M. Nixon, "a pitiful, helpless giant."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


A woman in Texas holds up a photograph of a coyote which has died from an extreme case of mange. The animal was completely hairless by the time it expired, its abdomen distended by runaway inflammation which began on the skin but became general.

The woman insists, however, that the corpse is a chupacabra, not a coyote. The legend of the chupacabra (literally, "goats sucker"), a mythical beast said to attack and suck the blood of livestock, originated in Puerto Rico about 20 years ago.

A couple months ago I saw a similar mange-ravaged animal dead against a curb about a quarter mile from where I live. Nobody suspected that Desert Hot Springs might be infested by chupacabras, but unlike the woman in Texas, we hadn't been losing chickens to a mysterious predator.

It's only natural that we prefer romantic and exotic myths over sordid and grimy reality, and therefore understandable why, in his now-famous "Vietnam" speech of August 22, President Bush said "I'm confident we'll prevail (in Iraq) because we have the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known - the men and women of the United States Armed Forces."

The pundit Tom Engelhardt noted that this breathtaking statement, besides being the only sentence in that speech which hasn't been exhaustively analyzed by critics, historians, and bloggers, "wasn't simply passing blather for an audience of vets, but a thematic summary of the thrust of the whole address..."

"Past American presidents," Engelhardt wrote, "might perhaps have spoken of the 'greatest force for human liberation' as being 'the American way of life' or 'the American dream' or American democracy, or the thinking of the Founding Fathers. But it took a genuine transformation in, and the full-scale militarization of, that way of life, for such a formulation to become presidentially conceivable, no less to pass unnoticed, even by fierce critics, in a speech practically every word of which was combed for meaning."

He might have added that the full-scale militarization of the American polity has been accompanied by a full-scale flight from reality. To "Freedom is Slavery" and "Ignorance is Strength," we can now add "Cluster Bombing is Liberation," then retreat into the comforting myth that free markets and the two-party system will solve all our problems.

That's certainly preferable to confronting the sordid and grimy reality.

Political Chupacabra

Examining Barack Obama's jingoistic and inflammatory remarks about Iran reported in the New York Daily News a few days ago underscores the fact that both our political parties are now sales teams for the same franchise. Both have been fatally corrupted by corporate money, and especially by "campaign contributions" flowing to candidates from the constellation of firms which comprise the petrol-military complex.

And if you wonder, as historian Gabriel Kolko does, "why the U.S. makes the identical mistakes over and over again and never learns from its errors," (for example, Vietnam, followed by Iraq) the obvious answer is that powerful people are making lots of money from those mistakes, and rigging the political system to keep making them.

"It is close to impossible to assign some weight or priority to the arms industry but it must be taken into account that the arms manufacturers have power, strategic lobbies in Washington, contribute heavily to politicians who need campaign funding, and gain financially whether America wins or loses it wars," Kolko observes.

Likewise, the oil industry stands to maximize its profits by keeping the regime of happy motoring going as long as it can, no matter how many category-five hurricanes slam the Gulf Coast. So like its dependent, the arms industry, it also contributes heavily to politicians, thus underwriting the political system which is now dedicated to making "the identical mistakes over and over again."

It's all about money, folks. Money, money, money, money, money. Money which is paid to keep us hypnotized by a political system which promises to deal with our problems at the same time it perpetuates them. Money to bribe us, so as to prevent our confronting reality.


The sordid and grimy reality is that we are warring ourselves to death.

The War on Terror, not terrorism, is destroying us. The reflexive habit of perpetual warfare is bankrupting us, has undermined our credibility around the globe, and has turned us into an immoral and paranoid tribe of savages.

At the same time our military-industrial complex pays off our politicians of both parties for the privilege of making war on the people of the Middle East and money at home, the petrol boys address their generous contributions to the same quarter so they can enable us in our continuing war on the atmosphere and the oceans.

We are not addressing our problems: habitual warfare and its attendant squandering and misallocation of resources leading to impending bankruptcy; peak oil, and global warming.

And the root problem: institutions making megabucks from our problems are bribing the decision makers to avoid dealing with those problems.

Anyone suggesting realistic solutions to the problems we face is immediately labeled "an extreme left-wing radical" by the corporate media, which works 24/7 to keep the American people in a state of ideological narcolepsy. Hence, as a people we show little interest in actually dealing with our problems.

But you can be sure, that even though we may not deal with the reality of the situation we face, reality is certainly going to deal with us.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Pulling Their Covers

An interview with Harry Reid in today's Washingon Post reveals that the Senate majority leader is now willing to "compromise" with the Republicans on the matter of troop withdrawals from Iraq.

In this case "compromise" means, "We compromised and the Republicans won."

Reid said "his previous firm demand for a spring withdrawal deadline had become an obstacle."

An obstacle to what? An obstacle to standing for absolutely nothing?

I would respectfully suggest that we boycott the Democratic Party in the 2008 elections, unless sometime between now and then they should decide to change their approach and take steps to become a real opposition party.

People like Reid are phony liberals and a phony opposition. They voice disapproval of administration policies while at the same time making sure that no effective steps are taken to change those policies, usually motivated by a desire to achieve "bipartisanship" or some such nonsense.

We had a somewhat overused but true saying back in the '60's: If you aren't part of the solution you're part of the problem. It's become increasingly clear over the past eight months that the Democrats are not part of the solution.

"Who, pray tell do we turn to instead of the Democrats?" a debater on another forum asked when I introduced this argument.

That's an honest question. And the honest answer is, right now, nobody. We won't have anybody to turn to until quite some time after we stop believing the Democrats' lies, that is, after we stop believing they're who they say they are.

That honest question echoes the plaintive statement of the popular and well-regarded Democratic blogger Digby, ("Hullabaloo", at who admitted at one point she supports the Democrats, "because I don't know what else to do."

I think Dennis Perrin has the Democrats down cold when he says, "...the Dem leadership can't wait to show that they, too, can wage war and bomb "rogue" countries like Iran, so really, what would be their complaint -- that Bush was reckless concerning Iraq? That Bush has hurt the U.S. global image? This is about a far as the Dems will go. They don't want to indict, much less dismantle, the present system. They want control of it, to prove that they're effective managers of empire. Think the global capitol-religo war will end should, say, Hillary be elected?"

I'm one who lived through the Democrats' splendid little war in Vietnam a generation ago. I already knew what phonies they are. That's why I hate to admit that I was fooled again by these wolves in sheeps' clothing in 2006, but such was our desperation to get out from under the Bush regime.

The Democrats are, in short, enablers of war and lovers of the corporatocracy. They subscribe to this rotten system of misgovernment every bit as much as the Republicans. They just pretend not to.

But I have a feeling that their failure to end or ameliorate this war will finish them. This might be the Last Waltz.

And then, after some time passes, the vacuum left by the departure of the Democrats will be filled, but at this point we know not by whom, or what. Let's just hope we get a real opposition party this time, one that recognizes "bipartisanship" and "civility" as the pious frauds they've been all along.

The Democrats have no excuses left. It's time to cut them loose, and look elsewhere.