Saturday, April 28, 2007


The Pentagon announced today that nine more Americans died in Iraq this weekend, bringing the toll for this month to 99.

To honor them, I offer the following, a 1955 alternate verse to the Navy Hymn (Eternal Father, Strong to Save):

"Lord, guard and guide the men who fly

And those who on the ocean ply;

Be with our troops upon the land,

And all who for their country stand:

Be with these guardians day and night

And may their trust be in thy might."

Rest in peace.

Losing Another Bush Talking Point

Schadenfreude is a German concept that best translates as "joy from others' sorrow." Ordinarily I try not to indulge, but this time the urge to climb the tallest hill or mountain I can reach and bellow "I TOLD YOU SO!" has just overcome my resistance.

One of the key talking points that Dear Leader Bush and Darth Cheney like to spew when they talk about staying in Iraq until the Moon turns blue from cold is this:

"If we leave, Iraq will become a training base for terrorists."

Well, while correct on its face, it's a bit late - it's already being done, as shown by the 172 people arrested in Saudi Arabia a few days ago, the huge caches of weapons they had, and their plots (which included crashing planes into oil refineries). Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki stated that the arrestees had received training in a "troubled country," but wouldn't specify where.

Of course, Saudi Arabia shares part of its northern border with Iraq, which has huge deserts in its biggest province (Anbar) and lots of other places where guys can get away from it all, soak up the sun and train to kill people. Other reports stated that some of these bozos had received 'military training.'

'Military training?'

It'd be interesting to see how many of them had been recruits in the Iraqi Army or police before tripping back to The Kingdom to start laying schemes.

So, Dear Leader and Darth, you've just lost another talking point. Neener neener neener. Iraq started becoming a training ground for terroristas when Saddam's statue fell - and that reminds me: The USA is turning a blind eye to the training and operations of Kurdish terrorists who act against one of our allies (Turkey), and are helping the Mujahideen e-Khalq (MEK) in their war against Iran.

Yes, boys and girls, our "We bomb people who support terrorists" government is - ta da! - supporting terrorists.


In other news:

A car bomb went off in Karbala, Iraq, between the shrines of the Imams Hussein and Abbas. First reports have 55 dead, and many people threw stones at the police, blaming them for not stopping the bomber.

And a suicide bomber tried to whack Pakistan's Interior Minister today. Killed a few people, but the IM's only wounded. Should be easy to identify the bomber, though - they found his head.

Sending Messages

There have been a lot of messages sent in the past few weeks, and it's taken a bit of time to digest them all. Let's look at the previous grab-bag, and then we'll move on to what just came over the Internet Series Of Tubes.


Cho Seung-Hui sent a message to the United States that we need to have mental health checks as well as criminal background checks in order to get a handgun. Crazy people will lay about them with whatever is at hand (sword, machete, pointed stick, steel dildo, etc.) - let's not make it easier for them to slay large numbers of people so promiscuously.


A militia in Alabama may as well have sent the message "Hey, old son, while ya'll watchin' them ragheads, ya might keep yer eyes peeled fer good God-fearing Christians named Billy Bob" to the American people, as about a half-dozen of them were rounded up by the cops yesterday with enough weapons, ammunition and explosives to start a minor war.


The American people sent a message back in November that they were fed up with the war in Iraq and they wanted a change. So they got one - Bush escalated. Now the Congress, finally feeling something akin to balls under their smooth-as-a-Ken-doll trousers, have sent him a deadline. Bush, naturally, has threatened to veto, but he's been known to threaten vetoes before. He usually signs the bill and then signs a "signing statement" that basically says "Fuck you."
A bunch of verbal slaps and groin-kicks have been exchanged with all the verve of a Jackie Chan movie so far, with the bill coming to the White House on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Americans and Iraqis keep dying.


Which brings me to what showed up on the BBC website this morning. The news comes from Turkey, where the pro-religious AK Party has seen its candidate for President fail by only 10 votes of not getting elected to that powerful post. Apparently, they didn't ask Karl Rove to help them leverage the members of parliament, who do the actual voting.

All of this does not sit well with the Turkish Army, which sees itself as the guarantor of the legacy of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, and the secular society he created. Hence my misgivings when the Turkish Armed Forces issued this statement (excerpts; emphases are mine):

"It is observed that some circles who have been carrying out endless efforts to disturb fundamental values of the Republic of Turkey, especially secularism, have escalated their efforts recently.
"Those activities include requests for redefinition of fundamental values and attempts to organise alternative celebrations instead of our national festivals symbolizing unity and solidarity of our nation. Those who carry out the mentioned activities which have turned into an open challenge against the state, do not refrain from exploiting holy religious feelings of our people, and they try to hide their real aims under the guise of religion.
"An important part of these activities were done with the permission and within the knowledge of administrative authorities, who were supposed to intervene and prevent such incidents, a fact which intensifies the gravity of the issue.
"This fundamentalist understanding, which is anti-republic and harbours no aim other than eroding the basic characteristics of the state, finds courage in recent developments and discourses and extends the scope of its activities.
"Developments in our region give numerous examples that playing on religion and manipulating the faith into a political discourse can cause disasters. There are accounts in our country and abroad that a political discourse or an ideology can destroy the faith itself and turn it into something else when it is imposed on faith... Doubtlessly, the sole condition for the Republic of Turkey to live in peace and stability as a contemporary democracy is through defending the basic characteristics of our state which are defined in the Constitution.
"The problem that emerged in the presidential election process is focused on arguments over secularism. Turkish Armed Forces are concerned about the recent situation. It should not be forgotten that the Turkish Armed Forces are a party in those arguments, and absolute defender of secularism. Also, the Turkish Armed Forces is definitely opposed to those arguments and negative comments. It will display its attitude and action openly and clearly whenever it is necessary.
"Those who are opposed to Great Leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's understanding 'How happy is the one who says I am a Turk' are enemies of the Republic of Turkey and will remain so. The Turkish Armed Forces maintain their sound determination to carry out their duties stemming from laws to protect the unchangeable characteristics of the Republic of Turkey. Their loyalty to this determination is absolute."

Now, this open statement caused the AK Party to issue a statement repeating that the military is under civilian authority - which hasn't mattered much, since the military has overthrown the government when it feels that the government is violating the legacy left by Ataturk. Further, the Turks are trying to join the European Union, an attempt that would be rendered moot if the Army takes over. The Army, on the other hand, may not care.

Now, how this and consequent developments might affect Turkey's relations with the Kurds to their south will be interesting to see.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Maniacs and Crazy People

"I differentiate between maniacs and crazy people. A maniac will beat nine people to death with a steel dildo. A crazy person will beat nine people to death with a steel dildo - but he'll be wearing a Bugs Bunny costume at the time."
- George Carlin
By Carlin's measure, Cho Seung Hui was a maniac - unless you consider his faux-militarist shirt and harness to be the equivalent of the bunny suit.
Okay, so let's talk crazy here. By all accounts, the number of actively psychotic people in this country, along with the number of those who are so depressed they could sideways at any given moment, is increasing. And in a technological society, all it takes is one aberrant personality to cause a great deal of damage.
What's the answer? I don't know. Carlin suggested penning them all up in Utah (except for some that he insisted had to be kept around for comic relief).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Oh, And Another Thing ...

Let's start having an honest debate about gun control now, please? By "honest" I mean one that is free from the same tired cliches and talking points - a reasoned, rational discussion.

Of course that won't happen, but a guy can dream, can't he?

Now, I own guns, and am a proud gun owner. I also feel that the National Rifle Association needs to be classified as a terrorist organization for undermining the safety of all Americans by their narrow and vitriolic opposition to anything that looks like an adequate gun safety law or regulation. The notion that the death toll at Virginia Tech would have been lower had all of the students been armed is ludicrous - everyone would have been shooting at everyone else, and the toll would be much higher.

And while we're on the subject of gun safety, I note that the shooter in this incident, Cho Seung-hui, was able to pass a required criminal background check. That was nice, wasn't it? But it leaves out a very important point, which is this.

The number of genuinely crazy people (I'm talking active psychotics - the kind of people who can just snap into uncontrollable homicidal rage) in America is increasing. When are we going to start requiring psychiatric evaluations for prospective gun owners?


And Now, The Screeching ...

Back on Monday, a seriously disturbed South Korean by the name of Cho Seung-Hui shot thirty-two students and professors at Virginia Tech before killing himself. His writing projects (he was an English major) gave indications that he was obsessed with killing people, but that's way too simplistic for some folk.

The inevitable screeching has already begun, usually centering on the tired old "God is punishing America for its liberalism and its sins" argument. We've seen this before, after Katrina and after 9/11. And, truth to tell, we've seen it a lot farther back than that - a little thing that happened on All Saint's Day (November 1), 1755 in Lisbon Portugal.

You see, an earthquake struck the city that morning, while many people were in church; the fires created by the earthquake (overtuned stoves and such) were only extinguished by the tsunami that largely wrecked what was left of the city. Coming as it did during the height of the European Enlightenment, it was a seminal moment.

Its importance was that Lisbon severed the connection people had between moral evil and natural evil. An earthquake is a natural event, with natural causes; the loss of life is always tragic and deplorable, but the Earth doesn't act maliciously. Now, at Lisbon, the reactions between two leaders after the disaster differed. The King's chief minister, the Marquis de Pombal, was all about re-establishing order and looking after the living; he organized disaster relief so well that the local paper soon resumed publication.

The other person was a Jesuit priest named Malagrida, who convinced some that the earthquake was the fault of Lisbon's sins (which seems a bit odd in retrospect - most of the churches collapsed, but a street full of brothels was spared) and a massive auto-da-fe was required to spiritually purge the city.

Pombal thought this was silly, and detracted from his efforts to get the capital of the Portugese Empire back on its feet.

The point I'm making is that people have free will - if they choose to be agents of death and destruction, they are as random as earthquakes and derive from natural causes (things like upbringing, education, genetics, etc.). Any asshole who comes to Blacksburg, Virginia this week to say that these 32 persons died because of their sins will be lucky to escape lynching, in my opinion.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"God damn it, be kind!"

Kurt Vonnegut


Requiescat in pace

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

War News to Make Your Head Explode

Apart from the continuing increase in the US death toll in Iraq, as Our Dear Decidin' Leader keeps on keepin' on, what else is going on?

Well for starters there's this article found in the BBC:

Sunni militants are being armed with Iranian-made munitions, US military spokesman Maj Gen William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad. These include mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, he said.

There was no immediate reaction from the government in mainly Shia Iran which has been accused of arming fellow Shia militants in Iraq in the past.

Shia Iran is giving munitions to Sunni Iraqi insurgents? When it's well known that Shia and Sunni loathe each other? I suppose it's possible, but it's a bit too convenient, what with three aircraft carrier battle groups in the area and the neocons festering to add yet another military debacle to their stats.

And then there's the article in today's Washington Post about the search by the White House for a "war czar." According to the article, the czar would be an advisor to the President who could issue orders to the Departments of State and Defense in order to coordinate their efforts and prosecute the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more effectively.

That's all well and good, except for two little problems.

No one wants the job. Several retired generals have been approached (including Jack Keane who, along with armchair general Kagan masterminded the present escalation), and so far all have declined. There's a good reason for that - they're sane.

The other problem is that the Constitution, Federal law and tradition have already placed someone in the position of mediating between Defense and State and is charged with the prosecution of war. The Constitution dignifies that person with the title Commander-in-Chief, and is the President.

One wonders why this is even being considered, except as a scapegoat position to allow Bush to escape the latest in a long line of miserable failures.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Vacation Pictures!

Now with ART!

It's time for something a bit uplifting, so here are some pictures of artworks and artifacts that I saw while on vacation to Germany back in 2006.
During the reign of the Ptolemies in Egypt (Macedonian Dynasty), Greek influence on Egyptian art manifested itself in several ways. For example, this portrait of a young man was used as a mask for his mummy. This is in the Antikensammlungen (Antiquities Collection).

Ah yes, the Nose knows! This is from the Pinakothek der Moderne, and amazingly it's a piece of jewelry to cover an actual nose (custom made).

At the Neue Pinakothek, there is this Rodin bronze. The girl on the left is just clowning around (she had noticed that it was hollow a few moments earlier).

Sunflowers, by Vincent van Gogh (Neue Pinakothek).

Madonna with Carnation, Leonardo da Vinci (Alte Pinakothek).

Emperor Charles V, by Tiziano Vecelli or Titian (Alte Pinakothek).

Self-portrait, Albrecht Duerer (Alte Pinakothek).

The Artist and Isabella Brandt, Peter Paul Rubens (Alte Pinakothek).

Meet the Candyasses - Er, Candidates

I figure at this point (because everyone else is doing it) it's a good time to give my impressions of the current field of Presidential candidates. I'm not going to go after all of them, basically since I can't recall the full number of liars, cheats and whores that want the Oval Office so bad they can taste it, but I'll try.

But first, a ground rule - unless I specify it, I will not be handicapping their chances of getting elected. It's way too early for that nonsense.

We shall start (alphabetical order, please!) with the Democrats.

Barack Obama:
Junior Senator from Illinois, first black to run the Harvard Law Review as I recall; erudite, personable, and is at least a new face in the crowd. If elected, he'd be the first black President, which would make the Extreme Right commit mass suicide. As it is, I can see many attempts by the Racist Wing of the GOP to cut him down one way or the other (witness the minor shitstorm they tried to raise with his elementary school in Indonesia).

Hillary Clinton:
Her biggest handicap right now (apart from her name, which is enough to set wingnuts' hair on fire) is that she still refuses to admit that she was wrong about voting to go to war in Iraq. Hillary, stop using polls and focus groups to determine your personal opinions, please. The idea of the first female President in our history quite literally scares some men into testicle-shrivelling spasms, which explains the level of sheer venom in their attacks.

Bill Richardson:
Would be the first Hispanic President. Has already had executive experience as Governor, along with extensive foreign policy and national security experience. If we were going based on qualifications and not money, I'd say that he deserves the nomination.

John Edwards:
Needed more time in the Senate there, Johnny. And while he's shown that he's mature enough to admit he was wrong, I've yet to hear him say anything substantive about what his policies would be as President.

And now, for the Republicans:

Rudy Giuliani:
No public prosecutor in the City of New York gets where he got without at least a few skeletons in the closet, and Rudy's got quite a burden. His stands on social issues do not endear him to the party's extremist "base," so it's going to be an uphill climb for him.

John McCain:
There's a reason I called him a Political Bisexual, but now his mental state is starting to come into question with this "I can walk unarmored through this market in Baghdad" nonsense. John, I still have respect for your service to our country - don't continue to spoil it by being stupid.

Mitt Romney:
Another one whose previous stands on social issues have had to be discarded and revised on the fly so that he can appeal to the "base." By the way, the phrase "the base" in Arabic is "al Qaeda." Just one of those neat twists, eh? Anyway, Mitt's Mormonism might play well in Utah, but most Evangelicals look upon him as a heretic.

Newt Gingrich:
I know he's not exactly running right now, but I wanted to come out and say that this disgusting excuse for a human being has a fine right to preach to others about ethical lapses, when he himself was run out of Washington DC like a sewer rat on an ethics charge. And anyone who names their kid after a slimy amphibian obviously didn't love him.

Tom Tancredo:
Representing the Nativist Know-Nothing Branch of the GOP (the ones that are really close to the Klan on the sociopolitical spectrum), Tommy-gun is basically a one-issue wonder. That issue? Immigration. He's against it, something certain to piss off a lot of voters.

Tommy Thompson:

So there you have it - my personal impressions of the current field of candidates. Not much to look at, huh? We're in trouble, folks, if this is the best we can do.

Monday, April 09, 2007

My, How Time Does Fly ...

Has it only been four years, dear readers? Four short, sharp years since a statue fell in a public square (obligingly aided by one of the invader's tanks)? Four short, sweet years in which callow administrators, selected for their ideological purity, sallied forth to create an empire with the words of an earlier Empire's own bard ringing in their ears:

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain,
To seek another's profit
And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine,
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
(The end for others sought)
Watch sloth and heathen folly
Bring all your hope to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
No iron rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper--
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go, make them with your living
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man's burden,
And reap his old reward--
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness.
By all ye will or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your God and you.

Take up the White Man's burden!
Have done with childish days--
The lightly-proffered laurel,
The easy ungrudged praise:
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers.

- Rudyard Kipling, 1899

Ah, such winning words, and surely it was all done with the best of intentions. Lay aside the fact that we invaded a country that had done us no harm; leave on the table, unregarded, the fact that the causes of our invasion would make the accusers of Dreyfus blush; what matters is the here and now, four years on.

And now, four years, nearly 3,300 lives and nearly $350 billion ($8 billion of it still unaccounted for) later, what thanks are we getting from the "silent sullen peoples" of Iraq?

This (money quotes below):

Four years after that moment, with violence besieging the country, Jubouri is concerned with neither benchmarks nor timelines, troop strengths nor withdrawal dates. What he cares most about is security and order, of which, he said, he has seen very little. He blames Iraq's Shiite-led government and its security forces, and wishes for a return of the era led by the man whose statue he helped tear down.

But the numbers that most directly affect Jubouri are these: Seven of his relatives and friends have been killed, kidnapped or driven from their homes. He gets four hours of electricity a day, if he's lucky. The cost of cooking gas and fuel have soared, but his income is a quarter of what he used to earn.

And this (along with attendant money quote):

Calling the United States the "great evil," radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Sunday accused U.S. forces of dividing Iraq by stoking violence. He also urged his Mahdi Army militiamen and Iraqi security forces to stop fighting each other in Diwaniyah, a southern city where clashes erupted late last week.

From the White House we can expect nothing literate, but I think that if Our Dear Leader was a reading man (mirabile dictu) he would loudly say:

"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child!"*

* That's from King Lear, by Shakespeare.

Friday, April 06, 2007

"Good" Friday?

By whose criteria?

Today is the penultimate event in what is known as Holy Week - the last seven days a very nice guy walked the earth. And he was a nice guy too; liked kids, didn't mind a drink of wine or a small party from time to time. But it was his message that got to a lot of people, and started a sect within Judaism that eventually became Christianity.

See, Jesus taught that it'd be great if we were all nicer to each other. That is bound to get you noticed.

You like the lawn sculpture? I put it out every Easter as a poke in the eye at the commercialization of the holiday. I call it Passion of the Flopsy.

A lot of people go on about the fact that Jesus died for our sins, which you have to admit by any criterion is a very selfless act. But we must not dwell on that death, like Mel Gibson did in his torture porn snuff film; the enabling act that started Christianity was that, according to tradition, Jesus came back from the dead.

That got the ball rolling, and look where we are now. We have closeted homosexuals in the ministry excoriating gays, and we have "Christians" making death threats against anyone they don't like, whether they're abortion clinic workers or artists who render Jesus in dark chocolate.

I'll close this with a very quotable quote:

"Can't we all just get along?"

Take Insulin Before Watching ...

... This!

Just ignore the voiceover and watch as the young lady tries to cope with two baby red pandas.

It's not just cute, it's kyooot.