Thursday, June 30, 2005

Mountains and rivers sutra

It's getting hot here in Austin, and every once in a while I find myself longing for the mountains. The southern Rockies. Kay and I used to spend a lot of time in the mountains in New Mexico and Colorado.

Somewhere in the Black Range, in the northeastern part of the Gila wilderness, is the most beautiful spot I have ever been privileged to see, or perhaps ever will see. I will probably never find it again--not that I will look for it, I am not that foolish--a meadow covered with flowers up in the mountains, with hummingbirds all around, big Ponderosa pines upslope a little, and a view for miles the other way. I know roughly where it is, but I'd have to get there at exactly the right moment again, if I were ever to try to go back, which, as I said, I won't. It's better to find new places, and remember old ones the way they were.

I have no notes to reinforce, or falsify, that memory, but I just found some from 9 years ago in the Gila. Kay and Eve and I were spending the night at the Lower Scorpion campground near the touristy cliff dwellings. We were going to walk up to the cliff dwellings in the morning.

The campground was pretty empty because of fire danger. We shared the place with a big fella with a Minnesota Swede accent, who had a very modulated but resonant voice explaining with Scandinavian matter-of-factness the putting up of tents and other mysteries to his little daughter, who was maybe 4 or 5. Later he sang the doe, a deer, a female deer, re, etc. song to his daughter in a very good show-business voice. He sounded so much like Garrison Keiler I had to look twice to be sure it wasn't. It wasn't. He knew all the words, and the words to several other songs, children's songs, which he sang to the campground. His wife was small and quiet. They were enjoying their stay.

Two women who had been hiking all day came back, tired, heaving enormous backpacks onto their picnic table. One of them, after searching unsuccessfully for something in the back of their red pickup camper, leaned on the truck and put her head on her hands on the top of the tailgate. Cried.

A woman with red hair driving a big RV came in and asked in a distraught way if there was a phone at the ranger station. She had a German guy with her, who spoke no voluntary English. They did not smile and each got out of the car and went to a table and wrote in a journal, only occasionally speaking to each other.

Little moment of sharing the campground.

Towhees rummaged under the picnic tables. Stellars jays and towhees own the place. A raven flapped downriver until he found a thermal, then soared like a vulture, making a wooden croak noise like a pull-toy I had when I was a little boy, where the wheels drove a hammer that beat rapidly on the central dogshape plank soundboard of the toy when you pulled it.

Cicadas--one kind made an electric rising-falling buzz, one cycle per second. Another kind made a steady buzz/chirr that lasted about ten seconds, then trailed off.

Hollow whiff of another raven flapping close overhead, a noise like blowing across a bottle hoarsely, though more sibilant--the snick of a long knife separating the wind.

The wind in the pine needles would approach through the ponderosas, like a distant avalanche. Throaty whisper.

A fast white wingflash of a merganser, whiffling like a tumbling artillery round to a landing in the stream beyond some trees.

Eve and I walked up pretty close to 8 deer--they seemed contemptuous of our sneaking, when they finally looked up at us.

The rocks were from blackish purple (weathered, lichened) to pinkish white. Olive colored juniper. Ponderosas had red platy bark, sometimes blackish toward the bottom. In the distance, the dry leaves of the pines looked light smoky green. Oaks with black liveoak bark, striated with elongate diamond plates. They had light gray-green leaves, soft looking, not oakish looking at all.

Horehound, coyote gourd, white thistle poppy, sagey gray plant along river and road. Datura in flower near on cliffs.

Glowing cumulus in the evening.


White moth in the full moon light.

Next morning we walked up to the cliff dwellings. We were the first ones in. The gravel floors were neatly raked. The ranger came along and examined our footprints in a raked area. Asked us if we made all of them. Yes. He said he raked it because sometimes people came in after hours. "What do you do if you find tracks, examine the campers' feet?" Kay asked. He said "well, its an idea." Kay laughed, but it was not clear if he intended to be funny. He took his summer job pretty seriously.

We walked up to the hot springs on the west fork. A sign said the water contained organisms that might be harmful to your health, and not to get the water in your nose. We splashed around, probably got some up our noses.

Later I read more about the harmful organism, an amoeba that is usually fatal. Fortunately, it is very rare.

Slept cold again that night.

We went on to a more remote camping spot, but I don't have any notes for that. All I remember is seeing a giant bullfrog in a beaver pond, and realizing that the the silhouette he presented looked exactly like depictions I had seen of the God Tlaloc. A rain god.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Rummie enjoying the war

For your edification and viewing pleasure, here is a picture of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in Iraq, riding around in a more or less impregnable rolling fortress called a "rhino runner" (available for the use of visiting VIPs and unavailable to our troops) which is designed to withstand heavy caliber machine gun fire, overhead airbursts and explosive devices up to 1,000 pounds.

Rummie has his war shoes on.
The Secretary of War

Herons and other outdoor creatures

Here are several photos from my birdwalk on Onion Creek yesterday. With a certain amount of skulking, I got close to a snowy egret and a green heron.

Snowy Egret, hunting
Snowy egret stalks

It makes its move
Snowy egret strikes

Comes up empy, but dripping
Snowy egret bill dripping

This green heron did not want its picture taken, so it skulked away from me as fast as I skulked toward it.
green heron, view from behind

Here is the same green heron, neck extended. Hardly seems like the same guy.
green heron, view from behind, neck extended

The rest of my birdwalk was enjoyable, but hot, and most birds were quiet and silent in the summer heat. As I walked back to my car, I passed a lady who had a very small scruffy mongrel dog with her which looked like a toilet brush with teeth, which decided as I passed to protect its mistress from whatever danger I represented, and which hurtled out growling and snarling fiercely till it hit the end of the leash and snapped back a couple of feet, at which point it continued with a slightly choked off version of the snarling and growling as it strugged at the end of the leash, saying, (translated loosely from dog language, as best I understand it) "kill, kill!"
Meanwhile the woman was saying, in a soothing and cooing voice, "Fluffy, be nice! _Fluffy_! Be _nice_!"
Fluffy was having no part of nice, and continued to scrabble as it was dragged away on the leash, strangling itself to get at me as we went our separate ways.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Small but cumulative ways our press misleads

This morning I was reading an AP story about illegal immigrants "pouring into" the community of Sarco, Texas, "worrying many of the 40 residents and prompting some to join up with the controversial civilian border patrol group known as the Minuteman Project."

Now there is a real story here and a bogus one, or more accurately, a real story hidden deep within the bogus premises of the story.

OK, so we have AP reporter Abe Levy traveling to Sarco to get the real, on the ground skinny on the flood tide of mojados sweeping this beleagered community away. And, in passing, a little bit about the plans and a little example of the successful PR, of the Minutemen. Which is the real story.

But back to the bogus part. Levy places himself and his story in a community which is almost impossible to find, which last had a post office in 1923. The claim of "40 residents" is based on the 1990 census, and given the age profile of those 40 it's doubtful if half are alive today. It is down a tiny spur road, which may or may not be paved, off of a farm-to-market road running between Nowhere and Nowhere Else, Texas. It is not on the way to anywhere at all.

Levy, however, alleges that "the county also offers distance from border checkpoints, overworked law enforcement and easy access to jobs in San Antonio, Victoria, Corpus Christi or Houston." Technically, this is true. He has quietly switched from talking about Sarco, which is far from any major highways, to talking about Goliad County, (which Sarco is barely within). A main highway from the border to Houston does go through Goliad County.

But nowhere near our beleagered community of 40 counting some folks in the graveyard.

But let's go on. Where is the evidence of beleagerment?

"You used to be able to walk down the road for exercise or a child could ride a bike," said Sarco landowner Bill Parmley. "Now it's just like the Indianapolis 500."

Mr. Parmley has been out in the woods too long, I have to say. Or watching too much Fox News, more likely.

Here is more evidence:
A woman and her grandson spotted several men believed to be immigrants bathing in a creek, said Sarco resident Kenneth Buelter, a supporter of the Minutemen.

Another resident answered a knock on her door to find two men looking tired from long travels and requesting food and water. She called authorities and they were arrested, Buelter said.

Tire tracks are still visible in a right of way near Buelter's house, he said, from a truck speeding and believed to be carrying about 15 illegal immigrants.

Sooo... it seems the evidence, which I certainly have to say is not very impressive to start with, is all directly or indirectly from the mouth of someone who is a local Minuteman supporter.

Plus they asked for bread and Buelter's anonymous housewife, no doubt a Republican, gave them a stone. Called the Migra on 'em. I'd say that's certainly not news, in today's America.

But now we come to the real news in this so-called news story.

Goliad County has become an unofficial Texas headquarters for the Minuteman Project. Some residents welcome the volunteers. But their recent visit to set up chapter groups has also revived racial tensions in an area where Mexican forces famously killed Texas revolutionaries nearly 170 years ago.

Evidently they are setting up shop here in Texas, in Goliad County--but not in Sarco of course--and currying favor with the locals by spreading rumors of a tide of illegal aliens. The choice of Goliad makes sense in that it has some historical importance for Texas racists as the scene of an 1836 massacre of Texans by the Mexican Army, plus the town of Goliad itself is big enough to rent office space and set up a fax machine. In an electronic age, you can send your email alerts from anywhere. Well, almost anywhere. I am not sure about Sarco.

And, given the completely uncalled-for existence of this so-called news story, we have positive proof of the success of their efforts. Mr. Levy actually traveled from wherever he lives to interview people in Sarco, Texas. How did that happen? Did he just drive down that road and knock on a door and hit news paydirt?

No. I'd guess he was working from a press release.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Burning prose and the price of oil

Jim Kunstler is my favorite doom-sayer. He is now happy as a clam with the price of oil approaching $60. His latest rant is here.

He is one of the left-wing equivalents (he has a blog, unlike his counterparts) of the survivalists who used to stop shaving and take their families to Utah or Montana to hole up at the end of an illegal road in a national forest with a garden, some chickens, a couple of pigs, and a lot of guns. The trajectory of the right wing survivalists was that they would (very few, actually, and not recently) either get killed off by the FBI in armed stand-offs, or (much more often) starve out and go home, especially after the wife gets fed up with home-schooling 4 kids (or not schooling them at all) with no money and takes the kids back to her parents' house in Kansas City, or else they would grow old and even more strange back in the woods. Some are still out there, solitary and unfriendly.

Anyway, Kunstler is a terrific dystopian writer, who mixes blog-style invective with a vision of a world collapsing in disorder because of--peak oil.

Peak oil?

With Kunstler we have an underlying vision reminiscent of the one the survivalists used to have, of roving bandits and machine-gun fortified gardens, but an altogether different mechanism for its arrival. One that nobody understands. The price of oil. But he makes a good case for it.

But he has a different vision of a future world--self-sustaining, communal farming villages--to take the place of the present one, than the survivalist guys going crazy in the woods have.

Anyway, I think Kunstler and the other people talking about peak oil are probably right that it is either here, now, or very close.

Kunstler, though, thinks that our civilization is kind of--delicate, and that, at some point, due to energy scarcity, some critical part will fail, and it will all come crashing down. I suppose I'm inherently more optimistic.

My worry is very different from Kunstler's. He believes what we call civilization will simply collapse soon. (Actually, I am creating a straw-Kunstler--here and there in his message you hear an occasional outburst of the preacher shouting "fools, you still have time--change your ways now, and you will be saved!")

My fear about the economic emergency he foresees is not that it will lead to chaos and collapse--I think we are resourceful enough for that not to happen, or at least to deal with it when it does-- but that it will be used by Republicans the same way that a terror attack has been used, to inflame people's emotions toward the end of creating a new kind of America, one ideologically narrower and uglier, more unequal and unjust.

Bush has proved to be an expert at using catastrophe to further bad causes.

But maybe people are beginning to see what Bush is up to. The latest poll I read, over the weekend, showed that both democrats and independents had exactly the same view about Bush. Three fourths of them think he is doing a bad job. Not unexpectedly, 84% of Republicans think he is doing a good job. We have two Americas here, but those who think Bush is going in the right direction are a distinct minority.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Modern dangers

Today's Austin American Statesman has a local story about Evelyn Davison, a Christian talk show host, who is suing her neighbor because she fell into the neighbor's garbage can.

The garbage can had been emptied, and dumped by the garbage truck crew so that it blocked Davison's driveway. Davison tried to move it and fell in, and had to be rescued by passers-by. Her hand got injured, and later infected, such that bones eventually had to be removed from two fingers and replaced with implants.

Davison's show is called "Love talk," and she also publishes the "Good News Journal," described in the Statesman as a patriotic and inspirational journal, distributed at local Walmarts.

The lawsuit is joined by Davison's husband, who wants damages for "loss of household services," not to mention "loss of spousal consortium," which the newspaper helpfully glossed as loss of sexual relations.

Wow. Bad injury.

Now I am actually not criticizing the Davisons' lawsuit, nor making light of their Christianity. The injury turned out to be serious, and cost them upwards of $100,000 in medical bills. I assume this is simply what has to be done in America to get medical treatment without becoming destitute. The neighbor has insurance, and apparently has no ill-will towards the Davisons.

I am simply taking this as a Sunday morning opportunity to share a human interest story revolving around my late wife Kay. Many years ago we lived in a shack next to Onion Creek here in Austin, and the shack, which was on high piers because of Onion Creek flooding, had a porch six feet above the ground. We had one of these giant roll-out-to-the-street garbage cans. But not giant enough.

It was Christmas, and Eve was about 10 years old and Anna was home, so there was lots to stuff to unwrap. Boxes. Wrapping paper. Once a week trash service. So, very soon, the receptacle is full and more bags need to be stuffed into it. Kay went out with a big sack of paper. Won't fit. Kay pushes mightily. Then it occurs to her that she can get up on the porch and jump down onto the top of the trash to compact it. No sooner had she thought this, than it was done. She was in the air.

She said events unfolded in slow motion after that, she was an observer along for the ride, but the laws of physics had taken over. The garbage can had wheels, of course. The sum of the forces operating on the can was such that the wheels rolled rapidly out from under Kay as she landed on the can with her full weight, her arms windmilling backwards, yodeling. I heard the cry, and the crash. I went outside and Kay was sprawled out on the ground and the trash can was five feet away from her feet and most its contents strewn between her and the can. I had no idea what could have happened--the scene made no visual sense.

She was OK--sort of. I helped her up and when she could talk she explained what happened.

She had landed on her tailbone, but fortunately the ground was soft, and she didn't break anything. But her tailbone was badly bruised, and she had back pain for a long time afterwards, and hobbled around several months.

She said she felt foolish the moment she left the porch, but--too late.

We had insurance. And besides, we had nobody to sue. Kay went to the doctor, and I think she tried a chiropractor when the physicians didn't help her back.

Eventually it healed itself.

I think I had loss of spousal consortium for about a week.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Another old friend gone: Chet Helms

Chet Helms died today in San Francisco. For a short while he shared a house in Austin with me and some other friends during his Young People's Socialist League phase. He was not a hippie at that time--there were no hippies, yet--he was one of the pioneers, in fact. He still tended to wear narrow-lapel suits bought for him when he was a Young Republican before his last spurt of growth, which thus made him appear taller and skinnier than he was, with his pants and sleeves too short. I have been trying to remember why he went to San Francisco in 1962, but I can't, though I am sure it was not to become a colorful, if not famous, hippie entrepreneur. I still can't really understand how that happened, since even in San Francisco in the sixties it would have been harder to find someone less suited for running a business.
But run a business he did. Chet and the Avalon ballroom, somehow represent the essence of the sixties to me.
A rumor got started a few years ago that he was dead, so Chet rented a hearse and got a coffin and was taken to a restaurant somewhere in San Francisco in the hearse where he had pallbearers ready, including Wavy Gravey. They opened the coffin. Chet had flowers and a cell phone on his chest. The phone rang and he got up and answered it and they had a party. I was not there but I am told this is true.
I hope it's this way again. But I am pretty sure it's for real this time.
Too bad he's gone. He was a good guy.
Chet Helms in his kitchen, San Francisco, summer 1967
Chet at home in San Francisco, summer 1967

Power corrupts

Power corrupts in little unexpected ways.

An Italian judge has signed warrants to arrest 13 CIA agents, all American citizens, for the kidnapping of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. Mr. Nasr was grabbed in Milan by the CIA, flown to Ramstein AFB in Germany, and then flown in the notorious torture Gulfstream to Egypt, where he was held and subjected to severe physical abuse. He was briefly released, but after he reported physical injuries in a phone call to his wife, he was disappeared again, and has not been heard from since.

This is a political embarrassment to the right wing government of Italy, which may very well have given unofficial permission for the CIA to do this.

There will probably be more fallout, as there certainly should be, but there was a small, telling item in the New York Times story that interested me. The CIA's kidnap crew operated pretty openly, and/or sloppily, and left an amazingly open trail of phone calls to CIA headquarters in Langley, hotel registrations, receipts, and the like.

They spent a lot of money. The CIA's torturers have a taste for luxury. Who would have thought? Specifically, in the week before the abduction, they spent $145,000 on hotel bills alone. Five star hotels. So $145,000 divided by 13, that's $11,154 per person for the week. Divided by seven, assuming seven nights--it may have been fewer--that's roughly $1,600 per night per agent.

Torture as paid for by the American taxpayer. After the abduction, according to the New York Times, "two of the officers took a few days' holiday at five-star hotels in Venice, Tuscany and South Tyrol," while the leader of the group apparently flew to Egypt to supervise the torture on-site.

The story mentions that some of the evidence was obtained from a villa in the Piedmont hills owned by one of the CIA agents. It is unclear whether this ownership was also financed by the American taxpayer.

I don't know why, but it was the high living that struck me as odd. But I guess it shouldn't. Torture corrupts. Power corrupts. Put them together, with an expense account and (by definition, with the CIA) total non-accountability, and you get--this.

One good thing, perhaps. The list of countries to which we outsource torture includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan. The worst of these, Uzbekistan, where they like to boil people to encourage them to cooperate, has no 5-star hotels in the surrounding region. Hence, it is unlikely to be a popular destination for the abduction crew.

Or so I am guessing.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Daily life among the Aztecs, continued

I recently wrote about visiting a Walmart superstore. What gets bought and sold, and how it is bought and sold, tells us something about ourselves, or the ancient Nahuatl, or anyone.

Off and on I've been reading the Florentine Codex, a document commissioned by Bernardino de Sahagún soon after the conquest of Mexico. He learned to speak Nahautl and got native informants to tell him all about Aztec life. He translated it into Spanish, and the Nahuatl version has also--astonishingly--survived. In a way I trust his Spanish translation more than the modern English translation of the Nahuatl, because he was closer to his informants and could ask them questions to resolve uncertainties. But it's interesting to look at both.

I've already mentioned that the Aztecs have some things in common with us, like sacrificial mass death believed to be necessary for the world to prosper. But in other ways, they were a little different, and the differences are not necessarily all to Walmart's advantage.

Certainly the Aztecs give Walmart a run for their money in the diversity of stuff department.

What follows is another of Sahagun's lists (much abbreviated), this one the ordinary buying and selling aspect of everyday life. It fascinates me, and hopefully will not bore and drive away all my readers. It's based on the English translation of the Nahuatl, with occasional recourse to Sahagún's Spanish.

It's a list of people who sell things, with a little about what they sell. This list, unlike the previous one I put up, does not seem to be in any kind of meaningful order. A grab-bag of vendors. But we learn something about what the Aztecs cared about.

Each thing sold had its separate vendor. Obviously Walmart would have rendered the Aztec market obsolete pretty quick.

OK. First on the list is the seller of cotton capes, (presumably, blankets used as cloaks.) We get homespun advice along with the list. We should watch out for capes treated with maize flour, or with glue, evidently done to make them seem more substantial.
Next: cocoa bean vendors. The best cocoa beans are those sold separately, by region, from as far away as Guatemala. Watch out for seeds that look like cocoa beans, but aren't.
Corn merchants. The best maize is that which is sold separately, by color, kind, hardness, and region. Aztecs didn't like stuff all mixed together, at least not if intended to defraud buyers.
Bean merchants. The best beans were those all of the same color. Mixed beans, not so good.
Amaranth seed sales were separate from other grains. Oddly enough, although amaranths are chenopods, the Aztecs considered a seed from the Mexican prickly poppy to also be an amaranth. Prickly poppies are poisonous, but I don't know about the seeds.
Chía seed sellers.

Chili pepper vendors are described as selling "mild red chilis, broad chilis, hot green chilis, yellow chilis...smoked chilis, small chilis, tree chilis, thin chilis, and those like beetles." Plus many other kinds, listed by season and use, as well as appearance. Much like a Mexican market today.
Squash seed sellers.

Tortilla sellers. Now these folks are important, and they are given a good deal of space here. They sell not only the flat basic tortilla, but all manner of what we would call tamales and tacos, some made with meat, including rabbits, gophers, and tadpoles, some made with eggs, fruits and vegetables, some made with honey and flowers. Every shape, size, and flavor is described. I got kinda hungry--excluding the tadpole thing.

Castilian wheat bread sellers have a much shorter section, as befits a new and untested food.
More cape sellers, this time of agave fiber (highland Mexico was often cold. Cloaks were important). Then sandal makers. Sandals seem to in general have been made of woven plant fibers, with leather straps.
(Maguey fiber stuff today, much as in Sahagún's time. If you got cold enough, you might wear a cloak made of such material.)
agave fiber stuff
Agave syrup sellers--I'd guess this is the maguey sap used to make pulque, a rural beer.
Cotton merchants. Basketmakers. Vendors of rabbit skins. Vendors of gourd bowls. Paper sellers, including maguey fiber paper and "Castilian" paper. Lime (the chemical) merchants.

Fruit and vegetable sellers. These important folks also sell tamales, obviously pre-prepared, made of the same fruits or vegetables for sale. Fast food for the Nahuatl. The fruit and veggie list is impressive, and includes some stuff the editors can't identify, and things we don't eat much now, like prickly pear cactus fruits.

Fish sellers. They sell shrimp, fish, oysters, turtles, big fish, little fish, eels, fish eggs, water worms, worm tamales, wormshit, and "worm flowers". It is unclear what worm excrement and worm flowers are, or even what the worm in question is. Also sold are tamales made of "water flies."

Meat sellers. The vendors are expected to personally either hunt or raise their products, which include turkey, venison, rabbit, hare, duck, crane, goose, mallard, quail, eagle, opossum, plus, by Sahagún's time, the Castilian animals. Watch out for meat vendors selling dog meat.

Wood sellers. Pottery sellers. Griddle makers. Salt vendors. Egg vendors. Obsidian vendors (with a reasonable description of the art of obsidian flaking). Medicinal herb sellers (huge list.) Reed mat sellers. Necklace sellers. Vendors of mirrors. Needles. Rubber. Brooms. Glue. Liquidambar, Tobacco pipes.

Vendors of tar, which was bitumen gathered from beaches, and smoked with tobacco, or chewed as chicle. Either way it could give you a headache. Chicle chewing was only for unmarried girls--grown women could chew chicle but if they did they were thought ill of. Men who chewed chicle were thought to be gay. Aztecs, like Americans, did not esteem homosexuals.

The "mountain chicle" vendor sold a plant substance that, unlike tar, did not give users headaches. Mountain chicle would be like chicle or chewing gum today.

Bag sellers. Sash sellers. Feather merchants, mentioned in my previous Sahagún post. Herb sellers, not medicinal, but from the descriptions, what we would consider salad greens. Atole vendors--atole would be a kind of cooked grits, but with more adventurous flavors than we would use in grits. Atole is still widely eaten in Mexico. "Fine chocolate" sellers, different from cocoa bean sellers. Chalk sellers. Saltpeter vendors.

Next in the list of vendors are what we might consider an oddity at Walmart, namely, procuresses. These women, who maintain their own establishments, are said here to be notorious for being verbally adroit at attracting guests. You are warned that they may rob you.
Next comes women who sell themselves, streetwalkers who "walk painted in the market place." They "walk back and forth along the road, circling constantly." Prostitutes are said to be proud and evil.

The Aztecs had a sex industry, like us, and disapproved of it, like us, more or less in proportion to the degree in which it flourished.

Last on this list is the tobacco merchant. Tobacco makes your head spin, aids digestion, and dispels fatigue.

Florentine Codex drawing of a prostitute. There is a lot of symbolism going on here that the native artists did not explain to Sahagún, or put into the Nahuatl account.

Aztec prostitute

Friday cat blogging: the daily lives of cats

Cat priorities. Our cats really focus on this

Grendel at his foodbowl
Grendel attacks his prey

Likewise, his housemate Gray

Gray eating

Jury comes to its senses

Every once in a while our system works. Sort of. If it really worked, June Brashares would never have been brought to trial for holding up a sign saying "Bush lied people died" during the Republican Convention. She was grabbed by two "floor whips" and physically and roughly hauled out, and then charged with assault.

The jury acquitted her after a two-day Manhattan trial yesterday.

One of the two men who carried her out claimed he received a cut from her high heeled shoes needing ten stitches to close.

Unfortunately for that claim, not only did all the witnesses agree Ms Brashares was barefoot (she had taken off her shoes to stand on a chair), but there was testimony that someone had gone back to get her shoes for her after she had been removed.

The prosecutor had compared her actions to someone disrupting a church service.

The jury didn't buy it.

Story is here.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Why isn't the Downing Street Memo news?

I find myself reluctantly agreeing with Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist, when yesterday he said, with very reasonable asperity:
...Of course Bush deserves to be impeached. But of course Bush will not be impeached, because impeachment requires a massive federal investigation and an act of Congress and the support of countless senators and representatives, and right now the GOP controls Congress with a little iron penis, and therefore any sort of uprising or scandal or suggestion of punishment gets immediately slammed down or scoffed away or buried under an avalanche of shrugs and yawns and neoconservative smugness. Isn't that right, Mr. Gannon? Mr. DeLay? Abu Ghraib? Gitmo? Saddam? Et al.

BushCo survived the illegal sanctioning of inhumane torture. They survived a gay male prostitute acting as a journalist. They survived Enron and Diebold and the rigging of the first election and they will survive Downing Street simply because all the people who should be on the attack about these atrocities all work for the guys who committed them.

The media have either become part of the deceit apparatus, like Fox News, or they are too fearful to resist the new paradigm of what "news" is.
I am afraid it's true. News is now any fresh steaming pentagon lie, or the white house excreting a press release, or any fortuitous new forest fire of bigotry whose flames can be fanned--currently the anti-gay marriage nonsense, and anti-flag burning hysteria, but whatever new outburst of bigotry might break out, is grist for the Republican media's frenzy mill. Let's face it. We have now, for the most part, a Republican media in this country, or, at best, one neutered by Republicans. How could we fail to realize this, when "news" is Karl Rove burrowing out of the pile of corpses his master's policies have mounded up for us, to howl that democrats are unpatriotic.

"Unbiased" news would then be the act of splitting the difference between Karl Rove and the truth, between the lies and a mild protest against the lies, except that the media by and large are loath to even split the difference evenly, living as they do in fear that Karl Rove will point at them next.

As he will.

Thank God for the blogosphere. The left half of it. And the remaining independent voices in the media like Mr. Morford, who have not been bought or silenced.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


I was reading something recently about post-traumatic stress disorder in tsunami survivors. Evidently a lot of work is being done to deal with it, a very wise thing, I think.

I found myself thinking of a woman who probably suffered from this, and no one knew it. Nobody had heard of this disorder in 1970, as best I remember, although there was a growing consciousness that there was something bothering a lot of Vietnam veterans.

Moment Armistead was a smart, pretty and vivacious young woman, a student at the University of Texas who believed, as most of us did in those days, in Peace Corps style work abroad to help heal the ills of the world. I remember her as very idealistic, even for that idealistic time.

One day she came over to my girlfriend's house and was very excited.

"I've been accepted," she said "I'm going to Peru."

The program she had been accepted into, as best I can recall now, was a student exchange that had been going on for several years, whereby a batch of University of Texas students would spend a semester or two in Peru, and Peruvian students--mostly men in their late 20's, customarily obsessive womanizers and career leftists--would come to Austin. She was very happy.

"Hey, that's great," everybody said, "That's wonderful!"

She flew off to South America, with the others.

A year or so later, in 1971, I heard that she had become mentally ill during her stay, and had been sent back to the United States, and that she was now a resident of the state mental hospital in Austin.

Several months later I saw her, at a party. I think she still lived at the hospital had a pass to be out for the evening. She was looking wild and confused. Somebody asked her what had happened. She said she felt overwhelmed by the events she had seen. "Peru" she said, "is just such a terrible, terrible place..." She trailed off and didn't continue her sentence.

She had been there during the great earthquake in May of 1970. Sixty six thousand people died, many of them when a dam in a remote mountain valley failed, causing a huge flood that smashed down the valley through two towns, killing most of the people in its path. These towns were almost entirely wiped out. I can't remember all of her story now but I have the impression she joined in some kind of relief effort and saw the devastation at first hand. A couple of months later she almost took the same plane as a group of American high school students who were going to Cuzco. For some reason she decided not to go on that trip. The plane crashed and everyone but the co-pilot was killed. She was very disturbed by this. Somebody told me she felt guilty.

Sometime in her stay in South America, probably after these events, she experimented with ayahuasca, a violently hallucinogenic plant used by the Amazonian Indians. It is a very powerful drug used in religious ceremonies, and produces extraordinary visions. I have read that it is also used by healers called ayahuasqueros in the raw tin-roof shantytowns which had sprung up overnight like toadstools out of the heat and the mud as the jungle was cut down to extend cash-crop farming on the Amazon side of the Andes. I don't know how she got hold of the drug, or why she tried it, but it didn't heal her, and instead triggered psychosis, delirium and horror. There was no one to help her. And she did not return to normal. She continued having thoughts that made no sense to her, and visions and images came to her that terrified her.

When she was recounting this at the party she seemed very matter-of-fact, but extremely frightened, as if the story she was telling, and the audience, and the Austin back yard she was in, were all less real to her than the fright that suffused her body, and made her tremble, that you could see in her eyes. She spoke to us from a great distance, across this great interval of fear.

In much of Latin America there is a folk illness, whose symptoms of course are entirely real, called susto, which means fright. It is caused by the soul somehow getting detached from the body.

A few months later she jumped off the tower building at the University of Texas in Austin. It was the same building where a few years before, a former eagle scout named Charlie Whitman had succumbed to the desire to perform the electric scenario that probably came to him from a small tumor deep in his brain, to kill people by shooting down from a high place.

She took off her shoes and lined them up carefully on the balustrade before she stepped out into the empty morning air just as thousands of students disappeared into their classrooms, at 10 o'clock. Three seconds later she arrived, in a sudden impact of shocked flesh, on a concrete patio.

Only one person saw her fall.

I have this memory of her face, when she was excited about her trip. And I have this memory of a newspaper photograph of those shoes, neatly lined up.

And I wonder, if people had known what was the matter with her, could they have helped her? Of course, knowing what post-traumatic stress disorder is, doesn’t necessarily enable you to fix it, get the soul re-attached to the body.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Loose lips sink ships, or, the gulag word, revisited

Evidently while I was on vacation, Dick Durbin said Gulag in public.

Now, the Republican argument against saying gulag out loud, as I understand it, is that our gulags have fewer people in them than Stalin's, and the torture is more benevolent--after all, it is well known that we outsource the most severe torture.

I'm not sure either Republican view withstands scrutiny.

The "our torture is benign" gambit is very suspect, given that a number of our torture victims (or should we call them "clients"?) are known to have died while being benignly interrogated. Happenstance, no doubt. It was just their time, probably. But, unfortunately for the Republican cause, the coincidence of torture with death in several cases is hard to prove to be mere chance.

With regard to numbers, I am not sure the number of people disappeared into prison camps is what makes a gulag into a gulag, but rather the fact that the disappearances are extra-legal, and that if there is any legal recourse at all for the people taken away in the night, the legal recourse is a kangaroo court. A show trial.

But we have to be fair. So far, at least, we have put fewer people into our prison camps than Stalin put into his, though, again, in fairness, the Bush Administration seems very averse to giving us a head count--almost as averse to giving us hard numbers as to giving the imprisoned a genuine and fair trial.

But I will take it as a common sense given, that, as of now, our gulags house far fewer disappeared individuals than Stalin's did. Indeed I doubt if Dick Durbin claimed otherwise.

But even so, this gulag business is an issue that doesn't seem to want to go away.

If Rush Limbaugh's policy recommendation had been followed, that what happens in our gulags should stay in our gulags, none of this ugly problem would have arisen.

Fine-tuning the truth, Republican style

The LA Times yesterday reported on another instance of the Bush Administration's belief that whatever they say three times is true.

According to the story by Julie Cart, "The Bush administration altered critical portions of a scientific analysis of the environmental impact of cattle grazing on public lands before announcing Thursday that it would relax regulations limiting grazing on those lands, according to scientists involved in the study."

The document written by the scientists said that the proposed relaxing of grazing rules would have a "significant adverse impact" on wildlife. The final document, as edited by Republican apparatchiks, expunged the previous wording and replaced it with the claim that the new regulations would be "beneficial to animals."

The following fairly straightforward conclusion was, equally straightforwardly, removed from the final draft. "The Proposed Action will have a slow, long-term adverse impact on wildlife and biological diversity in general."

Eric Campbell, a now-retired BLM biologist who wrote part of the report, put it this way. "They took all of our science and reversed it 180 degrees."

Another scientist involved in the report, Bill Brookes, a BLM hydrologist, now retired, said the proposed rule change was "an abrogation of [the agency's] responsibility under the Clean Water Act." This statement was removed.

"Everything I wrote was totally rewritten and watered down," Brookes said, "...Instead of saying, in the long term, this will create problems, it now says, in the long term, grazing is the best thing since sliced bread."

The LA Times did not explore any possible significance in the fact that the scientists who are pointing out that a BLM scientific report was thus doctored, are now no longer with the BLM.

Bud Cribley, the agency's manager for rangeland resources, spoke of the altering of the original science as "fine tuning."

Two percent of American beef cattle graze on public land. Apparently the ranchers who graze those cattle have more political clout than scientific truth does.

This seems to be kind of a pattern with this administration. If they don't like reality, they just change the wording, and, hey, the reality looks a lot better now. And certainly more pleasing to campaign contributors.


Monday, June 20, 2005

Some views of Port Aransas

The beach is restorative even when littered with sargassum weed, which can be a visual and olfactory nuisance but provides birds and fish with a lot of food.

Port Aransas is a cheap and run-down Texas barrier beach resort, which thankfully can never be anything but that, thanks to longshore currents which keep the surf too low and the water too murky for high-dollar recreational facilities, and additionally guarantees the occasional unsightly episodes of sargassum piling up at the water's edge. Nature thus protects us from gentrification and expensive developmental blight. Cheap developmental blight will be naturally removed, over time, by storm and tide.


View of the beach house (rented, of course. Do you think we are rich?)
beach house

View from the beach house
view from beach house

Entrepid birdwatcher, ready for birds to appear
Jim waiting for birds

View of the beach itself, at sunset
beach at sunset

Inside beach house, clowning around with my daughter
beach house

What exactly do right-wing Christians worship?

After several days at the beach, I am rested and ready to open a newspaper. So. Today's rant is thus occasioned by reading the Sunday New York Times Magazine article on fundamentalist views of gay marriage. Turns out that fundamentalist Christians consider homosexuality sinful. Who wudda thought? They claim, naturally, to love the sinner, but want to wipe out the sin. Or the disease. "Disease" functions here as an alternative word for sin.

We liberals are supposed to be tolerant. And I, personally, am. For example, I believe fundamentalists should be allowed to freely worship and proclaim their views, and proselytize in the streets if they wish. But for the state and its citizens to allow freedom of worship does not at all imply that we are all somehow obliged to not speak out against beliefs which, if acted upon, would lead to consequences any civilized human being will consider unthinkable.

So let's look at fundamentalism for a moment--specifically Christian fundamentalism.

God as imagined by fundamentalists was, and will be, guilty of the most monstrous genocides possible--assuming of course the Bible to be literally true, as fundamentalists believe it is.

We tend to fixate on their attacks on gays and on science and on women's rights, without noticing that the core of their religion is worship of a belligerent tribal deity, a wrathful stormtrooper godling overcome almost daily by something like road rage, a god with an anger management problem that makes Hitler seem like a choir boy. Such a god supposedly murders the entire human population of the planet, except for Noah and his family--plus he drowns most of the animals.

Because he was pissed. Nobody thinks about this story much.

If a human being committed such a crime, he would be thought the worst monster who ever existed. Most Christians and Jews, at least in modern times, have considered that this tale, and those like it, to be fables, and, if they think about them at all, derive metaphorical meaning from them, perhaps considering that the rain may be symbolic of affliction and the ark a symbol of fortitude--stuff like that. What else can civilized human beings do with such stories?

Fundamentalist Christians, however, believe it really happened, and, because they worship the deity in this story, are more or less bound by their ideology, even if not by personal wickedness, to approve of the crimes they imagine this deity committed. We decry the old Stalinists who followed--because they were blinded by ideology--the contortions of the Party line into incredibly immoral apologies for incredible crimes.

But we are too timid to speak up against other people, in this case Christian fundamentalists, who approve in principle of even greater depravities, and who in fact look forward, in their belief-system, to a re-creation of the Moloch-like planetary genocide they think was committed by the Old Testament God in ancient times, by their selfsame New Testament God, at the end of time.

What would we say to a group of Germans who were vying to make Germany once again a country giving its stamp of approval to the murder of six million Jews? We would say that the moral failure of people who approve of such criminality, like those who committed it, would be almost beyond human imagination.

So, then, what do we say of a group of Americans who are just fine with a far greater genocide, the killing of almost everyone on on earth--an event which they imagine to have been real--and who fall down on their knees before the author of it? And who want to make America a theocracy run according to supposed laws written by the very Horror they worship? And who want to see the destruction of mankind again, excepting of course the elect, who, not surprisingly, they consider themselves to be among.

(Well, one thing we would have to say of them, among many others, is that they are the Republican base. Red state fundie church folks. But I digress, as usual.)

Does the fact that the Horror they worship is simply a product of terrified and primitive imagination somehow make such worship morally acceptable? Obviously not. Is the moral problem of approving of the 40 days and 40 nights of deliberate death by drowning--a crime against humanity, shall we say, which is by no means unique in the catalog of mass killings supposed in the scriptures to have been committed by, or at the behest of, this same imaginary godling--somehow mitigated by the fact that the believers are too ignorant to know the belief is merely one among many fables of a tribe of ancient Middle Eastern herdsmen? Or, a little later in these same scriptures, that the ravings of the author of Revelations are the product of an unwell mind?

I would say no. To the extent that fundamentalists accept as articles of faith that the scriptures are both inerrant and literally true, these good folks, who like Nazi apologists may be exemplary friends, neighbors, and kinsmen, are in the truest sense morally decadent and a threat to everyone's well being.

We need to understand who we are dealing with.

The same freedoms which guarantee their right to worship, guarantees us the right to speak to the moral failure at the core of such worship. And I think our moral duty requires that we speak up.

Possibly some of them think that, by opposing them, we liberals are ipso facto advocating for them what many of them would advocate for us. This may cause them to, as they say, harden their hearts against us. But in all honesty, we need to realize that we are already fully demonized in their eyes, even as we have been meek and quiet.

What we need to do right now, I believe, is to calmly point out the moral implications of their beliefs. Many of these very believers do not, after all, approve of Hitler or Stalin, and some at least may be logical enough, or at least be _capable_ of the necessary logic, to see that the God they pray to is portrayed by their own holy book as guilty of things worse than Hitler or Stalin ever wished to do, or could have done.

In any case, our firm and vocal opposition to their creed, if based on the general moral consensus about genocide and mass murder shared by all civilized people and by most Americans and indeed by many fundamentalists themselves, cannot hurt a thing, and may turn some aside from the path of their folly--and may keep others from falling into folly. But we need to stop thinking that liberal tolerance somehow extends beyond tolerating their freedom to practice their religion, to remaining quiet in the face of their really morally flawed and profoundly dangerous religious ideas.

I am not, FWIW, a crusader against religion. And I certainly share the average liberal's aversion to falling into an obsessive objectification of fundamentalists as our Enemies, a different and evil tribe. But we can't escape the fact, and should not ignore the fact, that they believe incredibly stupid things that have really terrible moral implications, not to mention political consequences.

We need to attack those beliefs as vigorously as they attack evolution and abortion. Their beliefs are easy to attack. No one, in fact, can rationally defend them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

And that's it till Monday

I'm gonna go on vacation for a few days, far from the blogosphere. My daughter and I will be joining some old friends at a beach house at Port Aransas on the Texas Coast.

Anyway, I may have time to look at comments before I leave tomorrow morning, but no more posts till Monday.

And not far from my house...

A few days ago police shot dead 18 year-old Daniel Rocha who, according to several eyewitnesses, was lying face down on the ground when he was killed. The Travis County medical examiner confirmed that Rocha had been shot once, in the back.

The police report said that Rocha had engaged in a "violent struggle" with two of three police officers present. Sgt. Don Doyle threw Rocha to the ground, according to eyewitnesses who spoke to an Austin American Statesman reporter, and at that point officer Julie Schroeder shot Rocha.

Schroeder said that "she thought Rocha had taken her Taser during a struggle and was about to use it against her or [Sgt.] Doyle." (Austin American Statesman)

The medical examiner's report said that Rocha's body showed no marks consistent with a violent struggle. Rocha was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 132 pounds, according to the medical examiner. He had a history of petty crime, including one charge of burglary and one of marijuana use.

Now this is normal news anywhere in America. So why am I talking about it? Mainly because this particular incident happened to occur near my house. And, as it happens, I recently posted a blog on a seemingly senseless police use of tasers during a traffic stop. In it, I referred readers to a video clip of police cruelly tasering a woman who was slow in getting out of her car.

Police justified that particular cruelty, and others like it, on the grounds that it prevents shootings--like this one here in Austin.

But wait. We can't have this both ways, um, can we? Well, police, apparently learning from the example of day-in and day-out Republican brazenness in American politics, have decided that they can.

If someone gives you lip, taser the hell out of them. Or, alternatively, if two of you are trying to subdue a strapping 5 ft. 5 in. youth and you have him face down on the ground, and decide for whatever reason to shoot him in the back, you can say, hey, I thought he was going for my taser.

All I can say is, whatever happened to the idea of using--handcuffs? This would seem to be a situation made-to-order for that procedure.

The police, again learning from what they see in national politics, promise to conduct an investigation of themselves. They also "have developed plans to reach out to residents of [the] Southeast Austin neighborhood" to calm growing anger. They are passing out fliers and planning on having the police chief go to neighborhood meetings once the whitewash investigation is complete.

Street memorial for Daniel Rocha
death scene

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Open letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry

Governor Perry recently invited homosexual Texan military service personnel not to return to Texas after their tour overseas if they don't like the way we treat gay citizens. Here is my open letter to the Governor (which I faxed to him--if I get a reply I'll post it.)
Dear Governor Perry:

In your recent public suck up to your right-wing extremist base, where you removed your vestiges of moral clothing and revealed a naked bigot--and an uncommonly ugly sight it was, I might add, one that will give well-brought up children nightmares--you asked gay veterans to just relocate elsewhere if'n they don't like the way we do bizness down here in God's country.

I am sorry to have to point out, though, that your extremist base, most of them reveling in Old-Testament certitudes, such as one which requires that we kill homosexuals rather than merely exile them, will not be satisfied by your diffident invitation for gays to voluntarily exile themselves from our great state.

Leviticus is very clear on the matter. You gotta realize that you cannot call yourself a Christian in front of your howling evangelical voter base and get away with ignoring Scripture's clear call for the ultimate penalty. Now as a stopgap measure you might possibly get away with demanding that gays voluntarily sew pink triangles on their clothes while you guys find a way to implement Leviticus, but I don't think your base will be patient with a lot of shilly-shallying around in the deliberative phase. It's all or nothing in right-wing extremist land.

I'm thinking that with your pansy-like call for _voluntary_ exile, you'll come up with nothing. Maybe worse than nothing. Pols who live by scripture, die by scripture, so to speak. You've got the Texas Republican version of a fire-breathing moderate thinking of throwing her hat into the ring, and she is bound to snap up the votes of the less Biblically-literalistic church folks, plus--and you gotta watch out for these-- the votes of all the sinners, many of whom have not chosen exile, and not just the gays either.

So you're not a shoo-in, in other words, especially if you fall between two stools, or, to mix metaphors (but hey, your end of the political spectrum has never been strong on metaphors anyhow), if you are not completely in bed with your voter base. But then--wait--oh, never mind.


Jim McCulloch

Monday, June 13, 2005

Is the DSM a smoking gun? (Or: why do we have a press that can't think clearly?)

Short answer to the smoking gun question. Yes. (I don't have an answer to the alternative question.)

Long answer to the smoking gun question. The only alternative to yes, is to believe that the White House deceived, not the world, but the British government only, and in a very peculiar way; contriving, for reasons more or less unimaginable in our present universe, to _falsely_ convince the British government that we intended to go to war come hell or high water and moreover that we were gonna manufacture bogus intelligence to do it.

In other words, to think that the Downing Street Memo is not a smoking gun, you have to believe something really, um, unusual--that the White House snookered the Brits into thinking that we intended to lie our way into a war, when in fact it was just a gag, ha ha, Tony, you sure fell for that one. A real knee-slapper.

Is there a third possible explanation? If we wait for our press, clear-thinking or otherwise, to provide it, we may wait a long time. So far their 3-legged stool of saying nothing, or saying it's old news, or saying gosh, we don't see any smoke, seems to be satisfy them. A wobbly piece of work.

And now even wobblier, with another leaked document, a British Cabinet Office briefing that says Tony Blair had agreed to the war in spring of 2002 at a meeting with Bush in Crawford. (One imagines excited barks.)

According to the London Times, the leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper "noted that since regime change was illegal it was 'necessary to create the conditions' which would make it legal."

This task seems not to have been entirely successful.

The scandal continues

The Times of London yesterday had further revelations, based on another leaked British cabinet document, that the British government knew well in advance of the Iraq war that the United States intended to go to war for bogus reasons. They were deeply concerned that Britain would be implicated in the illegality of the war, and apparently were desperate to come up with a way to use the UN to either provoke Saddam into an aggressive action, or at least goad him into defiance of a UN resolution, thus supplying a pretext of legality.

The explicit background of all this, of course, is that the Brits knew, and were really worried about, the fact that Bush's reasons for war were false. The story is worth a read.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sunday trivia: daily life among the Aztecs

I wrote some earlier stuff about animal lore in Sahagún. Bernardino de Sahagún was a Spanish priest who, shortly after the conquest, learned Nahuatl and collected a vast diversity of lore from native informants. Essentially he asked them for examples and descriptions of everything--absolutely everything-- they knew about. The Spanish version survived church scrutiny, barely, and a single copy of the original Nahuatl raw material escaped destruction and has been translated into English. I own the Sahagún Spanish version (except to my sorrow I have lost one volume of it), and I have lately been reading library volumes of the English translation of the so-called "Florentine Codex" of the Nahuatl.

It is among other things an encyclopedia of the minutiae of daily life among the Aztecs. The Aztecs don't have a very good reputation. They were not well liked by anyone, especially their neighbors; with good reason. They sincerely believed that the continued orderly existence of their world demanded human sacrifice. We see the same sincerity, with perhaps an even greater death toll, with George Bush. The Aztecs, perversely in our view, accorded some honor to their sacrificial victims, whereas Mr. Bush, in contrast, simply considers the hundred thousand human beings and and counting who have died as a result of his sincerity, as collateral damage.

But I digress, as I always do--my point being that the Aztecs, in a certain way, were not much different from us.

To get back to where I was originally going: I love lists. This is a book of nothing but lists. Large parts of it is lists of ordinary stuff, the stuff of daily life. The conjunction of the familiar and the weird is interesting to me.

We have a list of trades. First in the list is "feather worker", apparently even more honorific than the second in the list, which is a goldsmith. Then we have copper workers, and lapidary workers--all evidently folks who made things for rich people. After that we have the mundane: carpenters (and the reader learns, if interested, that the Aztecs used the plumb line, and disliked crooked work), stone carvers, masons, scribes, singers (it was important to be able to do falsetto), and individuals who are called "wise men", evidently for hire. Maybe consiglieri would be the right word. After that, we have physicians.

Physicians seem to remind the Aztec informants of bad apples, for after that we have a list of troublemakers: sorcerers, fortune-tellers, and crazy people. The mentally ill were not well regarded, and were thought to be intent in causing harm to others when they did and said their crazy things. They were thought to be capable of turning into owls. Not good.

After crazy people come attorneys. The Aztecs had law, so it follows that they had people who made a living from it. The, finally, in this chapter, comes someone who I guess we would today call a lobbyist. Thus ends the bad apple chapter.

Then come ordinary trades. Tailors were men. Spinsters were women, as were weavers.

At that point the list of trades breaks off, to be continued later, and a new chapter begins with more troublemakers. Drunks. Lewd youths (is this familiar, or what? Lewd youths are restless, dissolute, shameless, presumptuous, sexually debauched, plus they go about eating mushrooms.) Pimps are next, with a description of what they do. Then, gays and lesbians. Aztecs, like Republicans, were homophobic (or perhaps Sahagún's informants were wise enough to deduce the viewpoints the Church wanted to hear.) Other kinds of bad people: murderers, deceivers, story-tellers (uh, oh, I would be in trouble here) who can be pleasing, amusing, and charming, but who are also prone to telling indecent tales, are shameless, and who have an evil tongue. Buffoons, and highway robbers follow.

Then we have a category of bad person for whom we have no known Republican equivalent: Temacpalitoti, persons who "dance with a dead-woman's forearm." These individuals dance with a dead woman's forearm, beat a two-toned drum, and cast spells that make you faint so that they can rob you. One of these types will steal your whole maize-bin.

(to be continued, maybe)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The way we were

Well, I have quite neglected the blogosphere today. I just got a new film scanner, and have spent the day scanning old slides I have not looked at in years. This may impact my posting frequency for the next 2 or 3 days. Perhaps a sampling of these photos will be of little interest to those who did not know me or Kay during the 60s and 70s. But there are some readers of this blog who did, and so, for them, here are two photos for their amusement.

The first is of myself, the hippie, in the early 1970s, in El Paso. The second is from late 1977, also in El Paso. I would not say this was a commune, exactly, but--close to it.

My daughter, born later, can hardly believe what I tell her about that time and place. My stepdaughter, who is the little girl in the 2nd photo, can barely remember it.

In the 2nd photo, I am the guy in the blue bandana looking paranoid, and Kay is behind me to my left.

Everything my mother feared would happen
smiling hippie

At home in El Paso. In the photo after this (not shown) we took off our clothes. Really.
At home in El Paso

Friday, June 10, 2005

Friday bird, tree, and cat blogging.

Spent part of yesterday walking between two trees at the edges of a what used to be a farm but is now overgrown in mesquite and hackberry trees. One tree had a painted bunting in it, the other an indigo bunting. Painted and indigo buntings are closely related, and, alas for this particular birdwatcher, they have songs that I have never been able to tell apart with certainty. Their songs are to my ear so much alike as to be for practical purposes identical.

Both these birds were easily visible, and were singing from trees maybe a couple of hundred feet apart. They did not fly away as I tramped back and forth. This is unusual. Birds, even small birds, seem to be dislike being watched, unless it is the price of admittance at a birdfeeder. At least that is my experience.

Anyway, I think I finally have it now, in my mind. The painted bunting song is weaker and in some way more melodic, and sometimes begins or ends with sharp chip, but this is not reliable. The indigo bunting song is a little louder and has a trill segment--sometimes--that approaches a buzz. Of course a verbal description is helpful only as a mnemonic in the presence of the actual song.

I took along no recording gear, but variants of both songs can be heard here

These recorded songs are a little different from what I actually was hearing, but close enough. The site is useful for bird songs, by the way, and handier than loading a cd.

The unmistakable invisible sound of yellowbilled cuckoos was all around me. This sound means summer is really here--as if the beads of sweat running down into your eyes is not clue enough. You don't often see the actual cuckoo.

I watched an ash-throated flycatcher catch 3 or 4 insects in the space of a couple of minutes. If it kept it up all day it would become too fat to fly.

My walk was through what looks now like African savannah, but 75 years ago it was farmland, fields of corn and cotton. The savannah look is due to the mesquites, which are secondary to abandoned fields. The original vegetation, before farms, was clumps of trees, hackberries or cedar elms or oaks, surrounded by grassland. Supposedly periodic lightning-caused fires suppressed the growth of a uniform forest.

Since we now do suppress fires, who knows what we will end up with? Maybe, eventually, a forest where once there was mostly grass.

Actually, we may end up with farmland, again, if William James Kunstler's vision of the future comes true. The end of cheap oil and the beginning of hard times. It's hard to say if Kunstler's vision is apocalyptic or utopian--it will be a world in which, to quote Tom Waits's song, you got to git behind the mule and plow.

It the meantime, it was a lovely summer day. The twist-leaf yuccas are flowering.

Yucca flowers
Twist leaf yucca flowers

Savannah-like vegetation
Austin savannah

Gray doing what he does best
Gray sleeping, Grendel in background

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Richard Nixon kills Nuevo Laredo police chief

Sorry for the inflammatory headline. I am going to explain why it is, in part, true. Some other people bear the blame also.

The following is from today's Austin American Statesman:
Associated Press Writer

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico — For weeks, no one came forward to apply for the Nuevo Laredo police chief job because many saw it as a death sentence.

But Alejandro Dominguez proudly took office Wednesday, saying he was not afraid of anything. Nine hours later, he was ambushed and killed by gunmen who fired three dozen times.
Dominguez, a businessman who once worked at the federal Attorney General's office, was sworn in Wednesday afternoon and promised to weed out corruption in the city.

"I don't owe anybody anything. My duty is to the citizenry," he said. "I think those who should be afraid are those who have been compromised."

After dark, a group of assailants opened fire as he climbed into his Ford Lobo pickup truck outside the local chamber of commerce, which he led.

State police director Fernando Vallejo said officials recovered 35-40 casings from assault rifles similar to those used by drug gangs. Nuevo Laredo has been the front line of a turf battle between Mexico's two largest drug gangs, the Gulf and Juarez cartels.

Officials had no suspects in the case.

So what does this have to do with us? Well, it has a little to do with the War on Drugs. Read the penultimate sentence in the news story quoted above for a clue on this.

As some of you may know, the War on Drugs was declared in 1968 by Richard Nixon. His promise to pursue such a war was part of his election platform. He set in motion the various police-state efforts we have seen in the ensuing 37 years that have failed so spectacularly in every department except that of militarizing police functions, extending their intrusiveness, and vastly enlarging the financial and moral costs of imprisoning a significant part of the population.

That's sarcasm. You have to say that on the internets. In fact, sarcasm aside, the War on Drugs has failed, and indeed caused profound harm, in almost every way possible. It has invented ways to fail and cause harm that no one dreamed of in 1968.

The most important of these unforeseen avenues of disaster is the corruption and disruption of civil order in the producer countries. It goes without saying that if a country's most profitable export cannot be grown, processed, or shipped legally, that criminals will perform the entrepreneurial functions we normally expect of the business community.

Now sometimes--hard to imagine, but true--there is competition among businesses, much as envisioned by Adam Smith. We consider that a good thing, because it leads to greater efficiency and lower prices, and, normally, no major death toll. If the competitors are by profession murderers, gun-runners, mercenary soldiers, thieves, rapists, and sadistic psychopathic serial killers, the situation changes. We have seen a little of that in the streets of America. We are going to see more of it. But in Latin America it has been an unmitigated catastrophe.

For example, the extension of illicit and enormously profitable business opportunity to both sides in an already bloody civil war in Colombia has lead to an incalculable disaster. Colombia hovers somewhere between being a police state and a failed state. Mexico, which at least is not recruiting its mafias from warring armies, has managed to reach a state of civic breakdown almost as terrible as that in Colombia, in part by the drug cartels bribing and recruiting the militarized police _we_ gave advanced, special forces type training to, at Ft. Benning, among other places. The so-called Delta Zeta Force, which we trained, now works for one of the cartels causing such havoc along the border right now. But the general corruption and lawlessness brought (and bought) by the drug mafias to police and government in Mexico took the old petty corruption endemic in Mexico to a whole new level, to chaos and in some cases, like Nuevo Laredo and Juárez, a complete breakdown of law and order.

Thanks to us.

Thanks to the War on Drugs, which is no closer to being won today than in 1968. It will never be won, because it _can_ never be won, and is, by its own internal logic, unwinnable and eternal.

Meanwhile, in related news, the Supreme Court now makes it illegal to use marijuana for medical reasons anywhere in the United States.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Republican Lysenkoism

Stalin had a view of reality similar to George Bush's. He didn't have much use for science. He believed that magical thinking could be made real through the application of rose-colored glasses tinted propaganda to paint a more doctrinally desirable reality. And if that didn't work, at least for Stalin, then putting people into prison who pointed out that the painted world was not the real thing did work, at least for a while.

To be sure, the Republicans have not achieved a sufficient combination of police state power and reckless disregard for true descriptions of the actual physical world that they put scientists into prison--yet--for doing good science.

Presently, though, they are doing the best they can with the tools they have available, which, though more limited than Stalin's, are perhaps a little more sophisticated.

Rather than establish a mad commissar of scientific misrule, like Lysenko, they find it more expedient to insinuate scientific censors into the various government agencies to edit and, um, guide, reports prepared by government scientists, as we see in the New York Times's report today on Philip Cooney's redaction of scientific reports on global warming.

Mr. Cooney is a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, who seems to have decided to become the Republican version of an environmentalist, and is now chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Now the government has another office, a scientific one, called the Climate Change Science Program, which issues reports, written by real scientists, on the state of climate research. Mr. Cooney is a lawyer with no scientific background.

Somehow, Mr. Cooney's job became one of guiding the reports of government climate research, so as to make it appear that there is uncertainty about whether global warming is real, and to minimize the need for mitigation strategies.

The New York Times gives specific instances of his guidance, which is lawyerly and subtle, but which has the effect of altering the meaning of the reports from that intended by those scientists who wrote the first drafts, to a meaning acceptable to the White House, in the final report.

Clearly this is preferable to sending scientists to Siberia, or Guantanamo, but you gotta wonder--what the hell are these people thinking?

Do they think Republicans are immune to the laws of nature? Do they think that by refusing to look at disaster till it occurs, that they will themselves be exempted from its ill effects? I can understand a fisherman, enmeshed in the tragedy of the commons that led to the destruction of the Grand Banks cod fishery, insisting that nothing was wrong, when the fisherman realizes that if you admit that something is wrong, that his livelihood will probably have to change. Of course his livelihood changed anyway, when the collapse occurred. I can understand a politician who depends on the votes of the fishermen going along with the game, to get votes.

But would be hard to understand the government knowingly altering scientific reports of the impending problem--especially at a stage when something could still be done to head off catastrophe.

Altering the report doesn't change the underlying reality. (I can see a Republican reality guidance counselor here adding the words "does it?" to the preceding sentence.) But putting a question mark into a sentence doesn't do a thing, except make it harder to deal with the problem.

The scientific consensus is that global warming is real, and caused by human activities. Even if there are fifty years of Republican rule, it will get warmer for everyone, including Republicans, during that fifty years. Magical thinking doesn't change that. Stalin's crops failed, thanks in no small part to Lysenkoism. Altering the five-year reports didn't fool anyone, or feed anyone.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A murderer, a cannibal, and a serial killer walk into a bar

This is not a lead-in to a joke, actually. Sorry. If you came here looking for one, I apologize. You can go away now.

Texas Governor Rick Perry traveled to an evangelical church in Ft. Worth on Sunday to sign two bills passed by the Texas Legislature, one banning gay marriage, and the other requiring parental notification for abortions for girls under 18. These two bills are the major, and indeed the only, accomplishments of the Texas Legislature this year.

This is the most open and brazen Republican pandering to a right-wing Christian voter base we have ever had in this state. No governor has ever before signed crazy legislation in a crazy church, or for that matter in any church. This church, the Calvary Christian Academy, had about a thousand people on hand to watch the signing, and 350 people outside protesting. Perry's reelection staff sent out emails inviting people to the event that said "we want to completely fill this location with pro-family Christian friends who can celebrate with us." Later this was modified by saying that "people of all faiths are welcome."

Like who, for example?

Well, they got a Jew. A rabbi, in fact. Or so he calls himself. Turns out, he is David Stone, an apostate Jew for Jesus who heads a so-called Beth Yeshua Messianic Jewish Congregation in Ft. Worth.

The Calvary Christian Academy has tax exempt status. When it was pointed out to them that they could lose this exemption by holding a rally organized by Perry's reelection committee, they moved the bill-signing from the "sanctuary" to the gymnasium. Yes, they have a gymnasium.

It was quite a circus.

What we have developing in Texas is an interesting re-creation of the political situation of my childhood, a one-party state, where the real election is that party's primary. When I was growing up, it was the Democratic primary. The Republican candidate had as much chance of being elected, in the fall, as the Vegetarian candidate.

I fear that practicality is going to force me, in this lifetime, to vote Republican. Or at least vote in a Republican primary. Perry is facing opposition from Kay Bailey Hutchison, one of our right-wing extremist senators now in Washington, who, however, is nowhere _near_ as right wing as Perry. If Hutchison decides not to run, the Comptroller of Public Accounts, Carol Keeton Rylander probably will. (Don't ask me why Texas's most important women politicians go by three names. I don't know.) Rylander is also right wing, but again, is not as crazy and irresponsible as Perry.

Both would probably be underdogs, in Texas.

I hate being in a lesser-of-two-evils voting bind. It's like having to decide between a murderer, a cannibal, and a serial killer. The choice is hard, but you have to make it. But that's a one-party state for you. Let's hope we don't become a one-party country.

Monday, June 06, 2005

More obsolete travel notes: a shaggy-dog birdwatching story

Poleaxed by the heat, everybody getting off the plane stood around dazed at the foot of the ladder, where without intervention we would have perished on the runway like a crateload of poultry broken open in the Sahara Desert. A customs official wearing a regulation frown and reflecto-sunglasses waved us toward a door in the low bunkerlike concrete terminal building. Behind him were soldiers, no two uniforms quite alike, lounging, enjoying the aura of menace given them by their bandoliers and snub-nose automatic weapons. All around was a tropical scrub forest. I was there with my wife Kay, and my daughter Eve and teen-age stepdaughter Anna, and some colleagues of my wife and their families.

We were going to Isla Mujeres. This was 15 years ago, I don't know if it has changed. I wouldn't be surprised if it has. The price for a taxi was negotiable. After a lot of haggling and bargaining we finally all squeezed into a battered Volkswagen bus, which hurtled with a neck-wrenching turn out of the parking lot and shot off down the crowded and narrow highway. Our driver turned up the radio as high as it would go. His decibel-shattered speakers immersed us in an unsteady blast of static shot through with pulses of the operatic passion of Vicente Fernández within its encompassing blare of mariachi trumpets. The driver of another sardine-can minibus considered that being passed was an affront, so he and our driver began a swerving and careening road race, gesturing with their forearms as they passed each other, honking and cursing at slower vehicles. Two teen-agers in our bus were thrilled and shouted encouragement to our driver. Egged on by this applause for his valor and skill our man seized his opportunity and cut off his rival by passing a dump truck in the face of an oncoming vehicle, shooting the closing gap with a fraction of a second to spare. He deposited us at the ferry landing. Thus began a tropical vacation.

Once on the island, we took a more sedate island taxi to our hotel, where four or five small boys seized our bags and carried them a few feet, requesting compensation for their services before the car stopped rolling. Our two American adolescents went off looking for mopeds to rent. The adults stood by the pile of suitcases and began peeling colorful bills off of big wads of currency each of us had in our pocket.

The Hotel Cangrejo (my name for it, I forget the real one) on Isla Mujeres was a three story hurricane-weathered concrete building. The hotel occupied a rocky outcrop twenty feet above the crashing waves of the windward side of the island. I love places like this. They are probably all disappearing. The room had crude wooden louvres and a rusty ceiling fan for ventilation. No air-conditioning, of course. Few hotels on the island had air-conditioning at that time. Isla Mujeres was a budget island. We were budget tourists. The floor was tile, the beds were hard, and the wall was decorated with a faded picture of ducks in a North Woods pond, the kind where the wings of the duck appear to flap if you change your vantage point, an example of a style that could be called Early Diffraction Grating, where science met art to the credit of neither, as with the credit-card hologram today. The mirror on the wall was corroded by salt, and rendered only us faintly visible, an amenity tourists are generally grateful for after a day or two on the island.

Kay and Eve and I decided to go to the beach. The best beach on the island was just as the brochure photos show it--crystalline water, ranging in hue from turquoise to deep ultramarine, white coral sand, graceful palm trees, tanned watchable bodies.

It was very lovely. But some little things you can't see in the brochures. The air was heavy with coconut flavored skin emollients. The sand stuck to the sweat and aloe-vera gel to form a light salty grit giving your skin a new and surprising texture. This is not necessarily terrible, unless you are sunburned. Then it is. My idea had been to swim a little and then sit on the beach and relax and read a good book, but I had discovered I couldn't read without a headband to keep sweat out of my eyes, so I contented myself with drinking Coca Cola and gazing at nearly naked women with stunning bodies and brutal tans who were running and frolicking in the blinding noonday sun.
It can be relaxing and pleasant. Think sauna, or steam room. We go to be suana'd or steamed for enjoyment, where we don't even have palm trees or drinks with little umbrellas in them. Go with the flow. Be here now. And I was.

The next day the sun shown bright through the window slats at 6:00 in the morning. I groped for the 45-power sunblock. It was a day we had set aside to go snorkeling on the reef. We took a jitney down the island several miles to a point where the reef is close-in to the shore. A thriving concession stand rented snorkeling gear. It was kind of a crowded little reef, but the water was nice and the fishes were colorful. It was fun, and close enough to shore for young children. The petting zoo of reefs.

Everyone pronounced the snorkeling a success, and we made plans for the next day’s recreation. I was getting into the swing of this. Time slowed down. We got back to the hotel by noon, and had nothing on the itinerary for the rest of the day. Life was good. The whole group of us were going to take a day-long boat trip, the next day, to a remote and pristine island bird sanctuary.

We showed up at the dock early. Our boat was a very old 20 foot diesel powered wooden boat. Three shirtless, barefoot islanders made up the crew. The owner of the boat stayed ashore, counting his money as we pulled away from the dock. We moved out of the harbor into the open ocean and encountered what we, landlubbers, considered to be heavy seas. Our crew joked and began putting out their trolling rigs to catch fish for our lunch. The boat shuddered with every wave breaking over the rail. The throb of the decrepit engine was like a very irregular heartbeat. Fish leapt from wave crest to wave crest. The boat rocked with the waves in a complex spiraling motion like an incomplete barrel-roll in a stunt plane, and with each roll the passengers' knuckles turned white gripping the rail. The crew broke out some drinks, beer and cloyingly sweet Mexican Coca Cola, finding few takers. I have always been fortunate in not getting seasick, and fortune stayed with me, but not with many of our fellow excursionists.

“Hey, hombre, you no gonna drink the cerveza?” the crew would ask, in the lingua franca.
“Yo no. Not me, man. Not right now.”

The crew began some serious drinking. I don't drink much, so I couldn't help them.

A mile or so from our destination we found ourselves inside a reef, and the violent rocking motion of the boat abated, but by then half the passengers were seasick and making horrible noises in the scuppers. The crew members anchored the boat and said it was time for snorkeling. They were drunk. After equipping themselves with primitive home-made spear-guns they jumped over the side to try to impale the fish which had so far eluded their hooks. The passengers who were not seasick had no intention of entering the water with three armed and dangerously intoxicated spear-fishermen, meat hunters. After 20 minutes or so our men clambered back aboard still empty-handed. We continued on to the bird sanctuary.

We tied up at the deserted and primitive island pier, where, at the last moment, one of the crew somehow hooked and landed a huge barracuda, with a hand line. He carried the fish onto the blazing beach sand and the three of them built a great roaring fire, split open the barracuda and grilled it in the flames. It reminded me of three derelicts I once saw burning a tire in an El Paso parking lot.

But it was delicious. Blackened barracuda as prepared by our cooks, along with Coca Cola and tortilla chips, was one of the best meals I had in Mexico. Trouble is, there was too much. Our crew stuffed themselves till their bellies were distended and the buttons would have popped off their shirts, if they had had shirts, and then they drank more beer.

While some of the passengers watched the giant sting ray that made its home in the clear water below the dock, most of the rest of us dispersed to explore the island. Most of it was a thorny tropical scrub forest with a few coconut palms for shade, but we discovered that there was a rich and unfamiliar (to us) biotic diversity, such as mangrove swamps on the Yucatan side which smelled like rotten eggs. Brown boobies roosted in the mangrove trees, enjoying the spectacular heat. On the dry, rocky Caribbean-side of the island, the beach appeared to be made of badly eroded concrete, like a long stretch of ancient freeway many years after being collapsed into the sea by an earthquake. It was desolate and strange, and in its way beautiful.

I spend the next couple of hours walking around this odd place, nominally birdwatching. I added several birds to my life list.

But a moment of digression here. I am not a good birdwatcher. I do have a life list. In fact, I have several. I keep losing them. Thus I can't verify from records, much less remember, oftentimes, whether I have seen a bird before or not. It makes the whole enterprise of keeping a list seem silly, when you think about it, if you need a crib sheet to tell you whether to be excited about what you are looking at. My mother has the true zen of birdwatching. She enjoys watching the birds at her birdfeeder, every day, though she has probably not seen a species new to her yard in years.

So, this is a lead-up to my confession that I do not remember, and do not have the slightest idea, except for the boobies, what birds I saw at the bird sanctuary island. Sorry. A little of the ecological ambience is all I can give you.

All too soon it was time to return. When we got under way the crew, as a sort of afterthought, hoisted a tattered, patched, stretched canvas jib sail; a big billowing affair that enabled them to cut back the power to the ancient engine and still maintain the same imperceptible headway we had been making before. But the important thing was it stabilized the boat . Our craft no longer rolled with the plunging, stomach-wrenching yaw we had come to know and dread. Soon hungry passengers began to nibble on leftovers, and some demanded beer. The Negra Modelo was gone, but there was plenty of Coca Cola and barracuda, and soon everyone was having a delicious lunch. As we approached dockside, after narrowly escaping being run down by a fast outbound ferryboat, we were singing tourist-calypso classics, "O island in the sun," a little out of sync with the fact that this was, after all, Mexico.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The curious case of the Gulag uproar

The accusation by Amnesty International that Bush and Company are running a system of Gulags in Guantanamo and Iraq and Afghanistan and, if we count extraordinary renditions, several other countries as well, has struck a nerve, as evidenced by the barrage of more or less indentical talking points issuing from quite a number of spokespersons for the regime as well as its media apparatchiks.

The argument seems to be twofold: (1) Amnesty is rabidly anti-American and cannot be trusted, and (2) Stalin.

The first argument is untrue. Amnesty is rabidly anti-tyranny and anti-torture and anti-injustice, and has gained the enmity of tyrannies of every stripe for collecting and publicizing evidence of brutality, torture, abuse, ethnic cleansing, and injustice of all kinds carried out by such regimes. I forget whether it was Rumsfeld or Cheney, but it was one of them--I suppose I should look it up, but, hey, this is a blog--who actually cited an Amnesty report condemning Saddam as part of the buildup to the war.

Ah, but that was a different Amnesty, one that had not yet gone over to the side of anti-Americanism.

The Stalin argument combines two logical flaws into one. The first is the error of saying that, because Jack the Ripper was a greater criminal than Charlie Manson, that Charlie Manson is blameless. The answer: it is true that Stalin was a greater criminal than Bush, but it does not follow that Bush is blameless.

The second logical error is technically called ignoratio elenchi, that is, disproving, or trying to disprove, a point not being made by the person you disagree with.

The Gulag was a system whereby people were disappeared with minimal legal pretext, or none at all, and sent to one or another of a series of concentration camps in places where there was no rule of law. This high-handedness and lack of a rule of law in our prison camps is, as far as I can tell, the point Amnesty is trying to make in talking about gulags.

Now it is true that many more people died in Stalin's gulags than have died in Bush's. The number of people beaten or tortured to death, or who have died in mysterious circumstances in our gulags is the last time I looked, less than 40. I don't think Amnesty would disagree that Stalin's death toll was greater. That gets us back to the first fallacy.

It seems clear enough to anyone not seriously diminished by watching Fox News, that the Gulag structure is alive and was working very well thank you until the American courts threw a relatively feeble monkey wrench into the works by demanding at least minimal legal accountability in Guantanamo, though none in the Gulag's other outposts. The legal accountability turns out to be perfunctory, unfortunately.

Neither the legal un-accountability, nor the brutality and torture that we all now know has occurred in our prison camps, have been addressed by apologists for the Bush regime--for the simple reason that to address it fairly and honestly, is to condemn it.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

No, silly, we don't flush Korans. We piss on them

As an old fashioned and occasionally reality-based American, I am more troubled by the more substantive atrocities that momentarily fly by in public view as they escape the black hole of coverup and speed toward the oblivion of the Memory Hole, as if impelled by some powerful gravitational suckage--a Memory Hole for which the press, having been taught to be tidy sometime in the past 30 some-odd years, obliging flushes.

Substantive atrocities such as beating prisoners to death by pulping their thighs with clubs, and then letting them slowly hang there until rigor mortis sets in, to the surprise of the club wielders, as in, "my God, how did that happen? Will we be demoted?"

Not to mention Abu Ghraib, of course, long since whirled away and flushed as old news, now that several low-ranking solders have been punished, suitably, in the eyes of the Pentagon, which carefully and correctly gauged the demand for justice as being proportional to the media's attention span. Plus the Pentagon went the extra mile and demoted the general who says she was obeying orders that came down the chain of command, leaving it unclear whether the reason for the demotion was that she revealed that those orders existed, or that she obeyed them.

Simultaneous to this, the curious self-congratulation fandango of the media, flattering itself about of the impeachment of a rogue president, long ago, through the agency of a free and courageous press, would affect a reality-based person with an indignation more or less equivalent to being tasered (see my previous post) by hypocrisy, if we had not learned to survive such jolts during an era of media toadying previously unknown and unimagined in our history.

To get back to the subject line of this post: for those who were busy and didn't notice yesterday afternoon, the Pentagon announced hours before the start of the weekend, as is its wont when the news is needful of disappearing quickly, that we didn't flush any Korans, but we stepped on some, and pissed on one, but that was an accident. The urinator had stepped outside to relieve himself and the urine somehow got into the ventilator, whence it sprayed the Holy Book, quite unintentionally.

And I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Sadists in uniform--no, not Abu Ghraib this time

You have to wonder what is the matter with these cops. They seem to represent the spirit of George Bush's America. These guys could work at Abu Ghraib.

I guess I should explain, in case the link stops working. Two cops--this is in Florida--stop a black woman who continues to talk on a cell phone to someone, telling the person she talking to that she is being pulled over. The cops tell her to put the phone down (like it's some kind of weapon!) They tell her to get out of the car, very belligerently. She continues to talk on the phone, saying, with a kind of unbelieving tone in her voice, that they are going to arrest her. They threaten to "tase" her, and then do so. Their excuse presumably is that she in not in "compliance" with their orders. (Later one of them accuses her of assaulting an officer--which certainly was not visible in the video. Did he say it to put a more plausible excuse for their behavior on the record? You decide.) She begins to scream uncontrollably, and thrash around. They tell her (I think) to stop screaming, and to get up. Then they tase her again. The screaming redoubles, and you see glimpses of her limbs thrashing like she is having a seizure. Screaming continues, a long time.

It's pretty gruesome.

The cops say it doesn't hurt, we had it done during training. Obviously, the woman knows they are full of shit. They are saying it for the video, I think.

(One of the things I have read about police training, is that they do get tased--but not with the full power tasers they use people on the street, which are by all accounts _extremely_ painful. As you see here.)

I dunno about you, but I found the video pretty intense, and pretty horrifying. If you did something like this to an animal, you'd be arrested for cruelty. Even in Florida. Even in Texas.