Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Think Locally, Act Glo-bully

From the Cape Cod Times (entire article quoted here in case the article moves in the meantime) - I will refrain from detailed commentary here, but present this as an example of how this Administration works. My grandparents and uncles and aunts, Republicans all of them from the Cape, would've been appalled by the idea of a family connection from Boston via Washington DC being involved in directing local affairs.

    GOP pick for Seashore draws Cape protest

    The Cape, as Seen from Washington, Looks like an Elephant's Trunk

    BOSTON - The appointment by the White House of a Republican lobbyist from Holbrook to chair the unpaid commission that advises the federal government on use of the Cape Cod National Seashore on the Lower Cape has drawn criticism from a Cape lawmaker.

    Ron Kaufman, also the Massachusetts national committeeman for the Republican Party, "has no known substantive connection to the Cape and no known environmental expertise," state Sen. Robert A. O'Leary, D-Barnstable, said Tuesday.

    Kaufman is the brother-in-law of Andrew Card, also from Massachusetts, and chief of staff for President Bush. Kaufman, like Card, worked for the first President Bush and still serves as personal advisor to the Bush family. His Holbrook home is south of Braintree.

    "This appears to be a shocking politicization of a previously apolitical position," O'Leary said in a letter today to GOP Gov. Mitt Romney, urging him to ask the Bush administration to reappoint Brenda Boleyn of Truro, appointed in 1992 by the first Bush administration and chair from 1994 until her term ended this week.

    O'Leary, who has served on the commission himself, said the chair provides a critical ink between Cape towns and the federal administrators. In helping to resolve many thorny issues, Boleyn has gained the respect of local officials, something critical for success as Chair."

    At her last meeting this week, Boleyn's work drew bouquets of flowers and words from Park Superintendent Maria Burks. Boleyn, a marine biologist and retired professor and science department chair at the Cape Cod Community College, also has served as past president of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod and sparkplug behind the Cape and Islands Lyme Disease Task Force.

    The commission members are appointed by the Secretary of Interior, after nominations from each of the six towns in the Seashore, one from Barnstable County, two from the governor and one from the Secretary of Interior. And previously the members picked their own chair.

    She said Tuesday night, "Until now, the secretary of interior has always endorsed the choice of the advisory commission. What's different this time is that a chairman is being appointed to the advisory commission from outside the commission membership. I think most people are aware that the administration is trying to move people who've been active Republicans into the advisory committees."

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Speak for Yourself, John

I spotted this item today:

MSNBC - Six signs to watch in New Hampshire vote: "Dean and, to some degree, Kerry have a natural affinity for voters who went to Yale or Swarthmore, who have a household income of more than $150,000 a year, and who live in places like Peterborough or Hanover."

Speaking as a Swarthmore grad, but one short $150K a year by several digits and who lives a long way from Peterborough or Hanover...maybe the Yalies would vote for Kerry, but the classic Swarthmore voter would consider Dean a bit conservative and would be torn between Dean and Kucinich or Carol Mosely-Braun, that is when she or he isn't complaining about "the process".

' John Kerry woos a Peterborough voter. ' The infamously angry Howard Dean feels spurned.

What I find a little strange here -- has Swarthmore somehow hit the big-time as an establishment icon? L'il old Swarthmore, in the same breath as Skull and Crossbones Yale? Where the hell did that come from?

I'd really like to be informed if I've secretly become part of the controlling elitist cabal of society. There are some changes I'd like to make. Where's my union card?

Post Script

After posting the item above, I thought to myself -- well, what kind of a voting bloc would that be, anyway? Swarthmore's a small college, and I have a printed alumni directory of every living graduate.

Here's the totals:

Swarthmoreans living in Hanover: 29, at least two of whom are not citizens, and I'm pretty sure at least a few are Republicans and one is an anarchist.

Swarthmoreans living in Peterborough: 2

If we widen the demographic to the whole state: 164 Swatties, including one in New London, where my wife's family have a "place". (Uninsulated and unheated; I'm pretty sure that Yalies who "have a place" in New Hampshire have heat in said place.) I know the state pretty well, having hiked certain portions of it ad nauseum (meaning until I barfed due to the exertion) - what I was really surprised at was only two Swatties live in Nashua, given the outrageous real estate prices in Boston, but go figure. Hanover is the big expatriate mecca for fairly obvious reasons.

I think it may be a fair distinction to be made that if we are to divide the world into Yalies and Swatties, the Yalies pull all the levers of the machinery of secret government and the Swatties study it and occasionally write about it.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Free Government Ride for History Majors Only

If you go to the Clark for President Official Campaign Web Site: you will read this:
    "'I was lucky,' Clark said of his college education at West Point. 'I knew I didn't have the money for college. But the military paid for my education -- and I paid them back by serving. It was the best deal going: I got to serve my country, got a great education, and didn't leave school with a pile of debt. Every young person in American deserves that same opportunity.' "
Yet on CSPAN yesterday, I saw him claim he'd "paid his own way through college", specifically referring to West Point, trying to denigrate his rivals who had their rich daddies pay their way through Yale (that's Dean and Kerry, for those of you not keeping score at home).

Clark is close to scratching himself off my list. It's one thing to bait your opponents with class warfare -- hell, most of the Democrats are doing that already -- and while I don't like the speaking-ill-of-fellow-Dems, that's the way the game is apparently played this year unless you're John Edwards.

But this is the kind of thing you apologize for, not try to cover-up by putting the opposite comments on your web site.

Yes, boys and girls, WE paid for General Clark's education, and while I can forgive him forgetting this fact in the midst of the election -- it's so easy to become fumble-mouthed when you say the same thing for the zillionth time -- it's much harder to forgive the 1984ish editing of history.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Time to Cross-Fire Bob Novak

I'm watching Bob Novak, who committed a crime George H. W. Bush once described as "the most heinous crime imaginable" -- outting a CIA operative -- ask Mary Steenburgen on CNN, with a straight face, what she thinks of her candidate, Wes Clark, accusing the President of "the most heinous crime imaginable" -- desertion. Well, Clark didn't say that, Michael Moore did -- Clark when asked said he was in no position to say anything about the President's military service. But where the hell does Bob Novak get off with that kind of yellow journalism, after he was used as a mouthpiece for a true piece of treason by some as yet still unnamed administration source? And why did Bob Novak admit he'd used Robert Hanssen, later convicted as a spy, as an FBI source after he'd been accused of treason? They're both acts of treason.

A Few Sheepshots in Wolves' Clothing

As Republicans go, Wesley Clark is unique among them in not actually endorsing Bush for re-election, unlike his analog (the Last Honest Man in the Republican Party), John McCain. Of course, McCain can stump for Bush in NH the day after he slyly takes potshots at W. on the Daily Show as he gears up to become President in 2008 after the second term of the second failed Bush administration, which really isn't that honest at all. That, at least, is my current theory about McCain -- he probably figures the country's going to be so bad after Bush II's second term that it will need a true Republican to clean up our national security and budgetary messes, so he'll be a good party soldier for now, neglecting the looming prospect of Jeb Bush taking over the family business.

A truly honest Republican committed to strong national defense and fiscal sanity would've left the party or at least refrained from shilling for it -- I guess, like Clark. So I guess that definitely moves Clark high on the list of honest Republicans, although if he's actually a Democrat that would scuttle that theory and if he's actually a Republican it wouldn't be honest to register as a Democrat. It's just too bad Clark's interview with John Stewart wasn't a tenth as hilarious as McCain's. All that said, I'm more and more favorably inclined to Wes Clark based on his ability to be President and win the election, and if I'm forced by the process of the Democratic Primaries to pick among two Republicans for President, I'd gladly take the accomplished war hero over the AWOL resident.

Speaking of the Daily Show, what does it mean that more Democratic Presidential Candidates have appeared there than on, say, the now nearly-captive-organ of the Republican party, the Tonight Show? Count 'em: Clark, Dick Gephardt, John Edwards (who ANNOUNCED his candidacy on the show), Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman. Leno, who shilled like a Sunset Boulevard hooker for the Governator, has hosted...Vice President Cheney and Mrs. Laura Bush. 'Nuf ced.

I suppose the same people who claim the mainstream news media are liberal are the ones who claim liberals have no sense of humor. I just want to be Fair and Balanced.

Please Recuse Me, Let Me Go

Speaking of the justice in this country, do we find it surprising that the man who cast the winning vote in the 2000 Presidential "election" is a hunting buddy of the man who won that election?

But, as Scalia says, there's no reason to question his ability to judge the case fairly. That's why judges around the country are regularly allowed to sit in judgement when their good buddies come up before them with cases.

Right? I guess that's the kind of behavior the President was criticizing when he singled out activist judges in the State of the Union address.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Thank God We're Fighting Injustice Abroad

Where in the world do you think you can kill a man and get only 100 days in jail? If this happened in another country, do you think it would be just a coincidence the killer was a close personal friend of the country's leader?

Yet Another Actor Turned to Politics

Dang, you know, I'd completely forgotten Al Sharpton was once a movie star. As much as I liked the movie, which is an American classic biopic, I remember laughing my ass off when I saw him appear on screen the first time I saw it in a theater 11 years ago. It was a jarring cameo, like putting Dick Cheney in a cameo as an aide to Robert Kennedy, or maybe as John Wayne's right hand man in Sands of Iwo Jima. In fairness to actor-politicians everywhere, Sharpton's movie debut was in a movie much better than the Governator ever was in.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Down to Earth on Space

Apropos of the earlier Man from Mars speech last night, which curiously dropped the "vision thing" for space after it polled poorly in the overnights, I would like to note that nevertheless Serious people are taking a serious problem seriously. Planetary Defense is about as important as it gets, don't you think? I will be happy when politicians start taking this seriously.

The Incredible Bulk

I've got one thing to say about the State of the Union address last night.

Under the current administration, the size of government has increased 25% in just under three years. This is a bigger increase in government than under the Franklin Roosevelt administration, bigger than Lyndon Johnson, bigger even than the King of Deficit Spending, Ronald Reagan, and his prince, Bush I. As much as I like to point out that in the past three years we've gone from Peace and Prosperty to War and Recession, the war on terrorism is not World War II and the Recession is nothing at all akin to the Great Depression, yet the deficit spending done to fund those two great crises pales by comparison to the five trillion dollar tab run up by the spending drunks in Washington.

If you believe in conservative principles of government, this administration is out of control. It's proposing government reach into new areas it never has gone into before -- controlling medical research and practice (stem cells and so-called partial birth abortion), dictating to states their education policies and basic rights to determine their own laws as guaranteed by the constitution (no child left behind, gay marriage laws), while spending money like a drunken farm hand on pay day on a veritable toy chest of useless gizmos (high-tech weapons in an era of low-tech terrorism, tax credits for polluters, missions to Mars). This is not conservative government. It's random government; the only ideology at its heart seems to be the Skull-and-Bones secrecy that smacks of oligarchy.

It's time for conservatives to start standing up for their principles and start calling a spade a spade.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

No Ioway to Pick a President

Some random notes on watching returns come in on CNN and the Des Moines Register web site last night.
  • The weird phraseology of Dick Gephardt saying he'd been in bigger fights, notably his son's "successful fight against terminal cancer". Gephardt at least had an unsuccessful fight for a terminal campaign.
  • A bizarre live debate between Bob Dole and General Wesley Clark. Dole, as a paid CNN commentator, had the temerity to dictate to Gen. Clark on what it takes to be a winner. As a three-time Presidential loser, I'm sure the advice was invaluable, particularly since Dole was a genuine war hero who lost to a draft dodger (Clark can take that experience into the general election against W.) Clark in turn did his best Howard Dean impersonation, and hotly argued with Dole about completely different issues. At the end, Dole seemed to actually give Clark an endorsement, and Clark in turn suddenly gave Dole the warm fuzzies! If Clark's trying to make me think he's actually a Democrat, the dual endorsements this week of might-as-well-be-a-socialist Michael Moore and Republican Bob Dole couldn't be any more confusing. Maybe if you average a Republican and a wannabe Socialist, you get a Democrat...?
  • Evidence that mud works: Dean's fall in Iowa. I don't buy that Gephardt took himself down with Dean -- he was down to begin with. But he did do Kerry and Edwards' work for them, and of course, George Bush's as well by smearing Dean. Ironically enough, it looks like most of Gephardt's support is going to go over to Dean now that Dick is out of the campaign.
  • Evidence the media is on pluto: the pronouncement of Dean's campaign being in trouble. Iowa's predictive value is virtually nil historically, and as was oft-discussed, the caucus process is neither entirely democratic (no secret ballots, etc.) nor representative even of Iowa's unrepresentative population, nor even an accurate poll of the proportion of voters supporting a given candidate (due to the "viability" threshold requirement.
  • Dennis Kucinich will have at least one delegate to the convetion, which assures him a prime-time speech, I think, according to tradition. Kucinich's campaign goals fulfilled. It now remains to be seen whether he or Al Sharpton will be the Alan Keyes of the 2004 Democratic race.
  • Idiots like Bill Schneider and Jeff Greenfield continuing to repeat lines fed to them by the Bush campaign, notably that Sadaam Hussein's capture has defused the anti-war anger. I don't buy that for a minute, and it's a serious mis-read to see acceptance of Kerry and Edwards by Iowans as being an about-face on the importance of the war as an issue. I will say that Dean certainly got a lot of attention because of his unambiguous stance on the war BEFORE the war started; but health care and the economy are the bread and butter issues for the Dean campaign, not foreign policy. Where the war comes in is not the next steps for Iraq, but the fundamental question of judgement -- or in the case of the President, his apparent lack thereof in weighing the evidence of a clear and present danger. On this point, Dean clearly has an upper hand with his track record.
  • Dean's fatal flaw still may be his greatest feature -- frankness and honesty. He recognized reality very early and conceded Iowa to Edwards and Kerry early, stated he's still delighted to finish third since he started out from 0% name recognition in Iowa, and had a tremendously enthusiastic rally with his supporters. The conservative media, of course, decided to report this as Dean being disconnected from reality, not in fact what it was, which was a realistic assessment of the big picture of the campaign and an energized, not disappointed, campaign of orange hats.
  • I really like John Edwards, but I simply can't believe "niceness" and a "positive" campaign is going to beat Bush in the fall. For one thing, the President IS A NICE GUY. I don't think Edwards can out-nice him to the general population, even if he can out-think him. By its nature, defeating an incumbent has to be a critical process. The trick is to remain likeable and gain the confidence of the electorate while going about valid criticism (or, as is the case with the last four Republican elections, engaging surrogates to sling the mud).
  • Clark is actually doing a great job at honing his political skills; his moment on Larry King last night, the Dole surreal pseudo-debate notwithstanding, showed his ability to get and stay on message. I still don't believe he's a Democrat, but in the John McCain school of republicanism, I'd be proud to vote for him if it comes to that.
  • Rather than being seen as an indictment of the Democratic party, if nothing else, Iowa has shown us there's a half dozen Democrats who'd make great Presidents; the selection process is going to be like picking from the dessert tray at a class restaurant, getting just the right confection for the mood of the electorate.
  • That said, I will be really chuffed if the Democratic candidates keep slinging mud at one another over relatively minor differences. Discuss the issues all you want. The problem with attacking Dean -- ANYBODY -- as "unelectable" is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kerry, for instance, inanely attacks Dean as having no experience in foreign policy -- like W. had ANY experience when he was elected President. And of course, Kerry's never governed a damn thing or been an executive of any sort, and neither has Edwards. And god bless him, General Clark, despite his great military record and diplomatic experience, has had only one job in his life, that of military officer, and I'm not sure that's the best experience for handling complex legislative and executive duties in government. The bottom line is everybody in this race has holes in their resume, and the candidates harping on one another's deficiencies will only help pave the way for the Republicans in the fall.

Friday, January 16, 2004


The logic of the DRUDGE REPORT FLASH 2004reporting that Al Gore is an idiot for delivering a speech on global warming on the coldest day of the year in New York City just shows you what kind of stupid logic runs the media, especially the internet media. We'll ignore global statistics and look at the one cute irony of the day: it's cold! Al Gore is talking about global warming!

Yes, the same kind of argument by anecdote Reagan was famous for, reduced to a quick newsbyte designed to do anything but illuminate the actual issues.

Thanks to boneheads like this, we don't have a President Gore to help address the real world. We've got a President who is expert at ignoring data, and a media only too ready and willing to help.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Bush is on Mars, Cheney's on Venus

At Last We Know Where Uncle Dick is Hiding Out

As an old space nut, it's always thrilling to me when space exploration gets this kind of attention. The success of the Mars Spirit rover is really great, and even if I differ with the President's approach on the space program -- and suspect his motives -- it's nice at least to be discussing the issue here.

As bullish as I am in general on space exploration, I'm firmly in the robotics-remote exploration camp. It's clear that the primary motivations behind sending humans into space are political: the idea of a "vision", wanting to distract people from problems on earth with the suggestion they're part of a larger mission, and the promise of expensive aerospace projects. Sending humans into space is enormously expensive, dangerous, and until we can figure out how to get a cheap reusable space vehicle to go 200 miles and reliably return humans alive, going 20 million miles seems like a fairly dumb proposition.

I won't debunk the myth of return-on-investment from space in detail, since it's been done elsewhere, although the "for every dollar invested in the space program, $7 is returned to the economy" myth keeps popping up, so I'll do the quick version here. No doubt the Apollo program produced some economic returns and some innovations, but there's utterly no evidence that a general investment in science and research wouldn't do the same thing -- perhaps a more diverse investment in knowledge campaign would produce even more dividends. The economic conditions of today are different from the 1960s. And that $7 for $1 ratio was a cheat -- the way gross domestic product is calculated, the same dollar trickling through the economy gets counted multiple times. Here's an example: NASA pays a general contractor a dollar to build the space shuttle. The general contractor pays a subcontractor, say, 90 cents of that dollar to build the core vehicle. The subcontractor pays another subcontractor 80 cents to build the avionics system. The avionics subcontractor pays another subcontractor 70 cents to build the computer. The computer subcontractor pays a couple of subcontractors for software, chips, etc. You see how it works. The old $7 for $1 estimates were based on this kind of wishful accounting.

So, I disagree with the "human adventure" rationale because that's an elitist and vicarious approach to spirituality; I disagree with this as an economic program, because there's better ways of making economic investments; and I disagree with it as science, because robots and scientists are much better and more cost-efficient at science at such tremendously remote distances than politicians, fighter jocks, and administrators.

But the real reason to maintain a strong presence in space is, and always will be, a defensive one. No, I'm not talking Strategic Defense, which is about the stupidest and least cost-effective and most error-prone defense proposal, ever. I'm talking Planetary Defense. Not against Aliens: against asteroids.

The strong evidence of mass extinctions caused by large meteor and asteroid impacts is pretty good. The frequency from the historical record is disturbingly high in geologic and even biological time. A large enough asteroid would wipe out all mammalian life, and even a small one could provide enough disruption of the weather, crop cycles, and atmosphere to basically wipe out human civilization as we know it.

If I were running the space program, I'd have two focuses. First would be pure science, with more money for robotic exploration and less money for the very expensive and not-entirely-useful shuttle-type programs. The idea that we actually need people in orbit, or even on the moon or Mars, to learn in space is childish at best.

The second focus area would be on planetary defense. This would mean developing the technology to track and spot threats to the earth at long distances, and if necessary send robotic and human-staffed spacecraft to provide means of diverting any threats at longer distances (where the angle of deflection to prevent a collision needs to be the least, therefore would be possible with lower amounts of energy expanded.)

If we're to keep humans in space, we should do so by avoiding gravity wells. Gravity and lift is extremely expensive. The amount of weight required to lift a human and all his or her life support apparatus is incredibly high. Re-lifting them off a gravity well like the moon or Mars is even more expensive.

What we should probably focus on, if we're going to return to space in a more dramatic way, is an L4 or L5 point platform, mostly automated and robotic but perhaps with very modest facilities for a few humans, as a cheaper outpost than returning down to relatively useless gravity wells. It would provide a different vantage point, and probably a better spot for the long learning curve about living in space (as opposed to another planet, which short of terraforming -- probably thousands of years in the future, if it's even possible at all -- is just another desert as far as humanity's concerned.)

The area where these two areas should converge is not Mars, but just beyond Mars: the asteroid belt. We have only a fraction of the objects in our solar system accurately mapped and catalogued, and getting closer -- telescopically, at least -- via a space platform and concentrating on the mysteries of the origins of the asteroid belt, its behavior, and predicting the flight of its constituent parts -- that would be both an investment in science, a solid preparation for planetary defense, and, yes, if the President wants to make it thus, a grand adventure.

What I don't like about the President's proposal is this obssession with landing on Mars. NASA's actually been angling for that as a goal for 40 years, and there's utterly nothing new about it. The reasons for going to Mars in person in fact diminish the more we know about it. The more interesting parts of the solar system are the moons around Jupiter, and until we get another dozen or so probes out there (and at least land on Io and Europa), it's pointless to send humans there, either.

When I re-read the President's proposal, it becomes depressingly familiar. There's utterly nothing new there. The goals for replacing the shuttle are on pretty much the old timetable. There's nothing substantive about the Mars program, other than being a bit less cadgy about that being NASA's goal. There's nothing to encourage privatization of space or near-earth-orbit programs. And the trillion dollar cost -- quadruple that by the time the money's actually spent -- isn't even discussed relative to other costs and benefits.

Me, I wouldn't mind paying a trillion dollars if it meant we could ensure survival on earth from an apocalyptic disaster. But as with most things concerning defense and the environment, this administration has it backwards. They're like power boaters -- always pushing towards the destination on land and how to get there as quickly as possible. What we need to do is sail -- go slowly, and spend our time getting in tune with the environment of the ocean of space and not obssessing on a specific point as the destination. As any mariner can tell you, the most dangerous part of the ocean tends to be the pointy stuff around the edges, and the most interesting things are below the surface of the water.

At the same time, I'd like to see the knee-jerk reactions against space program proposals to be a little more considered. It's hard to be an environmentalist if there's no environment. I believe there's a politically palatable middle ground on space focussing on planetary defense and middle-planet science, but it's important that the dialogue continue on this and not on the basic of tasty, but ultimately useless, pork like a human landing on Mars.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Dick Gephardt Joins League of Extraordinary Assholes

Adding himself to the Legion of Legendarily Stupid Bush Campaigners, Dick Gephardt has joined Joe Lieberman in the ranks of the suicidal democrats attacking Howard Dean on personal issues. I have no clue why the dems can't adopt the Republican Golden Rule, although of course President Bush and his proxies slung a ton of mud at John McCain in 2000, so perhaps they're just learning from Mudmaster K, Karl Rove, in the Lee Atwater school of tricks.

But one of the reasons I like Howard Dean is the sort of frankness and unwillingness to talk about his democratic opponents that augurs well for a change in pace in overall leadership. I've seen enough of people trying to make political points for a lifetime, and not enough of trying to make policy.

Dick Gephardt has gone in this election from looking like a principled public servant to a tired old hack making a last desperate try for an unattainable personal goal -- sacrificing the national interest, which is to remove Bush, in favor of his own ego.

Join Joe Lieberman on my list, Dick.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Let's not Judge, Meant for Rush

Speaking of civil liberties ironies, the ACLU has filed an amicus brief on behalf of Rush Limbaugh's suit to seal his medical records. I'm with Rush on this one -- even though there's probable cause to believe he committed a crime, the government can't be allowed to go on fishing expeditions through a person's private medical records in an attempt to incriminate him, most especially when he has not been charged with a crime. It certainly violates both the Fourth and Fifth amendments, and will be corrosive to the fundamentals of an effective medical system by additionally discouraging any persons with substance abuse problems from seeking treatment.

But on the other hand, certain conservative talk show hosts have whined that the ACLU defends drug dealers on technicalities, so who am I to argue? Good thing I let my membership expire.

Nah, that's the hard part. Even hypocrites deserve their rights. That's the essential problem with liberalism in this country: it's so damned reasonable and rational, egalitarian and sympathetic, while extremism on both ends of the political spectrum is so cut and dry. I'm under no illusions the experience is going to change Limbaugh, but I hope the dittoheads out there start to think a little more about how rights and responsibilities cut both ways.

The Almaknack of Looking Like a Flatfoot

I consider myself fairly middle of the road about the government using information gathering tools to thwart potential terrorism. While many of the proposed extremes of invasion of civil liberties are ludicrous, at least you can see why they might be effective at law enforcement. And data mining of public sources of data -- without having to break into private information without probable cause -- can probably be a really effective way of spotting potential trouble before it starts. But the FBI's recent warning to law enforcement that terrorists might resort to the use of almanacs, maps, and other reference materials boggles the mind in so many ways. The idea that a potential terrorist couldn't find targets, hard, soft, or easy-over, without one is incredibly dumb. Perhaps they didn't notice the information in every almanac is already irrevocably available; by its nature, an almanac is a compendium of common-knowledge derived from other sources. And maybe the FBI wasn't aware that the CIA publishes a freely-available almanac on-line.

The problem, over and over again, is that it's very hard to see how so many of these random alerts do anything to help with security. It's one thing to monitor who's enrolling in flight schools; it's another to cast suspicion on anyone using a reference book! The paranoid reaction of the American Library Association to the prospect of occasional searches of library patron records seems, well, rational if 'suspcious' books are going to include almanacs and maps and atlases.

This is what drives me the craziest about the conduct of the War on Terrorism: it seems completely disconnected with reality of threats. It's crying wolf over and over at the slightest provocation. And we know the story of the government agency that cried wolf. When real threats come, when real action should be taken, the credibility of those real warnings and sage advice will be called into question because of the inane brainlessness of warning cops to look out for people walking around with almanacs. And that, friends, actually makes things more dangerous for all of us.

I grow increasingly concerned that the terrorists are winning in every real, measurable way. Our fear has made fools of us. We jump at shadows, tells stories of the bogey man, cower in our beds, we spend endless blood and treasure going after the wrong guy. We trample on the constitution, we send our magnificent military on foreign adventures with no exit plan, we spend billions of dollars and yet no one feels safer. If Bin Laden and his gang wanted to disrupt American society, make our values a joke to the world, pull down our great economic strength, and make themselves seem bigger than they actually are and us smaller than we actually are, they've succeeded by leaps and bounds. If I can't buy the Old Farmer's Almanac without putting myself on a terrorist watch list, but Osama still sleeps in peace protected by our "allies" in Pakistan, something is extremely twisted.

The War on Terrorism is, in reality, a hearts and minds war. Not "theirs" -- ours. If we can harden our hearts so that casualties can be borne, then no terrorist attack can harm us. If we toughen our minds so we react with logic and precision in response to our threats, we can defeat terrorism head to head and hand to hand. What we're not doing is sacrificing our comforts, the security blanket of consumer goods and consumerism. If we cannot at least sacrifice, say, civilian production of Hummers to produce more armored Humvees for our troops, or spend our money on bullets for our troops instead of tax cuts for the multinationals, or each spend some time volunteering above and beyond for something that will save other hands and hearts and minds to fight our fight -- we will all remain soft targets.

Starting the slippery slope of willful ignorance implicit in making readers of almanacs terrorism suspects only softens the skull and and makes the heart beat faster.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Thank Heaven for Small Gifts

And I'm not talking about little boys, you sick freak. The ONLY interesting thing I've ever heard about the alleged molestation case involved the alleged Michael Jackson is that a judge is mulling a gag order in the affair. See the blog post below about the bizarre date when a cafe was being blown up in Baghdad, complete with sexy live footage of billowing flames available, and not a single network covered the actual news because of a minor press conference on the Jackson case being held at the same time.

I frankly am hard-pressed to figure out what's worse: that a reprobate like Jackson could be allowed to continue in his nefarious ways a decade after strong evidence existed he was a pedophile, or that his arrest and trial become an equally sick entertainment for the nation. I'm not optimistic about the better angels of anybody's nature being raised by such a spectacle, so a media gag order would be an incredible blessing upon this house. Out of sight, out of mind. The biggest punishment for a fellow like this who's skated on celebrity and money is to become obscure and poor.

A Rose by Any Name - Still a Thorny Problem...

...And Still a Little Prick

Fortunately the initial reaction to Pete Rose's apology has been to take it for what it's worth: a self-serving, uncontrite, worthless and completely insincere bit of fakery. It's too bad the other apologies being volleyed back and forth are not subject to the same scrutiny: only in a game like baseball, where the stakes are so low, does there seem to be any indication people are willing to examine the true basis of the great American pasttime (which is, of course, apologizing.)

For a long time I felt that Rose had a point, in that he had a gambling addiction combined with a number of personality defects that were not taken seriously by major league baseball as a true psychological illness. On that point, I thought some mercy ought to be shown to him, at the very least an indication of some path for him to redeem himself so that in whatever self-help program or recovery program he chose to take, he would have a goal at the end of it.

But the incredibly smug title 'My Prison Without Bars' really says it all for Pete. He's done nothing, by his own account, to recover from his addiction. No treatment, no addressing it head on, and he still goes to the track. He has made no real acknowledgement of the essential problem of betting on baseball --- even if on your own team --- in that the very absence of a bet on his own team has a corrupting effect on the odds marketplace, and therefore erodes confidence in the integrity of the affair.

My standing solution for Pete has been a sort of life-in-exile: he should be allowed into the Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a player, because as has been oft-wrote, there are players in the Hall now who've done and said and been far, far more reprehensible things, ranging from drug abuse (Fergie Jenkins, et alia) and cheating (Gaylord Perry et alia) to probable murder (Ty Cobb).

But you know what? The guy isn't starving. He's making a living as the "outsider", and at 62, if he can't bring himself to apologize a little more sincerely, then let him stay on the outside. Baseball doesn't need him, and relatively inconsequential honors like being a Hall of Famer aren't life and death issues. Let baseball put him in the hall after he's dead to honor its own history, but let him live in whatever cushy kind of purgatory he chooses to live in my his own instransigence. Organized baseball is not at all without fault in how this messy affair has played out -- is there a more self-righteous group this side of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue than Major League Baseball owners? -- but that's not the real issue.

The real issue is when CEOs lie and steal and take $100 million buyouts from companies they've pillaged and shareholders they've bilked, when the nation's resources are being sold off to low-bidders, when $200 BILLION in your money and mine is being used to pay for a weird ideological reconstruction in Iraq that is in a great part going to line the pockets of the cronies of the pols in power -- man, a few bets on baseball games don't seem like that big a deal to me.