Sunday, May 27, 2007
In today's NYT:
Iraqis are clamoring to get out of Iraq. Two million have fled so far and nearly two million more have been displaced within the country. (That’s a total of some 15 percent of the population.) Save the Children reported this month that Iraq’s child-survival rate is falling faster than any other nation’s. One Iraqi in eight is killed by illness or violence by the age of 5. Yet for all the words President Bush has lavished on Darfur and AIDS in Africa, there has been a deadly silence from him about what’s happening in the country he gave “God’s gift of freedom.”
It’s easy to see why. To admit that Iraqis are voting with their feet is to concede that American policy is in ruins. A “secure” Iraq is a mirage, and, worse, those who can afford to leave are the very professionals who might have helped build one. Thus the president says nothing about Iraq’s humanitarian crisis, the worst in the Middle East since 1948, much as he tried to hide the American death toll in Iraq by keeping the troops’ coffins off-camera and staying away from military funerals. . . .
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Sooooo looking forward to the long weekend. We haven't had one in a while.
I think this is damning for Bush. Despite warnings by experts, by invading Iraq Bush has caused terrorism to spread and made our country less safe than it was before his cooked-up invasion.
A president's number-one priority is to keep the country safe, and Bush has by all measures failed. He says he thinks the world is better off with Saddam Hussein gone. The truth is, it's worse off--and the U.S. is less safe--and it's all George Bush's fault. Saddam (no friend of mine) was certifiably no threat to us, and he had nothing to do with 9/11, as even George Bush has admitted. I don't think history will treat Bush kindly. See this by Joe Sudbay at Americablog. As John Aravosis at Americablog says, "Worst. President. Ever."
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Also from this week's New Yorker, by Anthony Gottlieb. It's basically a critique of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” by Christopher Hitchens. It also touches on, inter alia, “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation,” by Sam Harris, “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,” by Daniel Dennett, and “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins.
Great portents and disasters turn some minds to God and others away from him. When an unusually bright and long-tailed comet was tracked through the sky in the last two months of 1680, posters and sermons called on Christians to repent. A hen in Rome seemed to confirm that the Day of Judgment was near. On December 2nd, it made an extraordinarily loud cackle and produced an exceptionally large egg, on which could be seen a likeness of the comet, or so it was said. This added to the religious panic. But the comet also sparked a small triumph for rationalism. In the next few years, as Armageddon somehow failed to arrive, a stream of pamphlets across Europe and America argued that heavenly displays were purely natural phenomena. The skeptics won the day. From the eighteenth century onward, no respectable intellectual saw comets as direct messages from God—though there were still some fears that one might eventually hit the earth.
The felling of the World Trade Center in New York, on September 11, 2001, brought its share of religion. Two populist preachers, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, called it divine punishment[*] (though both quickly withdrew their remarks), and not only the bereaved prayed for help. But September 11th and its aftershocks in Bali, Madrid, London, and elsewhere are more notable for causing an outbreak of militant atheism, at least on bookshelves. The terrorist attacks were carried out in the name of Islam, and they have been taken, by a string of best-selling books, to illustrate the fatal dangers of all religious faith. . . .
Bertrand Russell, who had a prodigious knowledge of history and a crisp wit, claimed in 1930 that he could think of only two useful contributions that religion had made to civilization. It had helped fix the calendar, and it had made Egyptian priests observe eclipses carefully enough to predict them. He could at least have added Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and more than a few paintings; but perhaps the legacy of religion is too large a conundrum to be argued either way. The history of the West has been so closely interwoven with the history of religious institutions and ideas that it is hard to be confident about what life would have been like without them. One of Kingsley Amis’s lesser-known novels, “The Alteration,” tried to envisage an alternative course for modern history in which the Reformation never happened, science is a dirty word, and in 1976 most of the planet is ruled by a Machiavellian Pope from Yorkshire. In this world, Jean-Paul Sartre is a Jesuit and the central mosaic in Britain’s main cathedral is by David Hockney. That piece of fancy is dizzying enough on its own. But imagine attempting such a thought experiment in the contrary fashion, and rolling it back several thousand years to reveal a world with no churches, mosques, or temples. The idea that people would have been nicer to one another if they had never got religion, as Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris seem to think, is a strange position for an atheist to take. For if man is wicked enough to have invented religion for himself he is surely wicked enough to have found alternative ways of making mischief. . . .
I have to agree with the Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711-1776), who "had a horror of zealotry," religious or otherwise.
In Paris, meanwhile, a number of thinkers began to profess atheism openly. They were the first influential group to do so, and included Denis Diderot, the co-editor of the Enlightenment’s great Encyclopédie, and Baron D’Holbach, who hosted a salon of freethinkers. Hume visited them, and made several friends there; they presented him with a large gold medal. But the philosophes were too dogmatic for Hume’s taste. To Hume’s like-minded friend the historian Edward Gibbon [who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire], they suffered from “intolerant zeal.” Still, they represented a historical vanguard: explicit attacks on religion as a whole poured forth within the next hundred years. . . .
* After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Falwell said on the 700 Club, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" (Wikipedia)
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The May 21 New Yorker carried a "Letter from China" by Peter Hessler titled "Walking the Wall; Can one man's obsession unravel the mystery of an ancient structure?". It's about an American (David Spindler) researching a book on the Great Wall of China. Believe it or not, there are no exhaustive studies on the topic--from any era. Scholars have tended to neglect it. "There isn't a scholar at any university in the world who specializes in the Great Wall of China."
I learned that there isn't one continuous wall (which, by the way, cannot be seen from the moon) but rather many different lines of fortifications. These were built to repel Mongol and Turkic tribes. Here's a bit of history (I have to type it):
In 221 B.C., Qin Shihuang became the first ruler in Chinese history to declare himself emperor. After consolidating power, he commanded the construction across the north of roughly three thousand miles of changcheng. The term translates as either "long wall" or "long walls"--Chinese doesn't differentiate between singular and plural--and the barriers consisted of hard-packed earth. Over the centuries, many other dynasties faced the same basic problem as the Qin: the wide-open frontier of the northern plains made them vulnerable to the nomadic Mongol and Turkic tribes that inhabited these lands. The nomadic threat was more intense in some periods than in others, and Chinese dynasties responded with different strategies. The Tang, who ruled from 618 to 907 A.D., built virtually no walls, because the imperial family was part Turkic and skilled in Central Asian warfare and diplomacy. Even when dynasties constructed walls, they didn't necessarily call them changcheng; more than ten terms were used to describe the fortifications.
The Ming usually called theirs bianqiang--"border wall(s)"--and they became the greatest wall builders in Chinese history. They came to power in 1368, after the collapse of the Yuan, a short-lived Mongol dynasty that had been founded by Kublai Khan. The Ming constructed large fortifications of quarried stone and brick in the Beijing region--these are the iconic structures (some of them rebuilt and restored) that seem to continue endlessly in tourist photographs. They were the only dynasty to build extensively with such durable materials, and many sections of the Ming wall ran for miles. But the bianqiang was a network rather than a single structure,and some regions had as many as four distinct lines of fortifications. . . .
Sounds like the Tang had the right idea. Love your enemy, know how to fight like them, be diplomatic, and you don't have to build wall(s).*
*Sounds like a lesson this country could learn.
From the May 21 New Yorker:
“I hate to say this, but I think the world agrees with me. Governments and Presidents expedite things all the time. . . . President Bush told me he didn’t feel that sense of urgency, and that his blood was not boiling before September 11th. I would argue that Tenet’s job was to boil the President’s blood. That’s why you show up on the President’s doorstep. I’m raised in a culture where you don’t observe the chain of command, you go around. . . ."
Woodward paused, and said, “Sometimes there come points in your life when you have to make a decision about what you’re going to do and they don’t tell you in the morning that this is the day that one of those decisions is going to come. Do you break down the doors, do you break out of the system? This is the issue of courage.”. . .
From Joe Sudbay at Americablog. See the linked Reuters article.
"One of the things that I've learned is to be prepared for the unexpected," said Bush, wearing an Air Force One flight jacket and sipping a diet Coke.
It wasn't exactly unexpected. (8/6/2001 Presidential Daily Briefing: "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States".) See here.
Monday, May 21, 2007
They're just trying to cover their ass after the fact.
The truth is that the 9/11 attacks happened on their watch and the Bush administration had been inept at preventing them, though they'd been warned in no uncertain terms. (Presidential Daily Briefing: "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States".) They knew of the possibility that civilian aircraft would be used as bombs. You'd think perhaps they'd have had some Air Force planes at the ready to intervene--we've got the biggest military in the world. You'd be wrong.
So then after the attacks, the Bush administration devises a bunch of police-state tactics (which also enable them to snoop on their political enemies here at home**), with the implication that had these tactics been in place before 9/11, the 9/11 attacks wouldn't have happened. They weren't incompetent, no; their hands had been tied by our old-timey laws written for a bygone era. ("Quaint" as Alberto Gonzalez said***.)
Meanwhile, I have yet to see any reliable information that says these police-state tactics are actually working. Bill Clinton was able to thwart Y2K attacks without taking away our freedoms.
Fortunately for us, the Bush administration will soon be gone and hopefully we'll get our freedoms back.
*not to mention an unprovoked war in Iraq, but that's not the topic here
**policy and politics going hand in hand in the Bush Administration
***of the Geneva Conventions, which are part of American law. You're left to wonder what other laws he considered "quaint."
Meant to tape the finale of "Desperate Housewives" for B. and me to watch later when he got home from work, but I fouled something up and it didn't get taped. Damn! Maybe we can watch it tomorrow on the Web. (Last I checked, the episode is not yet available on ABC.com.)
Since my knee was still bothering me on Friday, I'd not planned on cooking on Saturday, as I usually do. (I'd planned on ordering Chinese food and going to the hospital for x-rays.) But since my knee was miraculously healed during the night, I did cook--nothing fancy, just lean ground beef steaks and frozen mixed vegetables (very Atkins) (stuff that was already in the fridge). Last night, however, I went to the store and bought groceries.
Unless you're a total klutz in the kitchen, I do not recommend the Jennie-O frozen turkey breast that you roast frozen in its own roasting bag. I made it last night for today's lunch*. I thought it might be something special, or especially easy, but it wasn't. (The frozen gravy mix is good, however--I mixed it with the liquid left in the bag after the roast was done.) This product cost twice as much as a store-brand frozen turkey breast (which can also be put into the oven in its frozen state, though I thaw them first). The skin came out gummy from being steamed in the bag, and the meat itself was no more moist or tasty than that of the store-brand variety. I'll never buy that again.
Honestly, nothing could be simpler (or more economical**) than roasting a regular ol' turkey breast. Just baste it a bit and it comes out a beautiful golden brown. Then you add some water and gravy flour ("Wondra" or something similar) (or packaged turkey gravy mix--Knorr is good) to the drippings and have a great gravy. Not so hard.
Last night I also made fresh collard greens cooked with smoked ham hocks. Came out great! So today for lunch we had turkey with rice and gravy and the collards.
*On the weekends, I do a lot of my cooking the night before so I don't have to wake up early the next day to do it. (I'm a night owl, if you hadn't already guessed.)
**for all the lean meat you get out of it. (Tonight I made a turkey sandwich for breakfast tomorrow.)
Sunday, May 20, 2007
"Hospitals put homeless patients in a van or a taxi and drop them on the Los Angeles' Skid Row, even if they're not healthy enough to fend for themselves." Anderson Cooper reported this story on 60 Minutes tonight.
Even a Presbyterian hospital was caught in the act--by a "dumping cam":
Deputy City Attorney Egurbide arrived with police minutes later. "The witnesses were saying a van pulled up, the individual, you know, basically fell out of it and, while the drivers was just standing by and, you know, not doing anything to help him. And, you know, was literally crawling on his hands. A paraplegic man. No use of his legs. And the van just sped off," Egurbide explains. "No wheelchair, no walker, and no empathy whatsoever for this individual by the driver, apparently." . . .
"Your hospital left this man, Gabino Olvera, on the street. He’s a paraplegic. Didn’t give him a walker or didn’t give him a wheelchair. How is that possible?" Cooper asks. . . .
Here's a list (I won't vouch for its accuracy): admiral, adobe, alchemy, alcohol, alcove, alembic, alfalfa, algebra, algorithm, alkali, almanac, amalgam, aniline, apricot, arsenal, arsenic, artichoke, assassin, aubergine, azure, Bedouin, benzine(?), Betelgeuse, bint, borax, cable, calabash, calibre, caliph, camel, camise, camphor, candy, cane, cannabis, carafe, carat, caraway, carmine, carob, casbah, check, checkmate, cinnabar, cipher, coffee, copt, cotton, crimson, crocus, cumin, damask, dhow, dragoman, elixir, emir, fakir, fellah, garble, gauze, gazelle, ghoul, Gibraltar, giraffe, grab, guitar, gypsum, halva, harem, hashish, hazard, henna, hookah, imam, jar, jasmine, jerboa, jessamine, jinn, kafir, khamsin, khan, kismet, kohl, lacquer, lake, lemon, lilac, lime, lute, magazine, mahdi, marabout, marzipan, massacre, massage, mastaba, mate, mattress, mecca, minaret, mizzen, mocha, mohair, monsoon, mosque, muezzin, mufti, mullah, mummy, muslim, muslin, myrrh, nabob, nacre, nadir, orange, ottoman, popinjay, racket, safari, saffron, saloop, sash, scallion, senna, sequin, serif, sesame, shackle, sheikh, sherbet, shrub, sirocco, sofa, spinach, sudd, sufi, sugar, sultan, sultana, syrup, tabby, talc, talisman, tamarind, tambourine, tarboosh, tare, tariff, tarragon, Trafalgar, typhoon, vega, vizier, wadi, zenith, zero
Read the review in Salon.
"We should do what we always do as Americans, steal the best things you're doing and make them our own. The Canadians do certain things very well. The Brits do certain things very well. The French have the best system in the world, and that's not my opinion. That's how the World Health Organization rates them. None of them is perfect, but it's not my role to make criticisms. It's my role as an American to say, why don't we take the best elements you're doing and blend them together, and call it the American system?"
--Michael Moore, in Cannes
"The Reverend Falwell’s Heavenly Timing"
HARD as it is to believe now, Jerry Falwell came in second only to Ronald Reagan in a 1983 Good Housekeeping poll anointing “the most admired man in America.” By September 2001, even the Bush administration was looking for a way to ditch the preacher who had joined Pat Robertson on TV to pin the 9/11 attacks on feminists, abortionists, gays and, implicitly, Teletubbies. As David Kuo, a former Bush official for faith-based initiatives, tells the story in his book “Tempting Faith,” the Reverend Falwell was given a ticket to the Washington National Cathedral memorial service that week only on the strict condition that he stay away from reporters and cameras. Mr. Falwell obeyed, though once inside he cracked jokes (“Whoa, does she look frumpy,” he said of Barbara Bush) and chortled nonstop.
This is the great spiritual leader whom John McCain and Mitt Romney raced to praise when he died on Tuesday, just as the G.O.P. presidential contenders were converging for a debate in South Carolina. The McCain camp’s elegiac press release beat out his rival’s by a hair. But everyone including Senator McCain knows he got it right back in 2000, when he labeled Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson “agents of intolerance.” Mr. Falwell was always on the wrong, intolerant side of history. He fought against the civil rights movement and ridiculed Desmond Tutu’s battle against apartheid years before calling AIDS the “wrath of a just God against homosexuals” and, in 1999, fingering the Antichrist as an unidentified contemporary Jew.
Though Mr. Falwell had long been an embarrassment and laughingstock to many, including a new generation of Christian leaders typified by Mr. Kuo, the timing of his death could not have had grander symbolic import. It happened at the precise moment that the Falwell-Robertson brand of religious politics is being given its walking papers by a large chunk of the political party the Christian right once helped to grow. Hours after Mr. Falwell died, Rudy Giuliani, a candidate he explicitly rejected, won the Republican debate by acclamation. When the marginal candidate Ron Paul handed “America’s mayor” an opening to wrap himself grandiloquently in 9/11 once more, not even the most conservative of Deep South audiences could resist cheering him. If Rudy can dress up as Jack Bauer, who cares about his penchant for drag?
The current exemplars of Mr. Falwell’s gay-baiting, anti-Roe style of politics, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, see the writing on the wall. Electability matters more to Republicans these days than Mr. Giuliani’s unambiguous support for abortion rights and gay civil rights (no matter how clumsily he’s tried to fudge it). Last week Mr. Dobson was in full crybaby mode, threatening not to vote if Rudy is on the G.O.P. ticket. Mr. Perkins complained to The Wall Street Journal that the secular side of the Republican Party was serving its religious-right auxiliary with “divorce papers.”
Yes, and it is doing so with an abruptness and rudeness reminiscent of Mr. Giuliani’s public dumping of the second of his three wives, Donna Hanover. This month, even the conservative editorial page of The Journal chastised Republicans of the Perkins-Dobson ilk for being too bellicose about abortion, saying that a focus on the issue “will make the party seem irrelevant” and cost it the White House in 2008. At the start of Tuesday’s debate, the Fox News moderator Brit Hume coldly put Mr. Falwell’s death off limits by announcing that “we will not be seeking any more reaction from the candidates on that matter.” It was a pre-emptive move to shield Fox’s favored party from soiling its image any further by association with the Moral Majority has-been and his strident causes. In the ensuing 90 minutes, the Fox News questioners skipped past the once-burning subject of same-sex marriage as well.
What a difference a midterm election has made. The Karl Rove theory that Republicans cannot survive without pandering to religious-right pooh-bahs is yet another piece of Bush dogma lying in ruins, done in by two synergistic forces. The first is the raw political math. Polls consistently show that most Americans don’t want abortion outlawed, do want legal recognition for gay couples, do want stem-cell research and never want to see government intrude on a Terri Schiavo again. On Election Day 2006, voters in red states defeated both an abortion ban (South Dakota) and, for the first time, a same-sex marriage ban (Arizona).
But equally crucial is how much the “family values” establishment has tarnished itself in the Bush era. . . .
Of course there are dark forces at work in the Arab world right now, but we're seeing that here, too. Thankfully we got rid of some of it with the death of Jerry Falwell, but there's still a lot of darkness. We've got politicians running on pro-torture and anti-science stands. I never imagined I'd see that happen in this country. You don't go to the moon and cure diseases by embracing and idealizing ignorance. But the Republican Party is now taking those stances, and vaingloriously so.
We should give the Arabs a great deal of credit for preserving our own culture back when the West was under the thumb of a dark, oppressive church and all learning was suppressed and our classical heritage was being obliterated. The enlightened Arabs saw the value in our culture and helped rescue our heritage by preserving our ancient writings. Of course, we should also give them credit for their own accomplishments, such as creating the decimal system, which is used worldwide (they gave us the zero (the word itself being derived from Arabic)), astronomy, art, etc. I'm not versed in Arab studies so I'm sure there's much more to appreciate that I'm even aware of.
At any rate, when you dig under the surface, you find that different peoples often have more in common than they have differences. Then you build on those commonalities to achieve peace and progress.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
To me the highlight (lowlight?) of Tuesday night's GOP debate was the "Who wants to be a waterboarder?" segment, in which virtually everyone but Sen. John McCain tried to seem the candidate most enthusiastic about torture. In War Room during the debate, our Walter Shapiro aptly noted that 2008 could be shaping up to be "the torture primary" among Republican candidates. Sickening. . . .
Friday, May 18, 2007
From the minute they got into office, they were so preoccupied with invading Iraq that they ignored warnings about Al Qaeda (Remember "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States"?). So they as much as invited 9/11 to happen on their watch. Afterward they went ahead and, without provocation, invaded Iraq--as planned--rather than hunt down the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks (as Bush swore he would do). And now, in the botched aftermath of invading Iraq, they've created a spawning ground for even more terrorists of the ilk that attacked us on 9/11.
Meanwhile Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, is still out there and saying that we should stay in Iraq and continue to have our soldiers slaughtered--which, of course, is exactly what Bush is doing, against the best advice in this country. It continually boggles my mind--the sheer fucked-upness of this administration. We're now the gang that can't shoot straight, the Keystone Kops of the world. It would be funny if people weren't dying.
Watched "Paula's Party" tonight. The show was all about pies and, of course, sex. (One of the guests at one point asked, "Since when has cooking become an X-rated art?") The Cuban pie, baked in a shell with ham, pork, cheeses and sofrito, topped with a mustard cream, sounded and looked scrumptious. (It was then garnished with dill pickle chips, finely sliced tomatoes and a mojo sour cream with lime juice, orange juice and oregano.) (Coincidentally, I had a hot Cuban sandwich for breakfast this morning.)
My knee is getting better. I might call the doctor tomorrow, however. Maybe it should be x-rayed. I really don't want to get into suing the condo association over this (as some people have suggested), but the condo is ultimately responsible for it (i.e., negligent). I did absolutely nothing that would have contributed to it. I was just going about my daily routine.
The kitchen ceiling is being redone next week. No more fluorescent tubes and translucent plastic panels (we took the panels down long ago, after they kept falling down whenever the wind was blowing a certain way). The bare ceiling is crisscrossed with pipes, wires and conduits, so the handyman is dry-walling the whole thing and installing recessed lighting and a new ceiling fan.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
It didn't start really hurting until I got to work, and then the knee also started swelling. Meanwhile I faxed the condo president about the incident.
I took a nap earlier and that seems to have helped it somewhat. We'll see how it goes tomorrow. I might have to call the doctor. That's all I need--a knee injury. I'm not even an athlete, for God's sake.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
After trying more-innocuous treatments and having no success, I'd been spraying the plants with Sevin, much to my concern about the health of our cats (and me). I think I'd already exceeded the advised yearly spraying regimen for this strong but effective poison.
Andrew Sullivan is promoting him, too, but I don't trust Andrew since he swoons over Ronald Reagan at every opportunity. (Is being a "lapdog" of U.S. Republican presidents a trait of the British?)
Reagan of course pandered to Andrew's own despised "Christianists," Falwell being one of the most egregious and influential at the time. By ignoring AIDS (it was after all, according to the Christianists, God's punishment for homosexuality), Reagan allowed this now treatable disease to take hold and kill thousands of gays and others. (Perhaps Andrew would be HIV- were it not for this despicable president and the Christianists he courted for political gain.)
Let's face it, Ronald Reagan was the first to let these creeps out of the woodwork to spread their hate throughout our society, thus creating the divisions we now have.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
This ignoramus made a fortune spewing hatred and fomenting division in the country, all in the name of Jesus Christ. I can only wonder what Christ Himself would have thought of this nasty, ridiculous creature. Surely the country will be better off now that he's gone.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Got a lot done tonight. Got cleaned up and went to the grocery store. Made oven-broiled chicken wing drumettes (both Buffalo and barbecue). Barbecued some chicken livers. Boiled some shrimp. Emptied and began refilling the dishwasher. Partially cleaned out the refrigerator. Emptied the garbage. Charged the phone. Cut my hair. Watered the plants. Taped "Desperate Housewives" and "Brothers and Sisters." Now waiting for B. to come home from work to watch the tape. I'm not crazy about "Brothers and Sisters" but "Desperate Housewives" is usually fun.
B. just came in.
Watched "Desperate Housewives." Was good. B. is watching "Brothers & Sisters" now. Too much melodrama for me.
They moved up the coast about 5-6 years ago and I'd not been in close touch with them. Don called today with the news.
R.I.P. Frank. We'll miss you and never forget you.
Last night I made a big pot of chicken gumbo with Andouille sausage. Came out fantastic. B. loved it. It's something I make occasionally. This is a one-pot meal needing no accompaniments (other than a little Louisiana hot sauce--"Crystal" being what I use).
Saturday, May 12, 2007
We voted for him by absentee ballot (that was painless).
Today after work, while I was standing at the bus stop, there were no clouds in the sky, only the smoke. And the smoke was so thick that you could look directly at the sun and behold a (rather puny) red ball. Amazing.
Meanwhile my eyes have been burning all week long.
Friday, May 11, 2007
At this point, Bush & Co. would be lucky to find someone like Saddam Hussein to take over Iraq. At least Saddam was a secularist and promoted a progressive social agenda, e.g., giving women equality, and resisted Islamist extremism. In his own brutal* way, Saddam had a vision of bringing Iraq into the modern world and was, at the time of the U.S. invasion, succeeding.
The rank ineptitude of the Bush administration vis-a-vis the Middle East has thus far succeeded only in turning back the clock and making the threat of Islamist extremism more dangerous than ever before.
*At this point, I don't know whether he was more brutal than the invaders, and I'll wager the Iraqis are asking the same question, especially now that in addition to our militarism and torture, we destroyed the country's infrastructure and have proven ourselves inept at rebuilding it, while American corporations like Halliburton and other war profiteers are reaping huge profits at the American taxpayers' expense. (Iraqis get less electricity now than they did under Saddam's regime, and their oil is being stolen to the tune of between $5 million to $15 million daily.)
Thursday, May 10, 2007
I saw the first year of "Queer as Folk" at, of all places, Sugars. One of the patrons taped the episode each week and brought it into the bar, where they played it on the TV monitors.
Logo is running the program now, edited, bleeped, with ads, and without closed captions ( :-( ). Still we love it. Even the Lesbians are fun to watch! (Just kidding!)
This marble carving of King Hammurabi of Babylon* (1810 BC – 1750 BC) is located in the U.S. House of Representatives. It's one of 23 lawgivers depicted there. An image of Hammurabi receiving the Code of Hammurabi from the Babylonian sun god (probably Shamash) is depicted on the frieze on the south wall of the U.S. Supreme Court building.**
Hammurabi is known for the set of laws called the Code of Hammurabi, one of the first written codes of law in recorded history. Owing to his reputation in modern times as an ancient law-giver, Hammurabi's portrait is in many government buildings throughout the world. Although his empire controlled all of Mesopotamia by the time of his death, his successors were unable to maintain his empire.
This new code of Babylonian law was written on a stele, a large stone monument, and placed in a public place so that all could see it, although it is thought that few were literate. The stele was later plundered by the Elamites and removed to their capital, Susa; it was rediscovered there in 1901 and is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The code of Hammurabi contained 282 laws . . . . Unlike earlier laws, it was written in Akkadian, the daily language of Babylon, and could therefore be read by any literate person in the city.
The structure of the code is very specific, with each offense receiving a specified punishment. The punishments tended to be harsh by modern standards, with many offenses resulting in death, disfigurement, or the use of the "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth philosophy". [Strange wording. See here.] While the penalties of his laws may seem cruel to modern readers, the fact that he not only put into writing the laws of his kingdom, but attempted to make them a systematic whole, is considered an important step forward in the evolution of civilization. Putting the laws into writing was important in itself because it suggested that the laws were immutable and above the power of any earthly king to change. The code is also one of the earliest examples of the idea of presumption of innocence, and it also suggests that the accused and accuser have the opportunity to provide evidence. However, there is no provision for extenuating circumstances to alter the prescribed punishment.
*not to be confused with the disco in Queer as Folk (see above).
**this and the following mostly quoted directly from Wikipedia, with some changes and rearrangements.
I think the way you really influence people's "hearts and minds" is: (1) by getting to know them and gaining an appreciation of their history and culture*, and (2) once they see you're enlightened about them and know where they're coming from, they'll be willing to listen to what you have to say and engage in a give-and-take.
The present administration has made a black mark on our own culture by engaging in militarism and torture. It'll take a long time before a lot of people listen to anything we have to say. Meanwhile, by the actions we've taken, we've created an even stronger resistance to our own culture and thwarted the goal of conciliation.
Not to mention, we've invited terrorists onto Iraqi soil who weren't there before and whom Saddam Hussein would never have tolerated (like Al-Qaeda). We've actually created a worse situation than existed when Saddam Hussein was in power (which situation was avoided by George Bush's own father and his advisors at the time of Desert Storm). Now look what his benighted son has wrought.
*The area that now encompasses Iraq is a cradle of Western civilization and its history goes back thousands of years. One of the results of the American occupation was the looting of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. I think, a huge mistake. It goes back to respecting people's culture.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Monday, May 07, 2007
Knowing and loving cats as I do, my heart goes out to this cat. Cats are generally skittish and have highly sensitive hearing. Loud noises send them scrambling. Plus, they're traumatized when their surroundings change. Imagine what this cat went through during a devastating tornado! I can practically see the terror in her face. Thank God she's got a new friend.
Catnip time out on the terrace.
God made drugs for pleasure and created receptors for these drugs in our brains. Some drugs you can just pick off the plant, like catnip (for cats) or marijuana (though some cats get high on marijuana too, as I learned in college). Other drugs you have to concoct from natural materials, like wine. Jesus drank wine. For two thousand years, wine has been part of the sacrament of Holy Communion in all Christendom (even though the Methodists drink grape juice). Wine is the blood of God.
Some religions and Republicans tell us drugs are bad. ("Just say no," Nancy Reagan said.) Is God bad then for creating drugs? Why do some religions and Republicans hate God? Is Nancy Reagan higher than God?
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Enough about my views on religion and my idle speculation already. But I wanted to talk a minute about Mormons, since a Mormon, Mitt Romney, is running for president as a Republican. I lived out in Montana for two years, and there are a lot of Mormons in that area. My ex's sister had married a Mormon and converted to Mormonism. She and her husband were lovely people and had several nice kids.
Here's a snippet on Mormonism from Wikipedia:
Historically, the church has distinguished itself from modern Christianity by its biblical practice of polygamy (officially discontinued in 1890), and by its other unique doctrines and practices such as the Endowment, baptism for the dead, and its views on the Godhead. The church teaches that it is "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth", but it has cooperated with other churches in promoting humanitarian and moral causes. [Emphasis mine.]
You see what I mean about religions being divisive in our society. As do all other forms of "true believers," the Mormons believe they're better than everyone else.
On Mormon beliefs about Native Americans (there are a lot of Native Americans out west too):
Latter-day Saints believe in a covenant relationship between God and the House of Israel, as described in the Old Testament. As stated in the introduction to the Book of Mormon, they believe that Native Americans are included in this covenant, and that some are descended from two groups of "Israelites" that migrated to the western hemisphere. The first group are members of two of the Lost Tribes of
Israel, Ephraim and Manasseh, that migrated to the Americas shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The second group migrated shortly after the city's fall and the two groups eventually became integrated in the Americas. A portion of The Book of Mormon also contains the records of people that migrated to the western hemisphere shortly after the confusion of tongues resulting from the building of the Tower of Babel.
About the Book of Mormon:
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is also considered canon. The book is named after the prophet/historian Mormon, who, according to the text, compiled most of the book onto gold plates. It was first published by Joseph Smith, Jr. in March 1830 in Palmyra, New York. The book describes itself as being written by ancient prophets of the western hemisphere who traveled there from ancient Israel around 600 BCE. The church teaches that the gold plates were delivered to him by an angel and that Smith translated the record by divine inspiration with assistance from the Urim and Thummim and a seer stone. Smith said that upon completing the translation process, he returned the plates to the angel, identified as Moroni.
Also, the Mormons wear special, sacred underwear. For a peek, see Andrew Sullivan's blog here. And here's the link to a website on Mormon underwear. (I'm guessing you wear your bra under the underwear. I'll look that up.)
No, you wear your bra over the undergarment. (See full discussion here.)
Probably the worst advice given to women in the temple about garments is that they must be worn underneath everything else. This means women must wear their bras and panties on top of the garment.
Yikes! Enough about the Mormons already.
Made beef shish-kabobs for lunch today, with Spanish rice.
From a NYT editorial on Reagan's diaries:
The lasting spellbinder proves to be Reagan the speech maker, not the diarist. "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," he once declared, setting one of the worshiped pillars of Reaganism. It was a facile turn of rhetoric that has so sadly been turned into fact by this administration.
Back to the religion issue: If there really is a God, maybe he doesn't want to be involved in our strife. He gave us the intelligence to figure things out for ourselves and make life livable, and he doesn't suffer the misuse of our own intelligence gladly. God has already done his work. Now it's up to us.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Reacting to the ban, soldiers said the real reason for the curbs were their negative comments about the war, including scepticism about George Bush's claims about progress. Soldiers in the field and former soldiers, in blogs posted on sites such as Black Five, an unofficial site run by former paratrooper Matthew Burden, said the regulations would be inoperable with most troops obeying the rules but dissidents finding ways round the ban.
At B's request, I made ground sirloin tacos for Cinco de Mayo, although he isn't Mexican (he's Puerto Rican, born in NYC). Served with freshly-made guacamole, lite sour cream, and shredded cheddar cheese. I use the "Old El Paso" taco kit, which includes a nice sauce. We had Publix fruit salad on the side. More on Cinco de Mayo here. Who would have known the French were involved?!
Funny, informative and incisive article in Salon by Bill Maher, "Guess what! We can actually learn from the French." It's not long, so read the whole thing.
Earlier this year, the Boston Globe got hold of an internal campaign document from GOP contender Mitt Romney, and a recurring strategy was to tie Democrats to the hated French. It said, in the Machiavellian code of the election huckster, "Hillary equals France," and it envisioned bumper stickers that read, "First, not France."
Except for one thing: We're not first. America isn't ranked anywhere near first in anything except military might and snotty billionaires. The country that is ranked No. 1 in healthcare, for example, is France. The World Health Organization ranks America at 37 in the world -- not two, or five -- 37, in between Costa Rica and Slovenia, which are both years away from discovering dentistry. . . .
France has its faults -- the country has high unemployment, a nasty immigrant problem and all that ridiculous accordion music. But its healthcare is the best, it's not dependent on Mideast oil, it has the lowest poverty rate and the lowest income-inequality rate among industrialized nations, and it's the greenest, with the lowest carbon dumping and the lowest electricity bill.
France has 20,000 miles of railroads that work. We have the trolley at the mall that takes you from Pottery Barn to the Gap. It has bullet trains. We have bullets. France has public intellectuals. We have Dr. Phil. And France invented sex during the day, the ménage à trois, lingerie and the tongue.
And the French are not fat. Can't we just admit we could learn something from them?
I'm not much of a believer myself. I think it's because I've been stung by religion and, especially since I've been aware that I'm gay, see the trouble religion causes for good people. And looking at the role religion has historically played, and continues to play, in wreaking strife and sorrow on humanity, I consider it a dangerous and divisive element in any culture. I think it's more destructive than the worst of drugs. So I choose not to imbibe or shoot up. (I realize that Marx said religion is the opium of the people. I don't know about that.) Religion may give some people comfort, but keep it away from me.
I think religion, like fairy tales, is best for children. It teaches lessons about right and wrong--but it can be scary, too. I remember as a child being taught that only Christians can go to Heaven. At the time, I had a serious problem with that, since I couldn't see why our loyal and loving dog, Harvie, would be going to Hell because he wasn't baptized as a Christian. Finally my parents were able to calm me down by saying that Harvie would be going to "Dog Heaven." (From then on, I assumed there was a Heaven for all species of good animals.)
Later on, I couldn't accept that my Jewish friends would be going to Hell, or Buddhists or Muslims or atheists, for that matter. At that point I realized that this perspective on life I'd been taught, this view engendered by my religion, was not helpful or useful but, rather, counterproductive and divisive.
Based on my own experience, I think people who cling to religion still believe, as their belief instructs them, that they are essentially better than those who don't share their beliefs. For me, it's not an operable way of living.
Right now you could call me an agnostic. I don't find religion necessary or even useful in the conduct of my own life. I learned my lessons from it as a child and have moved on from there. Though I still like to think that "God is Love" (as was once inscribed on a parchment bookmark by my Sunday school teachers for my Bible), I think adult society would be better off by doing the same.
[Tonight, as I was thinking about writing this post, I was watching "Polyester." At one point, Cuddles says to Francine, "There must be a God. Everything is so beauty-full!" That's when the ants attacked the picnic, and the skunk came around.] [I first saw this movie with the scratch-n-sniff cards. When the skunk appeared, the audience was instructed to scratch the card on one of the numbered patches.]
Friday, May 04, 2007
Good article from The Guardian, "UK and US must admit defeat and leave Iraq, says British general." Short but sweet. Here's an excerpt:
General Rose is a former SAS commander and head of UN forces in Bosnia. Last year, he called for Tony Blair to be impeached for going to war on "false pretences". He has written a book, entitled Washington's War, which compares the Iraqi rebels to George Washington's irregular forces in the American war of independence.
When he was asked if he thought the Iraqi insurgents were right to try to force the US-led coalition out, he replied: "Yes I do. As Lord Chatham [the politician William Pitt, the Elder, who, in the second half of the 18th century called for a cessation of hostilities in the colonies and favoured American resistance to the British Stamp Act] said, 'if I was an American - as I am an Englishman - as long as one Englishman remained on American native soil, I would never, never, never lay down my arms'. The Iraqi insurgents feel exactly the same way. I don't excuse them for some of the terrible things they do, but I do understand why they are resisting the Americans."
(I wonder what they mean by "irregular forces." Did they consider them something like terrorists?)
Well, I'm glad Stephanie Miller and crew are back in California, for their own sakes. I taped part of yesterday's CNN show and watched it last night. I noticed that Stephanie threw up in her mouth at one point. (The camera quickly turned away.) (If you blinked you'd have missed it.) This is something Stephanie jokes about on her show. Actually it's common for vocal entertainers like opera singers and, apparently, talk radio stars. I watched the tape again tonite and didn't notice it (and I was looking for it).
I listened to part of the radio show this morning and they were all glad to be back, although Jim Ward was late (they said he'd spent the night with "Prince Valium"). Who could blame him.
Recently a generic became available for my high blood pressure medicine (Norvasc). I thought I would start getting a break on my co-pay, which was $30/month for the Norvasc. (The usual co-pay for generics is $10.) It turns out that under my health plan (which I don't fault), the generic is in the same category as Norvasc was, so my co-pay is still $30. (I called the insurance company about this.) I figured I might as well get the real Norvasc then, if I'm still going to be paying $30. Well, now that the generic has come out (apparently priced in the same range as the brand name), the price of Norvasc has gone up, making the co-pay for that even higher. What a racket! Sounds like collusion or price-fixing something. I think this is a pretty good illustration, in microcosm, of how health costs soar. I think co-pays for necessary drugs are stupid anyway (they didn't use to have co-pays), and I, the consumer, am essentially stiffed while the drug companies make out like bandits. [See an earlier blog about insurance co-pays.]
Well, I can officially pronounce my cold over. The last throes of it have been a sinus condition, which may or may not have been related. (I assume it was, but then again, we just moved into a newly refurbished space at work and maybe I was having a reaction to the dust and the chemical residue in the new materials.) I don't recall ever having a sinus condition like that. (I won't get into the details.)
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Silly me--I didn't realize that Stephanie was broadcasting from 6 till 9 Eastern time (I never watched Imus so I didn't really know the schedule). I figured she'd be broadcasting 9 till 12 (and the info on Comcast cable didn't give a clue about Stephanie's appearance). So I have to give the crew a lot of credit for flying out to the east coast and then effectively getting up three hours earlier than the insane o'clock they normally do (i.e., considering the time difference), on top of their legendary hangovers. (That's a joke, folks!)
Anyway, I was able to record only the last 45 minutes of her TV show. Meanwhile, I heard the first installment of it on my way to work this morning over the radio (sitting on my bus). I heard the whole bit about the sweaty armpits yesterday in the purple sweater and then, voila, as I was watching the recording tonight, no sweaty armpits in the sexy green number (after how many changes of underarm pads, might I ask?). That, folks, is what I call a class act. Cheers to you, Stephanie. Also, I loved watching Jim and Chris. (I'd seen Stephanie on TV before--she was great.) Jim and Chris were a whole new treat to watch. Jim, the "hothouse orchid," sitting at his own desk; Chris sitting in front of Stephanie's desk. Jim, don't be intimidated by anything. You looked fine!
Kids, if I may say one thing by way of encouragement, don't let what anyone says (rightwing emailers, leftwing emailers, death threateners, unwelcome toesuckers, whatever) get you down. Just continue to be yourselves. That's your formula for success. You're doing a great job! Love you.