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Tom Coburn is a Big Fat Jerk


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Saturday, November 27, 2004

Neeka on the events in Russia

I've only been able to tangentially watch the events in Russia, but they really are quite astounding --- especially given the election results appear to have been thrown out, or at least it seems. I could be wrong, as I have only been able to give them a sidelong glance.

What I have been able to follow, however, is an extraordinary blog by Veronica Khokkhlova. Her Neeka's Backlog includes an abundance of photos of street-level events and minute by minute accounts. And as she states in a NYT op-ed (posted below) if the students have no fear in defending their rights, why should the rest of us?

From Neeka's Backlog
New York Times OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

New Kids on the Bloc
By VERONICA KHOKHLOVA

Published: November 26, 2004

Kiev, Ukraine

A family friend who has a 17-year-old son told me this last week: "Young people today are so different from what we used to be, or even from what your generation is. They don't have our fear - they don't know it. But they know their rights, and they know how to defend them. They aren't scared to."

With Ukraine now gripped in a political crisis stemming from the disputed results of Sunday's presidential election, I can see what that friend meant.

For example, I have a 20-year-old friend, Tanya. When I was 16 and the Soviet Union collapsed, she was 6. Monday night, Tanya returned to Kiev, where she is a history student in college, from her hometown, Zhytomyr, where she had been observing the election.

On Tuesday morning, she, along with half a million other people, was at Kiev's Independence Square, protesting the declaration by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich that he was the winner. From there, together with thousands of other students, she marched to Shevchenko University, whose leadership had refused to allow its students to join a growing nationwide strike.

They weren't letting anyone out of the university, Tanya told me when I ran into her that evening at a huge rally outside the Ukrainian Parliament building. The students were locked inside, she explained, but they opened all the windows, and the protesters were passing them orange flags - the symbol of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, whom most everyone feels was cheated out of victory. One guy climbed the drainpipe to the second floor to deliver the flags, Tanya said, and the students pulled him in through the window. Soon after, the administration relented, the students were liberated, their classes canceled.

By the time of the rally that night, Tanya had been up and running for 10 hours in the freezing cold dressed only in a thin green coat, an orange scarf around her neck and orange ribbons tied into her braids. She didn't look tired or cold; as we set out in search of a quick cup of coffee, she made us stop by a loudspeaker and listen to Mr. Yushchenko addressing Parliament inside the building.

Then, as we moved again, she and her friend started singing the Ukrainian national anthem. They didn't sound phony; they were singing for themselves, not loudly, and in beautiful voices (both are members of a Ukrainian choir), and it moved me to tears.

An hour later, around 7 p.m., we were at Independence Square again, at another huge rally, listening to Mr. Yushchenko on the loudspeakers again. Tanya, along with everyone else, was shouting "Yushchenko! Yushchenko!" and I, standing next to her, found myself shouting too, with confidence and inspiration I hadn't felt before.

And over and over one hears the chant, "My razom, nas bagato, i nas ne podolaty!" ("We're together, and there are many of us, and we can't be defeated!") Three weeks ago, I would have probably said that this was what students shouted at their rallies, but now everyone does, and so many people mean it.

When opposition party leaders asked the crowd to stay in the square through the night, taking turns in order not to get too cold, Tanya started making plans for the next day. She intended to return at 6 a.m.; she must have been very tired and cold by then, but it still wasn't showing.

The past four days have taught me something valuable: when I'm watching the situation unfold on television, I grow tense, fearful that it's not going to end well. But when I return to the crowd, I feel elated, thanks to people like Tanya, tens of thousands of them, and to everyone else who's out there, people of all ages, hundreds of thousands of them, fearless.

And our international support has heartened us as well. Almost every international observer - including experts from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and from NATO - has accused the ruling party of widespread voting fraud. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the United States "cannot accept this result as legitimate." The only foreign leader who has sided with Mr. Yanukovich has been President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which, needless to say, hasn't done much for the prime minister's credibility.

Which brings up a joke I've heard a few times recently: a Ukrainian man shows up at work, all his clothes rumpled. When his colleagues ask what happened, he replies: "I turn on the TV this morning, and there's Putin praising Yanukovich. I switch to another channel, and there's Putin again, praising Yanukovich. So I switch the channels again, and there's again Putin praising Yanukovich. I turn on the radio, and Putin is there, too, praising Yanukovich. So I figured there was no use turning on the iron."

I'm not sure if it's a remake of an old Soviet joke. It may be. But it fits November 2004 in Ukraine beautifully: there's little use watching TV, what's happening now is available to everyone firsthand, out there in the streets of Kiev and other Ukrainian cities. And if the students have no fear in defending their rights, why should the rest of us?


Weekend Economic Roundup

You know that it's getting dicey when even Freepers can't agree on the consequences of a falling dollar, huge deficit and out of control consumer debt. On another radical right board --- sorry, but I seem to have blocked any memory of the URL, as the board is inhabited by Christian Zionists and fascists --- I discovered Bush supporters are claiming this trio of financial dilemmas is fantastic because tourism will boom (wonderful for those working at Disneyworld, I suppose) and besides, Bush is doing this on purpose as part of a cleverly disguised financial plan to make us all rich.

Right. Yes. I believe that.

Meanwhile, New York Times ... is demonstrating its greater belief in the real world by voicing concerns over all the foreign investors sneaking out the back door. The one bit of good news is that interest rates will likely rise --- but that's only good news for those of us who already live on a cash-only basis.

Come on, people, cut up those credit cards and pay them off. Now.

As for me, my attention is now divided between the gardens and energy. Meaning I will likely finally spring for that wood stove I've been threatening to get for several years now. I'll be spending the day today pulling out my old clunker energy hog refrigerator and dryer in preparation for the arrival of smaller, energy efficient appliances. Not to mention, I've finally sprung for heavy drapes --- jacquard chenille, with lovely voile panels beneath, replacing my wooden blinds --- which are lovely, but leak like sieves! All paid for in cash.

If you're even thinking about using credit cards right now, stop it. Now.

The next step --- getting serious about going solar and putting a new pump and a windmill on the well. Cisterns are looking like a good idea, as well.

Mind you, although the feds are continuing to pussyfoot around all this, others are sounding the alarm. And still others are not simply sounding the alarm --- they're screeching that the emperor has no clothes.

Cut up those credit cards and start that garden.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Being Jerry Falwell

While you and I are thankful for our supper and our good health and the chance to wake up in the morning and see another sunrise and the stars and the moon and the neighbor's horses and how good the pecans are this year ...

Jerry Falwell is thankful for Rush. And Hannity. And FOX. And Drudge. And NewsMax. And WorldNet Daily.

Which makes me very, very thankful I am neither Jerry Falwell nor subjected to his presence in my life.

Falwell's Thanksgiving message: "I thank God" for Hannity, Limbaugh, FOX, NewsMax, WorldNetDaily, and The Drudge Report

During his November 21 pre-Thanksgiving sermon, Reverend Jerry Falwell, Moral Majority founder and national chairman of the Faith and Values Coalition, encouraged his audience to "praise the Lord" at Thanksgiving for "alternative news media" sources such as FOX News Channel, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, which he said are "telling the truth."

From Falwell's November 21 televised sermon, broadcast from his Thomas Road Baptist Church:

Let me talk to you about five good things of late ... for which this week I hope you and your family around your Thanksgiving table will praise the Lord. ... No. 5: America has alternative news media and is no longer held hostage by the major print and broadcast media. I remember a day when ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN and the major print media controlled all the news flow to the American people and we found ourselves getting warped and distorted news. I thank God now in the 21st century for talk radio, that three hours a day people like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and hundreds of others are telling the truth of what really is going on. I thank God for FOX News Channel [applause]. I thank God for the Internet bloggers and the news producers like NewsMax.com, WorldNetDaily.com, even The Drudge Report.

Protests?

Juan Cole, Raed, Independent Media Center and other sources are reporting protests around the world against Fallujah. Yet the American media remains strangely silent.

Although given their performance in recent months, I suppose it isn't strange at all. Just business as usual.

Everyone is a potential torturer

From New Scientist, via Kos. What we all already knew, but never had time to put into words. And yet more reason why this administration is so very, very dangerous.

Everyone is a potential torturer
All humans are capable of committing torture and other “acts of great evil”. That is the unhappy conclusion drawn from an analysis of psychological studies.


Over 25,000 psychological studies involving eight million participants support this finding, say Susan Fiske and colleagues at Princeton University in New York, US.

The researchers considered the circumstances surrounding how individuals committed seemingly inexplicable acts of abuse in the midst of the US military’s torture of Iraqi inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004.

“Could any average 18-year-old have tortured these prisoners? I would have to answer: ‘Yes, just about anyone could have.’”, Fiske says. Many forms of behaviour, including acts of cruelty, are influenced as much by authority figures, peer pressure and other social interactions as by the psychology of the individual, she says.

“If we don’t understand the importance of social context and accept that almost anybody could commit acts of torture under certain circumstances, then we are setting ourselves up for situations where Abu Ghraib [atrocities] will occur again,” Fiske warns.

Peer pressure

The researchers identified situations where individuals feel provoked, stressed or taunted - such as during war - as conducive to causing aggressive acts. And they say that the need to conform to their peer group and obey those in authority - or act in a way that they believe their superiors would approve of - could lead individuals to behave in a way that they would usually consider unacceptable.

“Certainly, acts of torture can be committed by almost everyone - not just psychopaths,” says Ian Robbins, a clinical psychologist who has treated victims of torture and torturers themselves at the traumatic stress service in St George’s Hospital, London, UK.

“A process of ‘grooming’ occurs, whereby the perpetrator is introduced to small acts of abuse - perhaps an occasional slap - and then over time these acts of abuse are built up to levels of extreme torture,” he says. “All this is carried out in a social context of acceptability, where the perpetrator is made to feel special for carrying out the abuse, and it is singled out as a special secret activity.”

Fiske points out that the alienation and exclusion of certain groups renders them “contemptible, subhuman and disgusting” in the eyes of the torturer, making abuse of such dehumanised victims far easier to carry out.

And she points out that strongly cohesive social populations such as the military can either encourage prejudice - as in the case of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners - or actively discourage it. For example, the US military offers the country’s best example of racially integrated cooperation between black and white Americans, she observes.

Climate of disrespect

“Our national leadership could act to see everyone as equal and connected, or as foreigners who can be ignored and excluded. If Iraqis fought alongside the US military, it would be harder for soldiers to dehumanise Iraqi prisoners,” she says.

Robbins believes the general US prejudice against other nations is deeply ingrained. “Calling Iraqi nationals ‘insurgents’, ‘ragheads’ or ‘baddies’ automatically dehumanises them and leads to a climate of disrespect,” he says.

But, as the researchers note, there are always those few individuals who dissent from the group - “whistle-blowers” who alert authorities to abuse and prevent it continuing.

“People who opt out often have a strong sense of moral values or religious conviction that allows them to override their natural inclination to follow their superiors or fit in with their peer group,” Robbins says. But they are few, and because under certain circumstances almost anyone can commit torture, situations that could foster an atmosphere of abuse must be controlled, he believes.

“Any processes involving locking people up and interrogation need to be open to public scrutiny and not carried out by the military in secret,” he told New Scientist. “I find it extremely frightening that the American military in the Pentagon have been discussing which kinds of torture are acceptable and which are not,” he adds.

Journal reference: Science (vol 306)

Food and Oil

I think a lot about food and sustainable agriculture and the economy. And over the past few days, I've had even more reason to think about them, in part because I'm on Thanksgiving break and have lots of time (despite painting and moving manure around), but also because there have been a number of articles and radio programs about these things over the past week or so.

Then this morning, I received the monthly members email from Robert Waldrop, founder and director of Oklahoma Food and Better Times. And what he has to say is so good that I feel compelled to share it. It's long but worth the read, I think, especially for those of us trying to lead normal lives while simultaneously seeking to lessen the negative environmental impact of our presence on earth. Parts of it are essentially ads for Better Times --- for me, that doesn't diminish the value of what he's written, but I've edited those parts out anyway.

The local joke is that one of the consequences of global climate change will be that Oklahoma will get a decent climate.

[...]

Global climate changes, environmental devastation, and waves of violence and destruction are sweeping across the earth. The captains and the kings are marching and shouting, people are dying and there doesn’t seem to be much prospect of this changing any time soon. Indeed, the velocity and magnitude of the problems seems to be increasing. Into this world situation comes the specter of sharply increasing energy prices, and the certainty of even more extreme price increases on the horizon. Energy prices are being driven by an "irresistible object" (insatiable demand for ever more fossil fuel energy)" running smack dab up against an "immovable object" (the limits – dictated by the geological facts under the ground and our technology – of fossil fuel production). Everyone in China wants a car now, in fact, they want two cars and a garage to put them in.

Meanwhile, world oil production appears to be nearing its all-time production peak, after which it is all downhill, with things going from bad to worse for energy production, and then they will get even worse. North American natural gas is already in decline, and that decline rate appears to be accelerating. All this is the beginning of sorrows, so nobody should be thinking about bidness as usual, but unfortunately that is pretty much where most people are at.

Every calorie of food in a supermarket incorporates many calories of fossil fuel in its manufacture and distribution. Food production in the "developed world" is entirely dependent upon high inputs of fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, and toxic herbicides and pesticides. Soil fertility is declining, agriculture diversity is being eradicated, thousands of heirloom varieties of food crops and heritage breeds of poultry and livestock have gone extinct. The food industry is increasingly consolidated. A supermarket may look like a competitive marketplace, but in reality most of those brands are owned by five corporations.

[...]

One of the tragedies of this time is that there has been an almost complete breakdown in the cultural transmission of important knowledge, sciences, and arts between generations. My grandparents, William Glen and Dovie Irene Waldrop, and John and Opal Marie Cassidy, lived on self-sufficient homesteads on the southwestern Oklahoma prairie along the Red River and lived much of their lives as farmers who grew and preserved a substantial amount of the food their families ate. They worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, and my grandmothers were among the best cooks that Tillman County ever produced. My grandfather Waldrop was an artisan of curing hams and making sausage. We still have the wagon bows from the wagon that brought my great grandfather Waldrop and his wife Mollie and family from Sherman, Texas to Tillman County, Oklahoma territory, but we have lost much of the knowledge they and their daughters and sons possessed. He lived in a mostly solar economy, and so did my grandparents up until rural electrification. My grandmother used to say that one of the regrets of her life was that her mother had died before they got electricity, and thus "she never lived to see how easy it was to keep house with electricity."

Thus it is important for people to work together to preserve this kind of "solar economy" information and learn how to incorporate it into our lives again. As we walk this journey, we must learn the value of the slow, the traditional, the small, the particular, the locality, the sense of place that used to be a fact of daily life. We must understand that there are limits and boundaries, and we should respect them. These ideas are so alien now they seem almost exotic.

It is of course all well and good to climb up on a watchtower and shout, "Lo the dust of the war chariots of the enemy riseth above the foothills", or to put on your John the Baptist hat and cry repentance, but it is another thing to actually put these high sounding ideals into practice. Thus the regular editions of this Better Times Almanac of Useful Information, each one building upon the previous work, growing organically in response to the signs of these times.

If things are going to change for the better, it will only happen because people decide to literally be the change they want to see in the world. And conversely, if things don’t change for the better, if things continue to go from bad to worse, it will be because too many people did NOT decide to be the change they want to see in the world. The place for me to start is with the man I see each morning in the mirror. It is said that the world would be a better place if we would all try to be what we want the other fellow to be.

It is as simple as that. Each person is responsible for his or her individual response to the world situation, we are all part of the problem, and we are thus all part of the solution. There is nobody that anyone can blame for not doing their part in the way they lives their lives.. There are many things that many people can do to make a positive difference in the world, and procrastination is the deadly enemy of the loving care and responsible stewardship of Creation. We can do, as the masthead of Better Times proclaims, what we can, with what we have, where we are. And so we should do it.

From the beginning, if we are talking about ways and manners of living, I have felt that the place to start is in the kitchen. Food First! It is one area where we have a lot of control, and it is a place where changes can be made without spending big piles of extra money. [...] Food provides instant rewards. Eating is an agricultural act, eating is a moral act, eating is a cultural act. Decisions we make in our kitchens have enormous consequences, for good or for evil. One of the things we need to work for is a world where it is easier to be good. [...]

If we want a local food system, where farmers use sustainable, organic production methods, where herds and flocks are free-ranging and naturally managed, where land and resources are conserved and constantly renewed by natural processes, then there must be a market for the products of such a system.

If there is going to be a market for such products, then those of us who are customers must generally change the way we do our food.

We must stop looking for frozen, prepared, manufactured foods and instead purchase basic ingredients (or grow our own) from which we prepare our meals, always looking for products grown here in this region.. It is not as hard to make this transition as it seems at first, and it really is true that there are instant rewards in terms of both the authentic tastes and nutritional value of true food. The Better Times Almanac of Useful Information is designed to help you to stop being a passive consumer of manufactured junk foods and to start becoming a "co-producer" in a local food system where your grocery dollars support local farmers and local economies instead of feeding the appetites of transnational agribidness corporations and driving the destruction of our soils, biological diversity, and rural economies. In this situation, there is no rich or poor, or middle class in between. Everyone has a place at this table, there certainly is plenty good room.

A holiday, by definition, is a break with the ordinary routine of life and in most cultures is connected with feasting and celebration, so I would like to write a bit about the preparation of our Thanksgiving feast. As with much in our lives, there is good and bad co-mingled. The world is such that making the best decisions can be difficult, in some situations impossible. But we shouldn’t let the difficulty of some decisions stop us from making other best decisions which are so easy they are practically no-brainers. That’s why I talk about these kinds of food preparation happenings, first so that I can reflect on how I can do better next time, and second so that others can learn from our experiences, both the mistakes and the successes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving, Blogosphere!

To everyone in the blogosphere, have a happy Thanksgiving! I'll be back in a day or so.

And to those of you with nowhere to go, all orphans are welcome to my place to paint and move manure around! I'll even feed you! :=D

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Practical application of the philosopher's stone, for drunks and those of us who know this train is headed right for hell

Okay, so the New York Times is reporting that foreign investors are fleeing the US market. Like that's any surprise --- exactly what are they getting for their investment, given the falling dollar. I say cash it all out and either invest in foreign currencies or stash it, in hopes interest rates go through the roof. What I wouldn't do for a nice 13% interest rate right now!

On a similar note, Bloomberg reports the dollar outlook is bearish and, in response to Bush's *wink wink* policy (their words, not mine), Japan (who is currently propping us up) is threatening to sell. Like that surprises you and me. Wonder how those neocons like it, though, what with their 'fuck the world, the U.S. is KING!* attitude.

Yea, right, we don't need the rest of the world.

On a brighter note, a couple of innovative geeks have discovered how to transform bad vodka into a drinkable, mildly pleasant subtance.

As noted in their blog at Oh My God It Burns!, these adventuresome youg fellows (I'm assuming fellows, perhaps wrongly) decided to engage in second-rate science (their words) and test the effects of filtering bad vodka through Brita filters. Their purpose:
In the alchemical tradition, creation of the Philosopher’s stone is the ultimate end to man’s needs. The stone has the power to cure disease, prolong life, and possesses the added benefit of being able to transmute metals, as in lead into gold.

As scienticians, we believe that such an object exists, and that it can be used for our own dastardly purposes.

Our theory is that a simple brita water filter can be used to make bad vodka, into good. In our case this meant turning a Vladimir™, into a Ketel One™. At $11.09 for 1.75 liter (Ketel is 11.99 for the 350 ml), Vladimir is a steal. It is, however, painful to drink, has a repugnant aftertaste, posesses a bouquet reminiscent of rubbing alcohol. Our working theory was that these terrible qualities were caused by a lack of proper filtration, and that running our Vlad through a charcoal filter would remove some of the impurities causing these odors and flavors.


The results:
The filtered result was smooth and bore almost no aftertaste. For those of you who like the unique flavor of a Kettle One, Grey Goose, or other top shelf vodka, this is not a perfect substitute. However, this would be the perfect mixer vodka in my opinion. Try a blind taste test with your drunkard guests next time you throw a party and send us your results.
-Chris, Staff Scientician


Well, this is good news. Now we can all use some of our cashed out 401(k)s and pensions to buys cases of cheap vodka and just stay drunk for the next four years.

Gardening and finance

I've finally had my morning quota of coffee and will be spending the rest of the day pulling old manure-laden straw out of the barn.

This straw (and manure) will be dumped in several gardens plots and in the coldframe I've put together in the greenhouse. Those who don't know about the method of gardening known as lasagna really ought to check it out. This year, I grew bushels and bushels and bushels of tomatoes in the tiniest plot, thanks to lasagna gardening, and have some of the biggest echinacea I've ever grown still in that plot.

Although I've always been quite the gardener, the current economic and political situations have given me even more reason to indulge my fave hobby. Right before the elections, I noticed how quickly the price of fresh fruits and veggies was rising at the stores. Couple that with the cost of wood and steel going skyhigh (something I keep an eye on, thanks to my predilection for threatening to build all kinds of things here) and my own concerns over the deficit, and I'm doing some nail-biting.

I've never been particularly financially savvy, but I started keeping a watch out for economic forecasts. And the whole thing sent me into a panic the month before the election.

So I did what any sensible person would do: I purchased some $50 worth of seeds and began making more gardens. I also bought even more blueberry bushes and have selected elderberries and grapes to plant next spring. I already have Niagras going, and will complement them with some nice Concords.

So I'm off to garden for the day. When I return, I'll have a few choice words about Matrix (sorry but I think it sucks!) and Harry Potter (d00d!), and will be on the hunt for some good foreign films to keep me happy.

A veteran of Iraq talks about PTSD

LiberalRakkasan is a poster at Daily Kos who, over the past few weeks, has been chronicling his experiences in Iraq and thoughts on the war, including Fallujah.

Today, he describes in painful detail his return from Iraq and the chaos of his PTSD. This is a must-read. Some snippets posted below.

I have just enough time to mutter, "Fuck..." when bullets start pinging of the hood of my vehicle.  "RPG LEFT!" my gunner shouts and I see the rocket streaking towards us from a building about 100 meters away.  The RPG explodes in just in front of my vehicle and shreds the engine block.  We stall.  I'm hit by shrapnel, and so is my gunner.  My driver looses control, and we crash into a low brick wall.  My head slams into the windshield cracking it.

Bullets are bouncing around in the vehicle, and smoke is pouring out of the engine.  My driver is trying to frantically start the engine.  I yell at him to get out of the truck, take cover behind the wall, and return fire.  It probably sounds something like this:  GetthefuckoutBehindthatfuckingwallAstartshootingthosemotherfuckers.

"Where the fuck are they?" I shout to my gunner.  

"Fucking building on the left," he shouts back.  He is heroically staying up on our .50 cal machinegun.  "Can't ID a fucking target."

"Fuck it," I shout.  "Light it up.  Hit all the windows and doors."

He begins systematically tearing the building to shreds, and I work the radios trying to take control of the situation.  I get out of the vehicle too and crouch next to it so I can use my M-4 if necessary.  We are still taking heavy fire from the building.

I think I see a muzzle flash from a doorway, and more bullets buzz around me.  I duck walk to the back of the vehicle and pull an out an AT-4 rocket launcher.  I start getting the rocket ready for launch, but my hands stop working.  I can't arm the rocket no matter how hard I try to get my hands to move.

I try to yell something to my gunner, but I can't get any words to come out.  I try to force myself to speak, but nothing comes out.  I'm making a low gurgling sound.  I try harder to say something, and I finally get something to come out...

...I wake up shouting in a cold sweat.

[...]

But, I wasn't getting much sleep because I was used to only getting a few hours a night so I stayed up too late watching too much news and drinking to much beer.  I started getting up in the morning and making a pot of coffee.  I would guzzle the coffee, get wired, and begin obsessively catching up on the news.  

I also began obsessively writing angry emails and letters.  The whole time I was in Iraq, I kept a "heap of shit" list of people who had pissed me off.  The Dixie Chicks.  Susan Serandon.  Janine Garafalo.  A bunch of reporters.  Magazines.  Blogs.  Everybody got a letter.

I found myself getting angry and impatient all the time, especially to my wife.  Nothing moved at the pace I was used to.  Everyday life seemed trivial, and I had a tough time connecting with people in my life.  I was so angry all the time.  I was on edge, and my jaw started hurting because I kept it clenched so much.

I was filled with an impending sense of dread, and the bad dreams began.  I started drinking more, but I didn't notice it.  I was on vacation damn it.  I could have a beer for breakfast if I wanted.  I glared at my neighbor every time I saw him.

[...]

The bar got crowded.  My buddy and I are sitting a big table and some college kids asked us if they could join us.  Somehow it came up in conversation that I just go back from Iraq.  One of the kids, a frat boy, says cool.

"It's about time we started kicking some ass," Frat boy said.

"We?" I asked.  My mood darkened, but he didn't notice.

"Yeah, we should kick all their asses."

"You mean me, right?  You joining up?"

He was drunk enough to think I was joking.

"You ever shoot anyone over there?" he asked.

"You should never ask anyone that question," I said and thought of the little girl.  "You might not like the answer you get."

"Hah! That means you didn't."

I stood up.  "Listen here you little motherfucker.  I've killed plenty of people, and I'm fixin' to get me one more.  I'm going to knock your fucking teeth down the back of your throat, and then I'm going to go to work on you.  You're gonna have a couple months in the hospital to think about where you fucked up."

He stood.  "Let's go."

My buddy grabs me.  "It's not worth it," he pled.

"The hell it isn't," I answered, and I stepped forward.  I was going to fuck this kid up.  Some evil piece of my mind told me that the cops would side with me.  I would get away with it.  I looked over to the kid.  He was backing away, fear in his eyes.

"Its not worth it," my buddy pled again.  I was suddenly aware that everyone was looking at me like I'm a monster.  I was one.

Economic Armageddon?

UPDATE: Those Kosmopolitans have been all over this story today. Links here and here but be warned --- the fear is palpable and advice all over the map.

I wish these guys would just make up their minds. Which is it? Slow but steady growth? Or cash out the 401(K) and fill the pantry?

Common sense says cash out, pay off those debts and fill the pantry.

From the Boston Globe

Economic `Armageddon' predicted

Stephen Roach, the chief economist at investment banking giant Morgan Stanley, has a public reputation for being bearish. But you should hear what he's saying in private.

Roach met select groups of fund managers downtown last week, including a group at Fidelity.

His prediction: America has no better than a 10 percent chance of avoiding economic ``armageddon.''

Press were not allowed into the meetings. But the Herald has obtained a copy of Roach's presentation. A stunned source who was at one meeting said, ``it struck me how extreme he was - much more, it seemed to me, than in public.''

Roach sees a 30 percent chance of a slump soon and a 60 percent chance that ``we'll muddle through for a while and delay the eventual armageddon.''

The chance we'll get through OK: one in 10. Maybe.

In a nutshell, Roach's argument is that America's record trade deficit means the dollar will keep falling. To keep foreigners buying T-bills and prevent a resulting rise in inflation, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will be forced to raise interest rates further and faster than he wants.

The result: U.S. consumers, who are in debt up to their eyeballs, will get pounded.

Less a case of ``Armageddon,'' maybe, than of a ``Perfect Storm.''

Roach marshalled alarming facts to support his argument.  To finance its current account deficit with the rest of the world, he said, America has to import $2.6 billion in cash. Every working day. That is an amazing 80 percent of the entire world's net savings. Sustainable? Hardly.

Meanwhile, he notes that household debt is at record levels.

Twenty years ago the total debt of U.S. households was equal to half the size of the economy.  Today the figure is 85 percent.  Nearly half of new mortgage borrowing is at flexible interest rates, leaving borrowers much more vulnerable to rate hikes.

Americans are already spending a record share of disposable income paying their interest bills. And interest rates haven't even risen much yet.  You don't have to ask a Wall Street economist to know this, of course. Watch people wielding their credit cards this Christmas.

Roach's analysis isn't entirely new. But recent events give it extra force. The dollar is hitting fresh lows against currencies from the yen to the euro.  Its parachute failed to open over the weekend, when a meeting of the world's top finance ministers produced no promise of concerted intervention.  It has farther to fall, especially against Asian currencies, analysts agree.

The Fed chairman was drawn to warn on the dollar, and interest rates, on Friday.

Roach could not be reached for comment yesterday. A source who heard the presentation concluded that a ``spectacular wave of bankruptcies'' is possible.

Smart people downtown agree with much of the analysis. It is undeniable that America is living in a ``debt bubble'' of record proportions. But they argue there may be an alternative scenario to Roach's. Greenspan might instead deliberately allow the dollar to slump and inflation to rise, whittling away at the value of today's consumer debts in real terms.

Inflation of 7 percent a year halves ``real'' values in a decade. It may be the only way out of the trap.  Higher interest rates, or higher inflation: Either way, the biggest losers will be long-term lenders at fixed interest rates. You wouldn't want to hold 30-year Treasuries, which today yield just 4.83 percent.

We're owned

Well, I finally watched F911 last night --- and I'm surprised it caused such a stink. Maybe it's that I grew up in oil and gas country, and nothing those people do would surprise me.

As a result, I really don't have a lot to say about it. The characterizations gleaned from real-life footage strike me as true to form. There's nothing about Moore's delineation of the links between Bush and the Saudis which strikes me as improbable or out of the ordinary. It's just how it is --- in short, oilmen really will do just about anything for $$$.

I think I'll spend a few days putting together some stuff about the oil and gas culture and post it here.

Monday, November 22, 2004

F911, The Economy Stupid and Other Matters

First, if you haven't been following Baghdad Burning and Raed in the Middle, you should. Both chronicle the real face of the war --- not the sanitized, upbeat portrayal we in America are getting --- but the real thing by people who are living it.

Next, via Agonist, what happens if the dollar doesn't fall? This follows their discussion last night (and several discussions over the past few weeks) about the possibility that bankrupting the economy might be the perfect way for Bush to get his hands on Social Security, and do so with the blessing of the Republicans.

However, possibly in response to Various Glum Reports and the Greenspan Panic ...

It appears the dollar --- and a number of economists and brokerage houses and whatnot are reversing themselves --- and the dollar is rising. Morgan Stanley has a positively breathy and chipper outlook today, in stark contrast to their glum mood last week. You can find more links over at Agonist, along with lots of witty international repartee and incomprehensible analysis by people who actually do finance for a living.

And finally --- I have not yet seen Fahrenheit 9/11. In response to my students' complaints about my Ludditeness, however, I ordered it (and the Harry Potter and Matrix movies) last week. It just arrived. So I'm taking the rest of the evening off to watch it and devil my doggies no end.

I'll report back with my thoughts later. As if you really care. But I care. So there.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

And lest we forget

Lest we forget the namesake and inspiration for this blog ... we'll end the week with a quick roundup of Tom Coburn and sterilization. And maybe a bit of Tom Coburn and lesbians. First, CNN reports that Oklahoma attorney general Drew Edmondson (whose son had quite the reputation in high school) states that he has no doubt Coburn committed Medicaid fraud by failing to fully disclose that he'd sterilized Andrea Plummer. Of course, he hadn't told her either, so I suppose it's only to be expected he wouldn't tell the Feds.

Have we mentioned lately how odd it is that all these values-toting Republicans would favor someone who sterilizes women against their consent? Not to mention, the lesbian thing.

Indianz.com, and FOX pick up the story, and there are even allegations by Coburn supporters that it doesn't matter since Medicaid just doesn't care. No link because that comes off some winger's blog and I won't give him the satisfaction of directing traffic his way by linking to it.

Hmmmm. Well, aboutthe Medicaid doesn't care thing -- I care. So I'm going to keep talking about it.

As for Tom Coburn and the lesbians ...

A google search is less than promising, with a mere 3,000 hits, but I think the story still has legs. I'll get to work on it over the holidays and see if we can get that up to a healthy 5-10,000 hits.

Right converges with Left and issues a warning

Martin van Creveld via James Wolcott:
"...[He] who fights against the weak--and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed--and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish."


"As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat; if U.S. troops in Iraq have not yet started fragging their officers, the suicide rate among them is already exceptionally high. That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last U.S. troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters' skids."

So prophecizes Martin van Creveld.

Who he? as Harold Ross would ask.

He is a professor to history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and author of The Transformation of War, an indispensable book to understand why retribalized warfare (from militias, ideological insurgencies, drug lords) threatens to overthrow the top-heavy hegemony of nation-state military power. It is a key text in what has come to be known as 4th Generation warfare.

Before the reader gets to American soldiers grasping for helicopter skids, van Creveld explores the military education of legendary Israeli general Moshe Dayan, who in his younger days went to Vietnam as a war correspondent. What Dayan saw, what he learned, is a lesson the American military under Rumsfeld seems to have forgotten as it wages counterinsurgency in Iraq.

William Lind, an expert in 4th Generation warfare and no lefty, reaches the same bleak conclusion regarding the Vietnam-Iraq parallels.

Since Saddam's fall, we've been stomping around Iraq like Godzilla. Lind: "The result is likely to be more flattened cities like Falluja, more victories on the moral level for our opponents, and in the end, ignominious withdrawal and defeat."

So thick is the euphoria and triumphalism post November 2nd that I wonder if most of our media, never mind the bovine American public, have any inkling of how ghastily Iraq is going down the drain, and taking the American military with it. We've been so bombarded with "Failure is not an option" that few are willing to assert, as van Creveld and Lind do, that failure may not be an option but it damn well may be the outcome, and quicker than anyone contemplates.

Andrew Sullivan and Thomas Friedman can petition for more troops all they please. It's too late for more troops. We don't have troops to spare as it is, but even if we did, it's too late. It's too late for everything. The blundering mistakes that were made in the first days and weeks of the occupation can't be reversed now--they're incorrectible. The window of opportunity dropped like a guillotine while Donald Rumsfeld was regaling the press corps with his pithy wisdom.

Is The American Dream Dying?

Wonderful article by Fred Block of The Rockridge Institute. Block has summarized information from a number of studies, all pointing to trouble ahead for America. I've posted some snippets from the article, but the entire thing (and all of its subsections) are well worth reading.

The Radical Right and the Bush administration adamantly deny there is a major disconnect between our perceived quality of life and what is actually happening to an increasing number of people. Block notes:
There are also studies showing that the United States now has lower rates of mobility out of poverty than countries like Germany. Not only are children at much higher risk of growing up in poverty in the United States, but more of them are doomed to remain in poverty. [...] There is now a huge gap between those living at the poverty line and the resources needed to experience the Dream [...] While this is a huge problem for the poor, it extends well beyond their ranks. Somewhere between 37% and 45% of all families in the United States are falling below the [poverty] line.


The cost of childcare and healthcare alone are enough to sink a young family. Add to that the rising costs of food and gas, and any extra money which might otherwise be set aside in a savings account has vanished. The education necessary for moving into higher income brackets is quickly becoming inaccessible to all but a few. Block notes the circular nature of our history, as the country returns to the exact same sociocultural environment which drove so many Americans to these shores in the first place:
We are back to the old European model in which children end up doing the same work as their parents.


Exactly. And, no doubt, the divine right of the monarchy is right behind. Or already here.

Read the article here.

Radical Right to Moderates: Buzz Off!

Although the election was a mere two weeks ago, the radicals are already flexing muscle -- and sure, we all know subtlely and diplomacy aren't high on the list of their perceived *values* --- but still.

First, it was the charge led by various right wing advocacy groups on Arlen Specter. Hitt at Wall Street Journal noted:
Almost immediately after the election, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a leading figure among evangelical activists, began urging supporters to pressure Senate Republicans not to elevate Mr. Specter. Calls from activists across the country are now flooding switchboards on Capitol Hill. "In Dr. Dobson's view, Arlen Specter is not fit to be the chairman, seniority tradition aside," Ms. Gordon Earll says.

Concerned Women of America announced that moderate Republicans need to hit the door, and fast, because they're no longer welcome in the party. And Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth stated unequivocally“They will learn to conform to our agenda or they will be driven from our party."

And now Kos is noting the passage of a new rule passed for the specific purpose of marginalizing the moderates. The rule sounds innocent enough at first glance. But go to Kos and read about it. It's a lot of things, but innocent isn't one of them.

Let's talk about food

While driving to the store this morning, I listened to an NPR show about food, including an interview with Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me! fame. Now, being a luddite, I know very little about the film. But last month, I read an article in Harvard Magazine entitled The Way We Eat Now. Good article --- everyone should read it.

Food is something I think about a lot. And, although Supersize Me! has resulted in a backlash of cheeto-eating, Barcalounger proportions (see The Supersize Con), I contend there's more than a little truth to it.

I was a fast food junkie some years ago. I also had migraines almost weekly and an amazing array of digestive complaints. Not to mention, what happened to my waistline. Then, I became a vegetarian and all my complaints vanished --- except that my immunity became pretty sucky after a year or so, and my hypoglycemia went wild.

So vegetarianism was tossed aside as I gave into my overwhelming cravings for meat. Nothing makes me feel better than meat. Except grapes. And tomatoes. And coffee. And that great farmer's cheese at the Coop. And ...

Okay, there's a lot of food I like. But that's besides the point.

While in grad school, I became panicked about my health. My sister had just been diagnosed diabetic, I come from a long line of diabetics and I was totally freaked out that I was next. So I went low carb. Which did curb my blood sugar for a long time.

But low carb can get pretty boring. Not to mention, there came a point at which it just didn't really curb my blood sugar anymore. So I chucked low carb. And I sat down and thought about it. And I considered the fact that all of my grandparents (except one) was diabetic --- my aunts and uncles were all diabetics --- most of my family has had blood sugar problems at some point. But they all lived to be very old and controlled their blood sugar by doing one thing: eating simple basic plain ordinary everyday homemade meals. Meat and vegetables. Nothing fancy, just good homemade food.

So that's what I decided to do. Plain ordinary homemade meals. And since abandoning all the diets and tossing all the theories and changing over to just plain homemade food, my health has only gotten better. And my sanity has certainly improved.

I now eat fried potatoes. But they're homemade fried potatoes, often cooked without fat at all, but instead grilled with sweet onion -- lots of sweet onion -- and home grown peppers.

I've begun planting fruit here, to satisfy my sweet tooth. I have a blueberry patch started and grapes out back, and will be planting elderberry this spring. And sweet tomatoes.

So --- well, so there's that. I can't remember the point of writing this. But it's already too long anyway. Besides, it's time for lunch.