Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Right Way (and Wrong Way) to Treat Injured Vets

In 1945, just after the end of World War II, the Veterans hospitals were a national disgrace. President Harry Truman appointed one of the nation's finest generals, Omar Bradley, to head the Veterans Administration and gave him a single, simple order - clean up the mess and make the system worthy of our returning heroes.

Today, the Army hospital system is a national disgrace. Reacting to news reports, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has ordered a review. Walter Reed Army Hospital's response is to order its patients to shut the fuck up. All patients have been ordered to stand ready for inspection at 7am daily as a punishment for complaints about their horrible treatment which led to the review. They have been ordered to adhere strictly to the chain of command if they want to report such problems as mice skittering across their bedsheets at night. I could continue writing about this, but I feel like throwing up.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

It's Raining!!!

To the dear family that recently spent several days in shorts and swimming trunks riding boogie boards in the warm California sun, I thought you would like to know what has been happening since you left for home. We have had rain, pretty much all of the time.
"Pretty much all of the time" is a uniquely Southern California expression which roughly translates to "two or three times in just one week, dear God what is happening, we are all going to die!!!" The three exclamation points are a Southern California thing, too. (As I understand it, San Franciscans experience a similar sense of impending doom when they have an entire week of continuous sunlight.)

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Few Good Men

It is reassuring to believe that there are still a few good men in the American military establishment. There is comfort in the hope that there are senior American military commanders who are willing to sacrifice their careers rather than send good soldiers into slaughter to satisfy the egos of a handful of insane politicans.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that several top US generals stand ready to resign if they are ordered by Bush to attack Iran. That hope is tempered by the knowledge that the US Air Force is jonesing for the order to bomb Iran. The branch of the armed forces that is turning its service academy into a fundamentalist Christian cult thinks war is just like their video games.
One group of horsemen gave me the impression of a budding rose unfolding as the bomb fell in their midst and blew up. It was exceptionally good fun. ~ Vittorio Mussolini after flying a bombing mission in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Handicapping the Presidential Race - Democrats

A week's sojourn away from the keyboard can be nice.

Many years ago, I knew a guy who wanted to run for mayor of San Diego. We agreed on most things political but I thought him to be a petty, vicious, vindictive sort of person. One evening, he invited me to cocktails in La Jolla where he demanded I support his candidacy, or else. Now, I didn't live in San Diego and, while I had some influence in the local environmental community, I was no where near a vital endorsement. I didn't react well to the threat, where upon he took time out of his busy schedule to besmirch my reputation. I tell this story because, more than anyone else in politics today, Hillary Rodham Clinton reminds me of that guy who would be mayor. The David Geffen affair has a bad smell, Clinton has a mean streak in her that goes way beyond being tough.

The President Race - Democrats
Same rules as last week and last December, I'll be offering my odds and, for comparison, in red the odds calculated by the Intrade Trading Exchange.

Hillary Clinton (Sen-NY) - 1 to 1 (2 to 1)
She is about the same in the polls from December, currently 38%, although with Intrade her betting odds are down. She is playing hardball to shut down her opposition early which may be a smart strategy as 2008 will be the year with too many early primaries. The main problem for Clinton is that, by being so tough this early, she can't stumble. She is creating a long list of people who will be declaring support for her and who can't wait for the chance to kick her when she is down.

Barack Obama (Sen-IL) - 3 to 1 (4 to 1)
He has survived the initial rounds with Clinton in good shape (Don't you love how I mix my sports metaphors). His charisma is his magic but he is showing both toughness and policy smarts. What is telling to me is that conservatives are far more frightened of Obama than they are of Clinton.

John Edwards (former Sen-SC) - 12 to 1 (10 to 1)
Everyone's second choice. His best bet is for Clinton and Obama to beat the crap out of each other in a bitter pre-primary brawl. His stumble with his blog rep is meaningless. His biggest problem is that he is yesterday's sweetheart. He doesn't have Obama's charm or Clinton's fangs.

Al Gore (former should have been president-TN) - 15 to 1 (10 to 1)
The pre-Oscar buzz is that Gore will ride an Academy Award for "An Inconvenient Truth" into the White House. It could happen. I hope it happens. If he announces I expect his poll numbers to double inside a month. But, my gut is telling me that Al Gore is not going to run. Pity that.

Second Tiers
Bill Richardson (Gov-NM) - 50 to 1 (20 to 1)
The consensus of stories about Richardson is that his campaign has not being given a fair shake in the media. It is not good when all the media can think to write about you is how they are not being fair to you. Look to Richardson as a Veep to Al Gore.

Wes Clark (former general-IL) - 200 to 1 (200 to 1)
The Invisible Man is more visible. He is running to be Clinton's Veep.

Joe Biden (Sen-DE) - 500 to 1 (70 to 1)
Some people (like George Bush) were born with silver spoons in their mouths. Joe Biden was born with his own foot in there.

The Field - 50 to 1
Mike Gravel, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, there is not enough oxygen left for the also-rans to catch a breath. I doubt another candidate will emerge this year.

A Lesson
What happened to the guy-who-would-be-mayor? He was the clear frontrunner, destined to win the election. In the final television debate just days before the election his opponent goaded him into losing his temper on television. It was a fiery show, and a frightening one. There wasn't enough time to repair his shattered image and he lost the election. There is a lesson in this, Hillary, if you want to hear it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Handicapping the Presidential Race - Republicans

I wasn't going to bother looking at the Presidential races again until June, a year before the California primary. Well, the Cal primary is being moved to February and the entire process is accelerating, which is making tradition tactics obsolete.

Traditional tactics for the early primary season was to create a mobile campaign headquarters around the candidate supplemented by volunteers in the early voting states. The emphasis was on "retail" politics - townhall meetings in Iowa and coffee klatches in New Hampshire. Politicking was personal and fairly inexpensive in the winter. Candidates had the ability to hone their messages and conserve their cash for the long spring campaign season. Someone with a strong message and a weak wallet had a chance to make an early impact.

No more. With so many primaries front-loaded into the winter, including the monstrosity that is California, retail politics is meaningless. The successful candidate will need a boatload of money early. There is not enough time to translate a strong showing in New Hampshire into the donations needed to compete in the Golden State. In a way, this is a return to the smoked-filled room nomination school. The money people will be deciding the nominees in 2008. The presidential primaries are interesting theater; they are no longer important.

The President Race - Republicans
As I did in December, I'll be offering my odds and, for comparison, in red the odds calculated by the Intrade Trading Exchange.

Front Runners
Mitt Romney (former gov-MA) -
3 to 1 (6 to 1)
Has a lot of weaknesses, principally his tendency to flip-flop on social issues like abortion. Gets only 5% in a recent Gallup poll. For a lot of Republicans in the south, the thought of voting for anyone from Massachusetts is sickening. To a lot of fundamentalist Christians, Mormons are only a little better than Scientologists. But, he is gathering an impressive list of Republican power brokers (including the recent defection of Jeb Bush from the McCain camp) and, compared to the other front runners, has the least defects.

Rudy Guilianitm (former mayor of New York) - 4 to 1 (5 to 1)
I still don't see what conservatives see in him, but he is still in front in the polls (40% in Gallup), apparently entirely because he was mayor when the Twin Towers were hit. His political experience is thin (six years mayor, nothing higher, out of office since 2001). His personality is abrasive, the aura of corruption is thick around him, his sexual exploits would even maked Democrats blush. If this were a normal election cycle, he would never survive the scrutiny of the primaries. But, this is a power broker nomination, they will stick pearls on that pig and make it fly.

St. John McCain (Sen-AZ) - 10 to 1 (4 to 1)
Worshiped by the media, whoring himself to Jerry Falwell, sucking at the fund raising tit he used to condemn, trying to be everywhere and nowhere on Iraq. The brave Navy pilot who was tortured during the Vietnam War is now such a coward he is afraid to vote on Iraq. I recently saw a YouTube clip that compared McCain's positions. What struck me about it was how much he has aged since 2000. The firm speaking voice is gone. He has become an old man. He will never again rise above the 24% he is polling now.

Favorite Sons

Newt Gingrich (former congressman-GA) - 20 to 1 (20 to 1)
With front runners like these, the grassroots conservatives are looking anywhere else. Eight years out of office with few fatcat supporters, he hasn't a snowball's chance. But, he is polling 9% and in a normal year could have been a message sender, like Pat Buchanan in 1992.

Sam Brownback (Sen-KS) - 50 to 1 (30 to 1)
Favorite Son of the creationists and anti-abortionists, he has hurt himself by not being sufficiently gung-ho on the war. Polls 3%.

Duncan Hunter (congressman-CA) - 1000 to 1 (200 to 1)
The Mexicans-are-a-blight-upon-creation candidate. The strongest voice for erecting an Iron Curtain around the country.

Chuck Hagel (Sen-NB) - 1 google to 1 (25 to 1)
If the anti-war candidate wins the Republican nomination for President I will eat my own foot. The whole thing, bone and all.

The Field (11 to 1)
Mike Huckabee is doing so bad he can't even get people to laugh at him. Tom Tancredo is the dumb guy version of Duncan Hunter. Who is Jim Gilmore, anyway, wasn't he some character in an Adam Sandler movie? I never heard of him but he's polling 2%. No hope for any of these guys but there is still a little time for some cockroach to crawl out from under the baseboard and catch the imagination of the Republican electorate. As they have proven many times in the past, there is no one too dumb or too insane to get the Republican nomination for President.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Dog Days of Politics

February is a lousy time for a political junkie. The heady celebration of November victory has worn off. Republicans haven't stopped crying in their amaretto. They are getting pitiful. Even the most thoughtful of them are stuck trying to explain how poll leader Rudy Giulianitm really, truly, honestly, is just a whiz-bang conservative despite his pro-abortion, anti-gun, sexual adventures, and used-to-live-with-a-gay-couple history and, despite having a shorter resume than any President since Woodrow Wilson, how he'd make a peachy Leader of the Free World.

Bush is limping around like a one-legged mallard but Congress hasn't quite figured out how to get more than a condescending smirk from him. Congress won't catch their stride until May. Bush's stride is shorter than an inch-worm and getting smaller. When he rattles his saber at Iran it looks like a toothpick mostly because he has to tag every belligerent comment with a pledge not to do anything military against them.

The 2008 Presidential campaign is going to heat up about six months ahead of schedule but it is still too early to get interested. We are in that phase when we are still questioning if Barack Obama is too black (or not black enough), Hillary Clinton is too butch (or too female), and John McCain is too senile (or, naw, he is too senile).

Trying to write about politics just now is like trying to eat three-week old oatmeal. It's possible, but on the whole I'd rather be eating a bacon cheeseburger and listen to my arteries harden.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Nobody Knows Crime Like the FBI

For most businesses, losing 3 to 4 computers per month, mostly to theft, would be considers a crime wave. Say a company like Mattel was losing $10,000 worth of computer equipment each and every month. Outside investigators would be brought in, new security procedures would be instituted, and several mid-managers would get the axe.

The FBI, with 30,000 employees, is the same size as Mattel. For the FBI it's business as usual. In fact, they are really happy they got it down this low. They don't know where the computers are going. They don't know what was on them. They don't even know if classified information has been compromised. All they know is that five years ago they were losing 10 to 11 computers a month. Things are getting a lot better. They're losing scores of weapons, too.

Makes me wonder which side of organized crime the FBI is on.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

10 Reason I Don't Watch TV News

There are reasons I hardly ever bother to watch television news.

Five ubiquitous stories that I don't give a rat's ass about
  1. Anna Nicole Smith - her life, death, or boob size ~ When the History of Golddiggers is written, Smith may merit a chapter; in the history of the country she is not even a pimple.
  2. Astronaut diapers ~ I don't need to know that astronauts wear diapers in space or on cross-country drives to attack rivals. My life was complete without ever knowing this.
  3. Modes of transit used by people in the chain of Presidential succession (Pelosi, Cheney, Robert Byrd, Condi Rice) ~ People in line for the presidency have a right and a responsibility to travel securely; I don't care how.
  4. The melanin content of Barack Obama's skin ~ There is huge media noise this weekend on the question whether Obama is "black enough." Posh and nonsense. I may be old-fashioned, but I judge a man by the quality of his character, not the color of his skin.
  5. Harvard's new president ~ The president of Harvard is responsible for signing checks and not saying or doing anything seriously outrageous. Harvard professors and students accomplish things, Harvard presidents don't.
Five important things that bore newsroom editors
  1. The build-up to war with Iran ~ Administration officials are openingly rattling the saber towards Persia while claiming they have absolutely no plans to attack. The truth is that, when the Surge fails, the Administration wants to be able to blame Iran for US failures in Iraq. Whether they will use this as an excuse to attack Iran or just for making political noise against Democratic peaceniks will depend on how insane Bush is in May.
  2. The Presidential nomination races are national now ~ The media is still pretending that the state-by-state primaries next year will be important. The truth is that there is not enough time between the early primaries for old presidential campaign tactics to work. To win the nominations candidates will need to have national campaigns in place before New Hampshire votes. The nominations will be decided before the first primary votes are cast.
  3. Nepotism is rampant in Washington ~ Did you know that the Senate Minority Leader is married to the Secretary of Labor? Did you know that when Colin Powell was Secretary of State, his son was chairman of the FCC? Did you know that the son of Senator Strom Thurmond was appointed U.S. Attorney to South Carolina at the tender age of 28, just two years after graduating law school? How about the fact that both Dick Cheney's daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband have held high level Administration posts they were not qualified for?
  4. As practiced by Bush, "signing statements" have been used to ignore hundreds of laws.
  5. The "Land of the Free" has the highest percentage of its citizens in prison of any country on Earth. ~ Two million Americans are prisoners in this country. Twenty-two percent of all prisoners everywhere in the world are held in United States prisons. By raw numbers, there are more people in American prisons than Chinese prisons (1.5 million). By percentages, the United States has five times more of its citizens in prison than the United Kingdom and ten times more than Finland.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Landscaping Indulgence

For a long time I've wanted to create a yoga meditation garden with a California mountain motif, including a flowing stream, on 500 square feet of my backyard. I've held back from a ingrained miserly streak, a pathological inclination to not spend money. I finally did it and I love it. The plants are young; it will take a season or two for them to grow and embrace the water. It is already attracting birds, especially goldfinches and hummingbirds. It is a peaceful place to meditate, or eat an apple. As the weather warms it will be a fine location for my yoga practice.

As a conservationist I can see my hypocrisy. The stream is recirculating and the landscaping is mostly drought tolerant, so the total water use is less than the lawn that was previously there. But, the stream requires a pump which consumes energy and there is nothing I can do about that. It is my indulgence, my sin. I hope that the good karma of creating a pleasant environment for the birds of my neighborhood will outweigh the bad karma of the waste.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's Sinister, Man, Crazy Sinister

I've been called insane by better people than Joan Swirsky. Dr. Stanley Coren, author of a best-selling series of books on dogs, wrote in the book The Left-Hander Syndrome that half of all left-handers are pathologically left-handed. He believes everyone is right-handed and we left-handers are just mistakes of gestation.

Joan Swirsky is a nurse and the author of books like Instant Beauty ~ Getting Gorgeous on Your Lunchtime Break. She writes in an article that being a political lefty, a liberal, is a psychological disorder akin to autism. We are children, to her, whiny children. We are brats who don't respect and love our father. To Joan, the Father Figure is George Bush. Hillary Clinton is a "jealous tomboy," Nancy Pelosi a "spoiled princess." She believe that only an ungrateful child would be upset at the pretty little war that Daddy George has given us.

Well, two can play at this game.
What does one call people with a child-like fear of the "Boogeyman?" The Boogeyman is the evilest evil they can imagine. Their only desire is for some strong parent-figure to promise to protect them from this terrifying terror. Their fear is so pervasive they will accept any silly notion (like removing your shoes to get on an airplane) to make them feel safer from the Boogeyman. They think the Boogeyman is everywhere, savagely wanting only to kill them. Their every waking moment is warped by fear of the Boogeyman.

What are they called? That's right, Conservatives.
Art is All Children Are Insane by MoodSwing08

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Global Warming Parable

A woman goes to see her doctor. "Doc, I'm bleeding," she says pulling up her blouse to reveal blood pouring out of a hole in her stomach.

The doctor looks closely at the wound, poking an ungloved finger in it. "Could be blood," he says. "Could be tomato soup. We'll need to run tests. Exactly, why is this happening?"

"I don't know," says the woman. "You see, I was mugged and knocked unconcious in an alley by this guy covered in oil. When I woke up, I was bleeding."

"We still haven't determined that is blood," the doctor says dispassionately. "So you have no idea precisely why this is happening."

Maybe, a gun shot?" the woman ventures.

Maybe, maybe not. Doctors don't work in 'maybes.'"

"Isn't there something you can do, like, say, a blood transfusion, until we know exactly why it's happening?" The woman staggers and almost faints across the examining table.

"Don't be absurd. What if that is the wrong thing? What if we transfuse too much blood or too little? You wouldn't want that, would you? It is better to do nothing than to do the wrong thing." The doctor tastes the woman's blood. "Could be liquified beets," he muses.

The woman starts to cry.

"There is no need to get hysterical," the doctor says. "Did you consider for a moment that this might be perfectly natural?"


"It could be your period."

"That's not my vagina," the woman shouts.

"Well, now you're just jumping to conclusions."

"Doc, just put a bandage on it."

"Bandages are expensive. Do you know how many bandages it would take to cover this. I can't justify the expense on something that may be a fine claret." The doctor pokes at the hole again. "Have you tried praying?"

"Doc..." the woman pleads.

"Have you noticed you are losing weight?"


"This is really a good thing that is happening," the doctor says. "I think we are curing your obesity problem." The doctor takes her by the arm and helps her stagger out of the examining room. "What I want you to do is go home and think about this. When you can tell me exactly why this is happening and exactly why this is a bad thing, come on back. We'll sit down and have a nice long chat about it."

"Doc, I'm dying! I'm bleeding to death!"

"There you go getting hysterical again. Where do you get off just assuming that is blood? Besides, are you still alive?" the doctor asks.

"Ah, yes."

"See, that's proof you are not dying. Here is a prescription for Valium. Take," the doctor thinks for a moment, "as much as you need."

"Nurse," the doctor says, "don't bill Miss Gaia, she is going to pay in cash. Also, get someone in here with a mop, there's strawberry syrup all over the floor."

Monday, February 05, 2007

'Show Me Your Papers'

Several states are rebelling against the Federal Government's requirement that all Americans carry an internal passport, called Real ID.

The Real ID law was passed by the Republican Congress in 2005 (James Sensenbrenner author). It requires the states to issue uniform identity cards (aka drivers licenses) by 2008. It would be illegal to travel by airplane, open a bank account, or enter a federal building without your papers. Every time the card is scanned the information will be entered into a Department of Homeland Security database, allowing the Federal Government to track the detailed activities of every American.

Led by Maine, several states across the political spectrum (Georgia and Utah on the right, Massachusetts and Hawaii on the left) have active pending legislation that will prevent their states from participating in the Real ID program. It is likely that Senators John Sununu (R-NH) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI) will reintroduce legislation to repeal the Real ID law. If the law is not repealed, it is possible that, by election season next year, it will be illegal for much of the country to board an airplane. Futher reading.

Photo is of a Nazi officer examining "the papers" of Jews in Krakow in 1941, or of a future street corner in downtown LA.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Worse Than Hell

A Writer's Quandary
I've been trying to think of a word that means "worse than Hell" to use to describe post-invasion Iraq. I Googled the phrase to see what I'd find. According to the rest of the world, what is Worse Than Hell is:
I think it's clear that Hell isn't even in the same league with Iraq. Iraq makes Hell look like a vacation spa. Even Worse Than Hell is a piker. I doubt there isn't a single Iraqi who wouldn't gladly trade their daily lives for any of the Worse Than Hell experiences that plague Americans.

I am no closer finding a way to describe Iraq, post-US invasion, but Worse Than Hell ain't even close.

The Evolution of the War Since Bush's Speech

Since Bush's "Surge" speech there has been three major changes in the Iraq War.
  1. The civilian population has been dying at a massively accelerated rate. It used to be that civilians died in small groups, five or ten at a time was a lot. Now, single attacks are killing scores at a time. The latest Baghdad attack has killed over 120. People are dying in huge clusters now.
  2. The insurgents have begun to successfully attack helicopters, four choppers down in the past two weeks. Routinely, high ranking officers have traveled by air to avoid the roadside bombs. Just this year, at least two colonels, two majors, two captains, one lieutenant colonel, and four senior non-coms have been killed in attacks on helicopters. That is a significant number of senior officers that the insurgents have taken out. The helicopter attacks are succeeding in killing high value targets.
  3. The Pentagon has reduced the number of servicemembers wounded in Iraq by the simple expediancy of changing the definition of "wounded." It could be an attempt to make the war look less disastrous, or it could be they are simply running out of Purple Heart medals.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Support the Troops, Just Don't Help Them

From Bob Geiger is a sickening story of neglect of an American serviceman. A young Marine, Jonathan Schulze, returns from the horrors of Iraq with Post Tramatic Stress Disorder. He is feeling suicidal. After a year of suffering, with the support of his family, Jonathan goes to the Veterans Administration for help in December, 2006. He sees a VA psychiatrist who tells him they won't be able to help him until March.

A month later, Jonathan's parents bring him to the VA hospital in St. Cloud, Minnesota because he is considering killing himself. The VA hospital turns him away. The next day, Jonathan calls the VA, still suicidal, and they assure him he is only 26th on the waiting list.

Four days later, on January 16, 2007, Jonathan Schulze calls his parents and tells them he has decided to end it. They call the police who rush to Jonathan's home, break in the door, and find the young Marine has hanged himself. I have nothing to add except that, in a just world, the heads of the Veterans Administration should face charges of negligent homicide.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune article.