Monday, July 30, 2007


Prologue to a road something

We're off to go over to Grant's Pass and visit my son's mom and her partner for a couple of days.

Details at eleven.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Stewart Saves His Fam—er, soul...

Time to shift gears. The anonymous poster who's convinced Hindus are jihadists (I think) and is very concerned about what goes where when it comes to sex posted again. I baited him(her?) in reply. Taunted him(her).

Nah, that's no good. When people are burning with anger, dumping fuel on them is not a good thing to do. Bad karma. The poster has a lot of rage and needs...well, the opposite of disturbing the comfortable is comforting the disturbed. So, look, sorry I teased you. Life's rough enough without a lot of cross-tormenting.

Good luck.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Hindu jihadists, sacred hambuger, and huh?

A dozen or so posts back, I mentioned a truly fatuous story, about some "sacred" bull in an English hindu monastery. The bull has tuberculosis, so sacred or not, it's going to be killed.

Someone just posted a comment over that news item about fucking jihadists and suicide bombers and hamburger—nicely incoherent phrasing in the post. I think, repeat think, the poster believed the Hindus and jihadists were on the same track. Wow: if that's right, that's really an ignorant comment. Could it have been Billo? Rush? Tom Tancredo? One of the Minuteman gang?

Let us know, anonymous poster, let us know who you really are!


Hillary dillary dock

I try not to say much about Hillary Clinton—or Bill, for that matter. They're both classic late-20 Century Democrats. They’re somewhat-left-wing social democrat. Nothing radical, nothing really unusual. Where the far right gets the impression they are socialists or even farther left is beyond me: the reasons are matters for students of abnormal psychology, or maybe for neuro-biologists.

The Democratic Party (remember their logo is an ass) loves her: she’s a woman, competitive, smart, a lawyer, and is pleasant enough in appearance. And she likes things just the way they are, except she wants to be the president. She voted for the war and supported it. In a recent debate she said she would not, repeat not, go out on a limb and actually meet with various national leaders the US doesn’t like. She’d leave that to the diplomatic service. Right: all the little Kissinger-ians, the diplomats who still believe the Treaty of Vienna was a good deal.

Would she be better than Bush? Sure—but so would Baba Wawa. Lassie would be better than Bush. Hillary Clinton’s world is not the world of the average citizen—you think she eats macaroni and cheese, has to deal with crooked car mechanics, shop for groceries during the evening rush hour? Not a chance. Probably the only candidate who actually knows what those scenes are like is Kucinich. Edwards might have a clue. Obama might hear about it from his outreach workers, sort of. Can you imagine sitting down in a booth at Denny’s and having Hillary Clinton actually listen to you? Or Biden?

(For that matter, can you imagine having Giulianni or Fred Thompson or Dick Cheney actually listen to you? Let alone Tom DeLay or Newt Gingrich.)

The phrase that was running through my head before I started this little rap was the definition of insanity I first heard in AA meetings: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different outcome.

Right now, the “same thing” we do over and over is vote for self-serving egotistical freaks—and we hope, once we elect people, they’ll actually behave in a way that benefits us and our country.


Controler's 'r' U.S.

John A., over at America Blog, has a quick bite at “our” government’s on-going and pathological quest for knowning everything about everybody—expecially, though, everyone’s sexuality and religion.

It's "pathological," I say, because it's about control. The people in power want total control over people. It's sick.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

US demands, Europe agrees to provide, info on whether foreign travelers to US are gay, union members, religious beliefs
by John Aravosis (DC) · 7/28/2007 10:23:00 AM ET

And what the hell business is it of the US government whether a foreign visitor is gay, let alone all the other new information they're demanding? And worse, how is this not a violation of EU privacy laws - how in the world did the European governments approve of this?

From the Washington Post:

The United States and the European Union have agreed to expand a security program that shares personal data about millions of U.S.-bound airline passengers a year, potentially including information about a person's race, ethnicity, religion and health.

Under the agreement, airlines flying from Europe to the United States are required to provide data related to these matters to U.S. authorities if it exists in their reservation systems. The deal allows Washington to retain and use it only "where the life of a data subject or of others could be imperiled or seriously impaired," such as in a counterterrorism investigation.

According to the deal, the information that can be used in such exceptional circumstances includes "racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership" and data about an individual's health, traveling partners and sexual orientation.

And what a surprise, the US is saying that if we only had this kind of information before September 11, we could have prevented the attacks.

If available at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Chertoff said, such information would have, "within a matter of moments, helped to identify many of the 19 hijackers by linking their methods of payment, phone numbers and seat assignments."

Uh huh. Had we only known which way Mohammad Atta swung in bed, maybe then George Bush wouldn't have gone on vacation for an entire month after having read a memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." And in any case, notice how nothing Chertoff is saying has anything to do with your sexual orientation, philosophical beliefs, union status or anything else that is ACTUALLY on the list of info they're requesting.

There is nothing our government won't do, no rights they won't violate. But for Europe to agree to this mess, this incredible violation. It's time for you Europeans to have a little chat with your own governments.

Oh, and let me just say that had we a Congress that actually cared about privacy, perhaps we could have avoided this mess. Just saying.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Letter from me to thee

Sweet Jesus:
People have just discovered that pro football players are not necessarily angels. That professional athletes can be assholes is about as profound an insight as learning that not all soldiers are John Wayne clones or very few politicians are like Jimmy Stewart. Wow, the sun comes up in the East! is about as profound.

I guess that's because most people seldom notice anything except themselves, one way or the other. The smart ones notice their own processes, but not much else; the dumb ones worry about how they look to others. Once in a while they can notice their families or lovers, but none of that is as facinating as themselves! Hey, we revel in that. Self-awareness, right? Somehow I think self-absorbtion is NOT what Socrates had in mind when he said "Know thyself."

Warm days here in central Oregon. Nights are warm, too, but down in the 50s; still pretty good for sleeping. Great weather.


Anti-war tea parties as terrorist activities? Coming soon to a nation near us....

If you make a list of the countries, U.S. allies, where repressive techniques were first tried out, and then later used in our country, it would be a long one. South Africa in the old days, Chile, Nicaragua, Salvador, Israel, Viet Nam, and now the country we consider the cradle of our civil liberties, Great Britain. Imagine, being hassled because of your t-shirt, and because of an utterly vague defiinition of “terrorism.”

Are we the greatest country in the world or what?

The answer is “What.”

Anti-war tea parties?

Another draconian attempt to curb Britain's civil liberties
By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent
Published: 27 July 2007

The attempt to prevent demonstrators from reaching Heathrow airport is the latest in a long line of erosion of civil liberties which started during Tony Blair's reign. ***

Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act, which gives police the power to stop and search anyone in an area considered a likely terrorist target. It was used most notoriously to hold Walter Wolfgang, the veteran peace activist who heckled Jack Straw, when he was Foreign Secretary, at the 2005 Labour conference.

In the same year, John Catt, 81, was detained as he walked towards the seafront for an anti war demonstration near the conference hall in Brighton.

He fell foul of the police after he was spotted wearing a T-shirt accusing Tony Blair and George Bush of war crimes. The police record said the "purpose" of the stop and search was "terrorism".


It has also been used against Maya Evans, a chef who stood on the Cenotaph in Whitehall and read out a list of soldiers killed in Iraq and against Mark Barrett, a tour guide who staged an anti-war tea party opposite the House of Commons.


the argument for free public transit

Buses. Transit. Free. What a concept. My thanks to both Alternet and The Tyee for a good essay that needs to be transited to every town and city.

Fare-Free Public Transit Could Be Headed to a City Near You
By Dave Olsen, The Tyee
Posted on July 26, 2007, Printed on July 26, 2007

The time has come to stop making people pay to take public transit.

Why do we have any barriers to using buses and urban trains? The threat of global warming is no longer in doubt. The hue and cry of the traffic-jammed driver grows louder every commute. And politicians are getting the message. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has ordered his staff to seriously examine the costs of charging people to ride public transit. And Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, recently voiced to a reporter his top dream: "I would have mass transit be given away for nothing and charge an awful lot for bringing an automobile into the city."

Consider this sampling of communities providing free rides on trolleys, buses, trams and ferries: Staten Island, N.Y.; Island County, Wash.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Vail, Colo.; Logan and Cache Valley, Utah; Clemson, S.C.; Commerce, Calif.; Châteauroux, Vitré, and Compiègne, France; Hasselt, Belgium; Lubben, Germany; Mariehamn, Finland; Nova Gorica, Slovenia; Türi, Estonia; and Övertorneå, Sweden.

Or speak, as I have, with transit officials in parts of Belgium and the state of Washington, where fare-free transit has hummed along smoothly now for years.

Raising fares kills ridership

As even conservatives like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger trumpet a green agenda, more people are taking a hard look at just how many of their tax dollars subsidize the private car versus less polluting buses and trains. You have to figure in roads, parking and other infrastructure, tax breaks for car and fuel companies, as well as subsidies for car-carrying ferries and federal income tax reductions and write-offs for companies that use motor vehicles.

By some estimates, the government subsidy to each private vehicle owner is about $3,700, while a common cost for providing a single trip by transit is about $5.

Yet big or small, most transit systems are scraping by or on the brink of financial collapse, paradoxically because of their reliance on the farebox. Revenue for any system drops when ridership dips or when fares are increased. Yes, when fares are increased. This is so well proven it has a name: the Simpson-Curtain rule. Most often the dip in ridership is caused by a fare hike.

To understand this cycle better, let's imagine that you are in charge of a transit system. You feel pressure to increase service or to maintain service despite increasing costs. You need to raise more money. Politically and practically, for most systems, the easiest way is to raise fares. But soon after, ridership goes down. It drops 3.8 percent for every 10 percent increase in fares, researchers have found. Which means you either haven't gained much new revenue, or worse, you've started spiraling downward.

Just one example is Toronto's transit system, which went into a 12-year downward spiral throughout the 1990s after a series of fare increases and resultant service cutbacks. The authoritative Transit Cooperative Research Program in Washington, D.C., has clearly documented how fare increases always result in lower ridership.

Fare-free success stories

Recently I met the people who run Island Transit in Whidbey Island, Wash., and rode their fare-free bus system. It's a serious operation with 56 buses and 101 vans. Ridership tops a million a year. Its operating budget is $8,392,677 -- none of it from fares, all from a 0.6 percent sales tax collected in Island County.

Despite the pressure to conform, the pressure to make users pay and the pressure from conservative politicians at all levels, Island Transit has been fare-free from day one and is proudly so 20 years later. Not one Island Transit bus, shelter or van has advertising on it. All of Island Transit's buses are bike rack equipped and wheelchair accessible. For folks with disabilities, Island Transit also offers a paratransit service with door-to-door service.

Island Transit has developed a simple policy around dealing with behavior that is unruly or disturbing to others: "The operator is the captain of their own ship." This is backed up by a state law regarding unlawful bus conduct. A bothersome rider first gets a written warning. The next time, his or her riding privileges are revoked. These privileges are only restored after completing a Rider Privilege Agreement. Island Transit has further protected its employees by installing a camera system in every vehicle. The big brotherness of it is acknowledged, but the safety of their operators simply takes priority. "Show me another transit system in Washington state," said Island Transit operator Odis D. Jenkins, "where the teenagers more often than not say 'thank you' when they get off."

Done right, fare-free transit can transform society, says Patrick Condon, an expert on sustainable urban development who knows the system in Amherst, Mass. "Free transit changed the region for the better. Students, teens and the elderly were able to move much more freely through the region. Some ascribed the resurgence of Northampton, Mass, at least in part, to the availability of free transit. Fares in that region would have provided such a small percentage of capital and operating costs that their loss was made up for by contributions by the major institutions to benefit: the five colleges in the region," says Condon, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

Another success story, a decade old, can be found in Hasselt, Belgium. This city of 70,000 residents, with 300,000 commuters from the surrounding area, has made traveling by bus easy, affordable and efficient. Now, people in Hasselt often speak of "their" bus system and with good reason. The Boulevard Shuttle leaves you waiting for at most five minutes, the Central Shuttle has a 10-minute frequency, and systemwide you never have to wait more than a half an hour.

A prime lesson offered by Hasselt is the fact that it radically improved the bus system as well as its walking and cycling infrastructure before it removed the fareboxes. In 1996, there were only three bus routes with about 18,000 service hours/year. Today, there are 11 routes with more than 95,000 service hours/year.

The transit system in Hasselt cost taxpayers approximately $1.8 million in 2006. This amounts to 1 percent of its municipal budget and makes up about 26 percent of the total operating cost of the transit system. The Flemish national government covered the rest (approximately $5.25 million) under a long-term agreement.

Hasselt City Council's principal aim in introducing free public transport was to promote the new bus system to such a degree that it would catch on and become the natural option for getting around. And it did -- immediately. On the first day, bus ridership increased 783 percent! The first full year of free-fare transit saw an increase of 900 percent over the previous year; by 2001, the increase was up to 1,223 percent, and ridership continues to go up every day.

Planning essential

So how did Hasselt make it happen?

On Jan. 1, 1991, the Flemish Authority brought together three public transport companies and joined them into one autonomously operating state company. This company's raison d'etre is to provide transport for the whole of Flanders. That was the beginning of the Flemish Transport Co., since then generally known under the name "De Lijn." This structure allows it to buy buses more cheaply, and it can even share buses among the different city and regional systems whenever they're needed.

"To be successful," says Jean Vandeputte, the chief engineer-director for the City of Hasselt, "I think that the public transport system must not be crowded at the start. Our project was originally organized to attract more passengers and to have less cars in the city center. The buses also need separate lanes, because traveling by bus has to be faster than by car, so the infrastructure of intersections and streets has to be adapted. The buses have to be modern, clean ... you need to have more bus stops. And the shelters must be attractive."

By making public transport free of charge, it became possible to guarantee the right to mobility for all residents in Hasselt. Their position was that an improved public transport system simply means a better use of the public space that will not only improve the quality of traffic, but the quality of life in general.

The Hasselt experience before 1997 was not much different than anywhere else in the Western world. Car ownership in Hasselt rose by 25 percent from 1987 to 1999, while the population increased by only 3.3 percent during this same period. Although Hasselt is the fourth largest city in Belgium, it ranked first in car ownership during those years.

After implementing fare-free transit, over 40 percent of the people visiting hospitals switched from a car to the bus. Over 32 percent of the people "going to market" switched from using cars to buses. Overall, in November 1997, 16 percent of all bus riders studied previously drove a car. It is important to understand that this was achieved by the elimination of fares, the expansion of service and the implementation of bus priority measures such as bus lanes.

Karl Storchmann, a researcher at Yale University, has documented that even the 12 percent of bus riders that were previously cyclists, as well as the 9 percent that switched from walking to the bus in Hasselt, will produce a net positive change for society, since pedestrians and cyclists "belong to the most endangered road users, [and] every decrease in these modes will lead to a reduction of automobile-caused costs [i.e., deaths and injuries]."

Because Hasselt's policy makers understand that bikes are the most sustainable form of transport, today in Hasselt one can borrow a bicycle, tandem, scooter or wheelchair bike free of charge. On the Groenplein (behind the town hall) you can also borrow a stroller free of charge for your little one (as its website states, "Handy when your toddler can't make the distance"). And two wheelchairs are available for free loan from the tourism bureau. The city's center is cleared of cars, offering instead a network of pedestrian shopping streets."

This approach has saved the City of Hasselt millions of Euros on transportation infrastructure costs, and clearly the city isn't afraid to innovate. As Hasselt Mayor Steve Stevaert declared, "We don't need any more new roads, but new thought highways!"

The costs of collecting fares

A prime reason to quit charging people to take the bus is that collecting bus fares costs a lot of money. It takes both machines and people to sell, make and distribute tickets and collect, count and deposit cash.

King County's Metro Transit System, which includes the city of Seattle and an estimated population of just under 2 million, concludes, after a comprehensive assessment, that the cost of collecting fares will hit about $8 million this year -- enough to buy 18 new buses.

A major analysis of U.S. public transit systems found that for larger systems, fare collection costs can be as high as 22 percent of the revenue collected. Another study showed that New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority spends roughly $200 million a year just to collect money from transit riders. What about switching to "smart card" technology? Wouldn't that save money? In Toronto, the city's Transit Commission estimates the switch will cost almost $250 million (or about 520 new buses) for card readers, vending machines and retrofits, and over $10 million a year (22 new buses) after that, which has some transit authorities saying the money could be better used in improving service.

For similar reasons, some cities have decided it just doesn't pay to police people who don't pay fares. In 1996, the Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MTA) wanted to figure out how to stop those few riders that cheat; its Central Light Rail Line was "barrier free." MTA wanted to know whether it should start using barriers in order to force people to pay their fares.

The study found that more people would pay, yes, but the cost of making them pay would be higher than the revenue from extra fares collected. Much higher. The least expensive alternative would cost the MTA $18.54 for each potential fare dollar recovered over a 10-year period. In other words, if $1 million is currently lost to fare evasion, it would cost at least $18.5 million to collect that money.

Spread the burden and benefit

All of which brings us back to the logic of fare-free transit.

Whidbey Island's transit planners did their own studies two decades ago. In 1986 they did an extensive cost-benefit analysis of collecting fares and found that either no significant revenue would be generated for Island Transit, or that the costs of collecting fares would exceed the revenue generated.

Other systems that didn't plan well have had near disastrous experiences, in particular Austin, Texas. As one study from Florida State University concludes, "There has not been a full fare-free policy instituted on a systemwide basis since the experiment in Austin. The negative consequences of these experiments, the Austin experiment in particular, have left lasting impressions on transit operators throughout the country."

But a lot of opposition to the idea is grounded less in practicalities, more in ideology.

It's a matter of faith among most transit officials, for example, that if you remove the fare, the service becomes worthless.

"Be aware that when one moves the price of something to zero, in addition to challenging capacity, one is stating that the product or service is not an economic good -- that is, that it has no value," warned one transit official. "Pricing signals value. I would suggest you keep it nonzero."

Perhaps North America's transit planners need to switch jobs with builders of roads and bridges. Those transportation essentials are, after all, usually paid for through taxes or bonds, and we use them without being charged each time we roll over them.

Imagine if a government tried to put a farebox into every car. Each time drivers took a trip, they would have to dig into their pockets to find a couple dollars -- in exact change.

And yet, we force the poorest among us to live this way. In British Columbia's Lower Mainland, one of the most expensive places to live in North America, a family traveled from a suburb to Vancouver by public transit during spring break. It cost the mother and her three sons $26 in day passes.

For those without well-paying jobs, a bus fare of any amount can be a barrier to finding work, making it to school, visiting friends and relatives or even getting food to eat.

Wouldn't it make more sense to treat public transit the way we treat most road infrastructure and pay for it all by some method of taxation?

Reality check

But before we act, let's make a few important guiding principles clear:

Taking the farebox out of any bus without a plan is just a recipe for disaster. That's the lesson from Island Transit on Whidbey Island and Hasselt, Belgium, which proves beyond doubt that fare-free systems can be safe, clean and very friendly.

Making transit free of charge won't in itself allow huge numbers of people to abandon their cars. We'll need more public transit vehicles, running more frequently, too. The decade-old experience in Hasselt has shown that investing in the service prior to the removal of the fareboxes not only makes the transition smoother, it will get people on the bus and out of their cars.

We need to pay, one way or another. There isn't a transit system on the planet that pays for itself solely through the farebox. If we want a transit system that is adequate, reliable and gets those lonely drivers out of their cars, we need to find funding formulas that are adequate and reliable.

Let us remind ourselves of what really matters. We don't have much time left to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions before catastrophic climatic changes irreversibly occur. It seems absurd, therefore, to continue to make it more difficult than it already is for people to use the bus and train.

Fare-free transit is not only feasible, it may well be critical for us to survive as a species. It can save us money, and it contributes to a much more fair, equitable and mobile society.

The only thing left to do is to let your transit providers and elected officials know how you feel. Speak up now -- for our children and for our planet.

Sixteen reasons to stop charging

Consider the many benefits:

1. A barrier-free transportation option to every member of the community (no more worries about exact change, expiring transfers or embarrassment about how to pay)

2. Eliminating a "toll" from a mode of transportation that we as a society want to be used (transit is often the only way of getting around that charges a toll)

3. Reducing the inequity between the subsidies given to private motorized vehicle users and public transport users

4. Reducing the need for private motorized vehicle parking

5. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, other air pollutants, noise pollution (especially with electric trolleys), and runoff of toxic chemicals into fresh water supplies and ocean environments

6. Reducing overall consumption of oil and gasoline

7. Eliminating the perceived need to spend billions on roads and highways

8. Contributing significantly to the local economy by keeping our money in our communities

9. Reducing litter (in some cities transfers and tickets have overtaken fast food packaging as the most common form of street garbage)

10. Saving trees by eliminating the need to print transfers and tickets

11. Allowing all bus doors to be used to load passengers, making service faster and more efficient

12. Allowing operators (drivers) to focus on driving safely

13. Giving operators more time to answer questions

14. Providing operators a safer work environment since fare disputes are eliminated

15. Eliminating fare evasion and the criminalization of transit-using citizens

16. Fostering more public pride in shared, community resources

Bear in mind that free public transit eliminates the significant costs of fare collection and combating fare evasion. It also cuts costs associated with global warming, air and noise pollution, litter collection and garbage removal.

Dave Olsen is a bicycle and public transit consultant, researcher and advocate who lives in Vancouver. You can reach him via

This article is adapted from a five-part series published by The Tyee, Canada's leading independent source of online news and views. The series was reader-funded through charitable donations to the Tyee Fellowship Fund for Solutions-oriented Reporting.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.


Flag-waving in the good ol' south...

This is pretty much self-explanatory. Even the thuggish guy in fatigues.
Flag-defiling charge ends in fight, arrests
Mike McWilliams
July 26, 2007 12:15 am

A couple who said they were protesting the state of the country by flying the U.S. flag upside down with signs pinned to it found themselves in jail following a scuffle with a deputy Wednesday morning.

Mark and Deborah Kuhn were arrested on two counts of assault on a government employee, resisting arrest and a rarely used charge, desecrating an American flag, all misdemeanors. The Kuhns were released from custody Wednesday afternoon.


Arrest reports show Buncombe County Sheriff’s deputy Brian Scarborough went to the Kuhns’ home on 68 Brevard Road about 8:45 a.m. Wednesday to investigate a complaint of an American flag on display after being desecrated.

State law prohibits anyone from knowingly mutilating, defiling, defacing or trampling the U.S. or North Carolina flags. Lt. Randy Sorrells of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office said the Kuhns desecrated the flag by pinning signs to it, not by flying it upside down.

An upside-down flag typically is flown as a distress signal. The Kuhns said they flew it this way not out of disrespect but to symbolize the state of the country.

Deborah Kuhn said the signs pinned to the flag included an explanation on the meaning of an upside-down flag and asked to “help our country.” One of the signs was a photo of President Bush with “Out Now” written on it, they said.

The couple flew the flag for about a week before Wednesday.

Deborah Kuhn said a man dressed in fatigues came to the door to “harass my husband” about the flag. Someone also took photos of the flag, she said.


Use of this site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.
Copyright 2007 Asheville Citizen-Times. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


" much better all the time..."

With five days to go before the end of July, an Associated Press tally showed that at least 1,759 Iraqis were killed in war-related violence through July 26, a more than 7 percent increase over the 1,640 who were reported killed in all of June.

Look it up for yourself. I feel sick at my stomach.


Small government equals lazy man's government

A comment by a reader of a Harford Courant article about a librarian gagged by the Patriot Act caught my attention.

After the usual right-wing rambles about the Welfare-Warfare State, the poster said the solution was less government. Yeah: the smaller the government the less people will have to be involved, right? "Hey, the government's too big; it would only get bigger if I got involved."

Lazy man’s excuse for sitting back and not doing a damn thing. The story and the post can be found here

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


...the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty.

I’ve mentioned Dave Neiwert’s blog before. Today, he had a post regarding the actual dangers of Bush’s latest assertion (and assumption) of executive power. Looking down through his log, I came across the following quote, about how incremental change happens and there are seldom big, ah-hah power grabs. Spooky.

As Milton Mayer explained in They Thought They Were Free:

"You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have....

"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.


Bringing "honor" back to a whorehouse...oh, excuse me, our government

Six months ago, this would have had me cheering. Now, well, we’ll wait and see what happens. These guys ultimately protect their own, and they aren’t going to do anything that might seriously question the way this country works. At least how the government works—how it sustains itself. Like the Watergate hearings, anything that happens is ultimately going to claim to “restore the honor” of the United States government. Which is like, yeah, restoring the honor of a hooker.

2 Bush Aides to Face Contempt Citations
House Democrats Ready Contempt of Congress Citations Against Two Presidential Aides
The Associated Press

Heading toward a separation-of-powers showdown, House Democrats prepared contempt of Congress citations against two White House aides who have refused to comply with subpoenas for information on the abrupt firings of federal prosecutors.

The White House has said that Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former legal counselor Harriet Miers, among other top advisers to President Bush, are absolutely immune from subpoenas because their documents and testimony are protected by executive privilege.

House Judiciary Committee Democrats, led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., reject that claim and have drafted for a vote Wednesday a resolution citing Miers and Bolten with contempt of Congress, a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to a $100,000 fine and a one-year prison sentence.

The panel's vote is the first step on the road to a possible constitutional showdown in federal court.

If history and self-interest are any guide, the two sides will resolve the dispute before then.***


Spies r'our neighbors? Well, snitches, anyhow...

In Nazi Germany, the domestic security agencies were very small. Almost everything they acted upon came from tips—informers. We know they’re unreliable. But busts look good when the Feebs go for more funding, whether or not the people they bust are actually guilty of anything.

Onward, Christian soldiers, and while you’re at it, better learn German.

The FBI's Domestic Spying
07.25.07 -- 2:01PM
By David Kurtz
Justin Rood reports:

The FBI is taking cues from the CIA to recruit thousands of covert informants in the United States as part of a sprawling effort to boost its intelligence capabilities.

According to a recent unclassified report to Congress, the FBI expects its informants to provide secrets about possible terrorists and foreign spies, although some may also be expected to aid with criminal investigations, in the tradition of law enforcement confidential informants. The FBI did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

The FBI said the push was driven by a 2004 directive from President Bush ordering the bureau to improve its counterterrorism efforts by boosting its human intelligence capabilities.

The aggressive push for more secret informants appears to be part of a new effort to grow its intelligence and counterterrorism efforts. Other recent proposals include expanding its collection and analysis of data on U.S. persons, retaining years' worth of Americans' phone records and even increasing so-called "black bag" secret entry operations.

Just the sort of thing you would want Alberto Gonzales ultimately in charge of.


Shambo the bull

When you’re back is to the wall—or the cliff—you might as well... I believe this is all about b.s.—sacred b.s., perhaps...but b.s. nonetheless. Whatever.

U.K. appeals court sets bull's-eye on sick but 'sacred' bovine
Hindu monastery in Wales devastated by court's reversal

Last Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 | 9:56 AM ET

The Associated Press

The decision to slaughter a bull revered as sacred by his Hindu caretakers is justified, a British court ruled Monday, overturning a decision by a lower court last week.

The ruling could spell the end for Shambo, a six-year-old Friesian bull, whose life has been in jeopardy since he tested positive for bovine tuberculosis in April.

Local regulations stipulate that cattle suspected of carrying the disease be slaughtered, but Shambo's caretakers at the Skanda Vale monastery in southwestern Wales have mounted a campaign to save the beast. Hindus consider cattle sacred, and lawyers for the monastery argued that slaughtering the bull would interfere with their religious rights.

The monastery also took its case to the public, creating an internet petition, a blog containing Shambo's "daily thoughts," and even a webcast called "Moo Tube" that tracks the bull's movements around its hay-filled shrine.


Ward Churchill: HUAC rides again

Anyone out there remember HUAC? House UnAmerican Activities Committee? Joe McCarthy? All those days of rampant flag-waving and ruthless dissent-smashing? Not many, I guess, do. They might read about it in Howard Zinn or somewhere, but it’s obviously nowhere near as important as...hell...Lindsay Lohan or someone like that. Paula Abdul or Judge Judy. What’s happened, though, is that the blind vote-whoring and publicity sucking politicians are back in the saddle.

Ward Churchill is a man a lot of people don’t like. Big deal. A lot of people don’t like Hillary Clinton or Katie Couric or Brian Williams. That a person is popular or unpopular does not reduce her—or his—right to express an opinion. That’s a flat-out guarantee, that as citizens everyone has the right to express their thoughts and feelings.

Wrong. The old days of rabid Communist-hunting have returned. This time it’s wrapped in patriotism, of course rather than ideology. Ward Churchill got sacked from the University of Colorado because he said things that offended some politicians who needed votes and publicity.

I agree that the deaths in the World Trade Center were predictable and logical. We’ve fucked around in the Arab world for so long, there was a huge pile of instant karma ready to slam into us. I disagree that the people in the towers were Eichmanns, generally. Evil is banal, right? Maybe in the banality of their work, those people did enable a lot of evil...Most of us do, one way or another. We participate in a system that is ruthlessly exploiting as many of the world’s natural resources as we can. We’re vicarious participating in a mean and evil war—and if anything is evil, America’s war against Iraq is evil.

If I was a university teacher and some jerk-handed Republican read that, he might want my ass kicked off campus. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

We need to remember that the only university teachers who kept their jobs in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia or Maoist China were ones that utterly and loudly supported their governments.

Amy Goodman is a brave person. I'm grateful she's out there, speaking up.

Professor Ward Churchill Vows to Sue University of Colorado Over Controversial Firing

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado in Boulder voted 8-to-1 Tuesday evening to fire tenured professor of Ethnic Studies Ward Churchill on charges of research misconduct. But Churchill maintains that the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his controversial political views. One day after his firing, Churchill calls the charges a sham and vows a suit against the school. [includes rush transcript]

The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado in Boulder voted 8-to-1 Tuesday evening to fire tenured professor of Ethnic Studies Ward Churchill on charges of research misconduct. But Churchill maintains that the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his unpopular political views. Churchill has written a number of books on genocide against Native Americans and the US government's COINTELPRO program. After yesterday's verdict Churchill said he planned to sue the university.

Churchill has written a number of books on genocide against Native Americans and the US government's COINTELPRO program. After yesterday's verdict Churchill said he planned to sue the university.

The controversy dates back to early 2005 when a college newspaper reprinted Churchill's three-year old essay on the attacks on the World Trade Center. He described the attacks as a response to a long history of US abuses and called those who were killed on 9-11 as "little Eichmanns" who formed a “technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire."

Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi bureacrat convicted for war crimes who political theorist Hannah Arendt famously described as embodying the "banality of evil." Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly repeatedly attacked Churchill for his comparison. Soon after, Colorado Governor Bill Owens wrote a letter to the university calling for Churchill’s resignation.

A special panel at the university immediately conducted an investigation into Churchill’s comments. They concluded that he could not be fired for his statements, which were protected by the First Amendment. However, another panel later determined that Churchill plagiarized and fabricated material in his scholarship and recommended his dismissal.

Supporters of Ward Churchill organized a rally before the Regents delivered their decision to fire Churchill at 5.30 pm. They had been deliberating behind closed doors all day.

Churchill supporter Ann Erika Whitebird.

Ward Churchill joins us on the phone from Boulder, Colorado.

* Ward Churchill. He was just terminated from his tenured post as Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Churchill is an activist and author of a number of books on genocide against Native Americans and the US government's COINTELPRO program.


This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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AMY GOODMAN: The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado in Boulder voted 8-to-1 Tuesday evening to fire tenured professor of ethnic studies Ward Churchill on charges of research misconduct, they said. But Professor Churchill maintains the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his unpopular political views.

Churchill has written a number of books on genocide against Native Americans and the US government's COINTELPRO program -- that’s Counter-Intelligence Program. After yesterday's verdict, Churchill said he planned to sue the university.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The controversy dates back to early 2005, when a college newspaper reprinted Churchill's three-year-old essay on the attacks on the World Trade Center. He described the attacks as a response to a long history of US abuses and called those who were killed on 9/11 as “little Eichmanns” who formed a “technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire.”

Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi bureaucrat convicted for war crimes, who political theorist Hannah Arendt famously described as embodying the “banality of evil.” Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly repeatedly attacked Churchill for his comparison. Soon after, Colorado Governor Bill Owens wrote a letter to the university calling for Churchill's resignation.

A special panel at the university immediately conducted an investigation into Churchill’s comments. They concluded that he could not be fired for his statements, which were protected by the First Amendment. However, another panel later determined that Churchill plagiarized and fabricated material in his scholarship and recommended his dismissal.

AMY GOODMAN: Supporters of Ward Churchill organized a rally before the Regents delivered their decision to fire Churchill at 5:30 last night in Boulder. They had been deliberating behind closed doors all day.

Today we'll be joined by Ward Churchill on the phone from Boulder, but first to a clip of yesterday's rally. We turn now to Ward Churchill, his lawyer David Lane, American Indian Movement activist Glenn Morris, and one of Churchill's students.

ANN ERIKA WHITEBIRD: And the decision to fire Ward Churchill is really sad for me. He's the only professor that I’ve taken a class, where I really felt empowered as an Indigenous person. And our history, the history of genocide against our people, the history, the policy, the US policy of extermination against our people, the forced sterilization of our women -- that was found out as early as the ’70s -- it was all something that Ward talks about in his books. So I’m not just talking about the class that he’s offered, the FBI at Pine Ridge, but, you know, other classes that he teaches and then the books that he's written is really affirming as a Native person.

The history that we hear growing up about the smallpox blankets, it's not something that you question. It's something that is part of our oral history. And it's part of the history of other indigenous peoples. So when I’m here at CU Boulder and I talk to other students who are Dene or from other nations, it's a common understanding.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a student talking about Ward Churchill. Now, we turn to the ethnic studies professor, who joins us on the phone from his home in Boulder. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ward Churchill.


AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts today on the morning after your firing?

WARD CHURCHILL: Well, a period of glaciation, which was this process of creating the illusion of research misconduct to cover a firing for political speech, has come to an end. That process has now run its course, so there's a new phase that's begun, which is, I suppose, for lack of a better way of putting it, my period of defensive posture has come to an end and the offense has begun, kicks off this morning with the filing of a suit.

AMY GOODMAN: Who will you be suing?

WARD CHURCHILL: Regents of the University of Colorado for accepting, in full knowledge at this point, a non-scholarly sham of an investigative report, creating the pretext. And I say “non-scholarly” because the university has withdrawn the entire investigative report from any scholarly scrutiny. They refuse to allow it to be subject to scrutiny by competent scholars. And there are research misconduct complaints in place at this point against the members of the investigative committee for serial plagiarism, wholesale falsification, outright fabrication -- in other words, fraud. It's a fraudulent finding.

So there is no defensible scholarly conclusions that anything I’ve said in my writing is even inaccurate, much less fraudulent, or that I committed the so-called plagiarism. All they've got is public outrage in the form of very well-organized rightwing, active-style lobbying blocks, and the statements of public officials, and so on, saying I should be removed as the basis for removing me.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The amazing thing about this is that the so-called -- the investigation focused on everything but the apparent reason why there was such a determination to investigate you. The essay having to do with 9/11, that wasn't even a subject, supposedly, of this investigation, was it?

WARD CHURCHILL: No. And a point to be made there is that while I was a target, was a target that would serve as a sort of conduit, in a way, they considered me to be, and said so, considered me to be kind of at the forefront of a sort of critical line of analysis, historically speaking. And they wanted to roll back that line of analysis altogether, to discredit it, so that you basically have a return to that triumphalis, celebratory white-supremacist interpretation of American history with all of the denial and falsification that that is known to entail. That's the reason, in part. And it's in large part for the charade that they have acted out over the last two-and-a-half years, the going after the historical analysis, as well as a purveyor of it. And so, this goes way beyond me. I’m intended to symbolize the cost and consequence of challenging orthodoxy in certain critical domains, at least.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what has been the response of the press in Colorado? Have any of the newspapers or any of the press defended your right to speak your mind?

WARD CHURCHILL: Well, yeah. They've created this false dichotomy, in a way: Well, it's reprehensible, we disagree with it, blah, blah, blah, but he had a right to say it, however repugnant it may have been. On the other hand, he did all these things that constitute research misconduct. Basically he's pedaling lies to the public that cause discontent with the status quo. And that's what the issue is. The specific acts of research misconduct has nothing to do with that speech.

The press was instrumental in framing that. There's been a symbiotic relationship between the administration at the university and the press all along. The press really took the lead in drumming up furor. There were 400 feature articles on my case, or what is supposed to be my case, in the Denver metro area newspapers in barely sixty days. Pope died; I had the front page of the Rocky Mountain News. The Rocky Mountain News was at the very forefront of creating the appearance that there was scholarly impropriety involved in my work and to be able to separate that set of issues then, the scholarly impropriety from the speech issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Ward Churchill, we have to go. But in addition to the lawsuit you're filing, what are your plans now?

WARD CHURCHILL: Well, my plans now are to continue to do what it is that I’ve always done: I mean, being a professor at the University of Colorado hardly defines the nature of my life. In fact --

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us from Boulder, Ward Churchill, just fired by the University of Colorado.


The sound of jackboots marching down your street...

Dave Niewert is one of the good guys: he stands up to the racist and radical right, he does his homework, and he's a good writer. His blog is always readable and pungent (!).

Today, there's a really nice analysis of Bush's latest "Executive Order" (that's officialese for "instance of arbitrary and authoritarian seizure of power"—or, simply, "dictatorial power grab), the one authorizing the seizure of assets of anyone who might support terrorists or not be appropriately supportive of Amerika's efforts to annex Iraq. It's slow reading, because it makes you think, and it's detailed. No easy explanations.

Read it. Then get hold of your elected rep in Washington and demand impeachment. Warning, doing so could possibly be determined to hinter "our" country's efforts in Iraq...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Whole Foods—aims for whole market

Here in Bend, we have a Wild Oats store. It’s over in a big east-side strip mall, between Costco and Barnes and Noble, not far from Safeway and Old Navy. You know the scene. We go there about once a month—I like to pick through their basket of little cheese pieces and get odd-ball cheeses I wouldn’t buy by the bigger chunks. Their smoked wild salmon is pretty good, too—a nice little once-a-month treat. Other than that, it’s an expensive place to shop. Expensive people shop there, too. Lots of gold jewelry and big SUVs.

A friend in Portland loves Whole Foods. She thinks they’re very reasonably priced. I don’t know. I haven’t been there—well, I take it back: we did a walk-through with our friend three or four years ago. I remember thinking it was expensive, too.

Hell, farmers’ markets are expensive, also. You don’t save money shopping there, but you do get better food. And their veggies are about the same as at the big groceries. Fruit’s more expensive. It’s hard to be poor and eat well—almost impossible.

And I always thought the justification for competition was lower priced goods.

Whole Market Foods?
Why the FTC is right to block Whole Foods' buyout of Wild Oats
19 Jul 2007

In a high-profile exchange with Michael Pollan last summer, Whole Foods Market CEO and founder John Mackey took an avuncular approach to farmers' markets that might take business from his company.

"Whole Foods Market is committed to supporting local farmers' markets across the United States (and also in Canada and the U.K.)," he wrote.

Elsewhere, the executive has displayed a zeal to crush competition that might make his counterparts at Microsoft blush. Last spring, Mackey sent a blunt email to the Whole Foods board, explaining his intention to buy Wild Oats -- Whole Foods' only direct nationwide competitor -- for a price well above what many analysts thought Wild Oats was worth.

By taking over Wild Oats, he argued, Whole Foods would not merely be snapping up 110 fully functioning natural-foods stores across the nation. Grabbing Wild Oats would also buy Whole Foods the power to "avoid nasty price wars" in several markets, as well as "eliminate forever" the threat of a major nationwide competitor in the natural-foods space.


Rats, as well as dogs, are among man's best friends

When I taught at Head Start, we often had pet rats in the classroom. They were great. They liked company, to be fed, and were affectionate. Never tried to teach them anything, but they seemed to learn stuff on their own.

And, of course, the "rat psychologists" (like the U of Oregon crowd) have taught us more about our own behaviors than any twenty-seven psychiatrists...The following article by Natalie Angier helps explain why this is...

The New York Times

July 24, 2007

Smart, Curious, Ticklish. Rats?

Between reading recent news reports about altruistic behavior in rats and watching the slickly adorable antics of Remy the culinary rodent in this summer’s animated blockbuster, “Ratatouille,” I’ve had a change of heart. My normal feeling of extreme revulsion toward rats has softened considerably, into something resembling ... a less extreme form of revulsion.

O.K., I still don’t like rats, and I’ll never forget the sensation of whiskers brushing my ankles when a rat in Central Park scampered over my feet. There are plenty of reasons to fear rats. They carry diseases like typhus, leptospirosis, hanta virus pulmonary syndrome, rat bite fever, salmonella poisoning, and of course bubonic plague, and they are ravenous Remys every one of them, feasting on our grains and meats, chewing our ratatouille and destroying as much as a third of global food supplies each year. ***our ratly transactions are not all woes and buboes. As the first mammals domesticated strictly for research purposes, scientists say, rats in the laboratory may well have saved at least as many human lives through the years as rats in the alley have taken. Rats are the preferred experimental animal for studies of the heart, kidneys, immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and other body sectors, and recent breakthroughs in manipulating the rat genome may soon allow the rat to displace the mouse as the geneticist’s darling, too.

***the similarities between us and Rattus extend far beyond gross anatomy. They’re surprisingly self-aware. They laugh when tickled, especially when they’re young, and they have ticklish spots; tickle the nape of a rat pup’s neck and it will squeal ultrasonically in a soundgram pattern like that of a human giggle. Rats dream as we dream, in epic narratives of navigation and thwarted efforts at escape: When scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tracked the neuronal activity of rats in REM sleep, the researchers saw the same firing patterns they had seen in wakeful rats wending their way through those notorious rat mazes.

Rats can learn to crave the same drugs that we do — alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, amphetamine — and they, like us, will sometimes indulge themselves to death. They’re sociable, curious and love to be touched — nicely, that is. If a rat has been trained to associate a certain sound with a mild shock to its tail, and the bell tolls but the shock doesn’t come, the rat will inhale deeply with what can only be called a sigh of relief.

When it comes to sex, the analogies between rats and humans are “profound,” said James G. Pfaus of Concordia University in Montreal. “It’s not simply instinctual for them,” he said. “Rats know what good sex is and what bad sex is. And when they have reason to anticipate great sex, they give you every indication they’re looking forward to it.”

They wiggle and paw at their ears, hop and dart, stop and flash a come-hither look backward. “We imbue our desire with words and meaning, they show us through actions,” he said. “The good thing about rats is, they don’t lie.”

The so-called fancy rats that people keep as pets are variants of the Norway rat, usually albino though sometimes mottled like calico cats, and bred to have docile temperaments.

***though the rats have been inbred into homogeneous strains with names like Wistar and Sprague-Dawley, they retain enough street credibility that when a scientist recently released a group of lab rats into a wilderness-type habitat and filmed their reactions, the rodents soon began acting like wild rats. They explored every crevice as rats can do so fluidly, by collapsing their rubbery skeleton down to the width of their snout. They found everything edible in the vicinity, and, though they’d been reared in metal enclosures, they began digging, digging, digging, stopping only to check out the opposite sex and maybe waggle an ear.

Rats have personalities, and they can be glum or cheerful depending on their upbringing and circumstances. One study showed that rats accustomed to good times tend to be optimists, while those reared in unstable conditions become pessimists. Both rats will learn to associate one sound with a good event — a gift of food — and another sound with no food, but when exposed to an ambiguous sound, the optimist will run over expecting to be fed and the pessimist will grumble and skulk away, expecting nothing.

In another recent study, Jonathon D. Crystal, a psychologist at the University of Georgia in Athens, and his colleague Allison Foote were astonished to discover that rats display evidence of metacognition: they know what they know and what they don’t know. Metacognition, a talent previously detected only in primates, is best exemplified by the experience of students scanning the questions on a final exam and having a pretty good sense of what their grade is likely to be. In the Georgia study, rats were asked to show their ability to distinguish between tones lasting about 2 seconds, and sounds of about 8 seconds, by pressing one or another lever. If the rat guessed correctly, it was rewarded with a large meal; if it judged incorrectly, it got nothing.

For each trial, the rat could, after hearing the tone, opt to either take the test and press the short or long lever, or poke its nose through a side of the chamber designated the, “I don’t know” option, at which point it would get a tiny snack. During the trials, the rats made clear they knew their audio limits. The closer the tones were to either 2 or 8 seconds, the likelier the rats were to express confidence in their judgment by indicating they wanted to take the lever test and earn their full-course dinner. But as the tones edged into the ambiguous realms of 4 seconds, the rats began opting ever more often for modest but reliable morsels of the clueless option.

Rats do not lie, and, when the stakes are this high, neither do they gamble.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company


Adding to the list—

Eugene and Rhonda:

A couple of good ones, yeah.


Gallows humor: govt gives farm payments to dead farmers

In the last post, I mentioned the psychiatrist, Eric Berne. He talked quite a bit about "gallows humor," and, as I recall, didn't think too much of it. I once heard him give a rap—forty-five years ago, at least—and I thought he was really sharp. I still do. But I disagree about gallows humor. When your back is to the wall, when it's either laugh or cry (Joannie Mitchell: "laughin' or cryin'—you know it's all the same release"), my own spirit is to laugh.

In case, just in case, any of you out there still think we have an honest administration...

USDA Sent $1.1B to Deceased Farmers

MARY CLARE JALONICK | July 23, 2007 | AP

WASHINGTON — The Agriculture Department sent $1.1 billion in farm payments to more than 170,000 dead people over a seven-year period, congressional investigators say.

The findings by the Government Accountability Office were released Monday as the House prepared to debate and pass farm legislation this week that would govern subsidies and the department's programs for the next five years.

GAO auditors reviewed payments from 1999 through 2005 in the report, which was requested by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

"It's unconscionable that the Department of Agriculture would think that a dead person was actively engaged in the business of farming," said Grassley.

The auditors said they found that the department has not been conducting the necessary checks to ensure that subsidy payments are proper.

Of the identified payments to deceased farmers' estates or businesses, 40 percent went to those who had been dead more than three years, and 19 percent went to those who had been dead for seven or more years.

John Johnson, a deputy administrator for the Farm Service Agency, said there is no indication that the payments were improper, since some rules allow estates to continue receiving money after a two-year grace period. The department is hoping to rely less on self-reporting and is working with the Social Security Administration to boost its record keeping, he said.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said the report bolsters the argument there should be lower ceilings and stricter limits on farm subsidies.

"Given extremely tight budget restraints, it is no longer tolerable to permit billions of dollars in farm bill payments to go to individuals who in instances don't even farm or are no longer alive," he said.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he is looking into ways to stop estates from continuing to collect farm payments long after the designated recipient for them has died.

"They have plenty of people to check to make sure they aren't handing out payments to dead people, for God's sake," he said.

The GAO findings were first reported Monday by The Washington Post


Anti-American = anti-Soviet

My sleeping pattern has gone to hell. It takes almost nothing to wake me up after I’ve fallen asleep. I'm really vulnerable after about an hour's sleep. Then it’s really hard for me to go back to sleep.

Beth is a night person and she likes to watch TV late into the night—although not like our friend Becky who will stay up all night watching anything, even infomercials and Fox news—and it doesn’t take much to get me awake again. It’s depressing. She’s taken the summer off from working and for her that means sleeping as much of the day as possible; when she’s awake it’s often after dark. I don’t get it. Sleeping through the days is, for me, an indicator of daytime as being something to avoid. When I was younger and laid up with a broken bone, it seems like I spent a lot of time being awake late at night. It isn’t a good association.

I keep thinking of the old phrase from Eric (”Games People Play”) Berne, about Waiting For the Mortician as a way to structure time. I feel like time —and life—is slipping away. So, I'm awake and my mind is zipping along.

Here’s something I found while being awake too late at night. Actually, it’s pretty good. Maybe there is some benefit about to desperately looking for distraction...

CHOMSKY: The concept “anti-American” is an interesting one. The counterpart is used only in totalitarian states or military dictatorships, something I wrote about many years ago (see my book Letters from Lexington). Thus, in the old Soviet Union, dissidents were condemned as “anti-Soviet.” That’s a natural usage among people with deeply rooted totalitarian instincts, which identify state policy with the society, the people, the culture. In contrast, people with even the slightest concept of democracy treat such notions with ridicule and contempt. Suppose someone in Italy who criticizes Italian state policy were condemned as “anti-Italian.” It would be regarded as too ridiculous even to merit laughter. Maybe under Mussolini, but surely not otherwise.

Actually the concept has earlier origins. It was used in the Bible by King Ahab, the epitome of evil, to condemn those who sought justice as “anti-Israel” (”ocher Yisrael,” in the original Hebrew, roughly “hater of Israel,” or “disturber of Israel”). His specific target was Elijah.

It’s interesting to see the tradition in which the people you refer to choose to place themselves. The idea of leaving America because one opposes state policy is another reflection of deep totalitarian commitments. Solzhenitsyn, for example, was forced to leave Russia, against his will, by people with beliefs very much like those you are quoting.

I think what Chomsky is saying is that people who apply the term “anti-American” are closet fascists. They identify so strongly with the nation-state they really don’t have any selves other than as “patriots.” Oy.

Whatever: there're a lot of them out there, and most of them think the war is going well.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Peace down, attacks up

A little data from Reuters:

Bush decided to escalate (George W Bush told the nation, have no fear of escalation...) the war four months ago. In June, the average number of daily attacks was 178—against coalition troops, Iraqi troops, civilians, and infrastructure. That’s the highest average in over four years.

Thanks, you lying fool.


No, you do not make your own reality—at least sane people don't...

America is the land of positive thinking. It’s almost everywhere, from Old Age (Norman Vincent Peale) to New Age (Deepak Chopra). No matter what the clothes, what the jargon, it amounts to the same thing: if something is wrong in your life, it’s your fault. Cancer, poverty, a cheating spouse, bad neighbors or bad breath, the positive thinking folks say it’s up to you to change yourself, then everything will be groovy.

I have friends with diabetes and hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis and cancer, emphysema and bi-polar disorder. I have a genetic flaw that has resulted in extremely fragile bones. Positive thinking won’t cure any of these disorders. I’ve heard it said that children who are born with CP or mental retardation are paying for the sins of their parents. It’s all such a crock of shit, isn’t it?

The name of the game is “Blaming the victim.” The person doing the labeling is letting her/himself feel superior and virtuous.

Sure, to an extent we all do make our own reality. We’re dealt certain hands of cards at birth. How we play the cards is up to us—yet a bad hand is a bad hand, period. You can’t change deuces to aces, no matter how positive you think. It just won’t happen. All we can change is our attitudes toward ourselves and our conditions. We can blame all we won’t, but it won’t change reality. The largest chunk of reality is already laid out for us.

(And, no matter what the president thinks, Iraq is a disaster.)

The Huffington Post

Barbara Ehrenreich
What Causes Cancer: Probably Not You
Posted July 19, 2007 | 03:52 PM (EST)

The perennial temptation to blame disease on sin or at least some grave moral failing just took another hit. A major new study shows that women on a virtuous low fat diet with an extraordinary abundance of fruits and veggies were no less likely to die of breast cancer than women who grazed more freely. Media around the world have picked up on the finding, cautioning, prudishly, that you can't beat breast cancer with cheeseburgers and beer.

Another "null result" in cancer studies -- i.e., one showing that a suspected correlation isn't there -- has received a lot less attention. In the May issue of Psychological Bulletin, James Coyne and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania reported that "there is no compelling evidence linking psychotherapy or support groups with survival among cancer patients." This flies in the face of the received wisdom that any sufficiently sunny-tempered person can beat cancer simply with a "positive attitude." For example, an e-zine article entitled "Breast Cancer Prevention Tips" advises:

A simple positive and optimistic attitude has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. This will sound amazing to many people; however, it will suffice to explain that several medical studies have demonstrated the link between a positive attitude and an improved immune system. Laughter and humor has [sic] been shown to enhance the body's immunity and prevents against cancer and other diseases. You must have heard the slogan 'happy people don't fall sick'.

So far no one appears to have read Coyne's study. On June 30, a month after its publication, all-purpose guru Deepak Chopra assured Sanjay Gupta on CNN that the mind can control the body: "...You know, of course, the ... study where women who supported each other in a loving environment with breast cancer the survival doubled." Gupta, last sighted seeking to discredit Michael Moore's SiCKO with his "fact-checking," simply nodded, although the study Chopra was referring to was discredited years before Coyne's research came out.

For the last decade or so, adherents of the new discipline of "positive psychology" have been insisting that not just cancer, but almost any health setback, can be conquered with optimism or a "positive attitude." But as Coyne and other critics point out, the science here is shaky at best. Even the theoretical linch-pin of the supposed happy-mind-healthy-body connection -- that a positive outlook strengthens the immune system -- took a kick in the teeth two years ago when Suzanne Segerstrom at the University of Kentucky found, to her own apparent surprise, that optimism can have a negative effect on the immune system when the stressors are intense, as in the case of serious disease.

Even if veggies and smiles don't cure cancer, aren't we still entitled to blame some people for their diseases? Lack of exercise and dietary indiscretions play a role in the development of diabetes and coronary heart disease, so we indulge in self-gratifying contempt for the fat lady scarfing down Doritos. But before you rush to judgment, ask yourself: What nutritional alternatives does she have? (And, yes, I know they have "salad" at Wendy's now, but they don't offer apples on Amtrak.) As for exercise, gym memberships easily cost $500 a year, and far too many of us are forced to spend 10 hours or more a day sitting in a cubicle, a car or a bus.

In the case of breast cancer, one victim-blaming theory after has wilted under scrutiny: The "cancer personality" theory, for example, which breast cancer victim Susan Sontag took on in her 1978 book Illness as Metaphor, and now high-fat diets and negative attitudes. Something other than genetics causes it, though, and one leading candidate is the Hormone Replacement Therapy that doctors pushed on menopausal women for decades as a supposed way of preventing heart disease, Alzheimer's and wrinkles. When, in 2002, HRT was found to be correlated with breast cancer and millions of women stopped taking it, the incidence of breast cancer plunged.

Which suggests that optimism, especially about the validity of the conventional wisdom, can be hazardous. What you need is a narrow-eyed, deeply skeptical attitude.


More rich are richer

There are rising tides that lift everything and rising tides that are very selective—like wealth...

Just as there are more poor people than ever, more citizens without health-care, there are more millionaires, multi-millionaires, and billionaires than ever. An awful lot of the rich didn't start out digging ditches or selling newspapers.

Welcome to Richistan, USA

Guardian (UK)
July 22, 2007,,2131974,00.html

· There are 7.5 million households in America worth up
to $10m. A further two million are worth $10m-$100m and
thousands are worth more than $100m.

· There is now a two-year waiting list for 200ft
yachts. If put end to end, the boats on that list,
which cost $50m each, would be 15 miles long.

· Sebonack Golf Club in the Hamptons, Long Island,
charges $650,000 for membership. That doesn't include
the $12,000 annual dues, or tips for caddies.

· Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have a
private Boeing 767.

· John D. Rockefeller was America's first billionaire.
Adjusted for inflation, he had $14bn - less than the
net worth of each of Sam Walton's five children today.
There were 13 US billionaires in 1985. Now there are
more than 1,000. There are as many millionaires in
North Carolina as in India.

· 'Affluent' is Richistani for 'not really rich'.
According to Frank, you need about $10m to be
considered entry-level rich.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


FEMA: As useless as _________(fill in the blank)

Other than giving jobs to itinerant fools and sexual predators, I have no idea what FEMA is good for.

The New York Times

July 22, 2007

FEMA Runs for Cover

How many times can the federal government let down the victims of the hurricanes that ravaged the Gulf Coast two years ago?

First there was the inept response to Hurricane Katrina by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which stood haplessly by as the water rose in New Orleans, bloated bodies floating in the fetid current. Then came the delay in providing temporary housing for tens of thousands of evacuees.

More than 66,000 of the victims still live in FEMA’s trailers, unable to return home. In a sickening twist to their woeful tale of neglect, it appears that their trailers have been poisoning them. FEMA, which knew of the problem for more than a year, ignored warnings from its own staff and avoided addressing it because it was worried about being sued.

A Congressional investigation has discovered that in March 2006, FEMA was made aware that trailers housing hurricane evacuees contained levels of formaldehyde that were up to 75 times the recommended safety threshold. Exposure to formaldehyde, a preservative used in plywood or particleboard, has been linked to vision and respiratory problems, allergies in children and cancer.

The agency received numerous complaints from occupants of the trailers. In June 2006, a man who had complained about formaldehyde fumes was found dead in his trailer. In July, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency advised FEMA that some of the trailers were likely to have levels of the chemical that were way too high.

Still, FEMA resisted performing a systematic investigation because, according to FEMA lawyers, this could make the agency liable for health problems. “Once you get results and should they indicate some problems, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them,” a FEMA lawyer wrote in June 2006.

FEMA says it has replaced 58 trailers because of concern about formaldehyde, and has moved five families into rental housing. In advance of hearings last Thursday by the House’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, it announced that it had asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test the air quality in occupied trailers.

But calling that decision woefully late is an understatement. FEMA could have turned a new page following the ouster of the bungling Michael Brown, who led the agency through its dismal response to Katrina. But the new FEMA, under R. David Paulison, appears to be worse than incompetent. If its response to the current crisis is any guide, FEMA’s approach to crises consists of ducking for cover.


Krassner Rides Again: "Assholes of he Week"

It was Paul Krassner and The Realist that helped get many of us through the early ‘60s. He deserves as much honor as, say, Owsley or the Grateful Dead, Kesey, a half-dozen others. Those were bleak evil times: Nixon. That says it all. Nixon. Just like “Bush” is going to identify and label these bleak and evil times.

The Huffington Post

Paul Krassner

Assholes of the Week #2

Posted July 20, 2007

In the '60s, "Assholes of the Month" was a feature in my satirical magazine, The Realist. In the '70s, "Asshole of the Month" was a feature in Larry Flynt's Hustler. Currently, on MSNBC's Countdown, Keith Olbermann has a feature, "Worst Person in the World," which is usually Bill O'Reilly. And now I'm posting "Assholes of the Week" in this cyberspace. I avoid targets like President Bush and Cardinal Mahony, because they're such ongoing, obvious choices. The beauty of Comments is that readers can post their own asshole selections that I neglect to include. Here are mine for this week:

*Scholastic, publisher of the Harry Potter series, for setting midnight Friday as the opening salvo for sales of the latest book, thereby forcing countless children to stay up way past their bedtime. Just for that I'm going to reveal how it ends. Harry and his friends and enemies are all having dinner at the same restaurant, but when you turn over the final page, it's totally blank.

*Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, for telling reporters, "We say in full confidence that we are able, God willing, to take the responsibility completely in running the security file if the international forces withdraw at any time they want," but the next day his advisor announced that Maliki meant that efforts to bolster Iraq's security forces would continue "side by side with the withdrawal." Dick Cheney had called to remind Malaki that those videos of him humping a camel during Ramadan were hidden away in a safe place.

*The unknown White House official who ordered Dr. Richard Carmona -- George Bush's Surgeon General for four years--to mention Bush's name three times on each page of every speech he gave. He was fired for writing this sentence: "When it comes to abstinence, you can be sure that George Bush practices what he preaches."

*Lousiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, for signing legislation that penalizes doctors who perform a late-term abortion -- they would face fines up to $10,000 and prison up to 10 years -- making her state the first to restrict such surgery since the federal ban in 2003. The new law allows the procedure only when a woman's life would otherwise be endangered. However, it will be considered a crime if the pregnancy is expected merely to cause health problems. That's not a joke.

*The owners of several medical marijuana dispensaries in California, for -- if it's true, as alleged by the Drug Enforcement Adminstration -- profiteering from the illegal distribution of pot by charging patients two or three times the street value. Presumably, other government agencies will follow the lead of the DEA and coerce other businesses to stick to free-market protocols.

*Nebraska Judge Jeffre Cheuvront, for ordering a college student who was raped not to use the words "rape," "victim," "assailant" or "sexual assault" on the witness stand for fear of prejudicing the jury. Perhaps she can testify that "He stuck his thing in my thing against my will." George Carlin is expected to introduce a bit in his next HBO performance about "The five words you can't say in court."

*Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, for insisting that the FDA's decision to close seven of its 13 laboratories would enhance the agency's ability to target unsafe food -- this in the face of severe criticism from Congress -- but he is as determined as salmonella swimming upstream.


Paul Krassner is the author of One Hand Jerking: Reports From an Investigative Satirist, and publisher of the Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster, both available from


Bizarre Disneyland and air-conditioned nightmares

Here I am, a sunny day in Bend, comfortable weather, Carlos Nakai on the stereo, good Columbian coffee in my cup.

In Baghdad it’s bloody awful hot, dusty, loud, there ain’t no electricity most of the time, and good luck on getting even water, let alone decent coffee—and, oh yeah, if you’re not real lucky, you’re going to get killed.

Am I lucky? You bet I am. I have a bone disorder that’s turning my skeletal structure to crumbles, but I am far far more fortunate than any Baghdad resident. When I hear a helicopter I know it’s Life-Flight and not an Apache gunship—or a medivac carrying some poor soldier with god-awful wounds. The rasp of a diesel engine isn’t a tank coming down my street. And the only gunfire is on the TV. If I break a bone, I can go to the emergency room without worrying about death squads coming in and shooting it up. I can go to Fred Meyer’s for groceries. And if someone knocks on my door I know I’m not going to get hauled off and shot.

Henry Miller called it "the air conditioned nightmare." It's more like an air conditioned delusion, because we should all be wide awake by now.

After Reporting in Iraq, America Feels Like a Bizarre Disneyland
By Dahr Jamail,
Posted on July 20, 2007, Printed on July 21, 2007

"In violence we forget who we are" -- Mary McCarthy, novelist and critic

1. Statistically Speaking

Having spent a fair amount of time in occupied Iraq, I now find living in the United States nothing short of a schizophrenic experience. Life in Iraq was traumatizing. It was impossible to be there and not be affected by apocalyptic levels of violence and suffering, unimaginable in this country.

But here's the weird thing: One long, comfortable plane ride later and you're in Disneyland, or so it feels on returning to the United States. Sometimes it seems as if I'm in a bubble here that's only moments away from popping. I find myself perpetually amazed at the heights of consumerism and the vigorous pursuit of creature comforts that are the essence of everyday life in this country -- and once defined my own life as well.

Here, for most Americans, you can choose to ignore what our government is doing in Iraq. It's as simple as choosing to go to a website other than this one.

The longer the occupation of Iraq continues, the more conscious I grow of the disparity, the utter disjuncture, between our two worlds.

In January 2004, I traveled through villages and cities south of Baghdad investigating the Bechtel Corporation's performance in fulfilling contractual obligations to restore the water supply in the region. In one village outside of Najaf, I looked on in disbelief as women and children collected water from the bottom of a dirt hole. I was told that, during the daily two-hour period when the power supply was on, a broken pipe at the bottom of the hole brought in "water." This was, in fact, the primary water source for the whole village. Eight village children, I learned, had died trying to cross a nearby highway to obtain potable water from a local factory.

In Iraq things have grown exponentially worse since then. Recently, the World Health Organization announced that 70% of Iraqis do not have access to clean water and 80% "lack effective sanitation."

In the United States I step away from my desk, walk into the kitchen, turn on the tap, and watch as clear, cool water fills my glass. I drink it without once thinking about whether it contains a waterborne disease or will cause kidney stones, diarrhea, cholera, or nausea. But there's no way I can stop myself from thinking about what was -- and probably still is -- in that literal water hole near Najaf.

I open my pantry and then my refrigerator to make my lunch. I have enough food to last a family several days, and then I remember that there is a 21% rate of chronic malnutrition among children in Iraq, and that, according to UNICEF, about one in 10 Iraqi children under five years of age is underweight.

I have a checking account with money in it; 54% of Iraqis now live on less than $1 a day.

I can travel safely on my bicycle whenever I choose -- to the grocery store or a nearby city center. Many Iraqis can travel nowhere without fear of harm. Iraq now ranks as the planet's second most unstable country, according to the 2007 Failed States Index.

These are now my two worlds, my two simultaneous realities. They inhabit the same space inside my head in desperately uncomfortable fashion. Sometimes, I almost settle back into this bubble world of ours, but then another email arrives -- either directly from friends and contacts in Iraq or forwarded by friends who have spent time in Iraq -- and I remember that I'm an incurably schizophrenic journalist living on some kind of borrowed time in both America and Iraq all at once.

2. Emailing

Here is a fairly typical example of the sorts of anguished letters that suddenly appear in my in-box. (With the exception of the odd comma, I've left the examples that follow just as they arrived. They reflect the stressful conditions under which they were written.) This one was sent to my friend Gerri Haynes from an Iraqi friend of hers:

Dear Gerri:

No words can describe the real terror of what's happening and being committed against the population in Baghdad and other cities: the poor people with no money to leave the country, the disabled old men and women, the wives and children of tens of thousands of detainees who can't leave when their dad is getting tortured in the Democratic Prisons, senior years students who have been caught in a situation that forces them to take their finals to finish their degrees, parents of missing young men who got out and never came back, waiting patiently for someone to knock the door and say, "I am back." There are thousands and thousands of sad stories that need to be told but nobody is there to listen.

I called my cousin in the al-Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad to check if they are still alive. She is in her sixties and her husband is about seventy. She burst into tears, begging me to pray to God to take their lives away soon so they don't have to go through all this agony. She told me that, with no electricity, it is impossible to go to sleep when it is 40 degrees Celsius unless they get really tired after midnight. Her husband leaves the doors open because they are afraid that the American and Iraqi troops will bomb the doors if they don't respond from first door knock during searching raids. Leaving the doors open is another terror story after the attack of the troops' vicious dogs on a ten-month old baby, tearing him apart and eating him in the same neighborhood just a few days ago. The troops let the dogs attack civilians. The dogs bite them and terrify the kids with their angry red eyes in the middle of the night. So, as you can see my dear Gerri, we don't have only one Abu Ghraib with torturing dogs, we have thousands of Abu Ghraibs all over Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

I was speechless. I couldn't say anything to comfort her. I felt ashamed to be alive and well. I thought I should be with them, supporting them, and give them some strength even if it costs me my life. I begged her to leave Baghdad. She told me that she can't because of her pregnant daughter and her grandkids. They are all with them in the house without their dad. I am hearing the same story and worse every single day. We keep asking ourselves what did we do to the Americans to deserve all this cruelness, killing, and brutishness? How can the troops do this to poor, hopeless civilians? And why?

Can anybody answer my cousin why she and her poor family are going through this?? Can you Gerri? Because I sure can't.

In recent weeks I had been attempting to get in touch with one of my friends, a journalist in Baghdad. I'll call him Aziz for his safety. Beginning to worry when I didn't receive his usual prompt response, I sent him a second email and this is what finally came back:

Dear old friend Dahr,

I am so sorry for my late reply. It is because my area of Baghdad was closed for six days and also because I lost my cousin. He was killed by a militia. They tortured and mutilated his body. I will try to send you his picture later.

Just remember me, friend, because I feel so tired these days and I live with this mess now.

With all my respect,


Conveying my sadness, I asked him if there was anything I could possibly do to ease his suffering. As a reporter in that besieged country, he is constantly exhausted and overworked. I hesitantly suggested that perhaps he should take a little time to rest. He promptly replied:

Dahr, my old friend,

I really appreciate your condolence message. Your words affected me very much and I feel that all my friends are around me in this hard time. I live with this mess and I do need some rest time as you advise before getting back to work again. BUT, really, I have to continue working because there are just very few journalists in Iraq now, and especially in my area. I have to cover more and more everyday.

Anyway friend, everything will be ok for me. And I wish we can make some change in our world towards peace.

With my respect to you friend,


I have also been corresponding with "H," who lives in the volatile Diyala province and has been a dear friend since my first trip to Iraq. He would visit me in Baghdad, bringing with him delicious home-cooked meals from his wife, insisting always that I be the one to eat the first morsel.

A deeply religious man, his unfailing greeting, accompanied by a big hug, would always be: "You are my brother."

He was concerned about the perception that there were vast differences between Islam and Christianity. "Islam and Christianity are not so different," he would say, "In fact they have many more similarities than differences." He would often discuss this with U.S. soldiers in his city.

Yet he was no admirer of imperialism. Last summer in Syria, he and I visited the sprawling Roman ruins of Palmyra. One evening, as we stood together overlooking the vast landscape of crumbling columns and sun-bleached walls in the setting sun, he turned to me and said, "Mr. Dahr, please do not be offended by what I want to say, but it makes me happy to see these ruins and remember that empires always fall because empires are never good for most people."

After several weeks when I received no reply to repeated emails, I wrote to "M," a mutual friend, and received the following response:

Habibi [My dear friend],

It has been very long since I have written to you. I'm sorry. I was terribly busy. I have some very bad news. [H] was kidnapped by the members of al-Qaeda in Diyala 25 days ago and there is no news about him up to this moment. It's a horrible situation. One cannot feel safe in this country.

When I pressed him for more information, he wrote me the details:

[H] was kidnapped as he was trying to get home. He was coming to Baquba to visit his parents, as he does every day. His oldest daughter who was with him told him that a car carrying several men was following them from the beginning of the street leading to his parents' home. So, when he stopped to get his car in the garage, they got out of their car covering their faces and asked him to come with them for questioning. People in Diyala definitely know that such a thing means either killing or arresting for few days. You may ask why I'm sure it is al-Qaeda. That is because no other group, including the U.S. military, dominates the whole city like they do.

We are the people of the city and we know the truth. They overwhelmingly dominate the streets and are even stronger than the government. So, there is no doubt about whether this was al-Qaeda or another group. You may ask how people stay away from these very bad people. People never go in places like the central market of Baquba. For this reason, all, and I mean all, the shops are closed; some people have left Diyala, some have been killed, while most are kept in their homes.

If someone wants to go the market, this means a bad adventure. He may be at last found in the morgue. Al-Qaeda fought every group that are called resistance who work against coalition [U.S.] forces or the government (policemen or Iraqi National Guards). Nowadays, there is fighting between al-Qaeda and other [Iraqi resistance] groups like Qataib who are known here as the honest resistance in the streets. By the way, I forgot, when al-Qaeda kidnaps someone, they also take his car in order that the car shall be used by them. So, they took his car, along with him. In case he is released, he comes without his car. I will tell you more later on.

I soon slipped into the frantic routine all too familiar by now to countless Iraqis -- scanning the horrible reports of daily violence in Iraq looking for the faintest clue to the whereabouts of my missing friend

3. Murderously Speaking

In McClatchy News' July 5th roundup of daily violence for Diyala, I read:

"A source in the morgue of Baquba general hospital said that the morgue received today a head of a civilian that was thrown near the iron bridge in Baquba Al Jadida neighborhood today morning.

"A medical source in Al Miqdadiyah town northeast [of] Baquba city said that 2 bodies of civilians were moved to the hospital of Miqdadiyah. The source said that the first body was of a man who was killed in an IED explosion near his house in Al Mu'alimeen neighborhood in downtown Baquba city while the second body was of a man who was shot dead near his house in Al Ballor neighborhood in downtown Baquba city."

The data for Baghdad that day read:

"24 anonymous bodies were found in Baghdad today. 16 bodies were found in Karkh, the western side of Baghdad in the following neighborhoods (7 bodies in Amil, 3 bodies in Doura, 2 bodies in Ghazaliyah, 1 body in Jihad, 1 body in Amiriyah, 1 body in Khadhraa and 1 body in Mahmoudiyah). 8 bodies were found in Rusafa, the eastern side of Baghdad in the following neighborhoods (6 bodies in Sadr city, 1 body in Husseiniyah and 1 body in Sleikh.)"

What could I possibly hope to find in nameless reports like these, especially when I know that most of the Iraqi dead never make it anywhere near these reports. That is the way it has been throughout the occupation.

On July 8th, M sent me this email:


Up to this moment, I heard that one of my neighbors saw [H's] photo in the morgue but I couldn't make sure yet. Traditionally, when a body is dropped in a street and found by police, they take it to the morgue. The first thing done is to take a photo for the dead person in the computer to let the families know them. This procedure is followed because the number of bodies is tremendously big. For this people cannot see every body to check for their sons or relatives. For this, people see the photos before going to the refrigerator. I will go to the morgue tomorrow.

The next day he wrote yet again:


Today I went to the morgue. I saw horrible things there. I didn't see [H's] photo among them. Some figures cannot be easily recognized because of the blood or the face is terribly deformed. I saw also only heads; those who were slayed, it's unbelievable. Tomorrow, we will have another visit to make sure again. In your country, when somebody wants to go to the morgue, he may naturally see two or, say, three or four bodies. For us, I saw hundreds today. Every month, the municipality buries those who are not recognized by their families because of the capacity of the morgue. Imagine!

In one of H's last emails to me sent soon after his return home from Syria earlier this summer, he described driving out of Baquba one afternoon. Ominously, he wrote:

We left Baquba, which was sinking in a sea of utter chaos, worries, and instability. People there in that small town were scared of being kidnapped, killed, murdered or expelled. The entire security situation over there was deteriorating; getting to the worse.

Now, that passage might be read as his epitaph.

4. Subjectively Speaking

The morning I receive the latest news from M, I crawl back into bed and lie staring at the ceiling, wondering what will become of H's wife and young children, if he is truly dead. Barring a miracle, I assume that will turn out to be the case.

Later, I go for a walk. It's California sunny and the air is pleasantly cool on my skin. I'm aware -- as I often am -- that I never even consider looking over my shoulder here. I'm also aware that those I pass on my walk don't know that they aren't even considering looking over their shoulders.

The American Heritage Dictionary's second definition of schizophrenia is:

A situation or condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities: the national schizophrenia that results from carrying out an unpopular war [italics theirs].

That's what I'm experiencing -- a national schizophrenia that results from our government carrying out an unpopular war. It's what I continue to experience with never lessening sharpness two years after my last trip to Iraq. The hardest thing, in the California sun with that cool breeze on my face, is to know that two realities in two grimly linked countries coexist, and most people in my own country are barely conscious of this.

In Iraq, of course, there is nothing disparate, no disjuncture, only a constant, relentless grinding and suffering, a pervasive condition of tragic hopelessness and despair with no end in sight.

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who has covered the Middle East for the last four years, eight months of which were spent in occupied Iraq. Jamail is currently writing for Inter Press Service, Al-Jazeera English, and is a regular contributor to Jamail's forthcoming book, "Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Independent Journalist in Occupied Iraq" (Haymarket Books) will be released this October.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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