Saturday, February 28, 2009


Tom Paine on revelations

And while we're at it, here's a nice statement about belief from one of the really unsung heroes of the American Revolution, T. Paine:

"It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication — after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.


What happened? You know, already

The rich get know the rest of the mantra:

Richest Americans’ Income Doubled as Tax Rate Slashed

By Ryan J. Donmoyer

(Corrects math error in first paragraph of story that ran Jan. 30 to show tax rate fell by a quarter, not a third.)

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The average tax rate paid by the richest 400 Americans fell by a quarter to 17.2 percent through the first six years of the Bush administration and their average income doubled to $263.3 million, new IRS data show.

The 17.2 percent tax rate in 2006 was the lowest since the IRS began tracking the 400 largest taxpayers in 1992, although the richest 400 Americans paid more tax on an inflation-adjusted basis than any year since 2000.

The drop from 2001’s tax rate of 22.9 percent was due largely to ex-President George W. Bush’s push to cut tax rates on most capital gains to 15 percent in 2003.

Capital gains made up 63 percent of the richest 400 Americans’ adjusted gross income in 2006, or a combined $66.1 billion, according to the data. In all, the 400 wealthiest Americans reported a combined $105.3 billion of adjusted gross income in 2006, the most recent year for which the IRS has data.


Sexting: a ripple in the pond

We do love hysteria in this great nation. Whether it be over a missing blond toddler, a murdered wife or mistress of a prominent person, the threat of a threat or a rumor of a threat of international danger...

Serious reporting is hard, time consuming and expensive. Sensationalism is easy, quick, and cheap. That's why "If it bleeds, it leads" is the mantra of local TV news shows. No need to worry about facts or causes: just throw some shit together and get it on-screen.

Even national news reporting is in love with this approach. A situation is perceived, some dangers are inflated, and, zip, wow, news story after news story about the latest whatever. That's what this post, from Alternet, is about: teen-agers (OMG: Them!!) sending sexy text messages and photos to each other. The End of Civilization As We Know It has arrived.

What's the Matter with Teen Sexting?
By Judith Levine, The American Prospect
Posted on February 7, 2009, Printed on February 9, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, prosecutors charged six teenagers with creating, distributing, and possessing child pornography. The three girls, ages 14 and 15, took nude or seminude pictures of themselves and e-mailed them to friends, including three boys, ages 16 and 17, who are among the defendants. Police Captain George Seranko described the obscenity of the images: They "weren't just breasts," he declared. "They showed female anatomy!"

Greensburg's crime-stoppers aren't the only ones looking out for the cybersafety of America's youth. In Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah (at last count) minors have been arrested for "sexting," or sending or posting soft-core photo or video self-portraits. Of 1,280 teens and young adults surveyed recently by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, one in five said they engaged in the practice -- girls only slightly more than boys.

Seranko and other authorities argue that such pictures may find their way to the Internet and from there to pedophiles and other exploiters. "It's very dangerous," he opined.

How dangerous is it? Not very, suggests a major study released this month by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet Studies. "Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies," the result of a yearlong investigation by a wide range of experts, concludes that "the risks minors face online are in most cases not significantly different from those they face offline, and as they get older, minors themselves contribute to some of the problems." Almost all youth who end up having sex with adults they meet online seek such assignations themselves, fully aware that the partner is older. Similarly, minors who encounter pornography online go looking for it; they tend to be older teenage boys.

But sex and predatory adults are not the biggest dangers kids face as they travel the Net. Garden-variety kid-on-kid meanness, enhanced by technology, is. "Bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline," the report found.

Just as almost all physical and sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone a child knows intimately -- the adult who eats dinner or goes to church with her -- victims of cyber-bullying usually know their tormenters: other students who might sit beside them in homeroom or chemistry. Social-networking sites may be the places where kids are likely to hurt each other these days, but those sites, like the bullying, "reinforce pre-existing social relations," according to the report.

Similarly, young people who get in sexual or social trouble online tend to be those who are already at risk offline -- doing poorly in school, neglected or abused at home, and/or economically impoverished. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a child from a family whose annual income is less than $15,000 is 22 times more likely to suffer sexual abuse than a child whose parents earn more than $30,000.

Other new research implies that online sexual communication, no matter how much there is, isn't translating into corporeal sex, with either adults or peers. Contrary to popular media depiction of girls and boys going wilder and wilder, La Salle University sociologist and criminal-justice professor Kathleen A. Bogle has found that American teens are more conservative than their elders were at their age. Teen virginity is up and the number of sexual partners is down, she discovered. Only the rate of births to teenage girls has risen in the last few years -- a result of declining contraceptive use. This may have something to do with abstinence-only education, which leaves kids reluctant or incompetent when it comes to birth control. Still, the rate of teen births compared to pregnancies always tracks the rate among adult women, and it's doing that now, too.

Like the kids finding adult sex partners in chat rooms, those who fail to protect themselves from pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases and have their babies young tend to be otherwise at risk emotionally or socially. In other words, kids who are having a rough time in life are having a rough time in virtual life as well. Sexual or emotional harm precedes risky or harmful on- and offline behavior, rather than the other way around.

Enter the law -- and the injuries of otherwise harmless teenage sexual shenanigans begin. The effects of the ever-stricter sex-crimes laws, which punish ever-younger offenders, are tragic for juveniles. A child pornography conviction -- which could come from sending a racy photo of yourself or receiving said photo from a girlfriend or boyfriend -- carries far heavier penalties than most hands-on sexual offenses. Even if a juvenile sees no lock-up time, he or she will be forced to register as a sex offender for 10 years or more. The federal Adam Walsh Child Protection Act of 2007 requires that sex offenders as young as 14 register.

As documented in such reports as Human Rights Watch's "No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the U.S." and "Registering Harm: How Sex Offense Registries Fail Youth and Communities" from the Justice Policy Institute, conviction and punishment for a sex crime (a term that includes nonviolent offenses such as consensual teen sex, flashing, and patronizing a prostitute) effectively squashes a minor's chances of getting a college scholarship, serving in the military, securing a good job, finding decent housing, and, in many cases, moving forward with hope or happiness.

The sexual dangers to youth, online or off, may be less than we think. Yet adults routinely conflate friendly sex play with hurtful online behavior. "Teaching Teenagers About Harassment," recent piece in The New York Times, swings between descriptions of consensual photo-swapping and incessant, aggressive texting and Facebook or MySpace rumor-and insult-mongering as if these were similarly motivated -- and equally harmful. It quotes the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund, which calls sending nude photos "whether it is done under pressure or not" an element of "digital dating violence."

Sober scientific data do nothing to calm such anxieties. Reams of comments flowed into The New York Times when it reported Dr. Bogle's findings. "The way TV and MUSIC is promoting sex and explicit content daily and almost on every network," read one typical post, from the aptly named MsKnowledge, "I would have to say this article is completely naive. The streets are talking and there [sic] saying teens and young adults are becoming far more involved in more adult and sexual activities than most ADULTS. Scientific data is a JOKE … pay attention to reality and the REAL world will tell you otherwise."

A better-educated interlocutor, NPR's "On the Media" host Brooke Gladstone, defaulted to the same assumption in an interview with one of the Harvard Internet task force members, Family Online Safety Institute CEO Stephen Balkam. What lessons could be drawn from the study's findings? Gladstone asked. "What can be and what should be done to protect kids?"

"There's no silver bullet that's going to solve this issue," Balkam replied. But "far more cooperation has got to happen between law enforcement, industry, the academic community, and we need to understand far better the psychological issues that are at play here."

It's unclear from this exchange what Gladstone believes kids need to be protected from or what issue Balkam is solving. But neither of them came to the logical conclusion of the Harvard study: that we should back off, moderate our fears, and stop thinking of youthful sexual expression as a criminal matter. Still, Balkam wants to call in the cops.

Maybe all that bullying is a mirror of the way adults treat young people minding their own sexual business. Maybe the "issue" is not sex but adults' response to it: the harm we do trying to protect teenagers from themselves.

Reprinted with permission from Judith Levine, "What's the Matter With Teen Sexting?," The American Prospect Online: February 02, 2009. The American Prospect, 1710 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, 12th Floor, Washington, DC 20036. All right reserved."

Judith Levine is the author of four books, including Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex.
© 2009 The American Prospect All rights reserved.
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from a crowded desktop to a crowded life or the other way around....

There're a lot of stories I've flagged and put on the desktop, with the purpose of sticking them here and making comments about them. A week's worth of them.

I've had a hectic week and didn't get around to them any sooner: q.west, my ISP, periodically sends me glitch, and since I'm not a techie, it sometimes takes me several days to figure out what it is—or to rectify it, without necessarily fixing it, right; I spent a lot of time on the phone arranging for some out-patient surgery to back out a screw the doctor put too far into the ball in my right hip; I've been fighting off a chest cold; still plenty of aches from the healing hip; he anniversary of my son's death is coming up next week; and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. You know the story: we all live it from time to time.

So, now I'll see what looks worthwhile and comment-worthy.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


As California goes...where?

So, California may be the late, great state, after all. It's broke. It's self-destructing (with the help of a few good Republican conservatives). It's another example of incredible ideological stupidity, sort of economic McCarthyism.

California is very broke. The governor, Arnold S., promised he would not raise taxes when he was elected. Arnold just signed a bill to raise taxes, because there is no money. N-o-m-o-n-e-y. Because of this the conservatives are screaming bloody murder. One of their ideals, in this situation, appears to be to lay off every single state employee. However, they've yet to figure out who's going to watch the prisoners, fight fires, do the scut-work of running a state with a bigger infrastructure—and budget—than many nations. All they know is that taxes are going to go up, and that would be about like pissing on a Bible for many of them. These people are seriously detached from reality.

Oregon is going to have about a $2.5 billion deficit in the next biennium. Washington's will be over $8 billion. I regularly get newsletters from several Oregon state legislators who moan piteously for more tax cuts. There is, apparently, something in the contemporary Republican mind, magical about tax cuts. Tax increases god, they're...communist or something. But, the problem is that tax-cuts are a major contributing reason America is dangling over the economic cess-pool right now. That and deregulation and free market wet dreams, of course.

The conservative fantasy of shrinking government to where it can "drowned in a bathtub" is just plain stupid. It's the ideology of the intelligence-challenged. You simply cannot have a complex society without structure. Not with religious structure, either. There's too much centrifugal force. The best we could hope for would be a North American Somalia. I actually believe a lot of conservatives would prefer a fastest-gun-in-town approach to society. That's probably why John Wayne is his western roles is so idolized by the right-wing-nuts.

But, it doesn't work in real life. It's like a fantasy for senile adolescents. Look at California, shudder, think again about adequately funding government.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Deficits v. tax cuts

So, if the Rethugnicans have their way, America's economy will collapse, are we agreed? I'm utterly confused about how they can on the one hand wail about the awful deficits and then on the other hand demand more tax cuts. As I can best figure it out, we have deficits because there isn't enough revenue to pay for the war, for domestic spending, and so on—we have to borrow money. Borrowed money equals deficits, right? So if we have further tax cuts, don't we have to borrow more money? Even if the GOP''s wet dreams of drowning government would work out, there are still a lot of pay checks to cut every month.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Republicans hope to destabilise America?

Is there a method in the madness of the Republican-refusenik party? I've been wondering. All I've come up with, though, is the possibility that by being such a collection of stonewall-heads they hope to bring on the destabilisation of our country—which would pave the way, they hope, for some Gingrich-like charismatic leader who would promise stability and jobs and running the buses on time and getting rid of the illegal immigrants who have dragged this country down into the morass of atheistic liberal Jewish bankers, blah blah. Yeah, that they've decided they aren't going to get their wishes unless we give up on what democracy we have left.

Well, it's possible. The Republican behavior is truly lock-step and regressive. Could it be the infiltration of the party by the unreconstructed southern racists-militarists-Christians has led them to such a point of view?

But, Pete, that would treason. Yeah, it would.


Bend as Ponzi scheme

Not the best headline, I'm afraid. But Bend is teetering on the edge of economic collapse; from a city with notoriously over-priced houses, it is now a city with a notorious inventory of unsold properties. Of course, the big developers, the bankers, lenders, realtors, the newspaper, chamber of commerce folks—all the folks that brought you the wonderful housing boom and ever inflating home prices are all amazed. They had no idea it would ever end, let alone collapse. Uh-huh.

You cannot build a city on nothing. There has to be a solid, continuing revenue source or sources for a city to grow. The west is littered with ghost towns. Someone finds a rich streak of gold or silver or copper, and a town is laid out. People pour in, buildings go up, property values escalate, the hype is that the city is the coming metropolis. But then the gold or copper runs out. There's no financial base. Virginia City, Butte, Goldroad, Austin, Columbia, Bodie, Goldfield—those towns, if they still have inhabitants, are just museum sets, no matter how big they got during the boom. Why did they empty? There wasn't enough money to keep the town going. It takes agriculture or diverse industry, something along those lines, to keep a solid financial base for people to tap into. Bend doesn't have that. All Bend has is hype—publicity as the greatest destination in the west. The city has tried to fund itself on future growth; it's like doubling down on losing bets or something like that. Sad, yeah. Going to be a lot sadder as the property values continue to deflate.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


The City is a mental-health hazard

Been saving this for a while. I'm not sure why, but maybe it has something to do with the nuttiness in Washington and New York.
How the city hurts your brain...And what you can do about it
By Jonah Lehrer | January 2, 2009

THE CITY HAS always been an engine of intellectual life, from the 18th-century coffeehouses of London, where citizens gathered to discuss chemistry and radical politics, to the Left Bank bars of modern Paris, where Pablo Picasso held forth on modern art. Without the metropolis, we might not have had the great art of Shakespeare or James Joyce; even Einstein was inspired by commuter trains.

And yet, city life isn't easy. The same London cafes that stimulated Ben Franklin also helped spread cholera; Picasso eventually bought an estate in quiet Provence. While the modern city might be a haven for playwrights, poets, and physicists, it's also a deeply unnatural and overwhelming place.

Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it's long been recognized that city life is exhausting -- that's why Picasso left Paris -- this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

"The mind is a limited machine,"says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk. "And we're beginning to understand the different ways that a city can exceed those limitations."

One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.

This research arrives just as humans cross an important milestone: For the first time in history, the majority of people reside in cities. For a species that evolved to live in small, primate tribes on the African savannah, such a migration marks a dramatic shift. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces, we're crowded into concrete jungles, surrounded by taxis, traffic, and millions of strangers. In recent years, it's become clear that such unnatural surroundings have important implications for our mental and physical health, and can powerfully alter how we think.

This research is also leading some scientists to dabble in urban design, as they look for ways to make the metropolis less damaging to the brain. The good news is that even slight alterations, such as planting more trees in the inner city or creating urban parks with a greater variety of plants, can significantly reduce the negative side effects of city life. The mind needs nature, and even a little bit can be a big help.

Consider everything your brain has to keep track of as you walk down a busy thoroughfare like Newbury Street. There are the crowded sidewalks full of distracted pedestrians who have to be avoided; the hazardous crosswalks that require the brain to monitor the flow of traffic. (The brain is a wary machine, always looking out for potential threats.) There's the confusing urban grid, which forces people to think continually about where they're going and how to get there.

The reason such seemingly trivial mental tasks leave us depleted is that they exploit one of the crucial weak spots of the brain. A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to constantly redirect our attention so that we aren't distracted by irrelevant things, like a flashing neon sign or the cellphone conversation of a nearby passenger on the bus. This sort of controlled perception -- we are telling the mind what to pay attention to -- takes energy and effort. The mind is like a powerful supercomputer, but the act of paying attention consumes much of its processing power.

Natural settings, in contrast, don't require the same amount of cognitive effort. This idea is known as attention restoration theory, or ART, and it was first developed by Stephen Kaplan, a psychologist at the University of Michigan. While it's long been known that human attention is a scarce resource -- focusing in the morning makes it harder to focus in the afternoon -- Kaplan hypothesized that immersion in nature might have a restorative effect.

Imagine a walk around Walden Pond, in Concord. The woods surrounding the pond are filled with pitch pine and hickory trees. Chickadees and red-tailed hawks nest in the branches; squirrels and rabbits skirmish in the berry bushes. Natural settings are full of objects that automatically capture our attention, yet without triggering a negative emotional response -- unlike, say, a backfiring car. The mental machinery that directs attention can relax deeply, replenishing itself.

"It's not an accident that Central Park is in the middle of Manhattan," says Berman. "They needed to put a park there."

In a study published last month, Berman outfitted undergraduates at the University of Michigan with GPS receivers. Some of the students took a stroll in an arboretum, while others walked around the busy streets of downtown Ann Arbor.

The subjects were then run through a battery of psychological tests. People who had walked through the city were in a worse mood and scored significantly lower on a test of attention and working memory, which involved repeating a series of numbers backwards. In fact, just glancing at a photograph of urban scenes led to measurable impairments, at least when compared with pictures of nature.

"We see the picture of the busy street, and we automatically imagine what it's like to be there," says Berman. "And that's when your ability to pay attention starts to suffer."

This also helps explain why, according to several studies, children with attention-deficit disorder have fewer symptoms in natural settings. When surrounded by trees and animals, they are less likely to have behavioral problems and are better able to focus on a particular task.

Studies have found that even a relatively paltry patch of nature can confer benefits. In the late 1990s, Frances Kuo, director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, began interviewing female residents in the Robert Taylor Homes, a massive housing project on the South Side of Chicago.

Kuo and her colleagues compared women randomly assigned to various apartments. Some had a view of nothing but concrete sprawl, the blacktop of parking lots and basketball courts. Others looked out on grassy courtyards filled with trees and flowerbeds. Kuo then measured the two groups on a variety of tasks, from basic tests of attention to surveys that looked at how the women were handling major life challenges. She found that living in an apartment with a view of greenery led to significant improvements in every category.

"We've constructed a world that's always drawing down from the same mental account," Kuo says. "And then we're surprised when [after spending time in the city] we can't focus at home."

But the density of city life doesn't just make it harder to focus: It also interferes with our self-control. In that stroll down Newbury, the brain is also assaulted with temptations -- caramel lattes, iPods, discounted cashmere sweaters, and high-heeled shoes. Resisting these temptations requires us to flex the prefrontal cortex, a nub of brain just behind the eyes. Unfortunately, this is the same brain area that's responsible for directed attention, which means that it's already been depleted from walking around the city. As a result, it's less able to exert self-control, which means we're more likely to splurge on the latte and those shoes we don't really need. While the human brain possesses incredible computational powers, it's surprisingly easy to short-circuit: all it takes is a hectic city street.

"I think cities reveal how fragile some of our 'higher' mental functions actually are," Kuo says. "We take these talents for granted, but they really need to be protected."

Related research has demonstrated that increased "cognitive load" -- like the mental demands of being in a city -- makes people more likely to choose chocolate cake instead of fruit salad, or indulge in a unhealthy snack. This is the one-two punch of city life: It subverts our ability to resist temptation even as it surrounds us with it, from fast-food outlets to fancy clothing stores. The end result is too many calories and too much credit card debt.

City life can also lead to loss of emotional control. Kuo and her colleagues found less domestic violence in the apartments with views of greenery. These data build on earlier work that demonstrated how aspects of the urban environment, such as crowding and unpredictable noise, can also lead to increased levels of aggression. A tired brain, run down by the stimuli of city life, is more likely to lose its temper.

Long before scientists warned about depleted prefrontal cortices, philosophers and landscape architects were warning about the effects of the undiluted city, and looking for ways to integrate nature into modern life. Ralph Waldo Emerson advised people to "adopt the pace of nature," while the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted sought to create vibrant urban parks, such as Central Park in New York and the Emerald Necklace in Boston, that allowed the masses to escape the maelstrom of urban life.

Although Olmsted took pains to design parks with a variety of habitats and botanical settings, most urban greenspaces are much less diverse. This is due in part to the "savannah hypothesis," which argues that people prefer wide-open landscapes that resemble the African landscape in which we evolved. Over time, this hypothesis has led to a proliferation of expansive civic lawns, punctuated by a few trees and playing fields.

However, these savannah-like parks are actually the least beneficial for the brain. In a recent paper, Richard Fuller, an ecologist at the University of Queensland, demonstrated that the psychological benefits of green space are closely linked to the diversity of its plant life. When a city park has a larger variety of trees, subjects that spend time in the park score higher on various measures of psychological well-being, at least when compared with less biodiverse parks.

"We worry a lot about the effects of urbanization on other species," Fuller says. "But we're also affected by it. That's why it's so important to invest in the spaces that provide us with some relief."

When a park is properly designed, it can improve the function of the brain within minutes. As the Berman study demonstrates, just looking at a natural scene can lead to higher scores on tests of attention and memory. While people have searched high and low for ways to improve cognitive performance, from doping themselves with Red Bull to redesigning the layout of offices, it appears that few of these treatments are as effective as simply taking a walk in a natural place.

Given the myriad mental problems that are exacerbated by city life, from an inability to pay attention to a lack of self-control, the question remains: Why do cities continue to grow? And why, even in the electronic age, do they endure as wellsprings of intellectual life?

Recent research by scientists at the Santa Fe Institute used a set of complex mathematical algorithms to demonstrate that the very same urban features that trigger lapses in attention and memory -- the crowded streets, the crushing density of people -- also correlate with measures of innovation, as strangers interact with one another in unpredictable ways. It is the "concentration of social interactions" that is largely responsible for urban creativity, according to the scientists. The density of 18th-century London may have triggered outbreaks of disease, but it also led to intellectual breakthroughs, just as the density of Cambridge -- one of the densest cities in America -- contributes to its success as a creative center. One corollary of this research is that less dense urban areas, like Phoenix, may, over time, generate less innovation.

The key, then, is to find ways to mitigate the psychological damage of the metropolis while still preserving its unique benefits. Kuo, for instance, describes herself as "not a nature person," but has learned to seek out more natural settings: The woods have become a kind of medicine. As a result, she's better able to cope with the stresses of city life, while still enjoying its many pleasures and benefits. Because there always comes a time, as Lou Reed once sang, when a person wants to say: "I'm sick of the trees/take me to the city."

Jonah Lehrer is the author of the new book "How We Decide." His first book was "Proust Was a Neuroscientist." He is a regular contributor to Ideas.
© Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The latest sell-out

Is the "stimulus."

Cut cut cut. I doubt that all the cuts are necessary. Maybe the cuts are necessary because the Democratic members of Congress are such a gang of wannabe "centrists"? Disgusting.

On the other hand, it's a nice snowy day here in central Oregon. I finally got back into the pool for some physical therapy—more than six weeks of being laid up. I basically pedaled around in deep water for twenty minutes, flexing out my hip, and then fifteen minutes in the hot tub. Feels wonderful. Out of my head and into my body. I came home and was able to remember the correct password to an account on Facebook. Now that I have that all figured out, of course, it's passed by with "Twaddle" or "Twitter," or "Dither" or "Dipshit." Whatever. I'm not going to be with it, ever, and the world will have to accept that. Got it?

OK, now, let's get back to making the revolution.


White supremacist attempts to assemble "dirty bomb"

The official reality is that all threats of terrorism come from “leftists.” They’re tree-huggers or black nationalists or middle-easterners, something—someone—very subversive and very...umm...unwashed.

Then there was Tim McVey. And the guy who shot up the Unitarian Church and denounced liberals... But, mostly we seem to hear about eco-saboteurs and wannabe Marxist guerillas. Never see them, though. Hear about them.

Then there are good old fashion’ Americans, like a guy in Belfast, Maine, who was apparently shot to death by his wife. Sounds like he pretty much deserved it; I imagine her life is still going to be hell.

The thing is, though, the guy was one of those great far-right nutcases that too often slips through society way below the radar...this is from Raw Story:

Report: 'Dirty bomb' parts found in slain man's home
Agency says radioactive materials recovered in home of man allegedly slain by his wife

By Walter Griffin
BDN Staff
BELFAST, Maine — James G. Cummings, who police say was shot to death by his wife two months ago, allegedly had a cache of radioactive materials in his home suitable for building a “dirty bomb.”

According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’ home after his shooting death on Dec. 9.

The report posted on the WikiLeaks Web site states that “On 9 December 2008, radiological dispersal device components and literature, and radioactive materials, were discovered at the Maine residence of an identified deceased [person] James Cummings.”

It says that four 1-gallon containers of 35 percent hydrogen peroxide, uranium, thorium, lithium metal, thermite, aluminum powder, beryllium, boron, black iron oxide and magnesium ribbon were found in the home.

Also found was literature on how to build “dirty bombs” and information about cesium-137, strontium-90 and cobalt-60, radioactive materials. The FBI report also stated there was evidence linking James Cummings to white supremacist groups. This would seem to confirm observations by local tradesmen who worked at the Cummings home that he was an ardent admirer of Adolf Hitler and had a collection of Nazi memorabilia around the house, including a prominently displayed flag with swastika. Cummings claimed to have pieces of Hitler’s personal silverware and place settings, painter Mike Robbins said a few days after the shooting.


Saturday, February 07, 2009


Are there actually cuts in the stimulus bill?

When you negotiate a contract, you ask for more than you think you'll get. The rules of the game require this. Then you can negotiate down to what you'll settle for, what you want. Say you need to borrow five thousand dollars. You ask for ten thousand and, after dickering around a great deal, you'll get five thousand—maybe six thousand if you're lucky. Like selling a car or buying a house. The buyer offers less, the seller asks more. I hope this is what's happened with the stimulus bill. It seems to me that absolute honesty in these negotiations is about the last thing anyone wants. Are there other ways to finance more food stamps? Head start programs? I imagine there are.

I wonder if what the Dems are doing is letting the Republicans dig their graves a bit deeper by being such unrepentant assholes. By letting them fluster and buster and go on pursuing policies that have driven us to the edge of the cliff, I think public opinion is building against them, more and more. The posturings of people like Rush Limbaugh are not helping. There're too many bitter people right now, people realizing they've been sold a bucket of shit and were told it's gold, and to have lard-heads like Limbaugh saying, no it really is gold isn't helping the Republican cause. At least that's what I'm hoping...


Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

I'm utterly disgusted by Leon Panetta saying he would not hold various interrogators liable for what they did because they were following orders. Wow: the last sixty-odd years of history were just thrown down the toilet. Nazis. War crimes. Remember? "I vass chust following ordersss..." Goddamit, this stinks. Panetta's stomach should turn itself inside out if he has a soul. How many people did we hang, how many people did we hang for following orders? What was the principle?

War crimes. Our new administration has announced to the world that we do not commit war crimes. Because we say so, basically. Oh, sure, torture may be a war crime, but our torturers believed they were acting legally. I'm sure there were many Nazis who believed you could not commit war crimes against Jews because they were sub-human. Maybe we need to offer posthumous pardons to them. Fuck. I'm glad I'm old; I won't have to watch the utter degradation of this country—just the partial degredation, yeah.


Viagra and other stimuli

The stimulus bill has been, sort of, approved. The Republicans are snarling about many aspects of it, mostly because they know in their hearts their own policies are what got us to this point. The line I like best is from some Repu who said he didn't want to mortgage our children's future...yeah, like what the fuck did they do concerning the war and the biggest deficits ever encountered by human beings? They mortgaged the hell out of the future.

Is Rush Limbaugh the top Republican these days? Apparently he believes he is, seriously. Could it be the viagra has gone to his head instead of his dick—assuming those are two different places? Is he back on pain pills? Was he ever off of pain pills? Would he exist without either pain pills or viagra? Or without cigars? A rabble-rousing raggedty-brained fool is the head of the GOP? Yeah, sounds right. Once the shock and awe of utterly failed policies sets in, anything is possible.

Friday, February 06, 2009


Friday follies

So, wotthehell wotthehell, the Republicans are behavior worse than usual and, natch, getting away with it.

How people who have given us an unmitigated economic disaster for the last eight years can claim any sort of authority or intelligence or even decency... I mean they're still out there on TV, arguing that just because X has been a drunk for the last umpteen years and had innumerable traffic accidents and caused even more, why should we not give X some more money to buy booze? That's the old it's crazy to keep on doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome routine I heard so many times in AA. That is craziness, yeah, and it's like expecting a drunk to go out and have a drink and come home sober. What a whacked out way of doing anything—especially politics.

Send them all to rehab (which I'm fairly certain would at least sober up a good number of the Republican opposition)! Hell, send the Dems to rehab too! They're all wet-brain idiots. And they've damn near destroyed the country in their haste to pick up brib—ah, campaign donations.

Monday, February 02, 2009


the kleptocracy and missing "reconstruction funds."

“Kleptocracy.” A new word? It means a rule of thieves. It means that during the Iraq war, a gang of thieves was running the show. We lost billions and billions of dollars in “reconstruction funds” that were, basically, stolen.

I believe these funds were stolen the way torture became an established interrogation technique—a word from on high, a wink, and it was done. And I think the word and wink came from the same people in both cases. Hey, you supported us getting into office, here’s a little present...
Iraq Auditor Warns of Waste, Fraud In Afghanistan

By Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 2, 2009; A06

After five years of investigations and 250,000 pages of audits, Stuart W. Bowen Jr. wishes he could say that the $50 billion cost of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq was money accounted for and well spent.

"But that's just not happened," Bowen said.

Instead, the largest single-country relief and reconstruction project in U.S. history -- most of it done by private U.S. contractors -- was full of wasted funds, fraud and a lack of accountability under what Bowen, the congressionally mandated special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, calls an "ad hoc-racy" of lax or nonexistent government planning and supervision.

And despite the Iraq experience, he said, the United States is making many of the same mistakes again in Afghanistan, where U.S. reconstruction expenditures stand at more than $30 billion and counting.
Bowen's office, known as SIGIR, is releasing a book today that recounts the Iraq experience and suggests how to avoid future mistakes. "Hard Lessons" is being published as the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting holds its first public hearing. ...

"Hard Lessons," a draft of which was leaked to the news media in December, concludes that the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq was a failure, largely because there was no overall strategy behind it. Goals shifted from "liberation" and an early military exit to massive, ill-conceived and expensive building projects under the Coalition Provisional Authority of 2003 and 2004. Many of those projects -- over budget, poorly executed or, often, barely begun -- were abandoned as security worsened.

In a preface to the 456-page book, Bowen writes that he knew the reconstruction was in trouble when he first visited Iraq in January 2004 and saw duffel bags full of cash being carried out of the Republican Palace, which housed the U.S. occupation government.

Security was a constant problem, not only for military and civilian officials serving in Iraq but also for SIGIR. Auditor Paul Converse was killed in March during a rocket attack in Baghdad, following a year in which five other SIGIR employees were wounded.

The book recounts, in colorful detail based on SIGIR interviews with nearly all the principals, the deep divisions during the same period between the Pentagon, under Donald H. Rumsfeld; the State Department under Colin L. Powell; and the White House office of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage recounts an argument between Rumsfeld and Rice in the fall of 2003 during which each said the other was in charge of supervising the Coalition Provisional Authority.
In one previously publicized case recounted in "Hard Lessons," Bowen's auditors discovered a cash disbursement of $57.8 million by the CPA to the U.S. comptroller for south-central Iraq. "Pallet upon pallet of hundred-dollar bills" were removed from the CPA vault in Baghdad and driven to the regional office in two unarmored SUVs. There, the local acting comptroller, Robert J. Stein Jr., who later was convicted for money laundering and fraud, had himself photographed with mountains of cash.

Overall, SIGIR and other law enforcement agencies have obtained 35 convictions, including two major bribery schemes involving $14 million solicited by U.S. military officers who ran Kuwait-based units contracting for the billions of dollars in supplies sent to Iraq.
When he took the job five years ago, Bowen said, "I didn't know that we didn't have a system to protect our interests abroad in post-conflict or contingency operations. . . . It would have been a much funner job to issue 250 reports on how well our rebuilding program went . . . and that the money was well accounted for and that we're leaving Iraq a peaceful and democratic place and nonviolent country."

Given that $4 billion in appropriated U.S. reconstruction funds remain unspent in Iraq, Bowen's work is not likely to end anytime soon.


Moonday meanderings

February, and not a moment too soon. January was a very long month. Things seem to be speeding up; I have an appointment with the orthop. next Monday to see how my hip and pelvis look. I think they're pretty good, although there are still moves that don't feel good. Sort of like discovering there's a piece of barbed wire down in there, rubbing around. I think that's pretty normal. Hope so, anyhow. We'll see.

Once again, I "missed" the superbowl. I chose not to watch it, like I choose not to watch Dr Phil or Fox News. We took a drive over to Sisters, following the countless backroads, hoping we'd find some great little spunky lost dog who didn't have an owner we could find. No luck. Saw a bunch of deer, though, the usual horses and cows, some bicyclists out on their recumbent wheels.

Sisters, which I guess is an OK town except for the corny wannabe-Knott's-Berry-Farm old west style of downtown, looked like it was on the way to being an old west ghost town. Usually, on a Sunday, the downtown is full of pedestrians, parking places are hard to find, and traffic is creepy. The town looked semi-deserted. Is the superbowl that important? I don't think so; when a place's whole reason for existing is tourism, and the tourists stay home, the town goes to hell. Sisters, like Bend, was once a timber town. Bend had the sawmills and Sisters was surrounded by nice flat ground filled with big Ponderosa pines. The big trees are gone, now, along with the sawmills. How does a town survive without it's economic base? Tombstone, Angel's Camp, Virginia City, Bisbee, and other mining towns pretty much depend on tourism. And they're shadows of their pasts. Sisters has a lot of fancy ranches around it, quarter horse ranchs, places like that. Bend has, uh, uh, well it has housing. Bend went for years being some sort of destination mecca. There's ski-ing close by, sure, and there's lakes and rivers...once upon a time there was outstanding fishing, but these days it's put-and-take or it's catch-and-release, sometimes a combination of the two. The town is built on image and advertising. It became a product, marketed like sporty cars (or, more appropriately, SUVs—the image of outdoorsy, robust, adventurous, but comfortable and polished and expensive).

I guess Sun Valley is the model for that, at least in the west. I have no idea how things are going there. Here, they're going badly. There are for sale and for rent signs all over town. New office buildings and strip malls have too many vacancies. And the city government is nearly broke. They thought the boom would go on and on—just like the mining companies thought the Comstock Lode would never run out of ore. Or the Anaconda Company thought Rich Hill would never quit producing copper. Buying houses to flip them, resell them quickly, was a popular activity. You could get loans on $250,000 homes if you were working full time and for low wages. Same old story. Eventually it became obvious Bend was drastically over-priced. And now...who knows what? There's no economic base here, no industry to speak of, no vast reserves of...oil? Natural gas? Coal? Silver? No, no, and no. A whole lot of this town developed, grew, to offer houses to the retiring boomer generation and their parents. They'd worked for good Cold War wages; maybe blue collar, but still good wages.They owned property free and clear in, say Los Angeles, and it sold for a whole lot of money. They came up here to retire. They did. Some of them don't like the climate; some of them thought their kids would want to live here, and some of them died. There's nobody to sell to, now. Even with house-prices down by 1/4th or 1/3rd. No buyers. Ooops.

I don't know what'll happen. I wish I did, but I don't.

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