Give Peace a Chance

There was a moment a few years ago when some Republican leaders in Florida came to a startling realization.

As Republicans they held two cardinal values. Well, “cardinal” to Republicans. Firstly, they were in favor of small government, efficient, and free of wasteful extravagance. Secondly, they were strongly in favor of an effective, strict criminal justice system that promoted law and order and reduced crime.

The realization that they came to was that the same strict law-and-order platform they espoused was at odds with their first goal– small and efficient government. They realized that throwing hundreds and thousands of teenaged hoodlums into jail for long sentences without possibility of early parole or rehabilitation was actually costing the government a lot more money than… gasp… prevention programs.

What they realized was that a relatively small amount of money invested in youth programs in the inner city would actually have the effect of reducing the number of youths that would proceed into a life of crime and violence. It would also thereby reduce the costs of policing, criminal prosecution, and incarceration, by a very substantial amount. They came to this conclusion on the basis of solid research conducted by– gasp– intellectuals with college degrees.

So these Republicans found themselves in the odd position of advocating greater spending on social programs and prevention– Democrat icons– in order to further their goal of smaller, more efficient government.

They were far-sighted and wise. They foresaw a win-win situation: less crime, and more opportunity for the poor in their community. They were willing to re-examine dogmatic belief in the light of scientific evidence.

National governments today spend over $800 billion on defense. They spend about $10 billion on the primary tool of averting wars, the United Nations.

The Republicans have worked very hard to demonize the United Nations over the past few years. They claim that it is a bloated bureaucracy–which it is–and that it is inefficient and works against the interests of the United States.

What they really see is that the United Nations tries to work in the interests of all peoples of the planet, and that sometimes means that the U.S. is called upon to share, and Republicans don’t want to share. They don’t want to share the fish in the sea, or the profits of pharmaceutical corporations or the responsibility of reducing global warming. They do want to share in the profits to be made by selling weapons to antagonists in local conflicts. They don’t even hesitate to sell land-mines which, more often than not, end up harming civilians rather than soldiers. Thousands and thousands of children. Children with missing limbs. Bill Clinton wanted to sign the International Land Mine Treaty. The Republicans, with a majority in Congress, blocked him.

But these Republicans in Miami realized that their long-range goals are best served with foresight and planning, and with consideration of the causes of the problems they mean to address.

Why is this lesson so hard to absorb on a national level? These terrorists are global thugs and our immediate reaction is to demand death, or long prison sentences. We launch a military attack which, in substance if not formal organization, is similar to the action that provoked it. We bomb the hell out of them.

If we keep waiting for more terrorist attacks and then simply retaliate and punish, not only will we have the very thing we are trying to stamp out– as every retaliation provides righteous fodder for the next generation of suicide bombers– but we will increase it, and it will cost us more and more to deal with.

The United Nations is the world’s inner-city program. It should be funded. It’s not perfect, but it does better than most people think it does. We don’t keep statistics on wars prevented but the truth is that the world is a far more peaceful place today than it used to be. The United Nations should be empowered. It should be employed to resolve the issues that give rise to terrorism. The U.S. will have to change it’s tack from “how can we directly benefit” to “how can we reduce the global tensions and economic disparities that give rise to insurgencies and terrorist acts”.

Redneck America scoffs: what we need to do is kill them all. If you want Ireland or the Middle East, you shall have it. But if the real goal is to reduce terrorism, to reduce death and destruction and violence, we have to follow the path of the British, who decided 20 years ago that the only way to bring an end to violence in Northern Ireland was to end the cycle of attack and retaliation and bring the interested parties to the negotiating table.

And every cop knows that the first step to preventing trouble is to win the trust and respect of the people who might or might not eventually go on to make trouble. The U.S. has to show Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt that it can develop new policies in the region that are principled and fair, and that don’t always only benefit themselves. Step #1 is that Israel must be dragged kicking and screaming to the negotiating table, not because they are wrong or because they are at fault or because they are bullies– they might or might not be all of these– but because it is the only way to begin to resolve the Palestinian issue, and the Palestinian issue is at the heart of most conflicts between Islamic fundamentalists and the west.

The U.S. must also review it’s relationships with Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Those nations need to gradually incorporate more democratic elements into their governments or they will eventually be over-thrown by militant Islamic fundamentalists, as Iran was. Most of the September 11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. There is serious resentment in the Moslem world over the conspicuous U.S. presence in this nation that is custodian to the holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina.

The sanctions against Iraq should end. Saddam Hussein, though vilified by the U.S. media, is really no better or worse than most of the other leaders of nations in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria.

A Visit to Ottawa – Part II

Bill’s Trip to Canada’s National Capital: Part II

I stayed in Ottawa recently to take a course in Oracle, the world’s most powerful and expensive data base. I stayed at the Lord Elgin, which is really pretty fancy, though I assure you it is priced very competitively with Holiday Inn. They took my car away from me from the moment arrived– I haven’t even seen my keys in four days– so I was forced to walk everywhere.

I walked down the Rideau looking for a Wendy’s. There were two Burger King’s, a McDonald’s, a Dairy Queen, and a food court in the Rideau Centre, a giant shopping mall. I ended up with a Mozza burger from A&W and New Yorker Fries and a complete waste of dinner.

On the way back, I stopped in at Chapters to try to find a book on humor by Gershon Legman. The staff were not helpful. Well, I’d never heard of him either until recently. The computers they have scattered throughout the store are supposed to help you find books. It found Legman’s book but it declared that not only was it not in stock, but it wasn’t even “available”. This is a book that some people with opinions I respect think is a very, very important book.

On the way back, I dropped into the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. There is a long staircase descending from Rideau St. to a long, empty hall, and then another staircase that descends to the main hall. On the upper hall is a display of photographs of images from a television set of an 8mm camcorder video taken by a guy named Ho Tam. In these images, Ho “moves between the roles of observer and participant” and produces a series of “grainy yet sensitive pictures”. Ho reflects on his schooling experiences (the shots are taken in a Catholic school he attended in Hong Kong) and, “most importantly, the ‘lessons’ learned during those formative years— love, desire, discipline, trust, fear, and loss of innocence”.

To me, they looked like a bunch of badly lit, badly aimed Kodak Instamatic photographs. What’s in them? What did you think would be in them, given the description above– “loss of innocence”? They consist of a bunch of images of the buildings, the kids playing soccer or hanging around, and the toilets, and foliage.

Well, that’s the problem with modern art, you know. I say I wanted to see some very sharp, specific images of faces and people acting upon each other and their environments. The artist asserts that I am oppressing him with a paternalistic and fascist sense of structured literalistic meaning.

But let’s think about this. Why do we have modern art? Because artists since 1920 have been so wildly inventive and imaginative that they have single-handedly struck upon a mode of expression that contains the unparalleled potential to illuminate the zeitgeist of our own era? No. Modern Art exists because photography came along and removed the figurative, representational purpose of painting and sculpture. With nothing else to do, art turned in upon itself and became self-referential, drawing attention to it’s methods and material elements and structure. The next thing you know, it is mocking those very self-referential elements, and then it is trying to draw attention to the fact that it is mocking itself, and then it tries to be so cool that it doesn’t even seem to be mocking itself, all the while demanding that patrons pay outrageous sums of money in order to exhibit these products upside down in their living rooms.

So you have Jackson Pollock with his splatter-paintings, and Andy Warhol with his soup cans. So you have the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York fighting bravely for the honor and respect of modern art now caught in it’s own theological disputes over whether or not post-modernism really exists and should have a place to display itself.

And you have Ho with his deconstructed photographs. What is he doing?

He is using a technology to imitate an art form that is a revolt against his technology.

Is he a genius?

No, because he doesn’t understand what he is doing. What he thinks he is doing is making his photographs “artistic”. How do you make them artistic? Well, good heavens, not by finding interesting subjects and photographing them accurately. You make them artistic by finding uninteresting subjects and photographing them in uninteresting ways, with uninteresting angles, in degraded colour and low resolution, and then you mount them on the wall and point to them and tell people–you have to tell them, or they won’t know– that this is art.

Your artlessness camouflages the fact that you have no creativity to offer, that you didn’t do the hard work of composition, lighting, camera angle, colouration, and so on.

Most importantly, you ban cameras from the building.

I’m not kidding. I’m looking at these awful illustrations on the wall and reading a sign and the sign says that anyone trying to steal these images will be prosecuted for copyright violation. God help us, someone might try to steal a photograph of your bad photographs! It makes me think of an old, fat, diseased whore: “Don’t you even think of trying to get me to pose nude for you, my boy!”

Down the hall, in the main hall, don’t you know, are more mature works by a more respected visual artist– Pierre Boogaerts.

I am reading the program notes on Pierre Boogaerts. Is there any greater testimony to the bankruptcy of modern art than phrases like this: “… belongs to the generation of artist who adopted photography as their preferred means of expression in the early 1970’s”. Isn’t that bizarre? It sounds like elevator conversation– you have to say something, so say something inane. Anyway, his work is “marked by a conjunction of influences from Pop Art, Land Art, and conceptual art, and called into question the formulation and function of the work of art itself”.

That kind of consummate gobbledygook may have been excusable once upon a time, when the philistines were upon us, or when Stravinsky almost started a riot in Paris with “Rites of Spring”, but to write that kind of crap in 2001 of a mediocre artist like Boogaerts raises the question of whether the curators of this museum themselves must realize that it sounds like a joke.

There’s more:

“The Exhibition is selected from the entire body of work donated to the CMCP by Boogaerts in 1994. Poetry, an essential dimension of Boogaerts’ production, which is frequently masked by its conceptual art trappings, is highlighted in the structure of the exhibition through the use of analogy. This approach focuses attention on the visual beauty and associative processes inherent in the medium, which influenced the development of the artist’s ideas.”

Maybe you can rationalize away the word “entire”, as if he had another body of work that wasn’t “entire”, or the coy link to poetry, and maybe even “conceptual art trappings”, but I defy any sane person to excuse, in the name of literacy, “associative processes inherent in the medium”.

If you’re still interested, his photographs consist mainly of repetitious shots of leaves and buildings, arranged in various uninteresting collages or shapes and sizes.

I was the only person in the museum for the first ten minutes of my tour. Four or five other people came in while I was there. The staff, three people, well-dressed, behind the main counter, seemed discernibly alarmed when I came in. A security guard tried to follow me but I think she didn’t want to appear to be too suspicious so she hung back and tried to look nonchalant while making sure I didn’t stick a photograph of a leaf under my coat. They didn’t check me for anthrax or bombs or anything– does Osama Bin Laden know that the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography is a sitting duck?

It reminded me of a moment in Europe, in 1977. I toured the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which was great, and very busy, and the Van Gogh Museum, also in Amsterdam, and the Louvre in Paris. At either of the latter two, I could easily have walked out with any painting, including the Mona Lisa. Shortly afterwards, a mad Dutchman sliced Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” and that was the end of that era.

Everybody jaywalks in Ottawa, even the police. Well, perhaps I exaggerate. I didn’t actually see any police jaywalk, but I saw several of them sitting in cars or Jeep Cherokees near busy intersections and not one of them tried to arrest me for jaywalking.

Being the law-abiding sort, I wanted to wait for the lights to change, but this young girl who looked like she knew what she was doing blustered ahead of me and charged through the red “Don’t Walk Sign” so I followed. In fact, she demonstrated a convincingly degree of leadership, so I followed her for several blocks, at a discrete distance of course. She was good at it. She knew exactly when you could charge safely through a red stop sign and when it might not be safe.

We passed a demonstration near the National Arts Centre. I didn’t notice what it was for. I was instantly sympathetic with their cause…. until they started chanting. That’s when I am forced to tell myself that I could never be one with the poor and oppressed of this earth. I am genetically programmed to become nauseated at the first sound of a sing-along, group chant, slogans, and such. I would be a lousy demonstrator. When the woman with the bullhorn demands, “what are we going to do about it?”, I would shout, “I don’t know. What? Can we think about it?”

There was some kind of diplomatic gathering at Hotel Laurier. There were about twenty limos there with various chauffeurs standing around, shaking hands and gabbing. It looked like a United Nations get acquainted party. The cars, each with a distinctive red license plate, were parked all over the place, including on the sidewalks. I noticed that some of the “limos”, probably from poor third-world countries, were Neons and Jettas.

I saw something on the sidewalk and picked it up. It was some kind of identity card, which must belong to someone important. This person is so important, he doesn’t need his name or any other identifying marks on his card. It just has a magnetic stripe., and it is attached to some kind of belt clip with a yoyo type wire that reels back into a little disc. Very cool. I looked around at the chauffeur drivers but none of them met my eyes, so I walked off down the street with it. A few blocks later, I passed a cop and thought of turning it over to him, but then I thought it might arouse suspicion in these paranoid times, so I tucked it into my pocket and walked back to my hotel.

Thomas Sophonow

Thomas Sophonow of Manitoba was convicted in 1981 of the murder of a 16-year-old Winnipeg waitress named Barbara Stoppel.

He spent four years in prison before the Manitoba Court of Appeal ordered him released. The Manitoba Court of Appeal said that the evidence against Sophonow was inadequate.

Did the police and prosecutors admit they might have made a mistake? Not for fifteen years. And no level of government involved appears eager to pay the $2.6 million compensation suggested by an inquiry into the affair.

How did it happen? How did the wrong mean end up in prison for four years?

Does this phrase ring a bell: jailhouse informant. Snitch. One man about to be deported to Hong Kong agreed to testify that Sophonow had confessed to him. All charges against the snitch and the deportation hearings were dropped. Two of the other snitches had lengthy resumes, performing the function regularly for the police in exchange for various favors.

Commissioner Peter Cory, investigating the miscarriage of justice, recommends that jailhouse snitches never be used again in criminal proceedings. That is NEVER.

There were three eye-witnesses. Three of the four could not identify the suspect in a police line-up, but they still testified that Sophonow was the man they saw leaving the crime-scene. Why? In all likelihood, the police assured them that he was the man, and that it would be a “crime” for him to walk free simply because there wasn’t any evidence. The police worked their witnesses into a state of absent compliance.

One remaining eye-witness insists that Sophonow is the man he saw leaving the donut shop where Stoppel was murdered. But more and more recent research– especially by Elizabeth Loftus– shows that eye-witnesses tend to blend the face of the accused with their memory of the person they actually saw at the time. They see the accused every day in court, for extended periods of time, whereas their original view of the suspect is fleeting and ephemeral. Memory is not reliable, and certainly not as reliable as DNA testing, which has excluded Sophonow from any further suspicion.

According to an American study released in June, juries make up their minds early in the trial– based, obviously, on anything but evidence– and then fit the facts presented to their prejudice.

After injustice, exploitation. Sophonow’s lawyer will be paid more than $800,000. Do lawyers work that hard? Are they that talented? That is more than a teacher makes over ten years.

A Visit to Ottawa

I happen to be in Ottawa for a week to take a course on Oracle. Ottawa is actually quite beautiful in the downtown area but the political climate is such that you can’t help but think, boy, they sure are squandering a lot of taxpayer dollars here. The National Arts Centre is quite impressive. And if I look out the window of my hotel, I can stare right into the face of a huge office tower with the government logo on it. It’s 10:00 at night and all the lights are on.

But most of the big expensive buildings here are privately owned, like the Learning Tree Education Centre at 160 Elgin St. It looks like the tower is owned by Bell, which has it’s logo on the front, but you never know nowadays. It’s large by Ottawa standards. It’s gloriously finished, in marble and all kinds of gleaming, expensive materials I don’t know the name of. A man comes out the front with a broom and a dustpan and sweeps up the cigarette butts regularly, even in the evening.

These monstrous towers– dwarves, compared to the World Trade Centre– never made much sense to me. Who said we should allow people to build up 40, 50, 60 stories? Who said that just because you own a plot of land on the surface of the earth means you’re entitled to do anything you want with all of the space above it? Tall buildings take the sunlight away from people, of course. They create traffic problems, and block the view and, again, as the World Trade Centre showed, they’re not very safe. Not for the obvious reason– which isn’t very likely to happen anywhere else soon, but because firemen can’t reach the upper floors. In New York City, the highest floor that can be reached with fire hoses and ladders is the 37th. If there is a fire above that level, you might as well jump.

Which reminds me. I have a great idea to improve the safety of people who work in those towers. I believe that the landlords should be required to provide a hang-glider for every worker. You might think it would be crazy to try to hang glide through the downtown corridors of our modern cities, but it’s a lot better than the alternative.

The hotel is pretty nice but the bathroom is small and the towel rack hangs right above the toilet.

Oracle is the most expensive off-the-shelf software in the world, about $15,000 or more for the server version, and Learning Tree International charges thousands of dollars for a one-week course on how to use Oracle, but they can’t afford to buy enough computers for everyone in the class so I get to share mine with Ahmed. Ahmed’s a real nice guy but the trouble is that he and I are moving at different speeds here, so I sit in my $5,000 seat at times in frustration.

Learning Tree doesn’t scrimp on the amenities. They have these really cool coffee machines that take little plastic cups of freshly ground flavored coffee and whip you up a very tasty shot of caffeine in no time at all. They provide you with fresh fruit, muffins, yogurt. Our trainer works in the real world, usually, and knows his stuff. The lessons are well-prepared and thorough. They were giving us an hour for lunch but the class voted to start at 8:30 instead of 9:00, take 30 minutes for lunch instead of 60, and quit an hour earlier at the end of the day.

Most of my classmates looked bored and frazzled. It’s like trying to learn Russian in one week, immersion. People do exercises as if they have just been instructed on how to do heart surgery and must now repair an aorta, on their own, in fifteen minutes.

I am staying at the Lord Elgin. I don’t think it’s a cheap place, by any means, but other hotels have jacked up their rates so much that it’s actually fairly competitive even though it’s level of service is far higher than it is at, say, the Travel Lodge or Holiday Inn. The elevators are covered with brass. The lobby floor looks like some kind of marble or other high priced tile. There is a bellboy in his funny little uniform. But hotels can be a little crazy. You pay over $100 a night for a good sleep and then get woken up by loud vacuuming and door-banging at 7:00 a.m.

The telephone in the room rings. I kid you not. You don’t hear a phone ring very often anymore in this world. But it rings. It’s a shock to the ears at first, a flash of nostalgia, and then annoyance: the ringing sound really is quite annoying. You would think that at the rates they charge, hotels would be rushing to put in reasonably state of the art equipment, but this phone system has got to be 30 years old. The television too, an old Zenith, would look right at home in the Beverly Hillbillies era. It has one of those clunky brown boxes on the top. When you turn it on, it goes right to the offers for movies. They want $9.95 to watch a movie in your room. This is a big profit centre for hotels. You would think, for $9.95 on a crummy tv, that at least you’d be offered a pretty good choice of some reasonably current movies. Oh no. The offerings this night (October 31, 2001) are:

  • Rush Hour 2
  • American Pie 2
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Legally Blonde
  • Pearl Harbor

They have got to be kidding! All of these movies are either colossal losers or nearly out on video where I can rent it for $3.50, or both. But the real winners are:

  • Three Women and a…
  • On My Face (Mirages of Lust)
  • Nasty Pix 14 Triple Feature (Features 3 Adult Movies) for $12.99

Class joint, this Lord Elgin. On the outside, all expensive baubles and class. Inside, it’s as tacky as a Vegas strip club.

National Hysterical Orgasm

We are safe.

This is probably the least popular opinion I’ve ever posted here but I think the whole continent has gone nuts. And I mean really nuts. This is not just a case of the public or politicians getting a little carried away with paranoia and hysteria. It’s just a matter of idiocy on a grand scale. The world has not changed. We are safe.

What’s really going on? There was a massively successful terrorist attack on New York City. A lot of people were killed and a lot of property was damaged. That, folks, is about all we know so far. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. You think I’m nuts? What about the anthrax? What about the new threats? What about Saddam—isn’t he pointing his Scud missiles at us right now?

Everything aside from the initial attack is hype. CNN, which packages news about war, death, and destruction as entertainment, talks about nothing else. The only real news here is that otherwise rational people have completely lost their senses.

How often, for example, do you hear the actual number of dead? 10,000? 8,000? 5,000? It is closer to 4,000. That’s a big number, but it’s not 30,000, which is the number of body bags New York officials initially requested. Who made that judgment? Why hasn’t he been sacked?

It is getting comical. President Bush attends a ballgame in New York and we are given to understand that the holy and sacred Vice-President is being safely stowed away, in a Tupperware container somewhere near Camp David, I presume. It is an “undisclosed” location. Cheney himself probably doesn’t know where it is. Are we supposed to be reassured that the deputy sidekick of the unelected president of the United States is safe? For what? Comic relief? We’re supposed to be relieved that if something happens to George W., Dick Cheney will be in charge???

The anthrax? Do you know how many people have died from anthrax? Four. But we are going to spend about a billion dollars preventing a fifth victim.

What the hell does anyone really know about the anthrax attacks? The government is trying to set the all-time record in dissimulation and disinformation, but the bottom line is that nobody has brought forward even the slightest evidence that the anthrax letters came from anyone other than your usual all-American crackpot. I’m not saying that it’s not possible that some Islamic fundamentalist is behind it. I don’t think it’s likely, myself, but, unlike our noble leaders, I’m willing to admit that I don’t know. Until the FBI has some kind of proof, it is not only stupid but actually irresponsible to go around pointing the finger at anyone.

Every year, tens of thousands of people die at work and on the highway. But what is everyone terrified of now? Anthrax. Nobody is organizing massive numbers of safe-driving clinics, but everyone’s putting on rubber gloves when they handle the mail! How many people get injured or killed in hunting accidents, or accidents involving all-terrain vehicles, or fires, or incorrectly prescribed medicines? Way, way more than will be killed by terrorists in the foreseeable future.

According to the United Nations, 11 million children die every year of preventable causes. [NY Times, March 14, 2002] Nobody, yet, has sounded the alarm.

An actress– whom I never heard of– stated that she no longer opened her mail because of the anthrax scare. Aside from the absurdity of Osama Bin Laden targeting some second-rate unknown Hollywood actress, instead of, for example, Fort Benning, you have to realize that she didn’t say that her mail wasn’t being opened. In other words, good heavens, I’ll have my secretary risk her life instead…

President Bush and other officials have publicly linked the anthrax letters to Osama Bin Laden, while admitting there is no proof. This has the effect of focusing American anger even more intensely on a subject who seems more credibly linked to other terrorist acts. You get a muddying of emotions and intellect here. You get arguments in favor of harsh action against Afghanistan linked to vague feelings of hysteria towards the anthrax threat.

And what on earth is going on in Afghanistan? I thought there was a plan? The trouble is that most of the terrorists who crashed the planes into the World Trade Centre come from Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. According to Seymour Hersh and others, the Saudi Royal Family has been less than cooperative.

What’s really going on here? Not much, since the attack itself. But there are a lot of people with a lot of reasons why they want this “crisis” to be hyped as much as possible. From the cop putting in over-time guarding buildings that are absurdly unlikely to be targets of anyone, to the generals and the military suppliers who have enormous profits and power at stake.

I just watched a press conference in Washington at which the Mayor and various cronies discussed their response to the possibility of anthrax contamination at the local postal sorting stations. They are modeling their presentation on Giuliani’s highly regarded press conferences in New York. The people behind the mayor all look so very self-important and responsible. They’d like us to believe they are our noble leaders and fully in charge and competent. I’m starting to think there’s a bit of a contest here to get on TV and get your five minutes of fame and maybe get more funding and more staff for your department.

CNN, at this very moment, is using talcum powder to demonstrate that anthrax spores can leak through an envelope. Highly scientific. You go, oh my god, the powder is getting out! It’s everywhere! Run, run for your lives!

In London, Ontario, officials are searching the bags of three-year-olds attending the Children’s Museum. I’m sorry—with all due respect, I think these officials are idiots. Do they imagine Osama Bin Laden sitting in his cave in the mountains of Afghanistan and wondering if the suicide bomber he sent to the Children’s Museum in London, Ontario made it through yet?

In Peterborough, Ontario, an idiot school board cancelled a class trip to Holland to take part in a United Nations Conference.

Why? Because of the terrorism! What terrorism? What terrorism!? Are you mad! It’s everywhere. Planes are falling out of the sky! Bombs exploding everywhere! Anthrax in all the postal outlets…..

No. It’s hysteria, plain and simple, and God keep us out of the hands of hysterics. When a group of parents– with better sense than most–decided to send their children to the conference anyway (with proper chaperones and liability insurance) the school board, in a snit, decided to punish them by ordering teachers to give these students zeros for all assignments and tests missed.  How dare you make us look hysterical and paranoid?!

Well, you could argue that it’s simply good and wise to have more security than we used to have. The problem is that if you convince everyone to get hysterical, they lose all sense of reasonableness and proportion. Thousands of people die every year in this country, of disease, accident, neglect, and murder. We have accrued a widely shared body of wisdom about the relative immediacy and causes of these deaths. In a few short weeks, we have thrown all this common sense out the window. We go home and watch the cheesy and disreputable CNN and come to the conclusion that Osama Bin Laden is after us.

Now CNN is bringing on a professional “headhunter” to tell us which vocations are most at risk from terrorist attack.

I am getting roundly sick of idiot conservatives who see this whole crisis as an excuse to get rid of civil liberties and engorge the defense department with new high-tech toys. And I’m really getting fed up with conservatives who regard anyone who disagrees with their own personal views on how the war against Bin Laden should be run as patsies. “Oh, so you want to do nothing!” I don’t know of any liberal who wants to do nothing, but if you don’t go along with the current incoherent policies, conservatives can’t stand the thought that something not involving big explosions and blood-letting should even be considered.

The festering sore of the administration’s current policies is Saudi Arabia. It is becoming increasingly obvious to some that the Saudi’s may not only have provided 15 of the 19 hijackers, but they may actually have been paying off Osama Bin Laden for years.

Look, it’s not that complicated. Osama Bin Laden’s terrorists are not standing outside in Afghanistan waiting for American bombs to fall on them. Most of them are probably not even in Afghanistan. So you have the U.S. bombing one of the poorest and most unfortunate nations on earth. And you have the U.S. snuggling up to authoritarian leaders in Syria, Jordan, Iran, and Pakistan, all of whom faced potential insurgencies in their own nations.

Real police work…. How come the FBI can’t trace those letters? When they talk about funding needs for the agency, the bravado about how new, expensive technologies will enable them to magically apprehend criminals before they even commit a crime is invigorating. The reality, obviously, is more like Inspector Clouseau.

Some people have questioned the idea of bombing a country that is already in a state of near-collapse. Some conservatives have angrily retorted, basically, “how dare you?” Regardless of the strategic value of the bombing runs, and regardless of the fact that we are probably created an entire new generation of suicide-bombers among those very angry victims, you can’t ignore the fact that we have an immense military-industrial complex in the U.S. that is absolutely in lust with power and money. There hasn’t been a good war in a decade, while the military has been stockpiling weapons and delivery systems with unbridled but frustrated passion. This opportunity, for them, is a godsend, and I would wager that the desire of the military to use up as many bombs as possible and make frantic pitches for new weapons systems and more money, is without restraint.

Haggard Merle Haggard

I just saw some kind of tribute to Merle Haggard. Hey, let me get on the bandwagon.

Merle Haggard spent some time in prison before he was 20, for petty theft, passing bad checks, and so on.  Haggard married Fiona something, some time in the late fifties. I think she was about 15 at the time. He wasn’t very nice to Fiona.

Merle had an affair with Buck Owen’s wife. Just one more little hypocrisy in the heartland of America: country singers that claim to represent “traditional values” like manliness, family, patriotism, marital fidelity,  but actually behave pretty well as badly as anyone else.

Merle Haggard wrote and sang “Okie From Muskogee”, which, besides providing comfort and joy to rednecks like George Wallace, helped him wrangle a pardon from California Governor Ronald Reagan– yes, he of the “tough on crime” reputation. And an invitation to play at Pat’s birthday at the White House.

Did Haggard, espousing bedrock American values, serve in the military?

Have you heard “Okie From Muskogee”? It has lines like:

We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street…
We don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy…
… and I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee

No, of course he never served in the military. He’s a Republican. We send other people to die for the cause and then lead the parades, all misty-eyed and such. It’s a bit weird how predictable it all is — Republicans and conservatives extolling the enduring virtues of patriotism and courage and duty and you can’t find a damn one of them that actually served. All right– maybe one. John McCain. [added 2011-03-05]

Merle split from Bonnie Owens in 1975. He had a string of affairs. He did drugs and drank to excess. He had an affair with Liona Williams– a backup singer. But he finally found understanding and encouragement in Theresa Lane, a woman 25 years younger than him.

He neglected his own children, except maybe the ones by Theresa Lane. Now that he’s a little older and less driven, I guess he finally has a little time to spend with the kids.

In the meantime, he squandered and gambled away all of his money and went bankrupt.

What’s really great is seeing Merle Haggard, long hair and beard, standing in front of a group of well-known country musicians, long hair and beards, accepting induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, long hair and beards. Does he still sing “and we don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy…”? Does he say, “nothing personal” when he goes into “Okie”? Does he even sing it anymore? Yes, he does, looking a little sheepish as he warbles those bedrock American values. It’s all about family and true love and being a man and tradition and patriotism. For everyone else, I guess.

Clint Black was among those paying tribute. Rightly so. He has that same kind of non-descript blandness to his voice that is so characteristic of Haggard’s music. There’s really not much to it. Simple, as if simplicity without charm was a virtue.

He’s like someone down the street, that you know, and with whom, Lord knows, you might one day have an affair.

If not Haggard…

Haggard has something of a reputation for a song-writer. Now, I know there are some good country song-writers out there, but the writer of:

They both robbed and killed until both of them died
So goes the Legend of Bonnie and Clyde.

was not a great songwriter.

Consider instead John Prine. Like Haggard, he’s old and weathered-looking. Unlike Haggard, he’s written about fifteen really great songs. John Prine had more great songs in his little finger than Merle Haggard had in his entire body.

PBS’s Cabin Country

What the heck is PBS doing showing “Cabin Country”?

The show starts off with this cute graphic of a gun’s telescopic site aiming at various harmless animals. Words like “adventure” and “sportsmanship” glide across the screen.

Euphemism of the day: “over-gun”. Apparently, Americans tend to “over-gun”, which means that they like to hunt with huge powerful weapons that they can’t handle or aim correctly. “Big bore” Magnums, apparently.

“Bullet placement”. A weapon that is “comfortable for you”. What I love is the fashion sense. These men wear camouflage, right, so that animals can’t see them. But then they wear big orange vests over top so that other hunters won’t shoot them.

This show looked pretty authentic, so I started looking forward to seeing an animal get killed. Disappointment! They don’t show the manly hunters actually putting a bullet into the buck’s head. They show the hunter firing and then you see them talking about the excitement of the kill, and then they go to the buck and worship it for a while. Funny that they don’t stand there going, “geez, what a pathetic little weak buck. Look at him? Little feller, isn’t he? Not very scary looking at all. I mock you, wimpy buck!”

Oh no. They go, “look at him! He’s huge. Look at those magnificent antlers! What a babe!”

One of the hunters actually said, after killing another “nice” buck, “this’ll be a great story for the grandkids. I can’t wait to tell my daughter and all her friends…”

They deceive the bucks into approaching their lairs by rattling antlers together to make them think there is a fight going on. Then they shoot them. With guns. It’s bizarre. This makes the hunters feel manly and helps these sensitive men get “close to nature”.

Why don’t they at least have the honesty and decency to show the bullet going into the buck’s head? Come on—I want to see it. I want to know what we’re really dealing with here. What does it actually feel like to see a magnificent critter like that get his brains blasted out? What does it look like? Maybe I’m missing something. Or are they worried that the deer might not die quickly. Then the animal rights activists will jump out of the forest in their camouflage outfits with their orange vests and shout, “animal abuse!”

I am not, by the way, any kind of animal rights activist. I’m not even vegetarian. I just don’t like guns, and I don’t like the crappy attitude a lot of hunters have – that “culling” is necessary for ecological balance—and I don’t like that crap about how much they adore nature, before blowing it’s brains out. Let’s have it out plain and simple—tell us what you really feel:

“I like to kill”.