SPAM

Spam. We get more and more of it every day. I am a little crazy, I have four active e-mail accounts. One is with AOL. It was my first account. I’ve had it for 8 years — if that is possible. I’ve kept it not because I like AOL, but because it has been free (– long story) and friends and family know that e-mail address. It is inconvenient switching accounts. You have to notify everyone. Then not everyone updates their address books immediately and they get annoyed by undelivered messages. But spam in my AOL account is out of control. SPAM totals 40 or 50 mesages a day. I am dropping that account.

The account for this site is at Yahoo. It has been active for almost a year. Yahoo — so far — seems to have a good spam blocker. I get spam, but 95% of it is dumped into a bulk mail account. When I dump AOL I expect to have less spam and to read the messages that I want to read much more easily. But now as I try to reduce e-mail spam there is a new spamming technique on the rise. E-mail spam now has competition from blog commenting spam.

On the old Byrd’s Brain site the first blog comment spam message appeared recently. Spam purportedly came from Drugstore. com. A Google search has shown that “comment” spam is not new, but like all spam it is increasing. Spam is not like junk mail in your (USPS) mailbox. You don’t pay more because you get junk mail. You don’t have to weed through junk mail messages that are interspersed with your real mail. No, instead SPAM costs us all. It takes time and money to download and weed through all those useless messages. I have to scroll through the 60 or so daily messages in my AOL account. Then I have to select and delete each individual message that looks like spam. Every unfortunate now and then I open a spam message that looked like it was legitimate. This only lets the spammers know that they have a live one and that they should send even more spam.

I am dismayed at the thought that this phenomena will affect blogs. In the future will much time be required to weed out spam messages from the blog comments? If so, bloggers will drop the comment functions and people will stop leaving comments, because it will be too frustrating to scroll through the spam while looking for the real comments. If that happens it will negatively impact this medium. Comments make this blogging thing (which like all writing is done in relative isolation) much more of a community.

Posted by robert byrd in Culture, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gagged by Google

Google protects its commercial advertisers. The on-line ads of Oceana, a non-profit environmental group dedicated to restoring and protecting the world’s oceans, were banned by Google after they ran for two days. The ads protested Royal Caribean cruise line’s sewage treatment (dumping) methods. Clearly, there is no freedom of speech with Google. Haven’t search engines become a necessity for internet users? If so, should we treat search engines in like utilities? In other words, should search engines be regulated in some way to insure fairness and objectivity? Shouldn’t search engines be required to have clear, coherent, resonable and not arbitrary content policies?

Last week, Oceana placed two advertisements with Google, the first describing Oceana’s mission and linking to the organization’s website, www.oceana.org, the second focusing on Oceana’s well-known campaign to stop cruise pollution. Google removed the ads after two days, citing the cruise pollution ad for “language that advocates against Royal Caribbean,” and the general ad for using “language advocating against the cruise line industry and cruisers.” Google’s public editorial guidelines, however, make no mention of any such specific prohibition, stating only that the company reserves the right to exercise editorial discretion when it comes to the advertising it accepts.
Source: Oceana.

To Google’s credit one can use Google to find news about the ad banning using the search, “Oceana ad banned by Google.” There is speculation that Yahoo would run the ads without any censorship because Yahoo’s content policy permits critical ads, if they aren’t obscene or libelous. Spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens said, “We see it as a freedom of speech issue.” So do I.

There once was a “Robert’s Ramblings”

Who Blogs? And How Careful Are They? Mostly men (63 percent) who are Caucasian (79 percent), between the ages of 21 and 40 (75 percent), have a college or advanced degree (85 percent), and have been blogging for a year or more (67 percent). That’s according to survey results reported recently by Fernanda Viégas, a doctoral student in the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Lab.

In January, Viégas ran an online survey focused on the tension between the chatty, uninhibited nature of most blogs and the social and legal accountability many bloggers are facing as they evolve into full-fledged Web publishers. She collected responses from 486 bloggers. Viégas found that most bloggers seem to be wary of slandering, libeling, or even offending someone through their blogs. About 80 percent of respondents said they are either somewhat, very, or extremely liable for what they write in their blogs, and 36 percent said they had experienced that liability first-hand at least once by getting into trouble with friends, family, or the law over something they’d written in their blogs.

The most common category respondents identified for their blogs: “Personal ramblings.“

MIT Technology Review

From the survey:

The findings in this survey suggest that blogging is a world in flux where social norms are starting to flourish. For instance, many bloggers reveal the names of companies and products when they blog about them, except when they write about a company for which they currently work or have worked in the past. More bloggers are becoming sensitive about revealing the full names of friends on postings as well. But for all of the careful publishing guidelines that are starting to evolve, bloggers still do not feel like they know their audience. For the most part, they have no control over who reads their postings. The study also shows that bloggers usually have some idea of their “core” audience (readers who post comments on the site) without really knowing who the rest of their readers are – in many cases, this latter group makes up the majority of their readers.

Fernanda Viegas

We have been categorized and pigeonholed, but it rings true.

A McLatte Anyone?

McDonald’s has ventured into the coffee biz. It has 500 McCafes worldwide and has just opened its second cafe in the U.S. This newest one is the considered the real test of its coffee prowess because it is in a coffee crazed part of the country — California. We take out coffee very seriously here.

Conrad Freeman isn’t your stereotypical high-tech entrepreneur, but on Wednesday he plans to launch one of the nation’s most cutting-edge startups.

Freeman, who owns a popular McDonald’s hamburger franchise in Mountain View, a Silicon Valley suburb, will begin peddling delicacies such as skinny double mochas and roasted beef with balsamic vinegar on foccacia at the grand opening of the West Coast’s first “McCafe.” Instead of Egg McMuffins and Styrofoam cups of joe, he and a staff of 13 — including baristas who completed a 40-hour training course — will serve buttery brioche and cafe Americano in porcelain cups (or paper, if you order to go).
***
Gourmet coffee — which can top $4 per cup for fancy blended drinks — has a greater profit margin than burgers and fries. More sophisticated morsels may also appeal to San Francisco Bay Area food snobs, who often disdain McDonald’s emphasis on kids and commuters.

The Mountain View McCafe, where sandwiches cost about $4.50 each, adjoins the standard McDonald’s restaurant and features plush love seats and mood lighting, as well as wireless Internet access to encourage patrons to linger longer — ideally with a second double espresso. SF Chronicle

The specially trained barristas are separate from McDonald’s regular counter workers. They dress differently and are trained to help educate the average cheeseburger guy who might be intimidated by ordering a cappuccino, which, by the way, will be decorated with a special “M” stenciled in cocoa powder.

And unlike Starbucks, where the medium is called grande and the tall is small, drinks at McCafe’s will be served in small, medium or large sizes. How refreshing.

“I was shocked at how much there was to learn about making an espresso drink. Technically, it’s really hard to do,” said Freeman, who along with his crew went through 40 hours of espresso training.

He learned that the expectations of the high-end coffee consumer is different from the average McDonald’s customer. “If I mess up your latte, you take it as a personal affront,” he said. Ain’t that the truth.

Fat Filled Menus for Kids

As parents we are very concious about what our children eat. We can control exactly what they eat when we are at home, but we do eat out sometimes. At those times we must trust that the restaurants are providing quality meals. That trust may be misplaced. It seems that restaurants, national chains in particular, put little effort into devising healthy meals for children.

What’s on the menu for kids at chain restaurants? Fat, grease and hidden calories, according to one nutrition advocacy group.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest — which has touted the health evils of movie theater popcorn and Chinese food in the past — analyzed food choices for children at the top 20 sit-down chain restaurants. Results released Tuesday show that most kids’ menus offer little variety and are loaded with foods that are fattening.

Hamburger or cheeseburgers were on 85 percent of the menus, and french fries accompanied almost all of the meals but one. Chicken fingers and pizza were also common items listed for youngsters, the report found.

The center said that many of the menu options met the federal government’s daily recommendation for children of 1,500 calories and 17 grams of saturated fat — or more — in just one meal.

***
“The kids’ menus were replicating fast-food menus, except the portions are bigger so the calories and fat content are even higher at the table-service restaurants,” Hurley said.

Blame Game

The game is afoot. BushCo is feeling the heat. The blame bullseye is coming into focus on BushCo’s forehead. Time to move the bullseye. That is much of what this “reform the intelligence community” White House talk is about. If BushCo truly believes that reform is needed then there are two possibilities and neither is very good. Either BushCo has been unhappy for a long time with the intelligence received and the interagency communications and did nothing to improve the situation. Or BushCo has just come to the party, listened to the 9/11 Commissioner member statements and decided that reform is needed. Some leadership. Who elected these people?

However, neither scenario is the reality. The reality is that BushCo is feeling the heat, for being focused on Iraq and the rest of its neocon agenda and failing to heed intelligence on Al Queada. “It is not our fault. They did it. We didn’t do it.” Why do I feel like I am in a grade school playground?

President Bush said Monday that “now may be a time to revamp and reform our intelligence services,” opening the way for consideration of changes at the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and other agencies.

***

Expanding the powers of the director of central intelligence and establishing a domestic intelligence agency like the MI5 in Britain are among ideas now circulating in Washington as the independent commission looking into the attacks holds hearings and prepares to make its own recommendations.

Mr. Bush, speaking to reporters at his ranch in Texas at an appearance with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, did not mention any specific changes but said he looked forward to receiving the commission’s proposals. “We’re thinking about that ourselves and we look forward to working with the commission,” he said.

NYTimes (registration required)

The Wrong Debate on Terrorism

Okay this is the last one, I promise.

Here is Richard Clarke’s op-ed from today’s NYTimes. (The op-ed is reprinted here in its entirety because the NYTimes on-line is subscription based and articles are not available after one week.)
The last month has seen a remarkable series of events that focused the public and news media on America’s shortcomings in dealing with terrorism from radical Islamists. This catharsis, which is not yet over, is necessary for our national psyche. If we learn the right lessons, it may also prove to be an essential part of our future victory over those who now threaten us.

But how do we select the right lessons to learn? I tried to suggest some in my recent book, and many have attempted to do so in the 9/11 hearings, but such efforts have been largely eclipsed by partisan reaction.

One lesson is that even though we are the world’s only remaining superpower — as we were before Sept. 11, 2001 — we are seriously threatened by an ideological war within Islam. It is a civil war in which a radical Islamist faction is striking out at the West and at moderate Muslims. Once we recognize that the struggle within Islam — not a “clash of civilizations” between East and West — is the phenomenon with which we must grapple, we can begin to develop a strategy and tactics for doing so. It is a battle not only of bombs and bullets, but chiefly of ideas. It is a war that we are losing, as more and more of the Islamic world develops antipathy toward the United States and some even develop a respect for the jihadist movement.

I do not pretend to know the formula for winning that ideological war. But I do know that we cannot win it without significant help from our Muslim friends, and that many of our recent actions (chiefly the invasion of Iraq) have made it far more difficult to obtain that cooperation and to achieve credibility.

What we have tried in the war of ideas has also fallen short. It is clear that United States government versions of MTV or CNN in Arabic will not put a dent in the popularity of the anti-American jihad. Nor will calls from Washington for democratization in the Arab world help if such calls originate from a leader who is trying to impose democracy on an Arab country at the point of an American bayonet. The Bush administration’s much-vaunted Middle East democracy initiative, therefore, was dead on arrival.

We must also be careful, while advocating democracy in the region, that we do not undermine the existing regimes without having a game plan for what should follow them and how to get there. The lesson of President Jimmy Carter’s abandonment of the shah of Iran in 1979 should be a warning. So, too, should we be chastened by the costs of eliminating the regime of Saddam Hussein, almost 25 years after the shah, also without a detailed plan for what would follow.

Other parts of the war of ideas include making real progress on the Israel-Palestinian issue, while safe-guarding Israeli security, and finding ideological and religious counter-weights to Osama bin Laden and the radical imams. Fashioning a comprehensive strategy to win the battle of ideas should be given as much attention as any other aspect of the war on terrorists, or else we will fight this war for the foreseeable future. For even when Osama bin Laden is dead, his ideas will carry on. Even as Al Qaeda has had its leadership attacked, it has morphed into a hydra, carrying out more major attacks in the 30 months since 9/11 than it did in the three years before.

The second major lesson of the last month of controversy is that the organizations entrusted with law enforcement and intelligence in the United States had not fully accepted the gravity of the threat prior to 9/11. Because this is now so clear, there will be a tendency to overemphasize organizational fixes. The 9/11 commission and President Bush seem to be in a race to propose creating a “director of national intelligence,” who would be given control over all American intelligence agencies. The commission may also recommend a domestic security intelligence service, probably modeled on Britain’s MI-5.

While some structural changes are necessary, they are a small part of the solution. And there is a risk that concentrating on chain-of-authority diagrams of federal agencies will further divert our attention from more important parts of the agenda. This new director of national intelligence would be able to make only marginal changes to agency budgets and interactions. The more important task is improving the quality of the analysts, agents and managers at the lead foreign intelligence agency, the Central Intelligence Agency.

In addition, no new domestic security intelligence service could leap full grown from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. Indeed, creating another new organization while we are in a key phase in the war on terrorism would ignore the lesson that we should have learned from the creation of Homeland Security. Many observers, including some in the new department, now agree that the forced integration and reorganization of 22 agencies diverted attention from the missions of several agencies that were needed to go after the terrorists and to reduce our vulnerabilities at home.

We do not need another new agency right now. We do, however, need to create within the F.B.I. a strong organization that is vastly different from the federal police agency that was unable to notice the Al Qaeda presence in America before 9/11. For now, any American version of MI-5 must be a branch within the F.B.I. — one with a higher quality of analysts, agents and managers.

Rather than creating new organizations, we need to give the C.I.A. and F.B.I. makeovers. They cannot continue to be dominated by careerists who have carefully managed their promotions and ensured their retirement benefits by avoiding risk and innovation for decades. The agencies need regular infusions throughout their supervisory ranks of managers and thinkers from other, more creative organizational cultures.

In the new F.B.I., marksmanship, arrests and skill on the physical training obstacle course should no longer be prerequisites for recruitment and retention. Similarly, within the C.I.A. we should quash the belief that — as George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, told the 9/11 commission — those who have never worked in the directorate of operations cannot understand it and are unqualified to criticize it.

Finally, we must try to achieve a level of public discourse on these issues that is simultaneously energetic and mutually respectful. I hoped, through my book and testimony, to make criticism of the conduct of the war on terrorism and the separate war in Iraq more active and legitimate. We need public debate if we are to succeed. We should not dismiss critics through character assassination, nor should we besmirch advocates of the Patriot Act as fascists.

We all want to defeat the jihadists. To do that, we need to encourage an active, critical and analytical debate in America about how that will best be done. And if there is another major terrorist attack in this country, we must not panic or stifle debate as we did for too long after 9/11.

Censorship

“You are either for us or against us.”

What happens when media is controlled by just a few entities? What happens when the people in government are vindictive towards those who are disloyal? Corporate censorship happens.

Michael Moore has a new documentary, “Fahrenheit, 911”. The film’s $6 miilion cost was financed primarily by Miramax and Miramax was slated to distribute the film in the U.S.. But there is a catch. Disney owns Miramax and Disney has told Miramax that it can’t ditribute the movie. “Fahrenheit 911” deals with “financial connections between the Bush family and its associates and prominent Saudi Arabian families that go back three decades”. Michael Eisner is reportedly fearful that distribution of an “anti-BushCo” film will cause Disney to lose tax incentives that Disney gets in Florida.

That’s censorship folks. That is government censorship. In a free country people are supposed to be able to voice opinions against the government. That’s called dissent. Good democratic government does not operate in a vacuum. To their credit, the people at Miramax are opposing Disney, but what will happen remains unclear.

The Walt Disney Company is blocking its Miramax division from distributing a new documentary by Michael Moore that harshly criticizes President Bush, executives at both Disney and Miramax said Tuesday.

The film, “Fahrenheit 911,” links Mr. Bush and prominent Saudis — including the family of Osama bin Laden — and criticizes Mr. Bush’s actions before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Disney, which bought Miramax more than a decade ago, has a contractual agreement with the Miramax principals, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, allowing it to prevent the company from distributing films under certain circumstances, like an excessive budget or an NC-17 rating.

Executives at Miramax, who became principal investors in Mr. Moore’s project last spring, do not believe that this is one of those cases, people involved in the production of the film said. If a compromise is not reached, these people said, the matter could go to mediation, though neither side is said to want to travel that route.

Disney came under heavy criticism from conservatives last May after the disclosure that Miramax had agreed to finance the film when Icon Productions, Mel Gibson’s company, backed out.

Mr. Moore’s agent, Ari Emanuel, said Michael D. Eisner, Disney’s chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush’s brother, Jeb, is governor.

“Michael Eisner asked me not to sell this movie to Harvey Weinstein; that doesn’t mean I listened to him,” Mr. Emanuel said. “He definitely indicated there were tax incentives he was getting for the Disney corporation and that’s why he didn’t want me to sell it to Miramax. He didn’t want a Disney company involved.”
***
“It’s not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle,”
NYTimes

Nausea

I have been so disturbed by the images from Abu Ghraib prison that I haven’t known what to say about them. They are the best recruiting tool for Al Quaeda that one can imagine. I have opposed all of BushCo’s actions in Iraq. However, although I desperately want BushCo out, I held some hope that the Iraq war would turn out better than I feared. Now events are becoming worse than I had ever imagined. Finally, yesterday’s news of an on-line video of a beheading — snuff porn complete with screaming — was more than I could handle. It depressed me. I felt nauseaus. How could this man’s family handle this viedotaped and publicized death of their son. His death, the death of thousands of Iraqi’s, hundreds of American soldiers and the future murder of countless civilians by terrorists are the fault of BushCo. Myopic narrow-minded zealotry has led us down a very dark path. For the first time in decades I feel that there is little hope for a positive turn in global, or even domestic, affairs.

I’ve said enough. Now I’ll let Mark Murford speak for me:

The pictures are worth a thousand disgusted moans. It’s all flag-draped coffins and dog chains and forced masturbation and pistol whippings and miserable bloody hooded Iraqi men — not terrorists, just men — with wires attached to their fingers and genitals and made to stand up for hours and days on end until their feet swell and their lungs collapse and their livers fail, and you can hear our stunned death-drunk nation cry: Hey, whatever happened to our nice, clean little war? How did it get so ugly and out of hand? And isn’t the “Frasier” finale on soon? Sigh.
***
Isn’t the nation just so very outraged — outraged! — over the nasty rogue’s gallery of photos gushing forth from the stunned media of late (with frightening promises that the worst is yet to come), all those snickering U.S. Army guards and sickeningly abused Iraqi POWs and dead U.S. soldiers and scowling generals.

And there’s BushCo blaming Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld blaming the military and the military blaming miserable 21-year-old female trailer-park scapegoats and once again there stands Dubya, looking angry and baffled, like a kid who just got grounded for getting another D on a spelling test.

Did you really think war would be all light spankings and fur-lined handcuffs and afternoon tea, George? All happy giggling soldiers blasting each other with squirt guns and playing jacks in the streets of Fallujah?

Did you really believe your second war in as many years would be all neat and tidy and bloodless and gift-wrapped and lacking in gruesomeness and bile and disfiguring genital mutilation? What are you, a puppet? Oh wait.
***
But let’s not be too hard on the least articulate, least intellectual, least accountable president in U.S. history. After all, Dubya’s just like much of America. He is the prefect embodiment of our world-famous myopia, a selective type of dangerous tunnel vision whereby if we don’t see it and don’t really feel it and the media doesn’t splash it all over us, it must not be true.

And, really, what Bush-votin’ flag-wavin’ God-numbed patriot wants to hear that the U.S. is a world-class hypocrite, committing many of the same crimes and tortures, rapes and humiliations that Saddam himself did, in the very same prison? Who wants to hear that, in many ways, we’ve done no better by the Iraqi (or Afghan) people than their former leadership, and in some ways have made things far worse?

And who wants to know that we have become the violent, unwanted clown on the global stage, justifiably ridiculed and thoroughly unsympathetic, as the world boos and hurls rotten foreign policies? Who wants to know that we are, in short, losing the war? Look there, isn’t that Dick Cheney, hiding behind an American coffin, fondling his Halliburton portfolio and snickering quietly? Why yes, yes it is.
***
Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is also Bush. This is a man who goes on Saudi television to claim rape and torture and sadism is not the American way of conducting a war (but not, actually, to apologize — never that), that such behavior is contrary to our God and our principles and our morals and our happily imbecilic black-and-white, good-versus-evil worldview.
***
And what is that truth now? What have these photos, these glorious wartime atrocities, accomplished? Why, nothing short of guaranteeing that the United States has never been so violently hated among Middle Eastern nations as it is right now.

Nothing short of massacring any last vestige of remaining 9/11 sympathy. Nothing short of supplying a whole new generation of enraged terrorists with all the proof they need that their cause is entirely valid and just.

And nothing short of proving, for the 10,000th time, that BushCo has dug us a grimy, violent, blood-soaked hole so deep we may never fully emerge.

Just good contingency planning?

I have been expecting a terrorist attack prior to the November elections for almost a year now. An attack then would be convenient for BushCo since Americans might be more likely to stay the course — in time of war — and vote Bush back in. Some commenters have said that I am a conspiracy theorist, nuts and worse. But then in the last couple of weeks we have heard repeated warnings about attacks to disrupt the election. Attacks planned by Osama himself — so these threats must be serious.

Of course, if the U.S. had put 160,000 troops into Afghanistan instead of Iraq Osama wouldn’t likely be a threat any more. Or maybe he isn’t a threat now.

Would you be surprised if he were “found” and “captured” just before the November elections? That would sure give BushCo a boost. Of course, if a terrorist attack and the displaying of Osama isn’t enough to assure victory for Bush then one could always “suspend” the elections. Suspending the elections in the case of a national emergency is the latest idea being floated by U.S.

officials. In order to maintain plausable deniability about these ideas, Condileeza Rice says that there is no plan to delay the November elections. Do you believe her? Remember she was one of the many who said that Iraq had WMDs. If we take her statement at face value, perhaps there is no plan now, but there will be soon.

No voting while black in GOP world

The GOP continues to intimidate minority voters.

The NAACP and other civil rights leaders yesterday charged that recent events suggest the Republican Party is mounting a campaign to keep African Americans and other minority voters away from the polls this November.

In a new report, the NAACP and People for the American Way cite incidents from Florida to Detroit. NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said efforts at intimidation and suppression, once a tool of Democrats in the Jim Crow South, “have increasingly become the province of the Republican Party” as it seeks to counter the overwhelming advantage Democrats enjoy among black voters.

… recent events in Florida shows that the offer “isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.” There, the GOP secretary of state was forced to abandon an effort to remove felons from the state’s voting rolls after newspapers discovered that the “purge” list erroneously would have disenfranchised thousands of qualified voters, many of them African Americans. Additionally, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement intimidated black voters in Orlando to scare them away from the polls in November.
***

Studies suggest that as many as 4 million to 6 million voters were disenfranchised in 2000, either because registration problems prevented qualified voters from casting ballots or because of errors caused by faulty, outdated technology. In Florida, the Civil Rights Commission found that black voters were 10 times as likely as whites to have their ballots rejected, a trend also found in other parts of the country.

No better than a banana republic

BushCo has turned the U.S. into a third world country. Poverty is up and more Americans are going without health insurance. BushCo intends to win this election at all costs. The extremes to which BushCo will go have me and others worried. For instance, did you ever expect that a war hero would have to defend his military record against a guy who beat the draft and partied during the war? Things are so bad that more than a dozen members of Congress have asked the UN to monitor the November elections. The U.S. was once a role model. Now we are a laughing stock. Who would have thought that after a U.S. election there might be pictures of Jimmy Carter and his election monitors denouncing the U.S. electoral process. How fast things can change in a mere 4 years.

Thirteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked the United Nations on Thursday to do something in the United States that the international body usually does only in fledgling or war-ravaged countries: monitor its presidential elections.

Although it is unlikely that the UN will be involved because we need the “government” to make the request and I can’t see BushCo asking for anyone (except maybe Brown and Root) to monitor the elections.

U.N. policy, however, prohibits the body from observing a nation’s election unless asked by the country’s government — “not just a few elected officials,” U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

The General Assembly would have to approve the monitoring.

A Couple Of Turtles

Recently, after lunch, I took a short walk to the river. The water level has receded a bit and much of the riverbank is visible again. I thought about the Byrds’ current life and plans for the future and I thought about happenings at the office. I leaned over a railing and looked at the riverbank for some time. I looked at the grass growing, the submerged trees, the rocks on the hillside and the litter that was strewn everywhere.

Slowly the life on the bank began to be visible. In time I realized that two objects were not rocks. They were turtles sitting motionless at the water’s edge. One larger turtle and a smaller turtle — a male and a female, perhaps. While I stood there only the larger turtle moved. It moved only once and that was just to stick out its hind legs, as if to stretch. A little later I noticed two ducks floating quietly beneath the branches of a semi-submerged
tree.

A couple of ducks. Two turtles. Is it natural in nature for creatures to band together? It seems reasonable since two can do more than one and each can protect or warn the other of danger. The lone anything is a natural target for prey. There is a reason for the old adage, “Divide and conquer.” There is strength in numbers. We have words to describe many natural groupings, such as a pride of lions, a gaggle of geese or a flock of seagulls. If it is natural for living things to associate with others then why have Americans over the past four decades increasingly sought out solitary amusements and generally withdrawn from social interactions? America, unlike the life on the riverbank, is sorely lacking in social capital.

In Bowling Alone, Putnam concludes that Americans spend less time in conversation over meals, we exchange visits less often, we engage less often in leisure activities that encourage social interaction, we spend more time watching and less time doing. We know our neighbors less well and we see old friends less often. We increasingly live a solitary existence. This isolation is due to the synergistic effect of 1) pressures on our time and money; 2) suburbanization – which has led to long commutes and sprawl; 3) the solitary nature of electronic entertainment; and 4) the changing family. Our solitariness crosses all boundaries.

Politically there is an accelerating trend toward more voter contacts, but fewer and fewer party workers. This trend is evidenced in the professionalization and commercialization of politics in America. The contacts that are made are less likely to be visits from a neighbor and more and more likely to be anonymous phone calls from a paid phone bank or a mailer. Consequently, financial capital for mass marketing has steadily replaced social capital in politics. Professional contacts made to voters provide neither connectedness among community members nor direct engagement in civic give and take. These are pseudo-personal contacts. They represent citizenship by proxy, not participatory democracy.

Religiously we are less involved too. Overall our actual attendance and involvement in religion has declined by 25 to 50 %. Mainline denominations such as Methodists and Presbyterians have lost members and the number of nominal Catholics – those who claim to be Catholic, but don’t attend mass — has risen. The percentage of Americans who identify themselves as having “no religion” has risen from 2% in 1967 to 11% in 1990.

In an agrarian society, after a solitary day spent plowing the field, a farmer might welcome a church social or a civic meeting, but now many of us work in large organizations. We interact with people all day long and we “do” meetings throughout the day. Thus, the idea of attending another meeting at night is far from our minds.

Meal times once were social times, but the fraction of American families who eat dinner together has declined from 50% to 34% since 1980. Americans have increasingly chosen to grab a bite and run, rather than to sit and eat. There is no time to chat.

Instead of enjoying a family meal together we watch television. As a primary activity television absorbed almost 40 percent of the average American’s free time in 1995. Television, even when watched with others, is for the most part a solitary activity. There is little interaction with others. Television privatizes our leisure and civic time. In fact, one of the most important consequences of television seems to be that it has kept us at home – and to a great extent, alone. From Putnam we learn that between 1965 and 1995 we gained an average of 6 hours each week in leisure time. Sadly Americans on average spent those additional 6 hours watching television.

Suburbanization too has become a way of life in America. But life in the suburbs means greater separation of workplace and residence and greater segregation by race and class. People fleeing the closeness of cities sort themselves out into more and more finely distinguished “lifestyle enclaves.” Statistically, the greater the social homogeneity of a community the lower the level of political involvement. So we move to the burbs, become content and drop out. But we still have to work and those commutes are long. The average American spends 72 minutes (usually alone) in their car every day. The commutes that sprawl produces further disrupt community connectedness. People live in two cities. They spend their workday in one and their nights and weekends in another. If you are going to volunteer in the community do you help our where you work or where you live? Or because of your long commute do you just stay home because you don’t have time for anything else?

We remain interested and critical spectators of the public scene. We kibitz, but we don’t play. We maintain a facade of formal affiliation through memberships, but we rarely show up for events or meetings. We have invented new ways of expressing our demands – such as e-mail – that demand less of us. We are less likely to turn out for collective deliberation – whether in the voting booth or the meeting hall – and when we do, we find discouragingly, that few of our friends and neighbors have shown up. We are less generous with our time and with our money. We have turned inward and are less likely to give strangers the benefit of the doubt.

This social disconnectedness is bad for society and for the individual. For instance, the level of informal social interaction is a strong predictor of student achievement. Also, when you know your neighbors you cut down on crime. A stranger on the street stands out and commands attention. Moreover, as participation in political deliberation declines Putnam asserts that our politics will become increasingly more shrill and less balanced. When most people – the content suburban moderates – skip the meeting, those who do attend tend to be more extreme. They are the people who care most about the outcome on an issue and are the least willing to compromise. Finally, people who are socially disconnected are two to five times more likely to die from all causes. Quite simply, social support buffers the stresses of daily life.

I took a walk to the river again today. I wanted to see if the turtles were there. There were turtles by the river’s edge, not two, but five.

It’s Bushworld, we just live in it

Bush seems to provide an endless supply of fodder for the Bush-bashing book genre, and I think that I have read them all. For the most part the books are entertaining and educational in a tragic sort of way. Maureen Dowd, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, has undoubtedly written the most depressing of the lot. Her new book Bushworld makes it clear that Dowd warned us long ago about Bush and the Bush clan. If enough of us had paid heed we wouldn’t be living in Bushworld.

Her columns during the 1990’s exposed the Bushes, their friends, their familial bonds with Saudi Arabia and their ambitions. Her first essay in Bushworld begins, “It is their reality. We just live in it.” Through her essays she paints a picture of Bushworld that is an unsettling alternate reality from the world which we believe we inhabit. Bushworld is the reality of the (as Ms. Dowd refers to them) the “Kennebunkport Corleones”. You and I are just bit players in the Bushworld drama. The Bush family believes that it should rule, that it is destined to rule, that it is right and just in its rule.

Bushworld shows us that what matters to the Bushes are not over arching themes of war and peace or themes of economic and social justice. No, what matters is “ambition, partisanship, political debts and revenge.” One is either with the Bushes or against them. For them the world is black and white. There is no “maybe” or “what if”. There is only what they believe. There is only what they do.

Despite their true motivations the Bushes manage to maintain an almost happy go lucky reputation. Or as Ms. Dowd explains, “The Bushes are always gracious, until they need to go ugly.” There is a warning here as November approaches. In reading Bushworld it becomes clear that the last presidential election wasn’t about issues. It wasn’t about compassionate conservativism. At its core, for the Bushes, it was about revenge and vindication. The Bushes had to prove that the Clinton years were merely “Bushus interruptus”. In Bushworld winning was and still is everything. Governing is just an inconvenience — that can be delegated to others — after the game has been won.

Dowd’s almost psychoanalytic style of journalism isn’t limited to the Bushes. In Bushworld we find that she penned very perceptive essays in November and December of 2000 that give us a realistic glimpse into the thoughts that may have been going through Gore’s head and those of the Supreme Court Justices during the “Hundred Chads’ War.”

After reading Bushworld I will become a regular reader of Ms. Dowd’s column. She told us where we were going with the Bushes before we got here. I want to know where she thinks they will take us next.

The Pentagon’s New Map

Professor Thomas P.M. Barnett is a Senior Strategic Researcher and Professor in the Warfare Analysis & Research Department, Center for Naval Warfare Studies, U.S. Naval War College. He has been a pentagon insider for most of his career. Mr. Barnett has a comprehensive plan for countering terrorism that promotes global civil and economic rights. This plan is detailed in a new book, “The Pentagon’s New Map”. This book is the culmination of decades of study.

The New Map, that Barnett has drawn, divides the world into two sectors. On this map countries are either one of the “Core” nations – the haves — or one of those in the nonintegrated “Gap” – the “have nots”. The Core consists of those nations that promote themselves internationally through a relatively free flow of trade, people, direct foreign investment, and security. These nations are characterized by political stability and rising standards of living. Core nations include the U.S., Europe, Japan, Israel, much of the former USSR, China, India, parts of South America, the UK and its affiliated nations – Canada and Australia. The nations in the “Gap” include Pakistan, North Korea, most of the Middle East, Africa, Central and South America. The Gap nations either refuse to or are unable to work with the Core. The Gap nations are marked by political instability, cultural rigidity, and extreme poverty.

Barnett, a Catholic, sounds as if he were a Buddhist. His military strategy is based on the interconnectivity of all things – including war and peace. He explains that the enemy is neither a religion (Islam) nor a place (the Middle East), but a condition – disconnectedness. The disconnected are isolated, deprived, repressed and uneducated. For women this too often means that they are “barefoot and pregnant”, sometimes seen, but rarely heard. For Gap men this means that their lives are characterized by ignorance and boredom. For the masses in the Gap this means that there is a lack of choice and very limited access to ideas, capital and travel. However, for the elite in the Gap it means absolute control and the ability to amass great wealth. The enemy is disconnectedness. Those who profit from it, who enforce it and who promote it should be our targets.

Barnett realizes that terror is rooted in poverty, illiteracy, cultural isolation and political instability. People living in Gap nations have little hope. People with nothing to lose will take extreme actions.

Not surprisingly Barnett claims that the Pentagon views war simplistically. It views war only within the context of war. To these planners the world is black and white. You are for us or against us. Therefore, military strategy for the most part focuses on preventing horrific scenarios caused by other nations. On the other hand, Barnett posits that we must view war within the context of everything else since all things are interconnected. Consequently, military planning should focus on increasing connectivity; rather than just countering catastrophes. Planning should focus on shrinking the number of nations in the Gap by spreading economic wellbeing and building the security of the Core.

Terrorists tend to emerge from long endured conflicts in the Gap nations. Thus, the Core must act to end these conflicts. Yes, the U.S. should act as the global cop. Terrorists want to sever the connectivity between nations. Destroying global disconnectedness is the only way to achieve security for the U.S. Consequently, nations in the Core must keep a free flow of labor, energy, money and security to and from the Core areas where these are plentiful to the Gap where they are scarce. The flow, the connectivity, is the key.

Militarily this means that the Pentagon has to handle two types of conflicts. Part of the military must be high tech and able to move swiftly in order to put down rouge states and quash bloody civil wars. The other part of the military must be low tech and sensitive to the local people in order to act as the “System Administrator” and help rebuild nations and provide security. These actions combined will increase connectivity and provide hope for the people living in the Gap.

Barnett, at times, sounds like an apologist for BushCo. Most notably he supports the invasion of Iraq because Saddam thrived on disconnectedness. However, he is critical of the administration’s unilateral military actions and fearmongering rhetoric. For Barnett, BushCo has failed in its imagination, in its words and in its deeds. The war on terror gave the administration the opportunity to define a grand strategy. Instead, BushCo has spoken of an almost vindictive concept of preemptive war, which has only frightened our allies. Moreover, BushCo’s preemptive war puts at risk the global flows of energy, security and investments and the Patriot Act puts at risk the free flow of people from the Gap to the Core.

In addition, Barnett’s prescription for Iraq is sound. He believes that the U.S. must internationalize the occupation force, bolster the Iraqi police and get direct foreign investment. Moreover, his Map and plan for waging global peace has great merit. I highly recommend “The Pentagon’s New Map” and Barnett’s positive vision to everyone concerned about the direction of the current war on terror. Barnett calls himself a dreamer, while I don’t agree with all of the aspects of his vision, I too dream that BushCo and future administrations would heed Barnett’s advice.

2 million people live in the Gap. The nations of the Core must do everything in their power to offer these people a hopeful future. In their hope lies peace.

(A postscript: The publisher gave me an advance copy of Professor Barnett’s book on the off chance that I would review it. I had no idea whether or not I would like or agree with anything in the book and I told the publisher that I might not write any commentary on the book. I read the book over the past month and found myself agreeing with most of Barnett’s conclusions and recommendations. Robert Byrd)

A String In The Key Of G

I have been having trouble tuning the 4th string on my banjo. Last night I couldn’t get it tuned no matter what I did. Mrs. Byrd plays the guitar so she gave it a go, but she couldn’t tune that string either. Today I thought that I’d pick the banjo at lunch. Before I did though I still needed to tune that darn string. I tried, to no avail. Instead the string broke and nearly took out an eye. Maybe it was fraying and that was why it wouldn’t tune. Or more likely, I am tone deaf and I turned that string just a little too much. In any event I now have an after work errand. I can’t practice without my string.

Wagon Wheel get a lot of play in the ByrdHouse, owing in part to these lyrics:

My baby plays the guitar
I pick a banjo now

Okay. Okay. Okay. That is the portion that is most relevant to the Byrd’s. Here’s the whole song:

Wagon Wheel

(Written by Bob Dylan with additional lyrics by Ketch Secor Performed by the Old Crow Medicine Show)

Headed down south to the land of the pines
And I’m thumbin’ my way into North Caroline
Starin’ up the road
And pray to God I see headlights

I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Pickin’ me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I’m a hopin’ for Raleigh
I can see my baby tonight

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama anyway you feel
Hey mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a south-bound train
Hey mama rock me

Runnin’ from the cold up in New England
I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time stringband
My baby plays the guitar
I pick a banjo now

Oh, the North country winters keep a gettin’ me now
Lost my money playin’ poker so I had to up and leave
But I ain’t a turnin’ back
To livin’ that old life no more

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama anyway you feel
Hey mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a south-bound train
Hey mama rock me

Walkin’ to the south out of Roanoke
I caught a trucker out of Philly
Had a nice long toke
But he’s a headed west from the Cumberland Gap
To Johnson City, Tennessee

And I gotta get a move on fit for the sun
I hear my baby callin’ my name
And I know that she’s the only one
And if I die in Raleigh
At least I will die free

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama anyway you feel
Hey mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a south-bound train
Hey mama rock me

(Thanks to Hickory Wind for the history on the lyrics.)

The song really rocks, in a bluegrass kind of way.

B a n j o

Yep, this is my banjo. Other than choir in school I have no formal musical training, but I have always wanted to play an instrument. A piano is too big to carry around, a guitar has too many strings. Then two months ago it hit me.

I needed to get a banjo! Mrs. Byrd was all for it. So, I bought this Deering banjo. I started weekly lessons this month. The family has been very patient listening to my painful repetition of exercises. Nothing fancy here. Split rolls and basic rhythm are the whole of my repetoire.

Brilliant

“Brilliant”.  That is what Justin Hayward said when he first heard this.  I grew up listening to all kinds of music.  Country, country rock, electronic, pop and rock.  The Moody Blues were one of my favorites, especially “Nights in White Satin”.

I still listen to many different styles of music, but the Byrd kids have complained that the stereo has been “too loud,” so I for the past year I have leaned more toward folk and bluegrass — acoustic music.

The fact that I am “picking the banjo” now and that Mrs. Byrd plays the guitar, only furthers the emphasis on acoustic music in the Byrdhouse.   You have to listen to some of the songs on this album to appreciate it.

This isn’t a sarcastic tribute to the Moody’s electronic music.  Much attention to detail and respect for the original sons is evident.  The mandolin replaces the flute on these tracks and lends a new, fresh air, to the songs.

The lyrics in a Moody’s song were always important.  Now without the electronic effects one hears them in a new light and with the southern twang — if that doesn’t bother you — of some of the vocalists these songs almost sound new.   Granted not all of the songs are great, but take a listen.

If you like bluegrass and the Moody Blues, you won’t be disappointed.  Now too, the Byrd kids — Em and Zee — can hear the Moody Blues without complaining that the music is too loud.  Another plus.

Practice, practice, practice

I have been practicing playing the banjo a little every day.  On good days I get an hour in, on bad days I get 20 minutes.  I have found that one good time to practice is during lunch in my office.  So far my colleagues have been nice.  No one has complained about my playing.  A benefit of practicing at home is that my children like to practice along with me.  We have an old banjo-uke that I have strung with stings from my banjo.

Em and Zee have played that a lot.  So much apparently that Em asked for a ukelele for Christmas.  I couldn’t resist.  I bought her one.  Tonight she said that she wanted to find some private time when she and I could practice together.  Of course I liked hearing that.  I told her that we would.  The trick is keeping Zee from feeling left out and compelled to climb on us or pull the strings himself.

Forward Rolls

I’ve stopped my banjo lessons.  They were helpful.  I learned a lot about proper handling of the banjo.  Picking with one hand and fretting with the other.  But every technique takes practice.  And more practice.  And more practice.  I have to practice until I can move my fingers without thinking about them.  They need to acquire muscle memeory.  That is difficult.  Ideally I would practice an hour a day.  Most of the time I am lucky if I can practice a half hour.  Often I don’t get to practice at all.

This meant that I couldn’t keep up with what I should get from lessons.  The last three lessons my instructor said, “Great, there is nothing new for now.  You have to keep practicing. ”  At 20 bucks a pop being told to just keep on was getting too expensive.  I have kept up practicing and I have a video that is teaching me new slides and rolls.  I’ll work my way slowly through it in the next couple of months.  If I progress well maybe I’ll resume lessons.   Nobody told me that the banjo is one of the most difficult stringed instruments to play.  But then I never asked.

Selfish

The Mrs. and I want to simplify our lives.  We do that in many ways such as drying our clothes on a clothes line, having as large a vegetable garden as possible, making toys for the kids when practical and biking when we can.  Another more substantive way of simplifying would be to move to a farm.  On a farm we could grow more of our food, have chickens and other livestock and live more sustainably.  We have looked for a farm of 3 or more acres for over a year, but what we can afford is too remote.  We have two young children whom we don’t wish to home school so we need to be close enough to schools for daily trips to school to be logical and not fossil fuel intensive.  On the other hand those properties that are closer to towns are outrageously expensive.  We can’t pay $100,000 an acre!

We will continue to reduce our consumption, reuse and recycle what we can.

Another reason for a farm though was so that family and future extended family could live nearby.  I grew up in the Midwest and live in the west.  My parents and two siblings stayed in our hometown.  My parents to their credit encouraged me and my siblings to explore the world, go to college where we were able and to live where we could.  This meant that two of us never returned to live in the Midwest.  When I was younger that seemed okay to me, but it must have hurt my parents a little.

About ten years ago I began to call my parents on the telephone more.  I traveled to see them more often.  But that didn’t add up to much time with them.  Seven years ago I married Mrs. B.   I began to miss my parents more.  I wanted to share my new life with them and with my siblings.  Then we had our first child.  My parents flew out to see our daughter.  One of my most cherished memories of that visit is captured in a photograph.  My dad and Em are on the sofa.  She is in his lap.  Their eyes are locked.   My father is  cooing and making silly faces for her.  We all could tell that he loved her.  My father was ailing when he visited.  He had been on kidney dialysis for 15 years.

His body finally gave out less than a year later.   I was able to visit him when he was hospitalized.  But I had already returned home when he died.  I still feel his absence.  I wish that he were here to see my son.  I think that had he been in my life more constantly that the emptiness that I feel would be different.  I would know that we had lived full lives together, rather than having only intermittent visits and weekly chats on the phone.  Those aren’t the life experiences that stay with us.  Those are not life experiences that make us complete.  Activities shared and quiet days shared are what round out are lives.  One can only enjoy these if one lives in close proximity to loved ones.  We have traveled as a family to see my mom, so she has enjoyed Em and Zee.  But we have only our short visits,  Not really much for the kids to build memories upon.

I want my children to have the opportunity to live in close proximity to the Mrs. and I.  They may choose not to, that will be their choice.  But I want them to have the option.

What is important is family.  This realization was pressed home even more yesterday when my sister telephoned to say that mom was in the hospital.  She had an infection and been unconscious for up to 24 hours.  She lives in an apartment in a senior living complex.  But she may as well live entirely alone.  The residents don’t socialize much. She has outlived most of her friends.  My sister visits her every day and my brother calls or visits each day.  But for those interruptions my mom’s day would include nothing but television.   I can’t help but feel that when we place the elderly in these facilities that we are sending the majority of them somewhere to waste away.  People shouldn’t go this way.

If we are lucky we start our lives surrounded by family and friends,  We should work to see that particularly as people age they too have lives that are surrounded by family and friends.  Better still would be to be surrounded by family and friends throughout our entire lives.

An OSHA Disgrace

Admittedly this isn’t in line with traditional hoiday cheer, but it is disturbing to me so you get to read about it here. Does it seem like large corporations always win or is it just the conspiracy theorist in me at work?

Ideally, when our time comes, we’ll all pass away peacefully surrounded by family and friends. Hopefully we won’t die on the job, but if we do and it is the employer’s fault (password/id “rbyrd”) the feds aren’t going to do much about it. OSHA, our workplace safety watchdog, apparently has been helping employers more than employees.

Every one of their deaths was a potential crime. Workers decapitated on assembly lines, shredded in machinery, burned beyond recognition, electrocuted, buried alive — all of them killed, investigators concluded, because their employers willfully violated workplace safety laws.

These deaths represent the very worst in the American workplace, acts of intentional wrongdoing or plain indifference that kill about 100 workers each year. They were not accidents. They happened because a boss removed a safety device to speed up production, or because a company ignored explicit safety warnings, or because a worker was denied proper protective gear.

And for years, in news releases and Congressional testimony, senior officials at the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration have described these cases as intolerable outrages, “horror stories” that demanded the agency’s strongest response. They have repeatedly pledged to press wherever possible for criminal charges against those responsible.

These promises have not been kept.

Over a span of two decades, from 1982 to 2002, OSHA investigated 1,242 of these horror stories — instances in which the agency itself concluded that workers had died because of their employer’s “willful” safety violations. Yet in 93 percent of those cases, OSHA declined to seek prosecution, an eight-month examination of workplace deaths by The New York Times has found.

What is more, having avoided prosecution once, at least 70 employers willfully violated safety laws again, resulting in scores of additional deaths. Even these repeat violators were rarely prosecuted.

OSHA’s reluctance to seek prosecution, The Times found, persisted even when employers had been cited before for the very same safety violation. It persisted even when the violations caused multiple deaths, or when the victims were teenagers. And it persisted even where reviews by administrative judges found abundant proof of willful wrongdoing.

Behind that reluctance, current and former OSHA officials say, is a bureaucracy that works at every level to thwart criminal referrals. They described a bureaucracy that fails to reward, and sometimes penalizes, those who push too hard for prosecution, where aggressive enforcement is suffocated by endless layers of review, where victims’ families are frozen out but companies adeptly work the rules in their favor.

“A simple lack of guts and political will,” said John T. Phillips, a former regional OSHA administrator in Kansas City and Boston. “You try to reason why something is criminal, and it never flies.”

In fact, OSHA has increasingly helped employers, particularly large corporations, avoid the threat of prosecution altogether. Since 1990, the agency has quietly downgraded 202 fatality cases from “willful” to “unclassified,” a vague term favored by defense lawyers in part because it virtually forecloses the possibility of prosecution.

Dean Endorsement

Those of you who have been reading this blog (old and new) for a while know that I endorsed Howard Dean months ago, not because he is the most liberal candidate or because I agree with everything that he has done or says, but because I agree with most of his policies, I like his anger (passion) and he was against the war in Iraq before it was fashionable to question BushCo’s foreign policy. Finally, I have endorsed him because he is the one Dem who will win.

This week Molly Ivins endorsed Dean. She explains her reasoning very well. Her thinking is akin to mine. This presidential election is the most important of my lifetime. BushCo must be thrown out of office. Molly Ivans’ column is reprinted below in its entirety.

Molly Ivins: The winner is …

By Molly Ivins
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Thursday, December 4, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas — No one has been waiting with bated breath for me to make up my mind about the Democratic presidential candidates, but I have, and you might be interested in how I got there. I’m for Howard Dean — because he’s going to win.

It is the bounden duty of bleeding-heart liberals like myself to make our political choices based on purity of heart, nobility of character, depth of compassion, sterling integrity and generosity of spirit. The concept of actually winning a political race does not, traditionally, influence the bleeding heart liberal one iota — certainly not in the primaries.

Over the years, I have proudly voted for a list of losers only a lily-pure liberal could love. I am rather surprised not to find myself in the camp of the Noble Dennis Kucinich this year. (And believe me, there are supporters of the Noble Dennis who are plenty upset about it, too.) In fact, I initially passed on Dean precisely because he looked like one of my usual losers — 2 percent in the polls and the full weight of Vermont behind him … wow, my kind of guy.

Having concluded that this was the year to Be Sensible, look for a winner, find a moderate, and all that good stuff the expert political players do, I carefully studied the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom — the avatar of all political knowledge, the Washington, D.C., press corps — said John Kerry was the man. So despite his resemblance to the finer products of the taxidermist’s art, I sat around waiting for him to show signs of life. And waited.

Next, I consulted my buddies in the union movement, and they said Dick Gephardt was the man. I always like a labor liberal, and Gephardt’s eyebrows have improved. I was hopeful for while, but concluded, as many do, that while Gephardt is Perfectly Good as a Democratic candidate, he ain’t settin’ the world on fire. Doesn’t seem like a good year for a regular politician on account of we ain’t lookin’ at regular politics. These Republicans do not have a different strategy — they are playing a different game. They don’t want to govern, they want to rule.

Next, my lawyer friends recommended John Edwards, and even though my first impression was, “Too pretty, too light,” I liked him better as time went on. Good strong populist streak to him, some good economic ideas, goes right after Bush on the economy. But conventional wisdom decided he is too young and untried.

Then along came Gen. Wesley Clark, and lots of people were excited. But I never have thought anyone should start in politics at the top. All those rich guys who run for office want to start at governor or senator, instead of running for the school board. Arnold Schwarzenegger aside, it’s really not as easy as it looks.

Meanwhile, there’s old Dean, causin’ excitement. I went up to Vermont and talked to a bunch of liberals there. They all said Howard Dean is no liberal. Funny, that’s what Howard Dean says, too. And indeed, he isn’t, but in politics, everything’s relative. The conventional wisdom first dismissed Howard Dean (the man has never been to a Washington dinner party!), then condescended to him, then graciously offered him instruction on how he should be running his campaign — which seemed to be going along quite well without their input.

I talked to some big money guys who assured me Dean Can’t Win. But of course I’m noticing this interesting thing: Dean has so much money he actually turned down public campaign financing (since I’m a card-carrying liberal, I was naturally deeply unhappy over this. But since Dean’s money comes from Real People instead of corporate special interests, I’m not that unhappy.) Let me second the notion that this year, the Internet is to politics what television was in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon race.

For a while, I fretted over Dean being angry, or at least appealing to the political anger that is normally manipulated by right-wing radio jocks. Anger makes liberals uncomfortable: We prefer peace, reason and gentle persuasion. Beloveds, it is way past time for us to get mad — social, economic and political justice are being perverted by the Bush administration.

Dean gives a hell of a speech — even if you’re Republican, you should go and hear him just for the experience. But I fretted about Dean on TV — TV is so important. How could anyone poker up on Margaret Carlson of PBS, not one of the world’s toughest interviewers? But then I saw Dean laugh his way through a Chris Matthews interview (which he should have done with Tim Russert, who was hell-bent on gotcha questions), and I know the guy can take care of himself. So he fights back if you get in his face — that’s not all bad.

I know, he’s even less of a liberal than Bill Clinton was, but I don’t think Dean is a moderate centrist. I think he’s a fighting centrist. And folks, I think we have got ourselves a winner here. Sac Bee

No War In Iraq

Today is one year from the day our warmonger president invaded Iraq. Everything the opposition to the war warned about and feared has come to pass. With more deaths and destruction every day Iraq is teetering on edge of chaos. Yet BushCo professes that all is good. Below are writings from earlier Byrd”s Brain postings on this war.

Controlling the Masses

Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece…

But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

[“There is one difference,” Gustave Gilbert pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United State only Congress can declare wars.”]

Oh that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

— Herman Goering, at Nuremberg, as told to Gustave Gilbert, in his book, “Nuremberg Diary.”
Byrd’s Brain March 26, 2003

Reality TV

I am riding on the train. It is 7:33 in the morning on February 27th. I am traveling for work. I have meetings to attend and then will return home by train tonight. Outside the window the sky is blue, the hills are green and as we pass parts of San Francisco Bay the scenery is idyllic. All is peaceful and seemingly right with the world. At least with this small part of the world. Granted, we are on “orange alert”, but that’s surreal.

The threat of a terrorist attack is too indistinct for us to take precautions.

But the threat of war, no, the reality of war, is very real in many many parts of this planet.

If I were riding in a train in Iraq today I would have a radically different perspective of the world. I might be wondering if I would be alive in a month. I would be wondering if my family will survive the U.S. invasion.

The propaganda that we in the U.S. have heard over the last year about Iraq. The constant bombardment of news. The never-ending battle cry that the U.S. will invade Iraq. The endless calling up of reservists. The pictures of military personnel stationed throughout the Middle East. All of this has served its purpose. It has made millions of Americans numb.

Millions are against the war, but the propaganda has made the possibility of an invasion of Iraq almost a foregone conclusion. The invasion feels like a fact. It will happen. It is almost as if people feel that it has to happen.

We’ve heard so much about it. Make it real for Christ sake. Or so we are intended to feel.

A war in Iraq won’t matter much to the daily lives of those in the U.S. People will continue on with their lives as if nothing has changed. Americans will watch (to the extent that we are allowed to see) the war on TV. It will be a new reality series. Forget “Survivor Amazon”, this is “Survivor Iraq”.

The collective impact may be no more than if Americans had all gone to the local multiplex and seen the same movie. The explosions and body parts might even look less real than the cinematic version. That will be good for Bush. The horrors will seem not so horrible. When we get hungry, we’ll go into the kitchen to get something to eat. And then return with our chips and beer to watch more of the war. When we are tired we’ll turn the TV off. And then forget about it until we turn the TV on again for the next installment, the next battle. Maybe, even the next war. 24 Hour news stations have commercialized, commodified war.

We learned that during Bush Sr’s Gulf War. This Gulf war may be brought to us by Nike and Pepsi.

We’ll watch this reality show whenever we get the chance. Around the water cooler at work, we’ll talk about the amazing sights of explosions and laser guided missiles. We’ll talk about the amazing technology that the U.S. is using.

We’ll talk about how “neat” the explosions were. We might even mention, in passing, that innocent Iraqis were probably killed, but we won’t think much about them. We’ll focus more on the Americans that will die. Those Americans’ deaths will be just as abstract to us, but somehow they will mean more. After all they are on our team.

But folks, real people are going to die if the U.S. invades Iraq. People who have no say in the Iraqi government, people who are just trying to get by one day at a time. People like you and me. People who are old, people who are young, people with families are going to die. Whole families may be killed. Children will be killed by U.S. bombs.

In order to limit backlash in the U.S., BushCo. must use massive amounts of firepower in the opening salvos. These high-tech killings will cause destruction and death in Iraq in ways we can’t imagine, but that very firepower will limit the number of Americans actually engaged in battle. Thus BushCo must avoid the evening news spectacle of plane loads of Americans coming home in body bags.

This is the lesson learned from Vietnam. If you are going to fight, fight an all out war and — at all costs — avoid American deaths.

As the war unfolds remember that real people are being killed.

U.S. tax dollars at work.
Byrd’s Brain, February 27, 2003

Battlefield Science Fiction?

Stuff in the report on Rebuilding America’s Defenses reads like a screenplay for a science fiction movie like the Terminator. It promotes a type of cyberborg soldier. The report was developed by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in 1992. On page 62 the report describes the U.S. soldier of the future:
“Future soldiers may operate in encapsulated, climate-controlled, powered fighting suits, laced with sensors, and boasting chameleon-like ‘active’ camouflage. ‘Skin-patch’ pharmaceuticals help regulate fears, focus concentration and enhance endurance and strength.”
What are these people thinking? What country is this? The U.S.? Suddenly we have no constitutional rights. The military is to be comprised of soldiers who are drugged to be obedient, strong and fearless? Basically, people are no better or worse than robots in the view of this report. This shows a galling lack of respect for individuals. Apparently whatever helps the collective is okay. Expecially when the collective is the ruling elite.

These people are running our government now. Yes, I would like to believe that all is for the best, but when people with ideas like this have the President’s ear it is time to be vigilant. Once soldiers are drugged who is to say that they won’t be used to control unruly rabble at home? And wouldn’t be good to control the rabble by drugging them too? Maybe that idea seems crazy now, but once you embark on that slippery slope ideas that were once farfetched become commonplace.

Another quote from page 14, makes you see that they were just waiting for an excuse to go after Saddam. Remember, the report was written in September 2000. The plan for years has been to force a “regime change”. Septemtber 11th just gave Bush the cover needed to push for Saddam’s ouster.
“While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
Byrd’s Brain October 7, 2003

Bush Profits From War In the early days of this blog I referenced arms dealings by the Carlyle Group, The British government is planning on partially privatizing its weapons research by selling a stake in a top secret defense lab.

The likely buyer of QinetiQ is the Carlyle Group. The Carlyle Group is one of the biggest venture capital groups, a leviathan that commands respect and inspires awe in equal parts. Chaired by former US Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, the group’s tentacles spread far and wide.
John Major, George Bush Sr and his former Secretary of State, James Baker, are on its payroll. Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and ex-Bundesbank president Karl Otto Pohl are among its advisers. Besides the bin Laden family, which has disowned Osama, it has managed funds for Prince Alwaleed and the likes of George Soros… Yes, the President’s dad is on the Carlyle Group payroll. A war here or there might get rid of a family enemy and could be personally profitable for the Bushes.

 
For the complete lowdown on the Carlyle Group check this out.

 
Like everyone else in the United States, the group stood transfixed as the events of September 11 unfolded. Present were former secretary of defense Frank Carlucci, former secretary of state James Baker III, and representatives of the bin Laden family. This was not some underground presidential bunker or Central Intelligence Agency interrogation room. It was the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., the plush setting for the annual investor conference of one of the most powerful, well-connected, and secretive companies in the world: the Carlyle Group. And since September 11, this little-known company has become unexpectedly important…

 
It is important to know that our President will personally profit from wars. I guess that a “few” deaths, the destruction of the economy, environmental devastation and the tossing aside of Constitutional rights doesn’t matter when there is money to be made. Do you feel safe yet?
Byrd’s Brain January 4, 2003