Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Operation Fluffy Bunny

Daily Show correspondent and former Marine Rob Riggle was relieved from doing to the usual Daily Show thing of standing in front of the green screen with the background dubbed in and was instead dispatched to Baghdad this week.

How does one do humor from a war zone on a highly contentious topic? Spotlight the insipid prose of elected officials who avail themselves of the Pentagon's dog and pony shows and let the troops perform a reality check, then conclude with a hilarious homage to Forrest Gump.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Philip K. Dick

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."

From an outstanding New Yorker essay on Philip K. Dick:

Although “Blade Runner,” with its rainy, ruined Los Angeles, got Dick’s antic tone wrong, making it too noirish and romantic, it got the central idea right: the future will be like the past, in the sense that, no matter how amazing or technologically advanced a society becomes, the basic human rhythm of petty malevolence, sordid moneygrubbing, and official violence, illuminated by occasional bursts of loyalty or desire or tenderness, will go on. Dick’s future worlds are rarely evil and oppressive, exactly; they are banal and a little sordid, run by a demoralized élite at the expense of a deluded population. No matter how mad life gets, it will first of all be life.


That’s probably why Dick’s reputation as a serious writer, like Poe’s, has always been higher in France, where the sentences aren’t read as they were written. And his paint-by-numbers prose is ideally suited for the movies. The last monologue in “Blade Runner” (“All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die”), improvised by Rutger Hauer on the set that day, has a pathos that the book achieves only in design, intellectually, because the movie speech is spoken by a recognizable person, dressed up as a robot, where Dick’s characters tend to be robots dressed up as people.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rude Pundit on the "Petraeus" Report

Lot on the internets today about the so-called Petraeus Report which has become the latest in a maddening series of Bush Administration disillusions. Turns out, it won't be, nor was it ever going to be, the Petraeus Report; it was always going to be the Cheney report, though they might let the intrepid General git on down to the Office Max to select the pretty report cover of his choice for it.

Rude Pundit tells it like it is:

The "Petraeus Report" and More Smoke and Mirrors:
Often, watching the Bush administration in action is a little like watching a magician opening for strippers named Bodacious Ta-tas Lorraine or Lady Kitty Cockswallow at a no-cover bar at a Boise truck stop in the 1960s. The magician, maybe named "the Great Ballini" or something equally clever, isn't very good, his card forces a little too forced, his coins and hankies too obviously tucked away, his sleight of hand clumsy, his hidden compartments clunky. But, still and all, to half-drunk truck drivers wanting feathered boobies and sequined cooters thrust in their faces on a cold Idaho night on the road, it's distracting as long as you don't pay too much attention. The problem, of course, is that once you know the tricks, the magic dissipates and all you've got is a loser desperately trying to entertain you with dirty-puns and a suit that needed to be cleaned last month.

So, while there's been an uproar over how the Petraeus report is not the Petraeus report, but actually the White House report, well, the idea that General Petraeus was ever going to write the report is just so many ripped dollar bills magically mended with a wave of the hand. According to the actual legislation, "The President, having consulted with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Commander, Multi-National Forces-Iraq, the United States Ambassador to Iraq, and the Commander of U.S. Central Command, will prepare the report and submit the report to Congress" and "The President shall submit a second report to the Congress, not later than September 15, 2007" and "Prior to the submission of the President's second report on September 15, 2007, and at a time to be agreed upon by the leadership of the Congress and the Administration, the United States Ambassador to Iraq and the Commander, Multi-National Forces Iraq will be made available to testify in open and closed sessions before the relevant committees of the Congress."

So, while everyone and his Cheney was talking about the great and mighty "General Petraeus's report" or some such shit, that was just spin, spin that the Democrats got tricked into using. And while Democrats were right to balk at the idea that Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker would give only closed-door testimony, well, fuck, read the goddamn bill. Remember: the Bush White House parses every letter of every word to see how to manipulate things in their favor, or they just issue a signing statement that says, in so many words, "Kiss my chicken-fried ass."

Political Maps

From Blast Off:

Read Blast Off's analysis here.

Mr. Pink: Sounds of Silence vs. Bratz Culture

From the files of Mr. Pink:

My daughter spent the night with a friend. They are both 12.

This friend has a TV in her room. She watches TV until 11:30pm.

They went shopping at the local thrift store. Her friend does this every day (because it's a cheap 'high').

In between and during the shopping and TV time is snack time.

There's no reading; no reflection time; no conversation.

Just day after day after day filled with mindless distractions and
consumption. (And, not needy consumption, but 'whore-iffic' consumption). This is surprising to me given the religious background of the parents, and the desire to keep their daughter chaste until married. BUT, the MOTHERS want to keep their daughters competitive, and they think Bratz™ -wear is the way to go.

Frankly, I don't see how all the 'expert' teachers public schools hire and policy changes public schools implement will make us competitive in the global markets. Public schools can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Kids who attend private schools have parents who value education (which is why they work).

I've come to the conclusion that many (most?) parents don't
really care if their children get an 'education.' They might care about crappy grades, but they aren't interested in raising enlightened, curious. scholars. They WANT babysitters instead of teachers at school. And, that's exactly why we have them. Because a real teacher would say, "Turn off the TV; take your kid to library instead of shopping; talk to your kid; read a newspaper with your kid, etc." And, that's NOT what parents want to do. They don't consider that their 'job description.' They don't think of education and learning as something which can be found EVERYwhere and ANYwhere. They view it as an 8:00 to 3:00 minimum wage job. You clock out at 3:00pm, and you're done for the day.

The best teachers in the world can't compete with that. We keep talking about 'improving education,' but without parents truly valuing education, it's meaningless. The advertisers have won. "And, the people bowed and prayed... to the neon god they made."

"And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

"Fools", said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls"
And whispered in the sounds of silence."

--Paul Simon, The Sound of Silence, written in the aftermath of the assassination of JFK in 1963.

Scary Picture

Arctic Ice Pack, 1979 & 2003, from NASA.

Hat tip: First-Draft.

Suicide is ....

Through early morning fog I see

visions of the things to be

the pains that are withheld for me

I realize and I can see...

From the Washington Post:

Army soldiers committed suicide last year at the highest rate in 26 years, and more than a quarter did so while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new military report.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its scheduled release Thursday, found there were 99 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers during 2006, up from 88 the previous year and the highest number since the 102 suicides in 1991 at the time of the Persian Gulf War.

The suicide rate for the Army has fluctuated over the past 26 years, from last year's high of 17.3 per 100,000 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.

Last year, "Iraq was the most common deployment location for both (suicides) and attempts," the report said.


The increases for 2006 came as Army officials worked to set up a number of new and stronger programs for providing mental health care to a force strained by the longer-than-expected war in Iraq and the global counterterrorism war entering its sixth year.

Failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and the stress of their jobs were factors motivating the soldiers to commit suicide, according to the report.

"In addition, there was a significant relationship between suicide attempts and number of days deployed" in Iraq, Afghanistan or nearby countries where troops are participating in the war effort, it said. The same pattern seemed to hold true for those who not only attempted, but succeeded in killing themselves.

There also "was limited evidence to support the view that multiple ... deployments are a risk factor for suicide behaviors," it said.

There are good reasons the Brits have had "harmony guidelines" for over a decade.

How many servicemen and women will be afflicted by PTSD for the rest of their lives and will the nation truly look after them?

The sword of time will pierce our skins

It doesn't hurt when it begins

But as it works its way on in

The pain grows it grin...

The Hanson Cannon...uh...Canon

Classics professor, military historian, and über-hawk pundit Victor Davis Hanson has a big problem with the education the kids are currently getting in our universities. Let's take his argument in small pieces:

Is the Iraq war, as we are often told, the “greatest mistake” in our nation’s history?

Because Israel and the United States have a bomb, is it then O.K. for theocratic Iran to have one too?

Americans increasingly cannot seem to answer questions like these adequately because they are blissfully uneducated. They have not acquired a broad knowledge of language, literature, philosophy, and history.

Agreed. When it comes to the knowledge of traditional humanities content, Americans suck. But this isn't new. A country with pragmatism as its de facto national religion in service to relatively unrestrained capitalism, has historically given short shrift to the humanities -- there isn't any money in it nor does it serve the purpose of our other national religion, evangelical Protestantism which don't need none of that Catholic book learnin' to have a personal relationship with the Almighty.

Hanson continues:

Instead, our youth for a generation have been fed a “Studies” curriculum. Fill in the blanks: Women’s Studies, Gay Studies, Environmental Studies, Peace Studies, Chicano Studies, Film Studies, and so on. These courses aim to indoctrinate students about perceived pathologies in contemporary American culture—specifically, race, class, gender, and environmental oppression.

Yes, such courses are out there and they're on the margins of the margins. Take a look at the top ten majors and ask yourself how much time these kids are going to spend in those classes. Maybe the Psych majors and they aren't going to study Latin or philosophy anyway unless it's required. Disagree? Go find a psych major and inquire yourself.

Of the top ten, only #7, English, is in the humanities -- so maybe some of those kids might be diverted from traditional humanities classes into Gay Penguins 101. All the other majors are vocational if one accepts that Poli Sci is de facto pre-law.

Such courses are by design deductive. The student is expected to arrive at the instructor’s own preconceived conclusions. The courses are also captives of the present—hostages of the contemporary media and popular culture from which they draw their information and earn their relevance.

Will the college professor who is not teaching deductively (I think Hanson really means to say didactically) please step forward. Although Hanson finds this to be a fault unique to the cultural left, in my experience, it isn't. Most PhDs have come to hold a certain position which they believe to be correct and they tend to not be shy preaching it. It's the nature of academe to case-build and to copiously impart data favorable to one's conclusions and to limit and/or disparage data which does not. Rare is the academic inoculated from this all-too-human trait.

The theme of all such therapeutic curricula is relativism. There are no eternal truths, only passing assertions that gain credence through power and authority. Once students understand how gender, race, and class distinctions are used to oppress others, they are then free to ignore absolute “truth,” since it is only a reflection of one’s own privilege.

By contrast, the aim of traditional education was to prepare a student in two very different ways. First, classes offered information drawn from the ages—the significance of Gettysburg, the characters in a Shakespeare play, or the nature of the subjunctive mood. Integral to this acquisition were key dates, facts, names, and terms by which students, in a focused manner in conversation and speech, could refer to the broad knowledge that they had gathered.

Second, traditional education taught a method of inductive inquiry. Vocabulary, grammar, syntax, logic, and rhetoric were tools to be used by a student, drawing on an accumulated storehouse of information, to present well-reasoned opinions—the ideology of which was largely irrelevant to professors and the university.

This is the meat of Hanson's case and the weakest. What Hanson is arguing is that if we stuck to the traditional Western canon both in terms of content (Shakespeare, Aristotle, St. Augustine) and skills (Aristotelian logic and rhetoric as opposed to Hegelian dialectics or, God forbid, deconstructionism) then the kids would be able to give a "better" answer to the "Is the war in Iraq the "greatest mistake" in our history?" question. In other words, they would give Hanson's answer of an emphatic "NO!" In other words, program the kid with the right history, philosophy, and syllogistic constructs and he won't end up in the squishy liberal traitor camp. Deductivism Hanson-style, yeah, baby!

But why is it so important to study the Western canon? Get your boots on, it's gonna get deep:

If few Americans know of prior abject disasters during the winter of 1776, the summer of 1864, or January 1942, then why wouldn’t Iraq really be the worst mistake in our history?
Huh? I consider myself to be a pretty decent student of American history, especially the periods Hanson cites and I'll be damned if I'm aware of any "disasters" associated with those specific frames. Of course, that's not what the disingenuous Professor Hanson is really trying to say. They were all low points in terms of morale of the eventual winning side in an American war but no scholar would ever denote nor conflate them as disasters.

On the other hand, informed people did make cases that certain decisions made by General Washington and the Continental Congress might not have been the best as those parties never enjoyed more than a 35% level of support of the American population. Lincoln's presidency teetered during the entire summer of 1864 and would have likely been lost to McClellan had Sherman not taken Atlanta. And FDR was subjected to a full-blown GOP-led congressional investigation as he struggled to get the country on a war footing on three continents and two oceans.

But those political obstacles were not mistakes any more than potholes are car wrecks. Contemporaneous critics certainly found plenty of mistakes to harp on in all three cases but criticism of policy and actions is not the same as a country experiencing self-doubt and low morale. And as a student of history, of the classics, Hanson knows better. He knows that the self-doubt and low morale need not be fatal to the polity suffering them. The strong country with a leadership steeped in the humanities sees low points as opportunities for reflection, for creativity, for the development and application of new strategies and policies.

But to gloss over the obstacles, to anesthetize the nation's geopolitical woes with jingoism, to distract the body politic with incessant fear mongering over jihadists, to marginalize those of us who are patriots but who strongly disagree with the path the country took in March of 2003 indicates inherent weaknesses in solely relying upon Hanson's stunted version of the Western canon. Reliance on Hanson's version of the canon only would ensure the quagmire in Iraq continues unabated because it does not allow for the possibility that a mistake was made, regardless where it lays in the pantheon of American missteps. Furthermore, Hanson's dysfunctional fetish for a militarily dominant, imperial Western Civilization with the United States as its phalanx , with the mission to bend the rest of the planet to its will, is indeed a strong argument for the broadening of the canon and to receive it as tool for shaping the future, not to defend the privileged tribe in the manner which Hanson would have us inculcate our youth.

Russian National Screw Day

"This is all for Mother Russia darling."

From the Denver Post:

Moscow - A Russian region of Ulyanovsk has found a novel way to fight the nation's birth-rate crisis: It has declared Sept. 12 the Day of Conception and for the third year running is giving couples time off from work to procreate.

The hope is for a brood of babies exactly nine months later on Russia's national day. Couples who "give birth to a patriot" during the June 12 festivities win money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.

Ulyanovsk, about 550 miles east of Moscow, has held similar contests since 2005. Since then, the number of competitors, and the number of babies born to them, has been on the rise.

Russia, with one-seventh of Earth's land surface, has just 141.4 million citizens, making it one of the most sparsely settled countries in the world. With a low birth rate and a high death rate, the population has been shrinking since the early 1990s.

So, if the Russkies do what they's supposed to, according to my biology textbook which says human gestation is 280 days, and this handy calendar calculator, the maternity wards in parts of Putinland are gonna be quite busy come June 18, 2008.

So to all the Russian readers of Mountain Philosopher, I say Поздравляю вас с днем рождения!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Doghouse Riley vs. Paglia

Amazing piece of writing by a guy who knows his cinema vs a chick enslaved by cliché.

I KNEW I was going to regret it, but The Editors had so much fun at Camille Paglia's expense that I clicked on the link, like I expected it might have wiped the smug off her caricature or somethin'. And the title was "Art Movies: R.I.P. Long before Bergman and Antonioni died, the mystical art-house film experience faded to black." And I was fucking stuck reading it. Nothing forces me to link to it, though, and I'm sure you can find your way there if you simply have to.

On the culture front, fabled film directors Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni dying on the same day was certainly a cold douche for my narcissistic generation of the 1960s.

Well, it's a touching tribute. With any luck, cold douching will replace Taps.

Is there some container somewhere for that "my narcissistic generation of the 60s" bit, or have we discovered the Universal Solvent? Leaving aside the atrocious phrasemaking, is it perhaps time now, after an intervening four generations' respective Decades, to ask ourselves whether her generation of the 1960s was a particularly narcissistic one? Have you noticed a pronounced lack of self-absorption in those born in the 1970s, say? Is it possible that this supposed narcissism is an artifact of life lived in the Global Village, or buried under a constant barrage of Advertising and manufactured acquisitiveness and consumerism run amok? Or an artifact of our reaching a critical mass of people paid to say stupid shit? Or is it just an artifact of looking at people as though they're defined by what somebody said in a magazine somewhere?

It's one thing to use The Sixties as shorthand for the commonly accepted laundry list of poorly-understood and facilely-connected major events that occurred within its Gregorian borders (or within the popular imagining of those borders). It's another to hold a loaded metaphor to everyone else's head and deprive them of loose change. Camille Paglia watched European films while in her twenties. Wow. It was The Sixties. Wow again. She saw them in art houses in the company of friends. Totally unexpected. I'd have guessed "on DVD, while playing Tetris™".
You owe it to yourself to go read the whole thing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Architect Has Left the Building

If you're wondering how Rove got his start, then you can watch this little movie. History produces some eerie harmonies, as one of the creepiest political advisors in American history started out with CREEP and was interviewed early on by Mr. Liberal Media himself.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Article 223.556mm

"War is cruelty and you cannot refine it."
-- William Tecumseh Sherman

You and your fellow Navy SEALS make a decision that may well have cost three SEAL lives by letting Afghani civilians who happened upon your position to go in peace, most likely passing on your position to the Taliban. Thirty-six hours later, twice-wounded, as a lone survivor, you are presented with another opportunity to make a similar decision. What do you do?

Marcus Luttrell's story is moving and reveals the daily Hobson's Choices American forces face in Afghanistan and Iraq.

From NPR's Morning Edition:
In June 2005, Marcus Luttrell and three of his fellow Navy SEALs set off on a mission in the mountains of Afghanistan. They were ambushed by the Taliban, leaving him as the only survivor among the American special operations team.

Luttrell, who has since retired from the military, recounts the ordeal in a memoir, Lone Survivor, co-written by Patrick Robinson.

The book has received much attention this summer, in part because of the decisions the SEALs made. They're the kind of decisions that lie at the heart of the war on terrorism: Who do you target — and who you do kill — when the enemy doesn't wear a uniform?

"War's not black and white," Luttrell tells Steve Inskeep. "You can sit there and put it on paper, like, 'This is what has to be done in this certain situation.' But when you get up there on that mountain, or when you're in a battlefield, it doesn't work that way. And sometimes stuff has to be done so you can preserve the life of your men."

Luttrell faced at least two decisions with lives at stake, including his own. The first decision came after the SEALs moved into the Afghan mountains. That's when they were discovered by Afghans who might betray their presence.

The SEALs were looking down from a mountainside, waiting for an enemy leader who was suspected to be in the village below.

They soon encountered three males and about 100 goats. The SEALs interrogated the herders, but "couldn't get anything out of them," Luttrell says. "And then, we just had that uneasy feeling. A lot of times, you can talk to villagers and they're really forthcoming with information, and sometimes they're not."

The SEALs discussed their options — tie up the herders and take them along, tie them up and leave them, or to kill them. In the end, the Americans decided to turn the herders loose.

Luttrell says he's still not sure if they made the right call.

In the book, Luttrell raises questions about the rules of war — and whether Americans should be following them. He writes:

Faced with the murderous cutthroats of the Taliban, we are not fighting under the rules of Geneva IV Article 4. We are fighting under the rules of Article 223.556mm — that's the caliber and bullet gauge of our M4 rifle.

"Sometimes, it's hard to fight an enemy when ... they're following a different set of rules. They're not following any rules, actually, in some regards. And when we go out there to deal with it, it's tough."

"There's a lot of smart people in the military. We're not as dumb as everybody thinks, and we know how to do our job really well. If you're going to send us in there for war, then that's what you do. You just send us in there and let us do what we need to do. We'll get done and we'll get home, and it'll be over.

You can listen to the interview with Team Leader Luttrell here, or read an excerpt from the book here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

God Please Forgive Us

From the Dallas Morning News

An Arlington church volunteered to host a funeral Thursday, then reneged on the invitation when it became clear the dead man's homosexuality would be identified in the service.

The event placed High Point Church in the cross hairs of an issue many conservative Christian organizations are discussing: how to take a hard-line theological position on homosexuality while showing compassion toward gay people and their families.

But the dispute between High Point Church and the friends and family of Cecil Sinclair has left confusion and hard feelings on both sides.

Mr. Sinclair, 46, died Monday. He was a native of Fort Worth, a Navy veteran who served in Desert Storm helping rescuers find downed pilots, and a singer in the Turtle Creek Chorale, said his mother, Eva Bowers. He did not belong to a church.

His brother, Lee, is an employee and member of High Point, a nondenominational mega-congregation led by the Rev. Gary Simons. Mr. Simons is the brother-in-law of Joel Osteen, nationally known pastor of Houston's Lakewood Church.


Both the family and church officials agree that the church volunteered to host a memorial service, feed 100 guests and create a multimedia presentation of photos from Mr. Sinclair's life.

But the photos that the family selected alerted church officials that there might be a problem with the service, Mr. Simons said.

"Some of those photos had very strong homosexual images of kissing and hugging," he said. "My ministry associates were taken aback."

And then, he said, the family asked to have its own people officiate the service. "We had no control over the format of the memorial," Mr. Simons said.


Nobody from the church called her or Mr. Sinclair's partner, Paul Wagner, to discuss possible changes to the service, Ms. Bowers said.

"We could have reached a compromise," she said. "That was never attempted."

At least some theological questions could have been worked out, she said. For instance, the family was willing to allow the church to issue an "altar call" asking people to accept Jesus at the end of the service.


"Can you hold the event and condone the sin and compromise our principles?" he {Simons} said. "We can't."

The issue was not so much that Mr. Sinclair was, from the church's perspective, an unrepentant sinner, he said. It's that it was clear from the photos that his friends and family wanted that part of his life to be a significant part of the service.

The pastor said that he could imagine a similar situation involving a different sin. Perhaps a mother who is a member of the church loses a son who is a thief or murderer, Mr. Simons said. The church would surely volunteer to hold a service, he said.

"But I don't think the mother would submit photos of her son murdering someone," he said. "That's a red light going off."


After the church decided it would not host the funeral service, it offered to pay for another facility, Mr. Simons said. The family declined and found a local funeral home to hold the event Thursday night.Even so, the church sent over food and the video – minus the images church officials found to be offensive.

"Some of our people will be there at the memorial service," Mr. Simons said. "We tried to do the very best of our ability to express the love of Christ."

I think Pastor Simons struck out on three counts:

(1) His and his congregation's continued heavy reliance on one passage in the New Testament attributed to Paul which appears to condemn homosexuality (read the link to find out what Paul was really up to.)

(2) Even if the pastor wishes to throw out the above argument, the comparison of homosexuality to murder is as odious as it is uninformed. Furthermore, it is precisely that kind of statement which serves to validate violence towards homosexuals. Not exactly what Jesus would do.

(3) The selectivity of which sins can be forgiven and which apparently cannot. To which I would refer the good pastor and his congregation to the following parable which, like everything else Jesus said, had no caveat nor condemnation for homosexuals:

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"

Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:21-35)

Coffee-Powered Steam Engine

From Boing Boing:

The revolutionary concept for this hot-air engine was discovered in 1816 by the Scottish minister Robert Stirling and has been updated for today. The principle is as ingenious as it is simple: In a sealed cylinder, heated from the underside, a piston pushes the enclosed air back and forth between the hot and the cold side. The air therefore expands out and compress together every cycle and that movement is converted via a moving piston and crankshaft into rotary motion.


Set this fully functional Stirling engine on a cup with boiling hot coffee (Tea or water also works of course) - give the flywheel a small push to the left - and the apparatus begins simply to pump up and down - for up to an hour!

When I've got 21 Euros to blow I'll have a new coffee toy to wow the kiddies!

Dick Cheney 1994

Before 9/11 gave him the highly questionable inspiration of the "One Percent Doctrine", Dick Cheney seemed rather sane....

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Puro Scuro

Perhaps the best blend I've ever had...

"We have been working on this blend for a very long time. It started with a lucky accident about a year ago. I was working with some premium Sumatras and a combination of Yemen and Ethiopian coffees toward a Mohka-Java blend. But I didn't want it to be all bass note, all deep end. It is the problem with some blends intended for darker roast levels - there is a big "hole" in the cup profile, and that hole is located in the medium/bright range of the cup. I stumbled across a combination of coffees (no, I am keeping this one a secret!) that could do all this, and offer some nice aromatics to a darker roasted blend.

Another key factor: I also wanted a blend that had a darkly sweet finish, not ashy, not carbony. With this blend I wanted to prove that I am not anti-darkroast. The problem is, too many dark roasts are simply burned. Roast this as intended and I think you will find the cup decription and the name to be fitting!

Oh, the name? I wanted to call it Barnabas Blend (from my favorite '60s TV show Dark Shadows) but Puro Scuro has a better ring to it, and says a lot about the cup: Pure Dark, in Italian. So the sole remnant of the Dark Shadows theme is our motif for the coffee, a bat.

Overall, this blend boasts exceptional depth - yes it is one deep cup ... what we call "good coffee to brood by." The blend leaves a lingering, graceful finish on the pallate. The target roast range is from Full City+ with a few snaps of 2nd crack, to a Light French roast. In between those two, is a Vienna roast where this blend excels. My favorite is a roast stopped about 20-30 seconds after the first sound of 2nd crack. (Don't think that roasting it to darker French stage makes it more intense; it is most intense at a Full City+, but don't go lighter becase it has odd baked flavors at the City+ stage).

There is some variability in the cup results based on how long it is rested, how it is brewed and (mostly) because this blend involves a healthy proportion of dry-processed coffees. If you want every batch to be exactly the same, don't buy this coffee. If you like to taste a range of flavors, and enjoy complex shifts in character, then you will enjoy the Puro Scuro. The cup has intense sage and anise herbiness, with lingering dried apricot notes. Alternately, I get intense spiciness in the cup; clove with jasmine hints, over a darker tobaccoy flavor. There is a sweet mollasses note in the aromatics that reemerges in the finish. I think it makes excellent espresso too; a rare but accurately-named "dual-use blend."

This blend of green beans available exclusively from Sweet Marias, is all the reason one needs to get into home roasting.


From The New York Times "The Caucus" political blogs section under "Popular Tags."

Most interesting blips on this radar screen:

(1) YouTube - viral video's impact on the 2006+ political era beginning with George Allen's "macaca" moment will likely make the history books.

(2) Hillary Clinton's and Iraq's dominance while "terrorism" barely registers

(3) Somebody still has some morbid fascination for Mark Folely.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Moonshine Patriot on teh Debate

I am hopelessly addicted to the Moonshine Patriot, a blogger with a style like none other on the internets. Moonshine works his magic on the Sunday talk shows and candidate debates. He produces his idiosyncratic transcripts which brilliantly capture the message and the meta-message of every exchange. Moonshine's prose is informed by the current teen and Blackberry-possessor obsession of texting. "Texters" have their own shorthand which Moonshine adopts, but not so it obfuscates, but, rather, illuminates the high school qualities of our political discourse. Moonshine's accounts are so complete that one no longer has to watch the actual exchanges, as Moonshine captures and bottles "teh" essence as he did for tonight's Democratic Debate in Chicago, sponsored by the AFL-CIO and moderated by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann:

Obama: Everyone knows where Al Qaeda is, but how far are we prepared to go - they pull a knife, we pull a gun, they send one our troops the hospital, we send of theirs to the morgue thats teh Chicago Way!!!

[ applause ]

Biden: in Hillary's little city mole people live in aluminum tubes its crazeee!!!! I will debate Rudy and i swear i will yell so loud he'll wish he brought bernie kerik to whisper in his ear thou art immortal!!!

Olbermann: okaaayyyy

Edwards: everyone knows i'm down with organzied labor i'm like Gephardt only with eyebrows and integrity

Keith: interesting

Edwards: look at what happened Saturday at YearlyKos Hillary loves Lobbyists and i say no to that!

Keith: taxpayer funded Steroid Palaces?

Kucinich: i was mayor of KeelberTown and i bought the Elves baseball team they won the chocolate pennant

Olbermann: awesome

Kucinich: sure we should invest it will bring jobs

Obama: that's why i spent your taxes on a football stadium go Bears!

Richardson: AFL-CIO in da house!! Give me money!!

Audience: wooo hooo!!

Bill: Electric grid! Commuter rail! Flying cars!

Olbermann: NAFTA yes or no?

Hillary: this will shock you but i have 12 point plan that addresses this issue too

Olbermann: of course you do

Hillary: i want a Trade Cop, maybe -
[removes sunglasses]

David Caruso

Olbermann: excellent
You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Socratic Sluggers

click above for larger image

About 7 weeks left in the season and my sluggers are on top. A fortuitous draft and close to 50 trades have kept me there almost all season. Fantasy baseball teaches you a lot about baseball in general and the dynamics of a particular season. ERAs are still higher than everyone thinks they should be and that's with so many starters only going six innings, seven on a good night. I'm not aware of a killer closer the likes of Gagne and Smoltz from a couple of seasons ago. Finding a consistent first base slugger seems harder than seasons past while finding solid third basemen seems easier. Derek Jeter is a machine, Vladimir Guerrero is maddening with his hot and cold streaks (thankfully I had him in the lineup when he belted two homers last week).

I'll miss the season when it's gone so here's to the last of the regular season and hopefully a captivating series.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Jessica the Hippo

Incredible critter story!

SCHIP and Premium Cigars

Ideologically, I find myself somewhat hoist on my own petard...or stoogie.

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Bill, co-sponsored by Senators Hatch and Kennedy, and which passed the Senate last week by a veto-proof majority but which has yet to pass the House, would extend health insurance to millions of uninsured American children. The bulk of the program's costs would be financed by an additional 61 cent tax on a pack of cigarettes. Doesn't sound unreasonable to me.

The bill also calls for HUGE increases on premium cigars which yours truly does relish upon occasion. How much of an increase? The current stoogie federal tax is a 5 cents. The House version of the bill calls for about a one dollar tax. Again, I can live with that 2000% increase.

But the Senate version goes crazy, setting up to a TEN DOLLAR TAX per stick! The formula calls for an approximately 53% tax on the wholesale cost. I typically smoke four to seven dollar cigars. A seven dollar cigar runs about $3.50 wholesale, making it $5.25 before markup, and about ten bucks to me if the retailer is going to maintain his margin and stay in business. The fifteen dollar sticks, and believe me, these are more popular than you might think, will start to go for 24 bucks.

What would this all mean? My tobacconist, who maintains a fantastic brick and mortar operation, along with a thriving Internet business, laid it out for me last night (over good cigars, naturally).

He sees many Mom and Pop stores going under. And he sees devastating hits to the Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan economies where the vast majority of the premium cigars are rolled and where the tobacco for the same is grown.

He and another smoking buddy also foresee a tremendous uptick in the Cuban black market in the US. It was news to me that the prices for good Cuban cigars have dropped tremendously over the past couple of years and that several mail-order places operations in Europe and, I couldn't believe it, Japan (where the best deals are to be found), are shipping guaranteed Cubans with guaranteed delivery. US Customs grabs your smokes? No problemo, we'll ship you another box. And the cost? Ten to 12 bucks a stick for a lot of the top brands. That's half of what the prices were about five years ago when I checked out ordering some from Canada.

Hopefully, the House version or something close to it will prevail. I want kids to have health insurance. But I'd like to occasionally indulge in my guilty pleasure on a teacher's salary. It's either that or back to the pipes. With maybe a slightly altered set of politics.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The War at Home

JOHN COUTLAKIS - Asheville Citizen-Times

The War in Iraq came home to Asheville last week and it wasn't pretty.

Mark and Deborah Kuhn had been flying an American flag upside down for several weeks. In the middle of July, an Asheville city cop stopped by their house to ask if everything was OK as flying the flag upside down is a distress signal. The Kuhns said they were fine. The officer told them that he had been informed that there was a NC statute forbidding flag desecration, but that as far as he was concerned the law neither applied nor was enforceable. The parties bid each other a good day.

Enter Buncombe County deputy sheriff Brian Scarborough hired full-time just six weeks ago after serving seven months in Iraq as a National Guardsman. Scarborough had been approached by at least one other local Guardsman who was upset by the Kuhn's display, informing Scarborough about the NC statute written in 1917. Scarborough then took it upon himself to enforce the law even though the Kuhn's live within the city limits where law enforcement is usually left to the police department.

The accounts of what happened differ. The Citizen-Times has consistently pushed the deputy's version barely mentioning the Kuhn's account as well as several other eyewitness accounts. Scarborough says he approached the house, presented the Kuhns who were outside with the statute and that they complied immediately, taking down both the flag and the attached signs which were recent additions. After this, the stories diverge.

Scarborough maintains, he asked for ID, the Kuhns refused, started to enter their house, and then slammed the door on his hand, breaking a pane of glass from which he suffered minor lacerations. He forced his way in and then arrested the Kuhns for desecrating the flag, assault on a law enforcement officer, and resisting arrest.

The Kuhns and the neighbors tell a different story.

After observing the deputy's request to remove the flag, he demanded ID. The Kuhns refused on the grounds that Scarborough had no right to demand it, they then went into their home and dead bolted the door. Scarborough began to kick at the door and then broke the glass, reached inside to open the deadbolt and made his arrests.

The neighbors also confirm that other people appearing to be Guardsmen (men in fatigues), had appeared at the Kuhn's residence with some unkind things to say during the previous weeks.

After a tremendous outcry, all charges were dropped but the Kuhns are still pushing for Scarborough's dismissal as well as investigating the option of filing charges for unlawful entry.

Emotions are legitimately running high. Servicemen who have lost buddies and who will continue to lose more are understandably incensed not just over lack of respect of the flag, but lack of respect for their efforts and their sacrifice. Which, in no way, excuses what Deputy Scarborough did if the Kuhns and their neighbor's account is correct. We're stuck with increasing polarization and recrimination.

And sadly, it's only going to get a lot worse, as we inevitably draw down without a clear victory, and scapegoatism becomes more symbolic than substantive.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Trent Lott Counsels Cut and Run

From TPM

"...when asked if people should leave Washington, D.C., during the month of August, Lott replied that "I think it would be good to leave town in August, and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th." By contrast, a former Capitol Hill chief had the temerity to note that, according to U.S. intelligence analysis he'd been privvy to, "Americans tend to be much more oriented toward anniversaries and the jihadists seem to be less so. I've seen over the years where we concentrate on dates and the analysts say, 'Don’t get wrapped up in dates because our terrorist jihadist enemies bide their time.'"
Come back on September 12th for the barbecue and yuckfest as we celebrate outwitting the terrorists with the Mississippi Senator's geopolitical acumen.

"Curse you Trent Lott. How did you know it was impossible for us to attack after September 11th?"

Russia: "The Arctic is Ours"

Chilling....who controls the Lomonosov Ridge?

From The Economist

RUSSIA’s foray into the Arctic is an audacious geopolitical adventure, as popular at home as it is troubling for outsiders. At stake are the region’s natural riches, until now frozen both in law and in nature. But global warming is making them look more accessible. They may include 10 billion tonnes of oil and gas deposits, tin, manganese, gold, nickel, lead, platinum and diamonds, plus fish and perhaps even lucrative freight routes. Exploiting them will be technically tricky, and is probably decades away. But as the ice melts, the row is hotting up about who owns what’s underneath it.


That would allow the Kremlin to annex a 460,000 square mile wedge of territory, roughly the size of western Europe, between Russia’s northern coastline and the North Pole. Such international maritime-border wrangles normally progress at a snail's pace, and are stupefyingly boring. When Denmark allocated $25m in 2004 to try to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge was connected to Greenland, few noticed or cared.

But the latest Russian expedition is not just collecting geological samples; on Thursday August 2nd it placed the Russian flag (in titanium) on the yellow gravel 4,200 metres below the surface at the site of the North Pole. That was the first manned mission there, mounted by a polar flotilla that no other country could match. A mighty nuclear-powered icebreaker shepherded a research vessel that launched hi-tech mini-submarines capable of pinpoint navigation under the Arctic ice.


Even more startling, though, was Russia’s rhetoric. “The Arctic is ours and we should manifest our presence,” said Mr Chilingarov, a charismatic figure whom President Vladimir Putin has named as “presidential envoy” to the Arctic. “This is like placing a flag on the moon” said Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Institute.


Canada, punily defended since the end of the cold war, is now planning to spend $7 billion on eight new Arctic patrol vessels. America’s Congress is considering spending $100m to update three ageing polar icebreakers and build two more.

But the biggest change may be in America’s attitude to international law. A small but vocal lobby that objects to international administration of seabed mining has so far blocked the Bush administration’s attempts to have the Convention on the Law of the Sea ratified by Congress. But even the most die-hard American freemarketeer may have to accept that international bureaucrats are a better bet than the Kremlin’s crony capitalists when it comes to getting a fair slice of the polar action.

And why care about who has control of the Arctic?

Under All That Ice, Maybe Oil

Petroleum deposits are already charted along the shallow shelves fringing the Arctic from the North Slope of Alaska to northernmost Europe. But the cylinders of dark, ancient rock extracted from the submerged mountain range, the Lomonosov Ridge, are the first hint that such deposits may lie in the two-mile-deep basins near the top of the world.

The cores provide the first evidence that vast amounts of organic material created by plankton and other life settled on the seabed, experts say. That kind of carbon-rich accumulation is a vital precursor to the formation of oil.

Is it the case that there was just a lull in the Cold War?

Lao Tzu on Geopolitics

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn't meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

Executive Privilege Run Amok

It's a good thing the Founding Fathers had the forethought to make the Constitution 2-ply. It's amazing that Mr. Rove was able to find a square of the law of the land not yet soiled by the theory of the unitary executive but damn if he didn't find it and use it and put it in a ziplock for this feller to take to a Senate Hearing...

From the NYTimes:

To describe his predicament, Mr. Jennings chose an allusion that must have flown right by those senators not steeped in the works of Homer. “I hope that you can appreciate the difficulty of my situation,” he said. “It makes Odysseus’s voyage between Scylla and Charybdis seem like a pleasure cruise.”

In myth, Scylla was a sea nymph turned monster; Charybdis was a monster in myth, and it churns in real life as a whirlpool in the Strait of Messina, off Sicily. The expression Mr. Jennings used is defined in the dictionary as “between two equally perilous alternatives, neither of which can be passed without encountering and probably falling victim to the other.”

Mr. Jennings’s attempt at Homeric levity did not put the senators in better humor.

Mr. Leahy asked the witness about an e-mail exchange he had with Monica Goodling, the former White House aide who had a role in selecting career Justice Department employees and, by her own admission, sometimes went too far in considering the prospects’ political leanings.

“It is an e-mail,” Mr. Jennings said.

“Mr. Jennings,” the senator said, “I’m not here to play games. I’m trying to be fair to you. Is this an e-mail exchange between you and Monica Goodling?”

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Jennings said.
"Look Senator, I don't have to tell you anything -- it's in the Constitution...I'm PRE-LAW!"

So, Scott can' tell Dean, a Senator what his job description is, smirking at Leahy because Leahy doesn't know Scott's a made guy. He's a DKE like Georgie the cheerleader and he isn't accountable. He can just smirk that privileged (ha-ha, get it?) smirk.

Jennings is a crucial part of the DOJ firing scandal as he was the point man in the swing state of New Mexico for W's 2004 re-election campaign:

From CNN:

Jennings also was asked whether he had sent an e-mail to Monica Goodling, then-counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, about New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who was fired late in 2006.

Jennings worked for the president's re-election campaign in New Mexico in 2004.

"Were you in contact in that capacity with Monica Goodling at the Department of Justice?" Durbin, D asked.

Jennings: "No, not that I recall."

Durbin: "Were you aware of any conversations by members of Congress or members of the White House staff with Mr. Iglesias about the conduct of his office in New Mexico?

Jennings: "No, I'm not aware of any conversations that were taking place."

When Jennings was quizzed about whether he had communicated with Goodling via e-mail about New Mexico politics after he had worked in that state, he said he couldn't recall.

Durbin then pulled out an e-mail exchanged between Jennings and Goodling in June 2006, and asked Jennings to explain it. Jennings declined, invoking executive privilege.

According to Gonzales, Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, New Mexico's senior senator, complained to Gonzales about Iglesias in the fall of 2005, saying the U.S. attorney "was in over his head." Iglesias contends Domenici wanted him to push harder on a corruption probe of state Democrats before last November's midterm elections.

Jennings said he began using the RNC e-mail system because it was always available to him. Eventually, he added, it became a kind of "default" e-mail address.

Restoring honor and dignity to the concept of autocracy one nominee, one firing, and one manipulated election at a time.

Did you catch the fact...

...that the site of the GOP 2008 Convention is in ....Minneapolis? What's the spread on the bridge being rebuilt faster than you can say Mardis Gras?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Iran's Accidental Ally may be...

some folks who work here...

The Pentagon sold more than a thousand aircraft parts that could be used on F-14 fighter jets — a plane flown only by Iran — after announcing it had halted sales of such surplus, government investigators say.

In a report Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said the Defense Department had improved security in its surplus program to prevent improper sales of sensitive items.

But investigators found that roughly 1,400 parts that could be used on F-14 "Tomcat" fighter jets were sold to the public in February. That came after the Pentagon announced it had suspended sales of all parts that could be used on the Tomcat while it reviewed security concerns.

Iran, trying to keep its F-14s able to fly, is aggressively seeking components from the retired U.S. Tomcat fleet.

The Pentagon's surplus sales division — the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service — told investigators the parts were sold because it failed to update an automated control list and remove the aircraft parts before they were listed on its Internet sales site.

As the President is so keen on frequently pointing out, history frequently presents a more favorable portrait of a political figure than his contemporaries did. But the President has converted this historical axiom into some sort of ongoing medieval indulgence allowing him to totally cut himself off from all current negative feedback as it is rendered moot by what history might say.

What history is most likely to record in this amateur historian's opinion is that he destabilized the Middle East without any substantive benefit to his own country nor the region. History will record that he greatly enhanced the power most reactionary elements in Middle Eastern Islam be they Sunni or Shia, be they amorphous organizations such as Al Qaeda or nation-states such as the greatest benefactor of the Bush missteps, Iran.

You say this isn't the President's responsibility? I'm not advocating the punishment but let it be noted that lowly 18th and 19th American sentries were routinely shot for not fulfilling their duty at post because they fell asleep after little sleep for days. What would we be hearing if a Clinton or an Obama were in the White House and this happened?

Community Garden

From the Macon County News...(all photographs are from the Macon County News)
Vegetables, fruit and a spirit of community are plentiful at the Sylva Community Garden. Tucked behind Mill Street downtown, the observant onlooker can find a bountiful community project in its first year.

Gardeners volunteer to maintain their own 15 by 30 foot plot to grow plants of their choice and are asked to donate about 2/3 of their harvest to the Community Table that serves meals to those in need. This year there are 19 plots in all, 17 of which are individually maintained and one plot of corn. More than 25 people are directly involved with the garden.


Karrie Joseph, coordinator, also had a plot last year and said making it into a community garden with individual plots was a natural choice. “Since we both had been gardeners for a long time, we realized that if you divide it up, it’s less work and knowing the way people garden, they know it more as their own,” said Joseph.

“We wanted people to take ownership,” added Boyd. “And we have all different styles of gardening.” Diversity is key when it comes to having so many people gardening in one area, she added.


Both Joseph and Boyd agree that it’s more fun the more people are involved. Boyd says the gardeners are constantly learning from each other and sharing ideas, which can be invaluable, especially when it comes to sharing organic ways to fend off pests like the bean beetle or squash borer.


Every year is a learning experience. “I like to try new things, like companion planting,” said Boyd, “Every year I try something different against the squash bores,” she adds with a smile.

Gardeners contribute in surprising ways, like Jacob Ebert, who knew there was a need for a shed in the garden. While doing some construction work with a friend, he happened to be working on a site where they were getting rid of a shed. He dismantled it himself, brought it to the garden, and put it up all in the same evening. He then painted it brown and it serves as an area for storing gardening supplies.


Introducing a healthy diet is another benefit of involving their children, says Joseph. “They like to eat the fresh vegetables and it’s important because you know it will affect their diet in the future,” she said.

Next year, the gardeners hope to add a bed of roman chamomile that people can lay down and relax in and a sandbox for the kids.


The Community Table

The Community Table has been serving hot meals to Jackson County residents since 1999. They serve dinner four nights a week, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. According to their mission, they provide nutritious meals regardless of people’s ability to pay.

Timara McCollum, the Executive Director, began in June and says having “good, fresh, organic” produce helps meet the mission of providing nutritious meals. It means using “less canned food, allowing us to limit the sodium intake and up the vitamins,” said McCollum.

“We try to be as creative as we can,” said McCollum, when it comes to the menus. And if the fresh food can’t be used right away, it is either frozen for future use or given to the clients.

“It’s also another way for the gardeners to get connected,” said McCollum. It’s clear that she views community involvement as an enriching experience in her work.


McCollum emphasizes the “Community” in Community Table. Many of the people served by the table are elderly, said McCollum, or people who just need temporary assistance.

“When people come eat with us, they love to talk and many have made friends here,” said McCollum, adding that talking with clients is what she likes most about the job. “It always feels good when it is full.”

I love this creation on so many levels. The gardening is therapeutic, vital, human, and creative. The garden connects people to the Earth and to each other. They are able to come together to provide for others. They create beauty. Go read the whole thing. More pics here.

The Eponymous Dr. Crummie

God Help the Old North State...please....

The medical professionals who volunteer at the N.C. General Assembly usually treat minor injuries and dispense standard medical advice. Not this week.

One of them handed out copies of his book in which he advocates greater use of the lobotomy -- the controversial surgical procedure in which a doctor removes or detaches the front of a patient's brain.

"We don't hear about the successful lobotomies," writes Dr. Bob Crummie in Chapter 14 of his book, "Dr. Bob's Grocery Store Medicine and Healthy Life Anecdotes."

Crummie, a Rutherfordton physician, served Tuesday as Doctor of the Day at the legislature. His 232-page book, which he distributed for free, has plenty of homespun medical advice, as well as plenty of more-unusual statements.


Perhaps his most controversial opinions relate to gays and lesbians.

"There is no such thing as a homosexual. The Gay Movement is a hoax," Crummie writes. "Individuals who act out homosexually are at best very neurotic and at worst psychotic. Most of them are character disorders."

In what he describes as "one of my funniest stories," Crummie tells how he once put a stop to homosexuality at an N.C. prison when, as superintendent, he threatened to give electric shock therapy to anyone caught in the act. With several inmates present, he demonstrated the procedure on one inmate who was severely depressed, he writes.
Threaten to shock a queer while zapping a man and get yourself put on a pedestal in the NC General Assembly. God help us.

Lousy Customer Service in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools...but maybe a turning point.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools just spent $80K on "secret shopper" reviews for their school system. Among their findings:

48 -- percent of e-mails answered. (Businesses usually reply to about 80 percent of general inquiries.)

31.4 -- percent of those e-mails that actually answered the customers' questions, as opposed, for example, to referring them to the Web site. (75 percent is standard.)

12 -- number of minutes a secret shopper waited at an unnamed school, as he cleared his throat and four office workers went on with their tasks.

42.5 -- percent of calls transferred.

25 -- number of rings from one of those transfers, before the caller hung up.

From what I've seen, schools aren't exactly customer friendly -- the 12 minutes with no help is a bit unusual but even two minutes with people walking right past you and not acknowledging your presence is both rude and weird. Glad to see CMS raising the consciousness on this point and maybe other systems will follow suit. Absolutely necessary to court public favor with better responsiveness if public schools are going to get the type of support they need.

Michael Ware on current situation in Iraq

Building Sunni militias to go after AQ at the cost of undermining the Iraqi government and other shell games...

La Flor Dominica w/Oscuro Wrapper

All I can say is yum. Dude at The Cigar Wrapper does a better job with his description:

The wrapper has been titled Oscuro Natural and is a sight to behold: think roasted coffee beans bathed in oil with highlights of burnt sienna. Other cigars are meant to cap off a memorable event---this cigar is the event. It is a means and end in and of itself. It is smoking for smoking's sake. And oh, what smoke it is..

Oak perfume paints the air at first light. The body is full and textured. There are bright notes in the nose of citrus and exotic wood, but this is a cigar to be relished on the palette. Lofty earth and peppers inform caramelized flavors that build and finish in almonds and spiced cocoa. This cigar is crafted for quiet reflection, a cigar composed to "hear the silence."

That's about right. The fuller-bodied, spicier Nicaraguan wrapper is a great compliment to the nicely aged Dominican filler and binder. I found sticks for 6 bucks but you might be forced to pay more. The whole La Flor Dominica line is solid as I've gone thru about half the line in the past year. They have an unusual double-chisel stoogie which one is supposed to double pierce with a punch sounded cooler than it smoked. About a Toro size (5.75 x 52mm).

For me, these are replacing my Punch Chateau L Maduros which I swear have become utterly monochromatic and unremarkable. Or maybe just the fact they were bought out has psyched my taste buds but they don't do it for me anymore.

Peter Galbraith: "The Iraq War is Lost"

A somber summary of the situation in Iraq by the former US Ambassador to Croatia, Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms, and author of the current The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. Galbraith is sympathetic to the attempt to democratize Iraq but believes we've made too many mistakes of such a severe nature over such a prolonged period that the situation is inoperable. His take on potential upcoming elections is a perfect example of the numerous Hobson's Choices facing the US and the Iraqi people.

.....Provincial elections will make Iraq less governable while the process of constitutional revision could break the country apart....


Iraq's Shiite leaders are reluctant to spend reconstruction money in Sunni areas because they believe, not without reason, that such funds support the Sunni side in the civil war. In a speech in late June on the Senate floor Indiana Republican Richard Lugar reported that Iraq's Shiite-led government has gone "out of its way to bottle up money budgeted for Sunni provinces" and that the "strident intervention" of the US embassy was required in order to get food rations delivered to Sunni towns.

Iraq's mainstream Shiite leaders resist holding new provincial elections because they know what such elections are likely to bring. Because the Sunnis boycotted the January 2005 elections, they do not control the northern governorate, or province, of Nineveh, in which there is a Sunni majority, and they are not represented in governorates with mixed populations, such as Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. New elections would, it is argued, give Sunnis a greater voice in the places where they live, and the Shiites say they do not have a problem with this, although just how they would treat the militant Sunnis who would be elected is far from clear. The Kurds reluctantly accept new elections in the Sunni governorates even though it means they will lose control of Nineveh and have a much-reduced presence in Diyala.

The American benchmark of holding provincial elections would also require new elections in southern Iraq and Baghdad. If they were held, al-Hakim's Shiite party, the SIIC, which now controls seven of the nine southern governorates, would certainly lose ground to Moqtada al-Sadr. His main base is in Baghdad and new elections would almost certainly leave his followers in control of Baghdad Governorate, with one quarter of Iraq's population. Iraq's decentralized constitution gives the governorates enormous powers and significant shares of the national budget, if they choose to exercise these powers. New local elections are not required until 2009 and it is hard to see how early elections strengthening al-Sadr, who is hostile to the US and appears to have close ties to Iran, serve American interests. But this is precisely what the Bush administration is pushing for and Congress seems to want.

Constitutional revision is the most significant benchmark and it could break Iraq apart. Iraq's constitution, approved by 79 percent of voters in an October 2005 referendum, is the product of a Kurdish–Shiite deal: the Kurds supported the establishment of a Shiite-led government in exchange for Shiite support for a confederal arrangement in which Kurdistan and other regions like the one SIIC hopes to set up in the south, are virtually independent.

Since there is no common ground among the Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis on any significant constitutional changes in favor of the Sunnis, such changes must come at the expense of the Kurds or Shiites. Since voters in these communities have a veto on any constitutional amendments, they are certain to fail in a referendum. A revised constitution has no chance of being enacted but its failure will exacerbate tensions among Iraq's three groups.

And this is just one big problem....

It's worth the effort to read it all -- more substance than you can get from days of surfing and watching cable news.