Archive for February, 2006

My confusing act of good will

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

I walked (or more specifically rode on the tram with) a confused, cold, lost woman somewhere, I guess to her home or maybe shelter, Saturday night. I wasn’t sure what the heck else I was supposed to do with her. It wasn’t anything I particularly wanted to do, but the basic question was If not me, who? She had an address, and thus I had a vague idea of where I needed to walk with her to… as it turned out, it was vaguer than where she knew she needed to go.

I couldn’t make head or tales of what I was doing. In her broken English, she used the word “PUH-LEAZE”. I asked if she wanted me to call the police for help, and she was adament against it. Was she an illegal alien? I don’t know, and I could not spot her accent anywhere.

But the problem came up where she pantomimed some things. She pantomimed violence, and all I could do was think she had been battered by someone. I’m guessing she had a horrible day, but short of contacting the police — which she was opposed to — there was nothing I could do about it. I’m thinking it’s in the police officer’s perogative to ignore a status of illegal immigration in favour of more pressing matters of violence and assualt, but (a) an illegal immigrant is still terrified of the prospect, and (b) I don’t even know that that is the deal confronting the woman I’m — somewhat reluctantly– helping.

When we reached a spot she could identify, she quickly parted ways with me. And I was left not sure what the heck I did here. Ah well. I guess one is never sure of what they do when they do something important to their fellow person.

What does the Department of Homeland Security actually DO?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

Financed by the Homeland Security Department, school bus drivers are being trained to watch for potential terrorists, people who may be casing their routes or plotting to blow up their buses. Designers of the School Bus Watch program want to turn 600,000 bus drivers into an army of observers, like a counterterrorism watch on wheels. Already mindful of motorists with road rage and kids with weapons, bus drivers are now being warned of far more grisly scenarios. Like this one: terrorists monitor a punctual driver for weeks, then hijack a bus and load the friendly yellow vehicle with enough explosives to take down a building.

Huh. There’s this bizarre concept I have in my mind that says that people in general should know their surroundings enough to understand that if something looks askew, they should check into it. But why enlist them in some governmental security detail? In the scenario laid out here, I can’t say I appreciate what the bus driver is supposed to do. Is the government planning on having our bus drivers packing heat to stop the evil-doers? Otto’s comic book character “Bus Man”, anyone? (A Simpsons reference for you.)

Around 2:15 p.m., Scarbrough says, he answered his office phone and found himself talking to a man who identified himself as Officer R. of the Department of Homeland Security. (I’m withholding the officer’s name; you know, what with Plamegate and all.) Scarbrough was told that he was in violation of the Code of Federal Regulations, the set of rules that govern all executive departments and agencies, and that he was in danger of being cited unless he came out to the parking lot or let the officer come up to his office. Scarbrough chose the first option, and took along a co-worker–also a veteran–and, being an experienced peace activist, a tape recorder. Downstairs, they found two armed officers with “Homeland Security” insignia patches on their shoulders, waiting for them in large white SUVs. Scarbrough informed the officers that he would record their conversation, and […]

“I wasn’t arrested, but I could have been,” Scarbrough recalls. “I was still violated and harassed.” He took the rest of the week off after the incident. But he didn’t just sit and mope. He looked up the rule that the Homeland Security officers referenced, and found that it read:

“All persons entering in or on Federal property are prohibited from: …

(b) Posting or affixing materials, such as pamphlets, handbills, or flyers, on bulletin boards or elsewhere on GSA-controlled property…”

However, after his experience with the “Bushit” sticker last year, he was also quick to reference the Hatch Act, the rules that lay out exactly what political activities federal employees are allowed to participate in. According to the Hatch Act, political bumper stickers are allowed on cars parked on federal property, with no stated limitation on either size or number of stickers. So by the current rules, Scarbrough’s car would seem to be legit–unless the “elsewhere” of the pamphlet rule is meant to extend to personal property as well as government property.

If that’s the case, both Scarbrough and his coworker said, “That’s news to me.” It would also be news to the dozens of people parked in the Natural Resource Complex with bumper stickers reading, among other sentiments, “My Dad is a Marine,” “Create Peace,” “POW/ MIA,” and others of both the pro-choice and pro-life variety.

Okay. Was the Department of Homeland Security in charge of pushing Bush skeptics out of Bush public forums? So we have a gestapo? Just conceptualize them that way, and no story where the “Department of Homeland Security” protudes into areas that don’t look like they should concern such an agency will not have a clash of confusion. Example in waiting:

Two uniformed men strolled into the main room of the Little Falls library in Bethesda one day last week and demanded the attention of all patrons using the computers. Then they made their announcement: The viewing of Internet pornography was forbidden.

The men looked stern and wore baseball caps emblazoned with the words “Homeland Security.” The bizarre scene unfolded Feb. 9, leaving some residents confused and forcing county officials to explain how employees assigned to protect county buildings against terrorists came to see it as their job to police the viewing of pornography.

So the Department of Homeland Security is on the front-lines in the War On Porn? Gawd, I feel safer already!

Of course, I could also ponder Tom DeLay’s use of the Department of Homeland Security in hunting down the Texas Democratic Party when they pulled that stunt of running off to Oklahoma to stop DeLay’s redistricting plan, but now we’re moving from people you can identify with (that is to say, people with bumper stickers, bus drivers, and porn viewers) to politicos. Besides which, that was a couple years ago. The Department of Homeland Security has moved on to… other … things?

A look at the mediocre presidents

Monday, February 20th, 2006

All: We are the mediocre presidents.
You won’t find our faces on dollars or on cents!
There’s Taylor, there’s Tyler,
There’s Fillmore and there’s Hayes.
There’s William Henry Harrison,
Harrison: I died in thirty days!
All: We… are… the…
Adequate, forgettable,
Occasionally regrettable
Caretaker presidents of the U-S-A!

I’ve been considering the argument inherent in this article on what brings us the “Imperial Presidency”, and presidential oversteps and arrogance. We value Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson (unfortunately), … um… Reagan… which is to say: Presidents who did something, and who, in large part, enacted the “Imperial Presidency” for theirownselves.

The problem is that the other extreme takes us to the corruption of President Harding, the “Return to Normalcy” after the public spit in the face of Woodrow Wilson’s “Imperial Presidency”. None of the corruption was Harding’s fault, except insofar as he had a weak executive style that allowed it to happen — and so Harding’s most famous quote “I’m not really up to the job of being president” (Bush II would say “It’s hard work”, seemingly begging the public to vote him out of office — which we either did or did not.)

Or the Post Reconstruction Presidents. And therein is the other big problem. Their very existence was a testamont to a refusal to uphold civil rights for the recently freed African American slave. Another “Return to Normalcy” after a bitter war, and another karping on historical responsibilities. And federal powers are thrown over to the state — no “Imperial Powers” here — for the benefit of Mississippians upholding their right to wear white hoods and lynch black people (and Catholics and immigrants) without federal interference. And suddenly everything becomes messy in consideration in the stupid parlor game ranking the presidents with a juanced view of contrarianism to uphold the Great UnUsurpers.

Consider the lot of the presidents in this history, and I will note Mark Twain generally voted for the Republicans, excepting Blaine where he turned to Grover Cleveland, a bastion of honesty against the railroad-enfused corruption of Blaine. Grover Cleveland, the Democrat who Ayn Rand cited as the most “Libertarian” in American history — that is to say non-activist… and I quote Grover Cleveland:

“I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and the duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit… The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

… a quote used by people opposing aid to Katrina-victims to show that, Hey! It ain’t the government’s responsibility. One thousand points of light — and never mind if I’m not one of those lights (Ayn Rand opposes personal charity, mind you), and never mind if the sheer volume of the situation requires a more concerted and centralized effort… because, no less an authority than the much beloved…

Grover Cleveland???

opposes aid to disaster victims. (Again: Grover Cleveland? He ain’t no Herbert Hoover!)

So, what? Is there a happy medium? Thesis – Antithesis – Synthesis? No. Consider everything on a different plane, and move on.

“Classic” Rock?

Saturday, February 18th, 2006

I alert you to a stupdifying article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone Teens Save Classic Rock. And I feel dumber for having seen it.

Now, I wasn’t exactly a regular teenager… an anecdote involving an English teacher goes that she told my mother “Your sons really read different things than most other kids”, but… it has always been thus. Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” stayed on the Top 200 best-seller charts for something like 20 years because somewhere around the age of 15, everyone buys the danged thing. A couple of vaguely drugged out students in my PE locker discuss how last night’s AC/DC concerts Rocked. I wander my dorm floor in my freshman year of college, and I see a Led Zeppelin poster from … well, there’s a type of person who is a “Rawker”, and Zeppelin “Rawks”.

Maybe there’s a bit of a skew in the direction of rural plots of land — something about the radio landscape sucking us into Classic Rock radio station as “meh. the best that’s available on the air.” My first roommate in college said that there was a student introduced at a Pep Assembly under the tutelege of Queen’s “Bicycle”. I no longer remember how pep assemblys work, and what why and how this worked, but there you go. It seemed an ironic bit of nonsense against the backdrop of the other students’ modern day pop-messes.

And the Doors were bigger in the 80s than they were in the 60s. Or so I’ve heard. Or at least one small part of the 80s where the 60s were in. None of which makes Jethro Tull popular. They seem forever tapped away in my brother Chris — safe away and gone.

Of course, this is an article designed to give a wet kiss to the baby boomer that makes up the readership of the Rolling Stone Magazine. “Wow! Look how cool your music is!” I wonder if we don’t give the youth enough credit for individually discovering different things on their own, and for dissecting themsevles for theirownselves. I don’t know. It’s something I’ve pondered a bit over the past years with magazine articles about the “Youth” — or derisively, the “Yute”.

Evidence of the nation-state’s continual right-ward drift

Friday, February 17th, 2006

Something popped out to me from the New Republic cover-article concerning “Hillary-land”, Hillary Clinton’s Political machine.

The newest senior staffer in Hillaryland, Rubiner came to Hillary by way of former Republican Senators John Chafee and Bob Dole and, most recently, the aggressively centrist New America Foundation, where she ran a program on universal health insurance. Her hiring says a lot about where Hillary is headed on the issues that may define a presidential campaign. Rubiner favors a universal plan, whereby the government mandates the purchase of health insurance, just as it does car insurance, from competing private providers, while subsidizing the neediest. Back in the ’90s, this was the centrist alternative to Hillarycare, and it was sponsored by Rubiner’s ex-bosses, Chafee and Dole.

“Truman’s dream of Universal Health Care”, indeed. Hillary Clinton’s new position on health care is her partisan opponents’ old position on health care. It is funny how that works. Ah well. The old Clinton Health Care Bill looks to me like a bureaucracy – shifter anyways — what’s the line about it being basically written by the 5 largest Insurance companies and thus being vehementally opposed by all the other Insurance companies? Or the more commonly heard in the country, as we moved onto the “Gingrich Revolution” — “The Government is going to take control of one sixth of the US Economy!” I remember Conan O’Brien, when he had Bob Dole on his show at the time, did a funny bit where he “zeroed in” on Dole’s chart of how complicated the bill was to show it was “padded” with the “National Basketball Association”.

the new Abu Gharib photos

Friday, February 17th, 2006

I have seen the new abu Gharib photographs. I was not looking to see them, but enough blogs and websites have posted them that I came upon them through osmosis. I don’t need to tell you that they are gruesome and horrible.

If the Muslim World wants to riot against Western intrasigience, this is what they may justifiably rally against, as it is the shame of our nation — with the further shame being that there is a politically potent part of the nation that are torture apologists and it’s “nothing different that what happens in Skull and Bones!” — and a not insignificant part of our intelligentsia that indulges in mind games of when torture is necessary who are taking their cues from Jack Baer in the tv show “24”. You may not rally against the goddamned images of Mohammad, which I will never apologize for on behalf of whomever I’m supposed to be representing here. I tried to think of the “Cartoon Violence” as a proxy for more meaingful sins on our part, but in the end I’m stuck by the thought that a transgression is being accused of that is not a transgression

One last note:

Also, isn’t it curious that the same handful of looped footage of the riots seem to be used for all the reports, and most of the reports are coming from Syria and Iran, the two countries the Bush administration is warming up to open the third and fourth fronts [!] in the War on Terra.

I think it is safe to “go there”.

… The Patriot Act will be re-authorized more or less in full

Friday, February 17th, 2006

As predictable as ever, the battle that brought together a handful of libertarian-minded Republicans and a blinking “hey. We have something here” party whipping for the Democratic caucus to unite behind Feingold — falls apart completely and it all dwindles to a handful of “nay” votes.

The Three:

Russ Feingold. Robert Byrd. Jim Jeffords.

Well I guess when Larry Craig’s principles come from ignoring the current presidential malfeasance and looking to the day a Democrat will be in power to commit malfeasances, I guess you can expect nothing less. As soon as the fig-leaf is put in place to claim something happened with the bill that didn’t, naturally. Do I need to tell you where the Senate is taking its probe into Bush’s wire-tapping? Nay.