Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Our Continuing Google Blogger Hairball Woes

When is free expensive? When Blogger, which is Google's free blogging software, coughs up a big hairball and denies visitors to Kiko's House easy access during our busiest time of the day. That happened on Monday and things aren't a whole lot better on Tuesday.

We apologize.

For what it's worth, Mozilla Firefox continues to be the Web browser of choice for discerning Kiko's House readers.

We did a little experiment on Tuesday morning. We first loaded Kiko's House using Firefox. It took about five seconds. Then we loaded Kiko's House using Internet Explorer. It took . . . well, it's still loading.

IE is a well proven piece of crap. Firefox has a wrinkle or two, but it is much faster and more user friendly. You can download the new 2.0 version here for free.


Like It Or Not, It's Election Time

With a week to go before Election Day in the U.S., candidates have entered Silly Season, a seven-day orgy of inane and unsupportable statements, attack ads, mud slinging, voter turnout supression efforts, voting machine rigging, push polling and other dirty tricks.
How low can they go?

Leave it to a desperate Rick Santorum, the right wingnut Republican from Pennsylvania who is looking at the ass end of an ignominious political career, to scrape bottom.

Santorum accuses his Democratic opponent, State Auditor Bob Casey, of "abetting terrorism and genocide" by investing state pension fund money in companies with ties to terrorist organizations and states that engage in genocide. The proof? There is none.

I just hope and pray that the remaining seven days go quickly.
I've kept blogging on the mid-term election to minimum because there isn't much that I can say that other bloggers aren't already saying ad nauseum. Of the 300 posts that I've put up at Kiko's House over the past six weeks, only 20 or so have been politics-related, and several of them were because of the Mark Foley Scandal.

There's another reason, as well:
While I welcome the apparent end of the Republican hegemony on Capitol Hill and won't miss flaming idiots like Santorum, I don't see the Democrats as being a big improvement.
When the Republicans swept to power after the 1994 mid-term election, the differences between the parties were more apparent. Twelve years later, there aren't a whole lot of differences once you scratch the surface, and both parties are thoroughly in the thrall of monied special-interest groups.

The Republicans stayed relentlessly on message over the past 12 years while robbing the middle class, feathering their own nests (thanks, Jack Abramoff), giving conservatism a bad name and providing The Decider with a blank check to wage war abroad and abrogate civil liberties at home.

The fractious Democrats remain off message, and that's okay to a point. The party would be unrecognizeable if it spoke with one voice.

But the Democrats were less the loyal opposition over the last six years of turmoil than cowed defeatists. That is until the stench emanating from the GOP became so overwhelming and the catastrophe that is the Iraq war became so unmistakable that they realized that it was safe to climb out from under their moss-covered rocks.
If the Democrats have succeeded in taking power after the last votes are tailed in the wee hours of next Wednesday morning, it will not be because they earned it as much as because the Republicans squandered it.
And by the way, if you're registed, vote early and often. Don't go all cynical like I am and decide to stay home.
Vote, dammit! My bad attytood aside, I know that I will.

(Cartoon by Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate)

Election II: A Showdown on Abortion in America

Lost in the uproar over the war in Iraq and scandal in Washington is the fact that there are a record number of initiatives and referendums (*) to be voted on in the U.S. midterm election next week. None is more important and has larger long-term implications than a ballot measure in South Dakota on whether to ban all abortions.
In February, a law was enacted in that conservative state that would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion under any circumstance other than saving a mother’s life. That’s right, your daughter gets knocked up as a result of rape or incest and she’s going to have to find a back-alley solution if she has to terminate the pregnancy in South Dakota -- and then face the prospect of going to jail, to boot.

In signing the law, the governor said a "true test of a civilization" was how it treated "the most vulnerable and helpless," including "unborn children." But the three worst counties in all of the U.S. for vulnerable and helpless children, that is those living in poverty, are smack dab in South Dakota.
The law is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman's constitutional right to abortion. It was assumed (and I predicted as much in a March post) that opponents of the South Dakota ban would go to court and the Supreme Court eventually would be forced to reconsider Roe.

As Ruth Rosen, a journalist and historian, write at TPM Cafe, a funny thing happened on the way to Washington:
"A coalition of women's-rights advocates, reproductive-rights and civil-liberties groups outflanked anti-abortion legislators and took the debate directly to the people, rather than to the courts. They collected sufficient signatures to place a referendum on the 7 November ballot, asking South Dakotan voters whether they really wanted to ban all abortions. If approved, the ban against abortion will remain in effect, unless it is declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. If defeated, the South Dakotan legislature will have been repudiated by the voters.

"Right now, the battle over the referendum is still too close to call. The people in South Dakota are known for their politeness, conservatism, privacy, and avoidance of confrontation. Many good friends won't even discuss the subject with each other, even though activists in the abortion wars, all over the country, eagerly await the results."

Rosen notes that the referendum is more than another chapter of the never ending national debate over abortion:
"It is also a struggle within the Republican Party itself. The ban on all abortions is the inevitable result of President Bush's success in enlisting the religious right as an important part of his political base. But many Republicans are also moderates or libertarians, not just social conservatives. In [South Dakota] where 48% of the voters are registered as Republicans, moderates in the party rightly fear negative political fallout if all abortions are banned."

More here.


Then there's the elephant in the room -- the war in Iraq -- that pro-lifers so blithely ignore.

Writes Alfred Glenstein:
"So a pro-lifer can support all manners of hypothetical wars that conform to a utilitarian standard of saving life. Fine. You can also in the same way, based on a very long and particular set of definitions of what is and isn't life, come out against abortion. . . . But let me introduce the elephant in the room. [By] any standard, our present Iraq War could not possibly be consistent with any Pro Life philosophy I've ever heard of."
More here.

(*) Click here for a round-up of ballot measures around the U.S.

Election III: The Debacle of the Bush Presidency

"I don't know about you, but I'm tired of all this presidential shit"
There will be many commentaries on the debacle of the Bush presidency in the coming months and years, but British journalist and historian Niall Ferguson provides a nifty pre-election pre-morten in The Telegraph.

The opening paragraphs:
"In the aftermath of George W Bush's re-election as president two years ago, his campaign manager, Karl Rove, amused himself and his boss with a battery-powered "Redneck Horn". At the touch of a dashboard button, the device would yell insults in a raucous Southern accent, providing automated road rage for 'red state' Republicans.

"The toy's abusive messages ranged from the relatively mild 'Slow down, dumbass!' to 'Hey, hogneck, who taught you how to drive?'; 'What the hell was that manoeuvre?'; 'Are you freaking blind?' and 'You're a goddam moron!' How they all laughed in the White House, if the Bush administration's renegade court historian, Bob Woodward, is to be believed.

"Today, however, the joke is on them. For the Redneck Horn could now just as easily be used by ordinary Americans to express their frustration not merely with Mr Bush but with the entire Republican Party. With a little over a week remaining until the congressional mid-term elections on November 7, some opinion polls indicate that 'You're a goddam moron!' is precisely the message voters intend to send the White House.

"Certainly, 'freaking blind' sums up the majority view of the administration's policy in Iraq. And, after the bewildering scandals that have ended the careers of three Republican congressmen in the space of six months, Americans have any number of reasons to ask their elected representatives: 'What the hell was that manoeuvre?' "
You can read the rest here.

How the Cleaver Family Didn't Save Iraq

Bye-bye Mayfield. Fallujah here we come!
It is testimony to how quickly things have unraveled in Iraq this year that only five months ago I spoofed on a New York Times story on the exodus of middle-class Iraqis out of the country, which today seems like the least of this devatated country's problems.

While the exodus was not a happy turn of events in and of itself, I tried to bring some levity to it by suggesting that the White House begin a program to send middle class conservative Republicans who slavishly supported the war to Iraq to replace those fleeing middle-class professionals.

This bit of satire -- which exposed the hypocrisy of the Bush administration and many of its supporters -- focused on the Cleaver family from "Leave It to Beaver," a popular 1950s TV sitcom that, it seems, will forever be in reruns.

I'm reprinting this post, originally called How the Cleaver Family Saved Iraq as a reminder one week from mid-term elections that The Decider never asked Americans to make sacrifices for his Excellent Adventure in Mesopotamia. Today his hubris is more evident than ever.

* * * * *
The Cleavers -- Ward, June, Wally and The Beaver -- arrived in Fallujah in September 2006. They decided on Fallujah because it is less than an hour's drive to Baghdad, has a storied history as a religious center and is located on the Euphrates, where Ward and the boys could go fishing.

Leaving their home in Mayfield was not an easy decision, but there is a lot about Iraq that mirrors the Cleaver family's conservative Republican values:
Iraqis are very religious and inject their faith into every aspect of government and society.

They honor the nuclear family and oppose abortion and homosexuality.

Women are treated as inferiors.

Carrying and using weapons is widely accepted as a way to uphold one's political views, religion or honor.
The Cleavers found a three-bedroom house on Dahri Drive in a middle-class neighborhood of Fallujah that was nearly deserted because most of its residents had left the country. The street is named for Shaykh Dhari, who was killed leading a 1920 rebellion against the British occupation.

There was some damage to the carport from a bomb blast that had destroyed the neighborhood police station, but Ward and the boys made quick work of that while June spiffed up the kitchen.

It didn't make sense to ship over the Frigidaire, stove and washer and dryer, but through a special program underwritten by the Jack Abramoff Foundation, the Cleavers bought new appliances at a discount through the exchange at a U.S. Army base. As members of the Finding Unity Beyond America's Realm (FUBAR) program, they also qualified for income tax breaks normally only available to wealthy Americans.

Unfortunately, the power is on only a few hours each day, and June jokes that she seldom can do a load of laundry or prepare a meal without interruption. But her only real complaint is that she just can't get comfortable wearing the cumbersome burka that she has to put on whenever she leaves the house.

* * * * *
Ward works for Halliburton, a big U.S. contractor that had been paid tens of millions of dollars over the last three years to get Fallujah's power grid up and running. His job is to writes lots of reports for the U.S. Provisional Authority.

June, of course, stays home, although she keeps busy homeschooling the boys, volunteering with The Beaver's Boy Scout troop and selling Avon products to her Iraqi neighbors.

Wally and The Beaver really miss their old friends, but are trying hard to assimilate. Their biggest disappointment has not being able to go fishing because the Euphrates is so polluted. The city's sewer system remains damaged from U.S. bombing and nothing can survive in the river.

One of Wally's first purchases was a jacket with الفلوجة, which is Arabic for Fallujah, stitched across the back and The Fedayeens on the front. The Fallujah Fedayeens are a baseball team that Ward and other Halliburton dads started. Wally is taking Arabic language classes and is hanging out with the rifle club at the local mosque.

The Beaver is the most homesick member of the family and spends hours in his room instant messaging his old friends on his computer when the power is on.

The Cleavers have been disappointed that not more middle class Americans have heeded their president's call to start new lives in Iraq, but there have been glimmers of success. Eddie Haskell has promised to visit them next summer. And the Fedayeens finished first in their league. Unfortunately, they were unable to play in the regional championships because of a local curfew.

The Cleavers recently did get some truly exciting news. Another American family will be moving into their neighborhood: The Simpsons.

Kiko's House Disk Picks for October

Coming off of the terrific 885 Greatest Artists of All Time countdown at WXPN-FM, I'm cherry picking a half dozen albums from the top 20 artists for the Kiko's House Disk Picks for October.

Meanwhile, drop us a line at kikokimba@gmail.com and let us know what you're listening to, especially new stuff from any genre that might have escaped our middle-aged ears. We'll feature your picks next month.
(Van Morrison)

It has been nearly 40 years since a squeaky voiced Irishman unleashed "Astral Weeks" on an unsuspecting American music-listening public. A gadzillion albums later, Van Morrison hasn't necessarily gotten better -- I think his '90s work was the most consistently excellent -- but he sure hasn't gotten shabby, either. He earned the No. 13 spot in the Greatest Artists countdown.

"Enlightenment," released at the beginning of the '90s, is all over the place -- from the hard rocking "Real, Real Gone" to the introspective spoken word "In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll," and I follow in rapture everywhere Van the Man goes.

(Paul Simon)

"Graceland," a 1986 release, was the first blend of Afro Pop and American Folk that I can recall hearing, as well as tres controversial at the time because Simon recorded with South African musicians in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

Simon, voted No. 20 on the Top Artists list, a click below Elvis Presley at No. 19, did great work before and great work since, but "Graceland" is his masterpiece, a beautiful and powerful album with nary a bad note, let alone a weak cut.

(Bob Marley & The Wailers)

The man who took reggae mainstream clocked in at No. 14 on the Greatest Artists list (with Van Morrison at No. 13 and Eric Clapton at No. 15). Marley did not finish that high just because of his infectious, toe-tapping riddims. His body of work is deep and continues to grow in stature since his premature death.

I picked "Kaya," released in 1978, not because it is one of Marley's best known albums but because it was scorned at the time by critics because they were shocked that it was not filled with revolutionary fire and brimstone, instead revealing a hitherto unknown side of the great man -- an ability to write and sing beautifully about love.

Truth be known, I never gave Led Zeppelin its due back in the day. Sure, I liked "Whole Lotta Love," "Stairway to Heaven" and their other hits, but I wasn't transported like many Zep fans were.

Twenty-seven years after "Led Zeppelin II" was released, I'm transported, and I wasn't surprised when 'XPN listeners voted the band No. 6 on the Greatest Artists list, sandwiched between U2 at No. 5 and the Grateful Dead at No. 7. This simply is the greatest album from the greatest heavy metal band ever.

(Joni Mitchell)

I went on the road during the summer of 1974 and had plenty of opportunity to listen to the just released "Miles of Aisles," Joni's first live album. I was very disappointed. Tom Scott's L.A. Express backup band sounded too slick for the folk diva.

But when I look at the long arc of Joni's career (as did 'XPN listeners in voting her No. 10, between Pink Floyd at No. 9 and Jimi Hendrix at No. 11), my grumpy assessment seems misplaced. This is a flawed but ultimately satisfying album, and I'll never tire of hearing her sing "Rainy Night House."

(Bob Dylan)

Dylan finished second behind the Beatles in the Greatest Artists countdown and just ahead of the Rolling Stones at No. 3, and this 1997 album is a testament to his durability and ability to remain fresh.

Sung with a passion that I found lacking on many of Dylan's '80s and early '90s albums, the 11 tracks on "Time" are soaked in lamentation and regret, but are at the same time are uncannily upbeat. Just don't ask me to explain why I think that's so, okay?

Allman Brothers Live at Fillmore East
The Angel in the House (The Story)
Bernstein Century - Copland: Appalachian Spring (Bernstein & NYP)
The Best of Donald Byrd
Bringing It All Back Home (Bob Dylan)
The Buddy Holly Story
Buena Vista Social Club
Burning Spear Live in Paris
East West (Butterfield Blues Band)
Eat A Peach (Allman Brothers)
Filles de Kilimanjaro (Miles Davis)
Five Leaves Left (Nick Drake)
Folksongs From the Three Laurels (Obray Ramsey)
The Heart of Saturday Night (Tom Waits)
Heavy Ornamentals (The Gourds)
Hot House Flowers (Wynton Marsalis)
Hymns to the Silence (Van Morrison)
If I Only Could Remember My Name (David Crosby)
Imaginary Voyage (Jean Luc Ponty)
Inner Mounting Flame (Mahavishnu Orchestra)
Into the Purple Valley (Ry Cooder)
It's a Beautiful Day
Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry)
Let It Be . . . Naked (The Beatles)
Lieges & Lief (Fairport Convention)
Live Oblivion - 1975 (Brian Auger & The Oblivion Express)
Mama Tried (Merle Haggard)
One From the Vault (Grateful Dead)
The Sidewinder (Lee Morgan)
Skydive (Freddie Hubbard)
A Study in Brown (Clifford Brown & Max Roach)
Super Session (Bloomfield-Kooper-Stills)
Talking Timbuktu (Ry Cooder & Ali Farka Toure)
That High Lonesome Sound (Old and In the Way)
Thelonius Monk Quartet With John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall
Twelve Symphonies (Mendelssohn)
What's Going On (Marvin Gaye)
The Yes Album (Yes)
Turn on Your Lovelight (Bobby "Blue" Bland)
0898 (The Beautiful South)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Iraq & The Edge of the Universe

Beyond troop withdrawal timetables, benchmarks and stuff like that, lurks an enormous question:
What will happen to Iraq and the Middle East after the U.S. withdraws?
Answering that question is like trying to figure out where the edge of the universe is, but I'm going to give it a try.
What will happen will be enormously wrenching, blood soaked and perhaps catastrophic.
Whether the U.S. begins a phased withdrawal from Iraq on Tuesday morning or in 2009 (if The Decider succeeds in dumping the whole mess in his sucessor's lap), Iraq will be left a burned out shell, a humanitarian nightmare with a dysfunctional infrastructure deeply riven by years of post-invasion internecine warfare and ethnic cleansing.
Just as the waves from a pebble thrown into a pond radiate outwards in all directions, so will the Orwellian consequences of The Decider's Excellent Adventure in Mesopotamia.
The Middle East will be further destabilized. The exodus of refugees into Jordan and Syria will grow. The insurgents, who set up shop when the U.S. occupation came a cropper, will be further emboldened. Iraq may even become the radical Islamic republic that the insurgents and sectarian lunatic fringe so fervently desire.
Iraq was the birthplace of civilization.

Maybe it's where it will die.

And all because of the actions of one man.

Iraq II: Is This What the Future Will Look Like?

The top image is a map of the new Islamic State of Iraq declared by Al Qaeda and other insurgent groups earlier this month.
The declaration received little notice in the U.S. media and the map bears no resemblance to the political map of present day Iraq below it, let alone the borders posited by the folks pushing for a partition of Iraq into Shiite and Sunni enclaves to go along with the existing Kurish enclabe of Kurdistan.

The Shiites would control the lion's share of the state, while the Sunnis and Kurds would end up with considerably less territory. Fallujah, not Baghdad, would be the capital.
The map appears on several Arabic web sites. More here. For more about the Islamic State, go here after brushing up on your Arabic.

Iraq III: Dark Days for the Hawks

These are tough times for the dwindling number of people who still believe that the Iraq war is just and must be fought to its conclusion.
Many a deep thinker, some with impeccible conservative credentials, have had their fill of the lies, distortions and unrelenting bloodshed, and while they supported the war in principle back when, they conclude after much soul-searching that they cannot do so any longer in good conscience. And then there are a goodly number of fair-weather supporters who have cut and run as public opinion has turned against the Mess in Mesopotamia.
Among the hawks who are blathering the no retreat-no surrender line are knuckle dragging bigots who believe that the only good Iraqi is a dead Iraqi and anyone who doesn't agree with them is a tree-hugging John Kerry synchophant. The Belmont Club, an otherwise terrific blog with a conservative bent that is one of my daily reads, is a magnet for the offal of snivelers of this sort, who include the especially despicable "habu1," a coward who retreats when confronted with his ugly screed.

Then there are semi-intellectuals like Victor Davis Hanson who argue that the U.S. must stay the course, even if The Decider in Chief has dropped that particular phraseology.

But Hanson is feeling a tad lonely these days and it is a sign of his desperation that he has resorted to using the "mine is bigger than yours" argument in claiming that many Washington commentators were not really behind the war in its early days like he was, so it's been easier for them to cut and run:
"Watching and reading the recent Washington punditry, whether in print or on television, is a depressing spectacle. Almost all—Charles Krauthammer is the most notable exception—have somehow triangulated on the war, not mentioning why and how in the B.C. days they sort of, kinda, not really called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. For some the Road to Damascus was the looting or Abu Ghraib, for others the increasing violence. Still more now say the absence of WMD did the trick.

"But almost none of the firebrands of 2003 speaks the truth behind the facade: They supported the war when it looked like few casualties and a quick reconstruction and thus confirmation of their own muscular humanitarianism—and then bailed along the way when they realized that wasn’t going to happen and the unpopular war might instead brand them as 'war mongers,' 'chicken-hawks' or just fools.

"Instead of that honest admission, we get instead either cardboard cut-out villains of the 'my perfect three-week war, your screwed-up three-year occupation' type—a Douglas Feith, Gen. Sanchez, or Paul Bremmer—or all sorts of unappreciated and untapped brilliance: from trisecting the country to 'redeploying' to Kurdistan, or Kuwait, or Okinawa?"
More here.

(Cartoon by Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate,
and yet another hat tip to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.)

Iraq IV: Yes, Virginia, There Is a Civil War

James Fearon is an expert on civil wars and ethnic conflicts. He recently testified before a House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security about what he unambiguously believes is a civil war in Iraq.
Still don't believe there's a civil war? You need to see your doctor about changing your medication.
Anyhow, Fearon concluded that:
"The historical record on civil war suggests that [U.S.] strategy is highly unlikely to succeed, whether the U.S. stays in Iraq for six more months or six more years (or more)." (Emphasis his.)

Fearon further notes that civil wars typically last a long time and on average post-1945 civil wars have lasted a decade. And when they end, it's usually with decisive military victories and not successful power-sharing agreements.

You can download his testimony here.

The U.S. death toll in Iraq in October reached 100 on Sunday when a U.S. Marine was killed in western Anbar province.
The month is the deadliest since January 2005 when 107 U.S. troops were killed. The highest monthly toll was in November 2004 when 137 deaths were recorded.

The total number of U.S. deaths in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 is 2,813.

More here.

Anthony Shahid from the Iraqi capital in the Washington Post:
"It had been almost a year since I was in the Iraqi capital, where I worked as a reporter in the days of Saddam Hussein, the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and the occupation, guerrilla war and religious resurgence that followed. On my return, it was difficult to grasp how atomized and violent the 1,250-year-old city has become. Even on the worst days, I had always found Baghdad's most redeeming quality to be its resilience, a tenacious refusal among people I met over three years to surrender to the chaos unleashed when the Americans arrived. That resilience is gone, overwhelmed by civil war, anarchy or whatever term could possibly fit. Baghdad now is convulsed by hatred, paralyzed by suspicion; fear has forced many to leave. Carnage its rhythm and despair its mantra, the capital, it seems, no longer embraces life."
More here.

(Hat tip to Marc Lynch at Abu Aardvark for Fearon post.)

Iraq V: The GOP's National Insecurity

I'm one of those folks who drinks down discussions on national security in little sips rather than big gulps. I find most commentary on the issue to be little more than numbing generalizations from people with partisan axes to grind.
But even a near tea totaler like myself has felt a sea change in the the Republican line on national security in the last few days as The Decider in Chief has been pretty much forced to confront what the reality-based community has known for some time -- the war in Iraq is a catastrophe of epic proportions.
Daniel Dressner is a big-gulp guy. He says not only is there a sea change, but all of a sudden the Republicans are sounding an awful lot like . . . you ready for this? The Democrats, whom they have endlessly claimed are weak on national security.

Says Dressner:
"For the past five years, Democrats have been vulnerable on national security issues. Bush and the Republicans projected a clear image of taking the war to the enemy, and never yielding in their drive to defeat radical Islamists. The Democrats, in contrast, projected either an antiwar position or a "yes, but" position. The former looked out of step with the American people, the latter looked like Republican lite. No matter how you sliced it, the Republicans held the upper hand.

"The recent rhetorical shift on Iraq, however, has flipped this phenomenon on its head. If Bush acknowledges that "stay the course" is no longer a statisfying status quo, he's acknowledging that the Republican position for the past few years has not worked out too well. If that's the case, then Republicans are forced to offer alternatives with benchmarks or timetables or whatever. The administration has had these plans before, but politically, it looks like the GOP is gravitating towards the Democratic position rather than vice versa.

"If this is what the political optics look like, then the Republicans will find themselves in the awkward position of being labeled as "Democrat lite" in their positions on Iraq. And in elections, lite never tastes as good as the real thing."
More here.

(Hat tip to Kevin Drum at The Political Animal)

An Invitation to Guest Blog on Veterans Day

Kiko's House has gotten some great submissions as a result of our invitation to guest blog on Veterans Day, but it's not too late to join in.

* * * * *
I've been around for a fair number of Veterans Days, in fact some 35 of them since I was discharged from the Army and became a veteran myself.

The holiday has changed dramatically since I was a kid. Back then, many people flew American flags in rememberance of the sacrifices of American veterans. Schools and most businesses were closed. Many communities had parades. If you were a merchant, it would have been in bad taste to have a Veterans Day sale.

Today few people fly flags. No schools and only a few government offices are closed. There are few parades, and many of them are pretty anemic affairs. At malls and shopping centers, bad taste abounds.
Let me be clear that there are many ways to commemorate veterans that are not ostentatious. For many years, 10 or so vets and I would meet at a local watering hole, tell war stories and get quietly drunk. Today only three of us are alive.
This year is different and I feel a pressing need to reach out on Veterans Day, which as usual is on November 11.
Being not unfamiliar with war myself, not a day passes that I don't think of all the Americans in uniform in Iraq, Afghanistan, on the DMZ in Korea, and elsewhere. Regardless of the bankrupt policies of their commander in chief and criminally reckless defense secretary, each and every one of these men and women deserve our support.

That said, Kiko's House extends an invitation to you to guest blog on Veterans Day. Drop me a line at kikokimba@gmail.com and we'll kick around your ideas.
Thank you. And God bless America.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Gratuitous Kitty Shot of the Week

Pretty in Pink . . . er, Blue
Jezzibella got in fellow kitty Lily's face once to often and the result was a $300 veterinarian's bill and this fashion statement.

The kitties were rescued from an animal shelter when Mark and his mate moved to Portland a few years back.

Says Mark:
"I suspect Jezzibella had pretty much lived in a cage until she was rescued and still acts much the lively puppy. Lily, I suspect, grew up in a home but, somewhere along the way, was severely abused. Generally extremely companionable, she is given to the occasional psychotic break. In any case, for whatever reason, Lily has always held a very dim view of Jezzibella."
* * * * *
Would you like to humiliate your kitty before the entire blogosphere like Jezzibella? Send a photo to kikokimba@gmail.com in the form of a .jpg attachment to an email.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Peter Gabriel's 'Games Without Frontiers'

Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane
Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again
Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt
Adolf builts a bonfire, Enrico plays with it

It's a knockout
If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers-war without tears
Games without frontiers-war without tears

Jeux sans frontieres
Jeux sans frontieres
Jeux sans frontieres

Andre has sa red flag, Chiang Ching's is blue
They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu
Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games
Hiding out in tree-tops shouting out rude names

It's a knockout
If looks could kill they probably will
In games without frontiers-wars without tears
If looks could kill they probably will
In games without frontiers-war without tears
Games without frontiers-war without tears

Jeux sans frontieres
Jeux sans frontieres
Jeux sans frontieres

* * * * *
As noted the other day, I often retreat into music in trying times, and God knows that these times qualify as trying.
I've been playing a lot of musicians who have strong political and anti-war bents, including Bruce Cockburn, Joan Baez and Gil Scott-Heron because their words and music have much more meaning then even when they were written and first performed. Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" is a great example of that.

What we have here is a trend, and I'll be posting the lyrics to more great anti-war songs from time to time in the future.

(Photograph © 2004, Zisis Kardianos)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Uh Oh! Is It Time for That October Surprise?

Conspiracy freaks and even some normal people have been warning that the White House is going to engineer an October Suprise -- a stunning news event intended to influence the outcome of an election that looks increasingly like a huge setback for the Bush administration and possibly an end to the 12-year Republican hegemony.

Does the following qualify?
LONDON - Coalition naval forces in the Persian Gulf have been deployed to counter possible seaborne threats to an oil refinery in Bahrain and to Saudi Arabia’s Ras Tanura terminal, which is the world’s biggest offshore oil facility, Britain's Royal Navy said on Friday.

Saudi Arabia confirmed it was taking measures to protect its oil and economic installations from a “terrorist threat” by al-Qaida . . .

A British navy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said a threat from al-Qaida last month to target Gulf oil terminals had resulted in the stepped-up security and vigilance.

U.S. Navy sources told NBC News that U.S. warships were on a "heightened state of alert" in the Persian Gulf.

Let's hope not.

Nevertheless, world of heightened naval alerts and the deployment of battle groups to the Persian Gulf has been circulating for weeks, so this news doesn't exactly qualify as a surprise, October or otherwise.

More here on this sucky development. Click here for a list of October Surprises.

The Poconos' Sick Obsession With Guns

Stroudsburg is a bustling community in the Poconos, an area of Northeastern Pennsylvania long known for its scenic splendor, hunting and skiing and more recently as a bedroom community for commuters who work in North Jersey and New York City.

What happened in Stroudsburg this week is a good example of why the Poconos and Pennsylvania in particular and American society in general are so screwed up.
It is illegal in the Poconos and in Pennsylvania to smoke on school property.

It is illegal in the Poconos and Pennsylvania to have drugs on or near school property.

But it is legal in the Poconos and in Pennsylvania to have guns on or near school property.
This laissez faire attitude about guns contributed to a lockdown of Stroudsburg High School because of fears that a Columbine or Nickel Mines-type shooting incident might be in the offing. This was because two students seen with .22-caliber rifles left a message with some ambiguous but possibly threatening language on an Internet instant message board and then disappeared.

* * * * *
The drama began on Monday morning when Alex Camaerei and Matt Bond, both 16 and both sophomores, played hooky. The reason: They were bored with school, tired of people, had some issues at home and apparently needed to deal with their adolescent angst.
So they did what any self-centered teenager would do.

Instead of merely telling their parents that they needed to chill, they wrekked havoc by disappearing after leaving a message that included the phrases "I'm going to miss you," "We're going to rough it. We want to hunt how we want to hunt," and
"[The] big event they were going to be remembered for."
Hunt for what? Deer? Wild turkey? Students?

As it turns out, neither deer or wild turkey are in season, but this being America, students always are.
When Camaerei and Bond did not return home on Monday night, did not appear at school again on Tuesday and word that they were armed and had left the creepy message reached Stroudsburg High officials, they quickly and appropriately ordered a "high alert" and put the school into lockdown.

Doors and windows were locked and students could not leave their classrooms. Those who had to have a tinkle were escorted to bathrooms in group. Other schools in the region also were put on alert, and panicked parents streamed to Stroudsburg High where they were confronted by the sight of armed officers, some carrying assault rifles.

A search was launched for Camaerei and Bond, and the errant lads were found at a campsite not far out of town on Tuesday evening. They told police they had been planning to run away for some time.

* * * * *
Is there a happy ending to this story? After all, nobody got hurt or killed.
No, because it is unlikely that anyone will have to pay for the incident in an appropriate manner or that, heaven forbid, it should become one of those so-called "teaching moments" of which educators seem to be so fond.
It turns out that the father of Alex Camaerei is the wrestling coach at a nearby high school, while his mother is a clinical psychologist who coordinates mental health screenings for the area's four school districts, which are bursting at the seams because of the population influx and awash with post-pubescent head cases because of . . . well, adolescent angst in all its shapes, sizes, genders, sexual preferences and skin colors.
Based on media accounts, Al Camaerei is as out to lunch as his son.

"They wanted to get away and live off the land for a couple of days," explained Al, speaking for clueless parents everywhere in failing to take responsibility, let alone apologize, and saying that the whole thing had been blown out of proportion.

Blown out of proportion!
The Pocono Record did its part in blowing off the reprehensible aspects of the incident, as well.

In an astoundingly lame editorial on the lockdown, the Record pondered what would cause two nice boys from good homes to go AWOL.
It concluded that the incident "served as a drill, a chance for school officials and police to test their emergency plans, and which, in the cool light of day, they may evaluate and refine."

Thank goodness for the cool light of day, and the days are indeed cool in the Poconos these days. But there was nothing in the editorial about taking responsibility. Nothing about the consequences of doing stupid and potentially harmful things. Nothing about teaching moments. Nada.
I myself would order the expulsion of both boys for the rest of the school year and tell Al to put a sock in it the next time he feels the urge to say something incredibly stupid in public, let alone the impressionable young dears that he teaches and coaches.
But, you see, guns rule in the Poconos. They are objects of worship.

A lot of people have guns. A lot of people carry guns. Usually not out in the open, but in the glove compartments and trunks of their cars, the tool boxes of their pick-up trucks and God knows where else. You can bet that on a given day there are guns in cars in the parking lot at Stroudsburg High or Stroud Mall.

And a lot of people use guns, sometimes on each other as the area's disturbing violent crime rate shows.

Anyone want to take bets about how long it will be before the Pocono's sick obsession with guns results in a major tragedy?
It's as easy to buy a gun in the Poconos as it is to buy seed for a bird feeder. So easy, in fact, that guns purchased in Stroudsburg by straw men are turning up in New York City, which has some of the toughest gun laws anywhere. (I blogged about that here.)
It's just a damned good thing that neither Alex Camaerei or Matt Bond were smoking cigarettes on school property, let alone sharing a joint.

Then there really would be hell to pay.