Tuesday, July 26, 2005

See No Evil, Hear No Warning

Over the weekend, we entertained two Canadian friends who love good food and fine wines. My wife had brought a special bottle from home for us to enjoy together over a post-golf dinner. The bartender opened the bottle and left it to breathe as we conversed and took turns going to the locker room to change our clothes. I was last to the table, and last to try the Bourdeaux, a '99 Chateau Margaux.

The first taste surprised me with its fruity overtones. But then, I'm a near beer connoisseur, and take to wine when my only other choices are Miller and Corona.

"What do you think?" asked John, after I'd savored a few palate-fuls.

"It's good." And later, unsolicited, I told my wife I really enjoyed this wine. It was growing on me.

When my glass emptied, John raised the bottle. "Would you like some of this?" he asked.

"No, that's okay. You guys take it, I've already had some."

"No, you haven't," John said, pouring me a taste. And they began to laugh.

While I was gone, they had asked the bartender to pour the worst wine he had, a Shiraz that had been open for a few days, while they quaffed the Bourdeaux. The maturity and subtlety of this new wine was immediately apparent. The bottle on the table, the good company and the expertise of my wine-loving friends had induced me to savor the swill in my glass.

I laughed until I was mopping my cheeks.


I was speaking with a Swiss friend about a potential art project intended to bring us closer to the consequences of violence done in our name. We don't need to experience the violence directly, I said, but leaving it too much in the abstract is also dangerous. She said she believed the American character was essentially good and meant to do the right thing, but that a belief in one's own essential goodness creates blinders. We become unable to see when our actions cause harm, because we mean no harm.

In addition to her teaching, she prints limited fine editions of English poetry and has an excellent command of the language. Though she has lived in America for decades, she still has a marked Swiss accent. She said, "Sometimes English is just background noise to me. It doesn't register at all. It could be because a pronounciation is slightly off, or because my mind is elsewhere and I can't bring myself back. At those times, I don't even hear my own name."


But of de Menezes, we expect more. In England for only three years, practicing a trade far less demanding of language skills, and in a moment of tremendous stress, we expect him to be perfectly attuned, and not at all disoriented.

Meanwhile, the others on the periphery can hardly keep the facts straight.

His English was excellent. No, he likely misunderstood the commands.

He wore a padded jacket. No, an overcoat. No, a fleece pullover.

The cops were in plain clothes. No, the place was crawling with uniformed bobbies as well.

He ran because he had been terrorized by hooligans two weeks earlier. No, says another report. He was playing a game of chase with his friend. No, he'd called his co-worker on the alarm job to say he was running late. No, he must've run because police were yelling for everyone to run or get down.

"As I turned out the door onto the platform, I heard four dull bangs." No, "they pushed him to the floor, bundled on top of him and unloaded five shots into him." No, eight. Seven in the head.

He had an expired student visa. No, his work visa was in order.


John and Jim are slugging it out in the comments section below. Meanwhile, I am trying to improve my grip on the subject, and trying to avoid a selective view of the facts.

Incidents filled with ambiguities, misunderstandings and slip-ups accumulate until an innocent man and conscientious police careen toward tragedy. Now we try the case with our blinders on.

Before you insist you know what happened, you can't start with the moment de Menezes panicked. You have to go upstream.

Police had his building — a "small block of flats" — under surveillance, because suspects in the earlier bombings lived there. Hours later they raided an apartment and arrested one man. Didn't police have a list of all the tenants in the building they were preparing to raid?

Since he was presumably already dark-skinned, wearing a jacket and trailing wires when he left a suspected bomber hangout, why was de Menezes allowed to walk the five minutes from his flat to catch the No. 2 bus? Did he become more suspicious after traveled through two intermediate stops between Tulse Hill and Stockwell Station? Why didn't police apprehend him before he got on the bus, since two other buses had already been attacked?

A news story says there were two police units involved. One, the surveillance team at the flats, and the other, an armed team that confronted him at the station. If so, what communication, if any, transpired between the police watching the house and the police guarding the station?

If three police pursued de Menezes into the station, why were they all behind him? How does a suspect exiting a bus elude awaiting armed officers? (John claims the station was crawling with police, including uniforms.) Did the arrival of the No. 2 bus catch them by surprise?

At least one eyewitness talks about de Menezes being pursued into the train by plainclothes cops. But did he immediately know they were police, or did he put it together after the scene was cleaned up, with the microphones and cameras pointed at him. (This is the same witness who counted five shots. But, hey, I've had a few problems as a witness myself.)

Monday, July 25, 2005

Tired of Dating Liberals?

I'm sorry, I've just fallen behind on my posts, and I want to reward you faithful readers.

There's more where this came from.

I don't know about you, but I find this frightening.

Being Cool and Anglo Under Fire

Of course, there's an opposite view. That de Menzenes is to blame, and the victim got what was coming to him for not being as cool and Anglo under fire as the typical right-wing, never-get-caught-dead-near-public transit boys. It's quite hilarious to read one of them try to empathize with an imagined family saved from the putative terrorist.

"You notice that he's wearing a long trenchcoat despite the 80-degree heat and what looks like a bulky sweater underneath, and that he looks terrified."
– Captain's Quarters, "Collateral Damage"

If you read my previous post, you'll note the writer has increased the temperature by 18 degrees, turned a padded jacked into a long trench coat, and added a bulky sweater. [Editor's note: Our thermostat reads 75 degrees. I am wearing a t-shirt. My wife is walking around in a turtleneck and complaining about how the house is over-air-conditioned.]

Let's try empathizing in another way — with the man who was actually the victim. The way that matters.

You live in a tough neighborhood, but it's all you can afford. London offers more opportunity than you had in Brazil, but the winters are brutally chilling and summer is only slightly better. (It's well north of Winnipeg and nearly as far north as Irkutsk, Siberia. Not at all like the moderate climate back home.) You've gotten a call to go fix an alarm system. You're not sure what the problem is, so you bring along a few extras, just in case. You wish you had a truck to haul all your tools and parts, but that's out of the question.

You've considered buying a motor bike so you don't have to take the subway. Like everyone in London, you're a bit jumpy after the bombings. But right now, that's just a dream.

You notice some men are following you. You quicken your pace to the underground, thinking they wouldn't try to mug you on a crowded subway platform. They speed up, too, so you begin to trot. They hurry after you. One of them appears to have a gun.

That's one difference from Brazil. here, the police don't carry guns. Although now you wish you could find one who did. You hurtle down toward the train, jumping the turnstile in hope of gaining a few steps on them. There are extra police down there because of the bombing threat. You'll be safe.

They are shouting. What are they saying? You know some English, but you are running and the blood is pumping in your head. What are they saying?

People are watching you, but no one is helping. No one is helping. No one...

Mark Whitby, a passenger who was sitting just yards away, said the man was 'hotly pursued' on to the train, adding: 'I looked at his face. He looked from left to right, but he basically looked like a cornered rabbit, like a cornered fox. He looked absolutely petrified ... It was a very, very distressing scene to watch, and to hear as well ... I saw them kill a man.'

How Not to Get Shot on Your Way to Work

"I heard a lot of noise, people saying, 'Get out, get down.' I saw an Asian guy. He ran on to the train, he was hotly pursued by three plain clothes officers, one of them was wielding a black handgun.”
– Mark Whitby, witness to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician mistakenly executed by London police

"How could they have done such a thing as to kill him from behind?" Mr. Alves [a cousin of de Menezes] told the Globo Television Network. "How could they have confused and killed a light-skinned person who had no resemblance at all to an Asian?"
– New York Times, 7/24/05

Quick, Pick-a-Terrorist

At 10:00 am on July 22nd, the temperature in London was 62 degrees. This was the "summery day" that, to someone from the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, might feel cool enough to throw on a coat. A photo run by the New York Times shows a cross section of Londoners in the subway that day, ranging from people wearing t-shirts to a gentleman in a bulky sweater. Avedon Carol, who posts from London, concurs.

– Scott Barbour/Getty Images

“It's a deeply regretful action. But we have to consider what would have happened if these officers had not shot, and that man had been a suicide bomber and had got on the tube and the doors [had] closed with the officers having taken the wrong decision.”
–Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, apologizing for the regrettable killing

Yes, we do, especially those of us in a country where our leaders have a history of taking decisive, violent action in highly ambiguous circumstances. Therefore, we advise all readers to take the following precautions. Do not:

1. Live in low-income housing, especially near non-white residents.

2. Take public transportation.

3. Work as an electrician.

4. Allow wires to protrude from your clothing. Use an iPod at your own risk!

5.Come from the Middle East. Or look as if you come from the Middle East, Asia or Latin America.

6. Wear clothes bulkier than the natives wear, even if the weather is cooler than you are accustomed to.

7. Run if you are accosted by three non-uniformed men, including one with a handgun.

8. Think running onto a subway car will afford protection.

Bonus tips:
Don't carry a rucksack. Lose weight, especially if you are large around the middle. Do not put on a life preserver before getting on a boat, and always wear it outside your clothing! Better yet, avoid boats. Renounce the Muslim faith.

I don't discount the pressure that was on the London police that day. My brother is a cop, and he was involved, along with his partner, in the shooting of a kid who was wielding a gun. That was a regrettable ending to an incident in which a kid had made a bad mistake. But the kid lived, and the cops can live with themselves.

de Menezes died, seven bullets pumped into his head on a subway floor. And his mistakes were 1 through 8, above.

You could charitably go back over the details and say, yes, it was a terrible, regrettable misreading. But totally understandable, given all that was happening.

We wouldn't want them to have held back, to have let the terrorist-bomber-madman-dictator-WMD-program-like-activities-evildoer kill innocent people while we stood idly by. Surely even Jean Charles de Menezes would agree with that.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Where's the Fatwa?

Horatio at Dodecahedron wonders why our clerics haven't issued a condemnation of Eric Rudolf, the American terrorist. (Thanks to Exceive.)

In order to avoid a possible death sentence, Rudolph pled guilty to charges of bombing a Birmingham clinic that provided abortions. Didn't he know that in Birmingham, righteous criminals have a good chance of getting off?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Spreadin' the News

Stan Mack's Real Life Funnies used to grace the Village Voice with illustrated quotes from New Yorkers and the Guarantee: All Dialogue is Reported Verbatim.

The funnies are long-gone, but the density and intensity of New York life continues to produce a wealth of overheard brilliance, banality and laffs. If you have time to kill, visit Overheard New York. But be careful. It's sort of like the film in Infinite Jest.

Why I'm Not Writing About You-Know-Who

I'm not writing about why some unnamed White House Official should be fired, because, like all the people who are writing about him, I don't know the all facts. Any of them. Or the law. Much of it. And reading scores of editorials, articles, o'spinion, source documents and blogs on the subject hasn't fully enlightened me.

But I do know this first hand. I have two siblings, let's call them a brother and a sister, who have been undercover law enforcement "operatives." I don't know much about what they've done or what they're doing now, and they don't say much. I do know they went places where they wouldn't be known and used other names. They might have pretended to possess information they didn't really have to trick people into spilling the beans. They would fight subterfuge with subterfuge.

That's how I understand these things work.

Now, unlike Joseph Wilson, who has only one wife, I have four brothers and one sister. You don't know their names, of course, so if you passed on this information you wouldn't be outing them, would you? You wouldn't be naming them. And their service was in the past, as far as we know, so you wouldn't be endangering them, right? And if you were a high-level official who confirmed something to a New York Times reporter who seemed to be fishing offhand for a confirmation of something he already knew, what's the harm in that? So what if it supported a story that would would be politically advantageous to you?

That's no crime.

On today's outrage scale, surely not as bad as losing money on some land in the Ozarks or knowing lesbians in college. But I'm not writing about that either.

I'm just hoping those two unnamed siblings, let's call them a brother and a sister, understand how reticent I have been in the matter. And how innocent of any crime.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Karate Elvis and Other Suburban Delights

I have just returned from taking a bicycle-seat census of the first-ring (geographic), first-rung (economic) suburbs. Here is my preliminary report of the first hour.

Five women walking their infants in strollers. Three couples doing the same. One father with a toddler nodding off in the bicycle seat. Older kids on the loose. A nubile young woman gets into a red pickup that doesn't even pull to the curb. Do mom and dad approve?

I meet two other cyclists on my winding course, a commuter and a small girl with a tennis racquet.

Four houses for sale rest on girders, ready to be moved from a redevelopment area. Suspended in the air, devoid of siding, grass and shrubbery, they seem impossibly small. I circle around the back to make sure I'm not missing something, but there's not even whiff left of the American Dream.

A few adults watch a youth karate class work out on the lawn of a community center. The black belted teacher is surprisingly bloated, a karate Elvis, from the Las Vegas years. Do the parents their money back?

Three preteen girls perch on skateboards in the middle of the street, lined up as if to race, but poised without a hint of motion.

I exchange smiles with a young woman crossing the street to church. If she only knew.

A man in a hairnet and green coveralls walks away from a low industrial building... Something Farms. The flat, graveled roof of the building across the railroad tracks was once a giant seagull nesting area. I imagine processed seagull, fresh from Something Farms.

A rental truck sits at the far end of a parking lot serving a small commercial strip, next to an abandoned pickup topper with its glass broken out. Some people have unloaded a mattress and four bicycles. As I pass, a man says, "We have come all this way from Guinea..." Was he talking to me?

Townhouses spring up along an intersection where Jiffy Lube once ruled. Earlier I passed by Presidential Estates, condominiums from the '70s, 1-bedroom units for sale with no money down. Why are cheap housing complexes and trailer parks always called "Estates"?

Crossing the street just ahead, a ponytailed dude in a sleeveless t-shirt strides back toward his driveway after checking out a white Oldsmobile with a For Sale sign in the window.

Suddenly every face on the street is black. Just as abruptly, like venetian blinds opening and closing, they all turn white again.

Outside an assisted living home, a man sits on a bus stop bench talking to a frail woman in a wheelchair. I think of my mother. And I think of my son someday.

At 7 pm, three Hispanics are still at work renovating the exterior of a small house.

Four buff Chinese play basketball in the park. Elsewhere, soccer teams scrimmage and a girl's softball team takes infield. On a tennis court, a man hits a condescending stroke and the woman drives the ball into the net. Small groups of intent young men hoisting identical shoulder bags stalk among the trees. From a distance they appear to be on some kind of naturalist field trip, but no. They are Frisbee golfers between shots.

I watch a dog running loose in a yard and prepare my defense. It dashes toward me and I stop. The kids in the yard laugh and say, "Her name's Allie."

"Stay, Allie," I say.

"No, Sally!" they cry. "But watch out for the house at 3800 Vera Cruz. That dog will chase you."

I think I've just toured a great country, but I don't think most of the official American patriots have any idea.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Crisis Pictures Moving Forward

If you haven't read preiously about Crisis Pictures, you can catch up here.

Up to now, Crisis Pictures has largely been a one-man band run by Trevor Davis. A recent server snafu has motivated him to make operations more robust and overhaul the site so "it lives up to its potential." The trouble also helped attract additional support, including image hosting, donations of at least $2000 and interest in a benefit concert by Jazz for Peace.

The organization has been incorporated since April, and has filed a 1023 requesting recognition of 501c3 nonprofit status, which would make all donations since April potentially tax-deductible. "When/if we are approved, we will send out an email to everyone who has donated informing them of this," Trevor says.

"We are raising money to pay for the basics we need to be a functioning organization. We need to buy several basic yet expensive software packages to handle the increased demands. We need accounting software, contacts management, fundraising/development, digital asset management, and image editing (Photoshop), among many others. Most of our needs can be met by open source solutions, but certain processes are best accomplished using commercial packages. We are taking a long term approach, looking for long term efficiencies over short term savings of a few hundred dollars.

"We need to buy at least one other basic desktop computer capable of running memory intensive graphics applications. We are trying to take advantage of the many people who want to volunteer, but we need to have somewhere for them to work. If anyone can donate equipment, that would be great."

He's also looking for volunteer help with:
• Zope/Python programming
• Database design.
• Digital Asset Mangement
• Fundraising and Development
• Communications and PR

Contact Trevor Davis: tdavis@crisispictures.org

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A New Spin on Global Outsourcing

One of America's supposed defenses against globalization seemed to be that there were certain jobs foreign companies couldn't take away. Steel manufacturing, textiles, furniture, electronics, automobiles, okay, even the help desk for my cable provider. But other jobs seem insulated by language, culture, creativity or distance. Marketing, say, doctoring or bus driving. What executive in his right mind mind would outsource his Sarbanes-Oxley defense to a legal team in Singapore? What're they going to do, make blockbuster movies in New Zealand? (OK, bad example.) Coal mining ought to be safe, at least as long as the seams hold out. Likewise, drilling for domestic oil and gas...

Well, my hometown paper reports that Chinese crews and drilling rigs are arriving in Western Colorado to drill for gas in the Piceance Creek basin, the very place I spent several college summers on rigs drilling exploratory wells to find oil shale deposits, back before the oil shale boom went bust for the second time. Unocal Corp., the same company being bid for by the Chinese, was one of the major energy companies that tried to drill and process oil shale, but pulled out and sold all its properties.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel says:

Western Energy Advisors worked with federal agencies to arrange for visas for the Chinese crews, said Bill Croyle, a partner in Western Energy.

One hurdle the company [the Chinese national Petroleum Corp.] had to clear was to show that the jobs couldn’t be done by American citizens or legal residents.

That wasn’t difficult to show, Croyle said, citing the loss of “a million” domestic jobs among major oil companies over recent years, as well as reductions among smaller employers.

Much of the domestic exploration and production industry is “just gone,” he said. Rigs have been trucked in from Canada and elsewhere for drilling in the United States.

One supposed advantage the Chinese have is that they treat drilling as a profession, and "many of the crew members hold master’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees or the equivalent of associate’s degrees" from petroleum-focused universities.

"These people know what they’re doing,” Croyle said. “It’s all about the crews.”

Over time, Chinese crew members will train Americans to work on the Chinese-made rigs, he said, and the number of Chinese workers will gradually shrink as Americans take over.

The drillers I worked for generally were well short of a GED, and most had learned the trade by working their way up the ranks. Others on the crew, in addition to college kids, ranged from dedicated roughnecks to alkies who tended to disappear when the rig moved. Geologists and tool pushers (the site foreman) had technical educations, but no one on my rigs considered them a real part of the crew.

These were tough old birds from Texas and Oklahoma. I wonder what they'd think of this. I know what I think.

China and oil. It won't be pretty.

Thanks to a comment by tee on James Howard Kunstler's blog, where you can read much more on China, the environment and other current events. Kunstler is the author of "The Geography of Nowhere," "Home From Nowhere," "The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition," and "The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Da Bitches Always Be Wreckin' Da Cars

Cab driving was mostly long bouts of boredom punctuated by spurts of anxiety and, for someone who drank coffee by the quart, periodic, urgent quests for a respectable place to piss. Any good lines from the back seat were a bonus.

Tyrone was supposed to pick up a friend, but his car was not operative, so he hired my cab and offered an explanation: His girlfriend had an accident the night before. The understanding friend commiserated: "Da bitches always be wreckin' da cars."

For many men, this is a philosophy of life, a comfortable justification, proof of male superiority in all things.

Today, I played golf at a public course where a women's league started out the morning. The course marshall matter-of-factly explained to our foursome that our round might be slow for the front nine, because the women were ahead of us. Of course, slow play is the bane of public course golf every day, but this morning, we had an explanation. It was not presented with any particular scorn or heard with abnormal dismay. It was simply confirmation of the cultural assumption.

Da bitches always be slowin' da play.

Echidne writes of a similar phenomenon as she recounts listening to a radio interview of people who commuted to work:

[A]fterwards I remembered what the one woman had said extremely well and couldn't really separate the men's comments from each other. The woman stood out as a representative of a large group "women"; the men were interviewed as individuals and so what they said somehow didn't stick to my memory. It's easy to see how something like this could turn into a belief that "women" are fairly represented in all sorts of fields, perhaps even overrepresented, while the reality could be the very opposite, unless one's view of fair representation is to have one woman to stand for all.

Echidne, you almost have it. One woman often does represent all women, but are men focusing on their achievement?

Or do da bitches always be wreckin' da cars?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Machinist

[Warning: Today's rambling index is orange.]

Today was one of those rides that start only with a general direction and a possible turning point, with a good half of it covering territory I've never traversed on a bike. These excursions have a way of changing as they go. That's the point.

As a long-time runner and one-time cab driver, I rarely find myself on a totally unfamiliar city street here, though some, like those I covered today, were familiar decades ago.

I didn't start out planning to write about the ride, but the sights along the old routes were too evocative. Storefront churches in buildings going through their umpteenth reincarnation. A used clothing store (Your's) either being closed down or swept out by the next entrepreneur. A Romanesque school building. Two hookers, one strolling, one waiting. Three kids in identical baggy jeans and XXL white tees, the better to avoid identification in the event they have to run and ditch the drugs they're selling.

A string of bars frequented by regulars who keep returning long after they've moved away. Smells from autobody paint booths. Guys in coveralls free of corporate logos claiming the fruit of their labors. A burned out, retired factory worker still wondering what hit him.

A mother with a bandage around the fresh tattoo on her shoulder does an exchange of kids with a woman in another car. They hug before she pulls away.

The burned-down corner where once a music store stood. I bought my first new electric guitar there. The owner told me to make an offer, and when I did, he said, that's too much. Now the basement is filled with black water and a car with its paint scorched off is still behind the rubble, but just as I passed the small building still standing around the corner, a man and a woman were fitting a red and white sign in a boarded-over window.

It said, Tom and Colleen are Back.

Up near 26th and Johnson, not long after passing a non-descript stucco box building with a small generic sign, Geographic Locations International, I couldn't stand it any more. I had to remember these things. I pulled over and went into a clinic pharmacy looking for a pen in its card section. A woman behind the counter asked if she could help me find something, and I said, "Yes. A pen without a big flower on the end." She gave me her pen. "To buy," I said. "Keep it. The drug reps give them to us all the time."

This post is sponsored in part by Bayer and Avelox I.V.

I just Googled Geographic Locations International to try to understand why such an ambitiously named operation would locate in that tiny, obscure place — much less bother to put up a sign. A company by that name sells geological survey markers. I clicked through to Contact Us to see if it was the Minneapolis company, and the address was Minneapolis, all right. But it was not the northeast address I expected. It was the address my company had occupied until last August. I had to read it the three times to make sure I was not mistaken, but yes, that was it, right down to the suite number!

For a moment, I felt like The Machinist, reporting a hit and run by my own car.

It turns out there's an explanation. The company in our old offices runs their e-commerce site. But there's no explanation why I should write down that one name during the course of a two and a half hour ride along many commercial streets.

This is why we need God in the wings, I guess.

Bush's Bicycle

The foregoing post started be about Bush's Bicycle, but by the time I got around to Geographic Locations International, I decided the preamble had gotten out of hand.

Recently, blogs have been ridiculing George W. Bush's recent cycling accident at the Gleneagles G8 conference. This one is typical, and so are these comments.

God knows Bush presents plenty of legitimate targets, so there's really no need to be suggesting he is in line to replace Gerald Ford as the Klutz-in-Chief.

The satirical supposition that "Bush's bicycle accident at the G8 was STAGED to demonstrate bicycles are dangerous and not a solution to climate change" is actually funny. The rest are cheap shots by people I suspect don't get enough vigorous exercise. It's not the fat asses who rent a bike once a year at the beach who have accidents. It's more likely the serious bikers, who ride often, fast, and in conditions (such as a light rain) that provide excuses for most people to stay indoors.

Bush's accidents over the past five years don't strike me as unusual at all. Ride a mountain bike hard across a ranch instead of some prim bike path, and you may well go down. On wet roads, brakes lose stopping power and road tires lose traction. If you have to react quickly to someone who zigs when he should zag, I predict road rash in your future.

Cycling requires more physical coordination and concentration than driving, and you are highly vulnerable because of the speed, height, being clipped into pedals, and proximity to hard surfaces, cars and clueless drivers. It's the leading cause of recreational injury in the U.S. So you must pay attention to your environment.

I see Bush's bicycle as a hopeful sign. After all, he's not racing around on a motorcycle or shooting exotic animals in a game park. He's moving under his own power, at a slower-than-motorized pace, and must absolutely be aware. He may not read all the signs or scan the faces of every pedestrian, but he's not whizzing through the countryside in his motorcade, either. He is closer to real life. He is smelling the air and enjoying simplicity. He is reflecting.

At least, I choose to hope so.

Crisis Pictures Update

A week ago, Crisis Pictures was unexpectedly locked out of its image server, shutting down its important service. I reported on the situation, but was hampered by having to rely on what the organization posted on its site.

I just received word from Trevor Davis of Crisis Pictures that they expect to be back up today. Here's the short version of what happened.

An organization that had been providing Crisis Pictures free space on its server recently moved to a new host. No one notified Crisis Pictures of the move, and a week ago Friday, they suddenly lost access to the server. It took some frantic calls and emails to sort out what was going on. To complicate matters, the individual who'd originally arranged the hosting was on vacation.

You can't just call up a company with, "Hey, I've got a bunch of files on your server, and I need to get access right now" and expect a quick response. However, a new deal has been negotiated, and Crisis Pictures is moving to a new server.

"I needed a few days away from pictures anyway," Trevor wrote. "I've been doing this continuously since November, almost entirely by myself. (When I say 'we,' it's usually wishful thinking.)

"I'm being much more shrewd about contracts for free services," he added. "This will not happen again."

Thanks to all who donated.

Friday, July 08, 2005

One More Reason to Deny Condoms

From All Africa via Christianity Today.

Why recommend abstinence? It is the only way I can first establish and then defend the rights of the spouse who has suffered a grievous injustice. If I say: "Just use a condom", I am implicitly overriding the right of the faithful spouse to refuse all sexual relations for as long as they live. I would appear to be supporting the guilty party instead of defending the innocent, who may want to exercise his or her right.

I was under the impression people had the right to refuse sex, even when AIDS wasn't in the picture.

Wanted: Fresh Ass for Kicking

Digby was a very busy man yesterday. Among his posts was this on the righteous urge to strike back after the London bombings:

Of course, it's important to point out that this terrorist attack may have had nothing whatsoever to do with Afghanistan. This genie is out of the bottle and it may very well have been a home grown operation with minimal direction or guidance from the "top brass" of al Qaeda. Which is why we really, really need to shut down the bloodlust right now and start thinking. The fact that this is called a 'war" does not mean that there is an appropriate military solution. Unfortunately, that may lead to other equally ineffective and toxic solutions.

Let's go out and kick some ass! It's a natural reaction, but that doesn't mean it's smart — as we should know after all the ass kicking we've delivered thus far, and with the toll of US military dead in Iraq marching inexorably toward the number killed in 9/11...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

And Now, for More Unhelpful Rhetoric from the Antiwar Crowd...

1. "You can support the troops but not the president."

2. "Bombing a sovereign nation for ill-defined reasons with vague objectives undermines the American stature in the world. The international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly."

3. "I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now."

4. "[The] President…is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home."

5. "Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?"

6. "Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."

1-3. Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)
4. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)
5. Sean Hannity, Fox News
6. Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

They were among the critics of the ultimately successful military engagement in Kosovo.

From Res Publica, via The Poorman and John at A Lie a Day.

What Christians Expect

Fundamentalist Christians should pick the next two Supreme Court Justices. It's only fair.

After all, with the help of moderates and who knows what else, they gave George W. Bush the only majority a Republican Presidential candidate has won since 1988.

Seven of our nine current justices were appointed by Republicans, yet you'd think from the outcry that Franklin Roosevelt had succeeded in packing the court with commies over the past three generations. Here's the roll call:

• President Ford nominated John Paul Stevens.
• President Reagan gave us William Rehnquist, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Sandra Day O’Connor.
• President Bush Senior split the ticket with David Souter and Clarence Thomas, the most thinly credentialled judge on the Court.
• President Clinton named Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The problem, you see, is that too many of those appointees have been acting like jurists instead of jihadists.

According to Rick Scarborough, who has shaped himself a nice career around rallying rightwingers against "activist" judges, here is "what Christians expect in a nominee":

God has given the president an opportunity to take an important step toward restoring America as one nation under His sovereign authority — toward ending the scourge of abortion-on-demand, averting the plague of homosexual marriage and restoring the right of Americans to publicly acknowledge their Creator.

Those of us who supported Mr. Bush so loyally have every right to expect that the president will tap a strict constructionist for the high court. Over the past five years, George W. Bush has promised time and again to nominate justices of the Scalia/Thomas mold — fearless individuals of principle who are willing to endure the establishment's scorn to uphold constitutional rights and oppose judicial tyranny.

O'Connor's replacement must be a man or woman who will read the Constitution as it was written, instead of reading their own views into it. He must be willing to let legislatures legislate. If the Constitution needs revision, he or she must insist on the process set forth in Article 5, instead of activists on the court amending our national charter at whim. In short, the next justice must be dedicated to interpreting the law instead of making laws.

When questioned on Roe v. Wade recently, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said "The Constitution is whatever the Supreme Court says it is." That's not just wrong, but dangerously so. When the Supreme Court said the Constitution protected slavery, and later segregation, did it? The meaning of the Constitution is clear. Members of the Supreme Court aren't magicians who can change the meaning of words and phrases with a wave of their hand.

President Bush's first Supreme Court nominee must be committed to the Constitution, the way true Believers are committed to the Bible.

Then there's Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, who says Alberto Gonzales would be a “supremacist judge … the type that think whatever they say overrides the other branches.” She's part of a chorus trying to paint Gonzales as the second coming of Harry Blackmun. I'm not the only one who sees this as potential misdirection play to soften up the opposition.

Or read another right-inflected view on why Gonzales may be a wrong choice in Al Gonzales, Abe Fortas and Cronyism.

On The American Street, eRobin writes: "Here’s one way the Dems can stop playing into BushCo’s hands: put forward a slate of judges whom they find acceptable."

I don't see any reason why Bush should wait any longer to announce his nominee. Here's a man who clearly is practiced at unerringly interpreting the Word and never reading his own views into it. Dr. Rick Scarborough for Associate Justice!

Evolution 101: A Monkey is Like a Chicken

"Trying to tell you people come from monkeys and all that stuff. Couldn't be right! Monkeys to me, like a chicken, you know? People is people."
—O.W. Wooden, a Dayton, TN, farmer who is still scratching his head over why anyone would believe in evolution

I didn't know whether to laugh or pull over to the side of the road and cry. July 5th was the 80th anniversary of the Scopes Monkey Trial, the famous test of a Tennessee law that prohibited teaching evolution in the public schools, and NPR was running a story.

In case your school didn't cover the trial in history class, you might be interested to know that famous face off between fundamentalist populist William Jennings Bryan and the ACLU-funded Clarence Darrow came about because Dayton town fathers saw an opportunity to promote tourism in the economically depressed burg. That's right, all the instigators wanted was a little attention and some new money flowing through town.

If you believe the folks pushing for a ban on Darwinism, they have a much higher purpose, but their argument is still on the order of O.W.'s: Peypuhl is peypuhl.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Trickle Up Economics

Total private employment was actually lower in January 2005 than in January 2001, the first time since the Great Depression that employment has fallen during a president's term of office.
–Robert Frank, New York Times: "Do Tax Cuts for the Wealthy Stimulate Employment?"

As a business founder and owner dating back to Bush the First, I've had ample opportunity to demonstrate the soundness of economic policy that favors giving tax cuts to the well-off. All I had to do was create jobs with my windfall. And if any capitalist was going to trickle down his added income, it was likely to be a bleeding heart liberal like yours truly.

But of course the trickle down theory used to justify tax cuts for the richest Americans was total hooey, as a recent story by Robert Frank neatly summarizes. It lays out the economic theory that every business owner knows in his or her bones: You don't create jobs because you have money; you create jobs because you can make money.

What about argument that the Bush tax cuts induce the wealthy to spend more, thereby creating more jobs?

Most people in the top 5 or 10 percent of earners are not exacting holding back on consumption now. Will the rich eat out more often? You can only eat so many meals, even if you're a pig. Will they buy more domestic automobiles? If you've already filled the garage with Lexuses, Mercedes and Porches, you ain't going back to Buick, and an extra Ferrari or Corniche won't do much for the Domestic National Product. Even more likely, they'll put the money in stocks, real estate, or speculative investments in ventures that are about harvesting equity, not creating jobs.

Frank points out that additional tax money could put more cops on the streets, more teachers in the schools, and more inspectors looking for contraband in shipping containers. And tax cuts to the middle class would be more likely to result in purchases that would stimulate the economy.

It really should embarrass the Party of Business to be supporting such a fiction, except that its barons are already rich beyond embarrassment, and they have minions to do their tax hating for them.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Jury of His Peers

I'm not picking on a god-fearin', large-livin' CEO, honestly I'm not. But I'm prompted to take one more swing, by the news that, as Ideoblog notes, the SEC plans to file a civil suit against Richard Scrushy, coupled with a nice summation of the government's failure to obtain a criminal conviction:

And [the defense] knew how to encourage the jury to demand more evidence than the government could possibly have. Repeating a refrain from defense closing arguments, jurors said in post-verdict interviews that investigators should have dusted a particularly damaging binder of financial papers to look for Scrushy's fingerprints. They simply did not buy the prosecution's explanation.
Richard Scrushy Jumps Free of a Briar Patch: Ann Woolner, Bloomberg News

"If the glove does not fit, you must acquit." If you can't find the CEO's fingerprints on the binder that a staffer used to present Scrushy with evidence of the fraud, why then, he couldn't have seen it.

Let's hope that the new standard for convicting CEOs of raping their company and shareholders isn't finding the big man's DNA on the victim...

I once sat through an entire medical malpractice trial and came away with greater faith in the jury system. In that case, the jury did the right thing and found for the doctor, but the judge was excellent, and only an incompetent plaintiff's attorney thought the case had enough going for it to merit pursuing. When the insurance company refused to pay him off, he was stuck with going to trial.

But I also watched as all the technically educated jurors were dismissed. I heard an "expert witness" testify for the plaintiff. And I actually began to wonder whether the jury would be able to weigh all the evidence, or whether they would take the side of the young man who'd lost his wife against the doctor who cared for her and the insurance company that thought the doctor was not at fault.

In the Scrushy case, the Feds got outsmarted by the local boys who were part of Scrushy's reputed $26-million defense campaign, abetted by a judge in over her head, and a jury that might've done all right with a moonshine case, but likely didn't know a corporate earnings report from an alternative minimum tax calculation.

In one sense, Scrushy was freed by a jury of his sometime peers — good Christian Alabamians. He might also have been found not-guilty by a jury of multi-millionaire corporate executives, but good luck getting them in a jury box.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Listening to the Fourth Fading

I'm sitting on the screened porch listening to the whistles, crackles and booms reverberate up and down the creek. Tonight I will sleep out here, like a Scout on Jamboree, dreaming of freedom.

But right now, I am thinking about provincial magistrates or local police who are marked for murder. Some mornings, I think about backing out of my garage and wonder how I'd do it differently if I lived in Iraq. Would I have bodyguards? Would I be outspoken? How would I scan the street before leaving? Would I back in so I could leave facing the potential attack? Would I follow my wife's car on her commute, as a precaution? What about my children?

I read that of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, 17 lost their fortunes, 12 had their homes destroyed, nine fought and died, five were arrested as traitors, and two lost sons in the war. John Hancock, the first to sign, said: "the price on my head has just doubled," and Ben Franklin, ever the aphorist, supposedly signed saying, "We must hang together or most assuredly we shall hang separately."

I would have been a patriot, I am sure of it, an agitator against the crown. But would I have signed my name? Would I have kept my musket ready? Would I have frozen my ass off at Valley Forge? Would I say, "give me liberty or give me death" and mean it, all the way to the gallows?

As kids, we empathized with Johnny Yuma, the Rebel. We saw glory in the Confederacy and nobody wanted to be the blue coats in our neighborhood war games. But suppose the call came for real, and I lived in the Kansas of my father's ancestors or the Virginia of my brother's birth instead of the Ohio of my mother's side. Would I have fought to free the slaves and preserve the union, or to save the only way of life I'd ever known?

The Indian agency is hanging onto the payments to the Indians who've given up their lands. The buffalo are gone, and the Dakota are hungry. The agent says "Let them eat grass." Now fighting has broken out, and I don't know if matters that I used to be on friendly terms with my red neighbors.

The German-Americans don't want the US to enter the First World War against their homeland. Some of the boys are planning to burn a chicken house that's flying the German flag, maybe rough up anyone who refuses to buy war bonds and kiss our flag. Would I go along?

Fifty years ago, the police and special deputies are busting the heads of strikers, just a few blocks away from my office, and some men will die in the street. Whose side am I on, the Trotskyite unionists' or the business lobby that's issuing weapons and badges to its own private force?

I don't have a beard and my wife's head is uncovered. A Taliban on a motorcycle with an AK-47 is motioning us to pull over...

It could be better and it could be worse this Fourth.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Crisis for Crisis Pictures

The Bush Administration and the Pentagon may have feared distribution of the photos of flag-draped coffins arriving from Iraq, but poignant as they are, these are abstractions of death and sacrifice.

Crisis Pictures gave us something different — real pictures of war and its collateral effects, some too raw for family newspapers, some too subtle or too oblique to illustrate the story of the day. But you could go there and see for yourself the news from Iraq, Darfur or Palestine, presented in outtakes and photos that didn't sell. You could see the consequences of war, stripped of polemic and rationalization, reduced to human beings in their environment, frightened, stunned, outraged, bloodied, dead, saddened, numb, stoic, blindfolded, eviscerated, defiant, brave or simply not there any more. Because Crisis Pictures often presented sequences of photos, you could obtain a more rounded view than from a single image selected by a newspaper photo editor.

I was preparing a post that commented on some of these images when Crisis Pictures got locked out from its image server. Now the organization needs support, and it can't present the most compelling evidence of its value.

Although I can't link to the images I saw a week ago, I can still recall them:

Iraqi soldiers and policemen gather near what's left of the body of a suicide bomber. In another photo, an Iraqi officer, in plain clothes, prepares to step on the remains. The bomber's head sits upright in a smear of viscera. His lower legs splay 180 degrees from his head, like the blades of a propeller. That's all that's left. Every suicide bomber recruit should see this photo.

Young Marines in dress uniform stare out of formal portraits. They are so young. Their hats are absurdly large. They are dead.

Two soldiers walk through an alien streetscape that could have been art directed by Spielberg for a Star Wars movie. Everything in the minimalist scene is a shade of taupe — the uniforms, the ground, the buildings, the two boys watching — except for the charred wreckage of an automobile.

A Humvee sits on flat tires. Two soldiers work over a companion on the ground. The crimson stain beneath him widens in the dirt with each successive shot.

By Chris Hondros, Getty Images

We see an immaculate bedroom. A soldier looking for contraband begins to disrupt the carefully stacked rugs. An infant lies on the floor as soldiers search the house. (This part of the sequence can be seen at Dumb Life of Roots. I messed up the link in a earlier post.) But there are others. One soldier stands on the well-made bed in his boots, presumably for a better view of the top shelf of a cabinet his comrades are searching. In another shot, two soldiers with cameras mounted on their helmets go through the pages of a family album. No, this is not sending people off to death camps in cattle cars, but it is impossible to imagine how they could not feel defiled.

If we don't preserve this view of how our policies affect people around the world, who will?

Another link to a blog that retained Crisis Pictures:

Ill Will Hunting

Over at Orcinus, David Neiwert writes about hate in America, and his The Hunting of Liberals expands on his earlier writing about "eliminationist rhetoric." I poked fun in Who Wants to be a Traitor?, but he gives you good reason to take this traitor talk seriously.

What's Wrong with These Pictures?

Crisis Pictures is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that buys and publishes photos from world trouble spots that the mainstream media don't publish. Here's what they say about themselves and their mission:

By showing the consequences of policies, Crisis Pictures demands viewers reflect on their values. The child in Fallujah, bleeding to death in their mother’s arms, the bulldozed home in a refugee camp in Gaza, the eight year old boy missing an arm in Liberia — is this the world you thought you were building?

The “Crisis” in “Crisis Pictures” is in the heart of each and every visitor who is silent long enough to look in the face of the grieving. Either we are responsible for our fellow man (woman, child), or we are not.

We may have vastly different solutions for these tragedies. Crisis Pictures starts the conversation from the shared emotional understanding that tragedies like Fallujah are not just another bad day in the third world. They are about real people that are like you and we, not our leaders, we are responsible.


Crisis Pictures is non political. We are neither left nor right, nor center. Crisis Pictures’ mission is to inform visitors of the human costs of armed conflict. If there are political implications of posting these pictures, that’s between you and your conscience.

I had begun a post about their work and returned to the site to update some links. Instead of the stirring photos I expected, I found this message.

Crisis Pictures desperately needs your help to stay online

Last Friday, without warning we were locked out of our image server. We have no reason to believe we will regain access.

We consume an astronomical amount of bandwidth. Content is only getting more expensive. If you can help, you can donate by check or credit card here.

After checking around, I haven't found much of an outcry in the blogosphere, but if Crisis Pictures goes down, we will have lost an important visual connection to what is being carried out in our name around the world. As yet, there's no word on whether this is simply a matter of being unable to pay bills or some nefarious form of censorship.

Two bloggers had posted some of the Crisis Pictures before the server went down, and the links are here to Dumb Life of Roots and here. The Republic of T has posts here and here.

If you haven't visited the site before, it's hard to grasp the power of all the images in one repository. In a later post, I'll describe some that still stick with me. In the meantime, I've made a donation and hope to start a ripple effect of support.

This is important....

Friday, July 01, 2005

Welcome to Chinatown

I used to put words in the mouth of a CEO who was an early advocate of trade with China. The Chinese, he said, thought in terms of centuries, while American companies thought in terms of the next quarter. We didn't get into the strategic timeframe of the U.S. government, but I'd venture that it focuses on the shorter end of the stick, while the Chinese are figuring out what they'll be doing about our great great grandchildren.

China sells us electronics and athletic shoes and miscellaneous crap, filling Wal-Mart shelves, and turning cheap labor into dollars. Then turning those dollars into investments. It was okay when they bought corporate stocks and Treasury bonds. It was even kind of cute — the commies were kind of honorary Ammuricans.

But now they want to buy Unocal, and Dems are running into Repubs trying to figure out where they stand on this. Are we further linking our destinies, as the free traders would have it? Or have the Chinese shrewdly figured out that it's far more cost effective to buy a few oil companies, than to support a military that will be fighting wars in godforsaken lands until the oil runs out?

The Chinese insist it's just bidness. Sort of like our presence in the middle east is just democracy on the march.

We are going to start getting a helping of what we have been serving to the rest of the world for the last 50 years, and we are not going to like it. The notion that Congress can put a stop to it is just too precious to contemplate.

Count Your Blessings

Generally, I am a law-abiding citizen. I buckle up. I pay taxes and don't cut corners. I know the mayor in my town. I take penalties on the golf course when no one is looking.

But tonight, I am a caveman. Blood tickles down my forearm, and a shin is scraped. My thumbnail is split. And a fire burns in the fire pit down the hill, though from here, I can't see it. I am breaking some law, but I needed to thrash around in the dark and haul the felled buckthorn to the fire. Sometimes a man just needs to be stupid.

At least I'm not president.