Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Terrorists everywhere...

As I was listening to the State of the Union address I had some thoughts when the president talked about the terrorist plots we had supposedly stopped in the past four years. The plots he mentioned are listed here, in italics, with my thoughts at the time regarding each. I am, in each case, quoting Bush very loosely.

We stopped a plot to fly an airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast.

Right. Apparently you don’t want to mistakenly call it the Liberty Tower again. I rather thought that the Library Tower plot had been debunked as pretty nebulous at best.

We stopped a group of Southeast Asians who were planning to strike within the United States.

Wow. I don’t remember hearing anything about that one. Oh wait, the Library Tower airplane plot was Southeast Asian, but…

We apprehended an Al Queda group developing Anthrax to strike within the United States.

I didn’t think the source of the Anthrax letters had ever been determined.

And the British stopped a group that was planning to blow up airliners headed for America over the Atlantic Ocean.

Well, that plot was pretty thin, and what’s this "we" crap? It was the British, and as I recall, we actually interfered with them.

Well, according to Countdown with Keith Olbermann, I was being generous. According to his report on Tuesday:

We stopped a plot to fly an airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast.

My wife and I are planning a sea cruise through the Greek Islands. We do not yet have passports. We have not yet started saving any money pursuant to that purpose. We have no idea which islands we would want to see. In fact we don’t really know precisely where the damned things are except that I’m pretty sure they are in the Mediterranean. We’re hoping to do this sometime before ships are rendered obsolete by space travel. And my wife gets seasick standing on the dock.

Turns out the Library Tower airplane smackdown plot was at pretty much the same stage as our Greek Island sea cruise.

We stopped a group of Southeast Asians who were planning to strike within the United States.

Not only have I not heard of this plot, apparently neither has anyone else. Other than, perhaps, George Bush. Unless, as KO so neatly put it, “You have shown us the same baby twice and told us it was twins.”

We apprehended an Al Queda group developing Anthrax to strike within the United States.

Wow. Another one that seems to exist only in the vivid imagination of George W. Bush.

And the British stopped a group that was planning to blow up airliners headed for America over the Atlantic Ocean.

KO remembers this one much as I do; a plot advanced barely beyond the Greek Islands cruise described earlier. Plotters without passports, tickets, or even airline schedules, planning to blow up airplanes with technology that does not actually exist.

I’m surprised that Bush did not brag about the other notable successes of the indomitable DHS. Like the guys in Miami who were going to destroy the Sears Tower using combat boots, or the other guys who were going to blow up the Mackinac Bridge using cell phones, or the guys who thought Wall Street could be flooded because it was in “lower” Manhattan. Certainly grateful to our intrepid agents for stopping those dangerous malefactors in their tracks.

But to return to what our president did say. Why does he do this crap? Is he so detached from reality that he does not know what he is saying? Does he know that he is lying like a rug but thinks we are so stupid that we will not notice? I’m actually sort of past getting angry, I’m now more just baffled. The must deluded, lying sicko I have ever personally known has had a better grip on reality than to be so transparently dishonest.

Oh man. Two more long years of this.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


He was a remarkable creature. He touched people. He touched me, and I don’t even follow horse racing or particularly like horses. But when I saw his story and film clips of him racing I fell in love with him. Like much of America, I wanted badly for him to emerge victorious from this battle.

Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post said it beautifully, in part,

Barbaro was an honest, blameless competitor. Our ridiculously soft feeling for him was based at least partly on that fact. Unlike so many people in the sports pages, he was neither felonious, nor neurotic. He let us place burdens on him, whether a saddle, a bet, or a leg brace, and he carried them willingly, even jauntily.

On the track, his trainer and jockey reported that there seemed no end to what he was willing to give. "Bottomless," was how they described his heart. He obviously raced for pleasure, and he ran with such dynamic abandon that he made circling a track seem an impetuous act. His effort was always sincere and supreme…

He had both innocence and greatness and it's not often you find those ephemeral qualities alive in the same creature. What's more, anyone who watched Barbaro run in the Derby felt that they saw traces of a distinct character: He was winsome. This gave his suffering specificity. We felt we knew him.

Possibly, this is anthropomorphic, and some have rightly pointed out that we should care as much about human beings. But it's not anthropomorphic to say that horses are irreproachably benevolent creatures, and this is surely one of the causes of our grief over Barbaro. It's a fact that of 4,000-odd animal species, only a very few are tame-able, none more so than horses. They are peaceful grazers by nature, and willing by disposition. Despite their considerable size advantage, they tolerate us and even bear burdens for us. While thoroughbreds can certainly be fearsome, their misbehavior is a flight response, not sadism, or outlawry. They have followed us, and favored us with their gifts to an extent that few other animals do, and partnered with us throughout history, from Persia to the Pony Express. "Gallant" is a word often applied to them, and it's apt.

Barbaro seems to have had all the virtues of his breed, and a few more besides. His character wasn't a matter of wishful projection, it existed, and was quite vivid to those who cared for him. He was indefatigable and had a high tolerance for pain. He was mettlesome without being spiteful -- and how often do you find that? He was expressive.

Well, the outcome was not what we wanted. But Barbaro was always the winner. Winning is sometimes hard to define. He brought out the best in everyone around him, he made us better than we were, and he was ever steadfast, even in defeat.

He was, by anyone’s definition, a gallant steed.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A questionable healthcare plan

About a year ago our homeowner’s association was confronted with increasing cost for our master insurance policy. What made the issue controversial is that we are not a condominium, we are a P.U.D., which means that each of us owns our own structure and the ground it sits on and that only the common areas and buildings are commonly owned. We are managed in a manner like a condominium, however, with association fees providing for exterior maintenance of all properties, including individual units. The master insurance policy provides hazard coverage for the individual units as well as for common property.

This arrangement has worked well for more than thirty years, and the decision to manage this way was originally made for two reasons. First, it assured that a high standard of maintenance would be observed throughout, and that there would not be a need to harass individual owners to maintain their property in a manner that would preserve the overall value of the community. Second, it provided the purchasing power for the community, banding together and buying products and services in larger volume and as a larger entity.

As the cost of the master insurance rose, however, some of the members began to argue that the association should discontinue the part of policy that covered individual units and leave it to the individual homeowners to purchase hazard insurance individually so as to “reduce the association’s costs.” That approach rather baffled me, since the association derives its funding from its membership fees and shedding costs to the members is not really saving anything, but it met with some considerable favor.

Those of us who argued against that idea based our opposition on the idea that 145 individuals would pay considerably higher total premiums for 145 individual policies on 145 separate properties than would be paid by one group for one policy on those same properties being covered as a combined entity, and we eventually prevailed.

President Bush is proposing a healthcare initiative that takes much the same approach, one that suggests that we do away with health insurance provided by employers on a group basis and move to policies purchased individually. Eliminate the purchasing power of association.

How can that fail to make health insurance more expensive? How can that fail to make health insurance unavailable to anyone with existing health conditions? By taking the youthful and optimistic out of the pool, how can that fail to make the cost of premiums higher to those who are older and less sanguine? By requiring health insurance companies to administer a higher number of individual policies, individual payment collections, how can that fail to increase overhead and increase the cost of insurance?

United, the people benefit; divided, the campaign donors benefit. Do I have it wrong?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Freedom everywhere...

…except America.

George Bush and his despicable mouthpieces are once again accusing us of being traitorous for disagreeing with his “Decision Maker” conclusions about what is right for this country, for the world.

Gates was going to be different, going to be the voice of reason and honesty in the Pentagon. That didn’t last long. He is now saying that anyone who voices disagreement with the George Bush policies is “emboldening the enemy.” He turns out to have no more leadership than any of the other sycophants who surround the president and tell him what he wants to hear, and no more honesty than any of the other political hacks who babble to us whatever slogans their boss has put into their mouths.

In what universe does the definition of democracy, spelled either with or without a capital letter, not include the freedom to express an opinion differing from that of the leader of the country?

Bush talks about “spreading democracy” throughout the middle eastern world, but he seeks to stifle freedom of speech here in this country. Speech, that is, that offers opposition to his tenuous grip on the imperial presidency.

And the nations that we support in that region are some of the least democratic nations in the world.

Empty words everywhere.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Checkered Flag

Benny Parsons crossed the finish line yesterday, died from complications of lung cancer.

Winston Cup Champion in 1973, he was one of my personal champions for many years. He drove hard and fast and he never, ever put his bumper on another car. If he could not pass with speed and skill then he would be content to follow for the moment. When he worked as an announcer he talked about the racing, not about himself. He took great joy in discovering new drivers and advancing their careers. He was a great ambassador for the sport of stock car racing.

He was a gentleman in the southern tradition, a person of gentleness and strength. I am saddened by his passing and will miss him greatly.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sack dances and discipline

The San Diego Chargers lost to a lesser team last Sunday, and a great deal of newspaper ink has been devoted to discussion of why they did so. One consensus that seems to have emerged is that it was not the fault of Marty Schottenheimer, head coach. Sure, he challenged a call at a bad time and there was one time that he called time out when he should not have, but he did not drop perfect passes and certain interceptions and it was not he that committed personal fouls that gave Patriot drives new life.

There is talk that Schottenheimer is likely to be fired. Union-Tribune sportswriter Tim Sullivan says that would be neither right nor fair, and Nick Canepa doesn't say so directly but leaves a clear impression that he is of the same mind. These are two writers, persons, for whom I have great respect. Both are profound students of the game of football, and I have learned much from reading their articles and columns, but on this point I must respectfully disagree.

The Patriots were focused and disciplined on the field Sunday, and they won because of it. The Chargers were unfocused and undisciplined and they lost because of errors caused by their own character flaws. Grandstanding. Leaping to make catches that didn’t require the showy demonstration and thereby missing the catch. Deciding to score with an interception instead of taking a knee when the team was leading and an opponent was closing, and thereby losing the ball.

Championships are about character, and that is the responsibility of the head coach. The lack of character displayed by the Chargers, not just last Sunday but throughout the season, is a failure of leadership by Marty Schottenheimer.

How long do you think Vince Lombardi would have tolerated the “lights out dance” and all of the other “look at me” demonstrations that the Chargers players are so fond of?

Michael Felger of the Boston Herald put it very well,

"They are one of those teams where everyone has his own sack dance, where players relish the pregame introductions and come out one-by-one with their helmets off. (…) The Chargers have special players who don’t make special plays."

I had a sense of foreboding when the Chargers clinched the home field advantage and the bye week and the players began talking of needing the week off to rest, of being tired from thirteen weeks without a break since they had had their mid-season bye so early in the year.

Which team looked rested last Sunday? Champions don’t need a rest. They are ready, physically and mentally, to take on all comers at any time and at any place. Champions don’t complain about their coach working them too hard, or about other teams beating them up, or that they need a rest after tough schedule.

A head coach doesn’t tell his players what they can or cannot say to the public, or what they can or cannot do on the field. He builds character in his players. He shapes his players and, through leadership, creates players who are so dedicated to teamwork that their egos are served not by grandstanding sack dances but by team accomplishment.

The Chargers are a truly great group of young men, a marvelous collection of amazing talent. All they need to become champions is leadership worthy of that talent, and they are not getting it. They deserve better.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


There is a scene at the end of the movie The Bridge On the River Kwai after the bridge has been blown up and almost everyone has been killed in the fighting. In the calm the follows the fighting the commander stands overlooking the destroyed bridge and bodies and with a look of sadness and horror on his face speaks one word, repeating it several times, "Madness."

Afghanistan, Iraq and now Somalia. Bellicose words for Iran and Syria. Madness.

Destruction and dead bodies. Madness.

Where does this madness stop? Who will stop it? How many more will die?

We are now fighting wars in three nations: three wars in which we are the invading and occupying force or are actively and forcefully engaged with the invader. Because we are trying to subjugate those nations with minimum cost to ourselves we are using airpower and artillery instead of manpower, knowing that that usage adds grotesquely to non-combatant deaths and injuries – including women and children.

The purpose of terrorism is to create fear. What does our president think is the effect of our soldiers in their goggles and helmets, their boots and body armor, their tanks and weaponry, looking like something out of Star Wars and patrolling the streets of an occupied nation?

Is the solution to an act of terror to become the world’s most violent and brutal nation? To make the middle eastern world more afraid of us than we are of them?

When I was in high school we had a bully who ruled his little corner by threat and intimidation. He was, in fact, rather tough and did sometimes beat people up. I was a big guy and was on the football team, but I didn’t really want to take this guy on. Us football players understood violence pretty well, of course, but we limited it to the football field.

I don’t recall what precipitated the incident, but this guy finally stepped over some sort of line. One of my teammates organized the football team to take this guy down. As I recall he sort of disappeared from sight after that.

Violence, war, in self defence is justifiable, even noble. Our initial foray into Afghanistan was supported by the entire world, and by me, but in our president’s latest speech that nation was not even mentioned as part of the goal. Instead, he brought Iran and Syria into our gunsights with vague threats of “disrupting networks.”

We, the people of this nation, are allowing our president to use our strength as that high school bully used his. In doing so he is inflaming those who already fear and hate us, and he is making the threat greater every day that we deal death and destruction so callously throughout the world.

More importantly what he, what we are doing is wrong. Morally, ethically wrong. It is a crime against nature, a crime against peoples and a crime against nations.

Stop this madness.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bush's speech

More later, since I have an appointment I'll just post my short take on his speech right now. It boiled down to:
"Chuck you, Farley, I'm the Commander-in-Chief."