Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Deja Vu Yet Again

Here I am, another week-long absence wiser (debatable, of course) and a day away from another annual filing deadline. The first is a result of the second, yet somehow that doesn't seem like a good enough excuse. I could also claim amnesia, what with the hours I've been keeping in and out of the office, or the lack of sleep that has accompanied the last week or ten days, or the extreme cold that has invaded and infested New York City.

Again, however, those seem like lame excuses.

Or perhaps it's just a variety of Boogie-worthy topics but not enough time on which to expound thereon. Between the post-Katrina Mardi Gras images (both the celebratory carnival pics and the non-carnival, desolation-filled images); President Bush disclosing that he beat John Kerry with bin Laden's help (despite today's latest poll showing Bush at a new low of 34% approval); controversial gerrymandering in Texas; Anna Nicole "Trim-Spa" Smith visiting the Supreme Court to fight for a third or half of her late husband's 1.5 billion dollar fortune; the US and Canadian hockey teams being unceremoniously bounced from the Olympics; the NFL attempting to avoid a 2008 lockout (after an uncapped 2007); and most recently, the revelation that Allegra, a popular prescription antihistamine is now strictly an over-the-counter purchase away.

Exhale.

In a nutshell, I was very moved by just how little the landscape and the political climate in New Orleans has changed since Katrina hit what is now a broken, fledgling city. On some level, it seems -- as per usual -- it's more about blaming the people that screwed up (Brown, President Bush, and the government in general) and less about solving the problems. Then there's the increasing threat to Roe v. Wade's legalization of abortion, thanks to the newly-confirmed Roberts and Alito, although today's Supreme Court decision in Scheidler v. National Organization for Women found unanimously in favor of protestors at the entrances to abortion clinics, 8-0, since Alito was not on the Court in November when this case was initially heard. At the center of the dispute is The Hobbs Act, which was passed by Congress in 1946 to prevent rackateering, specifically using prohibitory language which forbids the obstruction of commerce "by robbery or extortion." For awhile, in the 1980's, abortion clinics successfully kept protest organizers like Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action League by citing the Hobbs Act. However, in 2003, the Supreme Court rescinded that protection, and today's confirmation of same put to bed a last-chance hope that the High Court would agree with a Federal ruling that this anti-abortion behavior represented a continued pattern of activity deigned to prevent commerce.

While I lament today's decision -- visiting an abortion clinic must be an extremely traumatic, disturbing, difficult activity for a woman, and doing so with a dozen or more people screaming at you and calling you a baby-killer must make the experience that much more traumatic -- I think, legally speaking, the Court got the decision right. I'm not advocating protestors' rights here; they deserve their voice, but they shouldn't be allowed to accost -- verbally or otherwise -- visitors to a clinic. However, using the law -- to be legally and technically precise -- to limit one party abusing another is misusing the law. At some point, considering there is a distinct pro-choice majority, it needs to be clarified to the members of congress -- even if they are personally pro-life -- that they need to support legislation that supports women's rights. Just as with the Teri Schiavo incident, a small minority of extremists should not be given greater voice. And they for sure shouldn't be empowered to block the entrances to abortion clinics just as they should be forbidden from shooting doctors, intimidate health care workers and whisper in the President's -- and in the Supreme Court's -- ears.

Baby steps. One day at a time.

Or seven, considering the week I've had.

And yes, I'll be back tomorrow. Until then...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Core of Everything That Matters

As Friday dawned, I was looking forward to meeting friends that night for sushi, a party Saturday night, brunch on Sunday and some rest -- if at all possible -- sandwiched between all of these various activities.

Well, sushi was called for 7PM and I didn't leave my office 'til after 7:30, so that didn't work out; my party Saturday night -- well, let's just say that despite all the plans, I had a blast and a hangover into Sunday, when I was awakened with the sudden prospect of heading into the office. So while the plans didn't really work out in any way, shape or manner like I had hoped, I -- kinda-sorta -- had a memorable weekend filled with memories, scars and some revisionist history. Unfortunately, since some of my activities experienced within the last few days is not appropriate for public consumption, I'll refrain from discussing same in any detail. But hot damn, it was GOOOOOOD.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get on to less significant matters.

Yesterday I came across an article at CNN.com discussing the fate of British historian David Irving. Mr. Irving is credited with writing over 30 books, and, at 67, was sentenced in Vienna yesterday to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to denying the holocaust took place as well as that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Being jewish, my eyes and my senses pick up when I read about holocaust deniers, whether they're people like Mr. Irving, who spouts his ignorance on paper, or people like David Duke, who do so in political campaigns, or neo-nazi skin-heads, who do so on city streets. There are few people in this world whose lives I would take without remorse and without hesitation: anyone who physically and/or sexually abuses women and/or children; anyone who threatens my family; and anyone who advocates the indiscriminate killing or abuse of an entire people or race. The Nazis, both as established under Adolph Hitler after the Beer Hall Putsch in 1921, and the "modern" version thereof, both in Europe and in North America, qualify for at least one of the above-listed criteria, though I am fairly confident they qualify for all.

Mr. Irving, being somewhat "educated" (able to string together his anti-semitic, ignorant bile into "non-fiction" rather than something scrawled on a bathroom stall door) isn't necessarily what one might consider a typical neo-Nazi. Yet he pleaded guilty, at 67, to three years in prison, which means he could very well never again see freedom. Perhaps he was coerced into the guilty plea, or perhaps he has such hatred for jews (or a love for the Third Reich) that he simply had to commit his thoughts and ideas to paper.

What I don't quite understand is why he's being put in jail for same.

Before anyone who's reached this point of this entry begins scratching their heads, no -- the statement above isn't a contradiction to what I admitted earlier. Mr. Irving is indeed slime and deserves a very long, painful, drawn-out death; but putting him in jail for denying the holocaust took place -- no matter how far-fetched his fucked-up worldview permits -- is, in my opinion, not appropriate.

Or, put another way, as disgusting and degenerate the ideas Mr. Irving espouses and puts forth as fact, I'd much rather live in a world and in a society where we can become better people by learning through example, like Mr. Irving and his hateful lies, of what is wrong.

"It is the ferment of ideas, the clash of disagreeing judgments, the privilege of the individual to develop his own thought and shape his own character which makes progress possible."
Calvin Coolidge, 1925

***

As of five this afternoon, I received an inquiry regarding a prior post I'd written which also addresses free speech and the struggle between freedom of speech and censorship and cites a quote from Voltaire on this same issue: the permalink is here for anyone who's interested.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Two (or Four) Sides to Everything

The asians use the term 'yin-yang' to describe the inherent duality in everything in life. Everyone, to a man, subsists on a duality within their lives, whether it's a public and a private side, or a "light" side and a "dark" one. The sun lightens the sky and the earth, or its absence leaves the sky and the earth dark.

Not a tough concept to grasp.

This morning, as I prepped today's HoB entry regarding yesterday (Valentine's Day) in the expanse of empty space between my ears, I came across a story at CNN.com detailing more extensive information about the abuse that has been, apparently, the norm at Abu Ghraib. To add to the photos and information that had previously been made public (and that has led to two prison terms for guards formerly at the facility), yesterday's Australian Dateline showed pictures of more graphic imagery, not merely the naked, hooded prisoners but other humiliating depictions of prisoners forced to masturbate, hooded, naked prisoners being surrounded by dogs, and some even being exposed to naked women (which is forbidden in Islamic culture).

Of course, this broadcast was meant to reveal information that merits broadcast. It's news and the station that broadcast same has every right to do so. It's also clear, especially considering the mass demonstrations by Muslims against the publishing of some cartoons in Danish newspapers, that this was not the best time to broadcast this material. That notwithstanding, it was broadcast, and presumably, one can imagine that those who stoked the fire and anger within the empty-headed, future martyrs that comprise the bulk of these demonstrators are going to point to this recent broadcast as more fuel to throw upon the literal and virtual fire. To wit, yesterday in Pakistan, two people died amidst more cartoon-related rioting, when a riot -- in the throes of anti-Mohammad cartoon fervor -- targeted a Western-based hotel, banks and a KFC, and additionally vandalized a Citibank and broke windows at a nearby Holiday Inn and a Pizza Hut. Lord knows Kentucky Fried Chicken fully supported publishing those cartoons, and Pizza Hut, given the opportunity, might have served up a hot, steamy "Mohammad Pizza Bomb" pizza. Perhaps Holiday Inn was offering a "Bring in a Mohammad Bomb cartoon, get one night free" promotion. Rumor has it Citibank was considering the distribution of "Mohammad Is The Bomb" totebags in lieu of toasters with new accounts.

If you missed any of the above-dripping sarcasm swinging toward your head like a 5,000 pound sledgehammer, then my only regret is that I won't be publishing the cartoons here, with a self-penned addition featuring Mohammad, a plunger, two rolls of Toilet Paper and the rock band REO Speedwagon. It seems to me this recent broadcast on Australian TV to reveal with greater specificity the "atrocities" at Abu Ghraib that took place (and which were subsequently addressed) over a year ago during a time of international Muslim rioting and protesting is irresponsible, to say the least. Granted, if I were the reporter(s) assigned to covering this story and I put the capper on a hot potato I'd want the fucker there in print or at 8:00 after the re-runs of That 70's Show. But knowing that people are dying because of this morass of fiery, manifested anti-Western sentiment, it seems to me that this is the equivalent of journalistic piling-on. Frankly, it's reprehensible.

Yesterday, I received a monthly e-mail from a T-Shirt company that introduces each of its monthly missives with a cutesy and/or creative introduction about current events. The introduction to yesterday's e-mail was something akin to "The Muslims around the World are rioting again -- and it's not really news." What the writer indicated, and what seems to be increasingly clear, is that the world of Islam, for reasons both valid and invalid, seem to be swinging back again toward hatred of the West and the US. What I find interesting is that the combination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rancorous, defiant tone regarding nuclear reproliferation, the Palestinian election of Hamas leadership, and these world-wide demonstrations -- over cartoons -- seems to echo the earlier sentiments that propelled Muslim "youth" in France to riot once the sun set.

Who is firing up the robotic, malleable Muslim plebescite? Is it Imams in mosques and schools throughout the Middle East? Is it George Bush's ramrod policies in the region? Is it Osama bin Laden? I think each of these plays a part in the noticeable swing of this pendulum. The last time this relationship between the Mid-East nations and the West was as tenuous, if not moreso, was the late 70's and 80's, when Khomeni in Iran helped reinvigorate Muslim rage in a series of hostage-taking and hijacking episodes.

The difference, of course, is that now, those tactics -- taking hostages, hijacking airplanes and naval vessels -- is somewhat passe. Note that Jill Carroll is still somewhere in Iraq and while her story and her fate is perhaps tragic, it's not front-page news anymore. And the spineless pieces of shit that kidnapped her and issued a half-dozen Al-Jazeera death threats against her seem to lose more credibility with each passing day. The point is, these tactics are losing their strength -- and the only thing that seems to make the West sit up and take notice of the Muslim struggle against oppression (either by the West or by selfish, greedy, self-serving Imams and leaders) is action on a global (read: nuclear, chemical and/or biological) level.

I'm not advocating a duck-and-cover policy, I'm not paranoid, and I'm not investigating a plot of land for my future family that features a 60-day-safe bomb shelter. However, I do advocate responsibility within this shrinking, tightening mortal coil which we -- all of us -- call home. We can pretend the rioting and the fires and the burning American flags are a world away -- and in a sense, they are. But the seeds that have nurtured those displays are as much likely to affect us on American streets as they are in Europe and on the other five continents of the world.

Incidentally, in direct response to the Australian "Dateline" from last night, I am not an advocate of torturing someone for humiliation or for "we're better than you" type sentiment. That mentality, incidentally, propelled the Nazi regime's experimentation on living subjects and fueled people like Josef Mengele. For American soldiers to mimic that mentality, even in a minimal form, is repugnant. However, as I've indicated elsewhere in these pages, I am not categorically or philosophically opposed to interrogators extracting information -- the kind that could save lives -- however necessary. Mossad, Israel's secret service, employs many different methods for interrogation, mostly because they need to do so. But the last time I remember anything remotely resembling a "scandal" or public knowledge of private interrogation technique being discussed was 1991's publishing and subsequent discussion of Victor Ostrovsky's "By Way of Deception," which publicized a lot of that which happens behind closed doors at Mossad. In fifteen years since that book's publishing, not one legitimate questioning of Israel's espionage or interrogatory conduct has surfaced. The reason why is that when and if there is a need for this activity, it should be undertaken with a responsibility and an understanding that it is not something to be enjoyed but rather a necessary evil. The morons in the pictures from Abu Ghraib (who are now in prison themselves) should have known this, and if their superiors gave them orders to photograph and humiliate prisoners, their superiors should also be imprisoned. However, if it means that some of those prisoners never again see the light of day and wind up providing information and/or intel that saves American lives, then so be it.

What this entire (ongoing) episode has demonstrated to me is that people react to scandal much more willingly than to responsibility and reality. We'd rather read about "TomKat" or prospective baby names for Brangelina than we would about possible nuclear proliferation and the reemergence of socialism in Central and South America and Argentina and Venezuela, even though some of these hot spots provide America with oil and other resources.

In a shrinking world, the reality is we can't afford to ignore or choose not to acknowledge reality.

Put that on a t-shirt and sell it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Where To Start

It's only now, a week later, that I realized a week away from the HoB feels strange.

Due to a March 1st deadline in addition to several self-imposed ones, I managed to get myself cornered by paperwork, PC work, building the company website and about 27 inches of snow. About the only thing, other than Kaia, that's looking up is the fact that my windows weren't entirely obscured by snowdrift.

This coming week, like the last one, sees a lot upcoming: a party this coming weekend, a lot of work between now and then, and the option for me to speak to a perspective client about possibly moving into one of his buildings. Aside from the party, which I'm looking forward to but not focused on at the moment, is a ticking time bomb. I know I need to be there, and odds are good I will get there to help my friends, who are ostensibly throwing this shindig. But with all that's on my plate and all the real responsibility floating over my head and bearing down on my shoulders (this will be the last time I ever use the words "head" and "shoulders" in a sentence), I'm pretty much just glad to get home at the end of the day, slide in, get some work and some TV in before I settle in with Kaia and the cordless for awhile before I pass out.

Not the stuff of excitement, true. But considering these days are filled with deadlines, requirements, statutory filing periods and not much else, I am just happy tomorrow is Valentine's Day. True, Kaia and I are on separate coasts at the moment: but between her schedule, which is packed, and mine, which is equally if not moreso, we pro tempore agreed to hold off on celebrating this year until she's in NYC next month for my birthday. The truth is, I'd even prefer it if she came in early; celebrating "days" -- even special ones, like birthdays and Valentine's Day, isn't as important to me as celebrating us being together, so if March 9th turns out to be the date on which she's flying in, then that's the date to which I'm looking forward. Or, as they say, I'd much rather have a genuine, sincere excitement to see her than ramp up some excitement over celebrating a day either by myself or with her so far away. Next year we'll celebrate Valentine's Day, and every day, together: that's good enough for me.

Aside from a huge bank of snow, there's not much else on the horizon: I've been focusing on the international protests in connection with the Mohammad cartoon about which I wrote last in this space. My take on the entire situation hasn't changed, and if anything, I'm even more amazed at the universal, consistent talent that Arab Muslims seem to have at complaining and protesting than I was last week. Take a half million uneducated, paranoid, indoctrinated morons, tell them they have been wronged by the Jews, by America, by the West and by everyone on the planet, and you should have an effective, able machine to do a lot of damage. The problem is the damage is, for the most part, confined to the world in which the machine lives. The Middle East, other than Israel, is a cesspool of hate, protest and paranoia. The sneer on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's face is nothing new: but to me, it smacks less of Muslim indignation and pride and more of nationalism, the same kind of sneer that propelled Adolph Hitler into power and the same kind of sneer that helped Germany ride the crest of the wave of Nationalism.

It might not be that bad, but I don't see any signs suggesting it's getting any better, and I fully expect it to get worse now that Iran has reconvened it's refinement of uranium.

Perhaps now it's clear why I am so focused on deadlines, work and pressure. Better to handle that which I can control than that which I can't.

Besides, it's not like I possess the technical skill to draw political cartoons of Mohammad.

But if I did...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The More Things Change...

In between projects and working hours this weekend, I saw two stories which, as disparate as their central figures might be, reminded me that all the flowery, respectful speech in the world isn't going to hide the fact that the world can be and frequently is a volatile, frightening place.

To wit, this weekend, angry Muslims all over the world -- from Lebanon to Syria to Pakistan to Iraq -- protested the publishing of a cartoon depicting the muslim prophet Mohammad in Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper. Soon after the publishing, in September, 2005, other papers followed, including papers in Norway, Italy, France and Germany. The protests varied in scope and vitriol, but the more extreme thereof included chants calling for the executions of the editors who green-lighted publishing the cartoon, the burning of the Danish and Norwegian consolates in many cities, the expulsion of Danish and Norwegian diplomats, and cessation of relations with these two nations.

Once the smoke -- literally -- clears, it is likely this all will blow over. But still, seeing CNN.com's homepage run a story entitled "Consulate Set Afire Over Cartoon" is sad and disturbing.

Another story involving an 18-year-old who attacked patrons of a New Bedford, Massachusetts, gay bar ended with the individual fleeing to Arkansas, where he shot a state trooper during a routine traffice stop, and then making his way to Missouri, where he died in a hospital after being shot twice in the head by police during the subsequent pursuit.

Despite the obvious differences between these two pieces of news, what stuck me reading them is that no matter of diplomacy -- whether in the form of international relations or in political correctness -- can cure or prevent the spread of hate, whether it's in the name of religious fervor or hate and distrust of those who are different.

In the case of the muslim "uprising" regarding the publishing of the cartoon, it is against Islamic law to publish any visual depiction of Mohammad; that, apparently, was the rationale behind the world-wide demonstrations against the Danish and Norwegian actions. But I find the fact that a variety of other nations -- as mentioned above -- also published the same cartoon as a show of solidarity interesting. Apparently, the hate has not spread to other embassies, and the only flags being burned in the street remain the Dutch and Norwegian flags (in addition to American flags, presumably). What is most disturbing is that it seems that Islam -- and its most fervent followers -- is in the news regularly; and more often than not, the news is about unrest, unhappiness and calls for action against Western nations or interests. If I was in an Arab city, I would open a flag store: it seems that all they ever do there is make (and detonate) bombs and burn flags. I'm not quite ready to strap on a bomb-belt, so perhaps selling American and Dutch and Norwegian flags might be a worthwhile career option should my other gig(s) not work out.

As for Jacob Robida, the aforementioned 18-year-old who decided to attack the gay bar known as "Puzzles" in New Bedford, his brief life is, thankfully, over. According to the above-linked article, Mr. Robida, according to his neighbors, littered his room with swastikas and was "strange." No amount of prison, therapy or help would ever "cure" someone who had that degree of hate in his heart, and whether Mr. Robida had mental illness -- beyond what is, certainly, clear to the layman -- we shall never know. But if this was how he chose to express his innermost thoughts, and to end his own life, than it is unfortunate that in doing so he hurt anyone (several people in the bar as well as a woman who he had apparently taken hostage in his attempt to evade police).

Whether it's the anti-abortion Christian Coalition, advocates for Teri Schiavo, neo-nazis, or radical Muslims calling for the execution of a Danish newspaper editor, it amazes me that the people of this earth are still caught up in not only living their own lives as they wish, but saying or doing whatever it is they feel they have to do to insure everyone lives and conducts themselves and believes as they do. Someday, that may change, but it seems to me that the more things change, the more they, unfortunately, stay the same.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Ironic Apathy, Ineptitude and Ignorance (The State of This Union)

The other night, I purposely avoided listening to the President's State of the Union address. It's not that I'm above or disintered in politics; it's just that I've almost found more interest in how people react to this President than in what -- if at all -- he actually bothers saying.

I found my way into a non-political chatroom I frequent -- where people know my name, etc. -- and just hung back a bit and watched as the reactions frothed over. "This guy's such a fucking asshole" was among the more frequent observations, although "He is such a liar" was pretty typical as well. One of the people with whom I am friendly happened to offer up this nugget: "I can't believe he is our president. He is so stupid he is an embarassment, and he's fucking up this country!"

Now, while I happened to vote for the colossal fuck-up -- Bush, not the aforementioned chat-room buddy -- I am far from naive regarding the fact that he's not among the most intellectually-gifted people with whom I'll ever have contact, and I think his second term has been, relatively speaking, a failure thus far. But I had had enough of hearing people letting off steam with anything of substance, so I asked her point-blank if his being a moron made him a bad president.

She told me that he was doing an awful job and that he was a schmuck, and an embarassment, and that she thought part of his ineptitude was due to his stupidity.

I responded by saying that Jimmy Carter was -- and still is -- a very intelligent man who was one of America's worst modern-era Presidents, excepting Gerald Ford. Conversely, I advised her that Ike was a moron but got the job done.

She kept on asking me if I thought "Dubya" was a schmuck, and I kept on agreeing with her. And each time I agreed, I kept asking her "why does that matter?" She didn't get the correlation -- or, rather, the lack thereof -- between intelligence and ability to lead. And I didn't even bother pulling out the big guns -- I didn't mention the fact that Ronald Reagan was barely conscious (no disrespect to Reagan -- I dug the guy big-time) for his second term, and yet the nation was almost on auto-pilot under his leadership.

And no, we're not going to have a pissing contest over how badly Reaganomics sent us head-first into a recession that Reagan's successor, George "Herr" Bush, didn't survive. Read my lips: not another four years.

But I think people, like my emotionally-charged but factually-challenged friend the other night, are so quick to point out the fact that Bush is a putz that they don't acknowledge what it is he's doing right or wrong. There are plenty of wrongs: he's pushing a religiously conservative agenda through the White House and Congress that will take years to tear down; he's anti-abortion and has swapped in two judges (Roberts and Alito) that will likely vote against upholding the protection established in Roe v. Wade; and he's side-stepped the Constitution with the recently-announced freedom of spying and wiretapping without warrants.

However -- all that aside -- while a lot of people also criticize our presence in Iraq, I'm not as quick to assume that US soldiers are there because of oil or because of some personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein. People have asked me if the US -- or any entity -- found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the American intervention there, and the answer, for the most part, is no. There is evidence that WMD existed and was present there; they've found evidence of refinement of nuclear material, they've found information that suggests Iraq had strong interests in manufacturing or researching nuclear capability, and according to satellite imagery obtained by the NSA and (unofficially) by Israel, Saddam’s regime had mobile labs which were mobile in order to avoid the UN watchdogs.

I provided an example to said friend the other night in the chat-room. If I have $5,000 I keep in an envelope on a bookshelf but, one day, remove said money and discreetly divide it up and give it to friends, and then if someone were to come to my apartment and search for it – they wouldn’t find it. They might surmise it had been there at one point by the smell of money in the envelope, but the money itself would be gone. And assuming it was gone, would that then be evidence that the money was never there in the first place? I concluded my point by saying that people are so quick to attack Dubya for being an idiot that they ignore facts, common sense and reality in doing so. Or they suggest he had some vendetta against Saddam for trying to assassinate his father. Or that he just wanted the oil in the Middle East. They rarely bother mentioning that a half-dozen stealth bombers could have more easily killed Saddam Hussein without a full-blown, publicly-announced invasion would have. And they ignore the fact that Hugo Chavez in Venezuela’s sitting on a bounty of oil that would be easier to access and import if he was suddenly to disappear.

Unfortunately, when it comes to “Dubya,” I feel as if I’m in the minority of people who think first and criticize later.

The other night I was asked if I knew how na├»ve I was. Without skipping a beat, I responded “Yup.”

They say irony can be very ironic. They also say ignorance is bliss.

Suffice to say, they are usually right.