Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What's with that thing behind his head?

As I was reading the Rick Esenberg blog, struggling to keep the blogger from taking possession of my brain and forging the mushy lump into a leg-hold trap, my attention kept getting drawn to the portrait of himself he has provided.

The guy has a halo.

Look at it. That's a genuine, unambiguous, beatific, perfectly-formed, other-worldly, stairway-to-heaven halo. The quintessence of what Mark Twain observed and named: "...the calm confidence of a christian with four Aces".

Flectamus genua.

OK, Just kidding; Levate...Levate...Levate.

Which sent me off on a web chase to learn a bit about halos. They seem to have gone out of style in post Vatican II catholicism. I don't believe they were ever such a big thing with those who took a different tack after the Reformation.

They do seem to have cracked the world of comic book culture. Spidey--since that bite from a magical/mischievous arachnid--gets a case of the tingles and a halo every time he senses danger.

And Che, who displaced FDR as the most visible secular saint of the 20th Century, (and still cookin' in the 21st) has a halo treatment nearly identical to Rick's.
As Aretha put it: "Who's Zoomin' Who?" here.

To get to the real source of halo knowledge, we need to get back further even than the most persistently aggravating advertising jingle of the 1950s: Halo everybody, Halo. Halo is the shampoo that glorifies you hair. So, Halo, everybody, Halo.

We have to trudge all the way back to St. Denis, first Bishop of Paris, who was beheaded around the year 250 CE. As anyone can plainly see, Denis is the quintessence of a christian holding four big one-spots (with a bug-eyed joker up each sleeve) and a heaven-sent exemption from the need for dry cleaning.

Denis has two halos. One for his noggin--which someone just handed him--and another for the stump from which it was so recently and cleanly cloven.

So, There.

This is a bit of a departure from my usual blog preoccupations-- 1. Waukesha's Water Problems, 2. Sprawl 3. Yin and Yang.

What it actually has been is a two day learn-by-doing exercise in how to marry graphics and text in Blogger.

I think I got it down. But at what price?  "Knowledge maketh a bloody entrance".

Does anyone out there have the actual provenance of this most quotable of Shakespearean-quotes-not-by -Shakespeare?

Please, somebody out there, tutor me in linking? In the best of all possible blogworlds, I'd have been able to make the words "Rick Esenberg's blog" in the first sentence show up bright blue, so you could link to that blog and make sense of the reference to mush-for-brains and spring steel, also in the lead paragraph.

I'm in need of a good reference to how to do linkin' in Blogger. Can't understand the directions that came with the package. I'm told there is a "... for Dummies" book out there. But I refuse to descend to the level of self-abasement involved in buying anything from that series.

Monday, May 28, 2007

It's starting to pinch for those owning raw land they intended to turn into tract mansions

For sale. Not lots. Raw land.

Top picture is Hwy E in North Prairie. Stone's throw from the broad and depressingly empty vistas of Broadlands, a golf course development with too few golfers and too few buyers for oversized/overpriced houses.

Bottom photo is three miles west of Waukesha City limits on Hwy 18, at the Intersection of Brandy Brook Road. A stone's throw from the green and depressingly empty vistas of Brandy Brook, a golf course subdivision, with too few golfers and too few buyers of oversized/overpriced houses.

Ah, the sweet smell of farmland about to return to being just that...farmland.

Won't be needing any Lake Michigan water out here.

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Trust and Betrayal

"In this place where valor sleeps, we are reminded why America has always gone to war reluctantly, because we know the costs of war."

That’s what President Bush said last year, in a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Those were fine words, spoken by a man with less right to say them than any president in our nation’s history. For Mr. Bush took us to war not with reluctance, but with unseemly eagerness.

Memorial Day, 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Summer reading about the very hot Summer of 1787

An astonishing amount of what passes for political discussion these days --from congressional debate to political campaigns-- is shot through with ringing anthems of America-as-christian-nation.

I'm reading The Summer of 1787 by David Stewart, published this month. He's done an admirable job of tracing the trajectory of the debate that forged the Constitution out of the frustration and manipulation that flowed from the original thirteen constituents imperfectly bound together under the Articles of Confederation. It was a long, hot summer in Philadelphia, four months of tortuous work.

There was compromise, obstruction, boycott of the Convention, compromise, more fighting followed by more compromise and, ultimately, the Original Sin of our Constitutional Democracy, the door left wide open to that utterly un-christian, abjectly immoral institution of slavery.

He lays out the passions and contradictions that led to our imperfect and flawed, yet brilliant and enduring founding document.

The book is short, but steeped in the original documentation--letters among the framers, complementing the meticulous (and occasionally manipulative) keeping of the minutes by James Madison.

What is striking--and germane to dialogue in a 21st Century blog--is how totally the framers left religion, God, Christian morality, their own religious beliefs out of the discussion. They clearly had no time for it. It was irrelevant. One need only read the brief chapter on the Three Fifths Compromise to know that these were pragmatic men, focused only on the things of this world, perhaps ignoring the compartmentalized issue of religious belief, particularly as it impinged on the unholy parts of the bargain they were agreeing to.

They were single-minded in their pursuit of a scheme for a constitutional republic that would rid them of monarchy--that stinking notion that there exists a Divine Right of Kings. That, and the manipulative and thuggish theocracy flowing from it--the monarch supported by nobility and catered to by the ecclesiastical princes.

Reading Stewart's history brought me back to the essence of it all. If the framers had not compromised, there would have been no republic, no constitution, no reason to be arguing 220 years later over whether the this odd bunch of deists, methodists, unitarians, quakers, atheists and Don't-Give-a-Damn's believed in God, much less thought that belief in god, much less christian morality, was the foundation of the American experiment.

Predictably, the Original Sin has never been expiated; it still marks every one of us. It still threatens this flawed-but-enduring, presently-limping Constitutional Democracy. It will likely be the end of it. (In case anyone's been thinking America is, of its very nature, millennial).

And arguments about how one or the other of us knows for sure that the founders were devout and god-fearing and fundamentally christian is just so much chaff in the wind.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Don't shoot, GOP-Men. I surrender.

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Democrats Drop Troop Pullout Dates From Iraq Bill
The New York Times

The move was a wrenching reversal for some Democrats, who saw their election triumph as a call to force an end to the war....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

As a lifelong pacifist and conscientious objector, I honor the courage, probity and moral excellence of these two men.

It's Our Cage, Too
Torture Betrays Us and Breeds New Enemies

By Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar
The Washington Post;
Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fear can be a strong motivator. It led Franklin Roosevelt to intern tens of thousands of innocent U.S. citizens during World War II; it led to Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt, which ruined the lives of hundreds of Americans. And it led the United States to adopt a policy at the highest levels that condoned and even authorized torture of prisoners in our custody.

Fear is the justification offered for this policy by former CIA director George Tenet as he promotes his new book. Tenet oversaw the secret CIA interrogation program in which torture techniques euphemistically called "waterboarding," "sensory deprivation," "sleep deprivation" and "stress positions" -- conduct we used to call war crimes -- were used. In defending these abuses, Tenet revealed: "Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: the palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know."

We have served in combat; we understand the reality of fear and the havoc it can wreak if left unchecked or fostered. Fear breeds panic, and it can lead people and nations to act in ways inconsistent with their character.

The American people are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001. But it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night's presidential debate in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation.

Tenet insists that the CIA program disrupted terrorist plots and saved lives. It is difficult to refute this claim -- not because it is self-evidently true, but because any evidence that might support it remains classified and unknown to all but those who defend the program.

These assertions that "torture works" may reassure a fearful public, but it is a false security. We don't know what's been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb. Our soldiers in Iraq confront real "ticking time bomb" situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of "flexibility" about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone -- the rare exception fast becoming the rule.

To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military's mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality.

This has had disastrous consequences. Revelations of abuse feed what the Army's new counterinsurgency manual, which was drafted under the command of Gen. David Petraeus, calls the "recuperative power" of the terrorist enemy.

Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once wondered aloud whether we were creating more terrorists than we were killing. In counterinsurgency doctrine, that is precisely the right question. Victory in this kind of war comes when the enemy loses legitimacy in the society from which it seeks recruits and thus loses its "recuperative power."

The torture methods that Tenet defends have nurtured the recuperative power of the enemy. This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.

This is not just a lesson for history. Right now, White House lawyers are working up new rules that will govern what CIA interrogators can do to prisoners in secret. Those rules will set the standard not only for the CIA but also for what kind of treatment captured American soldiers can expect from their captors, now and in future wars. Before the president once again approves a policy of official cruelty, he should reflect on that.

It is time for us to remember who we are and approach this enemy with energy, judgment and confidence that we will prevail. That is the path to security, and back to ourselves.

Charles C. Krulak was commandant of the Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999. Joseph P. Hoar was commander in chief of U.S. Central Command from 1991 to 1994.

* * *

Should this pacifist/blogger ever have the distinct privilege of meeting these two men, he will snap a respectful salute.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Be assured, Mr. Moore, the last thing in the world they intend to do is impose a fine on you.

May 10, 6:26 AM EDT

AP Movie Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore is under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department for taking ailing Sept. 11 rescue workers to Cuba for a segment in his upcoming health-care documentary "Sicko," The Associated Press has learned.

The investigation provides another contentious lead-in for a provocative film by Moore, a fierce critic of President Bush. In the past, Moore's adversaries have fanned publicity that helped the filmmaker create a new brand of opinionated blockbuster documentary.

"Sicko" promises to take the health-care industry to task the way Moore confronted America's passion for guns in "Bowling for Columbine" and skewered Bush over his handling of Sept. 11 in "Fahrenheit 9/11."

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control notified Moore in a letter dated May 2 that it was conducting a civil investigation for possible violations of the U.S. trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba. A copy of the letter was obtained Tuesday by the AP.

"This office has no record that a specific license was issued authorizing you to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba," Dale Thompson, OFAC chief of general investigations and field operations, wrote in the letter to Moore.

I got one of those letters last summer, after a similar, allegedly illegal trip to Cuba. They'll threaten you with a variety of penalties. They'll have to offer you an appeal of the finding and the penalty before an Administrative Law Judge.

You will want to lose this appeal, if it is ever heard. OFAC, by the way, has no Administrative Law Judges. But, if you get the chance, that's exactly what you want to happen: losing the appeal will push the issue to the next level. And then, just before imposing the forfeiture, they'll send a final statement that it is going to happen. Look out, Mike, the full wrath of the Treasury Department is about to come down on your head....


There will be a notice at the bottom of the last letter, mentioning that you are entitled to appeal the finding and the penalty to the Federal Courts.

Sweet words, those: The Federal Courts.

The very last thing in the world the US Government wants is to have the Embargo and the Travel Ban challenged in the Federal courts.

That's why they've never enforced a finding and forfeiture. (They do, often, threaten/bargain with people who go to Cuba for the sun and the Bonefish, and induce them to pay a reduced fine). These are folks who did not think they would get caught, who do not want the publicity, just want the Treasury to get off their backs.

You apparently made the trip in conscious defiance of an unconstitutional set of laws. And, unless you really jab them in the eye with this little instance of civil disobedience and force their hand, you can be sure that they will just let this go away.

Oh, what the hell, Mike; jab 'em in the eye. As if you needed encouragement.

I'm no lawyer. But, I know that there are platoons of Constitutional lawyers licking their chops in anticipation of a chance to take the case. This law, OFAC and the travel ban are pretty obviously unconstitutional. I would bet that even Scalia and Thomas would have to go along with declaring it forever dead. Treasury and OFAC keep it alive by never letting anyone get to the point at which they have standing to challenge it.

Welcome to the party. (Click to enlarge)

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.