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Archive for June, 2008

That’s a paraphrase of an old saying of indeterminate origin about truth and war.

We’ll soon have an opportunity to observe the paraphrased adage in action. John McCain has established a Truth Squad in reaction to  comments by retired four-star general and Obama advocate, Wesley Clark. Below is one comment Clark made on an interview on Face the Nation yesterday. You can listen to the full interview on Youtube here. 

“I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”

Although awkwardly stated, Clark is correct, of course. No single act of an individual, whether a veteran or not, in and of itself, is a qualification for the Office of the President of the United States. I know some fine pilots, but I wouldn’t vote for them for president simply because they have the ability to fly an airplane.

But in the world of politics, accusations cannot remain unanswered. In an effort to counter Clark’s comments, John McCain has decided to operate on another old adage–the truth shall set ye free.

He has recruited Sen. John Warner, Col. Bud Day and Lt. Col. Orson Swindle for some truth telling. There may be more individuals in the squad, but I stopped reading when my eyes hit Orson Swindle.

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Orson Swindle for about ten minutes in the privacy of my office before we walked next door where he spoke to a class in political science.

He was an affable and friendly guy and told me about growing up in Georgia under the tutelage of an aunt. Despite my moderate political opinions and his somewhat right of center conservative leanings, we had many points in common.

We were both veterans and both products of Southern culture. Moreover, he had a long history with the federal government in various appointed capacities. I was a low-level apparatchik, a pencil pusher in the Southern dialect of my own straight talking aunt. Both of us knew the system.

I was actually surprised when he accepted my invitation to speak. This was at the height of the lunacy about liberals ruining our colleges and destroying our youth, which I thought was oddly overstated, since almost every instructor of my acquaintance was moderate or conservative. The extreme liberals were confined to the the social sciences.

Still, the atmosphere of accusation and innuendo was so bad that the public relations apparatchik of one admiral went ballistic at my audacity when I asked if the admiral would speak on campus.

He (not the admiral who probably never saw my request) fired off a three page e-mail about how “he” wasn’t going to permit “his” admiral to appear on this pinko campus, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I should have retained the e-mail. It was a wonderful combination of the dead language of bureaucrats mixed with the colorful and earthy language of real people.

Anyway, Orson walked into my office on the appointed morning, accompanied by a bodyguard because he was running for political office as a Republican in a state where Republicans were as scarce as hen’s teeth on a Petaluma chicken ranch.

His first question was, “Where’s the men’s room?”

Well, after I led him to it, I returned to my office and chatted with his body guard for a minute or two, which was also an enjoyable experience because he was a boxing fan and so was I.

The upshot of Orson’s appearance before my class of ravenous, slobbering 19-year old radicals was a resounding success. The students were polite and attentive and Orson presented a well-reasoned case for his policies.

For balance, we had other candidates of other political persuasions on different days. Most also had good rapport with the students. The libertarian candidate, however, took an immediate dislike to me the moment she walked into my office and sat down for a pre-class chat. God knows why. Humans seem possessed of an underlying revulsion for some things. I was hers.

Mine? Well, it’s the swift-boating of reputations. Let’s see if John McCain and Orson Swindle permit themselves to swiftboat Obama. I hope not. Orson was too nice a guy for that sort of politics.

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I tried Facebook’s My Personality application today. Actually, it isn’t a Facebook application but a third-party program.

The app says the personality test was constructed by a team of professional psychologists. I tried five times to take the test but each time I clicked the test page, the program flickered and labored mightily and then returned me to the same page.

After the 5th try, I spotted a little tiny box in the right-hand corner with directions informing me to check the box if I wanted to have my personality analyzed by pros. By that time, I was a raving lunatic.

Well, I checked the little box, worked through the test, and the results pleased me greatly. I rated 50% on every single personality element.

That’s amazing. I’ve taken tests administered and interpreted by a UC psychology instructor. He informed me that I ought to pack for a trip to Napa. Now, Facebook’s proxy informs me I’ve made a startling recovery.

I’d read that people with emotional and psychological issues have a 50-50 chance of improving whether they seeks treatment from a professional or not. My experience proves the theory.

At any rate, none of this explains why I scored a 50 on every single element on Facebook’s Proxy’s test. You’d think one of them would have been 51 or 49 or something.

I wonder if my answers could have affected the results. I checked Neither Accurate nor Inaccurate to every question.

Well, that’s the way real life really is. Sometimes we like poetry sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we like to let our imaginations run wild on all sorts of fantasies, sometimes we don’t. It all depends. Life is just that way.

So, remember, if you’ve taken Facebook’s Proxy’s My Personality test and scored, say, 90 on fantasies, you might think about packing your own bag and hitchhiking to Napa. There’s a strong chance you need a pro to tell you how to answer psychological test questions.

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This is a site you may like. The main page is Snopes.com, a site dedicated to urban legends. And as we all know, urban legends are kind of like politicians–inescapable.

One page that caught my eye was about Barack Obama. I wondered what is floating around about him out there in the ether.

Here are a few gems.

  • Barack has been endorsed by the KKK.
  • Barack’s campaign is funded by Hugo Chavez.
  • Baracj urged his supporters to help him change the greatest nation in the history of the world.
  • Access to Michelle’s senior thesis has been restricted until after the 2008 election.
  • Barack does not qualify as a natural-born citizen because his mother was too young.

Okay, so what’s your take on each of these? True, False, Maybe. For Snopes answers, check the site.

As for me, my favorite is the “natural-born citizen” thing. Boy, Hiddy, that’s a real Constitutional amendment.

Trouble is, the statement is absolute, gold-plated garbage. I wonder how George Carlin would handle that one.

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By now, we know that the Supreme Court by a 5 to 4 margin has ruled that a Washington, D.C. city law banning handguns is unconstitutional. The ruling will have a nationwide impact, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) has already announced its intent to file lawsuits to overturn similar laws elsewhere.

One of NRA’s targets will be San Francisco. Maybe the Mayornoter and the Supes can mount a pre-emptive strike and work together to craft a constitutionally acceptable ordinance. But that’s a tall order given the current composition of the Supreme Court.

The court’s rationale in this case was quite simple.

Justice Scalia, mouthpiece of the Back to 1791 Movement, summed it up neatly when he said the Second Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1791 (not passed as come Tallking Pinheads continue to phrase it) is still effective today and it isn’t the duty of the courts to change it.

Translation: Jeez, any idiot ought to be able to read plain English.

Scalia believes that judges should not legislate from the bench. If society wants to change the Constitution, then society ought to amend the Constitution.

The problem is that today’s ruling changed not only the Constitution but several centuries of accepted English language usage, which is after all, the language of the Constitution.

Scalia and his cohorts effectively eliminated modifying clauses from the language and the law. Here’s how they managed to do it. The original language in the Second Amendment reads:

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

Now, we might rightly and fairly ask, were the Founders so dumb they inserted a boatload of extra words in our sacred text? Scalia apparently thinks so. His ruling erased everything preceding “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Almost every sane individual of my acquaintance, which includes a lawyer or two, understands that the words before the money sentence are modifying words and clauses. They are there for a clarifying purpose. They set the conditions for gun ownership and relate such ownership to a well-regulated militia.

We can better understand the Amendment if we wrote it in modern English, like this:

Because a well-regulated militia is necessary to a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Or this way:

A well-regulated militia is necessary to a free state. Therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Most of us aren’t attorneys or grammarians, but we have enough moxie to understand the purpose behind Scalia’s specious reasoning. This quintessential 18th Century neocon, wants to lock pet neocon programs in concrete before GB becomes a footnote to a footnote.

And it’s possible he has succeeded. At the very least, he’s made it possible for any garden-variety thug to walk in a store and buy a gun. Of course, thugs get guns anyway, but now, they’ll become easier to buy. Wanna shoot a few more innocent people along Bay Area freeways? No sweat, pal. Tell ’em Scalia sent you.

This ruling has also given a boost to the fortunes of gun manufacturers and a host of economic activities that profit from the sale of guns and ammunition. A thousand years from now, aliens from another universe will land and unearth millions of petrified guns and little oblong pellets that look oddly like goose droppings. “This is a dead civilization,” they will conclude and fly away to another spot.

In support of his decision, Scalia called handguns the prefect weapon for home defense. Light in weight and easy to use, handguns permit a person to use one hand to dial 911 while pointing a gun at a burglar with the other hand. What’s a homeowner to do if the burglar is pointing a Dirty Harry special at the him or her?

As an ex-member of the gun culture and an expert marksman in the military service, I can support the contention that facility with a handgun is one thing. The presence of mind and a willingness to use one under pressure are something else again. Few people possess the latter abilities.

Congratulations, Scalia! You’ve done your job for the thugs.

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George Carlin and Mark Twain had a lot in common. Both decried hypocrisy and both vigorously attacked the hypocrisy they saw in organized religion.

One of Carlin’s classic routines was this one, a to-the-point, meant-to-shock revelation about a Biblical deity from his perspective.

Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man — living in the sky — who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!
But He loves you.
(Excerpt from George Carlin on Religion)

Twain’s approach was softer but no less effective. His style and biting humor reached a peak with a book written in 1909 and published after his death. The book is Letters from the Earth, and it’s written from the perspective of an angel on Earth who chronicles every human foible under the sun.

Twain also wrote a short story that he called The War Prayer. The piece in its entirety appears below, courtesy of The Resources for Peace, found on the Internet here.

The War Prayer graphically describes the results we pray for when we pray for victory in war. This is a rather long story for inclusion in a blog post, but I hope you have the patience to read it through. The story appears here without editing.

The War Prayer
by Mark Twain

in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched fire-crackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies, a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came–next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the colunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams–visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!

Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged

no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, falling, to die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:

“God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,

Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword.”

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever-merciful and begnignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them; shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory–

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside–which the startled minister did–and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne–bearing a message from Almighty God.” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import–that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of–except he pause and think. God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two–one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this–keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! Lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer–the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it–that part which the pastor–and also in your hearts–fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You have heard those words ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God.’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory, you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle–be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of the patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of their guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their offending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it–

“For our sakes who adore thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

“We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him who is the Source of Love, and Who is the Ever-Faithful Refuge and Friends of all who are sore beset and seeking His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

(The old man paused). “Ye have prayed it; if you still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High awaits.”

* * * * *

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

–Mark Twain

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I thought Don Imus was dead. If he isn’t, he sure looks like it.

When I watched him on television a couple of days ago ‘splainin’ his comment about the long rap sheet of Adam “Pacman” Jones, I would have sworn that I was watching a set of empty clothes with a mop sticking out of the shirt collar. And for emphasis, someone had stuck a Stetson on top of it.

I know that’s coarse, and I know I’m probably exposing my age bias and I apologize if my words offend anyone. But I swear, that’s what I thought, and I was always taught to tell the truth. Speaking the truth is an inalienable right under the Constitution of the United States of America. Isn’t it?

Well, that depends. If your name is Charlie Black (McCain’s high powered campaign advisor) and you say outright that a terrorist arrack on America would benefit McCaint, then your career may be in jeopardy. Even though a terrorist attack would definitely aid McCain’s election bid, shush now, Charlie, you aren’t supposed to say so out loud.

So the truth is relative and situational, and now Don Imus in his characteristically convoluted manner of talking without moving his lips and later ‘splainin’ his mumbles, is in hot water for suggesting that Blacks are at a high risk of arrest on general principles in some parts of the country.

What’s going to happen to Don this time around? He was fired from one radio station for referring to a girls’ basketball team as “nappy headed ho’s.” His latest faux mumble seems tame compared to that one.

Meanwhile the Talking Pinheads will monopolize valuable air time shouting and screaming and hollering at each other while news of note is unreported or minimized.

I want to know the salacious details of Christie Brinkley’s impending divorce trial.

Late Breaker. Don won’t be fired. He’s safe for the time being.

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In 2004, Chris Matthews observed that Americans have always elected outdoorsy presidents.

He cited a few examples of the type he was talking about, men like Clinton, Truman, and Reagan. He called these presidents physically healthy-looking guys.

Then he named Dukakis and Mondale as classic losers and called them indoor types.

The meaning of a word like outdoorsy is largely in the eye of the beholder, but to help us along, Dictionary.com defines it as characteristic of or suitable to the outdoors, unusually fond of outdoor life, associated with the outdoors, showing a liking for the outdoors.

When Matthews called it for the outdoorsy types, he lined up with many others who believe Americans vote based on the appearance of a candidate. The most common belief is that the taller candidate will likely win.

There’s probably little if any empirical evidence for any of these beliefs. But a number of studies has demonstrated that children almost from birth prefer an attractive face.

In one film clip I watched, a group of elementary school students thought that a beautiful blond teacher was more competent than a plain brunette.

When queried later about the reason for their selection, a large majority said “Because she’s beautiful.”

I don’t think we can conclude from this that Pam Anderson would be a shoo-in for president. But the evidence suggests a strong connection between appearance and perceived strengths and talents.

Attractive people are widely considered more intelligent and capable at many tasks than individuals who may rank lower on the symmetrical scale.

In men, attractive usually refers to maleness, a rather indefinable characteristic that Chris Matthews probably meant when he used the word outdoorsy.

Men are attractive if they do outdoor things like play ball, hunt, fish, blow watermelons to smithereens with a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with Number Two buckshot.

Fast forwarding to 2008, and given the expert opinions of Chris and others, how do Barack and John stack up against the two main characteristics outlined here?

Barack is obviously the taller of the two, so he has the advantage on that point. But which is outdoorsy or the most outdoorsy?

Barrack has been photographed shooting baskets on an outdoor basketball court. That’s certainly outdoorsy. To the best of my knowledge, John doesn’t play basketball, but he wears a baseball cap with “Navy” on it. That’s man-stuff in action and speaks of an outdoorsy lifestyle.

Sounds like a draw, doesn’t it?

But when push comes to shove, these factors may be totally irrelevant. The final outcome will depend on which group votes in the greater numbers, Barack’s younger generation or McCain’s older age group.

One thing is certain: no matter how emotional voters vote, you and I are too intelligent to be swayed by base feelings.

We will analyze each and every issue. And only after we’ve fully examined the pros and cons will we walk into a voting booth and vote our guts.

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