24 December 2008

Happy Holidays

From top to bottom:
Meggie, Irene, Puck, Oberon (top) and Malcolm (bottom), Calvin (top) and Miss Grey (bottom), the Monkey (left) and Emma (right), and Terence


09 December 2008

Sharing the wealth

Considering the latest hysteria from the Right about Obama's diabolic plot to "share the wealth" and steal hard-earned dollars from hard-working Americans and give it to lazy, shiftless, no-good welfare queens, I thought it'd be an appropriate time to remind them what Jesus had to say about the matter (especially as so many Rightists claim to be "Christians"):

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." Matthew 19:21 (NKJV)

"Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.... Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need." Acts 4:32, 34-35 (NKJV)

And you remember what happened to Ananias and Sapphira - they held back and God struck them dead (Acts 5:1-11 [NKJV]).

Just sayin'

19 November 2008

Risking the wrath of God

I can't discuss the company I work for because they're quite the fascists when it comes to the First Amendment, and in this economic climate I'd prefer not to risk my job. But I will say that we process and distribute press releases, and it is in that context that I wanted to share the following:

Last night, a release came in for a game called Blasphemy. Two to four players play wannabe Messiahs in the Holy Land. The first one to convince enough people that he or she is the Chosen One gets crucified.

Check it out here.

18 November 2008

Collateral Damage Day - November 18


Unfortunately it is all too easy to find images of the people who are paying the price to keep us "free." "Free" being a relative term as Congress and the judiciary has acquiesced over the last 60 years (but particularly in the last 8) in eviscerating the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th Amendments.

Isn't it great to live in the land of the free, home of the brave?
The image above was lifted from the blogsite Nixon Is In Hell, and the boy's name (at least from what I can tell from the file name) is Ali.
I know that the overwhelming majority of our soldiers are "good" people (heck, my brother was a Marine and he's not so bad) but they're also individuals with a moral conscience. When they surrender that conscience to collaborate in the murderous policies of the Bush (or any other) Administration, then they become culpable in those crimes.
I'll quote again from Ursula Le Guin's translation of Chapter 31 of Tao Te Ching:
"It is right that the murder of many people
be mourned and lamented.
It is right that a victor in war
be received with funeral ceremonies."

16 November 2008

A few books to recommend

I just finished reading two marvelous books and thought I would share:

The first is James O'Donnell's The Ruin of the Roman Empire, which I mentioned in a previous post. The review is still on my GoodReads site here. What I like about it is O'Donnell's attempt to strip away the detritus of historiography and his incorporation of the latest archaeological and prosopographic evidence to create a "truer" picture of the period than any I've read before. It's not perfect and suffers from the author's own prejudices but it shakes up a reader's perceptions of a period that many would think has been mined out.

The second book to recommend this Sunday a.m. is James Wood's How Fiction Works. It's a very readable and interesting look at a noted critic's opinion about what makes good writing, and its review is here.

I've also been directed to a potentially hugely interesting site known as the Internet Archive, and I owe it all to my presence on GoodReads. It came about because someone read my review of J.B. Post's The Atlas of Fantasy, where I mentioned an interest in Thomas Malkin. Thomas was a young prodigy who unfortunately died at the age of six. Before he died, however, he created a fantasy world called Allestone - a history and culture, a calendar and maps, as well as a number of stories. His father wrote a biography, A Father's Memoirs of His Child, in 1806 appending all of the Allestone stories and maps. I despaired of finding a copy of this 200-year-old book but the wonders of modern technology and the Internet came to my rescue. The Internet Archive scans well known and obscure texts, videos, audio, etc. to a common database anyone can access. And there, in a variety of formats, lay A Father's Memoirs. I haven't had the opportunity to read the entire tome; I've only skimmed it since printing it out. From what little I have read, though, I think Post's opinion is sound - we lost a remarkable mind when we lost Thomas Malkin.

On that same site, I've found many of James Branch Cabell's work as well. I've already downloaded Domnei: A Comedy of Woman-Worship. The formatting is straight text, nothing fancy but I'm not interested in Cabell for the packaging so that's not a great impediment.

Finally, I'm taking this opportunity to declare (strictly on my own authority) November 18 Collateral Damage Day (see previous post). I'm working on a suitable memorial for this Tuesday.

In a related vein and before I go entirely today - I was reading a reader's review of Peter Mansoor's Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander's War in Iraq (on GoodReads, where else?) where he (the reviewer) made the comment that Mansoor opposed going to war but believed that, now that we were there, we couldn't leave without victory. This opinion (if it accurately reflects Mansoor's) struck me as another example of the insanity of war. It's as if the Germans overthrew Hitler in 1942 but continued to prosecute the war because they hadn't "won."

11 November 2008

Hail, Caesar!

This post is for all those Roman history geeks like me.

While reading James O'Donnell's marvellous book, The Ruin of the Roman Empire (my review of which can be read here), I came across reference to a web site called De Imperatoribus Romanis, where the interested can read various imperial biographies, view genealogies and maps, and read up on the major battles of the Roman era.

Very cool.

In praise of Armistice Day

Yes, Armistice Day.

I prefer the older name because I think the power of what we're supposedly remembering and honoring is diluted (and, in this culture, commodified) by making it a general one for every veteran from every war. November 11 is meant to honor the veterans of World War I (aka, The Great War) and that's what it should remain.

If we want to honor the vets from WW2, let's have a day for them. (V-J Day works for me. If I remember correctly, it happened in May, a nice month to have a holiday.) Korea? The day the cease fire was signed (technically, we and South Korea and North Korea are still at war with each other). Vietnam? Well, we lost that one so we probably don't want to remember it. Grenada? Panama? The two Gulf Wars? Afghanistan? Hmm, the first two were so picayune, I doubt many people even remember them anymore. The latter? Sadly, like 'Nam, we're losing in both so it's not something people will want to be reminded about.

Truly, Veterans Day, Armistice Day, whatever you want to call it should be marked by mourning for all the wasted lives ended by war, and a protest against a world where the use of force is still considered a viable option in international diplomacy.

And while we're at it, I'm calling for a Collateral Damage Day to honor and mourn all of the innocent men, women and children slaughtered by the indiscriminate bombing and the callous disregard for life of our armed forces and others.

We should apply the same standard to Presidents Day. Do we really want to honor all of our presidents? Buchanan? Polk? Fillmore? Harding? Reagan? Both Bushes?

Give Washington and Lincoln back their own days, and we should probably give FDR one while we're at it. Then we could have a Pretty Good Presidents Day, which would honor the "good" but "not great" presidents of the country: Adams, Madison, JFK (for the Cuban Missile Crisis), LBJ (for his domestic policies), Carter (for intentions; the execution sucked), maybe a few others.

Finally, it wouldn't surprise me if a few years down the road MLK Day becomes Civil Rights Day, honoring all of the people who fought in the Civil Rights movement, in the process drowning their individuality in a sea of names.

26 October 2008

Read the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Archaeology

On a slightly less partisan note than my two other blogs today, I invite my readers to take a look at the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Archaeology magazine (their website is here).

Now, any issue of Archaeology is interesting (almost by definition, in my opinion) but I particularly liked one in this month's issue about a 12,000-year-old complex of stone circles in Turkey that shows evidence of extensive and coordinated activity from hunter-gatherer societies 6 thousand years before the city of Ur arose on the plains of Sumer. It's tantalizing and frustrating evidence for a complex spiritual side to pre-urban civilization that we'll probably never understand. That and it also is evidence of just how much we'll never really know about our history, and why the people who think visitors from Zeta Reticuli or Atlanteans gave the Ancient World all of its technology will never go away.

There's another article in this issue about gladiators and their diet based on remains found in a cemetary at Ephesus (also in Turkey). Turns out, gladiators did not follow the Atkins diet plan - they ate lots of carbs and were definitely on the "beefy" side. On the plus side, however, they appear to have received the best in medical care: Bone fractures show very clean healing (unlike similar fractures found in the bones of the general population).

While I'm recommending stuff: If you're a fan of the B-movie horror genre, I recommend Dagon. Ostensibly it's based on H.P. Lovecraft's eponymous short story but it's more a retelling of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" by the same author (the Spanish village where it takes place is called "Imboca" > "Innsmouth"). It's well plotted, has a reasonably intelligent script, and isn't too gory.

And, of course, you should read the originals as Lovecraft wrote them.

Mr. Monika's 2008 Voter Guide (w/ especial emphasis on California)

The week after next, the country goes to the polls once again. More than ever, we really might be determining the fate of the world for a generation to come

Considering our batting record the last four election cycles (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006), I recommend prayer...lots of any benevolent deity you can think of. (Forgive me, I'm feeling particularly snarky at the moment. I'm actually quite optimistic about the long-term survival of the species, I just think the next few decades are going to be brutal. More brutal for us, anyway, it's always been brutal for far too many people in this world.)

But on to my recommendations for the interested. Except for the presidential vote, I'm afraid they're quite California-centric for the simple reason that I happen to live in the Golden State but as my "follower" is also a Californian, I don't feel too bad about that.

President/Vice President: Barack Obama/Joe Biden
  • All right, if I thought there was any chance for their victory, I'd be voting Green, McKinney/Clemente, but there isn't, and we need to so overwhelm the Republicans with numbers that there's no way they can steal the election again in any state. California is fortunate to have a decent secretary of state in Debra Bowen, who's done what she can to make sure the voting machines are on the up and up.
  • While I like Nader's positions on many of the issues, he would go down in history as one of our worst, least effective presidents solely based on his personality. The man is not a politician. And then there's the fact that he has even less chance of winning the White House than McKinney.
  • So I'm "stuck" with Obama, who (I think) would much rather rule as a second Clinton than a second Roosevelt. He's about as much a socialist as he is an Arab or a Muslim - i.e., he isn't! He's a centrist Democrat. I'm worried about his votes on the telecom immunity and bailout bills, and his eagerness to escalate the occupation of Afghanistan. I'm worried that he's so much a product of the last 30 years of neoliberal economics in this country that he'll be unable to experiment like FDR. But he's our best hope, so he's got my vote.

United States Representative: Hilda Solis

  • This district is so safe, the Republicans didn't even field a candidate. Solis is a mixed bag: Sometimes she votes with the angels; other times, with Satan. But the only way I can get somebody in the office with whom I'm in total agreement is to run myself, so I'll vote for her without serious problem.

Member of the State Assembly: Ed Hernandez

Judicial (for the Superior Courts):

  • Steven A. Simons (72nd)
  • Cynthia Loo (82nd)
  • Lori-Ann Jones (84th)
  • C. Edward Mack (94th)
  • Rocky L. Crabb (154th)

It's difficult to get information on these offices, though the Internet has made it far easier, assuming they have a website. My guiding philosophy is to read their blurbs if available and vote for anyone who isn't a prosecutor. Thus, Simons is a consumer-rights attorney, Loo is a court referee, Mack is a trial attorney, etc.

State Measures (propositions) (In California, it's far too easy to get a proposition on the ballot and, thus, we tend to legislate through them, taking Sacramento off the hook. And it doesn't help that these propositions are written by special interests and often in nearly opaque legalese or so poorly that they'll be litigated to death in the courts and never even have a chance to prove worthy or unworthy.)

1A - NO: This is a $9.95 billion bond measure that will (supposedly) fund high-speed rail lines. Now, I find the idea of high-speed rail very attractive but my problem is with the method of financing. If we want something or feel it's necessary to continued well-being, then we should be willing to pay for it up front. Despite the lessons of the Asian meltdown in 1987, the Mexican meltdown in 1995 and our meltdown in 2008, we are still operating under the insane assumption that we can simply continue to borrow money and pass off the costs to our descendants, and that we don't have to raise taxes (and make them more progressive, to boot). California is already under such a debt burden that we're constantly threatened with a lowering of our bond status, and the interest payments are becoming oppressive.

If we want high-speed rail, let's raise a tax somehow. Perhaps via gas sales, perhaps a sales tax, perhaps we'll have more funds if we simply close loopholes and spread the burden more fairly. And it doesn't have to be permanent - we tax for 5 years, and all the proceeds go to the rail fund. If we need more money, the legislature can revisit the issue at the end of 5 years. It's why I'm voting "yes" for Measure R below because it's funded via a 30-year, 1/2-cent sales tax.

2 - YES: This measure requires the animal-husbandry industry to humanely treat their animals. No brainer.

3 - NO: Another worthy cause (renovating children's hospitals). Another bond measure, though (only $980 million).

4- NO: Waiting period and parental notification of teen-age abortions.

5 - YES: I'm a bleeding-heart liberal who thinks our penal system would benefit from a concentration on redemption rather than retribution. Most assuredly isolate violent offenders and even nonviolent ones may deserve some prison time but when we strip a felon of every chance to redeem himself, why are we surprised that things don't get better?

I was pretty definite about my "yes" vote for this one but when I saw the "No on 5" commercial where Diane Feinstein endorsed their position then I knew I would be voting well. Another one of my voting tenets is that anything Feinstein is for, I'm against, and vice versa.

6 - NO: A bond measure ($965 million) to pay for more police. If we need more police, then we need to pay for them up front (see above).

7 - NO: This measure is supposed to force government and private utilities to be 50% renewable energy by 2025. Good "ends" but the "means" are suspect. I've read both sides' arguments and still don't know if this measure would do any good, so I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt to the environmental groups, most of whom don't support the proposition.

8 - NO: This vile measure would strike down the recent CA Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage possible (and possibly invalidating the marriage of a friend of mine) and enshrine it in our state constitution. Like 2, it's a no brainer.

9 - NO: For all their bleating about "the rule of law," I sometimes wonder if Republicans and your rank-and-file conservatives know what it means. This gem would allow victims' input during the entire criminal justice process - from bail to parole. Part of the appeal of the rule of law is that it's an impartial system - at least as impartial as anything can be - and I cannot countenance allowing the least impartial element of a crime to have any say over how the system treats the suspect (and felon, if convicted).

10 - NO: This is T. Boone Pickens attempt to get the state to subsidize his move into renewable energy (to the tune of $5 billion in bonds).

11 - NO: Here's another good end arrived at via suspect means. We desperately need to reform the way districts are apportioned but I don't trust Schwarzenegger.

12 - NO: A $900 million bond to subsidize homes and farms for veterans. Why can't we subsidize the homes and farms of nonvets? Don't they work just as hard? Don't they deserve the chance to make a decent living and dwell in a decent home?

It's nice that there are people willing to defend me if America suffers an invasion and that there are people willing to assist the National Guard and the fire department in case natural disasters get seriously out of hand but America hasn't needed defending since at least 1941, and the subsequent career of our military has been an unending march of imperial domination since then. Why should my hard-earned cash and that of my descendants go to support the legions of Caesar?

And while we're on the subject, why aren't firefighters included here? Doctors? Teachers? The latter three groups do far more to make this country a decent place to live than the military.

County Measures

R - YES: As I mentioned in my diatribe under Measure 1A, this measure to reduce traffic congestion and fund rail extensions is going to be paid for by a 30-year, 1/2-cent sales tax, and will be subject to public review and audits.

Community College Measures

RR - NO: A $353 million bond measure.

Municipal Water District: Andrew M. McIntyre

Well, that's it. If you're a Republican, stay home Nov. 4, it'll be for the best.

He's baaack!

After an extended absence, I have returned (hopefully my "follower" will be well pleased; I have a "follower" - I have to be careful I don't develop a messiah complex).

For my loyal fan, my absence was not the result of illness, vacation or any other cause than that I am fundamentally lazy. There's certainly enough "crap" going on right now to raise my ire.

For example, this so-called bailout of Wall Street. I was excited when the House quite properly voted the first incarnation down; but realized it was business as usual when they approved the Senate's version, which added $150 billion in pork and ill-considered incentives.

Had the loyal opposition any backbone or guiding philosophy other than getting re-elected, Congress would have shelved any comprehensive scheme to aid the economy until we knew who would be in the White House come January and what kind of majorities the Dems would enjoy in the House and Senate. In the interim, they could have put a moratorium on foreclosures and, perhaps, granted a small measure of funds to shore up the worst-off investment banks. The latter was floated by Schumer (I believe) but disappeared in the panicky frenzy to be seen as doing "something."

Instead, Congress handed the most incompetent, most corrupt, most power-hungry administration since the Reagans were reading their Tarot cards $700 billion and carte blanche to do anything it wanted with it.

Words continue to fail me.

Speaking of incompetence and corruption, I direct my reader to October 23's Tom Dispatch by Michael Schwartz, Iraq in Hell.

26 August 2008

Book Review: "Who's Been Sleeping in Your Head: The Secret World of Sexual Fantasy"

Who's Been Sleeping in Your Head is a bit of a departure for me. Most of my nonfiction reading tends toward the historical or the "hard" sciences (astronomy, evolutionary biology, etc.) but one of my GoodReads friends marked this as a "to-read," I read the publisher's blurb and a few of the reviews, and it looked intriguing. Fortunately, one of my libraries possessed a copy and the inevitable ensued: I obtained and read it.

Brett Kahr is a Freudian psychoanalyst who's realized that there is a dearth of studies of what constitutes sexual fantasies - what's "normal" (if that can be measured) and what's "perverse" (also a slippery concept) - and how those fantasies might affect people in their lives.

Being a Freudian, Kahr believes that most, if not all, of our fantasies arise from childhood traumas. "Trauma" here does not necessarily mean something horrible like being raped by your father when you're 10 years old or having a group of boys sodomize you in the public restroom when you're 13. It can mean relatively unfortunate events or circumstances in an otherwise good childhood. Circumstances like an emotionally distant father or an overbearing mother or (as in the case of one woman) the loss of an older brother in a car accident. Kahr argues that "trauma functions as a key ingredient in the genesis of adult sexual fantasies" (p. 393) and that these fantasies help master "trauma through eroticization, rendering the terrifying and unprocessable into something sexy and manageable." (p. 383)

A "perverse" fantasy is one that eroticizes hatred (p. 418) and that "requires sustained perpetration of sadism toward oneself or one's 'love object'" and "becomes so all engrossing it prevents one from forging intimate relationships." (p. 420)

There are a number of conclusions he arrives at (if some are only tentative):

1. What is a sexual fantasy? An image, thought, drama, usually thought about during sex (coital or masturbatory) and that results in orgasm. (This makes it a different phenomenon than the sexual dream.)

2. What is a "normal" fantasy? There is no normative fantasy. People who appear quite "normal" might have some of the most sadistic, misogynistic, bestial fantasies but as long as they avoid the two criteria for "perversion" I mention above, they're no more abnormal than fantasizing about making love to one's partner that never departs from the missionary position.

3. Why fantasize? Kahr doesn't really know. From an evolutionary point of view it may help arousal and, hence, propagation. In terms of human psychology, it eroticizes and makes harmless traumas in our lives.

4. Does everyone have fantasies? Despite some negative responses in Kahr's survey, he feels that everyone has a fantasy of some sort even if they don't recognize it as such.

5. Should we share fantasies/act them out with our partners? Maybe. He recounts cases where exposing and/or acting out a fantasy did wonders for a relationship; alas, sometimes they torpedoed a relationship.

6. Are fantasies dangerous? Sometimes. See above about what a "perverse" fantasy is. Actually, in relation to this subject, Kahr gets into some potentially scary "Big Brother" stuff where he envisions mental-health experts "tagging" potential rapists, pedophiles, etc. based on their sexual fantasies - sort of a "Minority Report" world without the ESP.

7. If we don't fantasize about our partner is that a "bad sign"? Maybe; maybe not. Since a fantasy is a defense mechanism from past trauma, the absence of one's current partner is not unusual.

8. If we fantasize about something illegal (i.e., rape, pedophilia, incest, murder, etc.) will we eventually act it out? Probably not. Most - the overwhelming majority - even if their fantasies involve raping the cheerleading squad or murdering their partner don't go through with it. As Kahr wants to emphasize, even the most vile fantasy is a defense mechanism against some childhood trauma. Now, fantasizing about gang rapes or murder probably indicates a fairly serious trauma and the person should seek some form of therapy and it may make a person's intimate relationships ultimately unsatisfying but it doesn't mean we have a future "Ted Bundy" on our hands.

9. Can we control our fantasies? Always a good Freudian, Kahr doesn't believe so. At least not to any great extent.

One of the best aspects of this work is that Kahr doesn't try to create an all-encompassing theory of sexual fantasy. He tries to identify some broad generalizations but doesn't apply them to explain fantasy.

Though I don't have the background to assess just how valid psychoanalysis is or what competing theories may be out there, I found this book fascinating and interesting.

16 August 2008

The Limits of Power

Just a short post to publish links to two essays on TomDispatch taken from Andrew Bacevich's latest book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism:

The American Military Crisis
The Lessons of Endless War

He's also appearing on the Aug 15 episode of Bill Moyer's Journal so you should look him up there as well.

I'm probably (no, definitely) more radical in my solutions to our imperial overreach but even his reasonable, even-handed voice is inaudible in the current discussion about foreign policy and America's future role in the world (from both parties and candidates).

Remaking Some Classics

One should learn not to procrastinate. Case in point: I've been meaning to suggest here that two classic SF films deserve to be remade only to discover that "they" have already done it for one -- The Day the Earth Stood Still. Klaatu (Michael Rennie) comes to Earth to warn us that if we take our aggressive tendencies off planet will spell our doom, and the first thing we do to him when he lands is shoot him. It's a great film -- both thematically (dissecting the Cold War paranoia of the time and the futility of violence) and in terms of writing and acting (though "Billy," the kid, is truly annoying). But it is getting a bit long in the tooth, and would have benefited from a producer/writer/director team that cared about the material.

Alas, this new version (due out in December from what I've read) stars Keanu Reeves (not as Gort, the blank-faced robot and a natural choice, but as Klaatu) so I'm not sure whoever conceived this project really knows what they're doing. On the upside, they have cast Jennifer Connelly as the mother (originally Patricia Neal's role) so it'll be nice to look at for those moments she's on screen.

I will wait, with low expectations, and hope for the best.

The second film that I think deserves a remake is the equally classic Forbidden Planet. The SF genre's retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, with Leslie Nielsen, Ann Francis and Walter Pidgeon. Again, in the hands of someone who cared about the material, a really fine, quality film could be produced.

Of course, it should go without saying, that if you haven't seen either original yet, you should.

05 August 2008

Film Reviews

I was browsing in the library's video shelves the other day and was seized by an impulse to check out a few horror-movie classics. To whit (to wit? -- I can never remember): Tod Browning's Dracula and Hammer Film's version of The Mummy.

Dracula: The last time I saw Dracula must have been nearly 30 years ago so I figured it was time I reviewed the classic. Overall, I must say I didn't like it much, and it's not because I'm jaded by the over-the-top gore of modern horror. It's more because the movie just doesn't create an atmosphere of suspense or terror. Outside of Renfield and his maniacal laugh, it's just not that interesting. And Dracula's destruction is almost laughably easy -- This man terrorized his countrymen for 400 years? What a bunch of wusses!

It's always been a pet peeve of mine that vampires are always so easy to kill in these movies. Supposedly at the top of the undead food chain, it's still possible for a bunch of teen-agers to slaughter the vampires by smashing a few windows and letting the sun shine in.

The Mummy: Hammer Film's version of The Mummy wasn't too bad. It wasn't terribly suspenseful or frightening but it told the story in a straightforward and competent manner, and Cushing and Lee were good.

I also checked out another in the BBC & Time-Life Films' series of Shakespeare adaptations; in this case: Julius Caesar. These adaptations are usually pretty good and this version of Julius Caesar was no disappointment. I'd also recommend their versions of Henry V and Richard III. I don't remember their names, but the actors in the leading roles were both excellent.

I can't say I liked Olivier's version of Henry V. I was turned off by what I might call the "prissy arrogance" of his Henry, and, in my opinion, he compares unfavorably with Branagh's king. On the other hand, I think Olivier was brilliant in his version of Richard III. I thoroughly enjoyed watching that video.

One final note: I highly recommend the PBS Mystery series Foyle's War. I stumbled upon these gems while channel surfing one weekend. I had known of their existence but had never been particularly interested in watching them. Oh, what a fool I was. In terms of stories, the series is not so different from other police procedurals like Prime Suspect (also highly recommended), Inspector Morse or The Inspector Lindley Mysteries, except that it's set in southern England during WW2. What makes it a marvelous series is solely Michael Kitchen's portrayal of Christopher Foyle: A man of high principle, incisive intelligence and compassion who doesn't let the war compromise those qualities. It's impossible to verbally describe how he carries off the role since it's invoked by his manner and tone of voice but you'll enjoy watching this series.

'Possums on the Patio

I feel like a jerk but what else could I do?

There's been a particularly ripe smell about my patio for the last few weeks, and this last weekend I finally got around to investigating its source: A family of opossums had been using the patio as a place to sleep away the day.

Let me backtrack a bit here: Up until Sunday, I had been keeping the wooden frame from an old futon out on the patio, using it as an impromptu shelf for my book boxes. It was covered by a tarp and, thus, provided a dark, enclosed space, which was attractive real estate for an opossum.

Pulling away the tarp Sunday afternoon, I disturbed three opossums who had been sleeping there. Now, I have no problem sharing the patio with these guys. There cute and they're quiet. Unfortunately, unlike the ferals, they're not very clean -- to be indelicate: They sh*t where they sleep (and eat). The futon was hopelessly fouled with feces and I had to throw it away (along with the tarp, which had been providing teething relief), and I washed down the patio and wall.

The smell's mostly gone but so are the opossums, unfortunately.

On the up side, I've got a lot more room on the patio now.

29 July 2008

A Call to Revise the Constitution (amended 8/5)

When I was an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to take a class that was rewriting the Constitution for the late 20th century. I didn’t take that opportunity; and I’ve regretted it ever since but I’ve always had a hankering to tinker with it. The danger in calling a second Constitutional Convention is that it might do what the first one did: Toss out the baby with the bathwater (the Articles of Confederation) and adopt a completely different child. But absent a comprehensive 27th Amendment, I’m not sure there’s a lesser remedy.

That said, I like the Constitution. It is one of the most remarkable political documents in human history but it is 220+ years old; the world is a far different place than it was in the late 18th century; and the current, sad state of our politics suggests that it needs a “tune up.” As someone I read pointed out recently, our Constitution was the first of its kind – ever. And while it has stood up very well over the course of time (better than many of its imitators), we’ve learned a great deal in the interim and we’ve progressed in our understanding of democracy. So much so, that the document is beginning to show its grey hairs and is looking positively arthritic in many respects.

The following is by no means a comprehensive attempt to rewrite the Constitution but I have gone through the document section by section and have tried to address at least some of the more egregious problems that have arisen over the last two centuries.

The Preamble: There’s no way I’m going to touch this. It’s one of the few pieces of literature I can cite from memory, and I still can’t do it without singing it to the tune from the Schoolhouse Rock series. And, to be honest, it lays out why we have a government: Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility (the “rule of law”), provide for common defense, promote the commonweal, and secure our inherent rights.

I would incorporate here a new Article I, pushing the currents articles down one rung (i.e., the current Article I becomes Article II, etc.). The new Article I would concern “the people” and incorporate the Bill of Rights and other relevant amendments.

(new) Article I.

Section 1 et al.: From the get go, we need to incorporate the Thirteenth – Fifteenth Amendments, particularly the 15th, which ensures that these rights are recognized by the states.

Section 2: First Amendment

Section 3: revised Second Amendment: The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed, except to secure the domestic tranquility and commonweal as determined by the individual states and Congress.

I’m not persuaded that having the right to own a 45 magnum is going to prevent the government from becoming despotic (look at our current situation) but I also don’t think it’s unreasonable that people would want weapons to feel secure. I think this is a reasonable compromise between the NRA nuts and their opposite number – those who would take away all guns. It’s up to the states and Congress to set reasonable gun-control laws and it leaves the debate open to discussion.

Sections 4-11: The remaining amendments in the original Bill of Rights.

Section 12: Congress and the states shall not infringe a citizen’s right to vote except insofar as to reasonably safeguard against electoral fraud. Congress shall also legislate a uniform voting system that ensures maximum opportunity for participation and the ability to audit said elections in the case of dispute.

I think this is necessary because, at the moment, we really don’t have a “right to vote.” This also would need a little tweaking to make sure voters weren’t disenfranchised because of sexual orientation, gender, religion, race, etc.

Section 13: The right of every person to be secure in their privacy shall not be abridged, and all branches of government are enjoined to ensure this.

This would need a bit of tweaking since there may be legitimate reasons for people to give up some of their privacy rights in certain situations but the principle we need to make explicit is that the government has to present a compelling reason to invade a person’s privacy.

[Addendum: Section 14: A "citizen" shall be defined as an individual born in the United States, who has at least one parent who is a citizen, or who is naturalized according to procedures prescribed by Congress. It shall not include corporate bodies that may be treated as people under certain laws.

I feel this is necessary to preclude the ludicrous situation we're in now where corporations are accorded all the rights of real people. I understand that, for legal reasons, it may be advantageous to treat corporations as persons in some respects but they are not humans, they have no inherent rights, and they do not deserve the protection of the Constitution.

Section 15: Congress and the states shall establish procedures for the public financing of elections.

This provision would be a step in severely restricting the influence of money on our political process.]

Article II.

Section 1: I considered a unicameral legislature (like, I believe, Nebraska’s) but I’m not sure that would be workable so for the nonce, we’ll stick with a House and Senate.

Section 2: There are two changes I would like to see in the House: One, moving to a parliamentary system so that we aren’t stuck in the duopoly that has developed over the last half century and which relegates third parties to being spoilers (vid., Nader in 2000, Teddy Roosevelt in 1912).

I’m going to avoid mechanics for the moment but would suggest that any party that could muster 10-20% of the vote in a general election deserves a spot at the table. This would make it possible to accommodate more representative viewpoints of concerned citizens without making politics so fractious that we’re stuck with the situations in Italy or Israel, where parties polling the ridiculously low 1-2% can become major players in forming governments.

The second change I would like to see is an expansion of the number of representatives. Around 600 would help bring reps closer to their constituencies and still be a workable number (I believe the Brits have around 600, so it’s doable).

Section 3: The only change I would immediately consider here is eliminating the requirement of a supermajority to impeach. I don’t like supermajorities.

Section 7: Though I just said I don’t like supermajorities, I’d keep that requirement in this section regarding presidential vetoes.

(added): No amendments shall be offered to a bill that does not have a direct relationship to that bill.

I offer this caveat in an effort to discourage “poison pills” and earmarks. An amendment should amend the basic thrust of the law in question; if some legislator’s proposal is worthy of consideration, they can offer it as a separate bill or append it to a related measure.

Another addition I would like to see here (though I’m not sure how to word it) is a stipulation that bills cannot be passed that affect an individual or particular entity. Thus congress wouldn’t be able to propose bills or offer amendments that favored a single company; they could still legislate to subsidize an industry (say, solar power) or affect a class of citizens.

Article III. [This is actually the most important part of the new Constitution in my opinion since the need to revise the document comes primarily from the President’s creeping increase in power and influence.]

Section 1: Eliminate the Electoral College entirely. Presidents should be elected by direct vote just like their legislative counterparts.

And though this runs the risk of letting Arnold Schwarzenegger become president, I’d remove the requirement that they be natural-born citizens.

Section 2: Again, I’d remove the supermajority requirement to ratify treaties. I’d also remove the power to make recess appointments. There’s no situation so desperate that the president can’t wait until Congress is back in session to name a permanent head to any position.

(added): The president shall have the power to grant pardons subject to the consideration and approval of both Houses of Congress. No more midnight pardons of any future Richard Nixons or George Bushes.

(added): The president may not commit US forces or authorize covert operations without the advice and consent of both Houses of Congress absent a declared state of war. This provision would save us (I hope) from the last 50 years of “foreign misadventures” that have given us the glorious successes of Iran, Guatemala, Viet Nam, Iraq, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

(added): The president may not declare martial law without the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Supreme Court and/or both Houses of Congress. Nor shall the president be authorized to use US military forces as domestic law enforcement absent rebellion, invasion or a state of martial law (incorporating Posse Comitatus).

(added): Presidential signing statements shall be limited to addressing how the executive will implement the will of Congress. In the case of disputes between the Legislative and Executive branches regarding that implementation, the Congress shall pass a resolution instructing the president how to do so. This measure is an attempt to restrain the abuse of the signing statement that we’ve seen George Bush use in the last seven years.

Article IV.

The only change here would be to explicitly incorporate Marbury v. Madison (the Court’s power of judicial review).

Except for changing the numeration, the remaining articles appear to be functioning quite well.

Article VIII.

Except in time of declared war or as needed to defend embassies and consulates, no US military personnel shall be stationed overseas.

This removes the impetus to empire that is destroying this nation yet still leaves us room in case of a real war situation to send troops where they’re needed.

Eliminate the District of Columbia and reincorporate the land into Maryland and Virginia (it’s not that much territory and Maryland is so small anyway, so maybe we can give it all to them – sorry, I was born in Annapolis and have a soft spot for the state). We can retain a Federal District (the Mall and other government property) but people living in the former district should have representation. At the very least, those living in formerly Virginian territory could be counted as Virginians; those in Maryland, Marylanders.

I’m not a fan of term limits so I’d be loath to include the 22nd Amendment.

Don’t know where I’d put it but I’d also include a provision that the federal government cannot use private contractors (mercenaries) to fulfill its duties under the Constitution. This provision would need work since the government couldn’t do everything on its own. But perhaps we could work out a system where government had to exercise control and oversight over private contractors. I would forbid any use of military contractors entirely.

26 July 2008

Let's bury the word "warfighter"

Readers (few though you may be) know by now that one of my bete noires is the militarization of this country. Today, I read Lt. Col. William Astore's essay at, and urge you to follow the link and read it yourself.

I quote here the colonel's most cogent point since he makes it far more eloquently than I could paraphrase it:

"Being 'the best soldiers' meant that senior German leaders...always expected them to prevail. The mentality was: 'We're number one. How can we possibly lose unless we quit -- or those [fill in your civilian quislings of choice] stab us in the back?'

"If this mentality sounds increasingly familiar, it's because it's the one we ourselves have internalized in these last years [Note: I would argue we've been internalizing it for the last 50 years]. German warfighters and their leaders knew no limitations until it was too late for them to recover from ceaseless combat, imperial overstretch, and economic collapse.

"Today, the U.S. military, and by extension American culture, is caught in a similar bind. After all, if we truly believe our to be 'the world's best military' can we possibly be losing in Iraq or Afghanistan? And, if the 'impossible' somehow happens, how can our military be to blame? If our 'warfighters' are indeed 'the best,' someone else must have betrayed them -- appeasing politicians, lily-livered liberals, duplicitous and weak-willed allies like the increasingly recalcitrant Iraqis, you name it.

"Today, our military is arguably the world's best. Certainly, it's the world's most powerful.... But what does it say about our leaders [Note: and our citizenry] that they are so taken with this form of power? And why exactly is it so good to be the 'best' at this? Just ask a German military a warrior-state that went berserk in a febrile quest for 'full spectrum dominance.'"

The "best military in the world"? We can't even defeat two third-rate countries who had no significant armies to begin with.

And do we really want to be known for our outstanding ability to bomb civilians back to the Stone Age?

12 July 2008

"Celebrating" the Fourth of July

Last Thursday (July 10), I was listening to Randi Rhodes' show on my local radio station. The topic was the abominable FISA Amendment bill that our hopelessly spineless Congress passed the day before. In all seriousness, a caller asked, "Except that it's unconstitutional, what's the big deal about warrantless wiretapping?" (I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist.)

It's times like this that I want to get that lobotomy and just join brain-dead fools like this guy in their ignorant bliss.

That or move to Canada.

Honestly, there was nothing in the original FISA law as it stood before 2001 to stop Bush from wiretapping pretty much anyone he damn well pleased. Out of nearly 20,000 requested FISA warrants, literally a handful were refused -- five! Of course, to this administration even the possibility of someone checking its authority is anathema, and, hence, the need to eviscerate an already suspect law.

David Bromwich's post on HuffPo eloquently presents the case for why July 9's vote is a disaster for this country. Why should we trust any president to voluntarily relinquish any powers he's able to squeeze out of supine Congresses and Supreme Courts? Why should we depend upon Obama's promise to "fix" the legislation when he becomes president?

Joseph Galloway, of McClatchey, poses two pertinent questions in his excellent column here:

How can even one senator on either side of the aisle in good conscience vote in favor of this law that does nothing to enhance our security and everything to diminish our rights as a free people?

How can both men who seek to become our next president cast such a vote when both should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder declaring that they would govern by our consent and with our approval, not by wielding the coercive and corrosive and corrupt powers that King George III and his latter-day namesake from Texas thought are theirs by divine right?

George Bush broke the supreme law of the land (and there's evidence he was doing it before 9/11, the ostensible reason for amending the law in the first place). That we haven't stripped him of his office, not to mention his freedom, shows just how far we've fallen from the ideals of the Founders.

[Addendum: I just came across this op-ed from Chris Hedges that ran in the LA Times on Friday. Just another reason to oppose everything this administration does.]

28 June 2008

Some words of wisdom from Abraham Lincoln

I was updating my GoodReads site when I happened to come across this quote from our greatest president that seemed apropos considering the parlous times we're living in:

"These [the armed forces] are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where.... Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises." (Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, September 11, 1858)

It's only after I noted the citation that I realized the date: How doubly apropos!

25 June 2008

And now for something completely different...

Three websites that I highly recommend visiting (and/or subscribing to) often:

The first is This is a current events/politically oriented website that publishes articles and blogs from a variety of writers on a variety of subjects (loosely bound together by the objective of exposing the perfidies of the fascist-wannabes in the White House). The latest post by Nick Turse describes 5 beneficiaries of Pentagon largesse who you've never heard of but who are racking in billions of your dollars.

The second site is Mark Morford's column at He's a funny and talented writer who tackles not just politics but culture.

The third site is my favorite. It's Mark Rosenfelder's Zompist page. I first came across this site several years ago when I was investigating "conlang" sites. For the ignorant, a "conlang" is a constructed language, like Tolkien's Elvish or the Klingon of Star Trek or Esperanto, for that matter. I have my own conlang (which may get public exposure whenever I get around to making a webpage of my own) but Mark has created at least 7 or 8 (if not more) for a world that he has created. He's Tolkien on steroids because, unlike Tolkien, he's written complete grammars for most of them.

Beyond that he's also an accomplished essayist with a variety of interests and worth reading even if you're not interested in conlangs.

The Death of a Thousand Cuts

Apologists for the latest example of Congress' craven spinelessness say that the FISA "compromise" protects fundamental civil rights but it's like "the death of a thousand cuts": If someone suffers one papercut, no major harm done; but if they suffer a thousand, they bleed to death. Just so with the latest capitulation to the Bush Administration's terrorism.

They've launched assaults against the First Amendment, they've launched assaults against habeas corpus, and now it's the Fourth Amendment's turn.

I'm happy to say that my representative voted with the "angels," opposing the FISA bill, which (if the Senate passes it) will "legalize" warrantless wiretapping and immunize the telcoms that allowed the government to do it. Unfortunately, she was in the minority.

I took down my copy of the Constitution and reread the Fourth Amendment:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

By my reading, there's no ambiguity here, no provisional language for wars or "public emergency" -- the government cannot wiretap without a warrant. Everyone is secure. Everyone. Everywhere. Everytime. And under the current FISA law, the government has 72 hours to get a retroactive warrant, anyway!

Furthermore, there's no provision for immunity. The "just obeying orders" defense didn't work at Nuremberg and it shouldn't work here. The telcoms that allowed the administration to tap communications without warrants are guilty of aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy and should be held responsible. (Not to mention the thugs in the administration.)

I've read that, in a rare display of spine, Senator Majority Leader Reid has vowed to fight the bill, and may actually split it in 2: one addressing the FISA warrants and the other addressing immunity. With luck, it could delay a final vote until after November. Also encouraging is Senator Feingold's and Dodd's intentions to filibuster this atrocious measure.

Less encouraging, is Obama's support of the "compromise," which casts doubt on his qualifications as a teacher of constitutional law (unless he were John Yoo's TA!). We need to put pressure on him to join Messers. Reid, Feingold and Dodd in opposing the law. Maybe we could say to him, "We're not going to contribute to your campaign for the next 2 weeks until you change your tune, Senator `Change.'"

15 June 2008

More Moyer's Mania

Just wanted to recommend another episode of Bill Moyer's Journal. Specifically, June 13's show, which featured Steve Fraser and Holly Sklar discussing the second Gilded Age and the continuing degeneration of the American middle class.

Bittersweet Triumphs

Two victories in the last few days for civil rights:

1. The California Supreme Court has decided that gay couples are no different from hetero couples who want to get married. So, beginning at 5:01 pm PT on Monday, June 16, the state joins Massachusetts in recognizing a basic right.

2. The US Supreme Court decided that people held in Guantanamo do have the right of habeas corpus.

These victories for civil rights and basic common sense are "bittersweet," however, since why are we even adjudicating them?

In an ideal world it would be self-evident that two people who want to legitimate their association should be able to, regardless of their gender. There are noises about putting a constitutional amendment on California's November ballot to outlaw same-sex marriages, and there are enough cavemen and -women in the state so that it will probably make it. Fortunately, it will also lose but that it even gets to a ballot is distressing.

I hesitate to put my two cents in regarding homo- and heterosexuality but I'll do it anyway: In brief, I think it's a mistake to look at people as homosexual or heterosexual beings, we're sexual beings. For sound biological reasons, species tend to favor heterosexuality (after all, a primarily homosexual species wouldn't last more than a few generations) but absent the preferred choice, it's hard to deny one's sexual drives; consider sailors on long sea voyages, prisoners, the Theban Sacred Band, experiments with same-sex rat colonies, etc. I've also read that otherwise heterosexual males will engage in gay sex so long as they're the dominant partner -- i.e., the penetrator not the penetrated.

But all that's beside the point, since even if sexual orientation were entirely voluntary, no one but you and your partner have any business poking their noses into the affair.

As to our right to habeas corpus: Understand this concept - the government does not grant us rights, it recognizes them. Habeas corpus is a person's fundamental right not to be arbitrarily seized and confined without the opportunity to know why they've been seized and to have the chance to answer the evidence against them. It's not something only American citizens get, it's a right that every human being has. And it certainly trumps the specious "national security" argument. In fact, it can only be limited in the event of "Rebellion or Invasion"; neither condition pertaining the last time I checked Yahoo! News.

A more bittersweet part of the court's ruling is that it's possible some Republican hack in Congress will try to get a bill passed circumventing the ruling. Considering Pelosi's and Reid's lack of courage in the past, it's even possible they'd allow it to come to the floor for a vote.

The most bittersweet part of the court's ruling is that it came in a 5-4 decision: Reason #6204 to vote for Obama: The next president will have at least 2, maybe 3, opportunities to fill court vacancies. If you want to continue the slide into the corporatist security state, vote for McCain.

07 June 2008

The Obscenity of War

The vitriol is already beginning to accumulate this month. Oh, well, perhaps it's because of what I'm reading. Case in point is this link to an essay by Chris Hedges at

I've been a fan of Hedge's since reading War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, and I'm putting his newest tome, Collateral Damage, on my to-read list.

06 June 2008

D-Day: Dispatches from the Eastern Front

On this, the 64th anniversary of the D-Day Invasions, I think we should take a few moments out of the time we spend memorializing the event to remember the sacrifices of the Soviet armies who tied up the bulk of the German army (and its best units) and sacrificed millions to destroy the Nazi's ability to wage war.

It's a shame that the subsequent Cold War poisoned our perceptions of the Soviet people (as opposed to their governors) and minimized (nay, obliterated) the fact that they paid the greater price.

Which is not to detract from the death and sacrifices performed by our Western soldiers, I just think that, with the Cold War over, it's time to acknowledge that we weren't alone in defeating the Nazis.

It's Over. Right? (Clinton vs. Obama)


It's over. Finally. Right?

The rumor is that Clinton will finally concede that Obama has won this Saturday (the 7th). She's still going to technically keep the campaign active (she's just suspending it) because she needs to continue fundraising to help retire her debts.

Going forward the best thing that could come out of this mess is for Clinton to become Senate majority leader. She is not a vice president. I can't see her playing second fiddle to anyone, and I wouldn't want her to. Her strengths would be best used in the Senate, where she could twist arms, be in people's faces and play the bad cop to get the Dem agenda passed. (I think she has the potential to be as effective a majority leader as Lyndon Johnson. The worst decision LBJ ever made was shooting for the presidency: His particular brand of leadership [and Clinton's] was [is] better suited to the Senate.)

And just think of the juggernaut that could be created if the White House, the Senate and the House could all coordinate on trying to reverse the catastrophic course this country is on.

In the interests of "healing" the rift in the party, Obama's vice presidential choice probably should be a Clinton partisan, though I have no opinion on who that might be.

31 May 2008

Book Reviews: The Mid-year Round-up

I haven't posted much this month because the vitriol that prompted me to begin this blog site has been largely expelled (for now, the upcoming general campaign and the Shrub's guaranteed incompetence is sure to stir something up between now and the new year).

In the interim, I will grace you with some of the better books I've read these past 6 months. They're in no particular order other than "when read":

  1. Takeover, Charlie Savage. The first book of the new year, it's a distressing look at the return of the imperial presidency and the subsequent damage to our democracy.
  2. See No Evil, Robert Baer. The inspiration for George Clooney's Syriana. Baer is a former CIA operative and I think he's still too enamored with the "adventure" of covert ops but it is an interesting glimpse at the inept workings of our "intelligence" services.
  3. Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi. You'd wish someone in the Bush administration would read this in the hopes that they might reconsider attacking the country.
  4. Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon. Reminiscent of Fritz Leiber's Fahfrd/Grey Mouser and it involves the Khazars. Hard to go wrong, and Chabon doesn't.
  5. The Basic 8, Daniel Handler. I knew I liked Handler after reading Adverbs but this is his best novel so far.
  6. The Age of Lincoln, Orville Burton, and 1858, Bruce Chadwick. I found both books very interesting because they illuminated a period of American history with which I was not very familiar.
  7. Discovering God, Rodney Stark. Read the first 2/3s of the book for his insights on religious belief but you can skip that last 1/3, which is a screed about the supposed superiority of Christianity over all other religions. (If interested, you can read my Amazon review here.)
  8. Seeing Red, Frank Beddor. The second book in Beddor's reinterpretation of Lewis Carroll is as good as the first; I look forward to the final book.
  9. The Day of Battle, Rick Atkinson. Having read this as well as Ronald Spector's In the Ruins of Empire and Mosier's reinterpretations of World Wars 1 and 2, I'm amazed we won either war. Fortunately, neither Germany nor Japan commanded the sheer resources the U.S. did.
  10. Weight, Jeannette Winterson. A reinterpretation of the Atlas myth that suggests that many of the "weights" we labor under are created by ourselves.
  11. Worshipping the Myths of World War II, Edward Wood, Jr. A cri de coeur from a man who's been through the hell of war, and wants us to understand the dangers of glamourizing such insanity.
  12. Night of Knives, Ian Esslemont. Steven Erikson's partner in the world of the Malazan Empire. He's not as compelling or assured an author as Erikson but he shows promise.
  13. Matter, Iain Banks. Bank's latest Culture novel. Up there in the top five, though Consider Phlebas and Player of Games remain my favorites.
  14. The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie. A disturbing fantasy novel. Brutal and realistic, I'm not sure what to think of it yet.
That's it for now.

I'm still contemplating the Lord of the Rings v. LotR (the movie) review; perhaps for June.

12 May 2008


As with Star Wars, so with Star Trek: I've been very disappointed with where it's gone since The Next Generation came out. I was fortunate enough to encounter Star Trek in that "golden age" between cancellation and the first movie, when the tradition was carried on by fanzines and authors who weren't constrained by "The Canon."

Now, unfortunately, it's been homogenized and pasteurized and politically correctivized to the point where it's just "feel good" pablum suitable for the brain dead who make up the majority of the TV-viewing audience. (I knew things weren't going to go well when I saw the new Enterprise -- a squat, ungainly looking thing that had lost all the graceful lines of the original and movie versions.)

Don't get me wrong: Some of the things and characters introduced in the series spin-offs worked for me. I like Patrick Stewart; he's a good enough actor to make even the crap he was given to act look good most of the time. Brent Spiner's "Data" had his moments. One of the most affecting and best episodes of The Next Generation, in my opinion, was "The Offspring," when Data created a daughter. "Yesterday's Enterprise" and "Conundrum" were both good, and there were a few other diamonds in the rough of TNG. Of the other series, the only episode I can remember is Deep Space Nine's homage to "The Trouble with Tribbles."

And, lord, what they did to the Klingons and the Romulans just makes me ill.

So in the same spirit that I offered my alternative Star Wars universe, I offer my alternative Star Trek universe. As with any good mythologist, I've cherry picked a great deal from a host of sources, including the original series (which I tend to follow most closely), the movies, what little from TNG et al. I think worked, several of the better Trek novels (particularly John Ford's The Final Reflection, which is, hands down, the best Star Trek novel ever written), the strategic board game Star Fleet Battles (which, until it became just another WW2 simulation set in space, was a great game), and a soupcon of my own fevered imaginings.

My jumping off point was "the Eugenics Wars did not occur in 1993." So I asked myself, "What if we pushed them up by a century -- to 2093? Could we rework the timeline?" I think I was able to:

c. 1 million BC
Limited evidence on Vulcan and several other starsystems suggests that the region had been colonized by an advanced species. Discovery of Sargon’s World in AD 2206 corroborated this theory, though there remains no evidence of a direct influence on the archaic Vulcan species.

c. 4000 BC
Vulcan’s first advanced civilization flourished. Though it never developed warp drive, it did succeed in building ships capable of 0.5c-0.75c. In its last century of existence, several groups sent out colonizing expeditions; one of these gave birth to the Romulans.

Vulcan nearly perished in a nuclear and biological cataclysm that utterly wiped out this first civilization and left few survivors. The extra-Vulcan colonies were abandoned and most perished.

The Vulcans (and Romulans) of this era were far closer to humans physically and mentally. Though they had a greater capacity for metapsychic talent, it was not dominant. Post-Cataclysm, there is some evidence that the so-called Preservers intervened in Vulcan development, producing the modern Vulcan species.

c. 3000
Due to time-dilation effects, the Vulcan ancestors of the Romulans reach the Romulus/Remus star system. Though Remus is a more clement world, the colonists settle on Romulus, which more closely resembles Vulcan in climate and ecology.

The first years of the colony are brutal but eventually a stable population develops and even begins to flourish.

The high technology of the original colonists is soon lost but as the Romulans progress much is recovered. Technical discovery largely parallels Earth’s so that when the two races meet in the 22nd century, they are on a par.

c. AD 1
Surak appears and sets Vulcan on its path of “logical” development.

c. 1700
The Vegan Tyranny is overthrown.

c. 2000
Vulcan explorers reach Sol and begin observations. At the same time they prevent other civilizations (notably Andor and Tellar) from interfering in Earth development.

Second Great Depression: The economic meltdown of the world economy leads to small-scale wars, terrorism, and political and social instability (including “Colonel” Green’s dictatorship, which endured from 2033-2035 over a large portion of Southeast Asia and Australia). The estimated death toll is 600+ million.

By tradition, the Second Depression ends when an obscure physicist at the University of Montana, Zefrem Cochrane, publishes his unified field theory (at the age of 34).

Cochrane publishes the Foundations of Warp Dynamics, proving the theoretical possibility of FTL travel.

Exhausted by 40 years of turmoil, the surviving nations of the world convene the United Nations for the first time since 2027 in Toronto. (Toronto was chosen as a neutral meeting ground since there was still a great deal of mistrust among the major powers of the period such as Brazil, Singapore and Tehran.)

The Toronto Conventions are adopted – the first step toward an effective world government. This document is heralded in subsequent decades as being on a par with the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Fundamental Declaration of the Martian Colonies, The Statutes of Alpha III, etc.

Work begins on dismantling the world’s arsenals.

Taking advantage of disarmament, Cochrane convinces a consortium to back the building of a warp-drive prototype using a nuclear missile as a foundation.

Cochrane launches the first warp-drive ship, Phoenix (though legend has it that Cochrane privately called it Pandora’s Box since it would lead to a plethora of unintended consequences).

The ship is detected by a Vulcan surveyor in system at the time, leading to First Contact.

Subsequently, Vulcan aids Earth with medical and other humanitarian technology that allows the planet to recover from the previous century.

Vulcan introduces Earth to the Andorian Star Empire, the Tellarite Territories and the near-human inhabitants of Alphacent.

While the Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites are clearly products of a nonhuman evolution, the Alphacenti turn out to be the modern descendants of homines neandertalenses, presumably transported from Earth by unknown entities. (Archeological evidence proves that the entire ecosphere of Alphacent is only about 250,000 E-years old. Before then, the planet could only be classed as M by courtesy – it was far too cold, arid and oxygen poor to support life more complex than lichens.)

Earth’s space program concentrates on developing intra-Solar industries and colonies. Permanent bases are established on Luna (2068) and Mars (2080), and a flourishing space industry develops.

SS Lewis & Clark reaches Saturn (2071) and discovers evidence of alien artifacts on many of its moons (approximately 0.25 million years old).

Xenoarcheologists discover extensive ruins at the Martian poles (2077). Like the Saturnian relics, the oldest date to about a quarter of a million years ago and the youngest are about 100,000 years old.

In this period, certain member governments of the United Nations begin secret experiments in eugenics, ostensibly to eliminate genetic disorders in the human species but with the ultimate goal of creating a race of “supermen.”

The United Nations Space Fleet (UNSF) is created. Though it is a military body, the focus of its training is on avoiding conflict.

First Earth Trading Mission to the Orion Colonies.

The United Nations Space Fleet Academy is opened in San Francisco.

The Fundamental Declaration of the Martian Colonies establishes the right of any colony to self-government.

The Eugenics Wars: The “supermen” rise up against the United Nations and their own creators, seizing power in a number of territories.

The last significant military conflict fought on Earth claims 60 million casualties. The greater portion of these casualties was incurred in the campaign against Khan Noonian Singh, the most powerful and capable of the “supermen,” who ruled India and Southeast Asia.

Genetic experimentation is severely limited, though research in combating genetic disorders continues and results in some remarkable advances.

Horrified that Earth may be plunging into a fourth World War, Zefrem Cochrane emigrates to Alphacent (at the age of 86). Still mentally and physically active, the esteemed Cochrane teaches at several Alphacenti research establishments for the next two years before disappearing into uncharted space aboard a prototype warp-capable shuttle.

Khan Singh escapes the storming of his capital (Karachi) with c. 100 fellow “supermen” aboard a sublight, DY-100 class ship (Botany Bay), which escapes the UNSF’s net to disappear into interstellar space (Singh used a sublight vessel so as to avoid a detectable warp signature).

Outside of Singh’s clique, 114 “supermen” survived the war and are interred in a penal colony set up in Antarctica.

Loathe to execute the “supermen,” the UN finally decides to exile them to an extra-Solar colony – a G5 sub-giant 78 light years from Earth which hosts a Class F, marginally habitable world. The voyage takes nearly 12 years (at warp 2), with the “supermen” in suspended animation aboard two ships.

Earth establishes its first (officially recognized) extra-Solar colony in the Tau Ceti system.

The first era of extra-Solar expansion. Since even the most advanced ships are limited by technology to speeds of warp 3 or less, only about 20 worlds in a 40-light-year radius are colonized.

The “supermen” reach the G5 system and establish the colony of Prometheus.

Sarek of Vulcan and Amanda Grayson of Earth conceive a hybrid human-Vulcan, and Amanda gives birth to Spock.

The Romulan War begins when the Romulans massacre the colony of Novya Novgorod. The UNSF and Romulan forces struggle indecisively over the next decade without ever meeting face to face before a treaty is arranged by subspace radio. Andor and Alphacent participate in several campaigns but Vulcan and Tellar remain neutral.

In the wake of the war, a movement begins to create a federation of some sort among Earth, Vulcan, Andor, Tellar and Alphacent.

James Kirk is born in Iowa (Earth).

Richard Daystrom develops the prototype duotronic computer.

The UNSF DSV Sentry engages the IKV Devisor to rescue a Klingon family fleeing from that empire, inaugurating Earth’s first known contact with the Klingons (though unexplained disappearances of ships in the preceding decade could have been due to Klingons, and Earth merchants may have unknowingly encountered Klingon traders in the bazaars of the Orion Colonies). (This is the so-called battle of Donatu V mentioned by Spock in The Trouble with Tribbles.)

The existence of a large, aggressive interstellar polity is the final piece of the puzzle – In the First Babel Conference, the Founding Worlds (Earth, Vulcan, Andor, Tellar, Alphacent) create the United Federation of Planets (2184).

One of its first tests as a government is the rescue and aid mission to the Tarsus Colony, where 4,000 colonists had been massacred by its governor.

With the processing power of duotronic computers, the matter transporter is successfully tested.

Over this decade, the various space fleets of the Federation’s member worlds are integrated into Starfleet.

The Axanar Peace Mission forestalls outright war between the new Federation and the Klingon Empire but incidents continue to occur between the two polities.

The first Constitution class heavy cruiser, UFP DSV Constellation, begins active duty. The Constitutions are more than simply battle cruisers; they incorporate facilities for exploration and scientific research. The design turns out to be more successful than its creators could have hoped, as Constitution-based starships become the backbone of Starfleet for the next century.

Enterprise’s keel is laid down in this year; she is the first of the Constitutions whose components are built entirely from scratch and the first ship to incorporate several major advances: dilithium crystals, making speeds of warp 5+ possible; duotronic computers; phaser and photon weapons technology; and the transporter.

Starbase One – aka Fleet Headquarters – is built.

Robert April commands Enterprise.

Christopher Pike commands Enterprise.

The Talos Star Group is declared “off limits.”

The Back to Earth movement results in the Federation’s first existential crisis, nearly causing the break up of the newborn polity at the Second Babel Conference.

The Conference also results in the short-lived experiment of exchanging ambassadors between the Federation and Klinzhai. (The Federation’s ambassador was recalled after two years, and the Klingon’s ambassador never officially occupied the “Klingon Embassy.”)

James Kirk commands Enterprise for the first time.

A war with the Klingons ends abruptly when the Organians intervene and stop it. The Organian Treaty will govern Federation/Klingon relations for the next 25 years.

In this year too, the Federation comes face to face with the Romulans, discovering them to be a Vulcan subspecies.

Also in this year, the so-called “energy barrier” is encountered near the galaxy’s rim. Initially this phenomenon was thought to be natural and extend around the galaxy but a subsequent joint UFP/First Federation scientific mission (2210-2219) discovered that it was the remnant of a vast alien construct that may have surrounded a volume of space 10,000 LYs across. Considering its properties, its purpose was most likely defensive. The mission “turned it off” in 2217 and xeno-archeological expeditions continue to study the ruins of the mechanisms to the modern day.

The Klingons and Romulans contact each other and agree to several technology-exchange treaties over the next century.

Multitronic computer research suffers a catastrophic setback with the M-5 debacle. Despite this, several of Richard Daystrom’s colleagues persevere in making a workable multitronic circuit, succeeding in 2211. Because of their breakthroughs, both the Genesis project and transwarp drives are made possible.

Enterprise undergoes extensive refits, making it the class ship of a fourth generation of heavy cruisers.

The V’Ger probe returns to Earth.

Spock commands Enterprise, though under him its duties are primarily confined to training and scientific research. Kirk becomes Chief of Training Operations.

The Genesis Incident precipitates the second great crisis in the Federation’s existence and a precipitous deterioration in UFP/Klingon relations, though the Organian Treaty continues to preclude armed combat. (As Carol Marcus was the only Genesis team-member to survive the debacle, the Federation Council had little difficulty suppressing the theory and technology to create the Genesis Effect, and it appears that no other polity has had the temerity to pursue it.)

Despite technical difficulties, the fifth generation of heavy cruiser-class vessels incorporating transwarp technology enters regular service. (Transwarp drive is based on a better utilization of warp-field generation, making speeds closer to the theoretical maximum of warp 10 possible.)

An extragalactic probe wreaks havoc on Earth’s ecosystem, apparently in an effort to re-establish contact with the extinct species of humpback whale. Representatives of the species rescued from the 20th century and brought forward in time satisfy the probe so that it ceases its assault on Earth. Naturally, research into utterly nonhuman intelligences receives a tremendous boost.

The probe refuses any contact with Federation representatives but its departure trajectory sends it toward the Magellanic Clouds.

Kirk commands Enterprise on its final five-year mission before he and the ship retire from active service. Kirk is promoted to Fleet Captain, Reserve, and Enterprise becomes a Museum Ship at the Memory Prime Complex.

A catastrophic subspace implosion destroys a Klingon operations complex in their home system and threatens Klinzhai with destruction (its effects were felt clear to the Klingon/UFP border). A promising beginning of talks between the Federation and the Empire ultimately results in nothing. The Klingons balk at potentially becoming dependents of the “Earthers.” Even today the Klingons do not discuss the measures taken to save the homeworld but by 2250 Klinzhai had apparently fully recovered.

UFP DSV Medea reestablishes contact with the “supermen’s” colony on Prometheus. The Prometheans have managed to survive the overweening ambitions of its first generation of “supermen” by re-engineering the brains of second and subsequent generations to produce proteins that ameliorate aggressive expressions – the Prometheans retain the basic drives of unmodified humans. Since this expresses itself (partially) in pheromones, even first-generation “supermen” find themselves acting less aggressively. This effect is found to affect unmodified humans as well.

Prometheus joins the Federation.

Apparently satisfied that the Federation and Klingon Empire have advanced sufficiently to preclude another full-scale war, the Organians inform the respective capitals that they will no longer enforce the Treaty outside of the Organian system.

Tensions rapidly escalate between the UFP and the Klingon Empire but a “hot” war is avoided. The Federation, though it has a “war party,” cannot afford war with the Klingons as it is juggling a host of negotiations with other potentially hostile polities such as the Gorn and the Tholians. The Klingons, in turn, are attempting to deal with their own diplomatic problems, having encountered two highly advanced, highly aggressive polities on their borders opposite the Federation (codenamed “Lyra” and “Hydra” by the Federation).

At the Federation’s 50th year, the outlook of most member worlds is good. Despite an almost continual state of crisis with the Klingons, other diplomatic fronts look promising (or at least “not threatening”) – the Gorn, while not overly friendly, eagerly accept trade with the Federation and exhibit no great desire for conflict; the Tholians want nothing more than to be left alone, something the Federation is happy to oblige; relations with other star-faring races are good; and the Romulans demonstrate little interest in testing Starfleet’s defenses.

The Ersatz War: Matters come to a head between the Federation and the Klingons but neither can declare a real war because of economic and political factors. What results is a series of single-ship and small fleet “incidents” that cause tremendous loss of life but resolve nothing.

Starting in 2243, a remarkable conference of UFP and Empire diplomats hammers out the Khitomer Accords, which not only bring hostilities to an end but (to the surprise of everyone) actually calls for a limited alliance and the beginning of normal relations.

The Romulan Empire unilaterally pulls out of its treaties with the Klingons. They close off the Treaty Ports and seal their borders with the UFP and the Klingons for the next 60 years.

The Federation’s centennial is inaugurated with the introduction of the first Galaxy class heavy cruiser – the latest generation of the heavy cruiser class, incorporating the advances of the previous century, and continuing the tradition of peaceful exploration and expansion. At this time, the Federation comprises nearly 500 full status member worlds (“world” here describing not only planets but also artificial habitats) in 320+ systems; it also maintains associate status with a further thousand.

The Klingon Empire at this time is thought to comprise 300+ worlds plus the same number of splinter states and client worlds. The alliance with the Federation still governs relations between Klinzhai and Earth. Economic interdependence has become so great that there is little sentiment for hostilities on either side, though contact outside of a limited number of Treaty Ports is still infrequent.

The Romulans are thought to control approximately 150 worlds (many artificial constructs, considering the paucity of Class M worlds in that region). The Federation is aware that the Romulans and Gorn have clashed repeatedly but the Gorn are reticent and the Romulans mute about the subject. The Federation is also aware that the Romulans have encountered a third polity, codenamed “Aurigans” because their presumed systems are in the direction of that constellation, which has dominated their attention since soon after the Treaty Ports were closed (this information is based on third-hand accounts gleaned from the Klingons and the Orions).

The Orions remain independent. Orion was formerly a slave world of a Vegan Tyrant. When those enigmatic beings were overthrown c. 1700, Orion exploited the advanced technology left behind and became a trading entrepot for the surviving races of the region; a position they continue to hold. Some Orion “families” also became notorious as pirates and smugglers, willing to carry any cargo to any destination for the right price. The Federation strictly regulates trade between member worlds and an Orion Colony (statistically, the plurality of military incidents with Starfleet vessels involves Orion privateers).

The Gorn and Federation have opened a handful of Treaty Ports but contact between the polities is strictly controlled and very limited. The Federation believes that the Gorn occupy 100-120 worlds.

The Tholians continue to refuse contact with any other race. Since its first encounter with the Federation, the Tholians have become less preemptive in protecting their space, usually warning ships that they have strayed before escalating the confrontation.

Direct contact with the “Lyrans” and “Hydrans” has still not been established. It is believed that the Lyrans are felinoid in appearance and are at least as technologically capable as the Federation and the Empire. The Hydrans are believed to be one of the few known methane-breathing species.

The newest star-faring polity in the region is the Kardassi Union, which first encountered the Klingons some time after the Ersatz War. The Kardassi are a relatively young species; they only acquired dilithium technology after meeting the Klingons. They are also a highly aggressive species, routinely attacking both Klingon and Federation colonies and ships they believe are trespassing in their space. As in the Ersatz War, tensions are high on both sides and “incidents” are frequent.

20 April 2008

Bill Moyer's is, like, a GOD!

I can't say how much I respect Bill Moyer's and his Bill Moyer's Journal on PBS.

This week's episode is just another example of his integrity and critical examination of the issues. The guest was Leila Fadel, who's the Baghdad bureau chief for the McClatchy Newspapers (formerly Knight-Ridder).

You should go to the website ( to see a full transcript or the video of the interview. Fadel focused on the human beings (both the U.S. forces and Iraqis) who are over there, and its frustrating and heartbreaking to see how many lives are being ruined because our leaders (and theirs) have to make a point, preserve their honor, or some such other rubbish justifying slaughter.

A telling anecdote is one Fadel related about her embedded experience with a U.S. squad that was squatting in an abandoned house in Sadr City. The owner showed up and wanted to move back in but the soldiers wouldn't let him. They wouldn't even allow him to come in to gather some things for his daughter; the translator gathered them and slipped them through the door. When Fadel asked a soldier what he would do if a foreign army occupied his house, the soldier said he would tear down half of it to get back in or take up arms against the occupier. When she followed up by asking him how this was different from what the Iraqis were doing, he replied, "But we're trying to help them." (I paraphrase here but the idea is the same -- we're the good guys and only criminals would even contemplate opposing us.)

It's frightening to see such a disconnect with reality and a lack of empathy.

A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq?

Well, maybe.

While reading the latest issue of The Nation magazine, I came across this website: It's a group of Democratic candidates who have devised a strategy for rolling back the worst excesses of the criminals currently running our Executive and their collaborators in Congress.

It aims to end U.S. military action in Iraq, promote diplomatic solutions, restore Constitutional checks and balances, repair the damage to the military, amend the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and promote energy-independence policies.

I added my name to the list of endorsees because I agree with the general goals of the proposals and it's a good start toward fixing what's wrong with this country but I still think it falls short because it lacks a sense of history and it doesn't even attempt to break out of the fallacious Cold War-era assumptions that have terrorized us for the last 60+ years.

Case in point: The authors write that "the U.S. Military [has] been instrumental in preserving our country's liberty and democracy." From whom? With the exception of the original Revolution, the War of 1812 (when British troops burned the capital), and WW2, this country's existence as a democracy has never been in danger. Prior to WW2, this country's military had always been miniscule. After every large-scale military conflict, the federal government savagely slashed military budgets and reduced troop numbers, even at the expense of economic disruption. Since WW2, unfortunately, we've bought the myth that we are the policemen of the world, that the increasing militarization of our culture is a good thing, and that the Executive needs unfettered hands to deal with all the "monsters lurking in the closet."

The first assumption we have to drop (and which I've mentioned in an earlier post) is that our military has any business intervening in a foreign country.

The author's also have little historical memory for the erosion of congressional checks on executive power. For them, the undermining begins with the war when it's been going on since WW2 (and, arguably, since the Civil War, where Lincoln unfortunately sowed the crop which we're beginning to reap now).

On page 10 of the "Responsible Plan," the authors write about the intervention of Iraq's neighbors in the country. What bothers me in particular about this bit, is that no mention is made of the ur-intervention -- OURS! U.S. policy in Iraq (and the Middle East) was a disaster by any measure before the war but the ham-handed, self-righteous arrogance of the current administration's intervention has demonstrably made it a catastrophe.

The authors set out several bills currently floating around Capitol Hill:

The first is HR 3797 (New Diplomatic Offensive for Iraq Act). Now, beyond the use of the word "offensive," which might not be the best term, it's not a bad bill but it maintains the assumption that foreign countries (i.e., the U.S. and, if necessary, other Western democracies) need to intervene in Iraq, presumably because the Iraqis don't know what they're doing.

HR 3674 and HR 2265 would address the shameful way we've treated Iraqi refugees and those who have collaborated with us (such as translators) and I support that.

Tellingly, they mention on page 16 that the authors support efforts to try war criminals but there's no mention of any congressional effort to do so and there's only vague, "feel good" sentiments about brings such criminals to justice. I wonder what the reaction would be if the Hague brought charges against Bush and Cheney? Or U.S. military personnel?

I like the authors' plans to restore the Constitution (though I think a lot could be done if Congress simply exercised its already delegated powers).

Incorporate the cost of the war into the regular budget. Good move. We should also raise taxes to pay for it. That would bring the troops out real quick.

Eliminate signing statements (my favorite). HR 3045 would prohibit courts from using signing statements as authorities in determining the meaning of an act of Congress.

Restore habeas corpus. HR 1416 would restore the right of habeas corpus to anyone detained by the government -- either military or civil authorities.

End warrentless spying (S 139).

Another favorite: End torture and rendition (HR 1352).

HR 4102 and HR 2740 would prohibit the use of mercenaries and hold contractors accountable for their contracts (there's a novel concept in DoD contracting history!).

HR 2874 would recognize how poor the physical and mental care we give to the men and women whose lives have been destroyed by the admininstration's chickenhawks has been and work to change that.

HR 2247 and HR 2702 would expand educational benefits for veterans. The only problem I have with these last two measures is: Why don't we make education assistance available to everyone? How many studies do we have to fund before we get it through our thick skulls that a well educated population is a fundamental requirement for a well functioning democracy?

HR 400 would amend the contracting process.

S 2332 attempts to diversify media ownership. From the summary presented in this report, I'm not sure it will do much toward that end. It seems to me that we need to repeal the entire Telecommunications Act and start over -- this time, not letting the telecommunications industry write the bill.

HR 2809, which proposes subsidizing plans exploring alternative-energy solutions, sounds like another one of those vague, feel-good, pie-in-the-sky" pieces of legislation that throw money at a lot of people and to which pols can point during the next election to show how concerned they are about the environment. That it would actually lead to anything is doubtful.

As I wrote above, it's a good start but it still falls short of a fundamental rethinking of America's role as a nation and how it should act to restore some measure of peace and stability to this old world.