30 March 2005

One more Manas post

Yet another article on Ganci/Manas Air Base, also a good one. Sorry for the strong theme of the last few posts, but this is a topic of great interest to me.

Other news reports today mentioned the desire of the current interim Kyrgyz government
to have ousted President Akayev remain in Russia for now, and a lengthy and in-depth discussion on Asianet News about the Uighur situation and Sino-Kyrgyz relations.

29 March 2005

Kyrgyzstan update

This is a must-read article for anybody who's ever been to or knows someone stationed at Manas Air Base.
Troops focus on Afghanistan.

It's worth noting that today in my mailbox I received articles claiming that Askar Akayev had denied any intention of resigning, had made conditional offers of resignation, and had in fact already resigned. The main difference being the countryies from which these news articles came.

The Turkish news has an article speculating that new elections are likely to be held "soon," whatever that means. Given the frequency of elections in central Asia in the last two millenia, soon might mean sometime this century.

The Chinese, meanwhile, have an article discussing the Turkish policy on Kyrgyz elections, namely that they will be held "soon." The Chinese article does not, however, bother to mention that Kyrgyzstan has recently undergone a revolution and thrown out the sitting government. Ah, those crazy Chinese.

The French have an article that says the Kyrgyz revolution owes something to Western influence; Reuters, however, argues that the revolution took both the West and Russia by surprise, and that the rivalry for dominance in Kyrgyzstan and central Asia is on hold while the great powers sort out what to do.

The Pakistani news agency focuses on the down and dirty political maneuvering going on in the duelling Kyrgyz parliaments (the reforms won). It also notes in detail the Chinese official response to all these events, which includes the statement, "'We hope relevant anti-terrorism cooperation can continue to be carried out smoothly.'" Pakistan news goes on to say that China uses the word terrorism to define "Muslim separatist activities in its region bordering Central Asia." This would be the predominantly Uighur and Muslim region of Xinjiang, which which predominantly Muslim and minority Uighur Kyrgyzstan shares a long border.

British news is praising the Kyrgyz revolution, saying that the country has led the way for the other central Asian states to move toward democracy. One would assume the Brits weren't encouraging looting and violence, but given the long history of British diplomatic and military failures in central Asia they can probably be forgiven for not getting in a snit over a little violence and destruction. They'd probably like to join in, actually.

And the ever hopeful Aussies have an article noting that while activities of some Australian mining firms in Kyrgyzstan have been suspended, all the assets are safe and business should resume shortly.

24 March 2005

Kyrgyzstan! Excitement! Adventure Tourism at its Finest!

I’ve received no less than four messages in the last two days from people telling me how glad they are that I am not in Kyrgyzstan right now.
Thanks, but… I wish I was in Kyrgyzstan right now. What a time to be there!

Not that I’d be able to experience any of it from within the confines of Manas Air Base, the US Air Force’s outpost north of the capital Bishkek. I’ve spent some months there and visited the city a number of times on deployment with the Air Force. It is hard for me to adequately describe the city to someone who’s never been there, certainly not in this forum. It would need to be done in person, with pictures. Nonetheless in the next few days I’ll try to give some description of the place.

Anyway, I just wanted to put in some disjointed ramblings and link to lots of articles for people who are interested. This is… well, it’s not an unqualified good, but one has to have great hope here. I really would like to see this first person. In a way I really envy the expats I met at the Metropolitan bar in downtown Bishkek, the guys (and women, some of them) who worked for NGOs or were hangers-on at the State Department or had some other role—often with the independent press—and were just there, living in Bishkek, and are watching this now. I hope they’re all safe. I imagine most of them are smart enough to have stayed home and not gotten involved.

Oh, and Kyrgyzstan’s digraph is KG, so when you read KG here, think Kyrgyzstan.

This article is from before the real overthrow; it talks about how the opposition took control of the city of Osh. Good reading. Worth pointing out that the 12 hour bus trip from Osh to Bishkek is a testament both to the ruggedness of terrain as well as to the country’s poor infrastructure. There is exactly one road from Bishkek, north of the Tien Shan mountains, across those mountains and into the south of the country, toward Osh. This road is a wonder of engineering, and I’ve always (well, since I saw it) wanted to drive it. Maybe in a few decades I will. Nonetheless, Osh and Bishkek are less than an hour apart by air and, I would estimate, are probably no more than 300 miles apart. Think about that next time you’re stuck on the interstate; 300 miles in 12 hours! Eesh.

This article is also from yesterday. It’s from the Russian news agency, and takes a dimmer view of the proceedings. Worth noting that Russia’s minister to the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) blames election monitors. Russia doesn’t like having election monitors in their own elections, and they have to blame outsiders because they don’t want this happening in their own country. It may anyway, though. Also, I love this quote, because I know the actual purpose of the air base in Kant: "The command of the base in Kant constantly informs us on the state of things.” No shit. That’s all they’re there for, folks. Spying, on both us and the Kyrgyz.

This is a charming article that shows how inept our own intelligence gathering operations are in the country, as it is from only about 12 hours before Akayev fled the country. Considering how close it came to the end, I like the note about the new interior minister and security forces being ready to crack down on protesters if it came to that. Ha ha ha! You guys suck! Looks like the protesters did the cracking. Also, I hate this description of KG as being about the size of South Dakota, which comes from the CIA World Factbook. South Dakota is a square. KG is more like this bracket: > Well, not really, but sort of. Anyway, it’s much larger than South Dakota in some respects, smaller in others since about 40% of the territory is too mountainous for any economic activity other than ski resorts.

This looting stuff is just sad. I bet I know exactly which department store they’re looting too: the new Dordoi. There’s nothing in there the average, or even the above average, Kyrgyz citizen could afford anyway. Hell, that place seemed expensive to me.

Here we have a note from Novosti, the official mouthpiece of Russian state-run media. It is surprisingly not alarmist about the revolution. However, it also quotes a leader of one of the many divergent opposition groups as saying that regardless of who runs the place, KG will retain a pro-Russian tilt. This begs the question, exactly who is Imanaliev, what bloc does he represent, will he have any role in the government, and does he speak for any but himself and his supporters? Interesting questions.

This is worth reading. It discusses the official media (all state-run) reportage about the Kyrgyz revolution in the other former Soviet states of central Asia. Essentially, there was none. Not a big surprise.

One of the best general pieces on the overthrow. I’d like to point out that though KG “lies in an energy-rich region,” it has no actual energy resources of its own aside from, possibly, hydropower. However, the Soviets, who liked a good dam better than anyone else on Earth, never built major hydropower dams in KG, which is a likely sign that there are no good sites for them. Anyway, don’t think of KG as some little energy-rich potentate a la Turkmenistan or Kuwait. The only resources in the country are some deposits of minor elements and the unfreakingbelievable scenery. (Personally, I doubt Akayev went to Kant Airbase, as is suggested in this story. I strongly suspect he fled to Kazakhstan, if he’s not still in KG. That’s just a gut feeling, though.)

If I was being responsible, I’d mostly agree with this article, which is mostly SecState Rice’s comments on the situation. But I’m not in a responsible mood, so… notice how when the Bush administration doesn’t cause a major international crisis, it only “might” be a good thing? But when they cause an unmitigated disaster, well, it’s a totally positive event. No question. On a neutral note, this article also contains the only direct quote about Manas Air Base of any of the articles I’ve read. And, that information is essentially, nothing. CENTCOM isn’t going to talk. You can rest assured the base is locked down tighter than a drum, and these guys don’t mess around when it comes to security.

The headline says it all on this article, and it’s the single biggest problem KG faces on the way forward. To a man, the Kyrgyz I met are decent, upstanding people who won’t stand for a collapse of the movement they’ve created. But then, I didn’t meet them all, and I surely didn’t meet any of the opposition leaders, though I also didn’t meet anyone who really supported the Akayev regime, though they’d only say that in private settings. This is a good article that needs more depth but has additional info on Manas and raises a significant topic that will be the focus of news from this region for the next several weeks.

This is from New Kerala, an Indian news agency. It doesn’t have a lot of new info, but it does make me further question Mr. Imanaliev’s background and positions.

This wire brief has a picture of riot police getting creamed by demonstrators. This isn’t necessary. Where’s Rodney King when we really need him?

China has a lengthy border with KG and, being a repressive and paranoid authoritarian regime, I’d think they’d be interested in this story. Then again, like the other central Asian states, I would not be surprised to find that the Chinese press have simply not covered this story at all. This article from Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, is the only thing I’ve seen from Chinese press. It isn’t interesting except as regards how very little it says about the events.

This may be the best article of the bunch, but that isn’t saying a lot as most of these are fairly thin (not too many news organizations have field offices in KG). It has some descriptions of the events not found in other articles, many of which clearly draw from the same sources.

Being that it’s from Novosti, I question the slant of this little wire brief, but it does have the latest news. If it’s entirely accurate, it’s distressing.

Until tomorrow’s Times, this will be far and away the most in-depth article about the events. A must read, even with the Jewish slant.

23 March 2005

The Schiavo Post

I have resisted doing this for weeks now, but I can’t resist any longer. I was bored at work today, and having nothing else to do I spent most of the morning reading Howard Bashman’s blog, 50% of which seems to concern the Schiavo case. And so I was thinking about it and reading about it, and I wrote this around lunchtime. This article in today’s Saint Petersburg Times, aside from being generally depressing, shows several of the problems this case has created.

Disclaimer: I am not qualified to give legal advice, comment on legal considerations, discuss Terri Schiavo’s medical status, or any of a host of other things; consequently I'll do my best to avoid doing such things. Bill Frist, also, is not qualified to describe Schiavo’s medical state on the basis of some video footage, and should likewise shut his pandering little mouth. Further, vast amounts of empirical evidence show that fame begets neither wisdom nor empathy; based on this, Mel Gibson, Patricia Heaton, and everybody else in Hollywood should go back to making movies and keep their idiot opinions to themselves.

1. I’ll quote from the article. “One woman was arrested Tuesday for trespassing after trying to bring Schiavo a cup of water, and another group claimed they would risk arrest in a similar manner later Wednesday morning.”
This is very sad. This is pure evidence that the people, the protestors and demonstrators and self appointed caring few who want to “save” Terri, don’t even understand the most basic aspects of her situation. Had that good Samaritan woman succeeded, or were the second group to do so, and actually get a cup of water to Terri, how would they give it to her? Doctors have said that the feeding tube is necessary to prevent Terri from suffocating on water or food, because she cannot control her swallowing reflex even though she does swallow. Her most recent guardian ad litem said last night on NPR that Terri could swallow her own saliva, but could not safely be relied upon to swallow food or liquids given to her. The good Samaritans, who hope to demonstrate their caring by breaking a blockade to give what they surely feel is much needed medical aid to this woman, could succeed only in killing her. Everyone not intimately involved in this case needs to dial down the rhetoric, step back from the protest line, and learn more about what is involved here before they start taking rash actions that create bigger problems.

2. I’ll quote again. “‘This is a clear-cut case of judicial tyranny,’ said Tammy Melton, 37, a high school teacher from Monterey, Tenn.”
How so? The denial of motion was in fact the appropriate legal action. Judge Whittemore and the 11th Circuit had little real legal recourse in their opinions to order the tube reinserted. Furthermore, what exactly makes Tammy Melton, a high school teacher, an expert in legal theory? Why is she qualified to decide what is and is not judicial tyranny? And what decision is she referring to? There have been almost a dozen judicial actions in this case over the last decade, generally all in agreement that Terri Schiavo had expressed a desire not to be kept alive artificially, that Michael Schiavo is her legal guardian, that the legislature of the state cannot intervene in the domestic dispute, and that there are no federal issues involved in this case. One judge may be accused of judicial tyranny. Several judges in multiple courts over a span of several years are probably not colluding to kill an innocent, though I imagine Tammy Melton thinks they are. Tammy Melton is almost certainly repeating some mantra spewed out on right-wing talk radio in the last few days. The coarsening of culture has less to do with curse words and sex than it does with our inability to express fully formed opinions and our consequent reliance on half-truths and sound bites.

3. The above aside, there have been some questionable legal circumstances surrounding this issue. Leaving the medical issues out of it (since there is much controversy about which medical diagnosis is most correct), the one solid judicial problem I’ve seen is that Mr. Schiavo committed Mrs. Schiavo to a hospice without a formal legal placement proceeding. This is in violation of Florida Statute 744.3215 para. 4a. However, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that there was specific authority from the court allowing him to do this. In the morass of half-true “news” reports on this topic, I’ve been unable to clarify this situation. If this is what Tammy Melton is referring to when she speaks of tyranny, then she’s smarter than I give her credit for.

In the last few days I’ve heard this case compared to that of Elian Gonzalez (I've also heard Terri Schiavo compared to Jesus Christ, so let's not go overboard on the value of comparisons). I think Elian Gonzalez is a fair comparison, in that it’s a domestic dispute that’s been seized on by politicians and turned into a media circus. This is the disaster of the 24-hour news cycle, and it’s rarely mentioned in journalism classes that I've seen. There are whole courses on the 24-hour news cycle, but rarely is it mentioned that the cycle actually forces the creation of news where there had not been news before. Call me an alarmist, but the way the television news programs seize on these little domestic disputes until they’re larger than the entire war on terror… it seems like it’s just a few more steps to news agencies actually going out and starting fires so they can cover them. I’m sure I’ve read some sci-fi short story about this. I’d like to term this the “Frankennews Effect,” which I just came up with and think is particularly clever.

I'd like to close with the following quote from long-time political blogger Ron Gunzberger: "I cannot think of a single illness that was cured or major medical decision that was improved upon by the interjection of politicians." Amen to that.


Yesterday's post had nothing to do with it, but I'd like to point out that this morning an email went out basewide describing new traffic management procedures, including the opening of the MacDill gate during the morning rush and the rerouting of traffic to keep both inbound and outbound lanes open at Bayshore most of the time. Perhaps I was hasty in declaring the high potentates of such things to be morons. Then again, even a moron will get things half right given enough time.

22 March 2005

You can't go home again

I believe the point of that old saying is that, while you can physically return, it's never quite the same. Situations, people, and locales change, and though you might return home, it's rarely the same. This of course is true everywhere, not just at home.

I lived in Fort Lauderdale for a year in 1999 and 2000, and as I'm setting a book there I recently returned to do some site research. I felt all important and stuff, too, going back on business. But I was indeed surprised at how much things had changed.

The old home place is still there, but the trees are bigger and they've added speed bumps in the parking lot. I moved out just in time to avoid those, I guess. The town I lived in North Lauderdale, seems to have gone downhill. The old city park I used to visit to play basketball with local kids or just sit on the swing, it's still there. But there are graffiti tags on the buildings, the basketball court was empty, and there were two broken-down cars in the parking lot with vacancy and towing notices on them. Tennis shoes hung from phone lines, and it seemed most of the signs around town had been tagged with one of two I-hope-they-aren't-but-I-think-they-are gang symbols. Yards had been let go. It was sad. The local strawberry and tomato field had been half plowed under to make way for a new gated apartment community, and the on-site produce market had gone out of business. I wouldn't move back if I were returning to Broward County today.

Downtown had seen more significant and much more positive change. In five years, something on the order of six new towers have been built in downtown, all 20 stories plus. The downtown that used to look like, as a friend of mine said, Waco, has become a dense and interesting place. Tampa, Jacksonville, and Orlando have all jumped on the downtown-living bandwagon lately, but Fort Lauderdale seems to have beat them all by a few years. It would be an interesting place to live, if you could afford it. Trouble is, few can. Tampa's fighting the same battle right now; how do we make downtown both desirable and affordable?

I dropped by the old office. Marketing is no longer on the same floor, and the community newspaper has moved to an entirely different building. I couldn't find either group. At the university, the planning department hadn't moved, but not a single one of the professors who taught me was still on staff, except of course for Dr. John DeGrove, the father of Florida growth management and one of the few professors who was actually competent to teach when I was there. He'll never leave. I had planned to spend a few minutes talking with him, but he was out of the office when I dropped by. As it was, when I'd sat down to write questions for him, I realized that they were all questions for his character, and not for him. I would have been wasting his time.

I was less impressed with Miami and Coral Gables. In fact, I couldn't wait to leave them, which I did earlier than I'd planned to on Friday afternoon. Funny. I'd always been terribly impressed with Coral Gables. It is a very nice place, University of Miami aside, but on Friday the traffic was too bad and I was too lost to have any fun. I did finally find the Biltmore, but never located the Venetian Pool. Miami was just a horrific mess, too horrific even for me to stop and take a picture of the courthouse. This of course means that I'll actually have to go back there at some point, hopefully on a Sunday when I can find parking.

Miami Beach had changed, mostly for the better. Nearly all the old art deco hotels on Ocean Drive have been are are being rehabbed. The building that served as The Birdcage in the movie looks to be nearly finished with its rehab, and should be a block of very pricey condos in a few months. The larger hotels at the southern end of the strip, south of 4th st, are still in bad shape. A few are vacant, more are mostly so, none are in terrific shape. I saw some signs of life there, though; one or two were being actively worked on and several others had signs in the windows advertising impending reconstruction. More impressive was the public parking garage on Collins entirely swathed in greenery, so that it looked like a giant cube of vine in the middle of the street. If you haven't been to Miami Beach you owe it to yourself to go. It's a piece of Americana entirely unique in the world.

Yes, things had definitely changed. Mostly for the better, occasionally for the worse. I no longer live there, which is clearly for the better.

Getting there

It seems highly unlikely that nobody pointed this out, but surely if they had we wouldn't be in this situation now. Ladies and gentlemen, lest you think your military incessantly plans everything to the nth degree, I present the following for your consideration.

MacDill AFB has three road entries. Actually, there are four, but the fourth is only for construction and commercial vehicles, so it doesn't count. The three gates are at Dale Mabry, MacDill, and Bayshore.
Some time ago, I believe it was last spring, the powers that be decided to close MacDill except at the morning and evening rush hours, as it was a strain on the cops to keep the various security apparati manned all day. Then, I believe this winter, the power decided to stop opening MacDill during the morning rush as well; thus the base functionally has only two gates open all day, except during the evening rush home.

Of course, the evening rush is longer and more disparate than the morning rush, as I think is true everywhere. We all have to be at work at the same time, but we leave as soon as we can or as late as we must. So if anything they should be opening the MacDill gate in the mornings and not the evenings, but oh well.

Dale Mabry has two lanes in and two lanes out; Bayshore has one of each. During the morning rush, Mabry goes to three lanes in and one out, while Bayshore has two in and no way out. This is good and convenient. But lately Mabry has been under construction, to make the entry more efficient and secure. This is also good, but the construction has been, as you'd expect for a government job, ungodly slow. Right now, they're one lane in and one out, and they don't exchange lanes at rush hour. As you might expect, traffic backs up badly at both gates in the morning. Though I live 9 miles from work and have made the commute in as little as 14 minutes (at 4'30 in the morning), I frequently am in the car for 35 minutes in the mornings because of the lines. This is idiocy, but the little I can do about it (go to work late) would involve sacrificing my already spotty reputation at work.

What you might not expet is the crush at lunchtime. Because there are two lanes in and two out, and because thousands of people are trying to flee the base for lunch (dining options on base are limited and unhealthy), there are significant backups at both gates coming and going. At Bayshore, you'll often wait longer to get on base at 1 pm than you would during the morning rush hour. This can turn a leisurely 45-minute lunch at Ciccio & Tony's into a 90 minute affair.

This is absurd, and something should be done. If the leadership ever took lunch off base something would be done about it, and fast. As it is, we need to open that third gate up at lunch time, as well as at the morning rush.

But worse is what they did to us today. Today, for God only knows what possible reason, construction was started 50 yards inside the Bayshore gate, and extended all the way across the road. Bayshore was entirely blocked to both in and out traffic for over six hours, including the lunchtime rush. All traffic was funnelled to the two now seriously inadequate lanes at Dale Mabry.

What type of moron approves the idea of having every base gate either closed or under construction at the same time? Isn't traffic flow supposed to be part of safety and security? And how freakin' hard would it have been to open MacDill if Bayshore was going to be closed? Who the hell is running this show?

18 March 2005

The Church in the Hood

I'm church shopping. I know, I know, I've lived here for over a year and by the time I find a nice church, I'll probably have to move. I hate the Air Force.

But all that aside, I've been going from place to place, emailing pastors, looking at ministries, and so forth, and within denominations the differences are minor enough. It'll probably be some time before I've visited all the places I want to visit and decide where to make my church home. But I have one question.

What's wrong with a pretty church?

Why don't they build pretty churches any more? Why do they build these things that are all roof and no windows, like upside down boats? What's the deal with the aluminum siding warehouses? Why do some churches look like barns? How come some churches are forgoing the steeple? Why does the interior of so many new churches seem barren and... well, soulless?

And why do so many contemporary services in established churches take place in the gym, or the coffee room? Why not in the sanctuary when there is a pretty one? I just don't understand.

Is there something now morally wrong with prettiness? Or are we afraid that if the building looks too much like a church, people will be afraid to go inside? Where did this belief that ugly and utilitarian are preferable to beauty and deliberate design come from?

I don't get it. It seems to me that if the church is where we come together to worship God, we should want the place to look like something... special. Respectful, maybe that's the word.

There's nothing wrong with a bell tower. A steeple, topping out above the treeline so the place is actually visible, marked as a house of worship that anyone can see. What's the problem with that? There's nothing wrong with a narthex; you don't have to walk right into the sanctuary when you open the door. Stained glass is pretty, but it's so much more. It can a story. Religions have a lot of stories; you'd think we'd want to tell them instead of just cutting random shapes in the glass.

A sanctuary, with something more than folding chairs in a line; is that too much to ask? A place that doesn't make me think of the briefing rooms at work, but lets my mind and spirit soar to someplace infinitely better. An altar area that looks like something meaningful happens there; not something reminiscent of the stage at the elementary school cafetorium. This is all I really want: somplace nice. Someplace pretty. Someplace different from everything else, and better. I should think a church body would want the same thing.

Look, part of the beauty of religion is that you can have a church anywhere; you can hold services in the gym at the Y, in a strip mall, in the high school cafeteria, or a converted warehouse, or at the Piccadilly. It doesn't matter; what matters is the worship. I'm not complaining about the new community churches that find their home wherever they can. In those cases beauty can transcend my traditional notion. I'm talking about the churches that have made that jump to a permanent facility, that dug into their members' and the church governing body's pockets and made a commitment to build a true house of worship, a building built for the church and thus for God. When that commitment is made, why does it so often these days seem to result in something so plain, utilitarian, even in some cases ugly? I just don't understand it.

Perhaps I'm just missing something. Maybe in the divinity schools these days they're teaching that worship is better in a plain and unadorned place because beauty detracts from the focus on God. I can see that. I can see them teaching that, that is, but I can't understand the point of view.

So I want to go to a pretty church. Call me a sinner if you want. But there's nothing at all wrong with pretty things.

12 March 2005

Another legislative journey

First it was Crenshaw's Korean Adventure. Now we have Dawson's South African Sleazefest.

Florida state senator Mandy Dawson, from Fort Lauderdale, is accused of directly soliciting personal donation from state lobbyists to pay for her trip to South Africa.

I say accused because that's the typical journalistic ass-covering term, but there's no accusation here. There are facts. Dawson wrote a letter directly to lobbyists on official Senate letterhead. She knew at the time that what she was doing was sketchy at best, blatantly illegal at worst. Allow me to quote from the story and letter:

"I need to raise funds to help defray the cost. As a longtime supporter of mine, I am asking if you would consider helping to sponsor my trip," Dawson wrote. "Due to ethics regulations, the check should be made out to the FL Caucus of Black State Legislators."

Uh-huh. There has been much handwringing in the Senate over this. The Senate President, Tom Lee, wants to have his own investigation apart from the Ethics Committee (wise move, since morally-challenged Mandy sits on that committee). Members of the state legislature's black caucus, many of whom went on the same trip and paid for it out of campaign or personal funds, expressed varying degrees of shock and annoyance. But nobody seemed to think of the obvious solution.

Throw Mandy Dawson out of the State Senate. Suspend the licenses of every lobbyist who responded to her letter with funds. And publish a new ethics rule stating that any future attempts to seek donations from lobbyists for any reason will result in immediate impeachment hearings. Lobbyists ought to give up the right to donate money to ANY politician they might lobby, free speech be damned. I gave up the right to say nasty things about the president when I signed up for the military; lobbyists are getting paid a hell of a lot more than I am and should be happy to give up the right to donate money to the people they lobby. I'm sick of this shit.

People ask me why I no longer want to get involved in politics. Mandy Dawson, Ander Crenshaw, Joe Spratt, Jim DeMint, George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer, Bill Janklow, John Kerry... I'm sorry, do I need to go on or is the point made?

I used to complain a lot about how the incessant media glare makes decent people want to stay out of politics. But you know what? People like Mandy Dawson deserve to be shamed out of office. Good riddance. I'd rather have anarchy than a government of these thieves and liars.

The Couch Saga update

It's been only three weeks, but it feels like a year. There's a void, right there, in the living room. I can sense it palpably even when I'm not in the room. An emptiness.

I gave the old couch to the Salvation Army three weeks ago. I figured it would be a simple matter to get a new one. And indeed it seemed it would be; I found a very nice couch at Rooms to Go, but it wasn't meant to be. Then I shopped at other places, and found that they were all VERY expensive. The best couch I found was at Broyhill, which had some wood trim (I like that) and was the right size, but it was $500 more than the RTG couch and I wouldn't get it for eight weeks. I have company coming before then, and anyway I want to fill the void.

Another great couch I found was at Ethan Allen. But it was at Ethan Allen. You don't need me to tell you how much that cost.

But that void, that void... it called out to me, at night, at work, even on vacation. On Monday a psychologist told me it was a "contributing factor."

So, I settled. I bought a nice couch at Badcock Furniture yesterday and it will be delivered on Tuesday, while I sit at home waiting to go in for an evening flight. No need to even take time off from work (not that I mind; actually I prefer taking time off from work. If I could take the next seven years, eleven months, and two days off from work, I would). The salesman assured me that if for some reason the couch couldn't be delivered by 3 pm, he'd load it up himself and drive it out to me on Thursday.

Sounds good to me. It's not my favorite couch, and the fabric doesn't quite match the walls (the green has a bit too much blue in it), but it will suffice. Perhaps another time I'll have the money and leisure to order custom furniture, but for now I'll make do with what I can.

In short, I have a couch. If you want to come visit, you now have a place to sleep.

11 March 2005

So very naughty

Okay okay okay, one more. It's also from NYTimes.com. You know, it really is a good paper, Jayson Blair aside.

Here we have The Greatest Dirty Joke Ever Told. While I will seek out and see the referenced documentary "The Aristocrats," I don't post this article because I necessarily agree with everything in it. Frank Rich wishes we could depart once more from our resurgent Puritanism and just cut loose, the way we used to back in the... in the... when, exactly? The mid 1990s maybe? I don't know. Rich doesn't quite say.

No doubt there is a resurgence of prudishness in this country, but that isn't entirely a bad thing. A resurgence of prudishness would have been welcome in the ancient Rome that sentenced thousands of Christians and Africans to die as gladiators. I'm not saying we've reached that point yet, but seriously, how far away from that are we?

Of course, you'll note that the rise of the evangelicals and the return of puritanism hasn't exactly toned down the blatant sexuality throughout our culture. No, no it's done nothing about sex. But God forbid somebody should say something like, I don't know, 'shit.'

It just seems to me that we're focusing on the wrong thing here. If the Righteous Ronnies want to get their panties in a wad about something, how about Christina Aguilera's wardrobe? Why not carp about how you can't even go to a PG-13 movie anymore without seeing bare tits? I'm not personally bothered by that, mind you (I need to see some somewhere), but a line needs to be drawn. Every movie marketed towards people under the age of 35 centers either around sex or grisly death. Isn't this more significant that some foul language?

I side with the people who say that dirty words are just a sign of a lazy mind. This doesn't stop me from using them, of course, but nonetheless I'll agree that a wide vocubulary makes foul language less important, though not necessarily indispensible. But I wonder whether foul language's foulness is really so very foul when compared against the whole of modern American culture. I'm not inclined to think so.

This post is not deliberately inflammatory

Let's see if this works. If you don't have an NYTimes.com account and you can't read this article, please leave a comment and I won't post any more NYTimes links.

The above article is about what may be one of the single most important environmental stories of this year: a sea change in the way evangelical Christians--who will control the executive branch of this government for at least the next three years and, depending on how many SCOTUS justices retire, possibly some time beyond--view the environmental movement. In this case we're talking about global warming, but more important we're talking about the platform recently adopted by the National Association for Evangelicals, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility." This platform, says the Times, allows for "broad-based advocacy on the environment," because, after all, God told us to care for His creation.

Not being an evangelical Christian myself (and thus clearly doomed to an eternity in hell according to most of the EVs I've met), I feel a little weird any time I praise anything they do or say. But their political power is not to be questioned, not at least until the Democrats find and extricate their heads from their arses and find some way regain the leadership, and consequently when they get together and decide to support responsible environmental policies I can't but celebrate.

Hooray for responsible political advocacy! Now let's see a little bit of good Christian humility and tolerance out there!

Clamantis, damn it, clamantis!

All right, I found another one. Actually, there are several.

This article, from the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, reports on a trip taken by some Congressmen to South Korea, which may have been financed in a shady manner.

This is nothing new. It's not even worth reporting (Congressmen accept gifts and travel illegally? Oh no! I never would have believed it!), except that it has specific numbers, and numbers are fun. This article says that Rep. Ander Crenshaw and his wife travelled to South Korea a few years ago and spent... well, wait.

They went on a three-day trip to South Korea. While there, Crenshaw visited U.S. troops, placed a wreath at the 39th parallel (what exactly is that going to do for inter-Korean relations I wonder?), might have done some window-shopping, and did not play golf. And yet, he managed to rack up expenses totalling... wait...


I just wanted to put that on its own line. The man and his wife went out there for three days and didn't even do any shopping, and managed to spend 27 large of somebody else's money!

I'll grant that it's easier to spend somebody else's money than your own, but this is absurd. I figured, maybe it's just really expensive over there. So I sat down with Orbitz and planned myself a three-day trip to Seoul and Pusan, South Korea. Forthwith:

Two adults (Crenshaw took his wife, so I'm taking, uh... I'll get back to you) fly to Seoul, South Korea, from Jacksonville, Florida (in Crenshaw's district). They depart on 10 May (a Tuesday, several weeks in advance so the airfares won't be jacked up) and return on 12 May. Congressmen are busy, so I'll take the shortest available flight. In Seoul we'll rent a nice car and drive up to Panmunjom to place a wreath, then back to Seoul to spend the night in a high quality though not posh hotel. The following day we'll drive to Pusan for a day of window shopping and no golf, but we'll drive back in the evening to stay another night in Seoul. We fly out the next afternoon after visiting Osan Air Base to talk to the troops. We will eat at the nicest restaurants in town because we're not too sure about Korean food.

Flight for two, round trip, Jacksonville International Airport to Seoul Metropolitan Airport, shortest flight:
Delta/Air Tran, $1356 per person, including all taxes and fees ($2,712 total).

Rental car, full size, auto and air, unlimited mileage, pickup and dropoff at the airport, two days+: Avis, $225 plus insurance and gasoline. ($2,937 total).

Hotel, two nights, two people, one room:
Seoul Ritz-Carlton, $249/night. ($3,435 total).

A full meal at Nolboojip, a high-quality country-style Korean restaurant in Seoul, will run about 10,000 won per person; that's about nine bucks. Round up (Congressmen have expensive tastes) to $15 a person for each meal, and assume three lunches, two dinners, and two breakfasts, gives us 7 meals at $15, or $105 per person, for a total of $210 for meals. ($3,645 total).

Round of beers at the officer's club at Osan: $200 ($3,845 total).

Wreath for 39th Parallel: $45 ($3,890 total).

Cheap souvenirs at airport: $30 ($4,020 total).

Okay, so that's airfare, a car, hotel, meals, and some incidentals, and I'm only coming up with four grand here. How in the HELL did Crenshaw and the wife manage to spend $23,000 on incidentals?

If you ask me, the scandal here isn't who paid for it, but that it had to be paid for at all. $27,640 for a three-day trip to ANYWHERE is absolutely ridiculous, especially considering that no shopping was done and no golf was played.

And we wonder why Congress and the President can't balance a budget.

Vox clamantis in deserto

I'm feeling very lazy and uninspired today. Work kept me busy most of this week but today was not a particular winner and... well, anyway. Here's something to ponder until I'm more energetic.

This article from the Myrtle Beach Sun News discusses Lindsey Graham's recent statements about Social Security. It makes for a worthwhile read, though I'll doubt anything worthwhile will come from it. Like so many rational people in this country, the Sun News' editorial writer here is just a voice shouting in the wilderness. But he's right. What will become of us? Why are we unable to face the future? Does democracy always inevitably look for the simplest path rather than the right one? Was Jefferson right when he spoke of refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants--and whom, exactly, was he referring to?

I don't know. I do know that I'm extremely hungry right now yet have nothing in the house I particularly want to eat. I have no desire to cook, no desire to exercise, no desire to write, and no desire to get up off this damned velco chair and actually DO something. I feel like I sit down for 14 hours a day and lie down for much of the remainder, and I'm so sick of it but so unable to do anything about it.

But I have St. John's Wort! Apparently that's all I need, or at least so goes the medical opinion I got this afternoon. We'll see. Anyway, enjoy pondering the editorial. Consider taking action. I'll consider it, too, but I doubt I actually will. Maybe in 2013, if the government has become insolvent.

Or maybe I will flee to Grenada.

10 March 2005

Why Western countries can't ignore Grenada

See? See? When the good guys (i.e. The West, and if you don't think the Western countries are the good guys why are you reading this blog?) ignore a terrific but hard-hit little place like Grenada, the Naughty Countries swoop in. We already know from history that Grenada is a little suggestible. Now this.

The last thing Keith Mitchell and the Grenadian people need is charity from the likes of China and Venezuela, but what choice do they have? Way to drop the ball, so-called "civilized" western democracies...

09 March 2005

Ambition sans wisdom

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox, as I predicted a few weeks ago, is about to enter the Democratic primary for governor.

I'd like to go ahead and be the first person to blame Maddox personally for the fact that Florida's next governor will have an (R) after his name. Late entrants to a race with quality candidates already in have to enter the race under the assumption that the two existing candidates are not very good. In this case, since it's the state party chairman, he's saying that two of the state's elected members of his party aren't good candidates. Yet he himself has never been elected to any post bigger than Mayor of Tallahassee--which is an extremely democratic city anyway.

Why does Scott think he's a better candidate than Rod Smith and Jim Davis? And can he seriously defend that position without tearing Smith and Davis apart in a divisive primary? No, not really. Whether Maddox gets the party nomination or not, he'll do enough damage to the eventual nominee to ensure that the GOP candidate (none of the three current candidates are weak) gets a win.

07 March 2005


I'm a big fan of the little island of Grenada. I've never actually been there, but I definitely intend to go as soon as I can. It's a developing economy, but unlike many Caribbean economies it isn't hampered by banking problems and overpopulation, and doesn't have the drug trafficking issues of, say, St. Vincent. And the agricultural economy is somewhat more diversified than many other islands.

But, Grenada was completely destroyed by Hurricane Ivan; some 90% of the island's structures were damaged in the hurricane, along with much of the agricultural and economic infrastructure. Of course a lot of people have donated money to the rebuilding, but coming as it did in the midst of a busy hurricane season Grenada hasn't seen anything like the outpouring of support that went to the tsunami area.

Occasionally I feel like people have completely forgotten Grenada, but that hasn't happened, at least not entirely. UMCOR and the Red Cross are still there, and a number of other charities; Caribbean Travel has an umbrella site for donations.

The article linked to above, though, is of interest to me for geopolitical reasons. In the aftermath of the tsunami, the Paris Club offered to freeze the foreign debt of all affected nations. Only Sri Lanka, Seychelles, and Indonesia have actually taken the offer (others are concerned about the affect on their credit rating), but it interests me to note that this offer was not extended to Grenada.

Don't get me wrong, the tsunami was a terrible tragedy. But 90% of Sri Lanka was unaffected. Still, the country was offered debt relief so that it could spend all its current budget on rebuilding. Good move by the Paris Club, but doesn't it seem like relief is yet more desperately needed by a country that saw 90% destruction? I would think so.

OxFam and Action Aid, among others, have urged the Paris Club and other donor nations to offer actual relief, rather than just freezing payments. Debt relief is a contentious issue and, living in a country that's deeper in debt than any other, it's hard for me to say we should forgive other nations' debt. On the other hand, we're America. We can handle our finances just fine, thank you very much. But these developing countries need every boost we can give them; many of them pay more for debt service each year than their entire GDP. It would be nice if the large creditor nations gave more than cursory thought to the idea.

I'd start with Grenada.

06 March 2005

Politics of Personal Idiocy update

Well, never let it be said that I didn't admit when I was wrong. It looks like Nathan Taylor, the student who was accused of embezzling funds from the Young Republicans national convention, was innocent after all. Good for him.

It's still not the politics of personal destruction, not when the accusers genuinely believed he'd been misusing funds and even were under the impression that he hadn't even had the authority to spend money on the convention's behalf. What it is, is bad communication.

Well, bad communication, and that annoying tendency of most people in this country to immediately jump to conclusions.

Mr. Taylor says he's soured on politics and no longer wants to pursue it. I feel the same way, after running a campaign in 2000. I can't blame Mr. Taylor for coming to that conclusion; unfortunately, all decent people eventually come to the same conclusion.

04 March 2005

The blog donors

C|Net has an article today about the FEC's coming decision to start regulating bloggers when they write about politics; specifically, the argument goes that a link within a blog to a candidate's website should count as some sort of in-kind donation. Apparently bloggers don't count as the press; on the other hand, if you don't link to a candidate's campaign site, presumably you're in the clear.

I suppose the fact of the regulation isn't what bothers me as much as the idea that someone somewhere in the FEC is going to be spending government money trying to find every instance of a blogger's linking to a campaign site, and then somehow determining the net monetary value of that link, and requiring the campaign to note that donation. This could be interesting if, for example, I link to a comment on the website of a candidate with whom I disagree. Something smells here.

02 March 2005

Chiles away

Bud Chiles, son of the late governor Lawton Chiles, who had been running for governor and had planned to walk across the state like his old man did, has dropped out of the governor's race. It turns out that, though he's lived in the Orlando area since about 2000 or so, he doesn't meet the state constitution's residency requirement. To run for governor, you must have been a state resident for at least seven consecutive years. Prior to his return, Chiles had lived overseas managing an international relief charity.

Chiles has actual executive managerial experience, a good name, and seems like a decent fellow; though I don't know his politics he probably would have been a good participant in the primaries and possibly a good general election candidate and governor. Instead he'll probably bide his time, running against Mel Martinez or an incumbent GOP governor in 2010, though he might surprise (Ric Keller, are you watching your back?).

Unfortunately, now that the Dem governor's primary is down to two big names and no 800-lb gorilla, the party will have little sway in keeping others out. Castor, Deutsch, Jones, Penelas, Campbell, Maddox... we'll probably see any or all of them throw their hat in the ring in the next few weeks. As much as I enjoy watching a good free-for-all, unless cooler heads prevail the Dems will manage to lose the governor's race before the first votes are in.

Utter disaster

Casual readers of this blog will little grasp the importance of the following email I received today, but then this post isn't really for casual readers. I sent an email to my functional at AFPC on Monday afternoon requesting release to pursue a legal education. The response follows:

Lt Smith,
I can't support release.

Maj Armstrong