Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ft. Apache, Cleveland

--Peace on earth, 
Arend Van Dam

I'd rather be a farmer than to be a police
I'd rather be a singer than to be a police
I'd rather be a father than to be a police 
--Mr. Policeman, Rick James 

I went back to Ohio 
But my city was gone 
There was no train station 
There was no downtown 
--My City Was Gone, 
The Pretenders

 --Any information from the street so far? 
--Are you kidding?
Anyplace else a guy sees a cop get killed,
he runs to the phone, here the doors close.
Right now there could be five people
who know who did this, in a few hours maybe ten,
maybe more, but not us.
Up here Captain, cops are like husbands --  
they're always the last to know   
--Ft. Apache, the Bronx (1981) 

Idle hands are the devil's workshop

What sort of country has police that kill people for illegally selling cigarettes on the street, or a boy aiming a toy gun outside of a community center?

It should not happen in a civilized nation, yet it has happened here. The U.S. is one nation under fear, and it needs to get a grip on itself if it is to succeed.

Sadly, as always, the response to these and like events is the predictable bifurcation along political lines: The Left expresses outrage about a Stalin-esque spectre; the Right defends the response of those charged with maintaining law-and-order. Digging in thusly, neither accomplishes the thing that needs doing -- an honest assessment of and reckoning with the state of race relations in America. We can't do it because we are not honest, are restricted by our resentments and hamstrung but the strictures of political correctness.

Last month Ranger found himself in Cleveland re-visiting the remains of his old neighborhood. The house he grew up in on Eaglesmere had been demolished since his last visit, but the majority of the houses remain, in various stages of hideous decay. Very occasionally one will see a homeowner attempting upkeep that consists of more than Visqueen over the windows, and it is sad to think that there is nowhere for their property value to go but down.

The homes in the blocks surrounding Ranger's childhood home were solidly white, labor and Catholic, with some Jewish merchants thrown into the mix. The complexion has changed: it still ethnic, but now the predominate groups are African American and Asian. At some point after the early 1970's, white flight to the suburbs began, and urban decay set-in.

Still, five minutes away sits the grand neighborhood of Bratenahl, and the police treatment of the two zones is telling.

For countless blocks of Cleveland degradation one will not see a police cruiser, only the forlorn residents drinking alcohol on their porch at 11 a.m., except when the police must come in to investigate a crime. The day Ranger drove through was such a day.

On 11/9/14 a teen was shot on the same Eaglesmere corner where another man was killed the previous week. The police were taking reports. The residents of the house on the corner claim the shootings were unrelated, and that the police should be protecting them; a city alderman calls the residents thugs and is moving for their eviction.

"Ward 8 Councilman Michael Polensek says the occupants are a nuisance and a threat to the public's safety. 'It is chaos. It is no coincidence,'" said Polensek. "Look at the number of times police have had to run to that house.'"

This was an area that was once safe for children to explore by bike, or ride public transportation. Now only a fool or a desperate person would walk these streets or stand at a bus stop at night. Ranger feels naked traveling this ground without a firearm.

Another thing you notice in the 133rd Street Eastside area is the lack of business. When Ranger was a boy he alternately worked at a corner grocer, and set pins at a local bowling alley, among other odds and ends. His peers also all had jobs, often multiple ones at any given time. There was no time to consider violence; there was too much to do. Ranger has always loved guns but he did not have his first handgun until age 21, and certainly he and his fellows never thought of shooting one another.

As a FAMU sociologist friend explained to Lisa, when blacks from the hood succeed in business, they often leave their neighborhoods, versus investing in them. Upward mobility is the idea of American success, after all.

But in Ranger's Cleveland, the ethnic residents mostly did not seek to leave. Generations found brotherhood in a common background, and he idea of success was a hoped for incremental generational step upward; many of Ranger's schoolmates still live in the same neighborhoods as their parents.

Cleveland was changing by the early 60's. South of Superior Ave. and east, between 79th to 105th, had become clearly black-held terrain. At age 13 Ranger defended himself with a baseball bat from attack by an 18-year-old black teen armed with a bayonet near this area and landed in juvenile detention, until the event was adjudicated self-defense. Some ethnic neighborhoods tried to hold onto their fragment of the American dream, but Ranger's family was more typical, moving to the suburbs of 140th and Lakeshore where he spent his high school years.

Perhaps, urban blacks have missed out on some of the intermediary steps to finding social cohesion. Many were refugees from the agricultural South who sought out the same factory jobs as the low-middle class worked, and for a generation they did work side-by-side with their white counterparts. But after this first generation which straddled the 1940's and 50's, things began falling apart.

Unfortunately, the abruptness of the Civil Rights movement was operative in the break. Many black workers lacked a generational history of working in industry and riding the slow grind required to impart to coming generations the tools needed for possible escape. Instead, for many, after only one factory generation came the advent of quotas. Concomitant was the explosion of media-driven conspicuous consumption, which cannot easily be had on a worker's salary, so what's a poor boy to do?

As an aside, our town (Tallahassee) was recently reported to have the second highest crime rate in the state. Under the Tallahassee Democrat article online a commenter requested a map be given showing the areas of highest crime concentration. The following exchange occurred in response:

--Look for the Africans.

--Wait, what about the whites who commit bigger financial crimes daily?

--With evolution comes the ability to commit bigger and better crime.

This exchange illuminates one strain of thought among our citizens. Clearly, crime pays. Everyone wants nice material things.

We don't have the answer. Maybe you have a piece of the puzzle to share.

--Jim and Lisa

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Good Tidings, et. al

Dear Ranger Readers:

We've been off-post, but not without thoughts and reason.

Please stay tuned ... we have much in the pipeline. We promise to get some posts up in the next few days.

Meantime: Glad Tidings to all,

Your Ranger Staff

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Friday, December 05, 2014


Hope is a four-letter word
Make that money, watch it burn 
--Counting Stars, One Republic 

I the Lord your God am a jealous God,
visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children
to the third and the fourth generation
of those who hate me
--Exodus 20:5 

For there is but one essential justice
which cements society, and one law
which establishes this justice.
This law is right reason, which is the true rule
of all commandments and prohibitions. 

America's distraction du jour is the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The Grand Jury decided not to indict, as the officer did not shoot Brown in a premeditated act.

Life is supposed to be sacred, and anything with a whiff of heresy in contravention of that belief makes us feel uneasy, at best. Yet what did we feel when our President ordered a very premeditated drone strike which killed a 16-year-old American teen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in Yemen?

After the targeted kill, former Obama Secretary Robert Gibbs stated that the boy's father was to blame for the young man's murder ("should have [had] a far more responsible father.") Where is the responsibility in the face of that convoluted, biblical argument?

Is death by drone a Presidential prerogative not subject to court oversight, and is a police shooting something different? Dead is dead, right? Further, how many children have been killed as collateral damage to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Do we weep equally for them?

When a cop kills, he may be subject to a Grand Jury investigation. The President is the same fallible man -- why is he not held to the same legal standards?

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Soft Targets

 --the Jolly Roger 

 We kindle and char and inflame and ignite
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho
We burn up the city, we're really a fright
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho 
--A Pirate's Life for Me

 And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return, we can only look behind
from where we came 
--The Circle Game, Joni Mitchell

Terrorists -- our topic du jour and theme de l'annee, for the forseeable future -- habitually attack soft targets. Vis-a-vis this fact, let us look at the United State's Special Operations Command (SOCOM), a group of not-terrorists, and its historical tactics.

First some history. Your study assignments are the S'on Tay Raid in Vietnam and the Cabanatuan prison camp raid of World War II.

At S'on Tay, U.S. Special Forces led an incursion into a hard target, killing enemy soldiers and exfiltrating following the mission's completion. The Rangers breached another hard target at the Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines, deep in enemy terrain ("The Great Raid"). There, they sought to liberate allied prisoners of war and civilians. (In the European theatre, the Hammelburg raid was a similar operation, though with a more dire outcome.)

At both S'on Tay and Cabanatuan, there was a great possibility that the action could go South, which is exactly what happened to Task Force Baum, but those difficult actions characterized the Special Forces credo. The Special Forces of yore enlisted special men for challenging operations.

Today, the U.S. enlists its Special Forces to "take out" soft targets, crowing after the fact about the foregone conclusions. SEALs now kill such soft targets in their bedroom (= Osama bin Laden), or kill meaningless pathetic targets like the Somali pirates (the fictional Black Spot still inspiring fear.) The U.S. may as well paint targets on the foreheads before doing them the favor of releasing them from their miserable lives of poverty and desperation.

--Special Forces recruiting poster, ca. 1970

Now you have men like former SEAL Robert O'Neill bragging about being the triggerman in the OBL assassination, but not all soldiers in his community find his braggodocio endearing.

No one has the pirate's backs, and if the UBL raid went South the Pakistanis (stationed a short hop away) would not have moved to destroy the SEAL team; they love our money too much for such a dumb overreaction.

But what happens when the SEALs move against medium threat targets as in Robert's Ridge (Takur Ghar), the site of the Murphy Medal of Honor scenario? Well, they get blown out of the water.

Now to the current Islamic State (IS) - ISIL scenarios. Why don't the SEALs attempt hostage rescues against hard targets, like the British-speaking beheading specialist, for he is surely no less a target than the pirates. Do they lack the capability? Why not attack and destroy an IS command post? 

Word is, the SEALs who whacked UBL in his jammies received Silver Stars (SSM) for conducting their assassination. However, the Army regulations for bestowing such an award requires "close combat with the enemy", none of which was reported. Where is the heroism required to meet the bar of "conspicuous gallantry"? 

Special Operations has become specialized in "taking out" soft targets, much as the terror organizations against whom they are arrayed.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Blood and Sand

  Oh Lord it's a war party me no wanna go
Everybody seem to be inviting me
To a war party me no wanna go
Heard about the last one so thanks but-no thank you
--War Party, Eddie Grant 

Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk,
And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope,
So now and never any different
--The Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction
--Newton's Third Law 

The reaction to the precipitating event is
not always proportional
--Ranger's Corollary to the Third Law
Soldiers of all people should understand cause and effect since our actions have exceptional significance for the welfare of the nation they serve.

When reflecting on the punishing Battle of Fallujah (payback for the murder of several United States contract personnel) it seems clear that in this action lies the genesis of the terror army calling itself Islamic State/ISIS, a group now laying waste to much of Iraq.

It's not exactly rocket science, but no one wants to admit it, either. Things do not occur in a vacuum, and to every action there is a counteraction. Much as Hamas grew out of the early the PLFP, so IS finds its provenance amidst the violence preceding its formation, its affiliation a badge of pride for its members, vile though their brutality may seem to others.

Fallujah was a battle of little importance. The Sunni resistance could not be destroyed, like the city could be. Cities may be turned into rubble by superior firepower, but what is achieved in the aftermath?

Call the destruction "nation-building" and claim you are fighting for hearts and minds, but the proof is in the pudding. Iraq and next Afghanistan (probably) will prove dismal failures for the workers of hearts and minds via war. You may pull the shroud over your eyes and say you act in the name of rectitude, but the recipient of your self-interested largess will feel the hit for what it is (and not what is it intended, or constructed, to be.)

The coalition assault unleashed a fury which created terror ("Shock and Awe"), and so the terror continues to spool out in a predictable and logical fashion. Pride demands it.

After Fallujah, the Sunni population did the only logical thing: they took their beating, consolidated, reorganized, trained and recruited in a readily accessible safe haven, awaiting their day in the sun.

The once-Golden Boy of The Surge -- General David Petraeus -- made his name on implementing Counterinsurgency (COIN) in a modern environment. But he also knew his unknown unknowns. "Tell me how this ends?" he quizzically asked any who would listen.

It was not reassuring then, and it is less so, now.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day: A New Vietnam Roadmap

--Remembrance Day 
Brian Adcock (The Prague Post)

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head? 
--One, U2

Being-true (truth) of the assertion must be understood
 as Being-uncovering (Entdeckend-sein)
--Martin Heidegger

Holding back the years
Thinking of the fear I've had for so long
When somebody hears
Listen to the fear that's gone 
--Holding Back the Years,
 Simply Red 

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose 
--Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, 
Gladly Beyond,
e.e. cummings

A river or a stream is no longer a place to fill a canteen, nor is it a danger area.

A river line is no longer a unit boundary.

A road is no longer an avenue of approach, nor is it a "main supply route" (MSR).

A ditch is no longer cover, and a shrub is not concealment.

A dip in thr ground is no longer "dead space".

A hill is no longer "key terrain", or an objective to be secured, nor is a tree line.

A wooded area is no longer an "objective rally point" (ORP).

An open field is no longer a "landing zone" (LZ).

0600 is no longer "H-Hour", and morning light is not "stand to".

A clicking sound is no longer a spoon activating a grenade.

A "click" is no longer an endless ordeal or agony.

Night time is no longer ruled by an enemy.

A rifle is no longer an appendage to your body.

Tracers, trip flares, Willy Pete and star clusters are not the only colorful things in your life.

A road junction is no longer a registration point.

A poncho hootch is no longer home, and a rucksack does not permanently attach to your back.

Your eyes no longer see in degrees and mils and thunder no longer sounds like danger.

Mail call is no longer a time of loneliness and sadness.

A helmet is no longer a pillow.

--jim hruska 2014, veterans day

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Monday, November 03, 2014

He's Kinda Big in China

--The SOG Tactical Backpack,
$29.97  (retail), Walmart

 And what was all that shit about Vietnam?
What the FUCK, has anything got to do with Vietnam?  
--The Big Lebowski (1998) 

 I'm a fool to do your dirty work
Oh yeah
I don't wanna do your dirty work
No more

--Dirty Work, Steely Dan

I'm waking up to ash and dust
I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust
I'm breathing in the chemicals
(inhale) (exhale) 

--Radioactive, Imagine Dragons

Behold, the SOG Ninja Tactical Backpack, replete with MOLLE loops and the iconic SOG death's head crest -- yours for a mere $29.97, constructed by the peons of your faithful Chinese overlords, to be found at a Walmart SuperCenter near you.

In Ranger's war, "SOG" stood for Studies and Observations Group, a euphamistically-named highly-classified operation that operated in denied areas of Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia during that generation's most excellent adventure. Today, if you had more pressing things to do during Vietnam (like former VP Cheney claimed) or your main battle experience consists of marathon sessions at the computer screen playing World of Warcraft, not to worry. If you need to stow your gear in a quasi-hipster mode, the SOG Tac Backpack might be for you. 

America's conflicted relationship with the Vietnam veteran has played out daily since that event. A short piece in the 31 July 2006 New Yorker, "The Ambien Cookbook", gives a taste of the uncomfortably irreverent-and-disrespectful line that many Vietnam vet depictions walk:

 Nhi Ho Trang Phu

1 package beef jerky
1 quart mango-flavored Gatorade
1 saucepan potable water
Salt to taste
5 mg. Ambien

Lay out beef jerky and Gatorade on nightstand, in anticipation of somnambulistic snack attack.
Take Ambien, fall asleep.
After 2-3 hours, awaken half-submerged in a rice paddy in the jungle lowlands just north of the Mekong Delta.
Back “in country.” You know you’re going to Heaven, ’cause you’ve spent your time in Hell. But here you are once again—back in the Shit. Stay still, stay quiet—as quiet as a mouse. You are asleep, but all of your senses are alert.
Spot V.C. sapper no more than one foot away, playing possum in spider hole beneath duvet-cover camouflage.
Silently stalk stationary V.C.; two can play this game, no? When you gain tactical advantage, corner V.C. and remove ear(s).
Go to kitchen, put ear(s) into pot of water on stove, tie on souvenir lobster bib from Cape Cod trip last summer, sit down at kitchen table with knife in one hand and fork in the other, saying “Fee, fi, fo, fum” over and over—until water boils, or you wake up in police custody despite now earless wife or girlfriend’s protestations of your innocence as delivered to police detective in emergency room, where she now is (whichever comes first).♦

The local Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts is currently hosting a "Vietnam Retrospective" display. The card for the exhibit says, "Veterans of the Vietnam War from throughout the region contributed their photos and memorabilia for this touching exhibit." The 10-piece installation of mostly generic material from the media was housed in a small room; included was a helmet and helmet cover from the 1980's.

When we inquired who curated the exhibit, we were told, "It was a labor of love," and the sponsors did not wish to have their contact info given out. The implication being that the installation hardly merited a vetting by the Military Sciences, History or Political Science Departments, a poor way to run what aspires to be a world-class college museum. 

We thought: if the curators had spent an hour in the waiting room of the local VA Outpatient clinic, they could have filled several exhibition rooms with personal memorabilia. The paucity of materials in the needlessly empty white space gave the impression that the veterans of that war no longer had much of a presence. 

The fact is quite to the contrary, especially if one takes a toll of the nation's psyche (to borrow a phrase from former President George W. Bush.)

--Walter Sobchek, fr. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Three gross views of the Vietnam veteran have emerged since that conflict.

First is the crazy and angry man, personified by the egomaniacal Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now andThe Big Lebowski's Walter Sobchek  (a man so annoying at times that even The Dude cannot abide him.) Next is the penitent, bearing the cross for a nation upon his aggrieved soul. Finally, the vet who resembles Us, tenuously existing somewhere in between -- not fully reintegrated into society, not quite trusted. He is the fallen angel, representing a cynical society which has lost faith with its leadership.

The Vietnam veteran was triply-betrayed. Sent to fight an unwinable war, he was not only abandoned by his civilian fellows (who claimed to protest for his safe return) but also by the institution he served. The severe military Reduction in Forces (RIF's) immediately following the cessation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam gave lie to the idea that we celebrate our soldier's sacrifices, as many careers were nipped in the bud.

A nation's naivete and disgust was projected upon him, an unspeakable and irremediable offense to a young mind. He was denied the accolades of his fathers and uncles not because he failed in his duty, but by dint of being born into a society undergoing a total involution. He ain't no fortunate son in so many senses of the phrase.

If our national spirit has waned in the intervening decades, it may be due in part to the presence of 100's of thousands of that conflict's walking wounded in body and mind in its midst. While cases of shell-shock and battle fatigue from former wars walk side by side with the VN veteran, they were the exception to the rule of their respective engagements.

The ebullient celebration with which the WWII vet was feted was absent from most VN homecomings. First came the brazen antagonism towards the "baby-killers", then the awkwardness and ennui when the damage and shame was recognized. The Vietnam vet found himself in a no-win, no-man's land in his home country.

The "Ambien" piece is an example of the shaky terrain in which we still place the Vietnam veteran. While he occupies the same physical zone as the rest of us, he is potentially combustible. In this case, the sleep drug Ambien awakens him to the technicolor madness of his long-recessed memories.

This is the representation of the zombie vet, revivified in his and our nightmares, exposed to toxins like Agent Orange -- a gift that keeps on giving. Every few years a new malady is adjudicated to be service-connected for VN vets exposed to the toxic defoliant.

So the tiny installation, not even correct -- the labor of love underwritten by a major university benefactor -- did not even have its own opening night ceremony. When asked, a museum representative said that we could attend the ceremony for the Renaissance bird exhibition in a concurrent display.  It would be almost the same thing. 

"Are you sure it's not $59.99?" Ranger asked hopefully.

"No. It's $29.97."

The price of heroism gets a little cheaper every day. 

--by Jim and Lisa

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Love is All You Need

And God saw that the wickedness of man
was great in the earth, and that every imagination
of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually 
--Genesis (6:5) 

 Masks dropped away and real people began to appear:
cranks, imbeciles, the demented,
the vengeful, sadists, killers.
Modern society had created its own kind
and they feasted on each other.
It was a duel to the death...in a cesspool 
--Women, Charles Bukowski

But no matter what happens to the surviving humans,
there will always be the walking dead 
--The Zombie Survival Guide, Max Brooks 

 --Why would people watch a show about nothing
--Because it's on t.v. 
--Seinfeld (Hollywood episode)

For unknown reasons, Ranger viewed the t.v. series, "The Walking Dead" last week, a program about a politically-correct group of survivalists duking it out against the Undead. Think, being stuck in an endless loop of "Zombieland" with Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee, sans Bill Murray, and you get the idea.

It is a series which abides by one principle: killing is the only means to survival, and the killing is ongoing and never-ending; it is an NRA fantasy. But the one noteworthy part of the ordeal was his observation of the juxtaposition between the "Lawman" character whooping up on some slavering Zombie with a very big rock and the commercial which immediately followed.

The gruesome death scene was followed by an advert for Values.com, a group advocating the inculcation of, well, values into the body politic. A 15-30 second spot advocating for, presumably "good" values, versus and hour of relentless bloody-minded fear and violence. On the basis of time allotted, bad values wins.

Broadcasting on another channel in the same time-slot was "Criminal Minds", a program devoted to violence in the form of sadistic serial killers. What would have rated an "X" in Sam Peckinpah's day is just another day in televisionland, 2014.

Is the viewing public becoming more corrupt as reflected by its taste for horrific, spectacular violence, or does the media simply reflect in the micro the behavior of the nation (the macro)? Or is it that people have become so inured to sensory input, that they need shock treatment to register even the slightest blip of awareness?

What are these hyper-violent programs telling us? Do they serve to propagandize us that this is a very violent and unsafe world in which we live, demanding violent reactions? Is the purpose to keep the viewing public in a state of turmoil, and if so, why?

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Florida's Ungeschehenmachen

--Florida's gubernatorial contenders: 
Charlie Crist and incumbent Rick Scott 

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of 
--What the World Needs Now is Love, 
Jackie DeShannon

 Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around 
--Money (Cabaret)

 Dumb all over,
Black 'n white
People, we is not wrapped tight 
--Dumb All Over, Frank Zappa

Subtitle: Two peas in a pod.

Sunday's New York Times magazine ran an in-depth feature on Florida's current gubernatorial race (How Billionaire Oligarchs Are Becoming Their Own Political Parties.)

The lede graphic depicts the contenders as disembodied puppet heads on a stick, lacking the flesh-and-blood of an impassioned real candidate. In reality, they are marionettes whose strings are pulled by a netherworld of monied political interests which inhabit a universe unto themselves.

The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling gutted the McCain-Feingold limits which had been imposed upon political campaign spending. So The People are now exposed to incessant 30-second sound-byte media lies, often created by a PAC with a benign-sounding name, a name often totally contradicting its actual agenda. This is how elections are determined by today's continually-wired electorate.

Read it for a sad insight into the election process, 2014-style.

(An excerpt):

At the cramped conference table, Baldick rattled off more news, both good and bad. A series of recent polls found that both candidates were extremely unlikable. (“Crist and Scott Could Make History by Being So Unpopular in Florida” was the headline of one recent report at FiveThirtyEight.com.) Baldick said this could actually be a positive development. “Both of them are not liked,” he explained, but “if you think people are going to show up because they hate, not love — I do — there’s more people who hate Scott.”
Steyer leaned back in contemplation.

“You think that’s what gets people to vote?” he asked.

“Oh yeah, hate, fear —”

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Netroots Obit

Do the right thing do the right thing
do it all the time do it all the time
make yourself right, never mind them 
--Diversionary, Ages and Ages 

Since you're gone the nights are getting strange
since you're gone nothing's making sense 
--Since You're Gone, The Cars 

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity 
--The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats

  This is still a free country,
 ladies and gentlemen
--1964 Republican Convention,
Nelson Rockefeller 

The Florida Netroots coalition, and its national affiliates, was a hopeful nascent political upwelling that began during the early days of internet social networking. This is its obituary.

Back in the early days (less than a decade ago, a millennium in internet years), some constituents from within the Florida Democratic Party sought to rally and harness a hopeful spirit of rejuvenation from within the ranks. The time seemed right: Karl Rove, et. al., had finished savaging any shred of decency left within the Republican party machine. The gig was up for the "compassionate (not) conservatives". Or so it seemed.

"Netroots" is a portmanteau of "internet" + "grassroots", coined in 2002 to describe the gathering energy displayed across the internet, primarily through blogging and other platforms promoting activism and connectivity via the internet. The culmination of the fury was seen in mid-decade elections; by 2010, Netroots was breathing its last.

Newt, Rumsfeld, GWB and the cast of regulars were growing stale and ossified, providing the ground from which Netroots sprang. Could the Democrats snatch victory from the jaws of defeat wrought by a party machine honed on emotional fail-safes like "family values" and gun rights, and ostensibly wholesome positions like anti-gay marriage, abortion rights and every other thing which became handy whipping boys for the burgeoning dysfunction of a once-great nation?

Alas, Netroots had no Karl Rove of its own and no platform -- only an amorphous passion, and a passion without purpose flames out fairly quickly.

And so it was with Netroots. There were conventions, and like all such events, there was grandstanding, glitter and celebration. Then, like waking up to a hangover on a too-bright day, the lack of a core directive led to its dissipation. Morning in America gave way to a languid afternoon and dull twilight all too soon.

Entre flash mobs performing Andrew Lloyd Webber songs in malls and cat videos.

The passing of Netroots indicates the Democratic process is in severe jeopardy. The death of grassroots activism -- especially in the age of easy internet networking -- may coincide with the slow, inexorable death of Democracy, as American political thought has been based in grassroots movements since the inception of the Republic.This is now lacking.

What remains are the corporations and the mega-rich who can dump millions into election propaganda pitched to an electorate which makes its decisions based upon 30-second agitprop commercials. There is no counterbalance, and this does not a wholesome and vital Democracy make.

Netroots was not the one-stop solution to a corporate, highly-factionalized politics, but it was a beginning, too-soon snuffed out. Perhaps it collapsed under the weight of its own largely superannuated history. Civil rights issues have been institutionalized, to greater or lesser successes, but the party did not seem to have any new issues to array on its platter.

Since the Democrats had been fighting for civil rights for so long, it poked around in that cabinet and found the only skeleton remaining -- gay rights. So this full enfranchisement on the basis of sexual orientation is coming to pass, but then what? The Democratic Party hasn't said, and that may be because there is nothing there but a mule, which is not to say any more of a fast-mover than an elephant, but just not too different.

The question remains: why would the  Democratic Party cede key terrain necessary to maintain a robust rivalry?

Netroots is not telling.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Some Fear Ebola Outbreak Could Make Nation Turn to Science

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz captures the sense of it:

Health workers, like these in Guinea, are at serious risk of contracting the disease. (photo: European Commission DG ECHO)
Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

Some Fear Ebola Outbreak Could Make Nation Turn to Science

By Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker
17 October 14

here is a deep-seated fear among some Americans that an Ebola outbreak could make the country turn to science.

In interviews conducted across the nation, leading anti-science activists expressed their concern that the American people, wracked with anxiety over the possible spread of the virus, might desperately look to science to save the day.

“It’s a very human reaction,” said Harland Dorrinson, a prominent anti-science activist from Springfield, Missouri. “If you put them under enough stress, perfectly rational people will panic and start believing in science.”

Additionally, he worries about a “slippery slope” situation, “in which a belief in science leads to a belief in math, which in turn fosters a dangerous dependence on facts.”

At the end of the day, though, Dorrinson hopes that such a doomsday scenario will not come to pass. “Time and time again through history, Americans have been exposed to science and refused to accept it,” he said. “I pray that this time will be no different.”

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Range Etiquette

--Advertisement of girl firing Uzi 
in Blue Press (Nov. 2014 issue)

I have always known about man.
From the evidence, I believe his wisdom
must walk hand and hand with his idiocy
--Planet of the Apes (1968)

Remember when we used to play
Bang bang, I shot you down
Bang bang, you hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound 
--Bang, Bang, 
Nancy Sinatra

Mama used to tell me
Girl, you better load your gun up right
She said ya, ya gotta come out smokin'
Hit it with your best shot every time
 --I've Got My Finger on the Trigger,
Donna Summer

The above advert for Salute Targets appeared in the Nov. 2014 issue of the Dillon Blue Press catalog, p.5, a popular magazine selling reloading equipment. Pictured is a young girl firing a silenced 9 mm Uzi. It is unclear whether the weapon is full auto or semi, but Ranger asks, "What gives?"

Last month, a nine-year-old New Jersey girl accidentally shot and killed her instructor after her parents paid $200 for her to fire an Uzi sub machine gun at the appropriately named (for Mr. Vacca) The Last Chance firing range in Arizona (above):

"Cellphone video shows the pony-tailed youngster holding the Israeli military weapon, capable of firing up to 600 rounds a minute, before her instructor, 39-year-old military veteran Charles Vacca, switched the gun to automatic mode. As the girl pulled the trigger, she could not control the weapon’s powerful recoil and shot Vacca in the head" (When A 9-year-old Fires an Uzi).

What was the point in having this girl fire an Uzi on auto mode? Was this an empowerment exercise? Beyond the parent's foolishness, what was the range master and instructor thinking?


We don't know if the parents had answered the Salute Targets ad, but the magazine in which it appears is rife with conflict regarding the depiction of girls and women.

Each Blue Press cover features a siliconed-up model caressing a gun against various body parts (get it?) Almost always, the weapon is shown in an unsafe condition.

November's gun moll is holding an assault shotgun with the bolt closed -- a big no-no, unless you want it to accidentally go "boom". Guns should be in an observable safe posture, so why does the Blue Press, a publication dedicated to the shooting sports, emphasize sex over safety?

Probably for the same reason it allows advertisers who feature little girls wielding Uzis. Where are the grown ups? We grow older, but not wiser.

Shooting competitively since 1965, Ranger learned the first rule on the rifle range is to be safe and thoughtful, and not to take imprudent chances. The rules have not changed, but people blithely behave as though they have.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ebola: The Plague II, or, "Don't Panic"

[Humans are]
just an advanced breed of monkey
 on a minor planet of a very average star
--Stephen Hawking 

“Were such things here as we do speak about? 
Or have we eaten on the insane root 
That takes the reason prisoner?”
--Macbeth, Shakespeare

apathetic bloody planet,
I've no sympathy at all. 
--Hitchhiker's Guide to the Planet, 
Douglas Adams

Funny the response to my previous piece on Ebola. Most suggested I calm down my measured and rational argument for full disclosure of medical failures so professionals and the rest of us can formulate a reasonable protocol to address inevitable threats like Ebola. Perhaps this is the human animal soothing itself in the face of a threat. Projection, denial, and all of that.

Most shocking, however, is the blithe way in which medical professionals have confronted those patients demonstrating symptoms who had clearly declared proximity to Ebola -- recently-deceased Texas patient Thomas Eric Duncan and Spanish nurse Teresa Romero Ramos.

Nurse Ramos had contacted health facilities three times with health concerns before being admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of Ebola, this despite her declaration of having been on the team that treated Ebola missionaries a couple of weeks before the onset of her symptoms.

The Guardian reports,

"On arrival at the hospital, Romera Ramos warned staff that she feared she had contracted Ebola. Despite the warning, she remained in a bed in the emergency room while she waited for her test results. She was separated from other patients only by curtains, hospital staff said on Tuesday."

Romero Ramos was sent home with OTC fever-reducer Paracetemol, much as Mr. Duncan had been sent home with a bottle of antibiotics, this despite his declaration to hospital staff that he had recently traveled from Liberia, an Ebola hot spot.

Houston Chronicle Online ran an opaque Op-Ed regarding Mr. Duncan's treatment, which, without actually saying it, hinted that race may be a factor in terms of treatment received in a hospital ER. I would suggest the problem transcends race, and is possibly lodged at the level of the economic status of the patient, at least here in the States where medicine is big business. Those fortunate enough to possess Cadillac health insurance probably don't have too many worries, people like our Congressmen.

Unfortunately, the rest of us don't look too impressive sniffling in a metropolitan ER. I was one of those people in 2012.

After waiting in the ER for 6 hours with a registered fever of 102 and extreme body stiffness (which meant I had to be delivered to the reception area in a wheelchair) my total care consisted of two Tylenols in a paper cup, delivered only at my friend's inquiry regarding any forthcoming care. The only patient taken back (unescorted by police) was a man across from me who vomited and then keeled over, who was then wheeled into a separate room, and who knows how long he languished there.

As the evening wore on and the ER filled, it became clear that my best bet was to return home and wait until dawn, when I might schedule with my regular doctor. (My insurance was billed $300 for those two Tylenols, and the privilege of sitting in a roomful of very sick people.)

My M.D., a former Navy doctor, failed miserably in his diagnosis. He confidently concluded that I had H1N1 virus -- Bird Flu -- after viewing my presenting symptoms: 102 degree fever, spiking to 105 cyclically (every six hours), extreme shaking (to the point of almost falling off of the examination table) and malaise and heavy feeling in my limbs. To all of this, he smiled: 

 "You have a very strong immune system -- that's what going on here. Your body is trying to fight it. Here's a prescription for Tamiflu. Go to the CDC website and read up on Bird Flu."

Like Charles Eric Duncan, I was dismissed with the wrong prescription, and told to take double the amount of Tylenol recommended, in increments half the suggested dosing time (every 2-3 hours) and to mix that with aspirin, if necessary, as my fever would be high.

I trusted him, even though my symptoms didn't seem to be those of Bird Flu and did not abate; maybe he knew about some local variety. He gave me a paper mask which he instructed me to wear, which inhibited my already labored breathing.

Meanwhile, after the bout of fever in the exam room, I again found myself unable to walk, and waited while the office (housed in a large building of medical practices) found a rickety wheelchair to unceremoniously dump me at the front door while I waited for a ride.

By day three on Tamiflu, the relentless fever spikes every six hours were taking a toll. Never feeling so ill in my life, I called the office and requested an antibiotic, on the gut feeling that this was a bacterial infection. The doctor never returned my call.

There is more, but the upshot is: this was a bacterial infection which had gone blood-borne -- not Bird Flu. On the fifth day of suffering after his misdiagnosis and my demanding simple tests (at the behest of a friend) which revealed the infection, he then prescribed the most powerful antibiotic available short of the intravenous route; the fever began to recede soon thereafter. Recovery took months.

"I don't like to prescribe anitbiotics, but when I do, I go big," he proudly stated.

I was fortunate; I survived. The doctor later sent me a registered letter saying that he recognized I had lost faith in him, and that he was resigning as my physician. 

Looking back shocks me anew. If this were Bird Flu, should my case not have been reported to some CDC database? Should I not have been hospitalized? How could putting a paper mask on my mouth have prevented any infection from spreading at that point? The entire scenario is horribly absurd to contemplate. In retrospect, the high fever and extreme malaise robbed me of the ability to be logical, against a doctor who was not. 

That is an example of healthcare in America. There are other such bad stories, but few successes. Practicing medicine follows the bell curve, as do most endeavors. The bell hits the mark frequently enough -- or the body heals on its own with or despite palliative measures --and when they are wrong, they try again (or the patient dies.) The thin tails are inhabited by practitioners who will kill you outright or heal you.

On the basis of what I have read and my own experiences, I do fear for our ability to confront any full-fledged epidemic.

If such an eventuality occurs, the fortunate few among us may be left to follow Giovanni Boccaccio's advice in his The Decameron. The pastorale recalls the experiences of a mythical group of wealthy Italians who escaped into nature to avoid contact with the Black Death which was then ravaging mid-14th century Europe. It is a primitive answer to a rather grim prospect.

Now you may call me alarmist, but based on current medical practice, if a plague were to come, the tack of Boccaccio's privileged in the face of doctors practicing medicine may look like a good option.

UPDATE (NYT, 28 OCT 2014):

Officials have emphasized that there is no risk of transmission from people who have been exposed to the virus but are not yet showing symptoms. Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids. A cough from a sick person could infect someone who has been sprayed with saliva. Specialists at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta have also found that the virus is present on a patient’s skin after symptoms develop, underlining how contagious the disease is once symptoms set in.
According to the C.D.C., the virus can survive for a few hours on dry surfaces like doorknobs and countertops and can survive for several days in puddles or other collections of body fluid. Bleach solutions can kill it.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Plague: Ebola

--El bombardeo más urgente, 
Angel Boligan 

Ah, I'm sick to death of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth now 
--Just Give Me Some Truth, John Lennon

The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
But don't worry, be happy 
--Don't Worry, Be Happy, Bobby McFerrin 

I mean, what do the words say?
Oh, just lies, sir 
--Hamlet, Shakespeare (II, ii)
Are we really such ninnies that we can't be trusted to digest the news?

Concluding a report on the first reported incident of Ebola transmission outside Africa today -- a Spanish nurse who treated a missionary for the disease 25 Sept at a Madrid hospital -- is an interactive piece: Why We Shouldn't Be Alarmed About an Ebola Outbreak in the U.S.

The NYT headlines for the past couple of days seek to put a happy face on the events of the first stateside Ebola case:

Ebola Victim's Journey From Liberian War to Fight for Life in U.S.


What began as a joyful reunion - refugees from African civil strife seeking to rebuild their lives in America - spiraled last week into a national health scare.


As Ebola ravages West Africa, Liberians are losing an integral part of their culture, in which the double-cheek kiss was once the standard greeting.

"A joyful reunion", "the double-cheek kiss" -- happy terms, which belie the reality. The Houston Chronicle reported that because the family of Dallas Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan did not abide by the quarantine order, police were posted at their residence to insure compliance. Because Mr. Duncan lied on his exit documents, he will prosecuted, should he survive.

Huggies go by the wayside? (Cue up Barney the dinosaur: "I love you, you love me," ad nauseum.) Haven't we seen Europeans doing the two-cheek kiss? "Gee whiz, honey, those West Africans must be more clean, refined, and sophisticated than we thought."

Oh, and "hiccups" in the Dallas hospital's ER initially send Mr. Duncan home with antibiotics. This doesn't make headline news, but it prompts a survey at an online medical site to ask, "Does this case undermine the CDC's assurances that U.S. hospitals are well prepared for Ebola cases?"

Shucks, whaddya think? Hiccups aren't that bad, are they?

Well, that's the image the news is conjuring, all intended to reduce your anxiety level and ramp up your compassion. Only, if we took the analogy to the logical next step, we would be even more terrified as we realized how close they are to being like us.

This issue is not like a cat video; it's really not cute. How do these these titles make front page in the NYT? The press is reining us in by withholding data. Why tell us the entire truth?  Because the more facts you have, the better decisions you can make.

They fear our resultant hysteria. But we might get angry enough to demand tighter controls, especially regarding people who have traveled from epidemiological hot spots.

This is not to spread paranoia, or hatred of sick people, but rather to establish a reasonable medical protocol for survival in world growing closer daily. A quick online scan of news on Ebola at reputable science journals returns cheery headlines like, "Ebola is difficult to catch," "You can't get Ebola from an asymptomatic person," and "It's not airborne." But when you read the articles, all of this is refuted.

Ebola virus is transmitted via contact with bodily fluids. This could be micronized, aspirated saliva particles from someone sitting in close proximity to you, like the seat next to you on an airplane. Or you touch something after the infected person has left behind a trace of body fluid, and you then touch a mucous membrane on your own body with that unwashed hand.

Airborne transmission has been proven between pigs and monkeys. An asymptomatic man who has recovered can pass the virus along in his semen. "A lab worker who contracted Ebola was still shedding the virus in his semen for 61 days after he recovered according to the World Health Organization." CDC Director Tom Frieden now admits that aerosolized particles could "theoretically" transmit the virus.

Moreover, beyond the immediate threat: why hasn't a vaccination or treatment for Ebola been developed? Ebola has been around for almost 40 years -- it was a known threat. In addition, it can be militarized, so why the laxity?

Why can't we get news that matters, which would be the truth sans the envelope?

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