RANGER AGAINST WAR: December 2007 <

Monday, December 31, 2007

A Death in Cleveland

Perry Kucinich (1956-2007)

The Personal is Political
--Carol Hanisch

Here is how Aschenbach has always lived
--A Death in Venice
, Thomas Mann

"Perry Kucinich, 52, the youngest brother of Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, was found dead Wednesday morning
at his apartment above Becker's Donuts & Bakery on East 71st Street in Cleveland."

Ranger grew up in this neighborhood. My father was a Pennsylvania coal miner displaced to Ohio and working as factory labor in industrial Cleveland. Ranger lived on 77th Street and attended grade school at St. Frances on 71st and Superior. This is the neighborhood in which Perry Kucinich lived and died.

Well, "So what" you say. And indeed. This neighborhood was rough and lower middle class, or upper lower class factory types in the 50's and 60's. A rough place to grow up, and just as rough now. Now it is 2007 and a presidential candidate's brother lives in what can best be described as wasteland. Forget Baghdad -- East 71st Street Cleveland is not a place to visit casually without a 9 on your person.

Much is said of John Edwards humble origins, but what about the fact that David Kucinich's brother actually lived above a donut shop? Ain't that America. No pink houses there. This is a candidate that actually knows the mean streets of America.

I'd venture to say none of the candidates of either party even knows anybody that works in a donut shop, let alone, lives above one. Yet Kucinich, possibly the only candidate who knows the realities of inner city life, is the joke of the campaign.

"Perry Kucinich, the fifth of Frank and Virginia Kucinich's seven children, died eight days after his 52nd birthday and nearly 29 years to the day after he became world famous for robbing a bank."

"His brother, unarmed, wearing a red tassel cap, sunglasses and black leather jacket, handed a teller at a bank a Christmas card with 'All your $ or die' written on the back. He took along a light blue suitcase in which to carry the stolen $1,396."

Tragic comedy in the highest. Mr. Kucinich had a brother who robbed a bank and got away with it. A fine credential for any presidential hopeful. It is so Cleveland.

The Kucinich's seem like average Americans. The obligatory photos of his wife show a lovely woman, but one who does not dress ostentatiously, nor in fine, expensively tailored clothes like the rest of the wives. These are off-the-rack people.

Every editorial graphic I found presents Kucinich as wacky. Granted, he doesn't do the hair pomade as well as Edwards or Romney, but as far as representing your average American taxpayer --who's probably a little wacky themselves -- he's pretty representative. But Americans don't buy who they are, they buy a dream package of who they think they are.

Ranger expresses sincere condolences to the Kucinich family, and sorrow and regret at losing a great Clevelander.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Future is Now

Not make believe then, I'm not make believe now
I didn't understand then, but I understand now
--Not Make Believe
, Stevie Nicks

The hardest thing in the world is to assume the mood
of a warrior. It is of no use to be sad and complain and feel
justified in doing so, believing that someone is always doing
to us.
Nobody is doing anything to anybody, much less to a warrior

--Carlos Castenada


The WaPo ran an interview today with Paul Saffo, "veteran Silicon Valley forecaster who explores long-term technological change and its practical impact on business and society," on what our must-have technological objects will be in 20 years. He puts his bet on the personal robot,

We want to confer life and intelligence on everything. We want to see fairies under trees. We want to believe that rocks can talk.

The future is here, baby. Exhibit A: the White House.

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It Was 40 Years Ago Today

"It's what I do during my presidency. I go around
spreading good will
and talking about
the importance of spreading freedom and peace."

--George W. Bush


Talking about it don't fry no bacon.

Under the category, "Same as it ever was," Dahlia Lithwick in yesterday's Slate offers a a
top 10 list
of "the most appalling civil-liberties violations by the Bush administration." Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gets his own category as his nefariousness was so multifarious. We second that motion.

By way of showing that Mr. Gonzales hails from a venerable pedigree of Texas judges who sleep with the wicked, we present for your viewing pleasure a trip back over 40 years through song.

This one includes another lapsed man of the Texas bench who came to the aid of shady Pecos trader Billy Sol Estes. Sol Estes didn't really have any commodities, but gamed the U.S. Department of Agriculture and bilked various others all the way into his own personal fortune.
He used the cotton he didn't grow as collateral for bank loans, flipping it a la the sub prime mortgage game.

Like Scooter Libby in current times, Billy Sol Estes got sprung a bit prematurely from his sentence. There's something about Texas.

The Ides of Texas, The Chad Mitchell Trio

Here's to a guy with a big Texas smile
Who knows what it means to have real Texas style
Here's to a fella who couldn't think small
Here's to the biggest embezzler of all!

Billie Sol Estes, we're proud of you son
You had to be Texan to do what you done
While other kids saved up their nickels and dimes
For jellybeans, liq'rice, and fudge,

Well Billie saved too

And when he had enough

He bought him a federal judge!

While still in his teens he was very perplexed
as to what field his fortune was hid
His uncle suggested he go into steel
And that's just what Billie boy did!

Billie Sol Estes, that boy really cooks
He had one shining purpose
And two sets of books

There once was a senator Bill tried to bribe
So Bill had a wonderful notion
Oh, what a friend we have in Billie!
He sent him a yacht but that wasn't enough
So Billie boy threw in an ocean!

Billie Sol Estes, we're proud of you mate
It's hombres like you that make Texas so great
B is for the billions he's been bilkin'
Good ole billion bilkin' Billie!
I is to indemnify his loss
They use a lot of ammonia up there, Billie —
That's why they call it the White House.
L is for the loans from Uncle Sammy
Why, thank ye, Cousin Orville!
Then double L just like in double cross
I is for the interest he's accruin'
Praise the Lord and pass the fertilizer, Billie!
E is for the eggheads he outsmarts
Put them all together, you've got Billie Sol
Whose initials are emblazed on our hearts:

Billie Sol Estes, we're proud of you boy
Next to you Jimmy Hoffa is Lord Fauntleroy
Now they're gonna take Billie away to the clink
And the way things look now it appears
For all of the wheelin' and dealin' he's done
He'll get three thousand four hundred years

And the day they lead old Billie away
Why, each Texan will take off his hat
For who but a Texan
In all this wide world
Could pull down a sentence like that?

Billie Sol Estes, you're really a doll
There's Houston — and Crockett—
And now Billie Sol!
And remember, Billie boy,
We're behind you all the way —
Me and Ladybug

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Solid as a Rock

Curtain up! Light the lights!
You got nothing to hit but the heights!

--Everything's Coming Up Roses
Sondheim and Styne


Heads up, Ranger readers:

Ever at the ready, the FDA has released a warning that Chinese herbal supplements
Strong Testis [sic] and Lady Shangai, "marketed for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED) and for sexual enhancement," might, um, cause an erection. The products "contain sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, an FDA-approved drug for erectile dysfunction."

The problem is in the labeling. The products are not supplements because "they contain undeclared active ingredients of FDA-approved prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction."
Of course, an additional concern arises from the Chinese-sourced ingredients, possibly grown along the cancerous Yangtze or eponymous Yellow Rivers.

What if it turned your member a radioactive orange? Given, once one got past the shock, it might prove valuable navigating dark environs, rather like an aisle attendant's baton at a theater. But who knows if the lights would go down with the curtain?

Dr. Woodcock (you can't make these things up), FDA's chief medical officer, said Strong Testis "put consumers at considerable risk because [it] contains undeclared active ingredients in FDA approved drugs. . .
" The FDA urges consumers to report "any adverse events that they feel are related to the use of these products."

I'm not sure I have gotten the hang of this. By "adverse," do they mean, "flaccidity"?

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Flash in the Pan

Homer Stokes [as Grand Kleagle at a KKK rally]:
Brothers! Oh, brothers! We have all gathered here, to preserve
hallowed culture and heritage!
We aim to pull evil up by the root,
before it chokes out the flower
of our culture and heritage!
And our women,
let's not forget those ladies, y'all. Looking to us
for protection! From darkies, from Jews, from papists,

and from all those smart-ass folks say we come descended from monkeys!

. . .And so, we gonna hang us a negro!
--Oh Brother, Where Art Thou

If I owned Texas and Hell,
I'd rent out Texas and live in Hell.

- General Phillip H. Sheridan


Campaigning requires a certain skill set. That skill set is not necessarily consonant with good decision-making or leadership in a consensus-building way. It is like vying for Miss Congeniality, in a contest where winning that banner means you are top banana. Think a gushing Sally Field for the weightiness we are talking about here.

Why won't a one of them say, "I
won't talk about my views on homosexuality. I won't tell someone who they may take as a partner. I will neither sanctify nor curse such private acts. I won't tell fertility labs what they can do with their surgical waste. I won't tell a family what to do with a member in a persistently vegetative state. . . These are matters beyond the President's office."

The front runners are all wealthy beyond the dreams of the average American taxpayer, who has little actual cash reserves, much like our Federal government. They never address this issue since they do not know what it actually feels like to live on the edge. Being out of touch with reality, or at least feigning ignorance, seems to be a requirement for holding national political office today.

Another reality is the U.S. is no longer the sole superpower in the world. When a group of rag-tag level one threat terror or insurgent groups can control the tempo of in-theatre military operations, the writing is on the wall. That's on the unconventional side.

On the conventional side, the picture is even bleaker. The U.S infrastructure of military training facilities has been eviscerated and the National Guard and Reserve forces are inadequate to address a general war scenario, like an actual WW III. The active forces are too thin to face say the Chinese or Russian armies. Imagine a war with Pakistan or India, or a combination thereof. Where is the money to pay for an international conflagration? Where's the draft to support an actual war?

Where is the will and the industrial base to face these potentialities? Yellow ribbon magnets don't help win or finance wars.

What is real is the future of the dollar is in foreign hands. If OPEC repudiates the dollar and if foreign investors dump their dollar-denominated holdings, then America is in a precarious posture.

If this happens, Social Security will be an immediate and non-deferrable crisis, as will all aspects of of American financial well-being. At that point, democratization of the world will be a moot point. Battles over gay marriage and all the other rhetorical bling will be overcome by a serious flash of reality.

The "values voters" want a candidate with values (that resonate with and therefore validate their own.) We need a candidate who concerns himself with matters of state, alone. There is no time for anything else. The rest belongs on the table in a college ethics seminar, or a Sunday school study group. Even the best man is no one's moral arbiter.

How magnificent it would be to have a candidate refuse to play God. Refuse to say he or she will mandate and legislate everything. A candidate who hands that terrible freedom and uncertainty back to the fundamentalist voter, who will then realize there is no absolute certainty available only to the elect (elected?)

Then you take a step toward real equality among men.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Floating Downstream

Well, I'll tell you 'bout the casket, my good friends
It would-a made your poor eyes pop
It was sterling silver all around and a real Formica top.

Well, I'll tell you 'bout the widow, my good friends,
The widow was in navy blue
With a gown designed by Balenciaga, I supplied that too.
--A Dying Business
, Chad Mitchell Trio

Taunting us with visions
Afflicting us with fear
Predicting war for millions
In the hope that one appears

Terror, death, destruction
Pour from the eastern sands
But the truth of all predictions
Is always in your hands
--Die With your Boots On, Iron Maiden (1985)

It's time we start doing things that make sense. The following goes under environmentalism, not morbidity; it is about eco-friendly caskets (Going Out the Natural Way). Death is a part of life, and since this site deals tangentially with death, why not talk of the ways in which it can be faced rationally.

"Cynthia Beal wants to be an Oregon cherry tree after she dies. She has everything to make it happen: a body, a burial site and a biodegradable coffin.

"'It is composting at its best,' said Beal, owner of The Natural Burial Co., which will sell a variety of eco-friendly burial products when it opens in January, including the Ecopod, a kayak-shaped coffin made out of recycled newspapers.

"Biodegradable coffins are part of a larger trend toward "natural" burials, which require no formaldehyde embalming, concrete vaults, chemical lawn treatments or laminated caskets."

"Options range from natural-fiber shrouds to fair-trade bamboo caskets lined with unbleached cotton." Prices start at $100 for your basic cardboard box. If you really wanted to be in the recycling spirit, I s'pose you could rifle through the rubbish bin behind your local Ross and find a suitably sized shipping receptacle.

My father brought the article to my attention. When the time comes, he will donate his body to a medical school. We all thought this might be for economic considerations, but it costs as much to make those arrangements as it does for a typical funeral. He just wants to do the right thing.

That is one great thing about my wacky parents -- they eschew materialism. Mother rails against lavish and showy bridal parties, "An egotistical waste of tens of thousands of dollars, gone in a day. Donate that money to building a children's playground." She has never seen Kurosawa's
Ikiru, but she has arrived independently at that salarimen's end-of-life knowledge.

There is little as disgusting and extravagantly wasteful as titanium, satin-lined caskets in which bodies decompose, and which nobody ever really visits. Whatever happened to "ashes-to-ashes"? It becomes some rote part of the liturgy, but it sure isn't implemented. The pitch of the casket salesmen seems aimed to tap into some sense of guilt over obligations unfulfilled.

As mother says, she won't be around to see the satin and flowers, so don't waste time and money on it. If you have something to say to someone, better do it now, because they won't see your gestures then.

Why is it that the folks who claim a rock-hard theology and a belief in the afterlife and a reward therein, are often the ones wailing the loudest at the point of their own imminent demise, or those of their loved ones? Is it fear? Is it greed and possessiveness?


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Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Tuesday, December 25, 2007


You can bomb the world to pieces
You can't bomb it into peace

--Bomb the World
, Michael Franti

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When Uncrinkled Eyes are Smiling

You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard,
a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.

There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Four years after his pointless invasion of Iraq,

President Bush still confuses bullying with grand strategy

--Trash Talking World War III
, NYT editorial


The New York Times reported last week that "(a)ll five voting systems used in Ohio, a state whose electoral votes narrowly swung two elections toward President Bush, have critical flaws that could undermine the integrity of the 2008 general election," says Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, the state’s top election official (Ohio Elections Official Calls Machines Flawed.)

Ohio has a legacy of fraudulent and questionable voting activity, from rigging recounts to a former Secretary of State who simultaneously co-chaired Bush's re-election campaign in Ohio in 2004. Smacks of Katherine Harris here in the Shady State.

Voting is the bedrock concept of a democracy. But as the saying goes, it is not who you vote for, but who counts your votes. Both Ohio and Florida are pivotal states, yet both have serious voter fraud issues.

Brunner proposes replacing all of the state’s voting machines,with optical scan machines that read and electronically record paper ballots that are filled in manually by voters. "She called for legislation and financing to be in place by April so the new machines can be used in the presidential election next November," but "could not estimate the cost of the changes.

Ranger guesstimates that since neither state is a suburb of greater Baghdad, there will not be sufficient funds to emplace an expeditious fix. The U.S. celebrates purple thumbs, but ignores election integrity at home. Without a paper trail, accepting election results are acts of faith that must be taken as truth without verification.

From the converse, can anyone estimate the cost if the changes are not made? In the 2000 Bush vs. Gore case, dissenting Justice Stevens said "(a)lthough we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."

Hardware problems must not complicate an already shaken faith.

Add to these reported problems the fact that the pool of presidential hopefuls doesn't provide much inspiration, as they are simply playing a game called "Survivor, Washington D.C.", and their script is anything but reality.
When leaders are not addressing the life and death issues of a society, then voting is a meaningless construct.

But this essential problem is beyond the nuts and bolts of the voting machines themselves. Regardless of the merit of the politicos fronted, those dumb beasts -- the machines -- should work without a hitch.

This story hits especially close to home since Tallahassee saw voting fraud up close and personal with the pancake made-up, second-rate Secretary of State Katherine Harris in 2000. That was a dark time, and the news crews which descended heavy upon our town were pressed to find a smiling face to front on the evening news.

In 2004, proud lunchtime lines snaked for blocks down Monroe Street, people of all ages waiting to mark their ballots at the courthouse. Smiles galore. That election I [Lisa] held a placard at two different sites in town, and the responses encountered presaged what the next four years delivered.

At the first corner was a group of perfectly manicured Ladies Club members nearby the Ladies Club, as it was. Approaching, smiling, with my Kerry sign, I was told by several in unison, through smiles with uncrinkled eyes: "You're on the wrong side." Well, there were no representatives from the opposition yet, so really, there was no "other side." Clearly, wherever I was meant to be was not with them.

Next, at our main intersection I joined a hearty band of fellows. However this time we were met with the opposite attitude. Instead of the "yours and mine" of the ladies with a sense of property, here the approach was, "What is yours is mine."

The George W. Bush throng aggressively infiltrated our group, causing us to move down the street a bit. And with each move, it was the same -- infiltrate and appropriate. It became a very unpleasant, confrontational experience. It was bullying.

Americans are losing faith in many democratic institutions and an unhealthy ennui spreads, yet many still turn out at the polling stations. Their efforts must not become so much kabuki theatre.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

A Moderate Man

And we lost Davy in the Korean War
And I still don't know what for, don't matter anymore

--Hello In There, John Prine
This week we at Ranger feel particularly like calling a spade a spade. Looking below the platitudes to see where peace and goodwill really do, and do not, reside.

Another attempt at a feel good story that wasn't was the pardon issued a week ago by Saudi King Abdullah for the Girl of Qatif. The 19-year-old woman was brutally gang-raped by seven men and sentenced by the court in our "mainstream" and "moderate" friend Saudi Arabia to 200 lashes for. . .
her crime.

Arab News explained the court's argument, "that it was the girl’s fault in the first place that (the rape) happened and none of that would have happened if she had not met with the non-related male friend (King Abdullah Pardons Qatif Girl)." You have not come a long way, baby, in many parts of the world.

Of course the U.S. State Department, in its typical stupefied posture, voiced "astonishment" at the sentence but stopped short of actually calling for it to be overturned,
doing a Kofi Annan better than Annan himself. World outrage was probably the operative agent in Abdullah's intervention.

WaPo ran a good editorial taking a broad view of that country in a piece on the opening of the Annapolis Peace Talks last month (Saudi Whiplash; A regime that inflicts medieval punishment on rape victims is celebrated in Annapolis) :

"Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, basked in praise and attention from the Bush administration at last week's Annapolis peace conference. He was thanked repeatedly for deigning to attend the kickoff of Israeli-Palestinian talks; national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said he told the prince that "I know it must have been a very difficult decision." Reporters took note as Prince Saud lambasted Isreal and explained why he could not possibly stoop to shake the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert."

What a fawning toady Mr. Hadley must be. Saudi Arabia's extremism is concretized by the fact that its foreign minister will not even shake the hand of a fellow diplomat.

It is another Sam Kinison moment: "People, Saudi Arabia does not even recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist, yet you have its representative at the opening ceremony of its peace conference -- for what? To put bad mojo on the event?"

Al-Faisal does not shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, as Laura Bush would not nod or make eye contact with Iranian President Ahmadinejad at the United Nations. Bad citizens of the world, all.

Mrs. Bush is a Christian lady, and as such, her dogma espouses the belief that all men are brothers. If she cannot manage even a courteous nod recognizing a head of state at an official function, how do we have a chance with anybody?

This is not statesmanship, which should be staid and polite, if only on the surface.
Failure to acknowledge another person as a fellow human being is not conducive to negotiated settlements.

"Six years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, it was widely acknowledged in and outside the Bush administration that Saudi Arabia -- the homeland of 15 of the 19 hijackers, along with Osama bin Laden -- was a threat as well as an oil supplier to the United States. Its embrace of extremist Islamic ideology, its vigorous efforts to spread that creed throughout the Middle East and beyond and its sponsorship of groups like the Taliban were a far more direct cause of anti-Western terrorism than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Yet America remains placated at the pathologizing of Israel as the wellspring of its problems in the Middle East. And some actually court the pipe dream that somehow, if Israel were just gone, so too would go all other enmities. Good luck.

"Most of the suicide bombers in Iraq have been Saudis.
Yet in the last year. . .the Bush administration has abruptly returned to describing Saudi Arabia as a "mainstream" and "moderate" state and a staunch U.S. ally. Once again the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is treated as the Middle East's most critical problem and Prince Saud as a statesman who is to be congratulated for appearing in the same room as an Israeli."

If Saudi Arabia is "moderate" and "mainstream," than my college dictionary is superannuated. Or maybe things are just skewed in Bushworld.

If we are fighting to make Afghanistan and Iraq moderate by the standard of our ostensible Saudi Arabian friends, then we are headed down the wrong road.

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Scars of War

There ain't no substitute for the truth
Either it is or isn't

(Cause he is the truth)

You see the truth it needs no proof

Either it is or it isn't

--The Truth,
India Arie

Ranger wants this post under the heading, "Blowing smoke up our asses and calling it sunshine."

People ran the story big last year. This time, just a blurb. Ty Ziegel is getting divorced, less than a year after his marriage.

Ziegel, 25, is the USMC Sergeant
who was seriously injured while serving his second tour in Iraq in 2004.

Following a suicide attack, Sgt. Ziegel lost his left forearm and of three fingers of his right hand, was left blind in his right eye and sustained widespread severe burns that led to the loss of his ears and much of the tissue on his face.
His shattered skull was replaced by a plastic dome, and his disfigured face was constructed from scratch with salvaged tissue, holes left where his ears and nose had been.

Ziegel and his sweetheart, Renee, were much feted by the press. Even Oprah gave her imprimatur November of '06. It was the feel good story of the year -- the
Triumph of Love, as Times Online hailed it.

But this is no feel good story, and the terrified and remote look on the bride's face told all. As the photographer, Nina Berman, said, "It's a standard wedding photograph, but something's different. The war is affecting our rituals, our daily rituals.
Look around."

High divorce rates for combat vets is not news, but what is especially disquieting about this story is the way in which the media molded it as proof that everything is going to be alright. Almost all of the fraternal military magazines hopped aboard, running standard copy on the victory of love.
Propaganda a la pretty Jessica Lynch, the Barbie who went down fighting to her last cartridge. Not.

Now the reality divorce is biting Ty Ziegel on his ass, and none of the fraternal organizations are doing a follow up. That is left for page 92 of 12/17/07 People. Pity to run it so close to Christmas. These trains don't always run on time though.

Sgt. Ty Ziegel has outlived his propaganda value to the war propagating elements of our grateful nation. He proves yet another failure for this war enterprise.

Girls may "Like A Boy," until he is no longer GQ material following a bomb blast, that is.

Ranger wishes a happy life to Ty. He deserves it.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ain't That America

Leonard Smalls, Lone Biker of the Apocalypse
--Raising Arizona (1987)

yeah, I'm feelin' fine...

you know, and Jesus walks up to me, and he says

"Mojo", "Mojo, I'm gonna take you to someplace

you need to be", and I say, uh,

I say "Take me Jesus," and Jesus took me..

I saw the entire Robert Johnson-John Lee Hooker-Muddy Waters

record collection stretched before me

an' a brand new stereo
, I got a thousand watts o' power,
I got a new car, it's got second gear, and I'm, I'm feelin' fine

I ain't gotta work at no day job no more, cuz

that's not my wife
, that's not my life
--Jesus at McDonald's,
Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper

Ranger doesn't usually share personal observations, but Huckabee's god required a show-and-tell.

Yesterday, a homeless beggar was plying his trade outside the local home supply depot. No big deal; these guys are on every street corner in our town it seems. But this guy was on a cell phone, networking no doubt.

A denizen of our local American Legion is another homeless gent, this one has a laptop that he plugs into outside receptacles. When inside the coffee shop, he uses the WIFI connection. When Clinton proposed an initiative that every third-grader would be wired, was the expectation that this would lead to full employment? Perhaps some kind of "full participation" in society?

Also yesterday in a public toilet was a gent at the urinal, talking on the cell phone while draining his lizard.

This logically brought to mind a recent sighting of woman driver at a light who was putting on makeup and talking on the cell, simultaneously. The truly amazing thing was when the light changed, she drove off and continued her act.

Last week Ranger saw a hardcore motorcycle type cruising down the highway while talking on a hand-held cellphone.

Two days ago, Lisa's friend with the right-of-way was rammed into by a cell-phone talking woman who busted a red light. A woman who then had the chutzpah to yell at the paramedics who were tending to her friend, who got the worst of the impact, "I got a BABY in this car!" You've got a baby on board and you're driving like a banshee?

Ranger will skip the anti-cell phone rant. Most cell phone conversations we hear around these parts revolve around "Where are you/Where you at?", the answer to which doesn't seem to advance civilization all that much.

The six scenarios were so classic that they needed to be shared. Can you top them?

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Saturday, December 22, 2007


Doctor: This won't hurt a bit.
Sticks Chance with a needle]
Chance the Gardener: It did hurt.

Mistaken ideas always end in bloodshed, but in every case

it is someone else's blood. That is why some of out thinkers

feel free to say just about anything
--Albert Camus

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Less Bang for Your Buck

Jonathan Herder, Ten Dollar Bank Note (2007)

You'll find your fortune falling

all over town.
Be sure that your umbrella, is upside down.
--Pennies From Heaven, Hal Kemp

Speculation and the falling dollar have colluded to raise U.S. oil prices by $20 per barrel. Traders gamble that oil prices will rise, pulling up the current, or spot, price of oil -- "the classic self-fulfilling prophecy
(The Oil Speculator Premium)."

Ranger does not claim to be an economist or to understand high finance, but he does remember 9th grade economics and the Law of Supply and Demand, an iron-clad rule when dealing with commodities, be they oil, cocaine or pork bellies.

Obviously there is a higher world demand for oil with the emergence of China and India. America is competing for a slice of that pie, but using shrunken dollars. Even making the pie higher will not change that sorry fact. Not only is the supply smaller, but the dollar buys less. Viola -- the price of a barrel of oil rises $20 just to account for the diminished buying power of the buck.

Oil speculating is not illegal, but the precipitous fall of the USD is criminal. The culprits? All the usual suspects:

  1. Excessive debt for phony wars
  2. Deficit spending, both personal and governmental
  3. Excessive expenditures for non-essential items, ditto.
  4. Trade deficits
  5. Shifting economic realities

What can be done to rectify the situation? The first step would be a national dialog to determine if it is in the best interests of America to have a strong or a weak dollar.

Whatever the answer, there must be realistic policies that shape the destiny of the nation. Merely reacting to economic emergencies is not a policy, but a symptom of a diseased infrastructure.

It is simple for the government to preach that a weak dollar favors America, but this is only true because the government is incapable of maintaining a strong dollar. Ranger believes that espousing a weak dollar is the same as espousing the use of wet toilet paper. Neither really pass the test of maximal functionality.

Roberts, the author of "The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World," says Washington is loathe to intervene. Meanwhile,

"Iran, for example, is now raking in roughly $5.5 billion extra a month because of the speculator's premium -- cash that could be used to fund any number of nasty ventures, and that could offset whatever economic sanctions Washington manages to deploy against Tehran."

"In the ultimate oil irony, even the merest mention by President Bush of sanctions against Iran is enough to push up oil prices -- and thus to send even more dollars to Tehran."

A strong dollar is more important than a strong Army. That is something you can take to the bank.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home

Boy you're gonna carry that weight,

carry that weight a long time

--Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight
, The Beatles

Premise: Women cause problems. Look at how much ink Britney's wasted. And Hillary, gobs of problems emanate from her very existence, so they say. It's unsure whether the problem is getting too much of women, or too little, but whatever, clearly they are causative in a multitude of the world's sins.

Oh, o.k., occasionally the shoe's on the other foot -- your John Belushi, or Phil Specter or Stalin or Mel Gibson. Even then, you usually find a woman preceding the problem. Save in the case of Mr. Gibson. But in the main, the men's problems arise when they have partaken of too much drink or too many illicit substances. Otherwise, they tend to keep their boorish behavior under wraps.

Women, however, are not content generally to "just sit there and look pretty." The concept of power enters their thinking, and this is an unharnessable tragedy for men. So the only solution if men are to coexist peaceably is to shut them down.

In our new Democratic Islamic Republic of Iraq, the solution is putting them back under a bushel, and they have taken up the project with gusto. Dozens of women were murdered in the southern Iraq city of Basra this year for failure to wear the anonymizing hijab. The number is likely much higher, but families fear reprisal and so the crimes go unreported.

Iraqi Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf attributes the "honor" killings to roaming sectarian vigilante groups. The mutilated and bullet-riddled bodies are found with warnings regarding the women's dishabille
(Basra Women Fear Militants Behind Wave of Killing).

Reuters said, "During the long rule of Saddam Hussein, who suppressed Islamists, Iraqi women in urban areas enjoyed some of the most casual dress codes in the Middle East." Basra was a secular, cosmopolitan city "with a vibrant nightlife" before the U.S. invasion.

Something about
democracy and freedom is getting lost in translation. The price tag for riding shotgun on this emergent misogynistic vehicle: mere trillions of hard-earned U.S. dollars. And we thought palletized bundles of shrink-wrapped dollars were a strange image early on. Think Weimar Germany and pushing wheelbarrows full of the stuff to buy your daily loaf one day soon.

It's a great deal, though, if you wear a burka.

--Jim and Lisa

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Diaspora U.S.A.

Does anybody really know what time it is?
I don't

Does anybody really care?

--Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?
, Chicago

Waiting at the meat counter recently, I overheard the butcher proudly giving instructions to the concerned customer before me: "Now I'm from N'awlins, ma'am, and I can tell you how to make a scampi." Enrapt, I listened with pleasure to his bravura explanation.

After he filled my request, I said simply, "I'm sorry about what happened in New Orleans." I told him we wrote a web log, and had addressed the issue. This genial man then came out from behind the counter, and it seemed the words would not stop.

"I've lived here since 1992, but my parents have lived in New Orleans 55 years. They are 76 and 78. They have been living in a FEMA trailer for over two years. They thought they'd be back home for Thanksgiving, but the tile and carpet floor had to be ripped up because the piping laid by the second contractor wasn't done right. So they're still in the trailer."

"The problem isn't money. My father was in the Army, and then retired from the Postal Service. Two contractors have taken their money so far without doing the work. Friends here in town have offered them land to build a new home on, but New Orleans is their home." Not your typical media image of 9th Ward down-and-outers.

"Why didn't the government have some sort of provisions for people, some sort of oversight to have reputable builders in the area?" he asked. Each new statement came after he'd turned to walk away, but something compelled him to return. This time, he stood before me, hands outstretched in an imploring gesture.

I like to think I know what to say.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dirty Sub Prime Deeds

We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer

For only love can conquer hate

You know we've got to find a way

--What's Going On,
Marvin Gaye

I see the bad moon arising
I see trouble on the way

I see earthquakes and lightnin'

I see bad times today
--Bad Moon Rising,
Creedence Clearwater Revival

Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!
--Bette Davis, All About Eve (1950)


For another perspective on how the sub prime mortgage debacle is shaking out, Bloomberg offers this investigative piece today on the financial straits our pathetic Florida school system faces following some poor investments propped up by now junk subprime notes (Florida Got Lehman Help Before Run on School's Funds). A tantalizing subplot involves former Florida governor "No Child Left Behind" Jeb Bush, whose firm is a new consultant at Lehman Bros.

These notes were bought on the advice of Coleman Stipanovich, newly-resigned former executive director of the State Board of Administration. Until November, the Board oversaw the largest public money market fund in the U.S., holding cash for about 1,000 school districts, towns and local agencies in Florida.

Lehman Brothers offloaded the largest amount of the tainted debt into these Florida funds at a time when those assets were plummeting in value. And surprise, surprise -- former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, President George Bush's brother, who incorporated Jeb Bush & Associates in February 2007, a month after completing his second term, had been hired as a consultant to Lehman Brothers in June. All three members of the board overseeing the fund, including current Governor Charlie Crist, are mum on the matter.

"The subprime meltdown made front-page news in June, when Bear Stearns Cos. disclosed that two of its hedge funds were collapsing because they were stuffed with subprime collateral. During the next two months, Wall Street firms were quietly peddling mortgage-backed securities to the states.

"And the states, eager for higher returns, were buying them."

"Joseph Mason, a former U.S. Treasury official and now a finance professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, says Wall Street had few takers for its subprime-tainted debt. 'When they couldn't sell it to more-sophisticated investors, they found less-sophisticated investors like local government investment pools,' he says."

Someone like JEB! (Brother Bush) would be uniquely poised to direct Lehmen Bros. to just the right local yokels, like the uber-less-sophisticated Jefferson County School Board, for one. Bloomberg writes, "Pool investors like the Jefferson County School District in Florida, which kept more than $4 million of cash in the state fund, were left scrambling to pay their teachers."

"Hal Wilson, the school board's chief financial officer, stopped checks to vendors to ensure the district's 220 employees would be able to cash their paychecks. 'It has been stolen from our local taxpayers because we entrusted their money with the state and our elected officials assured us it was safe,' Wilson says."

"States and counties run pools similar to money market funds to hold cash for school districts and local agencies. Most states require fund managers to make only short-term investments in debt such as U.S. Treasuries, certificates of deposit and corporate commercial paper, or short-term loans.

"Florida and other states have strayed from those guidelines in recent years, buying commercial paper from collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, and structured investment vehicles, or SIVs. These investments are bundles of securitized loans, often loaded with subprime debt, which is why they offer higher returns than Treasuries.

"They also hold greater risk of default. Banks and other firms create these 'structured finance' packages and put them into a company, usually registered offshore.

Bad Day in Black Rock

"On Nov. 30, state officials hired New York-based investment management firm BlackRock Inc. to study the fund's holdings and recommend a plan. On Dec. 4, BlackRock reported that about $2 billion of the pool's holdings were in default or had significant credit risk." Dec. 4 was the day Stipanovich quit.

Stipanovich failed to tell his boss, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, that the firm he was consulting with --Lehman Brothers -- was the same firm that had sold the state fund $842 million of mortgage-backed debt in July and August. Those securities defaulted within four months, and totaled more failing debt than any other bank sold the state, Florida records show. "At the time, I never knew it was Lehman Brothers that actually sold us these investments," Sink says.

Sink also was unaware of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's affiliation, via Jeb Bush & Associates as a consultant to Lehman Brothers

While Lehman Bros. denies any Bush involvement with the sale of the bad debt to Florida, Craig Holman, of Washington-based nonprofit public interest group Public Citizen, disputes Lehman Brothers' view.

"'That defies credibility,' says Holman, who lobbies for ethics in government. 'It's a clear conflict of interest. Bush is a consultant to the company selling bad investments to the same agency on which he served as a trustee until January.''' This sort of graft is nothing new to Florida, but the possible involvement of another Bush family profiteer makes it especially gross.

It is a deal right out of a Carl Hiaasen mystery, and it's smellier than the red tide-infested waters off our coast.

New state motto: Children and Teachers Left Behind.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Different Trajectories

You dark the sun you
Rain down fire on everyone
Scabs, police, government thieves
Venal psychic amputees

I see your auto suggestion psychology
Elimination policy
A military industrial
Illusion of democracy
--Swastika Eyes, Primal Scream

I know a place
Ain't nobody cryin'

Ain't nobody worried

Ain't no smilin' faces

Mmm, no no

Lyin' to the races
--I'll Take You There,
Alvertis Isbell

It's just interesting to see how folks end up. Not saying that Bob Dylan was exploitative of his time, but this troubadour of change is now hawking the Cadillac mega SUV, the Escalade. Not exactly a green day sort of vehicle.

YouTube - Bob Dylan in Cadillac Escalade 60 sec.flv

The video has all the working man trappings: trains, windmills, clotheslines, cattle, 16-wheelers and a dusty terrain. And Mr. Dylan certainly does look bad in his black suit and gloves. The clip closes with the text, "Life. Liberty. And the Pursuit." I suppose somehow the Escalade will take you there.

In contrast, Dylan contemporary Joni Mitchell continues to burn the flame for responsible living. The New Yorker magazine ran her poem, "Bad Dreams are Good" (9/17/07). It goes, in part,

Everyone’s a victim here
Nobody’s hands are clean
There’s so very little left of wild Eden Earth
So near the jaws of our machines
We live in these electric scabs
These lesions once were lakes
We don’t know how to shoulder blame
Or learn from past mistakes

Mitchell's poem ran a month or so before Dylan's foray into the luxury SUV market, but the stanza below could damn him:

And you cannot be trusted
Do you even know you are lying?
It’s dangerous to kid yourself
You go deaf, dumb, and blind
You take with such entitlement
You give bad attitude
You have No grace
No empathy
No gratitude
You have no sense of consequence
Oh, my head is in my hands
Bad Dreams are good
In the Great Plan

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Troop Censorship

"Hundreds of thousands of holiday cards and letters thanking wounded American troops for their sacrifice and wishing them well never reach their destination. They are returned to sender or thrown away unopened."

"Last season, despite the rule, officials say as many as 450,000 pieces of mail not addressed to anyone in particular managed to reach Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. But they were returned or, if they had no return address, were thrown out altogether. . . spokesman Terry Goodman said.

"'A lot of this is because of security concerns . . .' Goodman said. 'Also,
being a democratic society, there could be inappropriate mail from someone who, say, doesn't support the war, and then you've got a wounded soldier getting it (U.S. Refuses Any Wounded Soldier' Mail.)"

Democratic society? Stopping the mail? Surely it is no surprise to anyone in our democracy that there are opponents to the war. And surely anyone also knows that someone who would write something hurtful to a soldier is not worthy of consideration. The vast majority of the letters would be from well-wishers, I would imagine.

One of the first responses to the above post showed contradiction:

"Sometimes our church would have the children write me letters and the Pastor would send them to me and they were welcome and wonderful.
I carried a letter from a little girl that I had not even met until it fell apart and was unreadable. One of the first things I did when I got home was to call her and thank her for her letter.

"Now for the other side of the coin, a letter from someone I do not know meant nothing to me or anyone else I knew. Who wants to get a letter from some feel good liberal that is just doing something to make them pretend that they did something for the "support the troops" crowd. Want to do something to help the troops and raise their morale? Get off your duff and jump on the politicians that are holding up funds, jumping on their Generals and the commander in chief . . ."

What is implied here? First he says letters that are from unknown people mean nothing, yet he kept the letter from the unknown girl until the end of his posting. Why was the letter from that unknown girl any more important than that from another unknown writer? Because she was a member of his tribe (=church), therefore, not really "other"?

Next, he accuses the "feel-good liberals" of assuaging their conscience. Um, that would be "feel good conservatives," wouldn't it? Well, it shows great confusion. I can't see how a letter from anyone would make such an individual's vision any cloudier.

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A Cartridge in a Pear Tree

We're feeling the Christmas spirit at Ranger, and wanted to share our version of the Twelve Days of Christmas, via Cliff Snider, SF, Laos campaign '65.

[This pear tree (sans cartridge) is from the site of the Worcestershire Regiment, whose Rifle Volunteers of 1859 used the Pear Tree as their emblem. ]

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Super Size Me

Spurlock: [showing child a picture] Who's that?
: George W. Bush?

No. That's a good guess though.

It is actually a picture of Jesus]
--Super Size Me

"Of course, a war is entertaining,"

but I am finding too many and must skip on to favorites

--The Screwtape Letters,
C. S. Lewis (1942)

Some final thoughts on the facile thinking that upgrading the Iraqi's munitions -- like replacing their AK-47's with M-16's -- will somehow enable them to strike a victory for democracy.

A quick review of guns in modern warfare shows the foolishness of this approach.

In Korea, the North Korean Army and later Chinese forces fought the UN forces to a standstill using captured Japanese WW II bolt action rifles, as well as Soviet 1891 Mosyn Nagant bolt rifles. Largely, they fought without heavy artillery. N.K. forces today still use the AK-47, and South Korea does not use the M-16, but rather a home-grown variant, the Daewoo.

In Vietnam, the entire South Vietnamese forces including the police were armed with the vaunted M-16. They probably enjoyed a larger force structure than the North and at the time, and had a large armored force and modern Air Force for support. The SVN field commanders enjoyed impressive heavy artillery, as well.

The North Vietnamese forces wore sandals and carried AK-47's, yet SVN could not pull their own bacon out of the fire even with the help of $100's of billions of U.S.-manufactured military hardware. The SVN couldn't repulse the NVN offensive because the South couldn't marshal the will, nor did their army reflect any nationalistic unity. They could not issue a cohesive list of goals. All the M-16 rifles in the world could not compensate for that lack.

Americanizing an army does not necessarily lead to military success. Especially when that army (Iraq) is not engaged in military combat. Especially when they don't share in other Americanizing features, like democracy -- something we seem tragically ill-poised to export these days.

All of the -ologies and -isms don't change the reality. The reality is our invasion stomped upon and destroyed the equilibrium of Iraqi society. Arming such a broken society is not the answer to to their, or our, problems.

The Iraqi army is simply a super-sized police force, sans foreign enemies.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

~Note: Ranger has been on the road the past couple of days.
We are back in the saddle again.

Below is a Friday frippary.~

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, domo...domo

Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto

For doing the jobs that nobody wants to
--Mr. Roboto,

You can look inside another world

You get to talk to a pretty girl
She's everything you dream about

(But don't fall in love)

If you do you'll find out
She don't love you
She's one in a million girl
--She's a Beauty, the Tubes

Last month Slate reported on the U.S. military's funding of a project to integrate human with artificial intelligence, as humans excel in visual recognition, where computers process the information better. "A prototype helmet already delivers a visual readout for combat commanders showing the cognitive patterns of individual Soldiers" (Cyborg Soldiers: war, networked helmets, and "augmented cognition.)

Author William Saleten identifies the project buzzwords as "real-time cognitive state assessment," "networked soldiers," "Augmented Cognition," and "human-computer warfighting integral." His translation: "We're fielding cyborgs. Human Nature's prediction: The next step will be to remove the human component from the battle field and let machines provide the sensor mobility as well as the information processing."

Then I came across a bit by Artificial Intelligence researcher David Levy on his new book, "Love + Sex With Robots," in which he postulates
"we will be legally marrying robots someday." Silly me -- and I thought we were already doing that (Romancing the Robot.)

By the turn of the next century, Levy envisions companion robots which "[sit] in the corner in your house waiting for you to decide what you'd like to do next... instead of out living a life of its own. In this time frame anyway, robots will be there when we need them, as we need them."

Says Levy,
whose PhD thesis was, "Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners" (I'm certain I've already had that), "I don't think the difference between robots and humans will be any more than the difference between people who live in Maine and people who live in the bayou of Louisiana." Of course, for anyone involved in the red state/blue state rift, one understands that never the twain shall meet.

Levy also hypothesizes that humans will have sexual relationships with robots, perhaps within five years -- sooner than most might think.
But building that kind of robot will be much simpler than building a robot that could be a good human companion, though.

Levy said the biggest advancement in robotics will come in the form of enabling a robot to carry on an interesting conversation, have self-awareness and emotional capabilities. (A Robot Bride by 2050.)

Levy estimated that robots will be able to have interesting conversations -- not yet at the level of a college graduate but enjoyable -- within 15 years. In 20 or 30 years, however, he expects them to carry on sophisticated conversations.

However, I get the distinct impression that for many, this capability would only be a drawback to the purpose at hand.


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