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Monday, June 30, 2008

The Air Show

As noted in the previous post we spent yesterday in Anchorage at the Elmendorf Air Force Base Air Show.

The parking was every bit as bad as it usually is, and worse.

I swear to all that is holy, unless it has got wings bolted on it, the Air Force just doesn't have a clue. Seriously, a couple of drunken zombies with soup bowls over their heads could have organized the parking and traffic flow better than the troop of bumbling baboons in camouflage that were out there yesterday. Between the gate and the parking lot, a distance of about two miles, I counted exactly two security units directing traffic (well, if you want to call leaning against the hoods of their vehicles, smoking and shooting the shit directing traffic). And I had plenty of time to look around, as it took about 45 minutes to cover the distance. However, there were nine, nine, Senior Airmen in a large gaggle directing the parking of each individual vehicle (Actually, I believe the technical term for a group of airmen is called a clusterfuck, but I could be wrong here and I'm sure the rather large number of AF types who read this blog, Steve, Rick, Vince, my brother Mike to name a few, will correct me sooner or later). Based on my observation, they were highly specialized, one to direct forward movement, one to direct rearward, one for right, one for left, four to supervise, and one safety observer to ensure that the process was completed in accordance with AFOSH regulation. Additionally, there was a Tech Sergeant ripping around on a ATV, looking self important - what precisely his job was, I couldn't say. It became apparent almost immediately that there were no senior NCO's present, and as usual with the Air Force there wasn't a commissioned officer anywhere in sight (not that the presence of an officer would have made a difference, in as much as Air Force Officers don't actually give orders or take charge). Nobody was in charge of the process in any way shape or form. As I said, business as usual, however considering that they've only done this every single year for the last five decades you can understand if they are still working out the process.

After that, however, things improved.

Because, once you left the parking lot, well, there were airplanes involved, and that the Air Force does very well indeed.

The weather wasn't great, low hanging clouds and intermittent rain and there was a chill wind, but overall it was a pretty good day for Anchorage, Alaska. We ran into some friends, and my son and his pal crawled through every cockpit on the flight line. Here's my son sitting behind the controls of an Army H-60 Blackhawk.

Air Show 2


Beastly and I wandered about, we've both ridden in or jumped out of just about everything the military has and frankly waiting in line to see the inside of a C-130 delivery truck wasn't something I felt like doing (Seriously, once you've ridden for an interminable thirteen or fourteen hours in the back of one of those things, vibrating your fillings out like the bitch on the back of a one-lung Harley, strapped to a mesh parachute seat designed by Torquemada himself, breathing hydraulic fumes and freezing your ass off in the subzero cargo box they call a cabin, the romance is pretty much gone forever).

We watched the acrobatic air show, and the pilots were impressive as hell. Then there was about a twenty minute demonstration by a vintage WWII P-51 Mustang, still an exceptionally incredible aircraft even 60 years after they stopped making them. Then it was time for the F-22 Raptor demonstration. Personally, I think this aircraft is a boondoggle of major proportions, but it sure is cool - and the single most deadly and amazing aircraft ever built. Here's a montage of stills from Beastly's camera as it zoomed past us and opened it's weapons bay.

Air Show 7

And then the final bit where the Mustang and the Raptor roared past in formation. It was weird, like one of those comic book scifi stories where the WWII patrol plane encounters a foo fighter.

Air Show 6

Then we settled down in our camp chairs to watch the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds are OK, but they sure as hell aren't the Blue Angles. Personally I was more fascinated by the vintage Grumman Widgeon seaplane behind my wife.

Air Show 1

Beastly disappeared, and eventually returned with hot dogs. And all was right with the world for a while.

Air Show 4

Then this guy showed up. Folks, we need a law that prevents people from going out in public wearing their pajama bottoms. Be grateful that I didn't get a picture of the front of this guy, seriously, you really don't want to know - let's just say that his PJ's didn't come with a zipper and leave it at that.

Air Show 5

And after that, well, it was time to return to the parking lot.

And if you thought getting in was a disorganized nightmare - you should have tried getting off base. Seriously, folks, drunken zombies with soup bowls on their heads, really.

Anyway, we had fun despite the parking and the pajama issues.

What did you all do with your weekend?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Adventure

We're off to the US Air Force's annual air show at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage today.

Whee.

Seriously, a bunch of military transport planes and The Thunderbirds fills me with a major case of the mehs. The Air Force might be spectacular in the sky, but on the ground they can't organize a salad fight, and parking every year is a major pain in the ass.

I've seen, and ridden in, just about every type military aircraft there is, and frankly I don't particularly care if I ever see another C-130 again as long as I live. And the F-22 just plain pisses me off, for a number of reasons.

However, I'm still going to the air show.

Why, you ask? Why, Jim, would you go all the way into Anchorage at $5.00 a gallon to do something you don't want to do?

Because I have a 12-year old son, that's why. Duh.

Truthfully, we do this every year, and it's usually fairly fun and interesting, despite the Air Force's pathetic attempts at organizing the traffic flow and parking. I'll wear my Navy sweatshirt just to piss off the fly boys, which is always fun. And I'll take plenty of picture so you all can enjoy the show.

In the mean time, you can look at one of my latest projects. It's a rose vase, for my wife's desk:

Vase 1

You can't tell in the photo, but the walls of the vase are so thin that light shines through.

More later.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

80's Music (updated and fixed)

And speaking of lyrics, how's your knowledge of 80's music?

Me, I suck. 33.35%. But in my defense I was living in Europe and on a small island in the north Atlantic for a lot of the 80's and missed much of the American music scene. Truthfully though, I really don't feel deprived.


Update: For some reason the image link is malfunctioning.
Here's the URL for the test site



As usual, my head feels like the floor of a New York City taxi cab this morning, but most of the actual biting pain is gone. Can't focus worth a crap, unless I cover the left eye. If the zombies attack, I'll have to use the .45 and shoot right handed. Sigh.

No posts today

Folks, my brain is nonfunctional today.

Migraine.

I knew it was coming yesterday. The usual symptoms, lethargy, depression, lack of coordination - the usual crap.

And this morning it's like an alligator is biting on my optic cortex. I took a pill, and as usual that turned my stomach into an acid filled vat of unpleasantness. So, if you'll excuse me for a while, I'm going to just coast through the day.

If I can focus, I'll spend the day reading your blogs and catching up. Please, try to be entertaining. Thanks. Out here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

But, what about the zombies?



Brought To You By Lovers Toy Stores

Gorillas? Large Sharks? an Elephant?

I'm confident that I could fend off a mildly irritated declawed house cat, but a giant prehistoric reptilian carnivore?

Homemade Music

As most of you know, I'm a die hard Mark Knopfler fan - I think he's one of the great musicians of all time and I can listen to his music, both his thought provoking lyrics and incredible guitar, over and over without ever getting bored.

But, since I've got Beastly spending the summer here at Stonekettle Station, I try to vary the music in the shop a bit more than I usually do when I'm alone out there.

Today it's been mostly a Jimmy Buffet kind of day.

You know, it's been a while since I listened to the old Parrot Head, and I'd forgotten just how great some of his lyrics are.

Take this one from A Pirate Looks at Forty:

Yes, I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder
I'm an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

But I've done a bit of smugglin',
I've run my share of grass

Made enough money to buy Miami,
but I pissed it away so fast

Never meant to last, never meant to last

I've always loved that song, but now that I'm well into my late forties it really strikes a chord with me.

Another all time favorite is this bit from My Heads Hurts:

My head hurts, my feet stink, and I don't love Jesus
It's that kind of morning
Really was that kind of night
Trying to tell myself that my condition is improving
And if I don't die by Thursday, I'll be roarin' Friday night

See, that's the thing about Buffet, we've all been there. And really only Jimmy Buffet could come up with this:



So, anyway today's question is this: Who do you consider a great lyricist and why. Give two examples.

Oh, and yeah, try not to be an asshole.

Here's an interesting thought

I was talking to a good friend yesterday afternoon.

We were discussing my last posts regarding gay marriage.

Since he's currently in the military, and I spent most of my life in the military, naturally the subject of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)" came up.

As military officers we were both responsible for enforcing the policy, whether or not we agree with it. Both of us have had to process folks for discharge, because they openly and deliberately violated the policy by publicly disclosing their homosexuality. That's the nature of duty, you hold up your right hand and swear an oath and either your word is good or it's not. Those of us in uniform voluntarily agree to live our lives in accordance with regulation and policy, and to follow the lawful orders of the President and the officers appointed over us - whether or not we agree with those orders has nothing to do with it. As such, gays in uniform have voluntarily sworn to live under DADT, and those of us in charge have sworn to enforce it. Fair or not, there it is - either your word is good, or it isn't.

During the course of our conversation, I opined that I think DADT was the best compromise that could be worked out at the time, and that it's probably long past due for it to be readdressed on a more fair and equitable basis.

Then something occurred to me.

See, like it or not, DADT is Constitutional. I didn't say it was fair, or right - but it is Constitutional. And it's Constitutional because military service today is completely voluntary. Those of us in uniform give up certain rights when we join the military, all of us live under constrains not normally imposed on civilians. For example: Fraternization, the military determines who can and cannot be your friend, lovers, or spouse. Specifically because certain overly familiar relationships can, and have, and do, lead to a breakdown in discipline and good order. In the civilian world, if you go out for a beer with the boss, or end up dating him or her, well, the worst that can happen is that you end up with a certain reputation around the water cooler and maybe some expensive new jewelry. In the military, you could go to jail - and it's for certain that your boss will lose his or her job, career, and position. I've seen it happen more than once. But, most of us, especially career military, never even notice those restrictions, we're just wired that way I guess. And because we are all volunteers, we all agreed freely and without reservation to abide by those limitations to our freedom - and it's the same with DADT. If you're gay, and you wish to join the military, you can't disclose your orientation publicly once you swear your oath.

Again, I think it's long past time we take another look at the issue, however, it is what it is at the moment - and DADT has stood up in court despite repeated challenges.

But, just for argument's sake, lets say that those calling for a return to the military draft get their way.

Ah, see the immediate problem do you?

Once we start conscripting people, then their service is no longer voluntary - and that would make DADT unconstitutional.

See, prior to DADT, gay people were not allowed to serve. Oh, sure, they did, but they had to pretend to be straight. Under DADT, gays can serve legally, and everybody else has to pretend that they're straight. It's a fine distinction, I'll grant you, but it's there. Now, one of the easiest ways to get out of the draft, last time around, was to claim you were homosexual (how you proved that to the Draft Board is another issue entirely). But, under DADT homosexuality is no longer a disqualifying attribute for service, in fact under DADT the in-processing facility can't ask about it. Period. So, what we end up with here are gay people being forced to comply with DADT.

I see some interesting legal challenges: For example, what happens when a gay man, legally married to another man in a state that allows same-sex marriage, is drafted? Does he have to pretend that he's not gay? Does he have to pretend not to be married in order to comply with DADT? Or does his spouse have to show up at the Divisional picnic in drag? Does the military have to grant spouse benefits to the same sex partner? Would they? Or does the draft board decide that because he's openly gay, and in a same-sex marriage, he's exempt from the draft? And does this provide a legal out for those attempting to avoid the draft?

Forcing gay people to pretend that they are not gay in order to implement a draft would be as unconstitutional as telling people of color that they have to be white, or women that they have to be men - or straight men that they have to act gay.

Admittedly, the above scenario is a strawman, and unlikely.

And, of course, this entire situation could be easily resolved, by the simple expedient of treating all Americans, gay and straight, equally under the Constitution - and that's really what the issue is here.

Isn't it?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Marriage, it's time to rethink the whole damn thing (updated)

I've been giving the same-sex marriage issue a lot of thought lately.

If it hasn't come up in your state yet, it will. Sooner or later, some group of do-gooders is going to take up the flag and start raising hell about it.

While I'm a big fan of states rights, and believe that in most cases less federal government is good - I don't think that this is an issue that can be left up to the states. I don't see how we can legalize same sex marriages in one state and not allow it in others. I think life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the the birthright of all Americans, regardless of which state they live in and I can see a number of issues with the piecemeal application of citizens rights. For example, take a legally married gay couple living in California or Massachusetts. Say one or even both of them work for a large company with offices across the country. A promotion opportunity comes up that involves transfer to another state, one that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage. Do they take the opportunity? Would you? Why should any American's options for life, liberty, and happiness be limited simply because their potential neighbors don't approve of their choice of marriage partners? An American's rights shouldn't change simply because they change their state of residence, just as an American shouldn't be free in one state and a slave in another. This is a national issue, not a state issue.

As I said in yesterday's post, the only legitimate reason for limiting the rights of a specific group is a demonstrated danger to the nation as a whole or to individual citizens. For example, we do not allow the members of the North American Man/Boy Love Association to pursue their noxious fetish, because it can be conclusively demonstrated that in most cases they are pedophiles and a serious danger to children. We don't allow people to build atomic bombs in their back yard, or yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, or carry explosives onto public transportation because those things can be conclusively demonstrated to be a danger to the public. We do not allow white supremacists to own people of color. We do not allow male chauvinists to prevent women from voting. All of these people are allowed to believe as they will, no matter how idiotic, but they are not allowed to act on their beliefs because those actions are a demonstrated danger to others.

However, I have yet to hear or have demonstrated how same-sex marriage between two consenting adults is in any way whatsoever a danger to the public at large, or even to any single individual.

Now, individuals and organizations are making the claim that same-sex marriage is somehow a threat to the traditional one man, one woman marriage. How? Specifically how? What data do they have? What long-term, verified, double-blind, validated science do they have? Note: I will not accept the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or any other religious text as an argument. Period. Just as I will not accept any religious text as an argument of why it's OK for religious Americans to sell their daughters into slavery or stone adulterers to death in the church courtyard, or burn suspected witches in the public square. Show me solid evidence of how same-sex marriage harms America or denies heterosexual couples their rights, put it on the table and leave the religion out of it, and I'll listen.

No?

OK. Now, here's the rest of it. Religious people have the absolute right to believe as they will. Their beliefs are protected under the Constitution. Churches have the right not to marry individuals they don't approve of, within the confines of their own sanctuaries. The Catholic Church, for example, has the right not to perform marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics. They have the right to require non-Catholics to convert to their belief system in order to enjoy the rights and sacraments of the church. And they have the absolute right not to marry same-sex couples. Forcing the Catholic Church to marry non-Catholics or gays is just as wrong as denying gay people and non-Catholics their rights. But the church doesn't have the right to impose their requirements on anybody who is not voluntarily a member of their belief system. The Boy Scouts have the right to exclude atheists, I don't like it but it is their right to determine the make up of their own organization.

So, the question is: How do we guarantee the rights of gay people to marry and pursue the so-called American dream, and still acknowledge the rights of religious peoples and organizations to believe as they will?

Our own history provides solid data on how not to solve the problem of rights:

- Denying one group of people their rights, in order to maintain the beliefs of others does not work, i.e. straight people can marry and enjoy the economic and social benefits of their legal bond, gays can't. This is no different than saying white southerners are full citizens, and black southerners are only half citizens. Don't think this ever happened? It did. Do some research into voting rights in the period after the US Civil War.

- Separate but equal does not work, i.e. marriage for straights, 'civil unions' for gays. Separate but equal has never worked, and never will, because it's really not equal, is it? If separate but equal was an equitable situation, there would be no need for the word 'separate.'

So, what do we do?

It's simple really, we get the state out of the marriage business altogether.

1) We make a specific separation between 'Marriage' and 'Civil Union.'

- We define marriage as a spiritual and/or romantic pair bond between human beings. Formal marriage is an acknowledgement of that bond. You can get married however the hell you like, according to the strict custom of your people, or just by making it up as you go along. While you may need permission from your particular God, or a guy in a funny hat, or your folks, or your friends, or etcetera - you don't need permission from the state. You may have to perform rituals and jump through hoops in order to meet the requirements necessary to get married in you church of choice, just as you may need to meet certain regulations in order to get married in your local community park (usually you have to pay a fee, promise to keep the noise down, clean up afterward, and keep your drunken uncle out of the bushes). Whatever, it's your wedding, do whatever trips your particular trigger. And if you want to dissolve your marriage, you do it in accordance with your belief system, it could be as complex as having to get permission from a guy in a funny hat, or as simple as just walking away. Now, here's the kicker, while marriage confers all the rights and privileges of your belief system, it confers no legal rights whatsoever. Period.

- Legal rights are defined by formal contract, i.e. Civil Union. That's where the state comes in. You pay a filing fee. You get a Civil Contract and declare whothehellever as your designated Civil Partner. Here's the cool part, you can declare anybody as your Civil Partner. You can declare only one person as your designated partner. While it would normally be the person you are 'married' to, it doesn't necessarily have to be. In fact, you don't have to be 'married' at all. Civil Unions can be between a man and woman, or between two members of the same sex - regardless of whether they are gay or straight. That's right, you could enter into a Civil Union with your roommate, friend, or who the hell ever. Civil Unions confer all the legal rights of the pair bond, i.e. insurance, housing, taxes, survivor benefits, child custody, inheritance, and etc. Think about it for a minute, you have a good job with benefits, your roommate has a job but doesn't have healthcare. You're both male, single, heterosexual and chase girls together. He's your best friend. You can declare an open ended civil contract and extend your benefits to him. Of course there's a fee, just as there is a fee for your spouse and children currently. Other advantages? Both of you have legal rights in regard to the other, you get hit by a bus and end up in a coma, he has the legal right to be your advocate - or not, specify what you want in the contract, with a default setting of "Unless Specified as .... ." There is no reason why a Civil Union has to be any more complicated than a basic Power of Attorney. You have a basic boiler plate that anybody can do for themselves, or you can get a lawyer and make it as complex and specific as you need it to be. One size doesn't fit all, tailor the legal instrument to whatever best suits your own individual needs at the moment. Later, when you find the right girl, you can dissolve your contract with your friend and transfers it to her - or not. The best part about the contractual civil union is that it places the power directly into the hands of each individual and takes it away from the state and the mob, which is exactly what our founders intended.

2) Marriage is between you, your spouse, and your God, church, coven, or Dungeon Master. Civil Union is between you, your partner, and the state. Your church may require you to have a declaration of Civil Union before they will consent to marry you, exactly the same as today. Don't like it? Find a different church, or suck it up, that's up to you.

3) Civil contracts can be required by law in the case of children, wealth, property, etcetera. They could be amended or modified as easily as any legal contract. Standard clauses could be inserted regarding disposition of property, children, and friends in the event of dissolution, making pre-nuptial agreements unnecessary and massively simplifying and streamlining custody hearings and 'divorce' proceedings, inheritance, and all the other crap currently clogging up our legal system.

4) Everybody gets the same deal. Everybody's rights and beliefs are protected.

For most people, nothing would change. They would live their lives and marriages exactly as they do now. But for many, including traditionalists, it would open possibilities that simply don't exist now.

Will it happen? No. No it will not. Instead we'll open yet another divisive debate here in America. We'll draw out battle lines, and declare yet another 'War' on the forces of evil. We'll scream and yell and protest. We'll hold votes and go to the Supreme Court. We'll pray. We'll march. We'll hold candlelight vigils, or break out the torches and pitchforks. We'll do all of these things and more.

And we'll get nowhere.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Life, Liberty, and Steve

What's it been now, a week since gay marriages were legalized in California?

So what?

No, really, so what? I mean, as far as I can tell the world hasn't ended. My life hasn't changed. My own heterosexual marriage seems to be intact. I've had no urge to smother my lovely wife with a pillow, move to Castro Street, get myself a bowl of chowder at Fisherman's Wharf and visit the bathhouses. As far as I can tell, there has been no widespread, or even localized, impact on traditional heterosexual marriages at all other than maybe some longer lines to get a marriage license in San Francisco.

So, what's the big deal? I mean, really, what's the issue here? Why the big hoopla?

What is marriage anyway? Ask a hundred people, get a hundred different answers. Let's take a look at the basic definitions, shall we?

The Traditional Church Definition (TCD): a bond between a man and woman in the eyes of God, Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, Gaia the Earthmother, or L. Ron Hubbard. "What [insert Divine Entity of your choice] has joined together let no man tear asunder." Some kind of priest, minister, rabbi, shaman, warlock, level nine auditor, or other such guy in a funny hat performs the officially sanctified ceremony, you and your officially opposite sexed partner recite the words, light the candles, hop over the broomstick, smash the glasses, drink the purple cool-Aid or other such officially divine ritual and viola! There you have it, till death do you part.

The Traditional State Sponsored Definition (TSSD): the institution whereby individuals are joined in a legal contract, with certain legal protections and benefits. $50USD gets you a license and a blood test (hey, some states still require them). Then you can either revert to the TCD, or get a bored justice of the peace, the captain of a ship at sea, or a Las Vegas Elvis impersonator to perform the ceremony. And again, there you have it, you're married and waiting to die.

The Traditional Non-Conformist Definition (Also known as the Common Law Marriage): You live together for a long enough time, and argue in public enough, that everybody just assumes you're married.

Now, here's the issue, all of these definitions and their various permutations, traditionally are between men and women. It can be demonstrated that the institution of marriage came about because up until very recently sex between men and women almost always resulted in children. And a long-term stable pair-bond was often a more successful strategy for ensuring survival of one's progeny long enough for them to breed and propagate the species. So, for the majority of our history the male/female pair bond was about protecting one's genes. Females couldn't hunt, couldn't gather food, couldn't protect themselves during the later stages of pregnancy. Once the baby was born, the woman was basically a milk machine for a year or longer. If she had a man around, he could supply food and protection, and he was a hell of a lot more likely to stick around if it was his kid he was protecting - and if he did a good job, there was the distinct possibility that the woman would let him father a few more without too much in the way of protest. Of course, intelligence complicates things and over time, and with the development of complex civilization, the basic pair bond evolved into formal marriage with legal protections and obligations and societal norms and religious aspects and lawyers and the state and etcetera and so on and so forth. Most of what we in America consider traditional marriage, i.e. a man, a woman, and a guy in a funny hat, to have and to hold, for better or worse, richer or poorer and etcetera comes from the Catholic Church and the Dark Ages. But it's been a long, long time and a long way getting to where we are now, and so at this point in our history, marriage is what it is because it has always been that way. This is an illusion, of course, but that's how most of us are wired to see the world.

Now, few things have changed our society - and our social norms including traditional sex roles - more than the advent of safe, cheap, and reliable birth control and the increase in survival rates of our children. Since the sixties, traditional marriage has become less and less about children, either making them or protecting them. Some people see this as an affront against God and history and tradition. It's not, no more so than the fact that most of us are no longer farmers, or hunter-gatherers, or die at the ripe of old age of thirty. The world changes, and so does society, and thus our roles within it. Those that are willing and able to use the facilities they have been given, either by nature or by the hand of God, control those changes and find their own destiny. Those that remain mired in the past and cannot accept change, will always fear the future and have their fate thrust upon them.

So, society has changed, and continues to change. And the traditional roles of marriage have changed. Some of us accept it, and welcome it, and control it. And some of us wish that it would just stay the way it was. And, that, my friends, is how it has always been. Change makes most of us uncomfortable, especially when that change affects something so fundamental to our society as sex, marriage, and our own sense of identity.

Now, with all of that said, let's get right down to the heart of the matter, shall we?

Is marriage the right of all the people, whether or not we approve of their choice of partners, or is it a bond only between those who meet the traditional definition? Opposition to same sex marriage falls into a couple of broad categories:

1) Constitutional: Some folks seem to think that if the Founding Fathers had thought about it, they would have defined marriage in the Constitution - and they would have defined it as between a man and a woman. Well, I don't know about that, and it's irrelevant. Woulda shoulda coulda. The Constitution guarantees equal protection and equal rights to all. Period. In the past we've gotten around that by pretending certain people weren't entirely human - but in every case that's turned out to be a mistake and one we're still paying for. It's also immoral, unethical, and dishonorable. There is no Constitutional reason to deny same sex couples the right to marry each other.

2) Religious, i.e. it's against God's will, God hates gays, God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve, and blah blah ad nauseam. This is, of course the biggest 'argument' against same sex marriage. Christians define marriage as specified in the Bible, and only as specified in the bible. This raises, at least for me, an interesting question, which is this: If the God's Word regarding marriage is defined in the bible, was there such a thing as marriage before the bible? Now, history, both in the bible and in non-religious texts clearly indicates that there was such a thing as marriage prior to the creation of the bible in or around the 2nd or 3rd century, so again it can be demonstrated that God-approved marriages have existed outside of biblical guidelines for a majority of humanity's existence. Additionally, many folks here in the States at least, don't get married in the Christian church. So, there's a big precedent in and outside of Christianity for non-biblical marriages, just saying. Now I realize that fundamentalists are unlikely to buy that observation and I'm OK with that, I'm not OK with it when they try to force their definition on the rest of us. But the real question I have is this: if marriage is a bond in the eyes of God, and he's really the one doing the joining, wouldn't that mean everybody who is not God should shut up? I mean, seriously, if marriage is a bond in the eyes of God, who the hell are we to say who can and who can't get married? What exactly, do we have to do with it? If God doesn't approve, shouldn't he be the one to deal with the situation? Isn't judgement reserved for God, by God himself according to the infallible Bible? I'm just asking here, because well it seems to me that a number of religious folks are taking God's role for themselves - right up to and including posting giant billboards alongside the highways with quotes attributed to God ("We need to speak. - God." Seen those, have you?). The logic being, of course, that God should have said this, but since he seems to have gotten forgetful in his old age it's OK to speak in his stead and issue directives and such. Hubris and hypocrisy aside, God is a little vague on the whole marriage issue, for example where in the Bible does it discuss His will regarding distribution of property or child custody in the event that man actually does tear the whole sorry mess apart? Who gets the house, the car, the pet dog? Who keeps which friends? Nothing in there regarding a blood test or marriage license. God failed to mention the number of bridesmaids, or where the happy couple should spend their honeymoon. I looked, but I don't see any mention of having to get the approval of your Senator, neighbors or a TV evangelist. So, again, if God doesn't approve, well, why doesn't He do something about it? And while we're on the subject, why would He make Gay people in the first place, if he hates homosexuals and all I mean? Take your time, I'll wait while you bullshit up your next God quote.

Frankly, I don't care if religious people answer the above snark or not, because, see, it doesn't matter. At all. Period. In this country, you don't get to deny other people their rights based on your belief system. You can't make me pray to your God, love Jesus, or deny me the right to believe as I will. The entire religious argument against gay marriage is irrelevant. You can choose not to allow gay people into your private church, but you can't impose your church on gay people. Don't like it? Too fucking bad, you'll get over it.

3) Economic: Ah, at last something with a glimmer of legitimacy. Gay marriage will impose an economic hardship on us as a country. I've seen a number of arguments that make this claim. The first one goes something along the lines of if all the gays get married, it will impose a financial burden on companies and the state because then we'll have to extend traditional married benefits to same-sex spouses. Hmmm. OK, so here's the problem I have with this, what if every gay person gets the Jesus, turns straight (it's a lifestyle choice, folks, pay attention), and finds themselves an opposite sex partner. How many of them can marry before it's too many? What exactly is the maximum number of straight marriages we can allow before total number becomes an economic burden? Does the marriage license bureau have a quota, an upper limit on straight licenses, before they close the window and tell you to come back next month? Do we limit the number of married folks moving between states? Bah, I call bullshit. I'm going to need to see some real numbers and a call to limit the number of straight marriages before I'll even consider this argument.

The second argument goes something like: I've got nothing against gay people, but if we allow them to marry, the Muslims who have the oil won't sell it to us anymore because they hate teh gayness, that makes it a matter of national security. Yes, I've seen this exact argument. And you know what? I'm not even going to discuss it because it's just that fucking stupid.

4) Societal Norms: And here, finally, we come down to the real reasons. Gays make straight people uncomfortable. Hey, I admit to feeling a little squicky when I see two guys holding hands or kissing in public. I do. And you know what? That's my problem, I'll deal with it. I have to say that when I had that conversation with my ten year old son, I explained being gay as just another normal state of being, I admonished him to never judge others based on their orientation, and I hope he grows up without my squick factor (For the record, he just shrugged, and seemed to regard gayness as nothing out of the ordinary, which makes me proud of him, or more proud).

Anyway, the chief arguments here seem to be that gay marriage makes a mockery of traditional marriage. So? So what? Hey, I'm straight and married and I'll tell you what, I'll mock your marriage. I'll mock all the devout guys I knew in the Navy who kissed their wives good by and sailed off to Phuket and the whore houses of Westpac. I'll mock every Republican Senator's marriage who ends up in the sack with his intern, or coat check girl, or high class call girl. I'll mock every Evangelical who bends his secretary over the desk before the sermon on Sunday or gets caught snorting coke off a male prostitute's ass. Hah! I fart in the general direction of your marriage, what are you going to do about it? You're going to annul my marriage are you? Yeah, blow it out your ass.

And finally, well, a lot of people find the thought of gay marriage icky. Tough. Get over it.

Honestly folks, I can find no reason, no legitimate reason, why people shouldn't be allowed to marry who the hell they want to.

I'd like to hear your view points, but I'll be frank with you, if you have an argument against gay marriage that begins with, "Well, God says..." I'm very likely to stop listening right there.

Please Stand By, Again

Logging in via wireless cell connection.

The power's out.

Apparently yet another squirrel has decided to immolate itself in the transformer that supplies power to my house. This is the second time in less than two days.

Anyway, we are down hard here and likely to remain that way for a while. Today's post has disappeared in a cloud of free range pixels, the coffee pot is slowly cooling off, and Beastly is staring glumly at the darkened shop. My son is pissed, the WWII dog fighting game he had paused last night is nothing more than a fading memory.

Such is life on the wild Alaskan frontier.

See you all later, squirrels permitting.

Well, hell

Dammit, George Carlin is dead.

I'd say rest in peace, George, but I really hope that you don't. I hope that if there is a heaven, you're up there right now - raising hell, so to speak, and giving the big guy nothing but grief.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Once more, with feeling...

 

Dear Conservatives,

"If you don't have anything to hide, you have nothing to fear."

Right?

I've mentioned this before, I have.

Isn't this the justification used by you conservative patriots when the subject of warrantless wiretapping and searches of American citizens comes up?

Apparently though this justification only applies in warrantless searches, and only if you're a serf, er, peasant, er uh, American citizen.  If there is a lawful warrant or subpoena, and you're the White House, well, apparently you can choose the "Pass" option.

"...the Bush administration invoked executive privilege [in order] to refuse to turn over subpoenaed documents in an investigation of the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to deny California permission to implement its own vehicle emission standards."

Seriously now, Conservatives, how much longer are you going to put with this chicanery?  Surely by now even you can see that you've been had, just as surely as the rest of us.  I mean, come on, are you people seriously telling me that just because this president is a Republican, just because he claims to be a Christian, you're going to stand by him despite the obvious, obvious, lies, duplicity, and hypocrisy? Despite the failed leadership. Despite the loss of your jobs, your houses, your rights, your privacy, and your children in uniform you're going to keep making excuses for this sack of shit just because he shares your political orientation? 

You've been had.  I know, it's hard to admit, but you've been had.  Just like the folks who sent money to Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, you've been had.  Just like the folks who got duped by the Nigerian Letter Scam or the Spanish Prisoner Con, you've been had.  Just like the folks who invested in Cold Fusion, you've been had.  Just like the folks who bought KaBoom! from Billy Mays on the Home Shopping Network, you've been had.  You've been conned, swindled, hoodwinked, duped, taken to the cleaners, bamboozled.  It's hard to admit, it's embarrassing, it's humiliating.  But there comes a time when you have to stop sending your social security check to that charismatic minister on the TV who says that Jesus is coming back tomorrow - but only if you keep sending money.  There comes a time when you've got to stop pretending that the person you love isn't an alcoholic or an addict or just plain batshit insane and do something about it - even if it's just to cut them loose.

And that time is now, Conservatives.  It's time to stop being an enabler.

Even you should be able to see that now.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Attention Nigeria:

I am happy with myself.

Really.

Just so you know:

I don't need any of my tools to be bigger, larger, longer, heftier, electrifying, monstrous, ribbed for pleasure, able to drill holes in tempered molybdenum, able to pound nails into solid oak, turned into a giant python that can squeeze an adult goat to death, capable of sustained operation for 36 hours, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or lift a mini-van full of hot, horny and desperate soccer moms who just happen to live in my neighborhood and want to meet me. I'm not interested in living the life of a rock star, or in invading her Utah Beach with my landing craft of love, I do not want to party like a porn star.

I do not want to meet Russian babes, even if they are my true love and ready to party. I'm not interested in a fresh faced and compliant Malaysian Girl, even if she will "love me, long time." I don't want to fly to the Philippines and pick out a new wife, even if the selection is guaranteed to be virginal and to love Jesus.

I don't want to invest. In anything. Period. Really. I'm not interested in buying gold, silver, land, an island, a small country, your invention, your sister, your mother, or an oyster farm.

I'm not interested in helping you move massive amounts of cash out of your country. Not for fifty, seventy five, or even ninety percent of the take. I'm also not interested in your sob story, I don't care if your dad, mom, sister, brother, daughter, son, uncle, or pet dog was a minister of finance or transmission repair or the evil dictator himself. I don't care if he, she, or it worked for your country's oil industry. I don't care if you are a greedy bastard looking for a partner in order to fleece your country out of billions. I don't care if you're a childless devout Christian woman looking for somebody to manage your late husband's millions so you can die in peace knowing that I, a devout born again Christian, will donate your money to charity in the name of jesuschristourlordandsavior.

Nigeria, you seem to be spending in inordinate amount of effort attempting to get my attention, and I hate to see you waste your time. So, really, I hope this clears up the situation and explains why I haven't replied to any of your emails. Thanks.

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Yeah, I just went through the spam folder for this week. Really, you don't want to know.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Off to Anchorage

Folks, Beastly and I are off to Anchorage for the morning.

I have to deliver a load of finished products to a customer and we need to run by the base commissary and pick up some groceries. As such, I'll be off-line for a while.

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Two things:

1) I fully intend to post regarding gay marriage, as requested, but it'll probably be this weekend.

2) The Phoenix Mars Lander appears to have found ice just below the surface of Mars' North Polar Region. Ice. Actual fucking water ice. And that my friends is just so cool I can hardly contain myself. Water is everything, everything. Sustenance, fuel, working fluid, and universal solvent. If there is ice, and it appears that there is and in sufficient quantities, then there is no reason whatsoever why we can't plant a permanent colony on Mars right now. Why should we go all the way to Mars? Because we can and for no other reason. And yes, you may expect a post on this very subject in the very near future.

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Question: Are there topics you'd like to see me talk about? If so, what the hell are they?

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Back in a couple of hours.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

You might be a terrorist if...

It's a basic precept of mathematics that you can't plot a curve from a single point. In fact, you need at least three points to plot a curve on a graph, more points are better.

By now, of course, you've already lost interest. Math, Jim? Math? You're going to talk about math?

Just hear me out for a moment, will you?

Let's start with the curve, i.e. what we know - Barrack Obama is a terrorist. Worse, he just may be the Anti-Christ who will bring on the End of Days.

We know this to be true, we can feel it, all right thinking people can. But, see, that's the problem, there are too many wrong thinking people out there. People who just can't identify a terrorist fist-jab between husband and America-hating wife when they see one. If we are to win the Global War on Terrorism we're going to need more than feelings, we're going to need a little math.

Now, since right thinking people aren't big on math, what we need is to have the math boiled down into a something that everybody can use. What we need is some kind of simple criteria we can refer to when necessary in order to identify the terrorists.

Without such defining criteria you might just walk past a terrorist on the street without even knowing it, you might hire a group of terrorists to remodel your kitchen, or you might nominate a terrorist judge to the bench, or you might even accidentally vote for one to be your president. Heaven forbid, you yourself might be a terrorist - and not even know it! Hey, people discover new things about themselves all the time, why just this morning I found three new hairs growing from my ears that I didn't even know that I had - what else don't I know about myself?

So, as a public service, I've culled extensive Conservative materials and compiled the following handy checklist. Print it out and carry it next to your heart, or better yet tape it inside the cover of your copy of Godless: The Church of Liberalism.

The Terrorist Checklist:

Terrorists are easy to identify. If somebody meets any of the following criteria, it is a distinct possibility that they have terrorist sympathies. If they meet three or more of the following criteria, they are a terrorist for certain and should be reported to the nearest Transportation Safety Administration agent, or simply pick up your phone and say the name of the terrorist clearly and distinctly and the National Security Agency Homeland Monitoring Team (Tail Gunner Joe Division) will take care of the rest.

1) They are black: Any non-Caucasian person is an immediate cause for suspicion. Terrorists come from Africa and the Middle East, and people from those countries have dark skin - except for Jesus, his skin was as white as Dick Cheney's butt checks and anybody who says otherwise hates America. Plus black people wear really big baggy shorts, that's where they hide the explosive belts.

2) They are Democrats: Democrats are Liberals. Liberals hate America. QED.

3) They have not been born again: Only Fundamentalist Christians can be Patriots. Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and Atheists hate America. Jews killed Jesus. And since Jesus founded America, it is obvious that Jews hate America. Muslims have funny sounding names and they hate Jesus too. Islam eats your brain and makes you go crazy, look what happened to Cassius Clay and Cat Stevens - they're crazy and they hate America. Catholics answer to a man in a pointy hat. The only man in a pointy hat you should listen to is the Grand Wizard, and he says that Catholics hate America. Atheists hate everybody, but especially Jesus.

4) They believe in radio carbon dating: Scientists hate America, unless they're weapons scientists - and even those you've got to keep an eye on. Scientists wear white lab coats and keep aborted fetuses in their pockets so that they can suck out the little stem cells whenever they're feeling hungry. Anybody who kills babies in order to suck out the stem cells hates America, and if they hate America they kill babies, that's why Jesus hates science, because it kills babies. That's logic.

5) English isn't their first language: Americans speak English. Period. The Indians spoke English, Jesus spoke English, John Wayne spoke English, and the Bible is written in English and anybody who doesn't speak English or speaks with one of those funny sounding accents is a terrorist.

6) They like Polar Bears: Endangered species are endangered, because they're losers. Jesus hates losers. Besides, the stupid polar bears shouldn't be living on top of our oil anyway, just like the Arabs. Arabs have oil, Arabs are Muslims, Muslims hate America, therefor polar bears hate America.

7) They listen to Rock Music: Music cannot be Patriotic unless it's Country or Western.

8) They read the Washington Post: There's a reason Rush Limbaugh doesn't work for the Post.

9) They just got married in California: God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Anybody named Steve is gay. Gay people hate America and are in league with Satan.

10) They watch the Food Network: The food network is owned by Yassir Arafat and Rachel Ray. Rachel Ray is putting the Islam into donuts in order to corrupt our police forces and create her own army in order to take over the world. Plus she's really hyper and annoying. Annoying people hate America.

11) They own a Mac: Americans use PC's. PC's were made by Bill Gates. Bill Gates is a capitalist. Capitalists are good, because when they get really big and successful we can sue them and get some money, which we can then use to fund ethanol farmers in Red States. Farmers are Americans, people who own Macs hate farmers, therefore Mac users hate America.

12) They don't have a yellow ribbon magnet on their car: Actions and personal records mean nothing. Service and duty are just words. What matters are patriotic symbols. Real Americans wear a genuine American Flag pin made in Chinese sweatshops owned by Kathy Lee Gifford. The America Flag Pin is to terrorists like pork chops are to a Muslim, they can't touch them or they'll burst into flames. If somebody isn't wearing an American Flag pin then they probably hate pork chops too. Jesus loves pork chops. If you hate pork chops then you hate Jesus, and if you hate Jesus you hate America.

13) They engage in Fist Jabbing.

Now, any right thinking person can see that the criteria contained in this list has been compiled from officially verified Pentagon Intelligence Reports and Fox News Broadcasts and only people who hate America would argue with the logic behind it. So that makes it good enough for government use, as we used to say in the intelligence field.

Let's run Mr. Obama through the list, shall we?

Given: Fist Jabber.

1) Black, check, or black enough anyway, married to a black woman. Double check.

2) Democrat, check.

3) Muslim, check (His middle name is Hussein for crying out loud and he doesn't even deny it!).

Well, hell, we can just stop right there. That's four points and we have a curve, indisputable proof that Barrack Obama is a terrorist. For the love of God, People, wake up.

See, that's why math is so important.

I'll be upstairs, clipping my ear hair if you need me.

Coast Guard discovers disturbing fact about children

Kids Don't Float

 

Kid's, they don't float...

 

...so, they must be witches!

 

 

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Sorry, it's early, I'm not entirely awake yet, and was looking at pictures I took last weekend on our trip down to Seward.  I saw this sign at the Alaska Sea Life Center - and immediately thought of the "She's a witch!" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Beaten to the Punch

Well, The Whatever stole my thunder this morning.

I was going to post on the subject of gay marriage in California, but that bastard John Scalzi pretty much summed up my feelings on the matter.  This pisses me off as I had a good rant on the subject all worked out in my head.  The man is obviously reading my thoughts and stealing my ideas, he is nefarious, Scalzi is.

Anyway, it's a great post and if you haven't read it, you should.

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Now, since I've got to get out to the shop (big production run this week) and I had to flush my rant down the drain and don't have time to work up another one, I'll leave you with a little music.

Gorillaz, Fire coming out of the Monkey's head.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Strange and Distant Shores

I meant to do this a couple of days ago, but I've been swamped lately and the time just keeps slipping by.

I got a postcard from Anne in India on Saturday last.

Post Card 1

Post Card 2

India, I've always wanted to go there, ever since I read Kipling as a kid, and especially The Man Who Would Be King. For me India will always be an exotic foreign land, full of mystery and strange magic, elephants and tigers, ancient temples and teeming cities ... and, well, tech support.

When I joined the Navy, all those years ago, one of the reasons was to see the world. I had a list of places I wanted to see. The black volcanic sand beaches of Iceland. The great markets of Istanbul and the Golden Horn. The Valley of the Kings and the Giza Plateau. Pompeii and Herculaneum. Gibraltar. Hong Kong. Singapore. The Straits of Malacca. The Galapagos Islands. The Panama Canal. The Serengeti and Kilimanjaro. Freemantle, Sidney, and the Great Barrier Reef. Tasmania. Masada. And India.

I made it almost everywhere on my list and many others places too - but somehow I never made it to India. I never set foot there, and it's unlikely that I will. I've been around the world and walked on every continent except Antarctica, but the closest I've gotten to India is sailing around the sub-continent's southern horn. I've seen the Indian Navy up close though, and they are excellent and professional sailors as only the descendents of a thousand years of seafarers can be.

Anyway, thanks, Anne, for thinking of me and for reminding me of India.

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Update: I was still waiting for the coffee to brew when I typed the original post, so I was just a tad fuzzyheaded and forget two things:

1) I really, really like the stamp - International Physics Year with a picture of my favorite scientist, Ole' Albert himself.

2) Question, where is it that you always wanted to go, and why?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ooof! I'm full

Usually I cook, but yesterday Becky made lasagna for Father's Day and Beastly made cheesecake.

Tonight Beastly made Ruben sandwiches. I love Rubens. Love. Them. I ate too much.

... and there's still cheesecake.

Habeas Corpse

2003, Afghanistan: Goat herder and livestock trader Kakai Khan was arrested by coalition forces and detained on suspicion of planting bombs that destroyed a couple of video stores.  Unverified hearsay and rumor, i.e. human intelligence (HUMINT), indicated that Khan was a member of the Taliban counter-insurgency. He was taken to Bagram Air Base and interrogated.

“They took me to interrogation many times. I don’t remember how many times. They beat me a lot during interrogations,” Khan said to investigators. “One of the punishments during interrogation was that they would take me to a room next door, and two soldiers would lift me in the air and shackle my hands to the ceiling. My feet could not touch the ground, I don’t know how long I was up there. I would lose consciousness.”

Eventually he was shipped off to Guantanamo Bay for more advanced interrogation.  He spent three years there and then in 2006 he was released.  No conviction, no explanation, no apology. The CIA put him on a plane back to Afghanistan and let him go.

Neither the Army or the CIA refute Khan's claim - well, the Army spokesman refuted it, but an Army investigation substantiated in large part Khan's statement. The CIA is mute, as usual.

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Is Khan's case an aberration? A breakdown in the system, perpetuated by a handful of unsupervised and poorly trained US Army reservists out of their depth in a hostile land, like those at Abu Garrib?

No.

No, it is not.

Khan's case is similar to hundreds of others.  The US Army's own investigation of the interrogations at Bagram resulted in a 2,000 page report, obtained by the New York Times in 2005.  That report, again compiled by the Army itself not the liberal press, reported widespread, systematic abuse of prisoners far beyond the bounds of the Army Interrogation Manual, US Military Law, and the Geneva Conventions.  Despite the fact that nearly 30 US Military personal were charged with criminal abuse of prisoners the abuse continued and continues to this day. Right now, even as you read this.

 

I've said it before, more than once and in more than one place: No matter what euphemism you use, no matter how you justify it, no matter what your rationalization, no matter the righteousness of your cause, no matter how pious your belief, no matter how much you've been wronged - the end does not justify the means.  If you torture people, you are a torturer. You. Are. A. Torturer.  You live in a nation that tortures people. 

Torturers, that is what we've become - and make no mistake,  when you chain a man to the ceiling so that his feet dangle above the floor and the shackles bite into his flesh until the blood runs, and you kick him when he is bound helpless on the wet floor of his cell in a puddle of his own shit and piss, when you cover his head in a plastic garbage bag and shove his head under water under until he drowns, you are committing torture.

Normal men cannot do this.  To become a torturer you must first kill your humanity, you must kill pity and empathy.  You must root out all shreds of honor, duty, courage, decency, shame, and humanity. You must steel your soul in order to regard other human beings as objects, as less than animals, as evil incarnate and beneath contempt.  You must regard yourself as the avenger, the destroyer, and the mighty and the righteous with unlimited power over the contemptible creature before you. You must become God.

We've seen this before, in SS Death Camps, in Japanese POW Camps, in Korea, in Laos, in Vietnam, in Saddam's prisons and among the Taliban  - we know what torture does to men.  It is a cancer, a rot, that will spread until it destroys not the enemy, but the torturers themselves.  The torturers cannot return to normal society, they are no longer men - but rather something dark and dangerous and beyond the pale.

Right now, this evil malignancy is confined to a small few - but like any cancer allow it to grow unchecked, allow it to prosper and take root, and it will destroy us all.

In the last post I expounded on why I think the writ of habeas corpus is so damned important. If you can't see why we must extend the rights of challenge and appeal to our enemies, not for their sake but for ours, then you are blind.

If you cannot see the abyss that yawns before us, you are a fool.

Friday, June 13, 2008

It's about Goddamned time

Now, you all know what I'm going to post about this morning, right?

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There's a reoccurring theme in many movies and TV shows that is absolutely guaranteed to elicit hysterical laughter from my lovely wife: i.e. the patented Hollywood "Kick in the Nuts" (tm). When some jerk takes a shot in the family jewels my wife just cracks right up. She finds it especially funny if the blow is delivered by a small child or an angry woman. As a man, I cringe at such scenes, cover my crotch with my laptop, and manfully endure the five minutes of cackling from the other end of the couch. I rarely, if ever, find the "Kick in the Nuts" funny because I think it's often used gratuitously.

I also rarely find it funny, because as a man, I have been kicked in the privates once or twice and the pain is absolutely indescribable. I've been seriously injured on more than one occasion, and I'm sure that most men will agree with me when I say that I'd rather take a bullet than a kick in the balls.

But every once in a while, I admit to finding a good Kick in the Nuts hysterical.

Especially when it happens to somebody I despise.

Like this morning, for instance, when the Supreme Court kicked George W. Bush right square in his little shriveled Habeas Corpus.

They kicked him so hard that his feet came off the floor. He's somewhere in Europe right now, curled up in fetal position, clutching his crotch with both hands, sobbing and sucking air through his teeth in an effort to just keep breathing.

Bawahahahaha, now that's funny.

Clever guys, those Founding Fathers of ours, and my admiration for their genius and the system they designed for America has never been higher than it is right now.

For those of you not paying attention: Yesterday SCOTUS ruled 5-4 that it the President's high handed suspension of habeas corpus rights for those detained at Guantanamo Bay is unconstitutional. Detainee's now have the right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention in US courts.

The writ of Habeas corpus, the Great Writ, is one of the fundamental principles of US Constitutional law. When the US was founded, for the concept to be incorporated into the Constitution was so revolutionary that it sent shock waves throughout the world. Prior to that singular event, the rights of an individual to challenge his or her detention was solely at the whim of whatever ruler happened to be sitting on the throne at that time. Under the US Constitution, habeas corpus basically says that any prisoner, or prisoner's representative, may petition for relief from unlawful detention. Once issued, the writ is a summons, backed by the power of court order, directing the detaining authority to bring the prisoner before the court and provide lawfully obtained evidence sufficient to determine if the prisoner's detention is legal within the framework of US law. It means that the cops have to do their job correctly and within specific guidelines, it means that evidence must be obtained through specific methodology, it means that the government can't just arbitrarily decide to drop you into a deep dark hole like Edmond Dantes in the Count of Monte Cristo. The right to petition for a writ of habeas corpus is the single most effective defense against tyranny yet devised, and forms the principle bulwark of individual liberty. The great British constitutional theorist, Albert Venn Dicey, wrote that habeas corpus acts "declare no principle and define no rights, but they are for practical purposes worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty," and truer words have rarely be spoken.

One of the things that scared our Founding Fathers more than anything else, and justifiably so, was unlimited governmental authority. Above all, they prized individual liberty for all men. It is indisputable that they themselves didn't personally live up to that lofty ideal during their own time - more than a few of them were slave owners, and additionally when they said "all men," well, they meant "men," as in males and landowners in particular. However, the great genius of their design is that over time it changed the very fabric of the United States until all men, now defined as all human beings, were free. And habeas corpus is the cornerstone of that design. Under the US Constitution, habeas corpus applies to all prisoners. All of them. Every damned one, American citizens and otherwise. Period. Every single prisoner, indicted, convicted, detained, rendered, and etcetera has the fundamental right to challenge their imprisonment, not just entitled hereditary landowners. Not just wrongly accused citizens. Everybody. Even the terrorist shitheads.

And it matters. More than anything. Either the law applies to all equally - or it is no law at all. If individual liberty is determined solely by one man, solely by the whim of the current leader - then that leader is not a President, he's a King, the light of liberty has died, and the law is an arbitrary decree beyond the ken of the common citizen.

Presidential suspension of habeas corpus is unconstitutional. It is against every principle this country was founded on. It is dishonorable. It is cowardly. It is the first refuge of the tyrant. It is unAmerican. The President swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and the principles it embodies, and he sure as hell shouldn't need the court to explain that to him. This disregard for liberty, more than anything else, is what's wrong with this administration. The President's oath, his principle duty, is to support and defend the Constitution, all else is secondary - even terrorists.

Now, any Conservative coming into this post without knowing me will think, "Oh sweet baby Jesus, another hand wringing Liberal, whining about rights and the Constitution and blah blah blah. Pissing and moaning about the poor detainees. Don't you know, Jim, that these guys tried to kill us? They're terrorists, for the love of God, and you just want to let them go? God Bless America and George Bush and hot apple pie."

Save it.

See, a couple of those shitheads are sitting in a cell in Gitmo because I helped put them there. I know full well how damned dangerous some of those men are. I know better than most just how much they'd love nothing better than to kill us all. And just to set the record straight, I have no love or sympathy for these men, none, Fuck them and the camel they rode in on. I would cheerfully take them out back and put a bullet in their collective heads and then go home and sleep soundly and without remorse of any kind - providing that they had a fair, public, and lawful trial first.

Because that's the whole point here - the end does not justify the means. Let me repeat that, it's important: The end does not justify the means. Period. Either we are a nation of law and liberty, or we are not. Either the law applies to everyone within our jurisdiction or it does not. You cannot have it both ways. Liberty is hard. It is contrary to human nature in many cases. We are self centered, greedy, vengeful creatures by and large and it takes a conscious effort to live up to high ideals. It took a civil war, and a century of sustained effort to extend liberty and freedom to all Americans, whatever their skin color, and it's still not over. It took a hundred years of suffrage movements to extend liberty and freedom to all Americans, no matter what their sex, and it's still not over. We fight every dammed day to maintain the vision of our founders, but if we begin to believe that the end does indeed justify the means, then we have lost sight of what that vision really means. Habeas corpus does not apply to the alleged terrorist detainees for their sake, but for ours.

SCOTUS's ruling does not grant new rights to the detainees, it simply reiterates what we should all know, our law applies to all equally. Period. And that's a good thing, it's a great thing, in fact, because it forces this President to finally confront the law, the Constitution, and his duty head on. This administration has always taken the easy road, it's the defining criteria of this president. It was a lot easier to attack Iraq instead of hunting down the real perpetrators of 911. It was a lot easier to read intelligence reports that said what the White House wanted to believe, rather than demand verification and supporting evidence from multiple sources. It was a lot easier to monitor Americans without having to do the legwork necessary to get a warrant, ditto for physical searches of their homes and property. It was a whole lot easier to create secret no-fly lists, without having to justify what amounts to an unassailable guilty conviction. And it's a whole lot easier to hold secret trials without regard for the law and the Constitution. It's a whole lot easier when the defendant can't defend himself. It's a whole lot easier when the government is right because the government says it's right and not because it actually has to prove its position before its citizens. SCOTUS's ruling requires that the White House finally has to do the proper work and follow the law, same as the rest of us. The administration now has to do exactly what any prosecuting attorney has to do, i.e. put their cards on the table. Either they've done the work and compiled the evidence and can prove that these men are guilty - or they can't. And that's the best thing that's happened in this whole idiotic 'War on Terrorism.' Put the evidence on the table for all to see, try these men publicly, fairly and in strict accordance with the rule of law so that the whole world can see beyond a shadow of a doubt who and what they are. Show the world that they are nothing but criminals and garden variety scumbags - not martyrs, not heroes, not freedom fighters, not holy warriors. Just another Timothy McVeigh, just another Unibomber, just another crazy-assed mass-murdering asshole who got caught.

Habeas corpus is the foundation of our freedom and the very core of liberty for all. Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Anthony M. Kennedy should be praised for keeping the founders' vision alive, for living up to their oath to the Constitution, and for taking the high road. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas should be ashamed for bowing to politics and personal bias and for failing to remember that their duty, their first and only duty, is to the Constitution and the principles upon which it was built.

And George W. Bush should start wearing a cup, he's going to need it.

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For those of you who are not regulars here at Stonekettle Station, and you think you've stumbled into the den of a squealing bunny thumping liberal - before you decide that you know me from this post, you might try reading this one first. It has a direct relationship to the subject here, and it might help explain exactly who I am and what I believe in - and why.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

How well do you know the candidates?

Here's an interesting quiz.

McCain - I got 13 out of 16. I missed 7, 14, and 16.

Obama - I got 12 out of 17. I missed 1, 4, 5, 8 and 14.

 

 

Now, here's a question of my own - do you think these quizzes are just a little biased?  McCain's quiz asked about his politics, record, and war experience.  Obama's asked about where his mother spent her youth, the car he drove, his elementary school writing assignment, and what shoes he wore.

 

I'm guessing now that McCain and Obama are the heirs presumptive we're going to be seeing more and more of this kind of information warfare. 

I'm all about freedom of the press, but I think they should have to declare which candidate they're supporting right up front, above the fold on the first page.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No kidding

McCain unlikely to use Cheney in Campaign.  Jeez, you think?

But then again, there is a certain ultra-conservative element to the GOP that thinks Cheney is some kind of hero.  Coincidently, those are the very same Republicans who think McCain is a pansy-assed, tree-hugging, bunny-loving, cat-petting, God-haytin' Liberal who will just give our country away to the terrorist Ayrabs.

Sadly, McCain needs those voters. 

I expect we'll be seeing Dick again, if only behind the scenes.  Of course, that's exactly what Dick Cheney is good at, isn't it? Pulling the strings from behind the scenes?

Rocket Man

 

No doubt most of you are familiar with the following Darwin Award Story:

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The Arizona Highway Patrol were mystified when they came upon a pile of smoldering wreckage embedded in the side of a cliff rising above the road at the apex of a curve. The metal debris resembled the site of an airplane crash, but it turned out to be the vaporized remains of an automobile. The make of the vehicle was unidentifiable at the scene.

The folks in the lab finally figured out what it was, and pieced together the events that led up to its demise.

It seems that a former Air Force sergeant had somehow got hold of a JATO (Jet Assisted Take-Off) unit. JATO units are solid fuel rockets used to give heavy military transport airplanes an extra push for take-off from short airfields.

Dried desert lake beds are the location of choice for breaking the world ground vehicle speed record. The sergeant took the JATO unit into the Arizona desert and found a long, straight stretch of road. He attached the JATO unit to his car, jumped in, accelerated to a high speed, and fired off the rocket.

The facts, as best as could be determined, are as follows:

The operator was driving a 1967 Chevy Impala. He ignited the JATO unit approximately 3.9 miles from the crash site. This was established by the location of a prominently scorched and melted strip of asphalt. The vehicle quickly reached a speed of between 250 and 300 mph and continued at that speed, under full power, for an additional 20-25 seconds. The soon-to-be pilot experienced G-forces usually reserved for dog-fighting F-14 jocks under full afterburners.

The Chevy remained on the straight highway for approximately 2.6 miles (15-20 seconds) before the driver applied the brakes, completely melting them, blowing the tires, and leaving thick rubber marks on the road surface. The vehicle then became airborne for an additional 1.3 miles, impacted the cliff face at a height of 125 feet, and left a blackened crater 3 feet deep in the rock.

Most of the driver's remains were not recovered; however, small fragments of bone, teeth, and hair were extracted from the crater, and fingernail and bone shards were removed from a piece of debris believed to be a portion of the steering wheel.

Ironically a still-legible bumper sticker was found, reading "How do you like my driving? Dial 1-800-EAT-SHIT."

-------------------------

It's an urban legend, of course.  It never actually happened, and couldn't actually happen - the physics and engineering are impossible. But it's a great story.

It's an even better video:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Death from the Sky, Part II

As usual, Beastly and I were turning yesterday.

I had finished a large piece the day before, and Beastly was just finishing up a bowl he has been working on for several days:

Beastly Bowl #01

That's a copper inlay around the rim. Pretty dammed cool, especially for only his second time turning Alaskan green birch heartwood (Beastly is an experienced wood turner, but green birch turns far differently from the exotic hardwoods he's used to). It's available if anybody is interested.

We had the front of the shop open and I stepped outside with the chainsaw to cut some more blanks from the log stock. I made a couple of cuts, then turned the saw off in order to adjust the log on the cutting stand - and I kept hearing something behind me. Beastly was inside the shop, so it wasn't him.

Moose? No, the dog was laying in the sun, most unconcerned.

Everything was suddenly very quiet. The spruce grouse who usually trill and chirp all day from the tree branches were silent. Predators? Wolves or bears? No, the dog wasn't even sniffing the air, and she'd sure as hell know if something dangerous was about.

I looked around. Nothing. Maybe it was my imagination.

I picked up the saw - and the strange noise came again. Hmmm.

I looked around, again. Still nothing.

Then I looked up.

Young Eagle

That's a young Bald Eagle, probably no more than a year or so old. He's still got the speckled plumage of a youngster, obviously. Young or not, he was big. His wingspan was easily six feet. He was perched about thirty feet up, in the birch tree between the shop and the house, eyeballing all of us potential food items below. He must have decided that Beastly, the Dog, and I were too big to cart away, but one of the idiot cats was in the sunroom window and Baldy was giving him the long hard stare. You remember what happened the last time cats and eagles mixed it up around my house, right? Fortunately for my wallet the cats remained safely behind glass this time.

However, I do have new neighbors. They have a little dog. A little yappy ball of fluff that resembles nothing so much as a tribble with a bad attitude. I think it's a Pekinese, but I'm not sure. It mostly looks like an animated mop head with a pair of beady eyes glued on. The whole damned dog, hair and all, can't weigh more than a pound or so - perfect snack size so to speak. Needless to say, the little puffball has no sense whatsoever and was roaming unconcernedly about about the yard, yapping spastically and sniffing the flowers.

Beastly and I began to speculate just how long fluffy had to live.

Beastly got out his Nikon and snapped a few shots, including the one above (He took that shot from about 60 feet away, against a glaring overcast sky. You've just got to love Nikon cameras).

Young Eagle 1Baldy kept turning his head back and forth, and it was obvious that he was triangulating the position of that irritating yapping noise. Suddenly, he spread his enormous wings and dropped like a stone from his perch.

Belatedly, we wondered if maybe we should do something.

Too late.

Fluffy made a frightened Cheap! and scampered backward like a supercharged hamster ... and escaped to safety under the neighbor's porch. Goddamnit! So much for a National Geographic moment.

Baldy glided away, disappointed, hungry, and in search of other unattended pets.

Life in Alaska can be hard for little fluffballs. He's out there again this morning, growling at the flowers like a demented ewok and snapping happily at the mosquitos. Not once has he looked up.

And he really, really should. Because, overhead, the eagles are circling and the grouse have grown silent again.

It would appear that Baldy went for help.

Really, it's only a matter of time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Fear

As I'm sure most regular readers know, the Patriot Act and it's associated legislation offends me as an American most grievously - as does the current administration.

I think the provisions of the Patriot Act, especially the sections giving the President almost unlimited power over his fellow citizens and thereby elevating his status to that of a despotic emperor, are absolutely contrary to everything the Founding Fathers intended.

I am incensed that this administration has in effect created secret laws which are hidden from the average citizen, and yet holds those same citizens accountable to standards and regulations that they cannot know and have no recourse for if convicted under. Indeed, the average citizen is not even allowed to access to the information used to convict him, or allowed to confront his accuser, and is not allowed to challenge the conviction in court. Need an example? How about the TSA's secret "No-Fly" list? You are not allowed to know what placed your name on that list to begin with. There is no legal recourse and no appeal. Whether or not you get on the airplane is entirely dependent on the arbitrary whim of some faceless government functionary. A single anonymous phonecall is enough to make you an enemy of the state. This is a return to McCarthyism; bribery, chicanery, and corruption cannot be far behind.

I am especially offended by the secret provisions put in place by this administration which allow the US government to monitor Americans and search their property without a court issued warrant, due notification, or recourse, in what amounts to a return to Napoleonic Law. This presumption of guilt, vice the presumption of innocence, is anathema to the very principles of liberty and justice upon which America was founded.

I am disgusted that my country has become a nation that tortures people. I never thought that my fellow citizens would stand for it. Liberal or Conservative, I find it nearly unbelievable that Americas would tolerate a government that kidnaps people off the street and the battlefield and spirits them away to secret prisons, tortures them, and convicts them without due adherence to the rule of law, international agreement, and our own Constitution. I am disgusted that, as Americans, our perspective is so skewed that we would impeach a President for getting a blowjob in the oval office, and yet tolerate and even encourage a leader who enthusiastically advocates and engages in the abject violation of basic human rights. Human rights that the United States has been the benchmark for since its founding.

I am appalled that Americans would stand for this trampling of the Constitution and for their rights and freedoms as Americans, and for the dishonor this administration has levied upon us as a people. Yet, inevitably when this topic comes up in conversation, and especially in conversation with staunch conservatives who support the current administration, their response is always the same:

If you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to fear.

I think that's complete crap. I think that kind of thinking leads inevitably to tyranny and absolutism. But, just for the sake of argument I'll allow it to stand for the moment.

If you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to fear. Fine. Then answer me a question, Conservatives, Bush Supporters, and all of you Flag Waving Patriots - why is it that the White House ordered the destruction of interrogation notes by its Gitmo Interrogators? Or the destruction of CIA interrogation video tapes? Or the deliberate overwriting of White House email backups in direct violation of federal regulation? You can't have it both ways, Patriots, by your own logic either the President has nothing to hide, in which case George W. Bush has nothing to fear - or, well, he does.

These records, these public records which are property of all Americans, weren't accidentally destroyed - they were ordered destroyed in a manner that reminds me of a couple of potheads flushing their stash down the toilet while the cops are banging on the front door. And they were destroyed for exactly the same reason, and for exactly the reason stated in Conservative logic - the White House has a great deal to fear.

I'll make the accusation right here and right now - these records show without equivocation that the President is full of shit, that he is in criminal violation of everything this country stands for, that not only should he be impeached but that he should spend a considerable amount of time behind bars.

Go ahead, Patriots, prove me wrong - publish the records. After all, if you don't have anything to hide, you have nothing to fear.

Right?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday Projects

I do a lot of different things in the woodshop.

Mostly you see my lathework, but I do other projects as well. Most are fairly pedestrian, but some are pretty artistic.

I know a number of folks on the local military bases (yeah, go figure, right?), and they know of my woodworking inclination. A week or two back, the civilian head of civil engineering on the local Air Force base came to me and asked if I could help them out. They had purchased a number ceramic polar bear statuettes as going-away presents for senior officers - but had no idea of how to mount them. About the only guidance I got was that they wanted something "Alaskan," and they needed to be able to mount a small 2"x4" brass plaque and eight challenge coins around the base. (Challenge coins, for those of you not familiar with the military custom, are small one to two inch in diameter coins, specially made for a unit or a commander or other special position - and given out as tokens of appreciation to people during visits or other special events. They are most common in the Army and Air Force, but the Navy and Marine Corps also observe the custom if to a lesser degree. Many folks collect challenge coins and some, such as the gold and silver one I was given by a Bahraini Navy Commander, are extremely valuable).

Hmmm, something Alaskan with room to mount the plaque and coins? How about a carved and sculpted Sitka Spruce base, said I to myself.

I cut out a block of spruce from my stock pile, using a small chainsaw I cut it into the basic shape I wanted. Then I used my machines to smooth that into a tapered brick, and then sculpted it using a Foredom tool (sort like a Dremel tool on steroids). After I had the basic shape sculpted, I sent it back to the Air Force so they could determine if this was what they wanted.

It was.

Only one problem, they liked it so much that they didn't want to hide the wood with the coins. Huh? It's it just spruce, said I. Whatever, they replied we think it's amazing (at which point I mentally upped my price into the "Amazing" category. Amazing is about $40 more than "Really Cool," just saying).

Anyway, they sent it back and I finished it and mounted the bear and only two coins. In the picture below the empty space between the coins is where the brass plaque will go - I'm still waiting for them to get that to me.

Bear 1

The idea here is that the base should bring to mind the icy wind sculpted tundra of Alaska's North Slope Region. It is coated in a clear acrylic in order to enhance the icy look, and sits on cork base to protect whatever desktop it ends up on. The bear is tipped back about 5 degrees to make the mounting more dynamic and interesting.

Bear 2

Bear 4

Bear 3

I think it came out rather well. So do they, apparently, since they ordered several more.