Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:



Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.



Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.


Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.



Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.



Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.


The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.


The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.


Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income



Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market



Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.



Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.


Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.



Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.



Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.


Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President



Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

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Friday, February 27, 2004

What Goes Around Comes Around

NY Times Columnist Thomas Friedman visits an Indian outsourcing operation and brings back this wisdom:

"It's unfair that you want all your products marketed globally," argues Mr. Kulkarni, "but you don't want any jobs to go."

Which is why we must design the right public policies to keep America competitive in an increasingly networked world, where every company — Indian or American — will seek to assemble the best skills from around the globe. And we must cushion those Americans hurt by the outsourcing of their jobs. But let's not be stupid and just start throwing up protectionist walls, in reaction to what seems to be happening on the surface. Because beneath the surface, what's going around is also coming around.

I don't know if I agree with Tom... he's best when he sticks to Middle Eastern affairs and leaves economics alone. I think those "protectionist walls" are fine, when used appropriately.

Until the day that we all live under a one world government it will not be possible for nations to simply drop those protectionist walls. Some industries are more important to particular nations, those with cultural significance like Japanese woodworking, and others with a military impact, like US steel. It is only natural, and right, for these countries to use taxes and tariffs to protect those industries.

But I will allow Mr. Friedman and Mr. Kullarni that wherever possible we should try to work with those countries that work for and with us. India, like Australia, is part of the Western World. They speak English, vote for their President, and drink Coke... we can probably spare them some jobs in the software industry, textiles, etc. And in the end we will see some benefit as well, if not merely economic, surely political... we need to keep those 1 billion Indians on "our side".

Sean: Friday, February 27, 2004 [+] |
Thursday, February 26, 2004
The Slippery Slope Of The FMA?

Andrew Sullivan puts the FMA into historical perspective.

"On Dec. 12, 1912, Rep. Seaborn Roddenberry (D-Ga.) proposed this amendment to the Constitution: "Intermarriage between negros or persons of color and Caucasians ... within the United States ... is forever prohibited."

And Sullivan quotes a GOP attorney who warns us that the FMA might not just be about gay marriage, it might be a whole lot bigger.

The potential impact of inclusion of the FMA will effect every American straight or gay because the FMA is not about gay marriage.

Under the Constitution of the United States there is no express right to privacy, rather this right has arisen from Supreme Court precedent that cites the lack of regulation of intimate relationships and the protections of the bill of rights.

By including a provision regulating the most intimate of relationships into the Constitution, the traditional analysis that the court has used to limit government power will be fundamentally changed.

A brilliant strategy really, with one amendment the religious right could wipe out access to birth control, abortion, and even non-procreative sex (as Senator Santorum so eagerly wants to do).

This debate isn’t only about federalism, it’s about the reversal of two hundred years of liberal democracy that respects individuals.

Hat tip to Michael Totten.

Sean: Thursday, February 26, 2004 [+] |
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
The Gospel According To Mel

I watched Mel's passion play this morning, the first showing on Ash Wednesday. I should probably say that I was raised Catholic, but am now a confirmed agnostic. And although I am seriously ambivalent about the role of religion in society, and in history, I have great respect for the positive role that faith can play in people's lives.


How was the film as a work of theatre?

The cinematography by Caleb Deschanel was actually pretty good, although a bit derivative. We had the obligatory moving clouds and full moon in a dark night sky. The lighting was evocative and well used to denote a changed world after the death of Jesus. Nothing earth shattering in novelty, but proficiently done.

The soundtrack by John Debney was moody and exotic sounding, which was perfect for this film. Similarly, no one spoke English, which was nice for that feeling of cinema veritas, but reading subtitles will probably bother many "groundling" viewers. And, as some have pointed out, reading subtitles takes something of the punch out of the words of Jesus and friends.

I did enjoy the period sets by Franesco Frigeri and Carlo Gervasi. I especially approved of the Lithostrotos and the Praetorium. These were both properly Roman and yet seemed to fit the stone color, size, and rough hewn cut of many other buildings in Jerusalem (as seen on TV). Similarly the costumes by Maurizio Millenotti worked well. The armor of the Temple Guards and the Roman soldiers was suitably believable. And there were no garish errors, like a passing car, to report.

And I was actually quite impressed with Italian/Hollywood actress Monica Belluci. She is so pretty that it is rather jarring to see her allowing a director to film her at anything less than her best. And it was also a bit surprising not to see her cleavage. I was also impressed with Hristo Shopov, a Bulgarian actor, who played Pontius Pilate, and Claudia Gerini, an Italian actress, who played his wife Claudia Procles. Some of the other Roman soldiers were also effective actors.

So what were the movie's faults?

First, it felt like a play. By which I mean that lines and actions seemed exaggerated and unrealistic. And the sets were claustrophobic and few in number. This really would be an easy film to put on as a play. And I guess this is natural, since this movie is really one in a long line of traditional Catholic "Passion Plays" put on in Europe and America for centuries.

A second fault was the use of cinematic devices which seemed childishly simple and a bit blunt. As an example there is the apparition of Satan; complete with insects, snakes, an aborted fetus, and even transvestitism or anti-female imagery. We also had a lot of overdone gore and make up on the face of Judas, on some children, and on the body of Jesus.

And aside from the main characters the film is filled with two dimensional, grotesque caricatures of human beings, both Roman and Jew. And the imagery, lighting, and music are about as subtle as a train wreck. But mostly, The Passion was the most bloody and sadistic film that I have ever seen. Again, The Passion is the most violent film - ever.


And now for the politics.

I do think that the film took some liberties with the Scriptural sources and mostly ignores those from secular histories (a shame). But the movie is still a fairly good representation of the Gospels of Matthew and John. It should probably be noted that these Gospels were written by Roman subjects under Roman rule, and later codified by Roman councils both imperial and Catholic. So this is probably why the Romans get a bit whitewashed.

Mel has created both Roman and Jewish characters that are rather sympathetic. Abenader, Pontius, and his wife Claudia were all portrayed as thinking humans, with personal motivations, and even some conscience. The Jewish characters of Simon and Peter, and even Malchus, the servant of the High Priest who loses an ear capturing Jesus, were also given some redeeming qualities or moments.

However, some Roman and Jewish characters are downright disgusting. Members of the Jewish rabble were given horrible dental features and made out to be intellectually brutal. And many of the Roman guards were portrayed as bloodthirsty, stupid, and drunk. I had alternating images of Nazis and the Three Stooges whenever I saw a Roman soldier.

But I must say that the real dividing line here appears to be class, not race. High ranking members of both the Jewish and the Roman sides (it should always be kept in mind, as Mel said himself "all the characters in the film are [either] Jews [or Romans, but not Christians"]) received developed and recognizably human characterization. Whereas the freaks, horrors, and zealots were equally found in the lower classes of both ethnic groups.

And an intelligent viewer should be cognizant of the fact that many of the Jewish Priests and common people refused to condemn Jesus. And those that did were a small and vocal crowd (both in the movie and in Scripture), members of the status quo power groups, who were specifically involved in a plot to get rid of him and his reformist/heretical movement.

Similarly a smart viewer should put the Roman soldiers into the context of their roles... those involved in torture and execution, in any army or government, are usually vulgar, brutal, and animalistic by nature. This is what makes them suited to these duties, or that is what performing these duties does to a man. One shouldn't judge an entire army, government, or people by those in these roles.

And finally, one shouldn't forget that Jesus and his followers dressed in traditional robes, wore beards, and kept both the Sabbath (usually) and the Passover rites. The Apostles often called Jesus "Rabbi" and Jesus even taught openly in the synagogues - as noted in the Gospels and in the film. So, the heroes of this film, such as they are, were not yet "Christians," rather they were obviously Jews.

But those dumb bigots who go and see this film and come away emotionally aroused against the Jews (or perhaps even against Italians) are going to be a real group. These are the folks who put "Confirmed: Jews killed Jesus" on their church reader boards. They were probably anti-Semitic and racist before the film, if not actually incensed to violence, and this film will probably give them motive and ammunition to make at least philosophical attacks upon Jews, if not real physical violence.

No, I don't think that Mel shouldn't have made his film because of the few nut jobs out there who will over react because of it. But I do think that it is very reasonable that Jews in America and Europe might be unsettled by this film and fear of these nut jobs. And society should talk about this and be ready to act in defense of the minorities put at risk.


Historical/Scriptural Accuracy.

My main complaint about the film is the violence. It is NOT "scriptural". I challenge anyone to find passages that detail the "scourging". In fact, Luke never mentions it at all, and the other Apostles only barely: "and when he had scourged Jesus he delivered him to be crucified". Similarly the gospels barely mention the march to Golgatha/Calvary with the cross except to mention that Simon of Cyrene carried it behind Jesus. So, it must be said that all the blood and flesh ripping in the film was all Mel's idea. He wanted it there for whatever reason, and I found it to be gratuitous.

Now that I touch on Scriptural/historical accuracy I should also probably point out a few more flaws. First, Barabbas was not simply a murderer, with one bad eye and bad teeth, who acted crazy and debased for the crowd. In fact, the longest description of him comes from Mark: "and there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection." We should keep in mind that the Roman province of Judea was previously a free Jewish kingdom with a long history of revolting against foreign rule, from the Assyrians to the Romans. Therefore it should be understood that Barabbas was a political prisoner and perhaps even a "war hero" to the people who called for him to be released.

And lastly, in the film Mel has Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of Jesus, witness to his trial, torture, and execution. However, in all but the Gospel of John the second Mary is NOT mother to Jesus, but a related Mary, the mother of James and Joses. Mark and others refer to her simply as "the other Mary" and one would expect them to speak of the Savior's mother with a bit more reverence and specificity. But with out this device it might have been a wee harder for Mel to get the audience crying.


A controversial reading of the Scripture and of Mel's film.

Another historical/political point might as well be said out loud... Jesus was guilty of the charges and the punishment was considered fitting. Jesus did indeed "work" on the Sabbath, preaching and healing, even in the synagogues. Mark quotes Jesus: "The Sabbath was made for the man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath." And Jesus did claim to be the Messiah and the Son of God. Mark quotes Caiaphus, the High Priest, asking: "Art though the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" To which Jesus answers: "I am. And ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power; and coming in the clouds of heaven". And crucifixion was a punishment often meted to religious dissidents and political rebels, of which Jesus was admittedly both.

The authority figures of Judea, the Hebrew king, the Jewish High Priest, and the Roman governor, all had legitimate reason to fear Jesus and wish his doctrines stamped out. Jesus had been out among the rural villages and outlying towns working miracles, teaching in the Synagogues, and gathering a very large crowd, a "multitude", that followed him from town to town, growing larger and more aggressive as they approached the capitol. At one point the crowd harasses two passersby and orders two blind men (or one, depending which Gospel you read) to keep silent. Eventually Jesus enters into Jerusalem on a bed of palms and other people's cloaks.

The first thing Jesus does when he is in the city is go to the High Temple and overturn the tables of the money changers (who were necessary to convert the different coins of visiting pilgrims into temple script to be used for offerings), scold the priests and the scribes, and even throw them out of their own temple. Furthermore Jesus calls himself, or allows himself to be called, "King of the Jews" and the "messiah", who is prophesied to lead the people in revolt (against either or both Herod, King of the Jews, or Pilot, head of the Roman occupation).

And yet, although the Gospels are actually rather spare with the details, one could read Mathew's and Mark's gospel, and Mel's movie, as showing that Caiaphas was looking for Jesus to repent and avoid punishment: "Answerest thou nothing? What is it which these witness against thee?". The same can be said for Pontius Pilot, who repeatedly asks Jesus to defend himself from the charges. In fact, in spite of Jesus's silence Pilot tells the crowd that he can find no fault in him and offers to release him as the traditional Passover pardon. By Luke's account, and Mel's, even the Jewish "king", the collaboratist figurehead, Herod, refuses to condemn Jesus: "No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him."

In Mathew's account Jesus tells his disciples on the night of his capture "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled? Thus it must be." And John quote's Jesus telling Pilot "Thou couldest have no power at all against me except it were given them from above..." So, Jesus actually condemns himself... we should all leave the Jews and the Romans both blameless.

In fact, the Gospels tell us that Jesus lived his life with the intent of offending the authorities and the even the general population, to suffer at their hands, and by his suffering to buy humanity redemption. He saw this coming early, John: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up". And not even the pain and humiliation of the most violent of Hollywood endings would discourage him. Ultimately, this is the message that Mel wanted to send to the viewing audience. And to the extent that Mel Gibson also offends thee, he similarly hopes to redeem thee. This is a film about the Passion of Jesus of Nazareth, by the passionate Mel of Malibu.

"It is accomplished".

UPDATE: a commentator on NPR today noted... when two people, to armies, are fighting and violence occurs you can at least say that the viewer is engaged in the contect... but when the victim of violence is chained to a post with no hope of rescue... then 119 minutes of torture watching is pure sadism. Agreed. Roger Simon has a similar take.

Sean: Wednesday, February 25, 2004 [+] |
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Independent Nader

The Boston Globe reports that consumer advocate Ralph Nader is going to run for President, again.

This time he's telling the Dems they can chill out, he's harmless.

"The party that's out of power finds that its members come back into the fold. So this candidacy is not going to get many Democratic Party votes," Nader said. "On the other hand, the party that's in power is the party that we are going to focus on retiring, and conservatives and independents who are very upset with Bush's administration policies are left with two options: Vote for the Democrats, which is unlikely, or vote for an independent ticket."

This time around Nader is NOT running on the Green ticket. This will make his campaign at once more difficult and perhaps actually easier. While he wont have the "national" party apparatus of the Greens to get his message out... he wont have the party ideological nonsense to worry about. And Nader has long had his own "grass roots" network, the PIRG's to work with.

Nader yesterday acknowledged that his campaign faces a number of hurdles, including that of obtaining spots on state ballots, a task made more difficult by his decision to run as an independent without the aid of a party's machinery. In 2000, Nader ran on the Green Party ticket. He said yesterday he had chosen not to run as a Green Party candidate again this year because the party's convention, which is scheduled for June, is too late and would impede a national campaign.

But Nader's message is largely the same as his last two campaigns.

Nader offered a bleak assessment of the political process, painting it as beholden to corporate interests and casting the two major parties and the mainstream media as abettors of a corrupt system. Nader called President Bush "the giant corporation in the White House masquerading as a human being." But he criticized the Democrats as well. "The Democrats, because of their internal decay . . . have been very good at electing very bad Republicans," Nader said. "One might assume modestly that the Democratic Party needs some help."

This might actually work to the Dem's advantage, like Nader said. I voted Dem most of my life, then I got sick of them acting just like Republicans and I switched to Green and voted nader. But the Greens went nuts after 9-11 and I registered Independent. And this year I was facing a tough decision... if Dean won the Dem's nod I was gunna have to vote for... (gulp) Bush. But now I can vote for Nader again instead. A vote for Nader this time is NOT "a vote for Bush".

Sean: Tuesday, February 24, 2004 [+] |
Monday, February 23, 2004
CNN Has A Lobotomy On Iran

CNN Correspondent Kasra Naji explains "why the reformist lost the election":

Why did the reformists lose after two big victories in the last parliamentary elections?

They lost a good deal of credibility with the Iranian public because they failed to initiate many of the reforms they had promised... at the end of the day, they failed to deliver on important issues.

The reformist camp here obviously has to do much soul searching. What the reform movement might do then is anybody's guess at the moment.

Apparently Kasra and the CNN editing board have forgotten that the REAL reason that the reformists "lost" the election was because the Ayatollah and his Council Of Guardians blocked over 2,000 reformists candidacy and shut down the last two newspapers that would have pulled for them. Meanwhile they got a lot of mullahs to go on TV and warn the populous that if they didn't vote for the hardliner of their choice they were going straight to hell... oh, wait... they didn't forget... they're just morons.

Kasra: "I met a lot of people in the past few days who said to me that even if thousands of reformists had not been barred from standing in the elections, they still would not have voted for them."

I wonder why Kasra?

One could argue that in parliament their efforts to legislate reformist bills were blocked at every turn by the hardline Guardian Council. And there is plenty of evidence to back that argument.

Right... the real "analysis" of this election was that it was not free and fair and it would have led to a ptomkin parliament anyway... the truth in Iran is that there is no democracy and political analysis of any kind is less than worthless if it doesn't start and end with this fact. What is up with CNN's reporting?

Sean: Monday, February 23, 2004 [+] |
Friday, February 20, 2004
A Slap To America's Face

Iran holds elections this week, despite banning over 2,000 canidates and shutting down the very last two "free" newspapers in the country.

At least the mullahs are willing to call it like it is...

Torn between a reformist boycott and calls by conservatives to give "a slap to America's face," Iranians voted Friday in elections likely to return the nation's legislature to Islamic hard-liners

Liberal candidates blacklisted by the conservative theocracy included the core ranks of reformist activists and politicians demanding ruling clerics cede some of their almost limitless powers.

More than half of the more than 5,000 names on the ballot were hard-liners; only about 200 were pro-reformists; others were moderates.

Vote for the mullah of your choice, but vote!

Sean: Friday, February 20, 2004 [+] |
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Due to continued child care needs blogging has been "light". We will return to our regular blogging schedule, including the now "long awaited" fiction serial, Repentless, next monday. -Sorry

Sean: Wednesday, February 18, 2004 [+] |
Monday, February 16, 2004
Sick Baby.... blogging postponed....

Repentless Part Two will appear here by tomorrow, inshalla.

Sean: Monday, February 16, 2004 [+] |
Friday, February 13, 2004
Husky, Meerkat, and Buffalo To The Rescue

After so many moons of frustrating bad news from the Iraqi theatre a "farker" brought me these welcome links.

Evidently the Army finaly brought in some equipment to defend against RPG and IED attacks on US convoys.

The Army has a few new weapons to use in its war against the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices on Iraq's roadways.

The Husky, Meerkat, Buffalo, and RG-31 armored car are now being used by soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division's Task Force Pathfinder.

The vehicles, primarily designed to detect buried mines, have been searching the roadways for IEDs and other threats to soldiers on convoys and patrols.

"We've found at least six IEDs in the short time that we have had the vehicles," said 1st Lt. David Moore, a platoon leader with A Company, 27th Engineers, assigned to the Task Force.

Another reason the soldiers in Task Force Pathfinder have taken to the vehicles is the fact that each is heavily armored and designed to resist blasts from both mines and IEDs.

"These vehicles are designed to take a blast," said Pfc. Lester Rhodes, a combat engineer and operator of the RG-31 armored car.

"Every round we find is one less that could injure or kill a Soldier," said Sgt. 1st Class Martin Humphreys, a Pathfinder platoon sergeant. "So I'm glad we have this equipment."

Turns out soldiers are also getting the go-ahead to adhoc armor their own vehicles.

Appendix O, Vehicle Hardening, to Field Manual 55-30, Army Motor Transport Units and Operations, advises:

"Using sandbags is a good way to harden vehicles against the mines and small arms fire, as they are usually available and can be easily added or removed as the situation dictates."

The appendix also briefly discusses using ¼- to ½-inch of hardened armor plates on vehicle doors and the fuel tank.

Whatever method is used in hardening vehicles, FM 55-30 warns of potential consequences: "more required maintenance as the additional weight will likely mean early structure and mechanical failures, and reduction in the amount of cargo the vehicle can safely carry."

There are two other things drivers need to consider that are not covered by the manual, according to an Army spokesman -- the weight of sandbags or ad-hoc armor means drivers will need more time to brake due to the increased weight; and the added material could possibly change the vehicle's center of gravity, increasing the risk of vehicle rollover.

"It would be unfortunate if Soldiers hardened their vehicle against the effects of a RPG or IED attack and then were injured or killed in an accident due to the changed characteristics of that hardened vehicle," the spokesman said.

Well, its a little late, but its not too little.

Sean: Friday, February 13, 2004 [+] |
Thursday, February 12, 2004
Toxic Bullshit

I realize that this is an election year. Still, the political jockeying over the Kay report, Bush's claims, and the missing WMD has gone a bit too far.

I read David Sarasohn in the Oregonian actually claim Kay "said nothing to hint at last-minute cloak-and-dagger smugglings across borders, or possibilities of vast stockpiles we just haven't discovered yet."

Balloney. Let me quote David Kay directly: "We know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) program," Kay was reported saying in the interview conducted yesterday."

Sarasohn suggests that no WMD have been found in Iraq after the war, even "with U.S. troops and inspectors all over Iraq".

And yet the Sunday Herald reported last month "A Danish team has found only 36 mortar rounds buried in desert about 45 miles from Al Amarah, a southern town. But it added that up to a 100 more could still be hidden at the location. "All the instruments showed indications of the same type of chemical compound, namely blister gas," confirmed the Danish Army Operational Command.

Sarasohn goes on to say that "The Bush administration insists that before the war, everyone agreed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction... But United Nations inspectors in Iraq reported they weren't finding biological or chemical weapons."

And yet exactly a year ago Reuters reported that "U.N. experts searching Iraq for banned weapons drove to a military site Wednesday to begin destroying mustard gas and artillery shells left over from a weapons search more than four years ago. Iraqi officials and witnesses said a U.N. chemical team drove to Al Mutanna, 90 miles north of Baghdad. A U.N. spokesman said Tuesday they would begin destroying 10 155 mm artillery shells and four containers filled with mustard gas."

Attempting to spin scandal gold out this, that, or the other "inspection report" is just plain lame.

Let us be perfectly clear and honest here...

Blix never came out and announced that Saddam wasn't in compliance because he didn't want to go down in the history books as "the man who started the war"... but he also never exonerated Saddam and publicly applauded his removal after the fact.

David Kay also never completed his investigation, nor ruled in Saddam's favor. In fact, he resigned. And he did so, as Reurters and the LA Times reported, because he said that his inspection teams "were being pulled away from the weapons hunt to focus on the insurgency."

This game is getting old. We all know that Saddam had WMD, he used them plainly enough. We also know that he was told to prove that got rid of them. Instead he slammed the door on inspectors and called our bluff. So we went over there and kicked his butt. It doesn't really matter if we find those weapons now or in the future... that really wasn't the point of the exercise.

UPDATE: On the Danish find this month... latest reports now suggest that these shells did not contain mustard gas. But then the same article goes on to point out that, like the earlier positive results, these negative ones are "preliminary" and may be reversed in the near future...

"Both the Danish and U.S. officials told Fox that the latest negative finding wasn't conclusive and said a more final assessment could come in the next three to five days."

Whatever. As with the mobile labs, the 55 gallon drums, and these shells we keep coming up with multiple WMD finds in Iraq since the war, this despite giving Saddam a two year warning to start shipping the evidence out or having men bury it...

Iraqis often turn themselves in, "Some Iraqis have told Danish soldiers that other mortar shells were buried in the area, including a stockpile dumped in the Tigris River that could contain as many as 400 rounds," Gruenberger said.

Why bury "harmless" ordinary shells? Evidently they thought/think they had WMD too. As did the French, the Germans, the Chinese, and the Russians (they should, they sold them to Saddam and taught him how to make/use them against Iran and then the US).

We should keep in mind that NO ONE on the UN Security Council ever stated a public doubt that Saddam had or wanted WMD, they ony disagreed on the time table and method for dealing with this fact.

Again the point is not whether or not your team or my team can "prove" the other one wrong after the fact. The point is that a credible threat was revealed, underlined, and made manifest on 9-11.

Before that date we had plenty of evidence that Saddam, Osama, et al wanted us dead and buried, but afterwards it was undeniable. That left our politicians with a choice, to act to defend us or to wait for another blow to land.

Personally I think that the people of Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, and Chicago owe the President a debt of gratitude. And I would remind us all that this would be no less true if Gore had been the President and Gore had taken out the Taliban and Saddam in his first term.

Of course, acting to defend us when the preponderance of evidence was overwhelming doesn't get much credit in my book, but NOT doing so, or cutting down the decision after the victory, counts for quite a lot against.

Sean: Thursday, February 12, 2004 [+] |
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
30 Million Reasons

Victor Davis Hansen sums up the WMD debate in four points:

1) Saddam Hussein had petrodollars to buy such strategic weapons;

2) He had acquired and stockpiled such arms and used them in war against Iran and in peace against his own people;

3) He had a long history of aggression against the United States - from Gulf War I to trying to assassinate an American president

4) His Baathist police state had a systematic policy of hiding such weapons, from both the United States postwar intelligence gatherers and the U.N. inspectors.

He then gives a laundry list of 10 realpolitik reasons for the war itself... and a good summary of one of the primary counter terrorism benefits of the war:

It turns out that the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the subsequent effort to take out Saddam Hussein, have had a powerful effect on such arsenals far beyond Baghdad.

1) Without the removal of the Baathists, Libya would never have confessed to its nuclear roguery.

2) Without the recent war, Iran would never have professed a desire to follow international protocols.

3) Without the recent conflict, Pakistan would never have investigated its own outlaw scientists.

Whether we like it or not, the precedent that the United Sates might act decisively against regimes that were both suspected of pursuing WMD acquisition and doing nothing to allay those fears, has had a powerful prophylactic effect in the neighborhood.

He should also remind us that if Iraq does get a successful democracy out of this affair, and if Afghanistan remains fairly stable, we might see freedom and opportunity spread through out the Middle East, "draining the swamps" of unemployed and unhappy would-be terrorists and assassins.

And for those hold-out lefties who claim that their opposition to the war came out of concern for the Iraqis:

A decade-long U.N. trade embargo, coupled with occasional U.S. strikes (the 1999 Desert Fox operation may have killed 4,000 Iraqis) probably led to as much damage and death as the recent war - but without either freeing the Iraq people or finally ascertaining the exact nature of Saddam's chemical, biological, and nuclear arsenal.

Once Saddam Hussein took Iraq down the path of tyranny, invasion, and WMD acquisition, then it was not a question of stopping him without losses, but simply finding the most economical way to rid the world of his regime at the least cost in lives.

When reckoned over a 30-year era, the recent war will have seemed humane in comparison to what transpired between 1975 and 2003.

Victor does offer this caveat to the left:

If the United States went to war with Iraq only because of the threat of WMDs.

If the mass murdering of Saddam Hussein was found on examination to be highly exaggerated.

If we had some secret plan for stealing the oil of Iraq.

If Saddam Hussein posed no future threat to the United States or its allies.

If the war resulted in a worse future for Iraq, the United States, and the surrounding Middle East.

And if the administration deliberately constructed false intelligence evidence to advance such an unnecessary war that resulted in misery rather than hope,

Then an apology is needed now.

But , as Victor reminds us, "so far that has simply not been the case".

A letter to the editor of the Oregonians today put it thusly: "I can think of about 30 million reasons for the war".


Sean: Wednesday, February 11, 2004 [+] |
Monday, February 09, 2004
Death In Denio

Serial Fiction: Repentless

Part One: Death In Denio

"It was January in northern Nevada and the temperature outside was about 20 degrees. The small trees were bare and the brush faded to gray. And although it was dry at the desert floor, there was a blanket of snow on the mountains around Denio Junction.

Standing in her bedroom, the room once painted pink, Miranda pulled an old sweatshirt over her thin frame, put on tight fitting blue jeans, and a pair of long black boots. She checked her reflection in the white wicker frame mirror and patted her strawberry blonde curls. Then she made kissing lips, winked her green eyes at her reflection, and laughed at herself.

She walked down the shadowed hall, her boots clicking on the hardwood floors. She stopped at her mother's bedroom, her hand raised, chipped red nails resting on the panel door. She knocked but heard no response.

"Momma, I'm going to work... Momma?" A radio was playing band tunes softly. She spoke louder, "It's my last shift before they close the tavern next week. I can't be late. Momma?"

Still, there was no reply from behind the door. She knocked again, harder, but again there was no reply. Finally she opened the door and peered inside.

Fading light seeped into the small room from a tall skinny window on the far wall. When she flipped the switch the marbled glass bowl at the ceiling illuminated a faint circle in the middle of the room. Blue and green floral wallpaper with a yellow background soaked up the weak light.

A cherry wood bedroom-set crowded the small space. A tall bureau stood next to the window and a lowboy against the long side. A large four-poster bed with two nightstands pressed against the interior wall.

The tops of the bureaus were covered with cut glass bottles, clothes, and photographs of Vegas stage shows. A bouquet of roses had dried and was tacked to the wall over the mirror. The faded cutout of a Wisconsin bearcat mascot was stuck to the glass.

The little black terrier dog had ruined the green shag carpet years ago, before he died and her mother had him made into a pillow. Now the pet smell was mixed with carpet cleaner and incense. And the odor of cigarettes and cheap perfume clung to the walls.

At the foot of the bed her mother's blue sequined dress was laid out smooth and straight. A pair of long white gloves lay parallel to the dress. Her mother's tallest silver heels were set at the foot of the bed.

On the bureau a strand of imitation diamonds was coiled into neat pile, matching dangling earrings on top. A shiny little change purse sat next to the jewelry. And a long blonde wig was propped on a Styrofoam head on the lowboy.

Her mother lay in the middle of the bed, her long body barely veiled by a thin white sheet. Her short-cropped hair, gone gray, stood prickly against the pillow. Her hands clutched the cotton fabric in fists at her sides and her toes pointed straight ahead.

She could see that her mother was smiling, faintly. Her lipstick and eyeliner were on heavy. And her pale blue eyes were open, staring out the window at the empty desert highway, and they did not blink.

Miranda noticed the blue kidney shaped ashtray sitting next to the black digital clock radio on the nightstand. She could see a few yellow pills in tinfoil wrapping in the dish. There were only a couple left.

"Oh momma! Your show, your comeback show..." her voice trailed off to a whisper. She switched off the light and pushed the radio button to off. Then she stood in silence.

She had her hand to her mouth, her knuckles pressed against her teeth. She made a faint silhouette in the natural light from the hall. She looked down at her mother for a long time.

Then she spotted her mother's white purse hanging from the open door. It glowed softly in the fading light. She took the bag and retreated to the living room.

She sat on the faded brown couch in front of the big window, hidden from the highway by an old sheer curtain. She sat furthest from the curly black pillow. The tin starburst clock over the red brick fireplace ticked the seconds into the darkening room.

She held the bag tight to her chest, realized she had been holding her breath, and exhaled. She watched the shadows move across the floor as the sun finally set. Then she reached inside to find the letter from the casino.

Miranda took the letter out and held it under the cone lamp in the corner of the room. She noted the address on Virginia Street in Reno and the date and time about 5 hours out. When she looked up at the clock her head nodded and her lips moved as she counted.

She stood, walked down the hall, and darted into her mother's room with the light still off. She gathered her mother's dress and the jewelry and shoved them into the purse. Then she took the shoes in her left hand and got out of the room.

She took the keys out of the purse and stepped through the front door to the narrow concrete stoop. She stood for a moment under the porch light, her hand on the keys in the lock. And finally she turned the deadbolt and it latched with a click.

"One of us is gunna have this show Momma," she said.

Then she stepped out into the desert air. Her boots crunched in the gravel and her breath formed clouds as she walked. It was dark and clear and there were stars overhead.

She got in the old white Ford Galaxy and started the engine. She drove slowly to the junction, paused, and looked north towards the tavern. Then she pointed the car south and hit the gas."

Next Week: Reno Baby

Sean: Monday, February 09, 2004 [+] |
Friday, February 06, 2004
GRE Hell

My graduate program actually starts in the summer. Which meant that I had to rush through the application process, including taking the GRE. In case you avoid academia like the plague and don't know what this is... it is the standardized test that tells your school if you can hack the rigors of advanced study.

So, I studied for all of one day and then took that darned test. And it sucked. What a lame judgment of one's intellect.

The first section asks for a one-off essay on a topic of their choosing. The topics sucked, of course. They are blithe single sentence natterings that might come out of the lips of any high school student. I love to argue, so come on, give me something with some meat on its bones!

Then they ask you to critique someone else's argument. I would love to, if there was much there to critique. After a few sentences my quill ran dry.

Then they ask you to play some word games with some of the most obscure and ugly words in the English language. I hope the foreigners taking this exam do not judge us by its content. Truly, we do not all speak like Oxford dons trying to impress a girl.

Then you have to rummage through your brain for useless geometry and algebra, things you haven't had to remember for the last ten years of the "real world" since you graduated college. Amazingly I did ok, which just proves how bogus this section is. I couldn't find a hypotenuse with both hands and a protractor.

Well, my scores were fine. At least they probably wont hold me back. And I guess that is all that I can ask from a standardized test these days.

Sean: Friday, February 06, 2004 [+] |
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
Road Trip

I needed to drop my portfolio off at the admissions office in Eugene. That's over 100 miles from home in Portland, OR. So why not go all they way down to Vegas for the week end? Lucky for me, Michael J. Totten offered to co-drive.

Oregon's high desert near Bend.

The Oregon outback is normally overlooked when people talk about or visit the NW. Although the Willamette Valley and the Puget Sound are nearly as wet as their reputation (and beautiful ta'boot) the majority of Oregon and Washington is really a vast desert caught in the rain shadow of the Cascade mountain range. Meanwhile us western Oregonians often forget that it snows out there in the hinterlands and warm rains do not come to wash it away. Heading east was truly a climate shift for Michael and I.

Christmas Valley, OR

This site forced us to pull over and gawk. So, that's how trucks reproduce! I think someone stacked these and left them for exactly this effect. Still, it set the mood nicely. For the next hour we heard "Deliverance banjos" playing in our heads.

[S]Hell Gas Station in Paisley, OR

Back when full service meant someone pumping your gas and checking your oil, this place was a Shell.

Blizzard Pass, OR

... or something very like it. We pulled off the road to take a picture of a snowstorm rolling into the valley behind us. Unfortunately the gravel pull-out was really just a "soft shoulder," it really should be called quicksand, we managed to get a 4whl drive Jeep stuck in it. Having chosen to take the backroads we had no one to blame after not one car passed us during an hour of frantic maneuvering. After hiking to the top of the hill, signed as Blizzard Pass (elev 6000 ft), and looking out on another 200 miles of empty scrub, we returned to the Jeep to dig our way out. Amazingly, just as despair began to seep into our gloves, a semi tractor pulled over (actually Mike leapt in front of it, nearly to his death) and pulled us out with a pair of "Hellraiser chains". The next day we did not pull over for the view at Deadman's pass (elev 8000 ft).


The blizzard detour threw us behind schedule and we finally had to pull over and sleep. Looming out of the night sky was this welcoming sign... "What do you mean you're out of rooms with two beds?".

County Courthouse - Lovelock, NV

This building, the court house in Fallon, NV, and the school in Paisley, OR all prove that small towns still had their pride 80 years ago. Actually it proved that we didn't have a "tax revolt" going on. Truly, America was far poorer during the era when these buildings went up. But today we couldn't even think about actual architectural detail on a public building - the wasteful spending!

The Dead And The Dying - Hawthorne, NV

The severe storms wrecked havoc with trees in the West this year. And some just cant take the abuse. This one gets the support of a neighbor.

Yosemite, CA from the Nevada side.

Obviously the 10k foot pass was closed. So this was as close as we got. Still it was very impressive - our own little Andes or Himalayas.

Descent Into Death Valley, CA.

Death Valley View.

Mike on the dunes.

Tell us about sandstone Prof. Totten.

Death Valley was really worth the detour. In January it was actually pleasant weather down there and the views were unearthly. The tourists were kept to a minimum and we had these dunes pretty much to ourselves until our parked vehicle attracted Japanese tourists (really, no kidding).

Las Vegas Come On - Gilley's at the Frontier.

Gilley's BBQ appears to offer the best of Vegas. The sign reads "Bikini Bull Riding", "Steak and Shrimp Only $4.99", and "Free Party" on Sunday. I'm so there next trip.

The Lion King(s) - Remembered.

Paris, Nevada Style

Las Vegas truly is Disneyland For Adults. You've heard that before and I am sure they meant the play aspect alone. But on an "architectural" basis that is true as well. All the buildings are in some sort of "scale" and most columns, arches, and lintils are hollow - just hit them with your fist (not the knuckles you idiot, that spray stucco hurts even after four whiskies). Apparently Vegas is run by men, the faux French waitresses are dressed, well, less than in Paris. Drinks are actually much harder to come by, not enough waitstaff per floor space, and they certainly are not free. But hey, Mike won 14 bucks at nickel slots in one hour!

Mike and I hob-knobing with the stars in Hollywood (thanks Roger).

Mike and I met up with Roger L. Simon in Hollywood. Roger was nice enough to "do lunch" with us at Wolfgang Puck's little bistro in the new Academy Award hosting mall... Where we did in fact see some stars. Amazingly, some "Hollywood people" remain human after their brush with fame. Roger is an excellent fellow who nicely ignored my spilling a glass of water on him (I plead roadtripitis) and stoically accepted the advances of a producer "in the biz" who came over to make a connection - all while having a real conversation with us. Meanwhile, that unnamed starlet behind Mike's shoulder managed to keep a warm smile for all 8 dinner guests as they each came by for some "face time". The real surprise was that downtown Hollywood has some really nice architecture and the scale of the place was cozy by LA standards. Add to this an historic home clinging to the Hollywood hills enjoying splendid views and I sure could get used to the life style.

Me, in San Francisco, CA

We made it from LA to Frisco in 6 hours and wonderful relatives put us up for the night with no notice. Good Times were had by all. Thanks!

Civic Oasis - Sausalito, CA

Mike had never visited this little gem. Sausalito is a swell hideaway with a killer view, urban access, and a nice little town strip of its own. If you want to write, and are already a millionaire, move here.

End Of The Line... Back in Oregon at an English-style pub in the college town of Ashland, OR.

Sean: Wednesday, February 04, 2004 [+] |

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