Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A particularly clueless letter to the editor

The San Francisco Chronicle printed a letter to the editor in yesterday's edition that struck me for its utter and absolute cluelessness.

Go home, Cindy

Editor — I support Cindy Sheehan's right to protest the war in Iraq but I detest her giving hope and encouragement to the enemies of America. The Crawford media feeding frenzy and the platform for anti-war protesters goes way over the top. Thank goodness for all the brave American soldiers who volunteered and are fighting for our freedom. Casey [Sheehan] and all the others who gave their lives did not die in vain. Cindy, you have protested too long; now go home. Your home is not Washington, D.C.

— Bill Garrison, Napa (may have been edited by the Chronicle)
Where do I start?

I support your right to protest, as long as you don't protest too much. (In other words, you have freedom of speech, as long as you don't use it.) You are giving hope and encouragement to the enemies of America — such as? It is not Cindy Sheehan, but rather George W. Bush, who gives hope and encouragement to the enemies of America (such as al Qaeda and its pals) by giving them a recruiting poster and a training ground for terrorists to learn how to kill Americans (and our allies) in Iraq so they can be that much more efficient when they come here to do the same. It is not those who reveal that the United States is torturing prisoners who tarnish our nation's reputation, it is those who do the torturing, and even moreso those who condone or excuse or seek to conceal it.

As for all those volunteer soldiers in Iraq, how many of them actually volunteered to go to Iraq? Alternatively, how many of them were "stop-lossed" when they thought their stint was over — even months or years after being discharged? How many of them were promised the opportunity to make a little money and maybe help out in the event of a local disaster (oh, I don't know, maybe a hurricane) by being "weekend warriors"? The methods by which our military has obtained its "volunteers" in Iraq are shameful.

As for "your home is not Washington, D.C.," when I took civics, I was taught that our government was "of the people, by the people, and for the people," and that Washington, as the seat of our government, was the home of all the people, not just Republicans who support the illegal Iraq war.

It is not only Cindy Sheehan's right to protest this war, it is her duty to her nation and to the memory of her son. If Casey Sheehan's sacrifice inspires the American people to question what we are doing in Iraq and how the war is being mismanaged, then his death will not have been in vain.

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Wow, that's me!!

I did an audio interview with Brian Shields of KRON-4 online's "The Bay Area Is Talking" site. You can listen to it here.

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HBO's Rome and Dubya's America

I was watching HBO's excellent new miniseries Rome last night, and it really got me thinking.

In the period of Roman history covered in this week's episode, Rome is a republic, governed by the people. There is no king or emperor, although there is a system of hereditary nobility. A peasant can be elevated to noble by serving the Republic, but the son of a nobleman is noble by birth. Julius Caesar is a military commander, fighting a war in Gaul (France) while Pompey remained in Rome. The fear expressed by many Roman citizens is that Caesar's enormous popularity as both a military leader and as a "man of the people," delivering tax cuts and other populist measures, would lead him to declare himself king.

HBO does a pretty good job of conveying the qualities that made the Roman army so successful. They had far superior training and discipline, compared to their foes, and they were ruthlessly brutal. Roman soldiers did not waste time wounding opponents; they went directly for the deadly blow. No dissent of any kind was tolerated among the troops. Conquered soldiers were taken as slaves, if they were allowed to live at all. Random individuals would be tortured or crucified simply as a display of power against a village. A Gaul being hoisted on his cross begs not for his life, but "Please, let me die!" The Roman soldiers knew that if they deserted, they too would be crucified.

All in all, it sounds pretty much like George W. Bush's idea of paradise: the superficial trappings of democracy covering the reality of absolute rule by the unchecked exercise of military might and extreme torture. Of course, one of the key points to remember is that Dubya sees himself as Gaius Julius Caesar, not as some lowly soldier, and certainly not as a peasant farmer. Dare I even mention that it would never occur to Dubya to wonder what life was like for the slaves?

I've often said that those who compare Dubya to Adolf Hitler are dangerously wrong. Dubya has no ambition to exterminate the Jews. He doesn't believe in the supremacy of the Aryan race (only of wealthy Americans). He will exterminate the homosexuals and the gypsies only if it becomes politically expedient to do so. It is far more illuminating to compare Dubya to Julius Caesar. I'm not saying that Dubya is like Caesar, but rather that he thinks he is.

Remember this quote?: "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." (George W. Bush, 2000-12-18)

A little advice to Dubya: if you're reading a story about Julius Caesar to inspire your Presidency, don't forget the last chapter.

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Another Grieving Mother at Camp Casey

I met a woman at Camp Casey who was trying to get some kind of publicity around her plight with the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (equivalent to Child Protective Services in many other states). It seems the DYFS took custody of her infant son because she refused to ignore the serious medical problems with which he was born.

I hope to contact someone at DYFS or at the hospital next week to see if I can corroborate the mother's account.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

A.I.M. for Peace

I am back at Camp Casey II for one last blog entry before heading back to Dallas/Fort Worth. I arrived just in time for a ceremony in which Dennis Banks, Viola Hatch, and other leaders of the American Indian Movement presented Cindy Sheehan with two ceremonial shawls and an eagle feather to commemorate the fallen hero Casey Sheehan.

The folks up on the stage represented Anishinabe, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Mojave. Cindy Sheehan added that "Sheehan" is the Gaelic word for "peace," to which I will add a little bit of Lakota: "Hecel lena oyate kin nipi kte," long may our people live.

Right now, though, it's time for "long may my rent-car drive."

Signing off from Crawford, this is blogger Lincoln Madison.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Great pictures from Camp Casey

For some wonderful photos of the Camp Casey experience, check out Alaska Gyrl's blog, Tell 'er I said hi.

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Truly Petty Theft

I had my car parked at Camp Casey II today, and both of my magnetic stickers were stolen from my car. One said "God Bless Our Troops • God Forgive George Bush"; the other was a Code Pink sticker against the war.

I won't pretend that there aren't petty gestures by some misguided idiots on the anti-war side, but still, it saddens me to see the public discourse cheapened in such a pathetic way. It's yet another example of the bullying herd mentality that is so typical of Bush's partisans. It is exactly the kind of yahoo-ism (and I don't mean the search engine) that led me to flee my native state.

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Bush's Neighbors

I'm at Camp Casey II, situated on the corner of Prairie Chapel Road and Canaan Church Road, about 10 miles out of the town of Crawford, Texas. President Bush's Prairie Chapel Ranch is less than two miles to the east, complete with reinforced concrete bunkers in case of nuclear attack. But if you go about two miles south, you will find the town of Coryell City. Bush's ranch is much closer to Coryell City, so why does he say he's going to Crawford?

Well, you see, the folks in Coryell City aren't nearly as enamored of Dubya as the folks in Crawford — and don't forget that the local paper, the Crawford Iconoclast, endorsed John Kerry in 2004. It seems that even in the red heart of one of the reddest of red states, the message is starting to sink in that Bush is doing a tragically bad job as President.

There are a few other sights worth mentioning in the area, though. Just up the road a bit there's a Sikh temple, and I'm disappointed to say I missed their monthly fish fry on Friday night. There's also a road sign for "No. 10 Downing Street"; I knew that Bush and Blair were close, but I didn't think they were that close (about 20 km, I think).
No. 10 Downing streetsignOf course, Fort Hood is also right over yonder, giving Dubya handy access to a military base and plenty of armed guards to back up the Secret Service, the McLennan County Sheriff, and the Texas Department of Public Safety. I'm told that Fort Hood is the largest military base in the United States. Yet again, Dubya wants people to think of him as a military figure by juxtaposition.

However, shortly I shall cease to be in Dubya's neighborhood, at least until the last weekend of September. Yup, Camp Casey is relocating northeastwards, headin' up to the real White House. I sure hope there are some tent sites on Pennsylvania Avenue, 'cause they're expecting a couple dozen people to show up. (I'm sure Fox News will still give "balanced" coverage to the two draft dodgers and an inflatable date who show up to support the Chickenhawk President.) I don't know for sure that I'll be there, but I'm going to see what I can do....

Signing off from Camp Casey II, we return you to your regular blogging, at least until I take the show on the road to Burning Man.

Hasta luego, y'all!

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The Acting President

As I write this, Martin Sheen, the actor who plays President Bartlet on NBC's The West Wing, is leading a memorial rosary at Camp Casey II in honor of the fallen soldiers in Iraq. Casey Sheehan was a devout Catholic, so the gesture is fitting.

When he arrived, Mr. Sheen referred to himself as "the Acting President," and commented, "I think you all know what I do for a living, but this is what I do to stay alive." He then took time to visit the Iraq Veterans Against the War before kneeling to pray before the field of crosses that has been dubbed "Arlington West."

My name is Lincoln Madison, and I have to say that President Bartlet is by far my favorite President of the 21st century. (In the 20th century, he has to compete with Morgan Freeman, FDR, JFK, and Bill Clinton. In the 19th, I suppose I would have to go with my namesakes.)

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Unspeakable Irony

All weekend, "counter-protesters" have been driving by Camp Casey, expressing their disapproval of the message that Cindy Sheehan and the rest of us are trying to carry to President Bush. The slogans some of them have on signs or windshields or banners are astonishing for their irony, hubris, and utter disconnection from reality. The common ones include "Support Our Troops!" (as if we don't), "We Support the Bush Plan for a Strong, Safe America!" (I would, too, if he had one), and my favorite, "Freedom Isn't Free!"

I didn't personally witness this specific incident, but it is in keeping with what I have seen. One of the counter-protesters got into a shouting match with one of the veterans who's here to oppose the war. The counter-protester, a man who clearly has never known military service in his pampered little life, was screaming "Freedom Isn't Free!," to which the Vietnam veteran replied, "Man, you don't know. You weren't there!"

It never ceases to amaze me how many of the chickenhawks — just like their leaders, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and company — know so much better than the people who have actually "been there and done that" what war is all about and what principles are worth the sacrifice of human life and limb.

I know for absolute certain that I would not be willing to risk my life for one millisecond for the benefit of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. It seems that a lot of Americans agree with me, which might be why the military is falling short of its recruiting goals. It also goes a long way towards explaining why President Bush's approval rating (outside of McLennan County) is plummeting.

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I Favor Peace and Freedom in Iraq

I want the U.S. (and "coalition") military forces to withdraw from Iraq. Does that mean that I want to hand the country over to whatever warlord(s) can seize power? Does that mean that I want to condemn Iraq to a (dare I say) quagmire of civil war with yet more guns, bombs, and extremist hotheads?

No. (Gosh, what a surprise. We were so sure you were going to say yes.)

I favor peace and freedom in Iraq. I support the right of Iraqi women to have jobs, own property, and be the legal equals of Iraqi men. I support the creation of a new Iraqi state by the Iraqi people to serve the needs of the Iraqi people. In fact, you might call it a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," if I may borrow a phrase from my namesake. I support the creation of an Iraqi state in which "all people are endowed with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson.

The thing is, our "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," was created by the people, not by a foreign army. Yes, the French helped the colonial army, but they did so under the coordination of colonial leaders. Iraq might have its answer to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, James Madison, John Hancock, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, but instead it got George W. Bush, Ahmed Chalabi, Paul Bremer, and General Jerry Boykin, plus the occasional dose of Donald Rumsfeld or Paul Wolfowitz.

When the United States was formed (not "born"; that suggests that it was inevitable), there were issues dividing us about as deeply as the Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds are divided today. There was the little issue of slavery, just for one example. Six states had it, seven did not. There were also pesky issues of the degree of federalism appropriate to the new nation. Some states were deeply committed to "states' rights"; others wanted a more powerful central government. There were issues of small states and larger states.

It took 11 years from the Declaration of Independence to sort out compromises on those and a few other issues and write our Constitution. Some of the compromises were awkward. The compromise on slavery — slavery was protected by Article V until 1808 — merely postponed the inevitable conflict that led to the Civil War. The compromise on small and large states led to the House of Representatives, with votes based on population, and the Senate, with two votes per state, regardless of size. Then there was the electoral college, a unique institution in the world. Each state gets a number of votes equal to its Reps plus Senators. Thus, California gets 55 votes while Wyoming gets 3. Sounds nice for California, except that California has over 70 times the population. That means that if Wyoming has 3 votes, California would have 212 by population alone.

(Side note: am I the only person on earth who saw Karen Hughes on CNN in late December 2000, proudly stating that if — as many pre-election polls suggested — Bush had won the popular vote but Gore won the electoral vote (instead of vice-versa) that the Republican team was fully prepared to launch a court challenge to the Constitutionality of allowing the electoral college to override the popular vote. If anyone can document that, or if you can prove that it was a feverish delusion and she never said any such thing, please let me know.)

Anyway, now Dubya expects to march into Philadelphia Baghdad, depose King George III Saddam Hussein, and have the Iraqi people rise up and write a Constitution on the back of a napkin in twenty-two minutes.

Does Dubya have a recipe for peace, freedom, and stability in a democratic Iraq? If he does, he must be hiding it in Dick Cheney's "undisclosed location," 'cause what he's doin' ain't workin'!

Just a few more thoughts, live from Camp Casey II, Crawford, Texas....

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Here Comes the Bride

You just never know what to expect at a protest rally. This afternoon, Camp Casey II will host a wedding ceremony. Genevieve Christine Van Cleve and Peter Albert Ravella will be joined in "a celebration of life, love and hope" here under the big tent.

Here is their message:

Our Wedding in Crawford

Weddings are celebrations of life, love and hope and a statement of tradition and values. We spent the weekend of August 20–21 at Camp Casey, meeting the fantastic military families and Gold Star moms who have assembled in Crawford, Texas. ... We join those who affirm the value of peace even in time of war ... We ask that [our American soldiers] be called to a higher mission, one that will reduce the propensity for terror and violence in the world, instead of a war that has and will increase it. We support freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people but doubt the wisdom of an American military invasion as a means to accomplish that goal. We honor the courage of the Gold Star Families and Military Families Speak Out who seek the end of our misguided venture in Iraq. — excerpt from the wedding program, August 28, 2005
See also Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, Be the Change USA, Operation Truth, and Meet with Cindy.

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I Have a Dream

42 years ago today, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was in our nation's capital for an enormous civil rights march. He delivered one of the most famous speeches, a beacon of inspiration that shines forth as brightly today as it did in 1963.

This speech should not be invoked lightly. "I have a dream ... of free toppings with every ice cream sundae" is nothing short of sacrilege. "I have a dream ... of gasoline under $2 a gallon," even moreso.

I have a dream ... of a nation in which the bank of justice is not bankrupt, that the state of Texas will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice, that one day soon all of God's children, American and Iraqi, Christian and Moslem, Jews and Palestinians, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" — adapted from MLK's speech on 1963-08-28; see or hear the original speech
Here's an actual quote from MLK:
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children. — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963
We again face "the fierce urgency of Now," and must make real the promises of a good and moral nation, in order to walk the sunlit path of worldwide justice and peace.

By the way, "Now" would also be a good time for the United States to rise from the quicksands of racial injustice within our own borders, too. "The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges."

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LIVE from Crawford

I'm sitting in the big (nay, HUGE) tent at Camp Casey II on the outskirts of Crawford, Texas. Cindy Sheehan is somewhere around, although I haven't yet met her. Reverend Al Sharpton made a personal appearance to give his support on this 42nd anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C.

Our morning began with an ecumenical service, with speakers representing Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Moslem, Buddhist, and Unitarian beliefs, plus an outreach to people of no particular religious faith who also stand for peace, followed by Kaddish (traditional Jewish prayer of mourning for the dead) and Rev. Sharpton.

I got to speak with Nebeil Al-Uboudi, an Iraqi-American who was one of the two Muslim speakers. He was wearing a Houston Astros t-shirt, for his new hometown team, but he spoke of the values of peace and compassion that are at the root of his Islamic faith. Moslems believe that God commands them to respect people of other faiths. In the 15th century, a pretty dark period in European history, Jews found refuge in Moslem lands. Even today, non-Muslims can opt out of mandatory military service in many Islamic countries, although many choose to serve anyway. In Najaf, when the people went in to clean the bodies of the dead insurgents to prepare them for burial, they found many men who were not circumcised — they were Christians who fought alongside their fellow Iraqis against a foreign occupation.

A rabbi opened with a few observations about the commendation "Blessed are the peacemakers." The Protestant speaker, an ordained Presbyterian minister, echoed those words, adding that the Presbyterian Church has ruled the Iraq war to be illegal, as has the United Methodist Church, of which George W. Bush is a member. [In fact, Bush is still a member of Highland Park U.M.C. in Dallas, the very church in which I was confirmed three decades ago.] Next the Catholic priest spoke about the Church's commitment to peace and justice.

Yesterday, I spoke with Jeff Key, a United States Marine, in every respect the sort of Marine you'd expect to see on a recruiting commercial. I didn't have to ask how much he can bench press to tell you he's in excellent physical condition, but he's also a thoughtful, intelligent, patriotic American. When America does need defending, he's one of the people I want in the thick of things. Trouble is, he's gay, and he said so on CNN. He currently has "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" proceedings pending to kick him out with a dishonorable discharge. He is also getting vocal about his view that the Iraq war is the wrong war, being mismanaged by people who don't know what they're doing. Of course, what does Jeff Key know about the war in Iraq? After all, he just served there. He didn't fly in to carve turkey for Thanksgiving or stand on a stage in front of a black helicopter, he just wore a uniform and fought.

I also met up with some folks from Victoria, Texas, a town one county over from my mother's ancestral stomping grounds. It's about as "red" as "Bush Country" gets, with the few (shh!) Democrats mostly too intimidated to let their presence be known. There were two of them with a sign, though, so if you're a Democrat in Victoria County or the central coast area of Texas, I can tell you personally that you are not alone!

Last night, as things were beginning to wind down, a thunderstorm (a "blue Norther'" as we call them in these here parts) was lurking in the vicinity. After several hours of treating us to some spectacular lightning shows off in the distance, but otherwise leaving us to our barbecue and iced tea. Suddenly, the temperature dropped from almost 40° (104°F) to about 25° (77°F) and the wind kicked into high gear. Not Katrina gear, thank goodness, but high enough to knock over some of the smaller tents along the periphery of the big tent. People who had been sitting in post-brisket torpor leapt up to help batten the hatches. A lull in the wind came just at sundown, allowing for a moving "Taps" ceremony amidst the field of crosses representing the fallen soldiers of this war.

I claim on this blog that I am neither Left nor Right, but I'm decidedly opposed to the Right-wing extremists currently in power in the United States. Still, I don't stand in opposition to everything they (claim to) stand for. On the way into Crawford, I saw signs announcing "Support Our Troops!" and "Pro-AMERICA Rally," but I didn't see one single person in Camp Casey who doesn't support the troops, or who doesn't love America. Indeed, it is precisely our support for the troops and our love of country that motivates us to come out into the sweltering heat of August in Texas. I believe that there are situations where war cannot be avoided. I think that World War II was a "just and noble cause" — for the Allies, at least. However, I believe that LBJ lied to get us deeper into the Vietnam War, and I believe that George W. Bush lied to get us into what promises to be a decade-long misadventure in Iraq. Our presence there is neither just nor noble, and the sacrifice of human lives in the pursuit of a personal vendetta is NOT worthwhile.

Right now, though, I'm listening to The Brad Show, webcasting live from a table three metres away. He's currently interviewing former Congressman Tom Andrews (D–ME), now National Director of Win Without War. Go ahead and open another browser window, but check back here for updates later in the afternoon.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Punk Kid Never Cleans Up His Own Mess

Lately I've been thinking about the character traits of George W. Bush that have led to his utter incapacity to cope with the reality of the situation in Iraq. It is certainly important that he is a bully and a punk and a spoiled brat and an alcoholic and a drug addict, but there's more to it than that.

George W. Bush's life is a series of dismal failures in which he never once had to suffer the consequences. He was a failure as a student, but he went on to Yale and Harvard. He was a failure as an athlete, so he became a cheerleader — the very model of masculine prowess for a boy from west Texas. He was a failure as a fighter pilot, but never even suffered the consequences of going AWOL. He was a failure as a political candidate in Midland, and even moreso as a businessman, but his daddy's friends bailed him out. He was a lousy governor by any measure, but he was wildly popular and easily won re-election, even though he ran the state into the ground. He even tried to take credit for Texas' Patients' Bill of Rights, even though he refused to sign it. He lost the 2000 election, both in the popular vote and in the electoral college, but won the Presidency thanks to partisan maneuvers by his lackeys, Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris, and five Supreme Court justices. In 2004, he managed to intimidate the so-called "legitimate press" into waiting until after the election to give any significant coverage of serious scandals that go to the heart of his administration. He has never been successful by his own efforts, nor has he ever paid the price of his own magnificent failures.

The strategy that has served Bush well throughout his life is simple:

  • Life is a poker game.
  • Always bet big. Go for the gusto, baby!
  • Never show fear.
  • Never concede even the tiniest setback. If you lose a hand, find some way to pretend that you actually won.
  • If that doesn't work, have someone bail you out with several times the chips you just lost.
Problem is, Bush has bet the entire United States on his all-or-nothing games with the economy and of course the Iraq war. If the Iraq war had only added hundreds of billions of dollars to an already crushing public debt, it would still be a damned shame, but it has also cost the lives of thousands of Americans as well as losing America's claim to any sort of moral authority in the world.

He's bet big, and he refuses to admit that even so much as a minor course correction might be called for. We are making America and the world safer by building a free and stable Iraq. Clearly he believes that if he closes his eyes and says the magic words over and over again, he will open his eyes to see that his wish has come true. If that doesn't work out, Daddy, or some of Daddy's friends, or that nice Tony Blair, or Laura, or somebody will come along and set everything right — at least set everything right for Dubya.

We know for a fact, by his own admission, that George W. Bush is an alcoholic and that he has used illegal drugs. We have persistent rumors that he has used other illegal drugs. We also know from his own admission that he has never done any sort of formal detox program, nor 12-step program, nor any other organized addiction recovery program of any kind. He just woke up one day and let Jesus take away the addictions. Well, what if the addictions are still there? Dubya certainly acts like a gambling addict in the way he plays the game of politics. He also looks and acts a lot like someone whose addiction to alcohol and other drugs is anything but dormant. How much alcohol has George W. Bush consumed since January 20, 2001? How much cocaine? How much of what other illegal drugs? How much of various psychoactive prescription drugs? I believe that the American people have a right to know. That's not to say that the President has no right to privacy, but rather that the people have a right to know if chemicals of any sort are impairing (or enhancing) his ability to perform his duties.

It is an axiom of 12-step programs that an addict has to "hit bottom" before he can begin the road to recovery. Various people have continuously insulated Dubya from hitting that bottom, with the result that he has never even begun his addiction recovery. Now he has succeeded in creating such a colossal mess that there's no one who can wave the magic wand to make it all bright and shiny again. Not even Turd Blossom can help now, especially since T.B. has some problems of his own to worry about.

I wouldn't be at all happy about cleaning up Dubya's puke after a night of binge drinking. I'm even less happy at the thought of how many years it will take to undo the damage that his Presidency has done to our nation.

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Signs of Hope in the Waco Trib

Today's edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald has a Religion page, with a guest column by Al Siddiq, a leader of Waco's Muslim-American community, entitled "Dialogue can overcome negative images of Islam." It's a breath of fresh air in the midst of the hunkered-down mentality I so often see in this part of Texas.

Siddiq points out that Eric Rudolph was not branded a "Christian terrorist," nor are the IRA terrorists branded as Catholic.

Bin Laden is politically motivated; he is not a religious scholar. Yet Bin Laden and other terrorists are presented as though they speak for all Muslims. A turban and a beard do not qualify a person to speak on our behalf.
Siddiq goes on to tell about many patriotic Muslim-Americans, including himself, who have served or are serving in the U.S. military, and to dispel the untruths to which many people cling concerning the Quran [Koran, etc.].
There are many who criticize the Quran and call it a book of violence. There are many passages in the Bible and the Torah that, if taken out of context, would sound just as bad. Yet the Quran teaches us never to ridicule the religious beliefs of others. "And insult not those whom they worship beside God, lest they insult God wrongfully without knowledge. ..." (Surah 6:108) "Those who believe in (Quran) and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians, and who believe in God, and the last day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward." (Surah 2:62) ... It is the duty of Muslim-Americans to undertake the mission of building bridges of understanding between themselves and the rest of their fellow citizens in this free society. This can happen only when mainstream Muslim groups [such as the Islamic Center of Waco] actively engage the media and the policymakers of this land. — Al Siddiq, 2005-08-27, Waco Tribune-Herald page 6B
I think I'll stop by the Islamic Center of Waco while I'm in town and see if I can talk to Mr. Siddiq.

[Geeky Star Trek non-sequitur: On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dr. Bashir was played by Siddig El Fadil, who changed his name mid-series to Alexander Siddig.]

By the way, next week's guest column on the Religion page is by the Rev. Charley Garrison, pastor of Central Texas Metropolitan Community Church From The Heart. Yet another sign of hope in Waco.

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The Unintended Consequence of Laws

I'm in Texas, and lo and behold, the local paper (Waco Tribune-Herald) has yet another story about the unintended consequences of a law passed by the Texas Legislature. This time around, the "Lege" (as Molly Ivins calls it) has added a new category to the death penalty. The intent of the law was to require parental consent (not just notification) before a minor gets an abortion, and to restrict late-term abortions. However, in combination with a 2003 change in the definition of an individual in homicide statutes (previously "a human being who has been born and is alive"; now "a human being who is alive, including an unborn child at every stage of gestation, from fertilization until birth"), makes a doctor who performs any illegal abortion eligible for the death penalty. Zowie.

This follows on the heels of the Lege's efforts earlier in 2005 to outlaw heterosexual marriage. The idea, of course, was to protect heterosexual marriage from the horrific threat of lesbians having a legal marriage from which to adopt cats children. However, the bill sought to outlaw any marriage-like arrangement. Not any same-sex arrangement, but any arrangement.

Yes, this is also the same state that makes possession of one dildo a misdemeanor and possession of six or more a felony. Efforts to repeal the silly statute have been rebuffed.

For those of you in my adopted state of California (where I've now spent almost half my life), keep this in mind the next time you think about "sending a message" by voting for some initiative, or worse yet, amendment to the state constitution. Are you sure, just from reading a half-page ballot summary, that the initiative will really send the "message" you wanted?

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Please, give me a SIGN!

I drove down to Crawford today. Just north of Waco, I was feeling a bit hungry. Waco used to have a fabulous local landmark called Leslie's Chicken Shack. It's been gone for several years now, but I figured I would honor its memory with some fried chicken. I was weighing the merits of KFC versus Popeye's versus Church's when a billboard arose from the side of the interstate and spake unto me. No, it wasn't "Eat Here and Get Gas"; that's been done.

Bush's™ Chicken![Bush's™ Chicken! is a trademark of somebody or other (i.e., "its respective owner") who is probably not related to President Bush, and whose position on Bush's Presidency, policies, and (lack of) military service I do not pretend to know.]

What better omen for my trip to Crawford! I made sure to save my styrofoam cup; I think it will be quite popular at Camp Casey tomorrow.

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85 years of suffrage

August 26, 1920, women in America gained the right to vote. Eighty-five years later, I say three cheers for that significant achievement, but now get yourselves back barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen where you belong, poppin' out more babies to die serve in President Bush's next little war. That's the message I'll be carrying to Camp Casey, you betcha.

The history of women's suffrage [right to vote] is actually rather more complex than just Susan B. Anthony marching in the streets, demanding a coin that looks just like a quarter. Women actually had the right to vote in several states at the time of the founding of our Republic, but gradually lost that right in the 19th century. It wasn't until 1868 that voting citizens were defined as male. Back in 1911, Mrs. Arthur Dodge, the intellectual forerunner of Phyllis Schlafly, formed the National Association Opposed to Women's Suffrage, or N.A.O.W.S. (pronounced "NOW") to promote the inalienable right of a woman to get married and not own property in her own name, or something like that. I gather it's very popular in certain parts of Iraq today.

One last jab at Susan B.: how do you tell the difference between a quarter and a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin? Easy — if it has a picture of a woman, that's George Washington on the quarter; if it has a picture of a drag queen with a bad wig, that's Susan B. Anthony.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Greetings from Texas

Despite my very best attempts (with much help from BART) to miss my flight, and despite American Airlines' very best attempts to have the plane sit in the middle of a taxiway waiting until hell freezes over reason prevails in American politics a gate with a correctly functioning jetway became available, I and my little rental car are now in Texas, heading tomorrow for Crawford.

Tonight I am in Fichita Waffles Wichita Falls, visiting a lifelong friend who is also a friend of this blog. Tomorrow, armed with my "Pave the Planet" t-shirt and my "Pro-America, Anti-Bush" button and my "God Bless the Rest of the World Too" bumper sticker, I shall venture forth, forgoing the Dr. Pepper museum, to the west side of Waco. I shall find Camp Casey, or I shall drive around lost for a very long time trying to find Camp Casey. It's supposed to be a relatively cool day tomorrow, only about 101°F (38°C). This time of year in Texas, we call that chilly.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Murder in the name of Christ


* unless thy victim shall have sympathies with Fidel Castro, and/or the 5th-largest petroleum reserves on the planet, and/or a disagreement with the man whom God Himself installed as your leader here on Earth.

It seems that alleged televangelist Pat Robertson has taken it upon himself to amend the Ten Commandments. And you thought they'd stop with trying to amend the Constitution! Ha!!

You see, Pat Robertson has decided, in his infinite godly wisdom, that the right and moral and Christian thing for the United States to do, in order to promote our moral leadership around the world, is to assassinate the democratically elected President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. I'm not talking "democratically elected" in the fashion of Saddam, Stalin, Mao, or Bush; I'm talking about someone who actually legitimately won a fair election. Maybe you don't like the policies he pursues. That's your right, and as an American you are free to voice that opinion. However, unless you're a Venezuelan citizen, that's the extent of your rights in the matter, and even if you're Venezuelan, you still don't have the right to assassinate him.

This isn't some little sexual pecadillo, like getting busy with prostitutes in a cheap motel while preaching sexual fidelity in monogamous marriage. We're talking big-time hypocrisy here. If Jimmy Bakker was defrocked for his Sins, then, boy howdy, Pat Robertson has no business ever calling himself "Reverend" again.

Of course, before I got this message posted to my blog, there's that rapscallion Jon Stewart telling you all about it on television, so let me give you a bit more background.

In 2002, there was a coup d'etat (or, in French, "coup d'état") in Venezuela. The United States government, or at least some minor functionary named George Walker Bush, immediately congratulated the right-wing junta that seized power from the legitimate government. There's also the ever-so-slightly inconvenient fact that the Bush administration encouraged and supported the coup even before the fact, not to mention that Chávez was returned to power only two days later. President Chávez has the audacity to accuse the U.S. government of trying to get rid of him by force, just because it's true! Shameful! Dare I say it — sinful!!

And so along comes a man of the Cloth, a man with a direct uplink to the mind of God, Pat Robertson. (It has been my pleasure to ridicule Pat Robertson in private for over thirty years, ever since I first saw The 700 Club on the CBN's station in Dallas, KXTX [no longer a CBN affiliate]. They were so committed to their Christian principles that they wouldn't show six episodes of the original Star Trek series due to "Satanic content." [Wolf in the Fold, Catspaw, And the Children Shall Lead, Where No Man Has Gone Before, and two others lost in the fog of a time portal just the other side of Alpha Centauri.] But now it will be my great pleasure to watch earnest right-wing so-called Christians trip over themselves, trying to pretend that Pat Robertson is either sane or Christian, much less both.)

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he [Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don't think any oil shipments will stop. ... We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives [like Valerie Plame?] do the job and then get it over with. — "Reverend" Pat Robertson, "Christian" Broadcasting Network, Monday, August 22, 2005
As you've no doubt noticed by now, I'm a bit of a math geek, so, Let's do the math! One human life (foreigner, probably Catholic but clearly not a "true [Republican] Christian") is worth about $200 billion? Or is that only because he's a foreign leader? Where do I plug the value of the oil supplies into the equation? Should I use simple algebra or something fancier? I mean, if Robertson has a direct line to God, then we should at least use something a little more sophisticated than x + y = z. Mr. Psi, fire up the bra's and the ket's and get ready to go quantum!

Well, either that or Pat Robertson is a bat-shit insane servant of Satan for even suggesting such a thing.

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I've never been to Crawford, Texas

In all my travels, despite spending a large chunk of my life within frog-spittin' distance, I ain't never been to Crawford, Texas. I was born (at a very early age) across the street from the Alamo, where the Yankee carpetbaggers held out to the last man against the good Texans. (Strangely, that's not quite the spin the event got in my Texas history class in junior high.) I spent my early childhood in Houston, learning that on a humid summer day the sweat trickling down your torso was just like superglue, sticking your arms to your sides so firmly that you had to rip off a layer of skin to pry them off. We then moved to Dallas, where my vocabulary expanded rapidly (most especially my four-letter vocabulary — maybe that's where Dick Cheney and Dubya picked up some of their "colorful expressions" that they try not to let the press hear). Much of my family still lives in Texas, although even their loyalty to the good "pro-business" Republican hegemony is showing serious signs of strain. When the Republicans start putting snooping into people's bedrooms ahead of a healthy economy, they lose support.

We'll see what I can come up with this afternoon, but I'm looking seriously at being a good little jet-setter and flying off to D/FW and driving down to Wacko on my way to Crawfishord.

After all, what better way to show my resistance to a war for cheap oil than by expending who knows how many pounds of jet fuel (at just under 454 grams per pound!) and then renting a car to drive around the countryside of my native state! Viva el acondicionador de aire! (If ya cain't figger that one out, li'l Dubya, well, just ask Laura to read it to you.)

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Fun with Drugs on the Daily Show

Some people wax rhapsodic about a particularly good meal they had eight months ago. They're called "French." Other people have the next best thing to spontaneous orgasm when remembering an exquisite vintage wine. Many of them are also called "French," but others live in places like Napa Valley, Australia, and even New Mexico.

Me, I feel at one with the universe when I watch an especially sharp Daily Show, or the Real Time with Bill Maher on my birthday, marking the end of a three-month drought with a flourish. (Asa Hutchinson did a fair job of making a fool of himself, but he was nothing compared to conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly or "twitty" rising conservative star Kellyanne Conway. Chris Rock was truly in top form, and considering that 95% of most comedians would be a slump for him, I mean that as high praise.) And now those devils at Comedy Central are adding to my must-TiVo list. This new D. L. Hughley show definitely looks promising, and of course Showtime has added Weeds to its already impressive line-up.

There was this shocking little exchange in tonight's Daily Show:
dialogue between two Republican Senators (heavily paraphrased)

Chuck Hagel (Nebraska): We're not winning in Iraq. We can't even secure the road from downtown Baghdad to the airport. We're bogged down like we were in Vietnam.

George Allen (Virginia): There's a big difference with Vietnam. In Vietnam, the opposition had a philosophy, an organization, and a government (so to speak). In Iraq, the enemy is just there to wreak havoc. [As Jon Stewart points out, there's someone there there was someone in Vietnam to attack or negotiate with.] The fragmented army in Iraq (Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, with various sub-factions and de facto warlords) is really very much like the situation in the United States, with the main U.S. Army and also Andy Taylor and Barney Fife and maybe occasionally Gomer Pyle. The level of cooperation among rival factions in the Iraqi so-called military is comparable to the cooperation between the NYPD and the FBI.
Here's a little quote from tonight's Daily Show that zoomed by so fast even the closed captions folks couldn't keep up. Thanks to the miracle of ten-second instant replay, then...
"Jagged Liable Pill" (story about the Vioxx verdict in Texas)

ROB CORDDRY: That's right, Jon, I deal in the subject of drugs, pushing education on people. Also, I'm totally holding.

JON STEWART: Rob, this is stunning: $253 million verdict. In your mind, what impact is this gonna have on American business?

RC: Jon, it's a milestone in corporate history. This victory for the plaintiffs ensures companies will never again act with such disregard for their customers. Warning: actual verdict may be overturned or substantially reduced on appeal. Texas Law [indistinct] $26.1 million. Corporations hold strong incentives to manipulate the consumer, give them diarrhea.


RC: If a pharmaceutical company advertises a prescription drug but doesn't say what it does, the FDA doesn't make them list the side effects. That's why the TV spots for the drugs I just mentioned [Fosamax® (has something to do with osteoporosis) and Crixivan® (a protease inhibitor to fight HIV — but be sure to read the part about "Crix belly")] don't give the foggiest indication of what those pills do, other than help old people ride tandem bicycles. But Jon, I've been taking Crixivan®, Escobar(?), and Facoges(?) for years.
[This web site does not give anything remotely resembling professional medical advice. If you take most any prescription medication without consulting a doctor, you are a damned fool. For example, if you take Crixivan®, you can take Lipitor® or Crestor®, but not Mevacor® or Zocor®, assuming you don't have some other risk factor or combination of meds, like mixing Lipitor® with certain diabetes drugs, for instance. More free amateur medical advice: if you don't finish your antibiotics when you get them prescribed to you, and you save them until you have a cold or flu, you're not only a damned fool, you're a doubly damned fool. The odds are that you have done harm to your body's ability to get better, not once but twice.]

The show goes on, though. The guest is Fox News anchor Chris Wallace (apparently he's not the love child of Mike Wallace and Chris Rock!). After yammering about how Steve Carrell is a "bigger" Star than Jon Stewart, he acknowledges that the Iraqi constitution is hopeless at this point. (Indeed, on Real Time, Kellyanne Conway Twitty compares the American Founding Fathers to the leaders today in Iraq — never mind that it took 11 years from the Declaration of Independence, which we orchestrated ourselves with our own leadership, to the Constitution, that we fought over and made difficult compromises on little issues like slavery. Catch Real Time on HBO for the remainder of this week.)

Then he talks about Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who has been camping near President Bush's ranch in Texas. Basically, the press corps was bored and Cindy Sheehan was there, so they interviewed her, but she struck a resonance because she "tapped into a concern that people have about how things are going." Or, as Jon Stewart puts it, "Shouldn't we be having a conversation about the competence of the Bush administration, because at every stage, they seem to have been wrong? How can we trust them to be the ones to pull this off?"

Jon Stewart hit the nail on the head when he said that Bush is just holding on and closing his eyes in hopes that his successor will clean up the mess.

Chris Wallace asks, "Don't you think it would send a terrible signal to the world if we just up and left?"


The center of the problem is an issue that came up clearly during the election campaign. George W. Bush is congenitally incapable of admitting to any error, no matter how trivial. What America needs right now is a President who can stand up and say, "Yes, I miscalculated about Iraq. I was wrong when I said that they had WMD's. I drastically underestimated the cost to both the American people and the Iraqi people of my adventure of forcing régime change on Iraq, ready or not. Furthermore, the continued American presence only inflames the situation, so we're getting out. We hope to hell that the Iraqis can sort this out, perhaps with some help from neutral outside parties. Go negotiate in Geneva, but Iraq will fare no better as a puppet to Iranian ayatollahs or the Taliban or al Qaeda sympathizers than as a minion of the almighty American Christian Empire, so you'd better be sure that the solution serves the people of Iraq."

P.S. I haven't yet gotten to the fresh Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria, but it's sitting on my TiVo®. I will savor the anticipation. Stay tuned.

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Saturday, August 20, 2005

The DEA can count, sort of

I was reading the news online tonight, and I was particularly struck by this quote:

The agency [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration] calculates that 454 grams of methamphetamine produces one pound of product and a single gram is enough for one hit. The DEA said those figures are on the high end of methamphetamine use. — AP wire service; stringer's name omitted to protect the anonymity of my source
Well, isn't that remarkable. Last time I checked, 454 grams of something produces a pound of that something with about 407½ milligrams left over. (Hey, that last .00008 gram — that's on the house.) In other words, the progress of the federal government's so-called War on Drugs is so fantastic that they have finally figured out that a pound of something is a little less than half a kilo! Wow!!

Permit me to give some additional pointers to the gummint officials in this last bastion of non-metricness on the planet. A litre, also spelled liter just to be persnickety, is about half the size of a two-liter Pepsi bottle. In fact, it's almost exactly the same size as one of those one-liter Mountain Dews that are so good for staying awake on the Interstate if you can't stand the smell of coffee. Of course, if you get one of those 20-ounce bottles, you're on your own, 'cause that's even more than an Imperial pint, whether of Guinness or of other liquid. Your good old 12-ounce can, now that's a little more than a third of a litre, but it'll also spill on your lap while you're driving and make you smack into the back end of an SUV, besides making it look like you peed your pants. Theoretically speaking, that is.

You do need to be a bit careful about pints and especially gallons, though, because there are two different brands, Imperial and American. Think of it like Coke and Pepsi, only they're different sizes instead of different colors. The Imperial fluid ounce is actually smaller than the U.S. fluid ounce, but yet there are more of them to a pint or a gallon. Are you confused yet? Let me put it this way: when that nice tour guide the other day was saying that something was so-and-so many litres, "or divide by 4½ to get gallons," he made a boo-boo, because a U.S. gallon is only about 3.78541176 litres, give or take a few molecules, and referring to an Imperial gallon in the 21st century — well, that's just downright quaint.

Since we're actually talking about three systems of measurement here — American, Imperial, and the entire rest of humanity — I should perhaps do a little side-by-side comparison of some useful conversion formulæ for estimating weight. Take water, for example. If your waterbed holds 617.32758 litres of water, and if we pretend that you're sleeping at Standard Temperature and Pressure, then that water will weigh exactly 617.32758 kilograms, not counting the algaecide. Better yet, you can figure out the exact number of liters in the bed by measuring its length, width, and height in decimeters (units of 10 cm) and multiplying them together to get volume in liters.

On the other hand, if you have a container that holds 10.000 Imperial gallons, since 1824, that would be exactly 100.00 pounds avoirdupois. But if you have one U.S. gallon of water for your trip to Burning Man, that would be exactly 231 cubic inches, or exactly 6 x 7 x 5½ inches, or about 6.135792439662 inches on a side, and it will weigh 8 pounds, 5.792 ounces, because Queen Anne thought wine tasted nicer than ale back in the way olden days, and everyone knows how loyal 21st-century Americans are to early 18th-century English monarchs. And they say Americans have no sense of tradition!

By the way, a hectare is exactly 100 metres on a side, or 1/100 of a square kilometre. An acre, on the other hand, is exactly 1/640 of a square mile, or 208 feet, 8.523906853 inches on a side (0r 165 feet by 264 feet). Perhaps more useful is to know that 1 hectare is about 2½ acres, or 1 acre is about 0.4 hectares. 40 acres and a mule is a smidge over 16 hectares plus an animal.

What is my point exactly? Having just spent six weeks travelling in the Rest of the World, I really have to stop and wonder why America wastes so incredibly much time and energy focused on these antique units of measure, If we just go metric, like every single other scrap of land on the planet, then we won't need all these silly conversion factors any more. A meter will simply be a metre with a variant spelling, and 454 grams will return to its rightful role as a little less than half a kilo. (For the benefit of those travelling to Amsterdam, an eighth of an ounce is just over 3½ grams.)

Many of you are thinking to yourselves, but wait, there's, like, a war going on, and you're yammering about the metric system, and yet you have the audacity to say that President Bush is out of touch with everyday reality. Well, yes. Our unthinking devotion to an insane system of measurement whose only virtue is that we already use it, is an eerily apt metaphor for the way that President Bush views the entire world — not to mention the unthinking devotion of many of our citizens to an insane alleged Commander-in-Chief whose only virtue is that it'd be fun to watch him get drunk.

Either that or chalk it up to jet lag.

By the way, the AP report did go on to mention that the Bush Administration has coughed up an additional $16 million to treat methamphetamine addiction. Why, that's more than two hours of War in Iraq we could have paid for if it weren't for those stinky meth addicts. Yup, the War on Drugs sure is important to this administration.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Happy Birthday!

Today is the birthday of William Jefferson ("Bill") Clinton and Mary Elizabeth ("Tipper") Gore, but more importantly, it's my birthday! If you believe in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, then as of today I am the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

However, I am also back from my travels in Europe. I have seen €uro coins from every eurozone country except, oddly enough, Austria. I have amassed a pile of newspapers from across the Continent. I have talked politics with Europeans, American ex-pats, Americans on holiday, and even European ex-pats on holiday back in Europe. I got sunburned while tromping about the ancient (pre-World War II!!) shrines of Delos. My arrival in İstanbul was greeted with great fanfare by about two dozen musicians playing instruments I can't even name. (Some might think they were there to greet the entire ship full of tourists, but I prefer to take that one personally.) I even picked up the new Harry Potter book on its first day of release.

I have turned comments back on for this blog, since I am here to monitor for any spam or other abuses. However, since it's my birthday (and I've got wicked jet lag), I'll save the rest of my travelogue for later.

Welcome back to the Third Path, obsessively blogging for six of the last twelve weeks!

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Back on the air Real Soon Now

Hiya, everybody. It's been a while since I posted in my blog, but that's because I've been on vacation conducting field research.

Right now, I'm in Mykonos, having just visited the ancient holy site of Delos. I have loads of stuff to talk about, and loads of catching up to do, but I'll be back in less than two weeks....

Until then, please continue to enjoy the EXCITING links on the sidebar.

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