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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

IOWA; LET'S TRY DEMOCRACY INSTEAD

I hate it when the press treats me like an idiot. Only my wife is allowed to do that. And for the past two months I have heard nothing but insults to my intelligence pouring out of the mouths of media pundits hyping their own profitable political advertising rates. Less than 3 million people live in Iowa, barely 52 occupy the average square mile. Animals in zoos don’t have that much space to move around. If Iowans were truly savvy they would have long ago moved to Colorado. And they are not even choosing candidates for president. They are choosing delegates for their party conventions, who may or may not vote for the candidates in August they are pledged to at the caucuses in January. These little gatherings are to democracy what water is to a cake mix. You need it but it is certainly not indicative of whether the cake will be chocolate or lemon meringue.
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On the Republican side the pundits are predicting a “turnout” of 85,000, and the “winner” is expected to draw, maybe, 40% of that; or about 19,000 people. And, honestly, you can probably find 20,000 Iowa Republicans willing to vote for the Tooth Fairy, if the Fairy promised to eliminate the Federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare. And on the Democratic side, Barak Obama is urging college students to get involved in the election. I not even sure college students should be allowed to drive, let alone vote. Until you are forty you haven’t screwed up enough or been screwed over nearly enough to be qualified to pick between two politicians. It’s like being asked to choose between two muggers. Until you’ve been mugged a few times you have no bases for making a comparison. When I was a college student I voted for Michael Dukakis; case closed.
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Remember, also, that the geniuses in the Iowa Republican Caucasus picked the Anti-reverend Pat Robinson as their number one choice in 1988. If we had listened to these rubes back then every science class in America today would be exploring the technology of buttons and being taught by an Amish elder. And now, if you believe the polls, the Iowa loonies are leaning toward the Reverend Mike Huckabee. This guy is a joke that stopped being funny when you reached the age of consent. He is the political equivalent of the “chattering teeth”. He doesn’t believe in evolution, which is like not believing in electricity. You have a constitutional right not to believe in it, but grab a live wire and you will still be eliminated from the gene pool.
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And let’s just look at what the geniuses on the Democratic side have done to earn all of this respect every four years since they started this insanity in 1972; that year and again in 1976 the vote for “uncommitted” won the Iowa caucuses. But that period of sensible politics was followed by a win for Jimmy Carter in 1980 (he was then defeated), Walter Mondale in 1884 (he was then defeated), Richard Gephardt in 1988 (everybody defeated him) and Tom Harkin in 1992 (and who the hell even remembers who he was?) Bill Clinton won the Iowa caucus in 1996 but he was running unopposed as the popular incumbent President. In 2000 the Democratic winner was Al Gore, followed in 2004 by John Kerry. Why are we paying any attention to who the hayseeds in Iowa vote for? They actually picked the winner once in the last 28 years, and only because HE ran unopposed!
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The very word “caucus” seems to have been stolen from the Algonquin Indians by the Democratic political machine that was organized by Aaron Burr (there’s a powerful symbol of democracy!) and which ran New York City from 1854 until the 1940’s, out of the Tammany Hall on East 14th street. And to be honest, a caucus has as little to do with democracy today as Tammany Hall did back then.
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It’s too late to save this year, but maybe four years from now we could suggest all those farmers in Iowa might try democracy, instead. And then they will truly deserve our respect.
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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

QUALIFIED VETERANS

I didn’t think anybody could treat a veteran worse than the penny pinching bastards in the Bush Veterans Administration, but the Brits have come up with a whole new level for the shabby treatment of heroes. Lee Fry served in the Royal Welch Fusilliers with the UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia when he was 19 years old. He is now 34, but was discharged after only three years of service and received a diagnoses of PTSD -post traumatic stress disorder - after being subjected to daily shelling by Serb artillery. The condition destroyed his marriage and reduced him to poverty. He still suffers from the nightmares and panic attacks and survives on a $200 dollar a week allotment for food and clothing. He also lives in government subsidized housing, and that is the problem. When he was released from a residential care facility for veterans Lee asked for housing in a quiet rural location because of his PTSD. And the county council of Pembrokeshire Wales provided him with a lovely little country cottage about a 5 mile walk (Lee cannot afford a car) outside the village of Castlemartin. He likes the cottage and doesn’t mind the hike to the shops. But his cottage also stands just a couple of hundred yards down the road from the main gate of, “…the only UK Army facility normally available for armored units for direct fire live gunnery exercises…”. And a “Boom, Boom” to you too.
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Castlemartin artillery and bombing range covers 5,900 acres, but the gut wrenching blast from a Challenger II Main Battle Tank’s 120mm riffled gun can reverberate 25 miles away. And in any weather and at any time of day or night, an RAF Tornado fighter bomber can suddenly blast across the Welsh countryside at just 100 feet above the trees, driven by its twin turbofan engines at 600 miles per hour and unleash a barrage of cannon fire or air-to-ground missiles or un-sling a 500 pound “smart” bomb, before roaring away again. And Lee Fry lives just yards outside the main gate of this base. He says the effect has been disastrous for his condition. “The nightmares have returned because of the noise of jets overhead and the tanks constantly firing near my home. It’s just like a sick joke”, he says. The Pembroke County Council says that Lee is on a “Gold Priority List” for a new cottage. But you have to wonder if anyone bothered to ask him before they assigned him to this hell, “Can you think of any reason you shouldn’t live on an artillery range?”
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At least one U.S. state has discovered a new way to pamper those who serve in its’ National Guard. State Assembly bill 866 would give them priority service at the California Department of Motor Vehicles, including priority for counter assistance, in making appointments and “prioritization of every application or document filed”. Wow: sign me up, coach. This may not sound like much of an incentive join up for an extended tour in Iraq and it turns out it really isn’t, since there is little you can do at a DMV office that you can’t do at an Automobile Club of California office, where the lines are shorter, the staff nicer and the surroundings a lot more pleasant. Maybe this was behind the Cheney – Rumsfeld plan to “outsource” the US military.
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In fact the day might soon be coming when competition might force the government to even provide fashion counseling, perhaps from the fetching Stacy London of “What Not To Wear” to any soldiers in need of a post traumatic make-over; such as that clearly needed for 21 year old Tan Wen Zhong, who sashayed onto a crowded base elevator one recent morning dressed only in a pink bikini. Oh, dear; a pink bathing suit after Labor Day? Not to mention, Private Tan was in an Army barracks at the time. How haute gauche of him.
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Tan is a private in the Singapore National Forces and seems to have been having a little trouble adjusting to his mandatory military service. When they searched his apartment the MPs found 46 pieces of women’s underwear, as well as other assorted bikinis and four “obscene” films - which in Singapore could mean a movie in which somebody tosses a cigarette butt on the sidewalk. The boy has got problems, no doubt about that. Two years ago he shoplifted a pair of sunglasses. In Singapore this is what passes for a crime spree. But the stylish Private Zhong will no longer be spree-ing about. He has been convicted of outraging modesty and the “fraudulent possession of women’s underwear”. As punishment he has been sent to jail for a day and ordered to pay a $4,000 fine. Thak you, Stacy! Next!
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If you think my call for basic fashion training is too extreme, consider the new recruitment ad now running on Dutch television. A typical family is gathered around the breakfast table munching away when the son (about military age) suddenly grabs a banana and, holding it like a pistol and making “blam, blam” noises, blasts a cap across the table on his sister, and then lets Mommy Dearest have a couple of rounds. The image freeze frames for a moment as two check boxes fade in at the bottom of the screen, labeled “Qualified” and “Not Qualified”. The second box gets checked off. This image dissolves into a group of serious looking Dutch military types behind the question, “Who can handle the Army?” It’s an interesting question and perhaps we should ask it of Shrub and Dick Cheney: Qualified or Not Qualified, or “Over Qualified? After all, they were too “smart” to go to war. And, why go when you can get some dumb schmuck to go for you?
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I for one would love to see Shrub wearing a string bikini. Somehow I find the image of him as a “sexual deviant” comforting, especially when compared to the reality of a 60 year old adolescent playing with toy soldiers. According to the Veterans Administration there are almost 3 million American veterans under the age of 65 who have no health insurance, 300,000 more than when Shrub took office. They are, according to the VA, not poor enough to qualify for the Republican version of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”, but who also can’t afford the damn bootstraps. In some regions veterans who exist on as little as $24,000 a year are too wealthy to qualify for help.

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Maybe we could redirect some of those oil subsidy programs to pay for a veterans program that at least tries to actually help those who sacrifice their minds and bodies for our nation. What do you think?

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

BATTLE OF THE CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY

I guess it is a primeval struggle destined to continue until judgment day, whenever the hell that will be. The day after Christmas 2007 two rival gangs got into a dispute over turf and started to rumble. Somebody called the cops, who managed to separate the combatants, The Jets (AKA the Greek Orthodox Priests), and the Sharks (AKA the Armenian Apostolic Priests). They were battling inside the Church of the Nativity of the Prince of Peace in Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories, which was originally divided between them by an 1852 “firman” from Abdulmecit I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and Caliph of the Muslim World, because…well, because the Sultan was weak and because Louis Napoleon III was a pompous political hack, who believed that he was “entitled” to rule, chosen by God to fix, first France, and then rest of the world. In his rise to power Louis shamelessly played one political faction off another, abolished democracy, seized the throne, started the Crimean War, invaded Algeria and Vietnam (both of which came back to haunt France a century later) and was finally goaded into the 1870 Franco-Prussian War which resulted in the humiliating defeat of France, the creation of Germany, his own over throw and death. This guy was the George Bush of 19th century France.
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Louis Napoleon was elected to a ten year term as the first President of the Second Republic of France in December of 1848, and he immediately started plotting to follow in his uncle’s imperial boot prints. By early in 1852 Louis had helped restore the Vatican’s independence in Rome (which pleased Catholic voters), but he had also insisted that the new Papal government be drawn up along “liberal” lines, to placate liberal French voters. But the Catholic Church never likes to be lectured about liberal policies. In an attempt to placate now angry Catholic voters Louis suggested that since (five years earlier, in 1847) some scoundrel had stolen the Silver Star marking the site of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Church of the Nativity was no longer “safe” and control should be handed over to the Catholic Church for protection. Catholic voters thought this was a fine idea.
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And, oddly, so did Muslim Abdulmecit I, who controlled the Holy Land. The Sultan was looking for allies to back up his inevitable confrontation with Russia. But he didn’t want a start the fight prematurely by spitting in the Czar’s eye. So he invented a policy to make Louis happy and hopefully keep the Czar happy as well. His edict officially handing over the keys to the Church of the Nativity required the Vatican to maintain the church “in statu quo res errant”, or, “as it was before”, meaning the Catholics kept the keys but the Eastern Orthodox and the Armenian Apostolic churches kept the building. And besides, they already had their own keys. It was the invention of the phrase “status quo”. And it is why, of the 15 lamps that illuminate the replacement silver star now imbedded in the church floor, six belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, five to the Armenian Apostolic church and four to the Romans.
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The only fly in the Sultan’s brilliant compromise was that protecting all Christian holy sites in the Ottoman Empire had been the responsibility of the Eastern Orthodox Church, including “the birth place of Jesus Christ…” as confirmed in 1516 by “Mohammed the Conqueror”. And the supreme authority of that church in 1852 was the pompous and dull Czar Nicholas I. All of his life Nicholas had been told that Russia was a military superpower and protector of the true faith. And he was not about to allow a mere “politician”, least of all a trumped up “Bonaparte”, to usurp his regal authority. Nicholas demanded the keys to the Nativity be returned and when they were not he declared war on Turkey. Britain and France had treaties with Turkey, and so Louis’ gambit to impress French voters led directly to the Crimean War, and 118,000 dead; of whom 20, 000 were French, and 73,000 Russian. But how did the Armenian Apostolic Church get involved in all of this?
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Well, after the Crusaders were driven out of the Holy Land in 1187, the Muslim rulers did not trust the Roman Catholics who now made up a majority of Bethlehem’s population –since all Muslims had been forcefully expelled. The Ottomans tried to play the Christian sects against one another. And when the Romans complained that the Orthodox owned all the profitable tourist sites the Armenians were given their own keys to the Church, and control over part of the building.
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Now ultimately, “control” requires warm bodies on the ground, and traditionally both the Orthodox and Armenian churches have recruited their warm bodies from tiny isolated villages scattered across Greece and the Balkans, where Christians (and Muslims) have been slaughtering each other for a thousand years. These naive young men suddenly find themselves living in intimate contact and sharing the most precious artifacts of their faith with heretics. Nothing in their lives has prepared them for that. And it was these devout and unsophisticated young priest who fought the free-for- all in the church on December 26th.
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And the whole damn thing was Louis Napoleon’s fault. What a jackass.

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