A writer's online journal of
opinion, observation and musings.
Archive: January - December 2004
Click on the date that corresponds to the topic,
Remember tales of the French Revolution, when anyone who was not deemed a proper Citizen could face Madame Guillotine at the drop of a hat -- so to speak? Or more recently the stories of the Soviet Union of disloyal comrades sent off to a gulag in the middle of the night to waste away with no recourse to a free and open judiciary? Or how about Saddam's Iraq where the secret police would spy on the citizenry and the ballots manipulated to show total support for the ruling party?
Well, what if I told you about a country under the regime of a single political party that enacted new laws on the very same day that Saddam was pulled from his spider hole and captivated the headlines? These laws make it possible for the secret police to demand that any bookstore, library, hotel, church, doctor, or any other entity that serves the public be forced to turn over names and records -- secretly -- to the government so that they can build secret cases against certain citizens. Oh, by the way, it is a felony to even speak of these secret subpoenas if it is your business that is forced to open its books.
This same government can then, by its new rules, arrest any citizen on no particular charges of criminal behavior, but rather simply declare him or her to be an enemy of the state. Then they whisk the person away in the middle of the night to a secret military jail to be held with no possible communication with a lawyer, the press, the family, or anyone else. Held in perpetual confinement with no recourse to justice or oversight. Torture? Who knows? Who COULD know? All of these proceedings are under the aegis of a secret court presided over by no jury or elected panel, but only a single judge appointed by the same political party in charge.
This political party has taken over all branches of the government and even subverted the vote in a national election, overturning the popular choice. The outcome of the election was manipulated by judges appointed by the same party, and by family members of the party chief.
Sounds like a terrible dictatorship like North Korea or Cuba, or a totalitarian regime like Iran or Saudi Arabia, or a throwback to Nazi Germany, or Stalinist Russia, doesn't it?
The country? The United States Of America. The Party? The Republicans.
Regime change, anyone?
So about a year ago, there was a big anti-war movement afoot. Actually a pre-emptive anti-war movement -- or anti-pre-emptive war movement. (Line up the words however you like.) There was no support shown for Saddam Hussein, but rather a slow down of the rush to war, a search for consensus, and a plea for a presentation of hard evidence.
The slogan was "Let the inspections work!"
A reminder for those with poor short term memory: A year ago UN inspectors were looking for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Looking for the massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that George W Bush and Tony Blair told the world were there and aimed at the US and Israel. Those massive weapons factories that Colin Powell pointed to on fuzzy spy photos at the UN. Those nuclear facilities making devices that Dick Cheney said would soon be delivered with a "mushroom cloud" instead of a smoking gun.
Trouble was the UN inspectors couldn't find them.
The peace crowd (I'm raising my hand here) said that meant the inspections were working. So far so good -- give them a chance. Bush couldn't wait. There was a "gathering storm" and the next blow-up could be another 9-11. So we went to war. And here we are.
More than 500 American soldiers have died as I write this. Most of them since the May 1 "mission accomplished" boast. More than 2000 young Americans are maimed for life. And the count continues to mount. Countless more may have lifelong psychological ills. Who knows what the outcome will be for those exposed to the depleted uranium shells we exploded there by the ton. The Iraqi casualties? Several weeks ago, the ruling went down from Rumsfeld's office to the Iraqi hospitals that there should be no further count kept of Iraqi dead and wounded. Part of the "too much bad news" spin out of the White House.
And the search for WMD goes on. First the soldiers searched to no avail. Then Bush appointed his vaunted expert, David Kay to head an inspection team. Last Fall, when Kay gave a preliminary report of finding no weapons, but said he intended to keep looking, George W Bush told reporters with his usual petulant sniff that he would wait for David Kay's final report. "He's a good man." And Bush declared his own intelligence before the war was "darn good intelligence."
Well, Mr. Kay "resigned" last week just before making his official report. How convenient. His UNofficial report to the press is that Saddam hasn't had WMD since the end of the 1991 war -- AKA Daddy's War. With no apparent chagrin, Bush boasted in his State of the Union address that Kay "identified" dozens of so-called "Weapons-Of-Mass-Destruction-Related-Program-Activities." And you thought Bill Clinton had a way with parsing words!
And the search continues under a new inspection regime. Colin Powell is tap dancing on his rhetoric, re-defining his words even as he speaks them. Dick Cheney is just ducking the questions altogether, and Ashcroft is mumbling about "evil chemicals."
And today, White House spokesman Scott McClellan called for no rush to judgment. He said "Let the Iraq Survey Group finish their work so the intelligence community can have ... as complete a picture as possible."
In other words, "Let the inspections work!"
Now, where have I heard that before?
Ever since Janet Jackson had her wardrobe malfunction at the “climax” of the superbowl half-time show, there has been the burning issue of indecency again in the public discourse. My own congressman, Mr. Fred Upton, has led the courageous fight against nasty poo-poo and pee-pee on the tee-vee. Let the war rage on, let the jobs in his own district evaporate, let the president lie, let the gasoline companies and drug manufacturers rob the public blind. Our fine young republicans are fighting the good fight against nipples.
Other interesting TV sightings lately: On the Academy Awards I saw the five nominated songs performed on the live broadcast. Interesting to me was the fact that four of the five featured interesting acoustic instruments and had something of roots music to them. Singing next to Alison Kraus in her diamond-studded shoes, was the pop star Sting grinding his hurdy gurdy. No, that’s not a euphemism for a Michael Jackson move. A hurdy gurdy is a mechanical fiddle with a rosined wheel in the place of a bow. Then he was replaced by Elvis Costello, who played a horribly out-of-tune but very cool Gibson guitar made during the Orville Gibson period of the very early 20th century. Singing along were sacred harp singers dressed in fancy wardrobes that probably caused many of them to squirm and consider that eye of the needle that Jesus talked about. Both these songs were faux folk songs from the movie, Cold Mountain. I liked them pretty well, even though the contrivances were making me squirm a bit too.
Then there was a great hot jazz number from the Triplets Of Belleville, a French cartoon that I can’t wait to see, though I’m sure the theaters in my town will never show it. At least two of the guitars were vintage Selmers, the kind of guitar Django Reinhardt made famous. Hot gypsy fiddle and swinging guitars are always a welcome sound to me. And of course the folkiest moment of the evening was the reprise of “Kiss At The End Of the Rainbow” from Mitch & Mickey, the star-crossed lovers of A Mighty Wind. Catherine O’Hara played on the Oscar Schmidt Autoharp as Eugene Levy strummed his guitar. A touching moment, even if it was a satire within a farce.
None of these songs won, of course. The over-wrought yet soulless tacked-onto-the-credits theme song from Lord Of The Rings took the Oscar. Annie Lennox emoted in front of an orchestra of synthesizers like she always does. I don’t know if it was Middle Earth Mania that swept the category or that the Academy just can’t open their ears to anything but mainstream pop music. But alas, it is all in the can now – another boring awards show to throw in the vault.
This season on PBS, a mighty wind is blowing a new pledge drive opus called This Land Is OUR Land. Ostensibly a “folk rock” follow-up to last year’s “YOUR Land” folk re-union. Why Tommy Makem and Tom Paxton were included in this folk rock show, I can’t imagine, except that they should have been in the first show and weren’t. They certainly looked puzzled and out of place on the show-ending singalong of “California Dreamin’.” Once again, only the best-known radio hits of the sappy 60’s were reprised to a crowd looking all the world like a Lawrence Welk audience, thawed out and brought back to life. There were a few interesting highlights but “Hey There Georgy Girl” and “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” (yes, the coke commercial) were not among them.
The fund-raiser hit a crescendo with an appearance from the Lovin’ Spoonful. The guy singing “What A Day For A Daydream” could have passed for an aging John Sebastian, had it not been for the fact that the real aging John Sebastian has been spotted lately hawking his own retrospective of 60’s folk rock hits in an infomercial for Time-Life over on the non-public channels. So who was the alternate-universe John Sebastian on PBS? Do you believe in magic?
What’s next? What will they dredge up for the next pledge drive? The minor folk hits of the 70’s? Yes, those wonderful songs no-one ever played on commercial radio, but filled the church basements and coffeehouses from coast to coast after the pop-folk scene dried up. Featuring Bob Franke, Bill Staines, Sally Rogers, Lisa Null, Joel Mabus, Claudia Schmidt, The Fiction Brothers re-united, and several of the original Hot Mud Family. All hosted by Robin & Linda Williams with a special appearance by John McCutcheon.Hey, we could entertain an audience of geezers as well as anybody.
The clock is still ticking. George W Bush is still waiting for it to come to him. Any mistakes, Mr. President? Nope, nosirree, gol-durn-it, no way, no how.
Well, here's a mistake his viceroy in Iraq admitted - the "debaathification" of Iraq's infrastructure after Saddam was a mistake. Just a few days ago Paul Bremer announced that he would reverse the policy of debaathification and begin to welcome back members of Saddam's brutal jackbooted party of thugs to play a role in the rebuilding of Iraq. Of course only the nice jackbooted thugs need apply.
This comes at an interesting juncture and on this very day we can see why.
This month of April 2004, not yet over, has seen 120 Americans killed in the war. More killed than in any other month either before or after last May Day when Bush strutted like a peacock on the deck of the USS Lincoln declaring, "mission accomplished." One of the footnotes of this bloody month was a troop of Iraqis under US command that refused to open fire on Iraqi civilians. Bremer and his creepy un-dead spokesman, Dan Senor, expressed profound disappointment. It was soon after that the idea of "re-baathification" took hold. Apparently the word went out to find some Iraqis with no qualms about "killing their own people."
And this very morning I awoke to the news that the siege of Fallujah would soon be over. The solution is to pull out our tireless Marines and Halliburton mercenaries and send in a newly minted army of Iraqis led by none other than one of Saddam's top generals. What, Saddam didn't have any more sons to recruit?
And all in the name of freedom.
Meanwhile, this week in Washington, Bush's lawyer is arguing before the Supreme Court that the president has every right to arrest any American citizen on our own soil as an "enemy combatant" and give him no judge, no trial, no jury, no council -- no hearing of any kind. The president can secretly arrest him and lock him up in a hidden prison cell until the war is over. Which war? The war on terror of course (which is not a declared war, but only a trademark brand which could well outlive CocaCola or Pepsodent).
But what if he is innocent, asks a justice?
Well, he can tell that to his interrogator, says Bush's man.
Who does the interrogation?
Oh, that would be telling.
No, Bush won't tell. He's a cowboy. A man's man. He won't "cut and run." Here's an interesting fact about our fearless leader. The day he was briefed about terrorism on August 6, 2001 - the daily briefing report entitled "Hello! Osama Bin Laden Wants to Attack Inside the USA, Hey Everybody, Wake Up!" that was dragged from a kicking and screaming Condoleeza Rice before the 9/11 committee - that day Bush was on a month-long vacation at his ranch and only spent a few minutes on the phone with "Condi." According to Associated Press, the president's day was spent driving trucks, doing ranch-hand chores and catching up on his reading.
Say what? Catching up on his reading? Yes, the AP reported George W Bush was curling up with a good book. And what was the name of that book?
I kid you not.
Make no mistake about it -- that there Captain Ahab? He didn't cut and run either. Nope!
The wheels are coming off Mr. Bush's war, and his propaganda meisters can no longer hide some of the ugly truth. Rumsfeld is now banning all cameras and camera-cell phones from the soldiers' personal belongings, but it is too late. Pictures of the ugly stuff are in the ether. And in this increasingly illiterate nation, it has been only the pictures that have penetrated the fog of American Idol and Fear Factor.
What would we think if we could see pictures of our concentration camp at Gitmo? Pictures of the pay stubs that go to our thousands of "contract worker" elite fighting forces? Pictures of the thousands of dead and maimed Iraqi children from bombed-out homes, mosques and wedding parties? Pictures of our own flag-draped caskets?
No these images don't fit the script for the "New American Century" which is the blueprint of the neo-conservative fascists in charge of the world right now. Confident, well-scrubbed, apple-cheeked, athletic, sacrificing yet humble young American soldiers. That's the ticket for the nightly news, says the Bush team. Turn up the dial on fear, and step on the neck of those who dissent. Point the cameras over here to the shiny campaign bus, and pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Its just six or seven rotten apples, say the neo-cons. Yes, I agree. Lets name them: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Delay, Wolfowitz, Rice, Powell.
It has been a busy summer for me, and a few months since I've visited my "Joel Speaks" page for more thoughts. Today is as busy as ever -- beginning the rehab of my office. Out with the old and in with the new.
The birds have been active in my garden this summer. We had a nest of catbirds, a bluebird in the official bluebird house for a change, and a nest of the loveliest of singers, the humble wren, moved in next door.
And, living here in Michigan, the buckle on the rust belt, the state of the "big 3" automakers (a fiction we still tell ourselves in the press) and a state full of "Reagan democrats" and "Milliken republicans" (William Milliken was an extremely popular governor here -- a moderate republican who routinely did well with democratic voters.) Unemployment is way high in Michigan, our manufacturing jobs -- whole industries -- have been moving to China and Mexico, and we elected our first Democrat governor in a long while 2 years ago to the dismay of the republicans who have a death hold on every office outside of Detroit. (Ok, that's a little exaggerated, but not much.)
So we are, this year, the quintessential "swing state." We could go either way in November, and all the pols know it. We went for Gore in '00 and came through for Clinton twice, so the Republicans are nervous. They have to look back to the juggernaut of Reagan, or the jugular of Dukakis to find solace. But that rosy scenario just ain't so this time. They have gerrymandered the state to insure republicans will tip the balance on congressional seats, but a statewide race is very likely to swing away from the Amway owners who run the GOP in Michigan.
So Bush and Kerry are becoming as common as blue jays here in the Great Lake State. If Dick Cheney offered to mow my lawn I wouldn't be surprised. Most folks have made up their minds already, so it is only a few uninterested, uninspired, and uninformed potential voters who are being wooed. The advertising is the worst, and will only get more sordid as the weeks proceed. The GOP ads are particularly nasty. They just held their primary last week and had the fangs out for each other, trying to prove who is the most rigidly right wing, and therefore worthy of the conservative vote.
One of the nastiest races was right here close to home -- a seat in the state house that is a shoo-in for the GOP in November, so the primary was the real race. A rather rigid right-winger representative showed a bit of compassion a few months ago and said that he thought gays ought to have the right to be left alone, no matter how disgusting he found them to be. Therefore, on principle, he did not back the rabid "defense of marriage" state constitutional amendment going around. His opponent in the primary seized on that perceived weakness, and accused the incumbent of everything short of buggery and wife beating. "Family Values" was the issue, and which candidate could prove the most conservative, and therefore most righteous, was the essence of the race.
Then we find out a week before the primary, that the "family values" challenger was arrested last year in Lansing for soliciting a hooker, offering an undercover cop $15 for the same thing Clinton was impeached for. He plead out, and now claims he was only joking with a hooker, which should be no crime for an upstanding citizen at 2AM cruising the red light district. Well, he lost, but by only less than one percent of the vote.
That's life in a swing state. You'd think with a title like "swing state" we'd all be swilling martinis and listening to Benny Goodman records. Oh that it were so...
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
So wrote a 30-year old Bobby Burns upon seeing a louse crawling in a young woman's hair in church. To see ourselves as others see us. The thought must weigh mightily upon our debating politicians. The consensus of most "others" was that George W. Bush was a smirking petulant ineffectual tight-ass in the first debate, and so in last Friday's second go-round he was trying hard to undo that image. He kept his lips unpursed, and a vacant half-smile plastered on his face with wide, blinking eyes while he was listening. Then he leapt up and swung his arms while making his answers and rebuttals.
I said to my wife at the time, "He looks like an angry monkey." I guess I was not the only one to see the simian in the guy. This morning I heard the reference: "Furious George."
To be fair, the Democrat side is also image conscious. It's just that they have so much more substance to work with. Kerry is no beauty, but we've had long-faced presidents before. Just look at a twenty dollar bill. Yes, he drones at bit, and presents both sides of the point before making his own. That's a sign of intelligence by my reckoning. But unfortunately in these last few weeks of campaigning, it's the know-nothing, non-reading, non-thinkers who may decide the presidency. A pretty picture and a sound-bite is the bait for these fish, I'm afraid.
As for last week's showing by "Dick" Cheney at his table-talk with Edwards, all I can say is: "Ye ugly, creepin', blastit wonner!" What can I say -- the guys just "Burns" me.
But it is all in the eye of the beholder I guess. A couple of weeks ago I gave a concert in a nice theater setting. I did well, I think. I played well and connected with the audience. I heard many nice remarks after the show, but two stand out. Two very different women were especially taken with my performance. One was an elegant lady, perhaps in her mid-sixties or better. The other was a bright-faced college student who looked barely twenty. The older woman said, "You were wonderful! You remind me so much of Burl Ives!" (Not that I haven't heard that before.) The younger woman said "You were great! You play just like Eric Clapton!"
I guess it might be possible to sing like Burl and play like Clapton at the same time. But my guess is that these two woman saw different shows simultaneously. I took both compliments in the spirit in which they were offered. I am flattered at best, and bemused at worst. The one thing that Burl and Eric have in common is that each is one generation older than the respective fan. That and that they undoubtedly each knew the guitar chords to "House Of The Rising Sun." I know those chords too.
Anyway, just for the heck of it, here's the whole poem that has been on my mind since:
Still shaking my head after the election. This feels so Nixonian, I am just waiting for the scandal to erupt. But maybe that is just Schadenfreude talking.
I will agree it is a nation divided. Not so fast with that talk of mandate, cowboy. Fifty nine million might (and I emphasize might) have voted for you, but if you think that means everybody, its just fuzzy math.
The righteous right DO have the clear majority of ribbon magnets though. They seem to go with massive oversized gas guzzling vehicles -- pronounced VEE-hick-uls. Mostly they are yellow but some are red, white, and blue. I have seen some in black, and even some in camouflage design. Some simply say they "support our troops," but it seems what they mean is "support the war."
I've been looking for a ribbon I could feel good about. Couldn't find just the right one, so I had to make one up:
(click on the thumbnail or download it from here)
It is the end of the year once again. The planet Earth has gone another full circle around its own little star in this corner of the galaxy that, to our ancestors' eyes, resembled spilled milk. Most of America cannot see the milky way, even on a clear night, since the pollution of a million street lights, bright stadiums and Wal-Mart parking lots wash out the fainter stars on a winter's night. I suppose wise men in the east would likely miss a divine star if it would appear these days. It would only be their computers that might pick it up on radio telemetry.
Another Christmas holiday has passed. Another platitude from our war president about peace on earth. Onward Christian soldiers into this "faith-based" war. The latest casus belli is to bring the blessings of liberty to our Iraqi brethren. Get those elections to run smoothly next month. Fixing them later would be such a bother. Heaven knows how difficult it was to fix them in Florida and Ohio.
Our intrepid Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has assured the mothers of America that from now on he will actually sign the letters of condolence his office sends out to the families of dead soldiers. Up until now he has had a machine do it for him. But that meddlesome liberal press planted that fact in the news, and now he must take minutes out of his busy week signing letters and presumably thinking about each death for a nano-second. That takes away precious time he would otherwise spend searching for weapons of mass destruction. Strike that. Make that "precious time spent spreading the blessings of liberty to our Iraqi brethren."
Yesterday morning massive tectonic plates in the earth's crust shifted under the Indian Ocean, ripping an earthquake bigger than most humans can remember. It sent a wave of water to the beaches of Asia, killing more than 12 thousand unsuspecting people on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. Some people still call this sort of thing an "act of God." Those would be insurance adjusters and other born again collection-plate passers. Unfortunately, most of the beach dwellers in Sri Lanka and India are poor and non-Christian, unlike our Florida sun-seekers who build their mansions upon the sand. Well-heeled American insurance companies will rebuild Florida's boats and beach houses after this past hurricane season, and employ plenty of immigrant labor in the process. It will needs be piss-pot charity that comes to the aid of the third world after the terror of this tidal wave. Too bad for them the tragedy comes after Christmas and not before. Bad timing, God.
Since my last entry, we have had another Thanksgiving holiday in America, too. A pleasant day spent eating and resting and then eating more. Some where along the way words of thanks are often said over the meal or the drink -- or the television. It occurred to me this year that Thanksgiving is lacking a polar opposite holiday. Think of it -- most cultural holidays come in pairs. On Christmas god is born; on Easter god is killed. On Memorial Day we remember dead soldiers; on Veterans' Day it is the returning heroes' day. Mother's Day vs. Father's Day. It is Thanksgiving that stands alone. I think we should inaugurate a new holiday, maybe the last Thursday in February, when people are fed up with winter, tired of the snow, the flu, the crappy TV shows and the lack of fresh vegetables. Call it "Gripesgiving Day." Sit the family around a table of miserable leftovers and just have it out. Go to bed angry. Get up the next day and have a nice breakfast and get ready for spring. I think this idea has potential.
But the holiday upon us now is New Year's Day. Arrives January, a month named for the oldest of the Roman gods, Janus. Janus is the two-faced god of comedy and drama -- the god of doors and gateways. His is a time for forward-looking resolutions to purge backward-lurking demons. His is a time for new brooms to sweep out the door last year's detritus. Fresh Starts -- New Leaf -- Old Long Since. If you happen upon this journal entry, weary reader, may the year 2005 bring you only good things, great health, wealth and merriment. Then check back on the fourth Thursday of February.
To end on a positive note, there is a film I have lately seen that I recommend to everyone. Filmed in Mongolia, it is "The Story Of The Weeping Camel" (set to come out on DVD in January, I believe). A documentary with a small amount of dramatic re-enactment, it tells the story of the birthing season for camels (the two-hump variety) in a herding clan of hardy Mongolian shepherds. One mother camel rejects her baby after a difficult birth. The herders ride into town for the help of a talented violinist who comes to perform a traditional ritual of music that bonds the mother to the baby. The camel, upon hearing the sad evocative music, actually weeps large tears. This film will restore your faith in the power of music (if you had any doubts), and give you a look into a way of life swiftly leaving us, as game-boys and satellite dishes find their way into the Gobi desert. Don't miss this film!
copyright 2004 Joel Mabus