Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Top 10 CD's of 2009

Yes--I am a fan of music lists at the end of the year. I love to hear what David Dye has to say at the end of the year, as well as looking for what the NPR listeners pick on the "All Things Considered" list. But I have never ventured into the realm of making a list myself. This year I am changing that.

So here it goes--

1. Band of Skulls: Baby Darling Doll Face Honey

2. Meshell Ndegeocello: Devil's Halo

3. Devandra Banhart: What Will We Be

4. Rain Machine: Rain Machine

5. Other Lives: Other Lives

6. Heartless Bastards: The Mountain

7. White Denim: Fits

8. BLK JKS: After Robots

9. The Low Anthem: Oh My God Charlie Darwin

10. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca

Monday, November 2, 2009

The First American in Afghanistan

In 1838, an American by the name of Josiah Harlan led an expedition against Murad Beg (prince of Kunduz and tribal war lord) in Afghanistan. His army included 1,400 cavalry, 1,100 infantry, 2,000 horses, and 400 camels. This rag-tag army crossed the Hindu Kush and followed the path of Alexander. Before unleashing his force on the region he unfurled the Stars and Stripes from the highest pass (Khazar) and had his troops fire a twenty-six gun salute.

Now, let’s back track a little. Who in the heck was this guy?

He was a soldier of fortune from Pennsylvania (and yes—had a Quaker upbringing), who sailed east in 1823 in search of adventure and ended up in India (with the Bengal Artillery) as an assistant surgeon. He had no medical training. He fought in Burma.

When the fighting ended, Harlan resigned and moved into northern India, where he hooked up with Shah Sujah (deposed Afghan monarch in exile). Once he had joined the royal circle, he disguised himself as a dervish and undertook a spying mission to Kabul. When he made his report (that the forces were too strong and well entrenched to attack) the Shah rewarded him with the titles of “King’s Nearest Friend” and “Companion of the Imperial Stirrup.”

Sounds cool to me! Especially the second one.

He then moved on to the court of Ranjit Sing as a mercenary and bagman. Eventually he pops up in Kabul a year later as aide-de-camp to the Sikh monarch’s archrival, Dost Mohammad Khan.

Loyalty going to the highest bidder, you could say in this field.

His new boss had a rapacity for gold, and possessed a cruelty that doubted every motive but self interest. Oh yeah, and he was a drunk.

One wonders how Harlan’s Quaker upbringing reconciled with the perpetual and shameless bacchanals of drink, prostitutes, singers and actors.

Perhaps it was his sober reticence that impressed his boss, because he made him second in command of an expedition against Murad Beg.

After punishing Murad Beg, the army returned to Kabul in 1839. It was then that Harlan learned that the Government of India was sending an army to restore Shah Sujah to the Afghan throne. Dost Mohammed named Harlan as commander-in-chief of his army. But when his people heard of the size of the army advancing, they deserted their leader en masse.

This is when Harlan returned to Philadelphia (1841). He wrote a memoir, where he refers to himself as General.

He tried to promote the use of camels by the US Army. And during the Civil War, he raised a regiment known as Harlan’s Light Cavalry. After the war he got Congress to raise $10,000 for a Central Asian Expedition. It never happened, and Harlan ended his days in San Francisco, where he practiced medicine until his death in 1871.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Raising our Glass

branding irons are to be used
in the suture of our commutable contusions

only yesterday I exhaled your dingy smoke
and it irradiated like frankincense

we made a toast with Helena’s bowl
to the true nepenthes in Homer

and retired our sorrow and debt
to the aliment of all heart-eating vice

but ended up mutually misaffecting each other
with songs and slurs until you broke my skull open

which it turned out, no reparation would suffice
unless the injury remained rational

Solomon himself would have offered me his cup
because, the onlookers thought i was a ghost

although you and i knew different--that atheism
like ours could be maintained by heathens alone

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tase First, Ask Questions Later

Dear Mister/Ms Police Officer,

If I get pulled over for speeding in the future and I seem a little nervous, please understand—I’m not hiding anything—I’m only worried that you might stun me for no reason other than that you are lazy and incompetent.

This is because you have complete authority. And you don’t have to do any work, anymore. Open my mouth (you know you don’t have to take any lip from me) and –ZAP!

How does that power feel?

Yours Truly, John Q. Public

The Taser is shaped like a gun and is battery operated. It fires two fishhook like barbs into a person’s skin, discharging between 50k and 1000k volts of electricity, disrupting a person’s muscle control. The darts have a range of up to 21 feet. The tool can also be pressed directly against a person’s body to use in stun mode. About 6,000 agencies use the device.

That’s the technical scoop.

But here’s the real deal—the pain caused by the electricity is excruciating and freezes you on the spot. And it keeps you frozen, until someone hits the “off” switch.

And the troubling part of this story is that it is now the preferred method of resolving any issues between police and the community. No one is immune from the TASER. This includes people who don’t pose any serious threat, such as unruly school children, pregnant women, a 6 year old mentally disturbed boy in Miami, a handcuffed 9 year old girl in Arizona, along with the elderly (including a legally blind 71 year old woman in Portland).

And get this—69 people have died nationwide after being shocked by Tasers. Many of which were due to the “rush to tase and ask questions later,” according to Sheley Secrest of the NAACP Seattle chapter.

Those tased who were fortunate enough not to have been killed by the devise, includes a deaf man who couldn’t hear deputies ordering him to stop, and a teenager who ran after not paying a $1.25 bus fare.

In my day--kids were taken home to their parents and made to account for themselves.

Now we all know the reason Tasers were introduced to law enforcement. They could potentially end violent standoffs and subdue suicidal people. But, as they have become as ubiquitous as the handcuff, they are being routinely used in far less threatening situations.

Amnesty International has released a report saying that police nationwide are abusing the stun gun. They advocate that officers stop using the device until independent tests prove they’re safe (The company that builds them insists they are). Some studies have indicated that not enough scientific data is available to determine whether Tasers are safe for use in all circumstances.

Several chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union have urged police to use Tasers only in the most serious situations. This is because there are no rules and standards that apply to their use. There are only suggestions. And some police departments are starting to clamp down on abuses by their officers. The Las Vegas Police Department recently had to ban the use of Tasers on handcuffed people and “discouraged” multiple shockings.

According to Amnesty International, Taser use has been followed by death in 277 cases. They are concerned that the weapons are being used on unarmed people, where there is no imminent threat to the officer or other people in the situation.

Only recently, I was channel surfing the old television, and came across the beginning of a new police reality series, featuring female officers in Broward county, Florida. One of the officers said something about how much she enjoyed stunning people with her trusty Taser, as an introduction to her character. It was sadistic and perverse. She thought that it was funny.

Tell that to the 15 year old boy in Michigan, who shortly after a Taser was used on him Tuesday, died. And of course, I wonder how funny those three officers in Laredo, Texas, think it is after the death of man they shocked with a Taser gun. They are on administrative leave, pending an investigation. My money is on a slap on the wrist and they’ll be back to abusing their authority very soon.

What I find particularly troubling about all this, is that there are no standards with something that can cause such harm. Our police are using the threat of excruciating pain to its citizens instead of civil discourse.

And this, in a democracy that touts its freedoms.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Scotland Yard Wants Your Stuff!

Recently, British police began combing an upscale London neighborhood. It was not to catch criminals though. It was to commit crimes themselves. They were in search of things to steal. They were checking for unlocked cars for items and taking them.

The rationale: to teach the owners a lesson to keep their doors locked, and their windows closed.

They were to “remove the property for safekeeping,” and a note would be left to explain what happened.

I guess that this type of thing could be referred to as the weird cousin of “focused deterrence.” Normally, the principle of this form of crime fighting is to force criminal activity to another jurisdiction. Criminologists refer to this as “displacement.” In Madison Wisconsin, campus police understand this fundament, and have been successful in deterring crime with their “bait bike” program. A GPS device is attached to such bikes. Since the program started, 18 people have taken the bait, ending in 16 arrests in two months. The police, in this situation, attempt to make the criminal evaluate the risk of apprehension; contemplate the seriousness of the expected punishment, along with their immediate need for criminal gain.

This has led to evidence of sizeable crime reduction on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Unfortunately, it did not shift crime to surrounding areas. But, it did put a dent in crime without putting a strain on police-community relations. I can only imagine the strain on police-community relations in London when the folks discovered that their valuables had actually been nicked by the police.

Perhaps the police in London have come to the conclusion that studies usually indicate that traditional crime deterrence programs, like that being employed in Madison, do not cause criminals to move to other areas. They resist movement to other sites, because of the natural tendency to stay with what is familiar. Movement would cause demand that they encounter new and less familiar conditions. Criminals simply change their methods in order to continue their activities without getting caught. So, instead the coppers focus their attention on the prospective victims by making them victims.

Yet, from where I come from, the state is responsible for maintaining order and preserving the common good through a system of laws—not the audacity to commit crimes in order to educate the populace about possible future crimes. The police in London need to achieve their objectives through policies that convince criminals (not victims) to desist from criminal activities, delay their actions, or simply avoid a particular target.

To do this, they must develop strategies which focus on future behaviors of criminals, and preventing them from engaging in such crimes by impacting rational decision making processes.

To put it another way—if criminals choose to continue their disruptive and threatening behavior, they deserve to be punished. The citizen, though, does not deserve to be punished (by having their property seized by the police) because of the activities of a few deviants.

As crime rates increase, police resources always are stretched and the certainty of apprehension decreases. Come on folks—let’s use our money more efficiently!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dear Metropolitan Dwellers,

The folk down here in the hills of southern Ohio, understand that y’all are upset about not getting the lion’s share of the federal transportation stimulus money. We hear that y’all are complaining that you have the nation’s worst traffic jams and some of the oldest roads and bridges, so the money should be going to y’all. Some are saying that y’all contribute three-quarters of the nation’s economic activity and that money should be returned by filling all those little pot holes we’ve heard about. I’m not sure what they are, but I do know of one farmer down here who lost his horse and buggy in a sink hole. He just shook it off and said it must have been the Lord’s work.

Well, I just want y’all to know that things have gotten down to the stems and seeds here too.

I have a cousin up in Cleveland, who started complaining that $115 million of $200 million earmarked for something called an Innerbelt-bridge was sent down here for the Nelsonville Bypass. I’m not sure what an inner-belt is up there, but down here it usually means the life savings someone carries around in a hidden pouch, because they haven’t trusted banks since the great depression. Word is out that that bridge might save some commuters about a half an hour in the morning, while the bypass will improve transportation to Appalachia.

It’s no secret that those up in Columbus would rather have Rt. 33 bottle necked to keep “all those” hillbillies from coming up from West Virginia. But being cut off from the rest of the state by inadequate ingress and egress will only keep us isolated from the rest of the state. Damn shame too. This is prettiest part—hands down. At the same time, I’m not sure we would care to see very many of those Columbus yuppies (going through their middle age crisis) riding into town on their Harley’s (no helmet and thousand dollar, designer shades) on weekends.

OK, I admit that fewer people live here. But does that mean we shouldn’t be getting some of “the monies” also.

Folk who live in rural areas don’t have all the services that y’all have in the big cities, so many times we have to make that long drive for certain things. Now, the bypass will make the drive to Columbus only a short one hour drive, instead of the one and a half hour drive that it is now. Folk in cities know that a one hour drive is like crossing town. But to us, that extra half hour makes the drive seem more like that dreaded long drive to aunt Gerdy’s for Thanksgiving dinner.

It seems like those up north have developed a sense of entitlement that Buckeye football fans have exhibited for years. If they lose one game, the season is over. Down here in Appalachia, if the Bobcats win one game, we’re happy.

So now the score is Nelsonville Bypass-1, Innerbelt-Bridge-0.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Yes--There are Homeless and They're in Your Neighborhood!

As usual, right wing conservatives and fundamentalist Christians are dropping the ball on homelessness in America. Either they are blind to it or just prefer to ignore it by denial or by rewriting the story.

Officials who actually live in the real world and work with the homeless, are experiencing a SURGE in homelessness this summer and are expecting an all time high in the numbers of families in shelters. The higher numbers in unemployment will no doubt add to the increase.

Many shelters are now overcrowded and have been turning away numerous people at night, and Salvation Army shelters have had to put mats on the floors to accommodate the amount of those in need. In New York, the number of families applying for shelter has increased by 28%.

So where are the conservative Christians? Isn’t charity supposed to be the hallmark of this religion?

Well, I’ll tell you—

They are inviting their congregations to wear or carry their guns into their sanctuaries, in order to celebrate their rights as Americans. At least, that’s what happened recently at an Assembly of God church in Kentucky.

Let’s hear it for LIBERTY!

Wait a minute—aren’t Christians supposed to be PACIFISTS?

Oh, I’m sorry--I guess that was just Jesus.

So, it follows that gun laws are a more important issue than poverty, and the need for community activism, volunteerism, and service.

Just recently, the right wing used the opportunity to bash President Obama, and his alleged liberalism, when Michelle was photographed working the food line at a homelessness center. They failed to mention that this center actually feeds about 300 people a day. And get this--the shelter is only a couple of blocks away from the White House.

Now let’s talk about rewriting truth and issues to jive with your own agenda. When John Edwards brought up the issue of homeless vets, Bill Oreilly said that there were no homeless vets (period). Michael Savage, when asked by a caller on his radio show about “the problem with the homelessness in the country,” responded by saying, “Why not put them in work camps.”

Excuse me? Do you mean work camps, like in concentration camps? Or prison camps?

When did homelessness become a crime? I guess when it started to infringe on the Norman Rockwell image of conservative, white, gun toting Christian America’s picket fence sentimentality. Not in my neighborhood—you grubby, smelly cretins.


When you deny social problems and say that they don’t exist, you are denying knowledge itself. And to abandon knowledge is to abandon LIBERTY.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Recording Academy Dumps Polka

The Recording Academy (Grammy Awards) has just decided that they are going to eliminate the award for best Polka album.


Or better yet: Who stole the kishke?

They claim that they want to ensure that its awards show will remain “pertinent within the current musical landscape.” They also claim that the category is attracting too few entries. Perhaps they simply can’t deal with the fact that the Polka King, Jimmy Sturr, keeps winning the award. Now if this were actually the legitimate claim, then certainly the categories of Pop, Country, Rap, Latin, and Gospel have nothing to fear. But if we are talking about what is pertinent to the current musical landscape, we will also have to eliminate the other categories that don’t “sell.” This then would put pretty much the rest of the lot into the same dilemma as Polka: Rock, Reggae, R&B, Jazz, Historical, Folk, Dance, Comedy, Classical, Children’s, and Blues.

Blues gets only two awards. Compare this to the relevance it has in relation to the history of American music. At the same time, World Music gets three. Children’s also gets three. Jazz, which holds a place in the American music lexicon that is obviously pertinent, gets eleven Grammy’s. Yet no one buys the CDs. Classical gets fourteen, and they sell fewer CD’s than Jazz.

Did you know that Gospel gets more awards than any other category, with 22? Wow! I can’t even remember the last time I ran out to buy the newest Gospel album. Oh Yeah, it was NEVER.

The Grammy Awards is supposed to honor the rich diversification in American music. So have they the right to decide whose heritage is more important than some one else’s. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. My heritage is Welsh and Dutch, but believe you me, I can oompah with the best of them. And after all, isn’t the role of the Grammy Awards to let these diverse musical styles fuse with each other in the full spectrum of American music. Is not polka just as much a part of our lexicon as say, Best Hawaiian Music Album, or Best Native American Music Album, or even that coveted Best Surround Sound Album?

If we are going to reward music, we are going to have to consider all that it conveys to all people. And if this is the case, then we have to consider what the classical composer Schoenberg wrote in his autobiography—“For the wonderful thing about music is that one can say everything in it, so that he who knows understands everything; and yet one hasn’t given away one’s own secrets, the things one doesn’t say even to oneself.”

On the other hand, if relevance and pertinence is everything, then we must listen to the words of Stravinsky—“I consider that music is, by its very nature, powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature…If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion and not a reality.”

Fortunately there are still people who believe otherwise. The Julliard School estimates that there are between 20,000 and 40,000 Americans who consider themselves composers of classical music. If it weren’t for them, the music that I listen to would surely die. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen to polka.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Teenage Violence Against the Homeless

On May 11, three teenage boys (ages 18, 17 and 17) assaulted a homeless man in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. When they were done with him, the victim was a bloody mess. Just one year ago, a man was shot in Columbus, when he tried to stop two teenagers from throwing rocks and bottles at a homeless man.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. For years, advocates and homeless shelter workers have given reports of men, women, and even children being harassed, beaten, set on fire, and even decapitated.

What is happening to our youth?

In Los Angeles, a homeless man was recently doused with gasoline and set ablaze. And here’s the troubling part: the assaulters had targeted him in mind. The suspects remain at large.

And if this wasn’t bad enough, you can go to You-Tube and watch, what are called, Bumfights. Yes--teenagers go into areas where the homeless live, pay them to fight each other, and record it for entertainment. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty attributes a 65% increase in violence against the homeless due to these videos. The numbers are probably even higher, since many attacks are never reported.

The National Coalition for the Homeless have statistics from 1999 through 2007, which report 774 acts of violence against the homeless who actually receive shelter (this does not include those who live on the street), resulting in 217 murders. Of these murders, only 85 qualified as hate crimes.

Excuse me?

The U.S. Congress, in 1968, defined hate crimes as crimes in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim because of their race, color or national origin (Title 18 Section 245). It mandates that the government must prove both that the crime occurred because of a victim’s membership in a designated group and because the victim was engaged in certain specified federally-protected activities, such as serving on a jury, voting, or attending public school.

There have been several laws enacted subsequently to provide additional coverage. The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 authorizes the Justice Department to collect data from law enforcement agencies about crimes that “manifest evidence of prejudice based upon race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” It, though, says nothing about economic or housing status. The poorest of the poor, again remain the “silent ones” in a culture that rewards wealth.

Is homelessness a disability? Certainly many are on the streets due to a disability, such as mental illness.

The Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act, of 1994, defines hate crimes as “a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, because of the actual perceived race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.” The problem is that this law only applies to attacks and vandalism that occur in national parks and on federal property.

We now need to ask ourselves—how and why are we responsible for the behavior of our youth?

Why are we, as communities, increasingly taking punitive actions against homeless people? And, does this send a message that these people are less than human and that attacking them is acceptable?

Let us not forget: Violence is learned behavior! Not only do children (remember-teenagers are children) learn behaviors from their family and peers, but also learn it from what they observe in their neighborhoods and in the community at large. These behaviors are then reinforced by what they see on television, on the Internet, and in video games.

The perpetrators of these crimes are angry adolescents. You simply do not commit murder unless you are angry and resentful. These are children who have, no doubt, lived with rage for years. They feel cut off socially and emotionally.

To deal with this dilemma, we have to start by seeing our society as an organism, in order for it to properly function. It must become an organic whole of internally-connected members who share a single, unconscious process.

So, where do we start?

Here are some ideas—

• The inclusion of housing status in the pending state and federal hate crimes legislation.
• Start with our communities. Begin with awareness about the causes and solutions to homelessness in our schools, and how to deal effectively and humanely with people experiencing homelessness in their communities.
• Have speakers visit both public and private schools for the purpose of information and education (made up of homeless and formerly homeless people).
• A public statement needs to come from the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledging that hate crimes and/or violence against people experiencing homelessness is a serious national trend.
• Guidelines for local police on how to investigate crimes against and work with people experiencing homelessness.
• “Housing Status” needs to be included in information to the checklist of data maintained as part of the National Incident Based Reporting System maintained by the FBI.
• Most important of all—our federal, state, and local governments should create and provide adequate affordable housing and services to bring an end to homelessness in our communities.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fire The Bums!

It’s time to fire the bums. That’s right! The Cleveland Indians need a complete overhaul. Fire the manager, the general-manager, and the owner, as my father would say.

I feel that I have the right to say this. After all, the present owner’s fortune actually started at my family’s house. They made their fortune with cable television. So why does the house I grew up in claim to be the starting point. Well, we were the very first house to be wired for cable television, back in the sixties. I always knew that we were one of the first homes to have cable television in our neighborhood (Shaker Heights, Ohio), but it wasn’t until almost thirty years later that I found out we were the first.

Our cable went out, and a crew came to fix the problem.

They came upon a dilemma. The cable was not strung across the backyard, and drilled through a wall, into the home. No! They found that the cable had been tunneled under the garage, under the driveway, and came into the home through the basement. It was then thread up throughout the home inside the interior of two foot thick brick walls. The cable itself was of a type that the crew had never seen before. It was as if a car mechanic had someone drive a 1914 Model T into his shop, and said, “Can you fix this?”

Word got out fast, and before we knew it, there were at least thirty cable trucks parked all the way down our street. It was amazing. They all came to see the infamous house. They were crawling over the place like ants. “Come look at this!”—“Check this out!”—was the banter throughout the house.

The company was called Telerama, when we first got cable. Basically all it did was to add the two UHF stations to the dial of thirteen numbers. The best part was that we also got a CBC station from London Ontario. I loved it, because I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada. The best part was that in Canada, they didn’t censor movies. Back in the sixties, by the time a newer movie made it to television, one third of it would be left on the editor’s floor. On late night, I sometimes even got to see flesh. Years later they added WOR TV, from New York, where I got the Ranger’s games. Also, I was raised watching the WOR TV 4 o’clock movie (I owe them a debt).

My father got it, because when the Cleveland Browns played a home game, Telerama would pick up a station from Erie, Pennsylvania or Sandusky, Ohio, that would be outside of the banned area. Remember, the NFL has always had strict rules about showing home games, unless it is a sell-out. All the kids in the neighborhood would come to our house to watch the games.

The folks that started this operation eventually moved on to New York City and renamed it Viacom Cablevision. The family went on to make a gazillion dollars. So what do gazillionaires do with all their money? They buy sports teams. Now the Cleveland Indians have another, in a long line, of inept owners (with the exception of Dick Jacobs). It is only an ego massaging exercise for them. It’s too bad they don’t run the team the way they did their cable company.

But, the fact is, they don’t need to run this team. Let’s find a new owner and fire the bums!

By the way, the crew decided to string new wiring, the way they do it with all the other houses in America. And guess what? It turned out that the old system worked better!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Oh That Crazy Dick!

Former vice president Dick Cheney announced yesterday the formation of a new wing of the Republican Party. In this new move, he has sided with Rush Limbaugh, in a coalition which they intend to name, “the Brown Shirts.”

In their first meeting, several hecklers were promptly ejected by force. Security was happy to say that a few of the agitators had departed with gashed heads. Only seventy people were in attendance at this first meeting, but Rush said that, “We expect our numbers to grow. We are expecting around 130 at our second meeting.”

Cheney, when asked about the role of this new wing said, “The Republican Party needs to evolve from an extremist-centrist party to one with unquestioned leaders. The Brown Shirts are being formed, because the centrists are no longer needed for the original purpose of the party. Our role will be the rightful acquisition of political power.”

When asked the same question, Rush Limbaugh said, “I’m on board, because I’ve always been into pseudo-military titles, which we intend to bestow on our members. As for me, I’m hoping for The Grandest Most Privatistic Hypertrophied Proponent of the Unconscionable, or if I can’t get that, then Your Highness will do.”

“The old ways of doing things are over,” Cheney added. “A political party, in today’s world, needs to inflict more subtle terror and obedience than was needed during the prior eight years. Our new motto will be: Terror must be broken by terror.”

Asked about how this could effect the nation as a whole, the former vice-president said, “To start with, our nation needs to become a nation of snoops, with the sole purpose of keeping an eye on others in their ‘areas’ and report to us if something is amiss. Don’t forget that the terrorists are still probably already amongst us.”

When pressed on this issue, Cheney added that, “Actually what we really need is leadership that would eventually become a dictatorship. The country requires one person and one party to be in control of the nation and our climate of fear. The Brown Shirt wing of the Republican Party is the only one that can rouse America’s youth to a passionate militant love for their Fatherland, I mean their homeland. Rush has been advocating for years, that our education system needs to be re-organized on the lines of narrow nationalism and intolerance. I think he has something there.”

Rush went on to expound on this theme, when he said, “In our America, men and women will look well dressed and have pride of appearance and a regard for cleanliness, which will fill the world with admiration.”

When a heckler appeared and shouted, “but beneath a spotless suit of clothes and a white collar there is nothing but abject poverty crying out for retribution,” Dick Cheney pulled out a gun and shot him in the face.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Problem with Maritime Law and Piracy

Presumably, you dear reader, have also been following the news about pirates on the high seas, off the coast of Somalia (especially when a US captain was taken hostage). I recently did a piece about pirate reenactors. These are people who romanticize the Caribbean buccaneer. What we have been witnessing is modern piracy—except it is actually the same thing: violent seizure on the high seas of a private ship or the illegal detainment of persons or property aboard said ship for the purpose of private gain [this is the definition as set by Article 15 of the 1958 Geneva Convention and Article 101 of the 1882 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea].

In this modern era, piracy represents worldwide losses of 13 to $16 billion per year, in commercials lanes that are used by over 50,000 ships a year.

Traditionally, pirates have been dealt with by a simple solution—catch the bad guys and hang them. The rationale being that piracy was regarded as an offense against Law of Nations and the state whose flag flies on the ship. That state had the right to seize the pirate ship, bring it to port, try the crew, and punish them.

All this was before lawyers took over the world.

So now we have a dilemma. These people, who think that they are smarter than us, say that that approach seems simple, BUT in reality there are problems with this solution.

This is what they say:

1. It limits piracy to crimes committed against private property or citizens.
2. The act must occur in international waters.
3. Greed must be the motivating factor behind the crime.

To them, what the law fails to address are acts of piracy committed: by governments, within territorial waters, for political purposes. They say the maritime laws and the UN Convention of 1982 clearly do not consider the emergence of failed states like Somalia. They do not address what happens if a pirate attack takes place within a country’s territorial waters or in its neighbor’s waters.

The international law addresses what happens on the high seas. So the Convention, which was signed by 150 countries, enables war ships to patrol the shipping lanes under legal protection. But they only have the right to seize and prosecute on the “high seas.” The Somali pirates often do their dirty deeds within the twelve nautical mile limit.

The international law on piracy assume that individual states take responsibility for policing and patrolling their own waters and to prosecute those caught in the act of piracy.

Here’s the problem with these laws and assumptions--

1. Not all states have the sources and capacity to ensure maritime security within their waters.
2. Somalia (and no doubt others) after eighteen years, still has no functioning government.
3. Modern international law does not apply to incidents occurring in waters where there is in fact no law. We will call these areas—the Twilight Zone.

In June 2008, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1816, which seeks to address the threat posed by Somali piracy. In effect the Council has authorized States acting in cooperation with the TFG (Somali Transitional Federal Government) to enter the territorial waters of Somalia to undertake enforcement actions against piracy and armed robbery.

What were they thinking? Oh yeah—like lawyers!

If the Somali courts are not willing and able to conduct prosecutions, the responsibility can only fall on the international community, whose ships are patrolling off the coast of Somalia.

The US and Great Britain seem to be the only ones willing to take steps to address these issues, by signing agreements with Kenya allowing for the transfer of pirates there for prosecution.

So far, the response of the international community has been pretty much invisible, and at the best haphazard.

This is why I believe the US made the right move when they recently took out three pirates by sniper fire. It is time we go back to the old fashion way of dealing with pirates—catch the bad guys and hang them (or at least actually take matters in to your own hands).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bad Music on the Radio

I live in a one-radio-station-town (a university owned NPR/FM station). Of course there are other stations on the air available, but they are made up of Top 10 crap and several getting-saved-by-Jesus stations. So my options are obviously limited.

Now on the bright side, the NPR station here in Athens plays really good music. It’s not classical music, but I can’t have everything. This I can get on the web and through my stereo via high speed cable. WOUB plays eclectic hip stuff.

BUT—there are times when even the best of the best revert to the cliché. This usually happens during a holiday. I think you know what I’m talking about. You know—when you have to put up with all of those incredibly lame rock and roll Christmas songs like; Thank God It's Christmas – Queen; Rock and Roll Christmas - George Thorogood & the Destroyers; and that classic All I Want for Christmas Is You – Foghat.

I need to clarify something here first. It takes me forever to fall asleep at night, so my only solace during this frustrating period (sometimes two to three hours) is to listen to music while my wife enjoys her slumber, next to me. Which begs the question: What happens when they play the cliché music? Well, I just have to lie there and take it (remember it’s a one-station-town).

Last night was one of those times. It was a St. Patrick’s Day weekend and the DJ of one of the “good” shows decided to play Irish music for the whole show. It was some of the most irritating music ever played in all of Christendom. Diddle dee dee, diddle dee dee, diddle dee dee, didle dee dee, for three F-ing hours. And then it ended with a fiddle being sawed in half by only two notes for over fifteen minutes, I thought that the record must have developed a skip and the DJ was off in the bathroom taking care of a problem caused by too much corned beef. It even woke my wife up. I was ready to pull my hair out.

So Mister Grumpy—why the sad tale?

I just don’t understand why we are goaded into these clichés. Why do we have to play Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day? This—everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day--is as old and tired as TV antennas. Please, join the millennium, folks.

Hopefully by Christmas, I’ll have a CD player on my nightstand. This blog is written by a poor poet, so buying something that extravagant is not as easy as some of you might think.

What we put up with for our art!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Are You Über?

Have you noticed that just about everything has become “über this” or “über that?” All you have to do is watch any segment on your favorite morning show, and surely the “so called” experts will use “über” in their descriptions of any object, trend, or fashion.

So what in the heck does it mean and how did it arrive at such a ubiquitous place in the America lexicon?

Let’s get the formalities over with first. It’s über, not uber. They are not the same thing. If you want to write it in English without the two dots, you would write “ueber.” It is from the German language and refers to something super or supreme. The literal meaning in German is “above.”

Many of us, including me, were introduced to the word when it was used as a synonym for “super” on a Saturday Night Live sketch in 1979, called What If?. They pondered the notion what if the comic book hero Superman had landed in Nazi Germany when he first came from the planet Krypton. Would he have taken on the name Überman?

Shortly after this, in the early 1980s, the California punk band, the Dead Kennedy’s, used the term in the anti-California government song “California Uber Alles,” which was a take off of the German motto of “Deustchland Uber Alles,” which means “Germany above all.” The term was then picked up by the natives of California (surfer dudes and punks), and then was adopted by the teenagers, which led to the eventual use by the majority.

It went from—“That band is uber hip”, to-- “that is an uber blog!”

I wonder if many people realize that one of their favorite terms has Nazi roots. The term “über” crossed over into English from the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, when in 1883 he coined the term “übermensch” to describe the higher state to which he felt man might aspire to. And then during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, he bastardized Nietzsche’s term, using it as part of his description of an Aryan master race. Most importantly, it is this association we have with the image of the Superman hero that the term has taken on much of its English sense implying irresistibility or invincibility.

So the Nazi German anthem, re-used by punk bands, helped the term become popular in America.

When words like this come into such widespread use, I can only wonder if those speaking them have any clue as to what the hell they’re saying.

Now here’s another one for you to contemplate: fashionista.

Got any other suggestions for words to eliminate from our lexicon?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tale of Two Cities

Once again, I am faced with the prospect of the “Tale of Two Cities.” One is for the filthy rich and the other for the rest of us. They seem to be fortressing themselves in their gated communities as the masses gather their pitch forks and torches at the walls.

As the rest of us (as tax payers) have doled out nearly a trillion dollars in emergency bailout funds, Wall Street big wigs have awarded themselves with a reported $18.4 billion in year-end bonuses.

Are they just thumbing their noses at us?

Did you know that the average CEO makes 344 times as much as the average worker?

The now former CEO of Merrill Lynch, John Thain, spent $1.2 million on redecorating his office when his company was going down the toilet. Then he had the gall to ask for $10 million for his year-end bonus.

At the same time, here in my state of Ohio, the governor has announced his new budget. In it, the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities is taking a crippling hit. They will have to cut operating spending at about 87 percent of the last budget.

Why do the people who need our help the most always become the first to suffer in times like these? The ones who depend on us the most (those in need of home services, children at risk of developmental disabilities, and early intervention services) are left out to dry, while the rich keep getting richer.

Sharpen those pitch forks. I’m just getting started.

When I married my lovely wife, I inherited a step son who is disabled and has to live in a nursing home. He is incapable of even living in a group home. We are not rich and have to depend on many of these services. The rich, with children in these circumstances, always have the option of private institutions. We don’t. Our son who has been helped by the wonderful people working at the MRDD facilities in the county where he resides are facing cuts in staffing. They are also faced with reducing the number of clients that they can help.

Let us not forget the possibility of closings of many services to this dependent population. It would remove the critical safety net for families who have run out of options in their homes and communities.

The money involved here, which pales in comparison to that we have handed over to the centa-millionares, is microscopic. The damage that will be done to children is infinitely disproportionate to the amount of money involved.

Get forward to seeing our juvenile-detention facilities becoming overloaded with mentally ill offenders who will not have access to doctors and medications.
This has been a very short rant, but my blood pressure is about give me a brain hemorrhage. I better stop now, before I need one of the many services that poor people like us depend on.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Business As Usual in Detroit

Well, The Big Three in Detroit have gotten their bailout. Not as much as they came looking for with their hands out, but still the package is in the multi-billions. Let us not forget that the CEOs showed up in Gulfstreams. So for the mean time, they are living on borrowed money. GM and Chrysler have received $4bn each in emergency loans, and Ford has secured a $9bn credit line.

It is just not the economy that has brought them to their knees. The foreign car makers are living in the same environment. But the Big Three have functioned with an antiquated business plan that does not accommodate with the times and customer needs. In fact, to my shock and horror, during my precious football playoffs I have been inundated with commercials for trucks. This does not represent a new business model, revolutionary thinking, or restructuring.

It is business as usual.

Here’s a trend for you to contemplate: US consumers purchased 13.2 million new cars and trucks in 2008, down 18% from the year before. So why not continue following something that isn’t working? This seems to be the logic involved by saturating the airwaves with commercials for trucks, and more trucks. This is the business model that has brought their sales down nearly 24%, which incidentally are double the declines by Asian automakers. Their sales only declined by 12%.

The strategy indicates that Detroit’s policy is to bank on the loans as support for the second-half recovery, and pray that the economy improves or that there is an improvement of financial market conditions.

During only a couple of playoff games, a person will have had to view hundreds of commercials for the new Ford F-150. They are betting the farm on this truck (Who are these idiots?). They say the F-150 played a significant role in its fourth quarter market share gains. They even have the audacity to remind us that the F-150 line of pickups has been America’s best-selling trucks for 32 years in a row. So why not sell more of what got them into this mess?

In a Dodge truck ad they even brag that it gets 21 mpg on the highway. So much for meeting customer demands for better fuel economy.

Why am I so adamant that Detroit change the way they do business, instead of shoveling us the same old shit, year after year? Because, if the bankruptcy threatened automakers don’t pull through, as many as three million US jobs could disappear (according to the Independent Center for Automotive Research).

As for General Motors, their business plan is not changing either. They rely on lending to make their money. In fact their policy is to loosen their lending policy, after learning that the federal government would inject $6bn into Gm’s financing arm. Remember loose lending is what got the economy, in general, into such a pickle.

Even Chrysler Financial has applied to become an independent lending corporation. This would enable them to acquire more money to make car loans.

As I just mentioned, loose lending is what got our economy into this mess. So why not have GMAC lower the FICO score threshold for financing from 700 to 620? Guess what? This is just what they have done.

Tell me again what school, these economic wizards’s went to? My guess would be one from the Ivy League. Maybe we should start relying on State University educated people to make these decisions. These are the people who had to work their way through college, and have a sense of reality.

Oh, and if we are to implement looser lending, why not let the dealers in on the deal? Wait a minute—they have just jumped on the bandwagon. They are starting to finance used cars, because they can make money on interest points they don’t get from all-cash sales.