August 4th, 2006

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Floating on reality -

Steve and I are floating on the wonderful music of Ian Anderson, Lucia Micarelli, and an enthusiastic orchestra and band.   How lovely the evening, and the celebratory vibration of sound.    They truly played their hearts out.   Their hearts were bouncing all over  the stage.  

Then, I read the paper, or to be more accurate, the computer screen.  Ack!!

Here is a small editorial from the NY Times.   Let us all clap our hands to greet the return of the French Fry. 

Au Revoir, Freedom Fries

Published: August 4, 2006

When Congress renamed the French fries sold in its cafeterias “freedom fries” before the Iraq war, Bob Ney, whose position as House Administration Committee chairman put him in charge of the cafeterias, said the change registered “the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France.” In the real world, it mainly allowed people to register their strong displeasure at how juvenile Congress was being.

In the last few weeks, as The Washington Times reported, Congress has quietly changed the name back. We could think of many good reasons for the move. “Freedom fries,” like the “mission accomplished” banner that President Bush stood in front of a few months later, is now a stale relic of a naïve time, when the war’s supporters were convinced that Iraqis would be free right after they finished greeting their liberators with rose petals.

The renaming also was the embodiment of President Bush’s my-way-or-the-highway diplomacy. A French Embassy spokeswoman gamely told The Associated Press at the time that “we are at a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name you give to potatoes.” But “freedom fries” was intended to be, and was, a poke in France’s eye. Harassing the French is probably not the wisest course now that America may need their help negotiating a ceasefire in Lebanon.

We would like to think that such sound policy reasons — or just that “freedom fries” was so incredibly stupid — account for the change. But the real reason appears to be that Mr. Ney was forced to give up his chairmanship of the committee because of his extensive ties to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The current chairman, Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, seems more sensible about both intergovernmental affairs and cafeteria management.

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The New York Times!


The Sound of One Domino Falling

Published: August 4, 2006

It’s been obvious for years that Donald Rumsfeld is in denial of reality, but the defense secretary now also seems stuck in a time warp. You could practically hear the dominoes falling as he told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that it was dangerous for Americans to even talk about how to end the war in Iraq.

“If we left Iraq prematurely,” he said, “the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they’d order us and all those who don’t share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines.” And finally, he intoned, America will be forced “to make a stand nearer home.”

No one in charge of American foreign affairs has talked like that in decades. After Vietnam, of course, the communist empire did not swarm all over Asia as predicted; it tottered and collapsed. And the new “enemy” that Mr. Rumsfeld is worried about is not a worldwide conspiracy but a collection of disparate political and religious groups, now united mainly by American action in Iraq.

Americans are frightened by the growing chaos in the Mideast, and the last thing they needed to hear this week was Mr. Rumsfeld laying blame for sectarian violence on a few Al Qaeda schemers. What they want is some assurance that the administration has a firm grasp on reality and has sensible, achievable goals that could lead to an end to the American involvement in Iraq with as little long-term damage as possible. Instead, Mr. Rumsfeld offered the same old exhortation to stay the course, without the slightest hint of what the course is, other than the rather obvious point that the Iraqis have to learn to run their own country.

By contrast, the generals flanking him were pillars of candor and practicality. Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. commander in the Middle East, said “Iraq could move toward civil war” if the sectarian violence — which he said “is probably as bad as I’ve seen it” — is not contained. The generals tried to be optimistic about the state of the Iraqi security forces, but it was hard. They had to acknowledge that a militia controls Basra, that powerful Iraqi government officials run armed bands that the Pentagon considers terrorist organizations financed by Iran, and that about a third of the Iraqi police force can’t be trusted to fight on the right side.

As for Mr. Rumsfeld, he suggested that lawmakers just leave everything up to him and the military command and stop talking about leaving Iraq. “We should consider how our words can be used by our deadly enemy,” he said.

Americans who once expected the Pentagon to win the war in Iraq have now been reduced to waiting for an indication that at least someone is minding the store. They won’t be comforted to hear Mr. Rumsfeld fretting about protecting Spain from Muslim occupation.

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A forward from the internet -

Cautionary Tale

     It started out innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then ust to loosen up. Inevitably, though, one thought led to another,  and soon I was more than just a social thinker.  I began to think alone -- "to relax," I told myself -- but I knew it  wasn't  true. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.  That was when things began to sour at home. One evening I turned off the TV  and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She spent that night at her mother's. I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment  don't mix, but I couldn't help myself.

        I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau, Muir, Confucius and Kafka. I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here?"
     One day the boss called me in. He said, "Listen, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't  stop thinking on the job, you'll have to find another job."  This gave me a lot to think about. I came home early after my  conversation with the boss. "Honey," I confess, "I've been thinking..."    "I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!"  "But Honey, surely it's not that serious."    "It is serious," she said, lower lip aquiver. "You think as much as college professors and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep  on thinking, we won't have any money!"   "That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently.

        She exploded in tears of rage and frustration, but I was in no mood to deal with the emotional drama.

        "I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door.  I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche. I roared  into the parking lot with NPR on the radio and ran up to the big glass doors.   They didn't open. The library was closed.

        To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night. Leaning on the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye, "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked. You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinkers Anonymous poster.

        This is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker. I never miss a TA  meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was "Porky's." Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since  the last meeting.   I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home. Life just  seemed...easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking. I think the road  to recovery is nearly complete for me.

        Today I took the final step............ I joined the Republican Party.
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The op-ed piece in the NY Times today -

This is every death that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, and Rice choose to ignore.   May we feel what they cannot, and hope, somewhere to begin  a circulation of peace.

Op-Ed Contributor

The Flags of Our Sons

Published: August 4, 2006


WHEN you fly as often as I do you learn to mind your own business as soon as you take your seat. But that wasn’t possible once I saw the military honor guard boarding US Airways’ 1:45 p.m. flight from Boston to Washington earlier this week.

I was heading through the gate when I first noticed Senator Ted Kennedy, walking down the concourse and arriving fashionably late, not an uncommon sight on this route. I stepped aside and followed him down the ramp.

As we got to the arched entrance of the plane, the members of a Marine honor guard in their dress blues were coming up that outside staircase usually used for stowing strollers and allowing mechanics on board. The marine in charge held in both hands a flag that had been folded into a triangle as if it had been previously draping a coffin, which it had.

Senator Kennedy extended his hand to the marine and said, “Thank you for your service.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied the marine.

“Are you escorting remains?” asked Senator Kennedy.

“Yes, sir, a marine.”

“And the funeral is at Arlington Cemetery?”

“Yes, sir, on Wednesday.”

“Thank you, I’ll try to get out there.”

The marine went back to sit in coach, but a man in the last row of the first-class cabin went over to him, shook hands and offered his seat. The marine reluctantly accepted. Half the passengers broke into applause.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, though quieter than usual. When we landed, the marine took his white gloves from where he’d stowed them inside his hat, put them on, and again gripped with both hands the precious cargo of the folded flag.

Then he went over to two people quietly sitting in first class — the parents of the fallen marine. None of us had known they were there.

He escorted them off the plane and into the terminal. Because of the afternoon’s oppressive heat and humidity, he had persuaded them to wait inside instead of on the tarmac.

The father looked as if he might have once been a marine himself, a handsome man of perfect posture, with bristly silver hair, dressed smartly in a blue blazer and gray slacks. The mother, blond, wore light-colored pants and an orange jacket. Her glasses made her eyes seem bigger than they were. They both looked calm, if a little lost, and gave off an aura of deep quiet. As she walked by me she noticed that a tie had fallen as I was removing something from my carry-on bag and she stopped and pointed. “I think you dropped something,” she said softly.

They stood at the window between Gates 43 and 45 and watched as a full Marine honor guard marched up the tarmac, coming to attention between the plane and a silver military hearse. The unloading of their son’s coffin from the cargo hold was very slow, and every time someone inside the terminal noticed and stopped to stare, someone else noticed and did the same, and this kept happening until about 20 people stood in silence watching out the window.

The mom leaned her elbows on the window ledge, supporting her chin and cheeks with both hands. She remained perfectly still. She stared for 10 or 15 long minutes and never moved. The father stood nearby, rocking from foot to foot and pacing a bit. They did not touch; they did not say a word to each other. Neither wore a wedding band. Perhaps they were divorced, or simply isolated in their pain.

Standing nearby was a man wearing the T-shirt of a suburban fire and rescue department that he may have earned 20 years and 35 pounds ago. He went over to the parents to chat, not knowing who they were, just one curious spectator to another.

But whatever he said to the mother caused her to turn and look at him in disbelief. Her lips didn’t move, which only encouraged him to repeat it. Her eyes widened and her chin tilted upward like a boxer who had taken a blow. She stared at him and then looked back outside toward her son. Down on the tarmac the white gloves of eight marines snapped their final salute as the doors of the hearse closed.

The P.A. system announced flights for Atlanta and Chicago. Travelers rushed to business meetings or summer vacations. The line for Auntie Anne’s pretzels was as long as ever.

Except for a handful of us standing frozen at a respectful distance from the window, the war and its carnage might as well have been on another planet. The disconnect between those who serve and those of us who are beneficiaries of their service has always felt great to me, but never greater than at that moment.

The mom and dad stepped away from the man in the T-shirt and to another window, still not touching, their movement synchronized by grief. They waited until the marine in charge came back up from the runway to escort them to a government vehicle. I went to my car and drove to work with no ambition for the day other than to be worthy.

Billy Shore is the founder of Share Our Strength, an antihunger organization.

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Checking in -

I am bustling about this morning, as my book group is overnighting in Walnut Creek at Penny's, and so, I am scurrying to complete.  It seems that saying I would be a model for the fundraiser entailed filling out a great deal of forms, which are now complete.  I really have had second, third,  fourth, and fifth thoughts, but as Steve points out, this is my edge, and so a good thing.  It is certainly a good cause as I well know.   May this weekend simmer soft for us all!