December 6th, 2007

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Blackwater -

My nephew was a sharp-shooter in the Marines and received several medals and commendations for his skill.  He, long ago, outgrew the Marines, but he occasionally practices with a couple of target rifles at a range near his home.

Recently a Blackwater representative saw him there and offered him one million dollars, tax-free, for a year in Iraq.  He said, "No thanks".

It is important to realize that the Blackwater employees are not paying taxes, unlike those in the military who are paid so much less.  It is unbelievable.   One million a year, tax free.  I am so glad he would not even consider it, and I'm sure there are many who do.   We hire mercenaries, and pay them obscenely well, and they aren't there to defend the country, but to pocket a great deal of wealth.

No wonder the credibility of this country continues to sink, and Bush prefers to believe there are enemies out there.  He might look within.

Now there's a hole in which to sink.

A friend of mine teaches eighth grade at the middle school.  This year is a delight for her, because she teaches four classes a day, rather than five, and sees 100 children each day, rather than 125.  She said what a difference it makes.  Imagine if every teacher in this country could work less hours, and see fewer children, and be totally fresh and refreshed for and by those seen.   We have the money, but, instead we pay it out tax-free for a war entered on lies, and continued with lies.  How sad is that!   It makes Madame Butterfly seem like a comedy, and that it is not.

Let's sing for change, and insist that our tax dollars are spent wisely for the benefit of us.

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Jon Carroll -

Here is Jon Carroll today!

Jon Carroll:

Best surprise of the week: The latest National Intelligence Estimate, a document that represents a consensus of the nation's sundry intelligence agencies, says that Iran stopped trying to make nuclear bombs in 2003. It did so largely in response to international pressure and sanctions. So, no big boom from Tehran, and no need to enter another endless war to prevent Iran from getting weapons of, dare I say it, mass destruction.

This news runs contrary to what the Bush administration has been telling us for some time, as Dick Cheney and his minions have tried to promote the idea of another war in the Middle East, the first one having gone so well.

And how does the administration feel about the NIE report? Here's Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser: "On balance, the estimate is good news. On one hand, it confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it tells us that we have made some progress in trying to ensure that does not happen. But it also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem."

Also, this pile of shoe polish in my hand is really gold. Want to buy it?

Of course, the White House always thinks that, when it's right, it's good news. That's why it's consistently suppressed data, from WMDs to abstinence-based sex education to global warming to Abu Ghraib, that tends to support the conclusion that the White House was not in fact right. Rejoice, we were right, and we've fired everyone who says we weren't. Also, we've fired the facts.

I suppose it's technically true that the White House was right to be "worried" because everyone is always right to be worried, as I keep telling my daughters. But, since the worries have apparently been baseless, at least since 2003, Hadley might as well say that they were right to be worried that midget badgers were invading Florida.

Second, there is no evidence at all that the administration's policies were responsible for the halt in bomb building. Most of the escalating sanctions sponsored by the United States were put in place after the NIE says Iran stopped its weapons program.

It is unclear precisely when the administration knew about NIE report. Before it came out, the president first tried to classify it, then to minimize it. He was still minimizing in a speech Tuesday. Two months ago, the administration announced tough new unilateral sanctions against Iran, including a declaration that Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps was a "proliferator of weapons of mass destruction." A month ago, half a year after the NIE report was available, the administration pushed the U.N. Security Council for a third round of even tougher economic sanctions against Iran - and rejected Russian efforts to mediate the dispute.

Said Russian President Vladimir Putin at the time: "It's not the best way to resolve the situation by running around like a madman with a razor blade in his hand." Once again, the United States has made a loathsome autocrat look reasonable. Certainly Putin has his own cynical reasons for backing Tehran. Wouldn't it be great if we could support peace and diplomacy for our own cynical reasons? Oh wait, we do that - in North Korea.

But enough already. We've taken a step back from a ridiculous war, and that's good news. In 13 months, George Bush will realize his dream and begin kicking back in Crawford, trying to get a seven-figure deal for his memoirs. Can't come soon enough.

In other news: Did you get a big whiff of bread and circuses from this whole "Teddy bear named Muhammad" story? Yes, Islamic demagogues trump up stupid pretexts for discovering blasphemy or other "crimes" against religion, and yes, we can all agree that Gillian Gibbons, the British schoolteacher in Sudan who held the bear-naming contest, meant no disrespect, and that her imprisonment was stupid.

But now that she's out - the sentence was only ever going to be 15 days - and all is well, who cares? It was a silly story. Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia and Iran and all over the Arab world, women are routinely denied the most basic human rights, are routinely beaten and held captive, are routinely treated as nonpersons by their relatives and their governments.

The teddy bear story, with its "happy" ending, is just another "pay no attention to the bleeding woman behind the curtain" event. It involved a non-Arab woman, and somehow that was enough to generate outrage and official denunciations. Would it even have been a story of Gibbons had been an Arab woman? There is a kind of media-driven racism by omission, and every time one of these stories comes along, we should all be aware of what is not being reported, what is not being said.

We were right, although our rightness may have been misinterpreted at the time as wrongness. But we've now redefined our terms, so all is well.

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Winter -

All is calm here in the moment and I like this winter haiku.

Winter solitude—
In a world of one color
The sound of wind.

Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.— Basho
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One -

I come across these words again.  This is how I envision death.   The bottle of "I" dissolves into the sea, one of my favorite places to be.

Peter Matthiessen, of the book Snow Leopard fame, says, “There is a wonderful Zen metaphor, that we are like a bottle of seawater floating in the ocean.  We are encased in a bottle of our own construction, and we are separate from the whole, from the one.  If that bottle were to melt or dissolve, we would then rejoin the whole, which is our natural condition.  We aren’t separate from other beings.”

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Christmas cards -

Do you remember the days when there were twenty five Christmas cards in a box?   Maybe there still are, but I picked up boxes throughout the year and sat down tonight to pick and choose which cards to send and to whom, and many of the cards only have eight or ten in a box.  Uh Oh, as to calculations.  It has inspired creativity as I figure out ways to make sure everyone who expects one will get a card from me.   Next year I'll pay more attention to numbers.

What a delight to write Christmas cards on a rainy night.  I am grateful for the rain.  Steve and I leave for New York Saturday morning on a 7:00 AM flight, so I am bustling efficiently about.   Since we decided to go yesterday, it is a bit rushed, and it is great to not have to wait.