Goodbye, Molly Ivins

While the columnists and the pundits tried to elbow each other out of the way, wanting better access to any ass that might be connected with money or power, Molly Ivins was the girl you wanted next to you. She kept muttering under her breath, trying to make you snort or laugh out loud whenever some Very Important Person was at his most fatuous.

Right Foot Blue, Left Foot Yellow

Won't it be interesting if Vice-President Cheney were pulled down not by the war, not by his political enemies, not by collusion with energy executives, not by sweetheart deals for Halliburton, but by a little thing like the Libby case?

Ignoring Joseph Wilson's report on yellowcake in Africa would have sufficed; cherry-picking the facts worked in dismissing every other informed opponent of the war. Instead, Cheney's inability to tolerate dissent led him to elevate Wilson's importance as a critic. This led to Cheney, or the people around him, outing Wilson's wife as some kind of senseless payback. Now there's a mad scramble of middle aged people trying to cover their asses like a deranged game of Twister.

How Can I Think, With a Mind Full of Monkeys with Blue Faces?

I've never seen these jumping monkeys from Thera before, but I know them well. Thera was an island that exploded around 1600 BC, in a volcanic blast four or five times larger than Krakatoa. The Therans must have evacuated after a series of warning earthquakes-- no one's ever found any bodies or small possessions under the ash-- but the tsunamis would have followed them and probably wiped out the Minoan culture on Crete and the surrounding islands. Krakatoa produced tsunamis at least 100 feet high that killed more than 30,000 people, and I don't want to think about the wall of water after the explosion on Thera.

They call it Santorini nowadays, southeast of Greece and about 75 km north of Crete. Nine hundred years later, Plato describes the islands of Atlantis as a series of concentric circles, which fits the circular archipelago and caldera at Santorini today.

There's a phrase that plays in my head from Logan Pearsall Smith whenever I can't write, can't draw, and can't get anything done except pick and worry over my failures like a monkey looking for fleas. The mind is a monkey, as the Buddhists say, the monkey being "the animal with a thousand hands", always grabbing, never satisfied, and never accomplishing anything because of its short attention span.
"What do I think?" I evasively echoed, and then, carried away by the profound and melancholy interest of this question: "Think?" I queried, "do I ever really think? Is there anything inside me but cotton wool? How can I, with a mind full of grey monkeys with blue faces, call myself a Thinker?"
All Trivia, by Logan Pearsall Smith, 1902.


Friends Patricia Relf and Bill Hanavan made it to the demonstration Saturday, along with friends Caleb and Rachel and other friends and family from Kalamazoo. Pat sent these pictures of the crowds.
The saddest picture was taken behind the speakers' platform. You can make out Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins on the platform in the background; the man in the foreground, Carlos Arredondo, lost his son Marine Lance Corporal Alexander Arredondo in Iraq. He was killed in An Najaf on his father's birthday while on his second tour in Iraq.

The broadcast towers set up around the stage were so big, they blocked the commoners' view of the stage. Bill was disappointed that there weren't more angry signs.

And I've been wondering if someone would remember or rediscover the song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", even more relevant now than when it was first composed by Pete Seeger in 1967, and here it is:
It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That's how it all begun.
We were -- knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?"
"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
'Bout a mile above this place.
It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We'll soon be on dry ground."
We were -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim."
"Sergeant, don't be a Nervous Nellie,"
The Captain said to him.
"All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I'll lead on."
We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain's helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, "Turn around men!
I'm in charge from now on."
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.

We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn't know that the water was deeper
Than the place he'd once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
'Bout a half mile from where we'd gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.

Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.

Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man'll be over his head, we're
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!

The Happy Death of Children

I'm reading Mozart's Women by Jane Glover, and came across this letter by his father Leopold, describing his daughter's fight with intestinal typhoid: "Whover could have listened to the conversations which we three, my wife, myself and my daughter, had on several evenings, during which we convinced her of the vanity of this world and the happy death of children, would not have heard it without tears." Maria Anna survived, living to be 79-- but at least five other Mozart children died in infancy. Has anyone done any research on the theology taught to chldren during an era of high mortality? In our age, a child's first experience with death is often that of an elderly relative, but in the 18th century it seems more of them would be exposed to the loss of playmates and their younger brothers and sisters. How much of what the parents told them, about littlest angels and tender souls too good to live, was passed on for the parent's comfort and how much to comfort a frightened child? "If I should die before I wake..."

Jane "Hanoi" Fonda and 10,000 of Her Closest Friends Protest War in Iraq

I'm still calling it the Funny Hat Syndrome . At every serious protest rally, I've attended, the news media focuses its attention on the protestor with the most outre positions and the funniest hat.
Almost every television news story on Saturday's protest march in Washington ignored the substantive arguments against this war, but led with something like "the Sixties are back!" and made sure to mention that Jane Fonda was there, along with "40 or so" anti-Jane counter protestors. Can we PLEASE lock Fonda, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich and every polarizing camera magnet in the basement until the grown ups are finished talking and this thing is over?
You can bet that media savvy "agent provacateurs" are rubbing their hands at how quickly the ideas behind this protest were dismissed. Did they have a hand in arranging the featured speakers?
The administration has arranged it so we cannot see the caskets being unloaded from the planes. We cannot linger on the plight of warriors who signed up to go to Afghanistan and instead went three times to Iraq. Of the major outlets, only NPR seems to have noticed that Northern Pakistan-- Pakistan, our ally-- has become an R&R camp and staging platform for al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The government of Saudi Arabia, which did much to build the Wahabi Frankenstein and now cannot control it, is, like Israel, apparently unassailable. But we CAN show you all the silly puppets and movie stars you can stomach. We CAN put Ben Stein on CBS the morning after the march to tell you that the media is trying to destroy President Bush, and not his own actions.
A disastrous invasion and a mismanaged war.
A disastrous invasion and a mismanaged war.
THAT is the story, but the protestors are again allowing themselves to become the story.

Happy Mozart's Birthday-- and Elmore James, Too!

Violin Concerto 5 with Janine Jansen on a violin made by Stradivarius.

The Sky Is Crying
by Elmore James, Morgan Robinson and Clarence Lewis

The sky is crying,
Look at the tears rolling down the streets.
The sky is crying,
Look at the tears rolling down the streets.
I looked out my window,
The rain was falling down in sheets.

My baby left me this morning,
Lord knows I don't know the reason why.
My baby left me this morning,
I don't know the reason why.
And everytime I think about it,
I hang my head and cry.

The sun is shining,
Although it's raining in my heart.
The sun is shining,
Although it's raining in my heart.
I love my baby,
I hate to see us part.

Some wonderful nut with bottles and roller blades.

Poison Dripping from Its Jaws

Sir, You Forget Yourself. If our our President affects the manner of a clueless, faux-cowboy twit insulated from objective reality, the Vice-President exhibits the arrogance of a landed baron who never had to stand for election and resents the impudence of any questions from the rabble. I started to embed the video, but didn't have the stomach to post a video of that creature next to a (relatively) innocuous Komodo dragon. So if you want to see the moving pictures, click here. The irony is, Cheney's ham-handed efforts to "restore" presidential power have discredited the executive branch and the rule of law more than Richard Nixon's coverup or Andrew Jackson's Trail of Tears.

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here Come the Sexless Pistils

I could live a hundred years and never have a chance to write a title like that. Flora, a Komodo dragon at the Chester Zoo in England who produced viable eggs without a mate, is now a virgin mother. Five of Flora's eggs have hatched into little Komodo dragons. This new trick with parthenogenesis might also explain how Godzilla, Mothra, and the rest have managed to keep things going on Monster Island for so long. Or for that matter, Wonder Woman and the Amazons on Themyscria.

I knew about fish and amphibians, and apparently there are other higher-order species that can perform the same trick given the right conditions. These idle thoughts will not descend into dark thoughts about the superfluity of the male; I'm already a genetic dead end and have long been aware of how close the genders are in the human animal. One little blib in an X or Y chromosome and your income gets cut by 76%.

But how often do we get a chance to contemplate the Komodo's talent for survival: from biting Sharon Stone's ex-husband, to having saliva so infested with bacteria (due to their taste for carrion) that it might well be considered a venom? (I felt sorry for the guy, and would have gladly bought him a drink: we are of an age, and what reporter raised on Johnny Quest would pass up his chance to pose with a Komodo?)

An otherwise excellent film The Freshman was almost spoiled by its use of a skinny-headed monitor lizard in place of the much more dangerous Komodo. This like going to Hooters instead of a strip club. You guys couldn't afford an animatronic puppet for the close-ups? A stunt Komodo? I tell myself that they started with a real Komodo, but the Bruno Kirby character pawned it somewhere and figured no one would notice the substitution.

Quite a few scientists believe that the Komodos have had to live through long periods without fresh food on an island covered with ash because of volcanic eruptions on neighboring islands. Being able to eat whatever washes up on shore would be a useful skill to have. Which leads to one of the sidebar questions I've been meaning to pass on to Kim, our family microbiologist: with so much concern about drug-resistant strains of bacteria, and overuse of antibiotics, why isn't there a national effort to discover and harness more friendly little phages as an alternative to antibiotics? And is anyone trying to figure out why buzzards and Komodos don't get sick from the stuff they eat? Those bastards must have bacteriophages in their gut that would make Galactus and Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi stand in awe.

It is a religious conviction with me that the Book of Nature has many cures for our common ills if we would learn enough humility to seek our answers there. Bats and dolphins understood sonar before we did, Wasps and bees can detect explosives, Gambian rats will look for land mines for the price of a peanut butter and cheese cracker, a spider web is still mightier than our strongest cable-- why not a cure for disease in the Nightmare Alley gut of a vulture or a dragon? This is why it is such a sin that the Amazon rain forest and our own Michigan forests were clear-cut without a thought for what might be there. The cure for cancer may have already been destroyed as carelessly as a Roman soldier cut down Archimedes.

BONEYARD by Richard Moore

"Boneyard" is a sweet natured book of gothic humor. Cute and cuddly monsters are caught between the grasping wickedness of normal humans and a darker strain of genuinely satanic evil behind the scenes.

In these books, Abby the vampire, Ralph the werewolf and Michael Paris, the owner of the "boneyard", are more virtuous than the people that hate and fear them. The "good" people of the town sell themselves to the devil for a real estate deal. The creature of the Black Lagoon-- female this time-- is held prisoner, gang raped and sold into prostituion at a carnival by the "good" men of a southern town. Ordinary humans allow themselves to be manipulated into commiting atrocities by a devil that's hard to recognize, as Albert Speer said, when he's standing by their shoulder.

The cute monster genre might have begun with the television and film incarnations of the Addams Family, through the misunderstood monsters of Marvel comics and Japanese films down to Joss Whedon and countless others like "Emily the Strange" and "Hellboy".

I wonder if the popularity of this genre-- and perhaps the goth style by extension-- isn't an unconscious reaction against the very real horror show of consensual reality. There is a growing realization among horror and fantasy fans that it's not the outcast monsters that perpetuated the greatest atrocities of the past hundred years; it was the "normals", the upright citizens of Germany, Cambodia, China, Russia-- and if we keep up the good work, the United States is on a road to surpass its genocides of the 19th century. It's not the supernatural we should be afraid of, it's the peasants with their torches and pitchforks and "morality" campaigns against deviance that we should be afraid of...

The Commonplace Book of Quotations, midway through January, 2007

“I recognize happiness by the sound it makes when it leaves.” (Jacques PrĂ©vert)

Dec. 29, 2006 (UPI) -- About 90 percent of Iraqis feel the situation in the country was better before the U.S.-led invasion than it is today, according to a new ICRSS [Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies ] poll.
The findings emerged after house-to-house interviews conducted by the ICRSS during the third week of November. About 2,000 people from Baghdad (82 percent), Anbar and Najaf (9 percent each) were randomly asked to express their opinion. Twenty-four percent of the respondents were women.
Only five percent of those questioned said Iraq is better today than in 2003. While 89 percent of the people said the political situation had deteriorated, 79 percent saw a decline in the economic situation; 12 percent felt things had improved and 9 percent said there was no change.

"As long as Saddam obediently protected and facilitated the economic and
territorial interests of the American (and European) colonialists who backed him, his ruthlessness was their profit, and clearly tolerable."
(Marc Ash at

“I don’t care if it IS an orgy of death, there’s still such a thing as a napkin.”
(Willow Rosenberg)

“What I want to hear from you is how we’re going to win, not how we’re going to leave.”
(G.W. Bush to Marine commandant Gen. James T. Conway)

“Saddam Hussein deserves no one’s pity. But as anyone who has seen the graphic cellphone video of his hanging can testify, his execution bore little resemblance to dispassionate, state-administered justice. The condemned dictator appeared to have been delivered from United States military custody into the hands of a Shiite lynch mob.
(New York Times editorial)

“Pity is treason.”

“Accept the truth from whoever speaks it, the Talmud advises. Eccentricity, for Saul, conferred an analytical advantage, because it promised a fresh standpoint, from which things previously not noted might be noted; and what he disliked about the intellectuals of his time was their lack of it. Sometimes the mockery of thinking people in his books irritated me, the way the anti-intellectualism of intellectuals always does; many of his plots concerned the humiliation of intellectuality by vitality, and he taught his readers, among many other things, that seriousness was a little ludicrous. But in fact Saul was the most ferocious of the believers in ideas, because he protested that they could be found everywhere, and that they could be a primary subject of literature. He did not deny the problem of being, but he preferred to set it in the subway. When Herzog wrote to Heidegger, it was because he desperately needed an answer. This was funny, but it was not grotesque. Saul liked his profundities vernacular. What is so exciting about the carnal and commercial tumult in which his tales rejoice is that it never lets go of the question of how to live. As a matter of philosophical principle and artistic method, he married life to thought.”
[Leon Wieseltier on Saul Bellow]

“For a Westerner to trash Western culture is like criticizing our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere on the grounds that it sometimes gets windy, and besides, Jupiter’s is much prettier. You may not realize its advantages until you’re trying to breathe liquid methane.”
(Neal Stephenson)

“Modern psychology suggests that policymakers come to the debate predisposed to believe their hawkish advisors more than the doves. There are numerous reasons for the burden of persuasion that doves carry, and some of them have nothing to do with politics or strategy. In fact, a bias in favor of hawkish beliefs and preferences is built into the fabric of the human mind.” (Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon in Foreign Policy)

“In light of all this, it seems hard to believe that, just a few years ago, Rumsfeld was hailed as a visionary war leader. Among conservatives, in particular, he was treated to the sort of over-the-top hero worship that the right customarily bestows upon its standard bearers in flush political times. And so it seems as good a time as any to reexamine the wave of Rumsfeld hagiography that was in vogue for about two years following September 11, 2001. These documents offer a prime window into the pathologies of conservative thought in the Bush era. To be a loyal conservative during the last half-dozen years, you had to convince yourself to accept a series of propositions that ran the gamut from somewhat implausible to completely absurd. As those propositions collapse, one by one, conservatives are reacting much the same way as communists did following the fall of the Berlin Wall. There are the frantic efforts to rescue conservative orthodoxy by defining the party's leaders as apostates who deviated from the true faith. And there are the dazed true believers coming to grips with certain realities--Katherine Harris is a not a paragon of wisdom and fair-mindedness, after all; the administration's fiscal policies may not be completely sound; President Bush is not quite the visionary war leader we made him out to be; and so on. Only by revisiting the conservative propaganda in light of history's verdict can we see how delusional the movement had become. And on perhaps no topic were conservatives quite as delusional as on the leadership genius of Donald Rumsfeld.” ( Jonathon Chait in The New Republic)

“Only this president could extol the "thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group," and then take its most far-sighted recommendation - "engage Syria and Iran" - and transform it into "threaten Syria and Iran" - when al-Qaida would like nothing better than for us to threaten Syria, and when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to be threatened by us. This is diplomacy by skimming; it is internationalism by drawing pictures of Superman in the margins of the text books; it is a presidency of Cliff Notes.... Oh, and one more to add, tonight: Oceania has always been at war with East Asia.”
(Keith Olbermann)

“So what if the candle flickers and goes out? We have a piece of flint, and a spark.”

FOLLOW-UP to the Death of Colonel Theodore Westhusing

"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people in the private sector was surprisingly limited."

Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach, in her report on the suspicious death of Colonel Ted Westhusing

But Don't Take It Out In Public Or They'll Throw You In the Dock

Katie Rees, defrocked Miss Nevada: “I challenge those individuals to look back on their pasts and not find something they did to humiliate themselves or that they deeply regret—especially during their teenage years. I am very embarrassed by the situation. Regardless, such a brief and distant lapse in judgment does not warrant my loss of the title I worked so hard to achieve. I want to thank my family, true friends, and God, who have already forgiven me. I can only hope that the public will be as kind.”

The saddest thing about our culture is that she has apparently retreated into God Forgiving Her (for what? being young?) instead of celebrating the spirit of Carnival. So long as no one was hurt, infected, or injured in a drunken car crash, who the fuck cares? Having lived a full life, I can report to those of you knitting at home that young women will drink too much and bare too much and young men will sneak a peek. Is the Miss Nevada pageant pretending that their donkey parade ISN'T about sexual displays by young women? The young men in the crowd appear to be age-appropriate; would her father rather have a great moralist like Donald Trump squinting at her decolletage?

The photos are not to my taste but I'm more disgusted by the virginal American media pretending to be offended. This is the new scarlet letter: a society that winks at merchants of death and worships ruthless wealth but suddenly cannot countenance a bare bum. Nevada, for God's sweet sake?

Oh, I see. She didn't display her tatas and coochie within socially defined parameters. Does this foofaraw remind anyone of the ancients' fearful suppression of the Dionysian cults?

I'm wasting my breath being frustrated by the things the mainstream media wastes its breath over.

“Die Weltliteratur” by Milan Kundera, Part One: Snobbery on the Left

I love this guy Milan Kundera. You think he's talking about one thing, then you find out he's talking about something much more profound than the stated topic and by the end of the article or book he's set off a couple of cherry bombs and who knows where the pieces land?

"Die Weltliteratur" in the January 8 NEW YORKER (it's not posted online, so you're going to have to buy the magazine) starts out asking us to read more books by foreign authors and turns into a discussion of class among so-called progressives. I was struck by his description of the abuse heaped on Camus by other intellectuals for not being the right sort of person (an Algerian pied noir) and "not knowing what to think" in order to fit in, although time has shown Camus to be on the right side of most fights and a greater friend of humanity than the occasional Stalinist Sartre.

Simone deBeauvoir gave tongue to questions about gender and social class (her thoughts on pay equity in traditionally female occupations like teaching and nursing were a revelation for me after ten years on the psych ward and twenty years as a teacher). She then ditched the raffish Nelson Algren in favor of the abusive Sartre. My prejudice in favor of Algren is well-known, but we're talking about a man whose great-heartedness was recognized instincively by Billie Holliday, versus that friend of the oppressed Jean Paul who said "it was not our duty to write about Soviet labour camps" because it might discourage the French working class who according to Sartre still believed in Santa Claus as well. I'd say maybe it was about sex, but have you gotten a good look at Sartre?

Perhaps because of deBeauvoir's involvement, the snobbery against Camus reminded me of watching the moral collapse of feminism in the 1970s, when the leaders of the movement seemed to abandon working class women who needed a fair wage in favor of navel-gazing about gender. The East Coast magazines were full of the word empowerment but out here there were a lot of abandoned single mothers who had to live in trailers and could have used some help with the electric bill. I remember women talking about Ms. magazine; the magazine's indifference to problems with their subscriptions became a metaphor for the movement leaving them behind.

I remember a childhood Baptist service when an unwashed, poorly dressed black child wandered into the sanctuary during communion; she was eating barbecued potato chips and a grape pop and I at thirteen was the only one who picked up on the symbolism. I still worry if maybe that was Jesus or Elijah, a boddhisatva or one of the ushpizin. The biggest problem in working with poor people who have a lot of problems is that they're poor and have a lot of problems.

This is wandering around a lot and I haven't even gotten to the ideas that affected me the most in this article. That Darn Kundera. Our imaginary relationship is sort of like a man with a rubber ball walking a dog in an overgrown field lined by bushes. Milan Kundera throws the ball or hides it behind his back and teases me-- "where's the ball? Where's the ball?"-- and I, with my brain not much bigger than the tennis ball, go crashing into the bushes, and emerge with mixed results.

I went down to the demonstration...

To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, "We're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't we're gonna...

Write a VERY Strongly Worded Letter. And wear funny Third World hats. You just see if we don't.

One hundred people showed up, at the corner of Michigan and Park in Kalamazoo for a rush hour protest against escalation of the war in Iraq. There were only five catcalls from the passersby: "Get a life!", "Go Bush!", "Get a Job!", "I have family members in the service!" and "Pray for your president!" Compared with driver response when the war began, there was almost constant horn honking, waving and calls of support. The local chain newspaper's account gives the false impression that opinion was evenly divided. I was there, bubeleh, with my freak memory in tow, and counted five voices and one inarticulate howl gainst us, but more than one hundred in agreement with the protest. This distortion is to be expected from a newspaper that endorsed Bush twice.

I was there, waving a "No More Troops" sign, but I never quite fit in at a demonstration. They're almost always organized by non-violent groups, and I'm not opposed to violence; I'm just against such a badly-run war. Odd that this trash fire in Iraq was lit by men who were too proud to fight in Vietnam.

I'm skeptical about the efficacy of street protest as a 21st century tactic. Did we accomplish anything tonight, chip away at the mountain, or only lubricate the machine and make everyone feel better? Why not protest in Portage, a stronghold for Bush?

The news cameras were there, and a reporter for the no-longer-local chain newspaper, but like Prufrock's mermaids, I do not think that they will sing to me. There were war veterans there, and mothers of soldiers, and college professors, and at least one genuine Iraqui whose family is still trapped-- never mind them, find me a white guy with dreadlocks and a laundry list of causes I can talk to.

Do we need a "Clean for Gene" manifesto for protestors? Shall we request formal attire or work clothes, to cut down on the exhibitionism of the spiritual clog-dancers in the crowd? Media coverage of these events will almost use their antics to trivialize opposition to the war. They mean well, Barbara Ehrenrich may think they're adorable, I myself will happily discuss shamanism and tantric sex at the coffee shop after the protest, dance buck naked like the Ringtailed Nonesuch at Carnival time, but don't let yourself be made to look the fool when life and death are at stake and a grotesque mass murdering clown, George W. Bush, masquerades as a serious person.

There are 100 earnest, aching people there who don't want any more lives to be wasted. I watch the news cameraman scan the crowd and, as always, I see him focus the longest on the person wearing the funniest hat.

NOW Can We Impeach Him? Opening Other People's Mail

As a dog returns to his vomit, G.W. Bush has returned to form. On Dec. 20th, the man who would be Sulla signed a postal reform bill into law, then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under "emergency conditions" without a judge's warrant. This openly defied the law he had just signed. As far as I know all of the major news outlets were caught napping by this one, with the exception of the New York Daily News .

The official White House line is that there's nothing to see here, nothing new... All of a sudden Tony Snow is channeling George Kingfish Stevens: "We is confused? You is the one that's confused." The problem is that Bush has issued almost 800 signing statements, more than all other presidents combined.

The "signing statement" has been used by presidents to comment on new legislation, a glorified press release with no legal authority behind it. He might indicate that he disagrees with some part of the law, or considers it unconstitutional, but... Ever since the Reagan administration, the Executive has used the signing statement to indicate which parts of the law he intends to enforce and which parts he means to ignore. Mind you, there are already Constitutional means for a president to reject a law he doesn't agree with. He can refuse to sign it and toss it back to Congress for revision. He can use Lincoln's "pocket veto", i.e., stick it in his vest and "forget" to sign it.

Let me say again: the Bush administration has issued more signing statements than all other presidents combined. Oddly, this technique for avoiding compliance fits neatly with the amateur diagnosis of the president as a "dry drunk", an alcoholic who stops drinking but does not confront the destructive personality traits of an alcoholic. He might have refused to sign the law, but that would put the ball back in Congress' court, and open an unwelcome discussion of the bill's merits or defects. He might have used the pocket veto to stall for more time. Instead, the administration uses the "signing statement" and keeps everyone guessing as to just what the law is-- and that lets them make up the rules as they goes along.

When the Exxon Valdez ran aground, there was a joke: "How many captains does it take to ruin Alaska? One and a fifth. How many Texans does it take to destroy a Ship of State?

Jefferson's Koran

Radio talk show bigots, Congressman Moore from Virginia and-- to CNN's eternal shame-- Glenn Beck all threw a hissy fit because Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota wanted to take the oath of office with his hand on the Koran.

This controversy is nonsense, manufactured smoke and fury to create a controversy where none exists. The sixth article of the Consttution clearly states that there can be no religious test for holding office in the United States. Congressmen en masse raise their right hands and swear to defend the Constitution without any books at all-- their courtroom pose, with their left hand on a sacred book of some kind, is generally an after-the-oath photo opportunity. John Adams himself placed his hand on a law book instead of a Bible. I'm not sure what I would use-- The Once and Future King? A copy of Rumi? Walden? I Go Pogo?

So hurrah to Congressman Ellison for coming up with a bit of political jiu-jitsu that shames the bigots: he asked the Library of Congress to borrow Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of the Koran. The 1734 translation by George Sale was the first English translation of the Koran directly from Arabic. It was one of the books purchased from Jefferson to replace those burned by the British during the War of 1812.

Virgil Goode told Fox News "I wish more people would take a stand and stand up for the principles on which this country was founded." Goode represents Albemarle County in Virginia, the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson.


They retired Steve Yzerman’s number last night at Joe Louis Arena.

There is a reason hockey rinks play “O Fortuna” from Orf’s Carmina Burana in the third period of a critical hockey game. Hockey is an Arthurian game, with helmeted knights, suffering heroes and villainous enforcers, desperate contests of skill and grit between personalities as varied as Arthur’s knights. They even compete for a Grail: the same $50 trophy cup they’ve been fighting for since 1893 (new bands are added at the base to accommodate more names), a cup that is conceded to be the most difficult prize in professional sports.

... And Yzerman was our Arthur, the model of the fair and gentle knight whose prowess, generosity, courtesy, justice, honor, humility and honesty were the model for the men around him. He was made the youngest NHL captain in history at 21, and carried it with a solemn gentlemanliness that quietly won over even the most cynical players on opposing teams. He seemed to carry his virtue without priggishness and his skill as matter-of-factly as a master of kung-fu in a wuxia film. He made 692 goals... and 1,063 assists. Most of his farewell speech was taken up with praising others and disdaining honors for himself. He played 22 years for the same team (old-fashioned loyalty to a town that needed all the loyalty it could get) and a team that had been called “the Dead Things” made the playoffs 20 times out of those 22 years. The scars on his face (and the replacement crowns on his teeth) made him not disfigured but nobler somehow; one would rather be so scarred than wear an uneventful face,

I have no action shots here. It was fun to watch him play—the adjective heard most often was “what a pretty goal”—and my favorites were the goals he made while falling down, with one, two, three more tries at the puck before he finally spilled, indifferent to his own peril and the mayhem around him. But I most enjoyed watching Yzerman watch the game. He had a wolf’s pale stare, a picture of concentration that never seemed to waver. Even on the bench, talking to his teammates, he was watching the ice. They say the trait that marks genius isn’t necessarily IQ, but the ability to concentrate, to focus on a task without wavering more than ordinary people.

The ceremony showed the kind of affection that Mark Twain called for when he hoped to live in such a way that “even the undertaker is sorry we’re dead.” The five other players whose numbers are also retired were there in person or in spirit, two of them represented by a grandson and a son. There were many pleasures for the cognoscenti: Terrible Ted Lindsey was there, 81 years old and he could STILL kick your ass. One of my favorites, Joey Kocur was there— grinning like Jimmy Cagney and sitting next to Bob Probert behind the penalty box. The Little Professor, Larionov was there; you could hear the sighs from all the female English majors in the crowd. The most human moment came from Vladimir Konstantinov, whose body and brain were broken in a cruel, freakish accident, walked onto the ice with braces and canes instead of being pushed in a wheelchair, his teammates escorting him as if the honor was theirs. Or maybe it was the emotion on Scotty Bowman and Mike Illich's faces; you could see them thinking about the passage of time.

So much of our time on earth is spent having to struggle with the wounds made by cruel or thoughtless men, it is well and proper that we spend at least one night of the new year thinking about the traits we revere and honor and hope to achieve, sometimes.


When this administration started its war on the Constitution and its media blitz against free thought and expression-- what they describe as an attempt to restore presidential power broken by Watergate, and a return to corporate interests destroyed by the New Deal-- I laminated my ACLU card just in case... and sure enough, I've taken it out three times in public to show to people who were bad-mouthing the ACLU. In each case, they apologized for the slur on members of the ACLU. They were verbal bullies. They said they hadn't thought about what they were saying, only repeated cliches of the far-right as an excuse to push someone around.

Angels in Cages on Honore Street

My buddy Wayne in Chicago, author of FIENDS BY TORCHLIGHT, DOWNWARD SPIRAL
-- and the only writer to publish erotica in Penthouse with the words "Division Street" in the title-- is an occasional photographer of Algrenesque and noir street scenes. I'm hoping someone in our Twilight Tales circle-- Roger, maybe?-- would use Wayne's photos for reprints of some out-of-print Nelson Algren books like NOTES FROM A SEA DIARY (my favorite), CONVERSATIONS WITH NELSON ALGREN and THE LAST CAROUSEL. Wayne has posted his favorite photographs of the year on his blog FRANKENSTEIN 1959.


"You see? You see?
Your stupid minds!
Stupid! Stupid!"