Mr. Sandman's Sandbox

The musings of a Deaf Californian on life, politics, religion, sex, and other unmentionables. This blog is not guaranteed to lead to bon mots appropriate for dinner-table conversation; make of it what you will.

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

To Infinity and Beyond!

I can't remember the first time I went to Dizzylan', but I know I was probably around 3 or 4. Every few years, when we visited my mom's family in Southern California, my grandparents would take all of us to Disneyland. So I've seen Disneyland at various points in its history for more than 30 years. I enjoy Disneyland even today, but I definitely have fond memories of rides and attractions that are no longer there, such as the Pirate Ship in Fantasyland that once hosted a restaurant sponsored by Chicken of the Sea; they served tuna sandwiches and other like fare. The ship was in a "lagoon" with a "plank" bridge that led to seating by Skull Rock, which was also appropriated from "Peter Pan". I remember the skyway buckets that used to transport people across the park from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland. This "ride" went through the Matterhorn, so you could see inside that ride and see the bobsleds caroming down the "mountain." I also remember "Adventure Through Inner Space"-- it was (as I remember it!) a cool ride that allowed you to be shrunk down to the size of an atom and you traveled through the atom. There was a huge microscope outside the loading area, where the queue wound through the building. Today that ride area now houses "Star Tours". But if you are on "Star Tours", look carefully at the right corner screen just as your "ship" leaves the dock; you'll see a reminder of the old "Adventure Through Inner Space" ride. Another long-time favorite that is now gone is the Submarine Voyage. I remember being fairly pissed when they pulled that ride; it was a lot of fun, and besides, how often do you get to go in a submarine? I'm mollified these days, but only because I understand they're overhauling the ride and will be recasting it with a "Finding Nemo" theme. It's supposed to be ready to go a couple of years down the road, which is about when I'd be ready to visit again. When we originally drove to Disneyland, the anticipation would build, and it would become almost a game to see who would be the first to spot the Matterhorn from the freeway. In those days, a lot of the taller buildings/rides/aspects of the park were visible from the Santa Ana Freeway. Today, motels, hotels, and office buildings block much of the vista. The original sign for Disneyland was memorable; a huge "D" followed by "isneyland" in fairytale script, with a marquee underneath. Today it's just a glitzy sign with a digital readout underneath. The original Disneyland parking lot had trams winding through it, and you boarded the tram, which brought you directly to the front gates. Today that lot is now the much ballyhooed "Disney California Adventure," and parking is now in what seems like the world's largest such parking garage, west of the park itself. They still have the trams, but it isn't quite the same.

I'm not old enough to remember the original Disneyland, or some of the rides/attractions that vanished before I was born, but I certainly went to the park often enough I remember things as they used to be. A few years back, I found this neat website that lists these long-gone aspects of Disneyland.

That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the changes. For example, I *love* the "new" Indiana Jones Ride (not so new anymore!), and I've enjoyed going on Star Tours since it opened, regardless of the fact that I miss "Adventure Through Inner Space." A couple years ago, we went to Disneyland at Christmastime, since I'd always gone during the summer, and was curious as to what it looked like during the holidays. I wasn't disappointed. They have overlays on certain rides to celebrate the holidays, with the best being the remake of the Haunted Mansion into a set from "The Nightmare Before Christmas", complete with the characters from that movie. There's also holiday decorations, a huge Xmas tree in the Main Street section, and not as many people as the summer. Since it's Southern California, it was cool but not cold; nice weather to be outside in in the winter!

Earlier this month, on May 5, Disneyland kicked off their 50th year celebration, slated to last 18 months (ah, marketing and public relations!). They had a lot of hoopla on the 5th after several months of cleaning up and rehabbing the park. The promise of a cleaner, brighter, rejuvenated Disneyland, along with commemorating the 50th year, made me want to go.

Luckily my wife and I received tickets as a graduation gift for my wife, so we headed off to Anaheim yesterday to play. Everytime I go there, I am about six again. *grin* At least it gives my wife the opportunity to pretend she has a child for a while...

While they didn't have the giveaways they had for the 35th anniversary (and I wonder why not-- 50 is a much more magical birthday milestone than 35!), you could tell they had repainted and fixed a lot of stuff. There were Mickey outlines everywhere on buildings, rides, and around the park with "50" in the center. There were commemorative displays in the store showcases on Main Street, and a 50th anniversary exhibit and movie (which is rear-window captioned) in the space previously inhabited by "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln." The castle underwent a tremendous makeover with new paint and five crowns on the turrets.

I originally was planning for us to go in the fall, but we checked our schedule and realized now would be the best time to go, before the summer crowds got too heavy. I was a bit nervous, since Memorial Day weekend isn't exactly the best time to go to any theme park, but it turned out the crowds were fairly steady, which was a pleasant surprise. Although the train was down most of the day, and Space Mountain was still being updated (it's supposed to re-open in July), we got to go on just about everything once, and even went on certain favorites twice, such as "Pirates of the Carribean." The park was sparkling clean, some of the wastebaskets in Fantasyland had the retro castle look from it's pre-1983 makeover days, and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the food fare that was on sale. In addition to the usual junk food, there were fruits and vegetables for sale. While it was (of course!) overpriced, it was a welcome alternative to the sugar and fat that usually pervades park concessions. I got some pineapple spears in Adventureland after going on the Jungle Cruise (which has a new element or two added to this venerable ride). Those rides that existed in the summer of 1955 have one car/vehicle painted gold. One flying elephant on Dumbo is painted gold, as is a ship on the Storybook Land ride. A golden motorcar and a golden pirate ship were located just outside of "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" and "Peter Pan," respectively.

Another nice surprise was the opportunity to go on the newest ride, "Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters." It's the latest addition to Tomorrowland, which is the saddest part of the whole park. While Main Street has been reliably commercial, New Orleans Square the most fun, Fantasyland the most magical, Frontierland generally the most hokey, Tomorrowland has been rather moribund the last few years or so. Other than Space Mountain and Star Tours, there really isn't any reason to be in this part of the park anymore, so the new Buzz Lightyear attraction is welcome news. We decided to use Fastpass, as we figured there'd be long lines for this ride, as it had just opened earlier this spring. A wise decision-- the Fastpass cut our wait down to less than five minutes, compared with a estimated 70 minute "wait time from this point" for the masses.

This ride was neat, but it really is an interactive video game. I suppose now that video games have been around for more than 20 years, it's a concept whose time has come, but it was both fun and cartoonish at the same time. You get into the vehicle, a cartoonish vehicle with two "blasters" in holsters and a digital readout in front of each on the dashboard. The ride then takes you through on a "dark ride" experience, with Zurg, the green three-eyed aliens, and tons of other Buzz foes -- they've all got "targets" on them. You take the blaster gun and aim it, and a "laser" that is properly aimed will register as a "hit," which then gets added to the total number of hits on your counter. At the end of the ride, you can see how many points you racked up. It was just neat enough that we decided to go on it again. It definitely doesn't have the magic of a ton of other rides, but it certainly was fun enough I can see myself going again next time I'm at Disneyland.

We continued to sample as many rides as possible. They have a new fireworks show this year, in honor of the 50th anniversary. When I was little, I always waited with bated breath for Tinkerbell to descend from the tip of the Matterhorn to the Sleeping Beauty Castle, and with her wand, "set" off the fireworks. However, I decided to pass on this this time, and we used the time to go on other rides while everyone else crowded around the castle and Main Street to see the show. It's probably neat for most people to have the opportunity to see fireworks twice in a year, but I'd bet the people of Anaheim get sick of it. Disneyland has fireworks daily during the summer tourist season, from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day weekend.

After more than twelve hours, we finally left Disneyland, and entered shopping hell to collect a few souvenirs. Once that was done came the weary march back to the car, and the drive home. It was definitely a fun day, and a good way to end the school year.

Until next time... to Infinity and beyond!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

In a Theater, (Not So) Far, Far Away...

We just got back from seeing "Revenge of the Sith", the final chapter of the Star Wars series. We really wanted to see this ASAP, so we decided to go see it RWC, although I think we may go and see it again at a DTS showing-- there's nothing like open captions! Not only that, but now that I've seen it once, I can go back and catch the little bits: the nuances, the background details, the sets, etc.

I still think George Lucas could use a course in writing dialogue, but this was much better than the previous two movies in this particular trilogy. The movie coalesced well; in the previous two installations, there were quite a few moments that I felt could have been edited or in some way tightened and improved the picture. The bits and pieces here and there were neatly wrapped up, such as the glaring inconsistency of why C3PO doesn't remember good ol' Darth later on in the original trilogy. The reviewers weren't kidding when they said this was a darker movie than "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones"; I thought it was a more dramatic film that approached the level of "The Empire Strikes Back" (which remains my favorite of all the six films), and certainly highlighted Darth Vader's dark side.

You've probably seen this by now (especially considering I'm still catching up with entries!), so I'll dispense with further chatter. *grin*

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Walking the Mother Road

We've been talking alot about how we're going to spend our summer, and one of the things my wife has wanted to do is to take long walks all over town. Since the weather has gone from mid-summer heat back to May Grey (soon to be followed by June Gloom), we decided today would be a good day to start.

After throwing on our best walking shoes, comfortable clothes, sunscreen, and the like, we hitched a ride on the 304 all the way down to where Sunset meets Santa Monica Boulevard. Once we debarked, oriented ourselves, and set our watches, we set off. Our goal: to walk all fourteen miles of Santa Monica Boulevard, from Silver Lake to the Pacific Ocean.

The intersection of Sunset and Santa Monica wasn't particularly interesting; Silver Lake is an old suburb of Los Angeles, and has weathered many ups and downs over the years. Right now it's one of those funky, trendy, slowly gentrifying neighborhoods, and where we were was no exception. We trooped off down the sidewalk, but before long, things got interesting. To our right, we could see off in the hills the famed "Hollywood" sign-- a clear view. If it wasn't so smoggy all the time, the sign would be visible from a lot of places. But we weren't all that far off from the Hollywood Hills, so it was pretty clear for us.

The rain we had over the winter has paid off-- we passed a couple of hillsides covered with flowers, and it made for a very cheery start to our trek. Yet we were still in kind of a sketchy area. There were a lot of warehouses, corner stores, panhandlers, billboards in Spanish, lots of Mexicans and other Latinos walking around, and generally a very economically mixed population. This wasn't South Central (oops, I mean just plain South!) L.A., so we didn't feel threatened at all, but it wasn't the most chic part of town. We passed by the subway stop at Vermont and Santa Monica, just up the street from L.A. City College, so there was a lot of traffic there- families, students, working folks, etc.

Our main goal was to go from one end to the other, but it was understood that either of us could stop anytime we wanted. One of the first things we slowed down to look at was the city's Bureau of Street Lighting. It's an ugly government building (whaddya expect??), but the huge yard was filled with street lights of all different designs. Some were the usual granite types you see everywhere, but some were rather beautifully designed and obviously meant for the more historic districts of town or areas the city intends to beautify. Here's some examples of streetlights.

The next major sight we stopped for was the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Once known as Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, it was rundown until recently. It was bought a few years ago by a guy who really went in, cleaned it up, and turned it into a profitable enterprise and a rather unusual cemetery (they show movies on Halloween night in the cemetery!). Some of the people buried here include Douglas Fairbanks (and Douglas Fairbanks, jr.), Cecil B. DeMille, Mel Blanc, and Johnny Ramone, just to name a few. We walked along the perimeter of the park, only to realize there were tons of Armenian gravesites. This was really fascinating, because almost every Armenian headstone had an engraved or actual picture of the deceased's face, while some of the more elaborate memorials had a bust or carved sculpture of the departed. Some of the inscriptions were in English, while others were in Armenian. Many of the graves had little gardens planted on them, with different flowers and shrubs.

Even though we didn't have a guidebook or map, pretty soon we found both Fairbanks men, Hattie McDaniel's centaph, Cecil B. DeMille's last resting place, and the lifesized statue that graces Johnny Ramone's grave. Old Los Angeles was present too: we passed by the monument and graves of Harrison Gray Otis and the Chandlers; longtime owners and publishers of the L.A. Times. There was plenty of shade, thanks to trees all over, and the cemetery even had little paths running through the center. It almost seemed more like a park than a graveyard.

After passing Mel Blanc's grave on the way out, we exited the cemetery and continued our walk. The area we were passing through had a lot of warehouses: some were regular commercial properties, some were for the studios or for the industry in general. At one particular building, we observed a bunch of men standing around. All of a sudden, one started backing away, down the sidewalk, then off onto the street, as another man began advancing towards him menacingly. A fist fight was about to break out, as I saw the aggressor start to remove his t-shirt, all the while surrounded by the crowd, advancing towards the luckless target. Needless to say, we didn't hang around too long.

There's Hollywood, and then there's Hollywood. For most people, Hollywood is the big sign, movie stars, glitzy places, swank bars and eateries, the stars on the sidewalk, Grauman's Chinese Theater, the Oscars... but the real Hollywood is decidedly middle- to lower-middle class, grungy in parts, seedy in others. If you want the "Hollywood" experience, head to the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. That's a walk we might do eventually.

We continued walking, and eventually got to the outer edges of WeHo (West Hollywood), where we decided to break for lunch at Astro Burger. This is a great burger joint, that serves not just great burgers but also grill items, some Mexican, veggie stuff (fried zucchini, gardenburgers, etc.). Has a very retro look, and Hilary Swank actually stopped there for a gardenburger and diet Coke after she won the Oscar this past February. I've been getting different things each time we go in, so this time I had a pastrami and swiss sandwich- delish! Onion rings and a pop. My companion ordered an avocado burger, diet Coke, and shared my onion rings (it's a rather large serving!).

After sating our hunger and relieving our urgent needs in the little boy's/girl's room, we continued onward, approaching the main drag of Santa Monica in WeHo. This part of town is definitely Boy's Town-- WeHo is to L.A. as the Castro is to S.F. and Christopher Street is to NYC and Dupont Circle is to D.C. There are rainbow flags everywhere, gay couples and singles everywhere, and some very *interesting* stores everywhere. Some storefronts were typical for any trendy area, but one or two had, um, rather suggestive clothing in the window. One place modeled some very sexy undewear/lingerie for the gentleman wanting to show off his package, and another had t-shirts with screens of half-naked model types. One store had quite a few interesting books and items in the display case. So it was that kind of atmosphere. But there were plenty of clothes stores, restaurants, and more bars than you can count, including the famous Barney's Beanery. The place has an interesting history, by virtue of being along Route 66.

Yep, we'd been walking on old Route 66 all this time. The Mother Road, as some call it, has its terminus in Santa Monica. The original road ended in downtown L.A. (Broadway and Seventh), and then later changed to end on what is now Lincoln at Olympic Boulevard in Santa Monica; but by the end of the road's days, it concluded at the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier, at Ocean and Colorado. Route 66 wends through Southern California and through the L.A. metro area, down the old Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway), up Sunset, through Silver Lake, and onto Santa Monica Boulevard all the way out to Santa Monica itself. Some of the buildings and sites we'd passed thus far were places travelers would have seen on their journey on 66.

Barney's has been around since 1920 (and at its current location since 1927), so it definitely qualifies. I haven't yet been in the place, but I should stop in sometime. There was a store that seemed to specialize in Goth clothing and materials (lots of skull items-- perfect for Kappa Gamma!), but it was closed, I think because of Memorial Day weekend and all that, but I could be wrong.

We passed by a pet store as we got closer to the western border of WeHo, and there were three parrots outside. By this time it was rather warm, and the owner or employee was standing outside, spraying water on the brightly plumed birds, cooling them down. It was kind of neat to see these large, beautiful birds up close, so we stopped and watched for a few minutes, before continuing down the street.

Just at the intersection of Santa Monica and Doheny, we passed the Troubadour, an old club that's been there for ages. Every time I drive down Santa Monica at night, there's always either a line of people trying to get in, or people hanging about outside, taking a cigarette break or just chatting.

Doheny is more or less the eastern border of Beverly Hills, and at this point we crossed into a new part of the whole L.A. metro area. Beverly Hills is different now than it used to be; while stars still live there, most of the big A-list names no longer live there-- they're spread out, up in the hills and canyons, on Mulholland Drive, in Encino, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, and tons of other places. Still, Beverly Hills is a fabulously wealthy community, and it shows. There's a park (Beverly Gardens Park) that runs along the northern side of Santa Monica Boulevard, and we've both walked/jogged through many, many times, so this wasn't a new part of the street for us. But it's shaded, with lots of grass, and has plots of flowers here and there. We pasesd by some very lovely roses at one point. So it's a pleasant walk. As we got closer to the Civic Center, we were both a little parched and in need of a pit stop, so we decided to stop at the Beverly Hills Library. I needed to check something in Consumer Reports anyway, so this made sense. Although we live in L.A., we have reciprocal privileges at the Beverly Hills Library, and until recently, it was the closest library to us, so we use it often. It's right across from City Hall, which is one of the more beautiful public buildings I've seen in the United States. The library is a very nice one, with a healthy collection of books, so we lingered for a little while, using the facilities, getting a drink of water, and checking the new books for a few minutes. Once we were refreshed, we went out and up to Santa Monica Boulevard again.

We continued through the park to its central area, where there's a statue of a hunter and hounds (called, appropriately, Hunter and Hounds)-- it seems out of place. It's something you might see back East, or in front of one of those stuffy Tudor-style mansions or something, but not in the middle of Beverly Hills. A few blocks down is a whole block's length cactus garden, with tons of different cactus. Usually it's neat, but when we walked today, some of the cacti were in bloom, so we got to see cactus flowers, which I enjoyed.

At the end of the park is the Electric Fountain, which is a pretty, circular fountain which has water jets and at night has different colored lights playing over the water. It's always nice to see that. Across the street is the Beverly Hilton, until recently owned by Merv Griffin and it's the annual site of the Golden Globe Awards. Within that complex is Trader Vic's, where the Mai Tai was reportedly invented. It's a rather pricey place for people in our economic bracket, but one of these days I'd like to go over and have a Mai Tai there. *grin*

We were now at the other end of Beverly Hills, and back in L.A., at least officially. Unofficially, we were in Century City, which is mostly a collection of expensive high-rise apartments, office buildings, the Century City Mall, and at its southern end bordering Pico Boulevard, the 20th Century Fox studio. This is also where the nightmare that is the re-construction of Santa Monica Boulevard is taking place. It started not long after we moved to L.A., and was supposed to be finished this fall. However, the rains this past winter undoubtedly delayed work, and since then, I haven't seen much work done-- maybe six people total in the two or three mile construction zone. The L.A. Times ran an article that featured complaints by businesspeople whose business has dropped as much as 60% since. I'm now starting to see signs of activity, but the latest on the grapevine says it'll be completed sometime next year. In the meantime, we all suffer through clogged, re-routed, dusty roads and closed-off corridors. I'll be curious to see if the inconvenience is worth the effort in the end... We passed the southern edge of the Los Angeles Country Club, a rather swanky place that had its moment back in 1947 when Howard Hughes crashed a plane on the grounds and nearly got killed. This incident was featured in the recent flick, "The Aviator."

At the edge of Century City, we decided to take a break and head to our place, which is just off of Santa Monica (ah, how convienent, you say!). We trooped in, used the bathroom yet again, grabbed glasses of cold lemonade (ahh... now I need to get a glass now myself-- all this typing's got my throat dry! *wink*), and checked the mailbox. Once we did that, we decided to continue onward. We'd finished roughly nine miles at this point, and the rest would be fairly easy, we thought.

Five blocks into our resumed walk, we passed by the Mormon Temple. The Los Angeles Temple is on a slope, and has a nice grassy lawn in front. During Christmastime, there are lights all over the grounds, including up the trunks of palm trees and winding through the palm leaves. The construction and ensuing mess continues at this point, up to the intersection at Westwood, and beyond. This is the southern edge of Westwood, the upscale neighborhood south of Westwood Village and UCLA. At the intersection of Santa Monica and Sepulveda (the longest street in Los Angeles County-- 26 miles. If you're planning to run a marathon, good street to practice on!), the overhaul of Santa Monica Boulevard finally ended, and we crossed under the 405 (aka San Diego Freeway) underpass. Now we were in West L.A. and Sawtelle. There's lots of different shops, stores, and businesses along this stretch, including the Nuart Theater, which shows "Rocky Horror Picture Show" at midnight every Saturday. Now that I think about it, we should take advantage of it and go to a showing. My wife has never seen RHPS in its glory, with audience participation.

Down the boulevard a bit we passed Benito's, which is one of our favorite taco joints in this town. It really is worth it-- cheap and filling. Great fish tacos, so the wife swears. Great tacos, period, so I swear. Decent taquitos too... I always get jamaica when we're there, and my better half gets horchata.

Soon we entered the final municipality on our journey: Santa Monica. By now the miles were starting to take their toll, and our poor feet were beginning to whine. Unfortunately it didn't help that this stretch is mostly auto dealer's heaven, with car dealer and auto shop after car dealer and auto shop... we did spot a couple of new restaurants to try in a small strip mall-- a Greek restaurant and an Oaxacan joint. A future dinner outing is in our future... Yet that was just a moment of respite in what was becoming a boring trip-- at least I know where to go next time I'm in the market for a car!

Eventually the streets become numbered streets, starting with 26th Street, and counting down, so it was nice to know we were nearing the end. As we approached downtown, we could start to smell the ocean, in addition to feeling it. By about 7th Street things got interesting again as we entered downtown and passed by one of my favorite stores, Hi De Ho Comics. It's not the largest comics shop I've been in, but they have a very good selection of reprinted material, a wide breath of overall comics selections, and a varied set of categories, from comic strip anthologies and compilations, to graphic novels, to manga and anime, to books on pop culture, to books on how to draw and cartoon, all in addition to the Usual Gang of Idiots (MAD, Marvel, DC, etc.).

We soon reached the Third Street Promenade and the trendy parts of downtown, and just a couple blocks past that, Ocean Boulevard. We doggedly crossed the street just as the sun was setting, and ended our day on a park bench in Palisades Park (a park that stretches along the bluffs, or palisades, overlooking Santa Monica Beach and the Pier; lots of gravel paths, joggers, benches, flowers, and homeless folks), watching the tides come cresting in, the golden globe of life sinking below the horizon, and the bluffs and mountains of the Santa Monica range and the beaches of Malibu off in the distance.

After catching our trillionth wind of the day, we stumbled back into the city, and caught a bus home. It's been a long, long day, but it was really worth it. We're already talking about where to forge our next path in this city of ours.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Laughing Sal

Before I was old enough to go there, Playland-at-the-Beach in San Francisco closed. A West Coast version of Coney Island, Playland spanned two whole blocks by Ocean Beach, just north of the western end of Golden Gate Park. Like other amusement parks of its era, by the late 60s Playland was a shadow of its former self. So... exit, Playland; enter, developers. Today, the site is packed with cookie-cutter condos with ocean views, affordable only to those refugees that got out in time, and other similarly well-off people.

Amusement parks these days seem to break down into three categories: 1) corporate amusement parks such as Six Flags (we've got Magic Mountain down here in SoCal; once an independent, it got gobbled up by Six Flags some time ago); 2) "entertainment" parks, pioneered by Disney and continued by Universal (although I think Disneyland in Anaheim is really in a class of its own, compared with Walt Disney World, but that could just be my nativist California bias *grin*); and 3) those parks that survived the end of the glory days and continue to operate throughout the country. Most of these seem to be centered in the Midwest and back East for the most part; the big places like Luna Park, Playland, etc. are all gone. Coney Island is a shadow of its former self. The pier at Santa Monica is somewhat of a joke. I'd say the closest thing we've got out here is probably the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz, which is still going strong.

One of the attractions at Playland was a coin-operated robotic mannequin named Sal, who greeted Playland visitors with this loud cackle. My mother, who lived in San Francisco and later the South Bay, remembers Sal well. So did thousands of others. After Playland closed, this guy who's collected all sorts of antique games for ages was able to procure one of the Sals (there's reportedly more than one-- one was the "regular" one, while the others were backups), and put it on display at the Musee Mecanique, which was in the lower level of the Cliff House, at the north end of Ocean Beach. The Musee has games that go back a century, and most of them are penny, dime, and quarter operated. Everything from masterfully constructed toothpick farms and fairs to the old-fashioned stereopticon and "movies" that you could see that featured "risque dancers!" and the S.F. earthquake of 1906, and things like that, to fortune telling machines to animated "houses of horrors". They're fun, silly, neat, and worth spending a little time and money at. When I lived up north, I used to take guests there-- it was always a fun time, a nice break after tramping around the sights downtown and in the more touristy areas.

The Cliff House is currently under renovation, so the Musee has temporarily moved to Pier 45-- I haven't been to the new location, but I'm glad they were able to make the move. It really is a worthwhile piece of San Franciscana.

Now the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz has apparently obtained their own Sal; while it isn't quite the same (Santa Cruz's boardwalk has been in operation for nearly a hundred years itself, and Playland was a contemporary), it'll be neat to see Sal in a more familiar atmosphere-- among the rides and games by the beach. One thing I love about Santa Cruz is their carousel actually has brass rings. Many carousels used to have this feature, but these days the ones I've ridden in recent years (D.C. on the National Mall, Disneyland, etc.) don't seem to have the brass rings anymore. Not so on the Boardwalk. Here, you go round-and-round, but there is also a point in the ride where if you lean forward and put your hand out just so, you can catch a ring. The next thing you have to do is throw it at this giant clown's mouth, and see if it goes in. It's not as easy as it sounds, and it makes an already neat merry-go-round ride that much more exciting.

I have a picture somewhere of me at age five, riding the carousel. Another thing that comes to mind: when I was little, we lived just off of Highway 17, and we would go in the summer to Soquel or Santa Cruz for the day. On the ride over the Santa Cruz Mountains, we would pass Santa's Village. This now defunct park was past the crest of the mountains, in Scott's Valley. We never stopped, but I always looked longingly at the candy-cane entrance and hoped someday to go. By the time I had the opportunity to stop, I was old enough that it really wouldn't have been exciting for me, and then it closed. The original was in Skyforest, near Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains, and then they built one in Illinois. I know both California locations are now closed: the Scott's Valley version is now a business park (I passed by it a couple years ago), and the Skyforest location narrowly missed being engulfed in the huge fires in the mountains last year. I think the Illinois one may still be in operation, but I'm not really sure at all. I just checked-- it's still operating. So if you want the Santa's Village option, go to Illinois.

As the summer season begins, I'll probably go down to the beach. I may even head over to the Santa Monica Pier. But for some real fun, I'll have to follow the coast about 350 miles north, til I get to Santa Cruz-- now the new home of Laughing Sal.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Boy, just when I finish writing about the original Patriot Act, here comes Patriot Act II. This article appeared just a few hours ago, and it's even more troubling. Apparently now the gummint is proposing that the FBI can do an end-run around the judiciary and obtain all kinds of records: medical, military, tax, and travel, among other things. That hemorrhoid operation you had last year? Now the FBI knows. The charitable donations you made, or political contributions? Not between you and the group you gave to anymore. The trip you took to Mexico for the drugs you can't afford at home? No longer a private matter. That's just the tip of the iceberg, I suspect.

On one hand, yes, there is a need to gather as much information on terrorists of all stripes. I'm not against that, and I doubt anyone else is. But there is such a thing as accountability, and the Patriot Act and its successors (I hope there aren't any, but we got the Patriot Act in the first place, hm?) don't provide for the checks and balances that we pride our system on having. Is going through a judge for a warrant or a subpoena *really* such a hindrance? The FBI, state and local police, and investigators have long had no problem going to court, briefly explaining why they needed X, Y, and Z documents, and obtaining permission to secure such information. Yes, sometimes the process takes a few days, or a little longer. But even in the most immediate of cases, I'm sure an expedited request can be made, and a judge with a modicum of intelligence and common sense can speed up the process.

But without the judiciary as a middleman to check police powers, what's to prevent the kind of tracking and intimidation I mentioned yesterday? What's to prevent all kinds of fishing expeditions? Really, just based on the opinions I've shared thus far, I could have an agent in the near future rooting through all of my records, even though I wouldn't hurt a fly-- and all the agent would have to do is say that I'm a potential or suspected "terrorist." I don't know about you, but I consider that a violation of my privacy, for one thing.

If this is going to happen, I'd like to suggest that instead of being called "Patriot Act II," instead it should be called "COINTELPRO II." Now where's Church Committee II, when you need it?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Uses and Abuses

One of the many reasons I oppose the Patriot Act is that based on the history of our gummint and our grand experiment with democracy is that just as people use legislation and institutions, so do they abuse them. A case in example is this article, which outlines some of the charges being made against the FBI and its use of the Patriot Act.

While there certainly needs to be some level of awareness about domestic activities, we've had quite a few instances in recent history where the gummint has subverted laws and regulations to shadier purposes. During the 1950s, there was McCarthyism, where Senator Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, and other minions worked to discredit and in essence destroy the lives of hundreds of people. Even before that, you had the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), once known as the Dies Committee. While HUAC was initially set up to investigate both left and right-wing extremists, thanks to Southern sympathizers on the committee groups such as the KKK were conveniently ignored and by the 1950s, the McCarthy era saw HUAC searching high and low for Communists. Even after McCarthy was censured, HUAC continued to operate until the 1970s. It really wouldn't surprise me if, in today's climate, we saw a resurgence of such a thing as HUAC.

The 1970s also saw the end of COINTELPRO, thanks to the Church Committee (named for its chair, Senator Frank Church of Idaho; formally known as the Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities). COINTELPRO was an acronym for COunter-INTELigence PROgram, an arm of the FBI. It was started in the 50's as a means to covertly track, intimidate, and compromise groups that were deemed to be dangerous to the government, were under the control of foreign nations and agents, or fomented dissent beyond what the FBI and the administration deemed acceptable. Eventually this scope expanded to the point that Martin Luther King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, various anti-war groups, and numerous other organizations and people ended up being spied upon, tracked, infilitrated, and intimidated. The Church Committee found numerous abuses by the FBI, the CIA, and other gummint agencies and in the aftermath of the committee's report, COINTELPRO died the death it so richly deserved.

Fast forward to today. Let's see... covertly track. The article mentions the FBI keeping files on groups such as the American Friends Service Committee and the ACLU itself.

What about intimidation? Last year, it was reported that the FBI visited individuals, their families, and friends in not-so-subtle attempts to discourage them from participating in protests at the Republican Convention in NYC. In the article I linked above, it states in part: "In addition to asking about easily accessible information such as current addresses, the agents also asked the parents for information on their sons' political activities." The agents then visited individuals directly, and apparently increased surveillance after these visits. These activists hadn't even done anything yet: they weren't in Boston or NYC, they hadn't done anything illegal. Yet they were essentially treated as criminals. If that isn't a form of intimidation, then I don't know what is. It isn't just the FBI, either. I mentioned in an earlier blog about the NYPD rounding up, arresting, and videotaping peaceful protesters (along with dozens of innocent bystanders!).

Lest you think this is all leftist gobbledygook, here's an excellent opinion piece by former Representative Bob Barr-- a man whose opinions and stances I normally detest. However, in this case, he and others are joining the ACLU (among other groups and individuals) to combat the Patriot Act. Barr recognizes that freedom of speech is one of the most precious rights an American has, and an essential part of what America is all about. When you lose the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, you essentially don't have an America anymore.

What really bothers me is that the upcoming sessions in the Senate to discuss whether or not to renew the Patriot Act are going to be held in secret. This piece of legislation affects all of us, since it concerns some of our most basic rights. So why is it being hashed out in private? Isn't the business of the gummint also the American people's business? What are they going to talk about in private that will affect us, that we're not going to know about until it's too late? For that matter, what about the proposed "Patriot Act II"? What rights and freedoms are we willing to give up in the name of security? This leads to deeper questions: What does America mean? If our Constitution is one of the defining points of the United States, what happens when it no longer means anything?

I have a quote that forms my sig on my personal e-mail, and it sums up how I feel about what's happening these days: "You could say that you are fighting for democracy abroad, but if you lose democracy at home, what have you won?"

Sounds like something someone could have said yesterday, huh? Maybe a Democratic politician, or a leftist activist, or a blogger. In fact, it was said by Frank Emi in 1944; Emi was interned at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, for the "crime" of being a Japanese American during WWII.

What indeed, are we winning?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Little History

The weather lately has been a lot warmer than usual- it's starting to feel like summer! We're both just relaxing as much as we can before my wife starts her internship and before I immerse myself in yet another round of job searching. It's a nice vacation for both of us; just some time alone to reconnect and enjoy each other's company.

Today we decided to go to the Museums of the Arroyo Day, an annual freebie involving several nearby museums just east of downtown L.A. in the Arroyo Seco, between Mt. Washington and Montecito Heights, and in Pasadena. Since we'd already gone to the Southwest Museum and we didn't have any interest in going to Pasadena, we just went to Heritage Square and the Lummis Home. I'd been to Heritage Square maybe fifteen years ago, and went to the Lummis Home about the same time, so it had been a while. I really didn't remember all that much. My wife was a first-time visitor.

We got there fairly early, soon after the museums opened, and it was already pretty crowded. We parked at the very end of the street, just off the freeway, and walked down to Heritage Square. This is a park-like area that contains several houses and buildings that used to be elsewhere in Los Angeles. Many of the buildings have been restored, at least on the outside, while several have had extensive work done to the interior. They were all Victorian-era homes, most in Eastlake or Queen Anne style, and are similar to the types of houses you would have seen on Bunker Hill prior to the "march of progress." A more contemporary setting would be the Carroll Avenue houses in Angelino Heights that I took my mother-in-law to see; these homes are also mostly Eastlake, Queen Anne, Italianate, etc. and date from the same time period.

The workers and volunteers were all dressed up as if it was still the turn of the 20th century, in Victorian or Edwardian-era clothing. Since Heritage Square was gated off, there were no modern vehicles, and it was possible to sort of envision what it must have looked like once upon a time. A couple of the houses were open on the ground floor, such as the Hale House, and furnishings could be found within, including old parlor furniture, kitchenware, etc.

Where Heritage Square differs from most museums is that there's hardly any signage or descriptions, so it was difficult to get a sense of the history of the house, its occupants, or how it wound up at Heritage Square. A brochure we obtained at the information booth provided a brief description of each building and the year it was moved to Heritage Square, but said nothing else. For the most part, our time there was appreciating the architecture of an era long gone.

The most interesting house there that we saw was the Octagon House, which once stood in Pasadena. It's in the shape of an octagon, and was very creatively designed. Definitely a lot of cross-ventilation and maximum use of space! No long hallways or narrow foyers that use up square footage, and since the frame was octagonal, it actually used a bit less wood than a usual square or rectangular-shaped home would. Some present-day developers could certainly learn a thing or two here.

Another home once belonged to a wood carver, and the interior of the house was beautiful, with wood-scroll carvings in the lintels, mantels, door frames, and everywhere. Although it was not clearly stated, I inferred that the former owner did all of this work himself. Right now it's in the process of being restored.

An old police car from the 20's had been brought out on the lawn for exhibition, and as we finished touring the handful of buildings, an old army truck from the WWI-1920's era pulled up, with several re-enactors in old army uniforms from the period. Considering the thermometer was pushing 90, I doubt it was very comfortable, but it certainly promoted a sense of authenticity!

Once we finished our tour, we took the free shuttle from Heritage Square to the Lummis home, just across the Pasadena Freeway from Heritage Square. This was once the home of Charles F. Lummis, a well-known journalist and historian who was a proponent of the Southwest and its peoples; he helped found the Southwest Museum (using his own collection of Native American artifacts to start the museum's holdings), which is not too far away. The house, called El Alisal, is constructed of boulders and concrete, and looks somewhat like a sort of Southwestern castle. Lummis built the place himself over a number of years, so his handiwork was quite evident throughout. The ground floor is open to the public, and contains some furnishings of Lummis', along with lots of photos and mementos lining the walls, including photos embedded in the window shutters. There are also offices within the house, as the home now houses the Historical Society of Southern California. The rear has a patio, where someone was giving a lecture. Behind that was a building which was not open to the public, but was apparently once the guest house (It probably contains offices for the HSSC). Surrounding El Alisal is a large garden filled with native flowers, shrubs, and plants, with plenty of cactus along the way.

By the time we finished, it was getting hotter, and we decided we'd had our fill of history and culture for a day. We walked back across the bridge spanning the freeway, and hopped into our car and sped home. It was a nice day to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Fork in the Road

Often when I'm just sitting around, I wonder what the future holds. While I'm not a big sci-fi fan, I do think about movies, short stories, and articles I've read or seen that envision what the future will be like for humans on this planet. On my optimistic days, I think that there is plenty of ingenuity, innovation, creativity, and resourcefulness that we'll all be relatively okay. Other times, I'm pessimistic.

I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record (for examples thereof, see here, here, and here!), but I read this article last week, and found it rather thoughtful. While I agree that our "industrial civilization" as we know it won't exist in the same form once traditional energy sources/minerals are gone, I highly doubt that we're suddenly going to jump back to the Middle Ages. For one thing, the knowledge and technology we possess will still be intact. We're just going to have to figure out another way to make it all work.

Where I *do* agree with the author is the fact that absent reliable means of transporting food, we're going to be forced to go back to either growing our own food or relying on local markets to supply goods. Given the fact that many present-day cities and metropolitan areas developed from small towns and farming villages, this means the best land available for farming and growing food is gone. A perfect example is in the Central Valley here in California, where I grew up. The first settlers situated themselves near resources: water, wood, and previously developed areas. This meant erecting homes and towns on or near Indian villages (the same was true much earlier in our history; you think the Pilgrims and the Jamestown settlers just magically waved a wand and had towns overnight? Think again!), where fields were already cleared, paths to rivers and forests existed, and the land could easily support a family or two. Or three, or four... Before you knew it, a town sprang up, which then blossomed from a village into a city. In the case of important hubs, ports, and other centers of business, these cities exploded into metropolises, gobbling up all the available land with it.

In the Santa Clara Valley, where my parents grew up, there used to be hundreds of acres of fruit trees, farms, and other rural outposts. Even as late as the 1960s, there were miles of apricot, plum, and peach trees around the San Jose area. Not today. All of that area in the South Bay is now overrun with dot.coms, overpriced houses, freeways, strip malls, and other aspects of human habitation. It's so expensive and crowded people are living in Livermore, Tracy, even as far as Stockton, Manteca, and other valley towns and commuting to jobs in Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco. Of course, all the fertile farmland in those towns are sold to developers for a tidy sum, who then permanently destroy the topsoil in their mad dash to create a new cookie-cutter development and reap big bucks from the desperate souls in search of a 3 or 4-bedroom castle complete with lawn and backyard.

So what happens when everything comes crashing down? You can't exactly tear down a house and try to become a farmer overnight. I know I'll probably end up not doing it, but sometimes I fantasize that the best thing for me to do is to try to buy a small farm or a few acres *now*, teach myself how to grow the crops I need, and prepare for the day when going to the supermarket is going to seem as archaic as a doctor making a house call. A few fruit trees, a large vegetable garden, a patch of wheat, a few chickens... something simple. Those of you that know me know this is definitely a pipe dream! *grin*

I am fascinated though by Partridge's mention of bio-fuels, especially the use of garbage. I'll have to educate myself more about this. I already think solar energy is an idea that should have been implemented ages ago. When Enron was screwing us a couple years back, people who had solar panels on their houses actually ended up with excess energy, and were able to keep their bills ridiculously low. I know they're expensive to install initially, but if we end up staying in California or the Southwest, I will probably spring for the installation of solar panels on our roof. Even if we end up somewhere back East, it would still allow us to reduce the amount of gas and electricity we need from more traditional sources.

I definitely agree with the need to redistribute our federal funds from military use to preparing for the future. The U.S. spends more on its military than any other nation; surely we can divert some of that money towards developing new sources of energy? I'd rather use our collective money to save lives and maintain as much of our standard of living as we can than use it to kill and maim people.

I'll be curious to see if anyone influential actually assesses the kinds of things Partridge mentions, and apply some of that reasoning towards some viable solutions. In the meantime, we're definitely at a fork in the road, and it's time to choose which path we're going to take as we ride into a future that has no petroleum.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Opening Day

Well, it's here. The first day of "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith". All the reviews/advance notices that are out so far say this one's a winner compared with "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones". There have been quite a few premieres, including one in Westwood last Thursday. I had been planning to join the crowds and watch the stars come in their limos, walk down the red carpet, and do the whole media blitz, but of course, my mother-in-law was with us. While she would have been excited to see a movie premiere in its entirety, these things require standing on your feet, crowded and jostled by tens of dozens of equally starstruck looky-loos, for hours. No place to sit down, no bathrooms nearby-- it wouldn't have been very comfortable for her. So I had to pass-- just as well. Unless you're either in the bleachers (not entirely sure how you get a seat there! If you know, let me know, okay?), or right at the front of the metal barriers the cops set up at the intersections, the view isn't always the best.

Once I figure out the schedule for RWC or DTS showings, we definitely plan to donate some money to the theaters and to Lucas and watch this one. It'll be nice to see how it all wraps up!

I just ran across this, and found it amusing. It's amazing what people will do these days just to have a good time... *snicker*

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Fourth Estate

While I've never been a big fan of the Corporate Media, it's still shocking to see that people can't identify "freedom of the press" as part of the First Amendment, and even more saddening that 22% think the gummint should wield censorship. All this comes from a survey, which you can see here. Of course, polls and surveys aren't 100% accurate, but they still serve as barometers of sorts. I think it's fair to say part of the problems the CM has is self-inflicted; it's pretty hard to trust the press when you have people like Janet Cooke, Mike Barnicle, and Jayson Blair, among others. It's also difficult when you have news outlets like Fox News abandoning any pretense of objectivity or journalistic standards. Sometimes it's a bit mixed, as in the case of Dan Rather and the memos regarding Smirk's "service" in the National Guard-- some say Rather and CBS screwed up, while others say it was a red herring planted by Smirk's political operatives designed to deflect the heightening coverage of Smirk's missing months from the Texas Air National Guard. Other times the credibility gap for the press is external, as seen in the case of the payola scandal with journalists like Armstrong Williams being paid to shill for the White House, or the scandal involving Jeff Gannon/James Guckert [you can tell I really like Wikipedia! *grin*], the "reporter" who was revealed to be a gay escort service employee, and gained access to the White House press briefings, even though he wasn't really qualified to be credentialed. The latter is a case that I think has been neglected by the Corporate Media, and is rather serious (though not as serious as the Downing Street Memo).

There are other cases, such as Robert Novak's exposing Valerie Plame's identity as an undercover CIA agent. This case is still being investigated, though I don't have much hope for the truth to come out and the person(s) responsible being brought to justice. Although I've cited quite a few cases where right-wingers/conservatives would scream that I'm biased, I'm sure there are examples from the other side of the political fence. All in all, it looks like J-schools aren't doing the job they're supposed to be doing, and a lot of editors and newsrooms need brush-up courses in journalism 101.

This still leaves out tabloid journalism, which has spread from the likes of the National Enquirer and the Star to "mainstream" news. I don't need to hang out at the checkout stand anymore; I can just open my front door in the morning. From the O.J. trial to L'Affaire Monica to Janet Jackson's boobs to the current fiasco involving one of Janet's relations to... oh, you get the point. We've got a steady diet of "news" shoveled out to us in place of the things that really matter. No one I know cares for all this, but the sad thing is, *somebody* out there does, or the Corporate Media wouldn't be piling it on all the time. Everything now is about titillation, instant gratification, sound bites, marketing, and profits. It's disturbing when we increasingly have media outlets that are controlled by fewer and fewer people and organizations. Most newspapers have no real competition anymore; where once dozens of cities had at minimum two papers and often half a dozen, now there's only one game in town. Even when there were huge syndicates in existence (the Hearst chain being one of the most celebrated examples), there was always competition from other papers, whether morning rags or evening publications. Now it's just one large regional periodical, such as the L.A. Times or the Washington Post. New York City is one of the few markets left where there's some competition of sorts.

The interesting thing is that people saw all of this coming ages ago. For a prescient example of this, check out the movie "Network"; for something that came out nearly 30 years ago, it could just as easily have been made yesterday and be playing at the nabes today.

If you're a journalist, a potential journalist, a wannabe, or someone who has some influence in the media, I strongly encourage you to read this statement from These are principles that desperately need to be applied again.

That doesn't excuse the public, however. When people aren't willing to read the news, critically examine the state of affairs as they exist, or educate themselves, then it's that much easier for people to just sit back and let the CM spoonfeed them. From the same website is a set of "citizen expectations". If we don't follow through on making the media work, then shame on us. Credulity is not exclusive to the fourth estate.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The "G" in GOP Is NOT "God"

Just because I've been hosting relatives, doing errands, dealing with graduation, etc., doesn't mean I'm not keeping up with the news. Far from it. I'm just glad I inherited low blood pressure from my mom, otherwise I'd be having an apoplexy every other day.

The latest is the Baptist pastor in North Carolina who expelled members from the church in retaliation for not voting for Bush. Fortunately, forty members of the congregation resigned in protest, and at this writing, the minister has been sent packing. Unfortunately, however, is a concerted push to make sure people like him never have to leave the pulpit again. A bill is being pushed in Congress to permit church ministers and leaders to take a political bent from the pulpit without fear of consequences; namely, having the IRS clamp down on all financial records and revoking non-profit status.

Ostensibly, the backers of this bill are trying to paint their legislation as non-partisan as possible, trying to woo even black churches into their camp. But it's pretty obvious the majority of church leaders who insist on politicizing their congregations are conservatives. The guy in North Carolina is an excellent case in point.

Even though I'm not particularly religious by any measure, I've always viewed houses of worship as places to celebrate God, G-d, Jehovah, Allah, Buddhist principles, Hindu deities, or whatever higher being/spirit parishioners believe in. A church comprises a community of fellow believers in faith, regardless of class, ancestry, race, sex, gender, or political beliefs. I've known plenty of couples where the wife was of one political party and the husband another, but they both belonged to the same church. The same is true of various relations within a family as well. To suddenly segregate people based on how they cast their ballots is at the very least, divisive and disruptive. To insist everyone within a congregation follow the political bent of its minister chills individual freedoms.

In the article, mention is made of "freedom of speech" on the part of ministers. I have nothing against men and women of the cloth participating in politics in their off-hours, or voting however they like. I do have a problem with people telling members of the congregation to leave the church because they didn't pull the lever the "right way." I do have a problem with groups passing out voter guides in churches before elections. I do have a problem with political coercion of any kind.

Yes, religion does grapple with moral issues, and these problems do end up as part of our political culture and discussion. But I think there is definitely a line between a moral view and a political view, and churches have a responsibility to respect that line. This is especially the case where you have influential religious leaders who hold the trust of their community. The political and cultural beliefs and values of a pastor may not be exactly the same ones held by everyone in the parish, regardless of shared faith. Yet a minister, pastor, or priest holds sway over their congregation; children within churches are taught to respect and value church leaders-- what's to keep these same church fathers and mothers from indoctrinating church youth? Shouldn't these children be allowed the freedom to think and discover for themselves their political values and principles? For that matter, shouldn't grown ADULTS be permitted to keep their own counsel without feeling pressured (or in the case of the NC brouhaha, feeling bullied)?

Another thing that really bugs me is the tussle over what "God wants." For that matter, "What the Founding Fathers would have wanted." Really, anything in this vein: making assumptions about what this person or that person or this group would have wanted. For example, all the nonsense that because JFK endorsed tax cuts (yes, there were tax cuts passed during his administration), and so he probably would have been ok with Bush's tax cuts (very highly doubtful, and Teddy was *not* amused!). Another example is co-opting Martin Luther King's speeches and twisting the meaning into some modern pronouncement on something that probably would not have been supported by King had he lived.

It's all in the same vein as the worn axiom, "What Would Jesus Do?" Claiming that "Jesus loves you" and then stating "God hates fags" in the same breath is not only a paradox, it's hypocritical. Calling on God in support of everything bothers me: how in the world do you *really* know what God would want? Sure, sure-- God speaks to you. But God also speaks to your neighbor, your co-worker, the bus driver, your pastor, your Congressman, our "president," and that guy in tattered clothes in the alley mumbling to himself. They all have their own idea of what God thinks, what God wants, what God would do. Who's to say they're right-- or that they're wrong?

For that matter, I think it's arrogant to assume that "God is on our side." Hundreds of thousands of people have said or thought this over the ages, and so have dozens of nations. Who remembers from their history lessons, "Glory, God, and Gold"? How many people have fought, killed, and died in the name of a higher deity? Do you really think breaking one of the Ten Commandments is the way to go? Ok, so you aren't into the Ten Commandments. How about the Golden Rule? "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." You're out there killing someone in the name of God-- would you want someone killing *you* in the name of God (or Allah, or Jehovah, or Vishnu, or whatever)? Going back to my original material, would you want someone telling you who to vote for? Even more so, would you want someone telling you that if you vote for "x" candidate, you need to repent?

I don't think God is a Republican. Or a Democrat, for that matter. I'm tired of the Republicans acting as if though God approves of everything they do. I'm tired of conservatives acting as if they're the only ones that are "with" Jesus. I know I hate hearing stuff like "Jesus loves you" when coupled with admonishments, threats, or condemnations. For a bunch of people that talk about Jesus, I think they draw more of their energy from the wrath of the Old Testament and not enough from the New Testament.

I'm sure many others have done this- have referred to the appropriate books and passages. I may just be adding another voice to the choir, preaching the same thing that's already been said. But I really think it wouldn't hurt people to take fifteen or twenty minutes, and go to the Book of Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7. The Sermon on the Mount is to me what Christianity is truly about. I think if people tried harder to really see what Jesus was preaching, perhaps we'd have a little more understanding in this intolerant world of ours.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Roses and Stinking Roses

Soon my mother-in-law will be gone and we'll be able to fully rest and recover. Turns out we misunderstood and she's only staying through tomorrow. After the last couple of days, I definitely need a vacation!

Yesterday was the big day: UCLA Law graduation. After getting all fixed up and looking nice and pretty, a friend of ours came by to hitch a ride with us over to campus. After forking over the parking fee (UCLA is not cheap; parking is enforced seven days a week, for something like sixteen hours in a day. Either you can park in the garages to the tune of $7, or you can pony up a quarter for eight minutes each at a meter, for up to two hours), we walked over to the ceremony. It's held each year outside on the plaza to the west of the law school. It's filled-in land, and was once a ravine. The road between the north and south plazas leading to the old quad was once a bridge, back when there was nothing in Westwood/Bel-Air other than hills. This outside ceremony consists of hundreds of folding chairs, mostly in the sun, with standing room at the back under large trees. I recalled going to graduation last year for a friend of ours, and coming away sunburned. This year I'd learned my lesson, and slathered my face, neck, and arms with sunscreen.

After dropping off the resident lawyer-to-be at the law school along with all the other grads, we went to the front row. I'd made interpreting arrangements, and insisted there be a section set aside this year for deaf attendees. Last year there was interpreting provided, but no seats set aside. Luckily, we got there early enough to sit in the second row, but once the grads marched out, we were surrounded by a sea of parents, relatives, and other well-wishers trying to get a picture of their special person, and in the process blocked off our visual sightline of the interpreters and the ceremony. The deaf and the interpreters then had to spend a good third of their time telling everyone to move out of the way. It was rather annoying, to say the least!

This year was markedly improved. Five to six seats were set aside, and the seating areas for all were roped off- no way for people to consciously jump in front of us without crossing the ropes. So we had a much better view of the ceremony this time around.

After staking out our seats, I went to find my family. Since all but my immediate family lives in SoCal, I had uncles, aunts, cousins, and the like in attendance, which was nice. It's nice to have the support of your family. However, between my mother and my mother-in-law, I kept handing over my program book, and going back to the ushers for a few more copies. After the third time, I went back to get more, and told the usher, "Why don't you just give me a box this time?" Considering I went back about two more times, it was a decent request to make, don't you think? As it was, I finally ended up handing my program book over to a friend of ours midway through the speeches, and so I don't have a souvenir. I think my wife held onto hers, though-- at least I think she did...

The afternoon wore on fairly nicely- last year the graduation started a little late and then went on and on and on... the speaker last year was Ben Stein, the actor who is probably best remembered for "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" ("Bueller.... Bueller.... Bueller...") and "The Wonder Years" (the science teacher who spoke in a monotone). He gave a pretty good speech-- funny at times. The Teacher of the Year was an older professor who went on- and on... and on.... Come to think of it, he probably saw Ben Stein and got really inspired.

This year we had the same Teacher of the Year, but since Ben Stein wasn't present, he kept his speech fairly short. The guest speaker was Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, who had graduated from UCLA a dozen years earlier. The main thing I remember from her speech (a standard graduation speech) was that she mentioned she's still paying off her law school loans. Not exactly an inspiring thought! The grads stood up to receive their hoods, and my lovely wife was first, thanks to being in the front row due to interpreting needs. It was kind of nice, since then I could chat with our guests. The only other person I really wanted to see get hooded was my wife's frequent study partner, a guy about my age. About two-thirds of the way through, he finally received his hood. The whole shebang ended about forty-five minutes earlier than last year.

We all trooped over to the southern half of the plaza, where tables were set up with the usual refreshments you find at these things: cheese, fruit, crackers, and punch. The one thing I thought was great about Gallaudet's graduation ceremonies is that they always put up a tent, which kept things cool. There was no tent or other covering here. Even though it's SoCal and fairly low humidity, it was still a warm, sunny day, despite the slight breeze. I later discovered to my chagrin that part of my neck, my nose, and one forearm were burned. Damn...

After we'd mingled, sated our thirst, and found restrooms as needed for all the little cousins who had been remarkably good about sitting still for two hours, we headed off for a dinner celebration at The Stinking Rose. Some of our friends joined us and our relatives, so we had a nice mix of people to talk with and enjoy our dinner. Someone bought a cake at Gelson's, so we had that for dessert rather than garlic ice cream or any of the other offerings at the restaurant, and there was quite a bit left, so now we have a huge chocolate cake sitting in our kitchen. Someone presented the happy graduate with a bouquet of flowers, so we have some very nice flowers sitting on the coffee table.

After all the craziness of the last few days, we decided today to just relax a little, and since my mother in law loves flowers, I decided to take us to Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge. This is a huge place, once part of a private estate, that has something blooming somewhere on the grounds most of the year. Right now, the roses were in bloom, so we thoroughly enjoyed that section. A few magnolia trees still had blossoms, as did some of the lilacs, but other areas had already passed peak bloom. The California section of the garden was gorgeous, with tons of California poppies, snapdragons, native grasses, and catcus in bloom. Most people are familiar with cactus, but catcus flowers are really gorgeous if you find them in season.

So we had a nice, leisurely walk on a nice day-- not too warm, not too cool, and hundreds of flowers everywhere. A nice relaxing way to end the school year.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Fashion is Torture

Today was the big Mother-Daughter Shopping Trip. I didn't play Tour Guide (tm) today; instead I was a chauffeur. We decided to go over to Santa Monica, since downtown and the Third Street Promenade there have tons of stores, including Robinsons-May (for you non-SoCal readers, an upscale store, kind of like Macy's, but not as pricey as Nordstrom's), Old Navy, the Gap, and the like. My job was to ferry our intrepid shoppers forth, and then linger at bookstores and the like until your humble chauffeur was called forth to perform his duties once again.

Some of the purchases today involved shoes. Now, a wise man does not venture forth into saying anything other than either neutral or flattering comments about women's shoes. When my opinion was solicited, I merely said, "Oh, those look good on you!" or "Those are nice, but...[add comment in here about how some better-looking/less expensive pair would look truly outstanding]"

But you know what? There is one thing I must say, and I'm gonna say it now. I'm the kind of guy who has never been impressed by or seen any reason for high-heeled shoes. I personally think short pumps or flats are just as nice as any other shoes, and look a lot better than those stiletto heels. They've got to be far more comfortable too. I remember back in the day when I was in college, a friend and I were alone in the dorm room of some female friends of ours, who had left to do something or other and would be returning fairly soon. We were all trusted friends, so they had no problem leaving us alone in their dorm. My buddy spotted a pair of high heels belonging to one of the girls, who was, um, rather zaftig and had fairly large feet for a woman. We were curious, since he was an only child and my sisters are much younger than me, to try on a pair of women's high-heeled shoes.

Our resulting experiment would probably have looked to an observer like a god-awful attempt at silent comedy. We shuffled, shifted, stumbled, and damn near twisted our ankles walking across the room in these shoes. We both expressed wonderment at *why* women would insist on subjecting themselves to such awkwardness. I've never bothered to try on women's shoes since, but my feelings about high-heeled shoes just solidified based on that incident.

Flash-forward to about twenty years later, at Robinsons-May. I'm sitting in the women's shoe department watching ten different pairs on the floor being tried on one by one. I keep encouraging my wife to go for the pumps. Luckily, she's like me: she's not all that crazy about high heels either. After the shoes were taken care of, and the ladies retired to the dressing rooms to try on dresses, skirts, and the like, I decided to kill time by checking AIM on my Sidekick [T-Mobile, contact me directly with my check for participating in product placement. Thanks]. I chatted with an old friend, and since she is female, decided to get her opinion. I told her we were shoe shopping, and I mentioned how I thought high-heeled shoes were not easy to wear, and openly wondered why in the world women continue to buy them.

She responded, "You know, we do it for you guys. We do it so we look good. That's really the only reason why."

I later told my wife about this conversation, and she agreed. Now that's a pretty unscientific sample, to be sure, but two women independently saying the same thing can't be wrong. Well, as far as I'm concerned, high heels can go the way of the dodo for all I care. Whoever invented them was definitely *not* a woman. Come to think of it, these days wouldn't high heels be considered a weapon? They'll make you take them off when you go through airport security, but by god, those stiletto heels would be great for poking someone's eyes out, or for forcing someone to walk on them through turbulence-- especially if they're male and have never worn high heels before. Talk about torture.

Friday, May 13, 2005

From IBM to Real ID

"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, it makes you so sick at heart,'ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon wheels...and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all." - Mario Savio, 1964

The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964 was about freedom of speech, but Savio's famous speech, excerpted above, was not only about the need for freedom in a society predicated upon the belief that we have essential rights and freedoms ("life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," among other things), but also about the regimentation, the bureaucratization, the soulessness of society at large. The IBM punch cards of the era epitomized this facelessness, the unbending, unyielding step of procedure for the sake of procedure. Despite its multicultural population and blended traditions, the American government does Prussian efficiency better than the Prussians did themselves.

Today's equivalent to the IBM punch card doesn't fully exist on its own yet, but it's definitely coming. The concept of a National ID Card spooks people out, and rightly so. But we have elements of this already. Our Social Security cards, for example, contains a facet of a future ID Card-- an identification number/tag. As it is, it seems you have to give your SSN for just about anything these days, and that scares me. Legally, only the Social Security Administration and a select number of other gummint agencies need your number at all. Yet everyone from the credit card companies to the video store to the library wants you to put down your SSN on forms, applications, and all kinds of papers. Some states use your SSN for driver's licenses, and quite a few colleges and universities use them as student identifiers. I generally refuse, and then, if necessary, I'll let them view my driver's license or use my driver's license number- most of the time that mollifies people.

That's another component right there: our driver's licenses. More and more, a lot of places are using driver's licenses as a means not only to identify you, but also to keep tabs on you. It's also becoming more and more difficult to get a driver's license. My mother-in-law told us about her experience renewing her license in Virginia, and it sounded like a nightmare. She had to get her birth certificate, her school transcripts, her divorce papers, and all kinds of stuff together just to show she was who she was.

Take these things together, meld them into one, and presto! Instant National ID. Think it's fantasy? Well then, think again. Today I read this article in Salon, about the advent of a national ID card, and how the new process will make getting your first driver's license years ago seem like child's play. More and more, we're going to end up with experiences like my mother-in-law's, where it takes more than a day to obtain a driver's license and where the total burden will be on you and me. Additionally, as the article points out, such IDs will just result in yet another database. Given the recent problems with multinational corporations losing data, computers, and disks with tons of personal and financial information on them, and the very real threat of the seduction of an easily pliable employee being lured into giving away SSNs, credit card numbers, and all kinds of other personal information, is this really something we want? Not only will we continue to be depersonalized and reduced to numbers, but in this day and age of laptops and tech-savvy criminals, it's not just a seemingly undecipherable punchcard anymore-- it's a database that exploits our privacy, our personal lives, yet does nothing else for us.As the article also points out, the main rationale for such identification needs is to prevent terrorists. But like any criminal, a terrorist isn't going to let a new form of identification stop them, just as the reworking of our money doesn't prevent counterfeiters from co-opting our monetary system, and just as teens of every generation have bartered for fake IDs so they can party. What our gummint desperately needs to recognize (and for all their supposed knowledge and "intelligence", they still don't get it) is that if something is created by humans, eventually some other human is going to figure it out or bypass it-- and those with fewer scruples will have no problem figuring out how to exploit weaknesses of any kind.

Some machines are great. Some technology is wonderful, admirable, helpful. But national ID cards and the machine that permits them is odious, and if we don't speak up, we may regret allowing the machine to further invade our lives.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tour Guide

Today is my wife's last final exam; she has three papers due on Friday, but today she has to be over on campus. Toensure she had as minimal disruption as possible, and to make sure we didn't have one very bored mom on our hands, I decided it was time to put on my cap, grab the car keys, and be a Tour Guide.

How does one become a Tour Guide (tm) anyway? Here's the big secret: Know where you're going-- or at least act like you do. A good map or map book also helps. The ability to toss off little bits of trivia every three blocks will see you through even the most mundane neighborhood. Another secret skill is knowing inwards, outwards, backwards, and upwards all the possible routes, parking spaces, shortcuts and the like to the popular attractions so as to minimize time, both in travel and at the actual spot. Most of all, sensing the mood of your passengers garners you fame and respect for acknowledging when to linger and when to floor it.

Today's itinerary included a trip to downtown L.A. to Olvera Street. This is the oldest part of Los Angeles, and is considered the oldest street in town. It was a rundown alley before a nice white lady decided to upgrade it to an Anglicized Mexican marketplace (read: Tijuana without the dirt, dust, ragamuffins, drugs, and the need to actually stop being Ameri-centric and speak another language). It's now been in existence in this form for 75 years. It's a fun place to go and take visitors to town-- there are tons of stalls with all kinds of souvenirs, trinkets, Mexican clothing and good, food, sweets, and tons of other things. The most fun for those in the know is going to the cultural festivals held throughout the year, such as Dia de Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), and joining the local community in its celebrations.

So we drove down there, first driving along Broadway, which in the heyday of downtown was where all the big, fancy department stores and first-run movie theatres were. Today the stores are all gone, and most of the movie palaces are no longer used for their original function, but a lot of the buildings still remain. It's worth driving down and gazing at the architecture and getting a glimpse of what Los Angeles used to be. It also gave me the opportunity to point out Grand Central Market, which has been in existence for close to a hundred years now. It's a great place to get some cheap meat, produce, and other goods. After arriving at Olvera Street, we walked over and wandered through the various puestos, stopping every now and then to examine goods. Once we finished that, we zipped over to the new cathedral, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Since my in-laws are all good Catholics, and the church was fairly new (opened in 2001 or 2002, I believe), it seemed like a good place to go and scope things out. The outside is very modern, and not to my taste, but inside it is rather beautiful. There are little side chapels, and at the corner is one of the original altars, transplanted from an earlier church. The main chapel is huge, with portraits of dozens of saints together lining each side of the walls. Underneath the church are the crypts, and they're already filling up. One of the more famous residents is Gregory Peck.

After we'd finished the church, I decided that on the way home we'd stop and see Carroll Avenue in Angelino Heights. Angelino Heights was one of L.A.'s very first suburbs, along with Echo Park and Silver Lake. The houses on Carroll Avenue are Victorians, mostly in Eastlake and Queen Anne styles, and the majority of them have been restored and maintained. Some are quite beautiful. Carroll Avenue is just a hop, skip, and jump from Sunset Boulevard, and just south of Echo Park.

Judging from the numerous photos taken today, the Tour Guide (tm) did a very good job. *grin* But there's still tomorrow...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Milestone Birthday

This will probably end up being finished later [Surprise, surprise... it was], as my mother-in-law is now here, but I read a really fascinating article today. I saw it on the table this morning, but since I was in a rush doing last-minute things, I decided not to read it right then, but set it aside until things were slightly less crazy. I just got the chance to do so an hour or so ago.

Those birthdays with zeroes on the end of them can elicit some really interesting reactions from people. I know when I turned 30, I wasn't too thrilled. I think it was because I knew a part of my life was done forever-- I was no longer a youth, and was well into the part of my life when I was "young." I know I didn't feel the same at 29 or 31. It was just another birthday. I guess part of it was me- knowing I've entered another decade, another stage of my life. Part of it was social/cultural-- here in America there's quite a bit of emphasis on decades, categorization, and "ages" in general. "Youths," "Seniors," "Boomers," "Gen Xers (I hate that one)"-- all these different labels that somehow "define" us. I don't really think they do. For example, The children born during WWII and the early so-called "boomer" years had totally different worldviews/perspectives/historical experiences than those born at the tail end, around 1964-65. Yet they're all lumped together as "boomers". My wife and I are just barely six years apart, yet what we watched on television as children, what clothes we wore, what things we played with, what cultural/historical touchstones we remember are so vastly different. I can remember watching the Watergate hearings, the fall of Vietnam, seeing the Sunday paper headlines blaring about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst (we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area), seeing an article on the Zodiac killer and wondering what that was all about... having my elementary school teacher play for the class this new record that had just come out, and all of us listening to "Free To Be... You and Me" for the first time.

For my wife, even though we are just six years apart and counted by the media and pop culture enthusiasts as part of the same generation, it was quite different. A world of "My Little Pony," "Strawberry Shortcake," Wall Street scandals, "Morning in America," and the whole 80s scene formed the backdrop of her childhood (which was my adolescence!). I feel closer to and share more memories with my youngest uncle, a member of the tail-end of the boomers, than I do with people of my wife's "generation."

But I digress-- I was talking about a really interesting article in this morning's L.A. Times. It's about an explorer many of you have probably never heard of, Norman Vaughan. As the beginning of the article states, he's the last survivor of the 1928 Admiral Byrd expedition to Antarctica. On that journey, Byrd named an Antarctic mountain for Vaughan. Flash forward to eleven years ago, when Vaughan became the first person to scale the summit of the mountain named after him. This December, Vaughan is returning to Antarctica to climb the mountain yet again in celebration of his 100th birthday.

Talk about memorable. I don't even remember doing anything interesting on any of my birthdays. Sure, I remember my 21st, being taken out for my first legal drink-- I remember my 18th, which was a surprise birthday party with over fifty people in attendance. But climbing a mountain just before I turn 89, and then planning to do it again for the 100th?? It really was an interesting article to read. Not only has he lived this long, he participated in the tail end of the Age of Exploration, just a mere 80-some years ago. Today we have articles, papers, research, and all kind of materials talking about how global warming, human proliferation, and wasteful use of space threatens the earth. Yet less than a hundred years ago, there were still areas of the planet that remained unexplored, and there were still intrepid adventurers going off into the unknown.

Not only that, but this man is a testament to the challenges of living a full life, and a model of how to enjoy life the best possible way. While that doesn't mean I'm going to go out and learn how to mush, or develop the skills to suddenly climb Everest, it does inspire me to think about what I want to do with my life. Regardless of our habits and genes, we each have a finite time -- how will each of us decide to use the time we have? I've done quite a bit, but when I read about guys like Norman Vaughan, it reminds me of what I haven't done, what I'd like to do, and the potential I have to achieve my goals. I don't think I'm anywhere near able to compare my life with Vaughan or people like him, but it's great to remember that there really aren't any limits except the ones we place on ourselves. I hope this journey this winter pays off, and that I'll be reading about Vaughan celebrating his milestone birthday, and planning for the next hundred years. If I'm smart enough to listen to myself, I'll be testing my own limits before long, and not letting opportunities escape.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Learning to Juggle

It's been crazy lately. I know I haven't really kept up with the blog a lot these days, but I'm trying to get other things done, and making computer use a lesser priority. That includes the blog, unfortunately. I say "unfortunately" because it's supposed to be my daily writing regimen, as well as a way for me to share what's going on in my life, and last but not least, a way for me to vent about current and past affairs (but not necessarily private ones *grin*).

The main event happening right now in our lives is finals. My wife has final exams, as well as three papers due. For the last week or two, she's been glued to her books or her computer, while I've shouldered everything else. I don't really mind, since she supported me our first three years while I was in grad school, and now it's my turn to support her the best I can through three years of law school. Fair tradeoff, I think. Usually it's not a problem, but right now is Hell Week, and that means I'm cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping, and everything, in addition to my usual stuff.

Additionally, my mother-in-law is flying in tomorrow for a ten-day visit, so that means the house has to be as Clean As Possible so it'll pass muster. Not to mention the laundry done so that we have clean, fresh linens and towels. I'm going to juggle over the next few days- taking care of the house, wife, and mother-in-law. Wish me luck...

Monday, May 02, 2005

America Uber Alles?

I've previously discussed my love of books (see here and here), so when I ran across an article discussing the banning of books right here in the USA the other day, I was shocked. Not totally surprised, though. A lot of people in this country go ballistic when you even mention the word "homosexuality," and after the behavior of people like Fred Phelps and his minions of hate at Matthew Shepard's funeral and his murderer's trial (not to mention many, many other examples of intolerance and violence), I can't be too surprised that something like this would happen.

Looking at the list in the article, though, it puzzles me. Banning Shakespeare? Banning Tennessee Williams? What next? These are stories, narratives, histories, dramas, comedies, and all kinds of creative works. The more freedom writers have, the more wonderfully creative they can be, and the richer we all are for it. In the schools, there's always a number of books that parents and community members try to have banned, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, etc. Banned Books Week is in
September; I'm half tempted this year to check out and read all of the books on the list. My grandmother used to tell me her grandfather, a nominal Catholic, would spite the Church by giving her for her birthday every year a book from the banned list. I'm delighted to report my grandmother is knowledgeable, well-read, and definitely not corrupted or defiled. It's pretty hard to see how romances by Alexandre Dumas would make one a pervert. It's equally implausible to see how reading or seeing "A Streetcar Named Desire" would turn one into a flaming homo.

As the note at the bottom of the article indicated, the bill thankfully died. But who's to say that this won't happen again? After all, in Germany in 1933, Berlin witnessed a massive book-burning, with Goebbels overseeing the carnage. It wasn't too long after that that the Nuremburg Laws were passed, and a few years after that invasions took place, camps were running full tilt, and the world descended into madness and evil.

While the U.S. isn't quite on track to be the next fascist dictatorship, the parallels are uncomfortable thus far. This incident is just one in a number of attempts at censorship over the last few years. In Germany, the initial focus was on Jewish authors, writers with either actual or supposed Communist leanings or ideologies, and writers who contributed to moral decline and compromise. The latter category is what this bill that's just appeared is about. Homosexuality is an abomination, morally unacceptable, etc., etc., so therefore it's time to ban books that even hint at homosexuality in any form. This puts us all on a slippery slope.

I'm glad the bill was defeated, but it troubles me. What will happen next? Where will the fire next time be?

Sunday, May 01, 2005


The Constitution states in Article II, Section 4 that "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

There is no specific clarification for what constitutes "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," and the three times we've been faced with impeachment or the specter thereof, it's fallen within this definition. Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial in 1868 was at its heart a conflict between a Republican Congress intent on implementing Reconstruction and re-shaping the nation and a rather unpopular Democratic President. The impetus was Johnson's firing of Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War; Congress stated Johnson had no right to do so, while Johnson insisted he retained control of his Cabinet, not by Congress' will. Nothing about treason or bribery here; it fell within "high crimes and misdemeanors."

In 1974, Nixon was faced with almost certain impeachment for his gross abuses during the Watergate scandal. The misuse of government agencies, money laundering, political dirty tricks, lies, and coverups that all converged within what was described at the time as a "third-rate burglary." Again, no treason here, while bribery was indeed possible, but at its heart, this was another case of "high crimes and misdemeanors." The essential heart of Watergate was the fact that the President deceived the nation. It's pretty hard to allow someone to lead you when they've been caught lying on such a grand scale.

Just a few years back, as I'm sure all of you recall, Clinton was impeached, solely for the "crime" of having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, and then lying about it in a deposition. Getting a blowjob in the Oval Office and its environs definitely doesn't constitute an act of treason, and it certainly wasn't a case of bribery. Again, it was, as in Johnson's case, a political vendetta between a President belonging to one party and a Congress of another. La Affaire Lewinsky wasn't even the original impetus; it was Whitewater, a bungled real-estate deal that the Clintons lost money on. The big deal here, as Congress liked to stress, was that the President lied. Once again, "high crimes and misdemeanors."

No doubt you're familiar with all this, as all the newspapers, magazines, and various other forms of communications detailed the history and procedures of impeachment in our history when Clinton went on trial. Some of you may have felt it was justified; others might perceive it as a witch-hunt. Recently, retiring Congressman Henry Hyde (he of the "youthful indiscretion"; although it's pretty hard to imagine someone in their 40s carrying on a five-year affair that ruined a marriage merely guilty of a "youthful indiscretion") remarked in an interview with a local TV station that the Clinton impeachment was in part retaliation for the looming impeachment of Nixon during Watergate. Naturally, the story was edited after a day or so, and softened; otherwise I'd have linked to it. To me, if that's true, that's extremely juvenile and irresponsible of the Republicans to play games with such a serious consequence outlined in our Constitution (not to mention wasting our taxypayer money on such investigations and trials).

Today, there is news coming from London that makes me think it's time to call for impeachment yet again. This time, it's not a "misdemeanor" of the type that nearly doomed Johnson or Clinton, but something approaching and exceeding the "high crimes" that did in Nixon. It appears that our gummint, under Smirk and Scowl, deliberately planned for war and had in fact decided on war long before Smirk, Scowl, and their gummint officials went before Congress, the U.N., and the American people to press a case for the invasion of Iraq. The "secret Downing Street Memo" outlines that our "leaders" had already established possible attack plans, were determined to ignore the U.N., and were aware that the case for going into Iraq was weak. Additionally, it's strongly suggested that the evidence for promoting war fever was going to have be manufactured from individual, unconnected bits and pieces.

Knowing our press, they'll probably ignore this, but this is truly explosive and definitely merits a serious, impartial, non-partisan, TRUTHFUL investigation, if not outright impeachment. Not only did Smirk, Scowl & Co. run roughshod over dissenters, they superseded Congress, which is the only authority that rightfully can declare war (see the Constitution, once again: Article I, Section 8: "The Congress shall have power to... declare war..."). Most importantly, they apparently lied to their underlings, Congress, the U.N., the so-called "coalition of the willing" (with the obvious exception of Blair and his government!), and not least of all, us-- the American people. This lie was worse than Watergate (massive corruption, political chicanery) or Clinton's affair (simple adultery-- generally a matter dealt with by the offender, the spouse, and the Other Woman; not 260 million people who were grossed out by unnecessary details (I mean, did we *really* need to know about that cigar??)); this lie directly caused the deployment of thousands of our soldiers and the National Guard. These lies contributed directly to the deaths of thousands, from our armed forces to the politicians and police officers of Iraq, and countless thousands of civilians-- men, women, and children. The mistruths told led assisted in the depletion of our federal treasury (the tax cuts for the wealthy helped too, I know, but the war is costing millions upon millions of dollars).

I have mixed feelings about Afghanistan, but I was definitely against going into Iraq from the very start. I still am, and what I have learned since 2003 just makes me angrier and angrier, sadder and sadder, and far more cynical. But this is the final straw. I'm outraged. If we as a people can't recognize what a vast deception has occurred should this memo be completely true (and given the misleading information we've gotten, such as the so-called "yellowcake" evidence, among other things, it probably is 100% true; there's no reason for the British to lie when this reflects badly on them, not to mention Blair), then we're in far deeper trouble than I even thought. This isn't something to be shrugged off; it's far more serious than Watergate, and Smirk, Scowl, and their minions need to be removed from office and brought to justice for putting in harm's way thousands of people for no good reason.