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

Friday, February 24, 2006


My lovely spouse and I have just returned from a week in San Diego. For those of you picturing sunny climes, fun beaches, and special activities, I hate to disillusion you; we've returned from one of the most harrowing experiences known to educated beings: the California Bar Exam. Part of my absence from this blog has been due to a last-minute flurry of activity in our humble abode: reviewing 13 different subject areas, replete with impromptu flash-card sessions and the like. In a sense, both of us underwent a bunker mentality for the last month or so, intensifying in the last couple weeks prior to leaving for the bar. Although I have (thankfully!) nothing to do with the bar itself, I've been the support system in this household since Christmas week, so it's been a bit exhausting for me. Of course, the test-taker is totally wiped out-- she's been studying non-stop for the last fourteen weeks prior to the bar. Her schedule went something like this: get up, eat, study, eat, study, go to bar prep class, eat, study, bed. An average of 8-12 hours daily studying, plus class, with just enough time to sleep and then start all over again. For a taste of her perspective, you can see her own musings here.

This week has been a mixture of relaxation and ultimate stress. Daily our heroine braves the innards of the San Diego Concourse (in the San Diego Civic Center downtown) while her erstwhile champion amuses himself, mostly by watching the Olympics at the hotel (oh, what a stressful thing to do!). In the evenings, they go to such trendy places as the Gaslamp Quarter to dine, unwind, and forget.

Nevertheless, it's an experience neither of us wants to repeat, the joys of San Diego notwithstanding. As a sort of celebration earlier today, we stopped on our way home at Torrey Pines State Reserve and hiked for a couple of hours. For the next couple weeks, we'll take a stay-at-home-and-recuperate vacation, then get back to reality: taking care of stuff we ignored since the beginning of the year, getting a jump start on spring cleaning, and of course, the joys of job hunting. Wish us luck.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

A Love Story

It's a few days late, but in today's San Francisco Chronicle is a tale of Old California, a story I've heard before, but it is still sad and romantic regardless. I think each region of the country has its own stories of love, tales of star-crossed affairs, tragic involvements that bring a flutter to the heart and a tear to the eye.

This one involves the daughter of the commandant of the Presidio in San Francisco, Concepcion Arguello, and a Russian, Nicolai Rezanov, a member of the Tsar's court-- a curious intersection of California's past. Most people are familiar with the Spanish heritage and influence on this part of the world, but not too many people know that the Russians, long familiar with the coastal regions in, around, and south of Alaskan waters, ventured as far south as California. But come they did. (If you're ever in the mood for a day trip from San Francisco, you can skip going to Sitka and go to Fort Ross instead. There, you'll see a surviving residence, and reconstructions of the rest of the southernmost Russian outpost on the West Coast).

The tale of Arguello and Rezanov's ill-fated romance makes me wonder: in that situation, would I wait forever for someone who would never return? Would I reject any future possibility of love if I lost someone that I thought was "The One"? For that matter, in this day and age, would such a loss prompt me to up and join the Church? I suppose in the San Francisco of 1806, where a tiny military outpost surrounded by widespread ranchos, there weren't too many opportunities for love and romance. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Two Noses Sneezing As One

Well, once again, it's Valentine's Day-- a holiday that I predict will one day be wholly subsidized by FTD, Russell Stover, See's, and De Beers, but not necessarily in that order. For some people, it's a way to get all romantic and mushy. For others, it's a day to mimic the holiday's earliest origins (if you really want to get into it, you can place a personals ad at Craigslist for a fellow devotee of S&M). For a number of us, such as an old acquaintance of mine, it's a birthday (while for most of us, it's an unbirthday). Quite a few folks celebrate their wedding anniversaries today as well. For true history buffs, there's always a remembrance of Al Capone and the days of '29. According to the entry at Wikipedia, women buy 85% of all valentines. Hmm...

Usually on Valentine's Day as a single guy, I either had a date or I didn't. Some years it meant quite a bit to me; other times it was just an insufferably painful holiday, and in reality, just another day on the calendar. Although she's still finding her voice, Erin Himmelmann, one of the newest bloggers over at, has the single woman's take on the day: The Most Commercialized Holiday of All Times. Gee, Erin, I thought that was Halloween, or perhaps Christmas. I saw Halloween junk in the stores as early as late August, and it can never be too early to put out those Xmas ads all over town.

You might agree with her. Or if you're married as I am, you might see it as a lovely day, a day to celebrate the one you married (oh, wait-- that's the day of the wedding anniversary!). For me and my walking partner, it'll be a pleasant evening taking a break from all our worries, both legal and otherwise. Yet, while our hearts are beating as one, in China, lovers everywhere will be celebrating with their noses.

Yep, in an article I spotted online titled "Nothing says love like matching nose jobs," apparently Chinese couples are celebrating their ardor by getting his-and-hers plastic surgery. Don't like that hooked beak you inherited from great-auntie Ming? Get the same button your beloved has! You both hate what your genes and fate threw you? Just take a page from Michael Jackson and whittle away!

I'm not sure just how many of our friends in China are shelling out for new faces, but I'd love to see what happens ten or fifteen years from now. Will divorces, deaths, and time and gravity contribute to a new spate of plastic surgery, as people undo the work or get their noses re-built? Will this craze spread elsewhere? I can just see it now: matching nipples! Matching hairlines! Will other nations pick up on this new vogue? I wouldn't be too surprised, especially here in the land of the brave and the home of the free. People here already get matching tattoos and piercings; so why not matching body parts?

As for me, I think I'll settle for a quiet evening out at a local bistro and then some quality time afterwards. Happy Valentine's Day, wherever you are, whatever you're doing!

Friday, February 10, 2006

U.S. Gummint AWOL

It's been nearly six months since Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I have no idea how areas outside of New Orleans are faring, since the Corporate Media doesn't seem to want to say anything much about those po' folks out in Mississippi or along the coast in Cajun country, but from time to time, there's a bit here and there about NOLA. Mostly it's a few paragraphs here and there about how outside of the French Quarter and the majority of the Garden District, the city is struggling to recover. There was a bit of a brouhaha back around Thanksgiving time, when it became known that evacuees were about to be tossed from their hotel rooms and shelters, just in time for the holidays. Luckily someone was smart enough to want to avoid the PR associated with being a scrooge, and these hapless individuals and families were allowed to stay a bit longer. The new deadline's coming up any day now. Never mind the fact that FEMA had tons of trailers for use-- but instead of actually housing people, they've been sitting empty in Texarkana and in Hope, Arkansas. While part of the problem seems to be recalcitrance on the part of parishes and counties in Louisiana and Mississippi, it also doesn't seem like the gummint is getting overly involved in flexing some muscle to make things happen.

They also don't seem to be too helpful where the money is concerned, either. It was just announced that New Orleans will seek aid from outside the country, since our gummint doesn't seem too overly enthusiastic about repairing its own cities. I know Smirk will someday have an opportunity to have a nice afternoon lazing around on Trent Lott's rebuilt front porch, but one wonders how Lott's constituents feel about all this. Perhaps someone from the Corporate Media, or even better yet, our gummint, should go find out.

Now comes the most interesting (and frustrating, and sad, and crappy, and...) tidbit of all: Good ol' Brownie decided it was time for him to get his side of the story out, and according to him, our gummint, and more specifically, Smirk and Co. knew about the levee failures almost immediately. So where was Smirk? If you look at this timeline, you'll see he took his sweet time getting around to dealing with the situation. Let's see, both the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi declared states of emergency prior to landfall; a federal state of emergency was declared; the Mayor of New Orleans declared mandatory evacuations; and before Katrina fully arrived, Brownie, Smirk, and Chertoff were warned about levee failures by the National Hurricane Center. That was on Sunday, August 28th. It's not until September 1st that Smirk claimed no one could have foreseen the levees failing. In the meantime, he heads to Arizona to celebrate McCain's birthday (I think most of us could foresee Smirk being such a fool, but you have to wonder about John McCain-- what was he thinking??); goes to Coronado just south of here, where he strums a guitar (if you don't know what that is, it's a modern-era lyre); then he heads back to his "ranch" to finish his vacation. (I've spoken about Smirk's role as Nero, back when all this was happening)

Smirk's posse isn't much better. Scowl (aka Crashcart) is off on vacation somewhere in Wyoming; Scummy is attending a San Diego Padres game; and Lice is tripping the lights fantastic on the streets of New York. While none of the above are heads of FEMA, perceptions are just as important-- and in this case, the current bunch occupying DC has failed miserably. To me, our gummint went AWOL when Katrina landed, and so far, with the exception of Brownie, none has been fully taken to task.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Budget Carnage

Now that everyone's W-2s, 1099s, and other forms have arrived in the mail, tax season is upon us. For some of us, we'll be paying a sizeable share. For others, it will be a goodly sum, but not too bad. Yet others will pay very little, or absolutely nothing. A number of folks will receive refunds, whether in the form of EIC due to being rock-bottom poor, or due to deductions, overpayments, and the like. But in the end, a good bundle of cash will wing its way to the Federal Treasury.

What then?

Well as I outlined the other day, for FY 2007 Smirk wants to bestow over $439 billion to Defense, and hand over another $120 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-- cash, I might add, that isn't fully worked into the budget. This budgeted amount, never fully in the books, is quite a chunk of change. Whenever I really want to work myself into despair, I check out the running total. So far, it's over $200 billion and running. You can see for yourself what the cost of war is at this particular moment. The amount is rather immense, no? For even more fun, click on some of the links on that page. According to the link on education, with this money the gummint could have hired an additional 4 million-plus schoolteachers for a year. You can even click on the top part to see how much it's costing in your own hometown. Here in Los Angeles, "our" share of the war expenses comes to over $7 billion. What about DC? The denizens of NW, NE, SW, and SE that aren't addressed with honorifics are ponying up more than one billion. The same is true for Montgomery County, Maryland, the home of the workplace of one of my faithful readers.

How about the housing crunch? These days, the average house costs a lifetime's worth of earnings for some folks. Yet with the money from killing people overseas, over 2 million additional housing units could have been built for public housing. What with Katrina, our unsteady economy, and the proclivity of people my age and younger to postpone purchasing a home or living paycheck to paycheck to take care of the rent, that kind of assistance could come in real handy.

But that's the cost of the war. Back to the budget for FY 2007. Among the things that Smirk wants to toss so that he can have his war and his tax cuts, is the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS). Yeah, you've gotten that petition for years: protect Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Well, I think Oscar lives in the White House these days, and he's proposing an even bigger cut than in past years.

What other things is the Smirkster planning to toss overboard so his oil buddies (who, coincidentally of course, have just reaped record profits) can get tons of refunds, permanently? Let's see: watershed protection and flood prevention funding. Vocational education grants. Dropout prevention programs. Job opportunities for low-income folks. Health programs. Rural fire assistance. Social services block grants. Amtrak. The list goes on. For someone who claimed education was such a priority, about a third of his cuts are in education alone.

I don't know about you, but our Republican-led gummint (both the White House and Congress) have an interesting set of priorities. In December, the House approved, with the last-minute assistance of Scowl, to remove a tiny chunk of change (tiny in comparison with federal pork, the cost of the wars, and the tax cuts, that is) from the budget- over $41 billion. Their targets included Medicare, student loans, and Medicaid. So far I don't see these priorities benefiting the bulk of Americans. I see cash outlays benefiting defense corporations, companies with no-bid contracts like Halliburton, rich people who are just going to sock away the money, war profiteers, and tons of similar folks. Our nation may be strong outwardly, dadgummit, and that's what counts!

But what about the inside? What about the people who are left uneducated, hungry, homeless, in debt? What about the children, the elderly, the blue-collar workers, the under- and unemployed? When the next epidemic or pandemic hits (and it will, whether it's bird flu, a resurgence of TB, or some other calamity), will the nation be strong enough, or will people be weakened and thus susceptible to disease? Will the nation's health agencies, hospitals, and clinics be well funded and able to handle whatever comes? Will our schools turn out bright young scholars ready to assume their place in society? Or will we have to outsource and look overseas, because we didn't teach Johnny to read well enough or do math good enough to secure a decent job? Will our cities and towns be well protected from the next Katrina? Or because Smirk and his pals decided watershed protection and flood protection wasn't as important as their tax rebates, another portion of our country will be devastated and people killed, all so somebody can buy a new Hummer or luxury yacht, or open a new offshore banking account?

I don't know about you, but I have pride in this country, and I'd like its people to be just as strong, or stronger, than its vaunted defenses. But with priorities like this, I think we're in danger of turning into a solid shell-- strong on the outside, weak and hollow on the inside. The carnage our Republican-led Congress and its man in the White House levies will have impact for years to come.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A New Strategy

I am not a fan of the Democrats; as I previously mentioned, I'm not even registered in any party these days. Still, in light of current events, I'm definitely supportive of any proactive gesture the Dems make. I don't see most of the current leadership as worthy of their posts, and even though I think a woman president would be as good as any of the past 40-some men we've had thus far, I'm not a fan of Hillary. Neither are quite a few others, including Molly Ivins (one of my favorite columnists-- who said Democrats/Progressives don't have a sense of humor?). A lot of it has to do with what Hillary, and a lot of other Dems can't seem to bring themselves to do these days: find their voices, backbones, and their principles.

Still, Senator Clinton just came out and made a good statement; it's about time someone said it-- perhaps too little, too late, but I'm glad someone had the guts to point out that the Republicans have been playing the fear card a little too often, and adding that Democrats and other groups shouldn't be afraid to speak up. Now let's see if she and her buddies in the Democratic Party actually follow through on this advice.

Of course, the boys on the other side of the aisle are rolling out their spiel about "emotion" v. "reason" and claiming that Hillary is an "angry" person. I don't have a problem with that: given everything Smirk and his party have been doing the last five years, I'd be (and am!) pretty angry too. But that schtick about the Democrats being angry and hysterical is wearing thin, and getting to be an old chestnut. But are the Democrats shrugging it off? No, instead, as the title of the article says, being labelled "angry" has the "Dems defensive."Part of it, of course, is sexism: women are emotional, women are angry, women are unreasonable, blah, blah, blah. This too is an old chestnut, and one best left in the 19th century, when the "women's sphere" ideally included home, hearth, family-- and nothing else.

But if Hillary were a man, there'd still be the same song about "anger." Check any right-wing blog or forum-- chances are you'll see commenters using words like "angry," "unhinged," "unreasonable," "emotional," and other choice words to describe anyone perceived to be on the Left, whether they are ultraliberal or moderate. It's all part of a strategy calculated to show up the Democrats as children and the Republicans as grownups. I discussed this last summer, and directed readers to a great piece, "The Republican Nemesis," by James Kroeger (the original link is lost, so I've re-linked again). If you didn't read it the first time around, I urge you to read it now. It's really something the party apparatus needs to read-- and heed. Sadly enough, I think Kroeger's advice is still very timely and relevant. The Republicans have mastered and manipulated the Corporate Media; the Democrats need to learn to do the same. Unfortunately much of the Corporate Media is tethered to the Right by their owners. This means the Democrats need to use what outlets they have, and that includes the blogosphere.

I really do think learning, understanding, and mastering emotional intelligence is something our recent candidates lacked. Gore, for all the fire he's shown the last couple of years, was a rather stiff candidate. His wife came off as far more passionate and engaged than he did. Kerry also came across as a stiff, upper-class patrician, falling into the trap the Republicans laid for him. While I agree that the elections of 2000 and 2004 were most likely rigged, it certainly didn't help that these lackluster candidates weren't able to muster enough support to win outright, instead of "losing" by the narrow margins that they did-- narrow enough that the Republicans were able to capture the White House (unfairly, I believe). Decisive elections don't allow for any games in the background to tilt things-- there's quite a few folks who still think the 1960 election was decided in Chicago by the Daley machine (and given how the big-city political machines operated from the 19th century through to the 1960s, who's to say they're wrong?).

Emotional intelligence isn't the only strategy the Democrats/Left/Progressives need to master; they also need to formulate principles they can stand behind. Unfortunately, of late, I haven't seen evidence that they can stick together. A good example is the recent "battle" over Alito-- there were 42 votes against him. If Reid had had any balls and real power, he would have insisted those 42 votes also be against cloture. Unfortunately, he let a few Senators wander off, and blew it. The big boys over in the offices, nooks, and crannies of Congress and the ties and cigars crowd at the central office need to start doing something different, or they're not going to have much of a party or a constituency left.

Ideally, the party should and can be a big tent; but realistically, it can't afford to do so. The Republicans blather that they are open to anyone, yet if you look at who they admit to their little inner circle, and who has the power to draft the platforms, determine the overall message, etc., it's a rather smallish group of believers. But through consistency, bullying, and political discipline, they issue memes, slogans, and other simple messages and parrot them over and over again. Sometimes they're just platitudes, sometimes they're ideological messages, sometimes they're half-truths or even outright lies. But as they've proved in recent years, if you say something over and over and over and over... soon you've got people repeating it and believing it.

The Democrats need to shape up and start doing the same. A good way to do so is to point out the obvious: the Republicans, for better or worse, are in charge. Chris Bowers exhorts everyone to do this, in "Our Message in 2006: Republicans Control Congress." I agree with him-- it's not shameful to say it, it's not a lie, and people need to understand that whatever garbage is happening these days is because of the Republicans. NOT the Democrats. NOT Clinton-- I'm sorry, guys, but he's been out of office for over five years now-- you can't keep blaming stuff on him anymore.

So as far as actual political strategy goes, I'd advise this:

1) maintain party discipline-- this doesn't mean voting in lockstep all the time, but it does mean on a few core issues, staying together or hanging separately.

2) developing and consistently fighting for a few central values. Economic parity, *real* health care reform, an equitable education system, environmental health; these are four issues that are winners, that have public support, yet no one is doing anything about them (at least no one with the political clout to achieve much!).

3) devising messages and staying on-topic-- this means not letting the Republicans, the White House, talk-show hosts and other talking heads throw red herrings and leading Democrats astray. It means hammering home the point, and sticking with the point, period. Yes, inside chambers, politics is fluid, and the art of the compromise is the craft to which good politicians aspire. But good politicians also know how to stay on-message, and win with them.

If the Democrats can follow this new strategy, or a similar one, maybe they'll get somewhere. If not, look for them to maintain minority status for awhile.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Is the Pen Mightier Than the Sword?

The latest press buzz these days is about the protests by Muslims over the depiction of Muhammed in European editorial cartoons. By now, you either know about it, or you can claim to be one of the happy(?) few totally disconnected from current affairs.

To recap: a number of editorial cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammed were published by Jyllands-Posten (The Jutland Post), a Danish newspaper with a history of sympathy for right-wing causes, including anti-immigrant sentiment. The cartoons were originally published in September 2005, but have only now in February 2006 stirred international reaction within the Muslim world. Prior to the past week, criticism existed, but built slowly until it crescendoed within the last few days with protests, riots, calls for boycotts, and threats and acts of violence.

My take: As far as the newspaper is concerned, I have mixed feelings. Obviously, in the West and especially here in the United States, we value the concept (if not always in practice 100%!) of freedom of speech, enshrined here in the Constitution and in many of the constitutions and charters in European (especially Western European) nations. It's an important right, and freedom of the press is one of the few core Western values I'd love to see enshrined worldwide. So on one hand, I do support the right to comment on, criticize, and satirize any topic, and that includes religions of all types. On the other hand though, the press and the media in general wield enormous power, whether they choose to recognize that or not, and as such hold (or should hold) ethical and moral obligations to society at large. Unfortunately, newspapers, TV stations, and the like do not always maintain consistency; here in the U.S., the New York Times sat on information regarding Smirk's secret wiretapping program via the NSA for a year, only publishing the story when it was clear a book (which is on my to-read list!) was about to be published outlining the wiretaps. Such esteemed *cough* programs as "Entertainment Tonight" and other gossip shows and magazines often push the boundaries of privacy and taste. Overseas, Jyllands-Posten chose to deliberately publish cartoons and caricatures they knew would be extremely offensive to a large segment of the world.

Without putting strictures on press freedoms and rights, there does need to be a discussion on ethical and moral boundaries. Ideally, newspapers and other forms of communications sole raison d'etre is to inform, as neutrally and objectively as possible, their readership and the public at large about the news and events of the day. That charge does not include being inflammatory or overly provocative to the point that the initial news/message/content is overshadowed.

Much has been made of the fact that readers and editors tolerate cartoons and satire concerning Judeo-Christian philosophies and personages. Yet Jylland-Posten chose not to run cartoons satirizing Jesus; to my mind, that's a rather inconsistent position to take. Others have pointed to the fact that Arab and Muslim-oriented newspapers run anti-Semitic cartoons in their press. While this is sadly true, does that mean two wrongs make a right? Rather than matching rhetoric for rhetoric, cartoon for cartoon, sometimes the nobler action is to maintain moral and ethical stances, even when the temptation is great to do otherwise. Additionally, as this piece relates, it isn't just the Middle East that caricatures and demonizes Jews and Judaism; the West has its own past and attitudes to answer for. To me, that suggests that yet another discussion needs to take place: Where does honest political satire or commentary cross the line into gross mischaracterizations, racist iconography, and exaggerated stereotypes that do nothing other than to demean, degrade, and inflame? How do we identify, and more importantly, maintain appropriate boundaries?

This is important given the Western tradition of appropriating Christian themes, persons, and ideas for a wide variety of materials, ranging from Broadway shows such as "Jesus Christ Superstar" to the book and film "The Last Temptation of Christ" to plastic Jesuses on dashboards to photographs of crucifixes immersed in urine. Such openness and flexibility doesn't extend to all creeds though; throughout history and theology, there have been conflicts over exactly what is permitted when it comes to iconography. Within Christianity, there is variety: Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox persuasions contain icons, statues, three-dimensional crucifixes with the Christ in the midst of his Passion, while many Protestant faiths, especially at their outset, shunned veneration of images, statues, and the like. For Jews, the second commandment in the Old Testament was a clear indication of how to worship; when was the last time you saw religious statues or pictures of God or any of the other Old Testament personages in a synagogue? For that matter, observant Jews do not speak the name of the Lord. Such diversity is welcome, but it also needs to be respected.

For example, one of the cartoons depicts Mohammed with a bomb in his turban-- could there have been a better way to draw a cartoon bringing attention to the violent tendencies of extremists rather than insinuating all adherents to Islam are inherently violent? This would be somewhat akin to picturing Jesus as a Crusader, slaughtering Jews, Muslims, and other pagan enemies (see the sections titled The German Crusade and the Siege of Jerusalem for pertinent examples).

Although Jyllands-Posten has since apologized, it isn't just the press that bears some responsibility here. While I expected criticism and some protests, I don't think I, nor the world, expected the intensity and the violence that has accompanied the Muslim world's outcry. Threatening executions, boycotting Danish firms, and burning embassies all seem a bit overboard to me, and I suspect to a lot of others. For one thing, it reinforces (rightly or wrongly) the perception that Islam and all Muslims are violent. At a time of strife and conflict between the West and Arab nations, Palestine and Israel, and the United States and Iraq/Afghanistan, it would seem the better part of valor to save such animosity and energy to highlight real differences, not just a cartoon. Instead, the average person watching this on the news or hearing about it on the radio will just go, "There they go again..." Rather than using the controversy as a way to teach and educate and hopefully broaden minds, certain provocateurs within the ranks of the clerics, secular leaders, and others have provoked agitation among the general populations.

That such feelings can be so easily stirred points to faults that the West must correct; from the days of colonial endeavors in the Middle East and elsewhere (French and British protectorates in the wake of World War I, aggression in present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan stemming back to the 19th century, European colonies in places like Algeria, Indonesia, and India), the "White Man's Burden" has extended not only to governmental involvement but also to attitudes and stereotypes directed at the other-- those that are not like "us" in so many different ways. Cartoons like these are merely one manifestation of these continued attitudes, which need to change if anything is to be different. Commenting on the hypocrisies of a religion that is at its heart peaceful with the actions of extremists is one thing (and this applies to Christianity as well-- turning the other cheek and all that doesn't square with "killing infidels," bombing clinics, and other such acts of mayhem), but projecting thinly veiled generalizations and racism is another. While I strongly believe that at some point the past cannot continue to be used as an excuse by anyone for any action, it would behoove both sides to examine history with objective clarity, and craft some solutions for the future. Simply repeating cycles doesn't do anyone any good. For the West, and especially the United States, it means staying out of the affairs of other nations (Exhibit A: Iraq). For the Arab world, it means taking some responsibility for its own actions and intents.

I hope that perhaps some much-needed conversations come out of all this, but given the many lines in the sand drawn by various individuals and organizations for their own ends, I'm not sure a lasting dialogue will emerge. In any event, when harm is intended, one doesn't always have to pull out the guns-- sometimes just a pen will do.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Sunday

One of the most hallowed sports days on the calendar has nearly passed. I spent the majority of the day hanging out at a Super Bowl Party, complete with betting (I lost a grand total of $5; boo hoo me, right?), food, conversation, and in the background, a game. Since my beloved 49ers were nowhere near the playoffs this year, despite whatever Nolan might have said mid-season, I didn't have much invested in this year's game. I was pulling for the Seahawks, as were approximately 85% of the partygoers. The highlight of the afternoon, other than tasty subs and new friends, was seeing a budding movie star narrowly escape death for his proclaimed support for the Steelers. Unfortunately for the 12th Man, Seattle went down to defeat in a game marked by lots of defense and not as many great offensive plays or action as one might wish, with the possible exception of Parker's 75-yard touchdown for the Steelers-- we all definitely caught that one, as one person's whiplash caused a lemming effect and our eyes were temporarily glued to the screen before going back to the more important task of conversation. I swear, put more than two Deaf people together in a room, you don't need to do anything else. Also, have you ever noticed how Deaf people not only gather in the kitchen, but also in doorways? You'd think if you wanted a smooth flow in your chat without any breaks or interruptions, you'd move somewhere else in the room, away from halls and entrances.

I managed to snag a good spot, and enjoyed the company of friends, old and new. I hope wherever you were today, watching the game or not, you had a good weekend, and you're all now ready to face the workweek ahead!

There's quite a bit in the news today other than sports, including the continued unrest over the controversial cartoons published in Denmark. But it's kind of late, so I'll take that up tomorrow. In the meantime, in the spirit of Letterman, here's something for you I found online to muse over in anticipation of tomorrow's post. Made me think even as I chuckled...

Top Ten Signs You're a Christian

10 - You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of your god.

9 - You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from lesser life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

8 - You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Trinity god.

7 - Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" -- including women, children, and trees!

6 - You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

5 - You are willing to spend your life looking for little loop-holes in the scientifically established age of the Earth (4.55 billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by pre-historic tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that the Earth is a couple of generations old.

4 - You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs -- though excluding those in all rival sects -- will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet you consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving".

3 - While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to prove Christianity.

2 - You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

1 - You actually know a lot less than many Atheists and Agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history -- but still call yourself a Christian.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Deaf in Different Ways

Well, considering how much noise pollution there is these days, I'm not too surprised that the issue has finally popped up in court. Of course, I would have imagined it'd be something like a case related to airports, rock concerts, annoying neighbors with enough ammo to total the 'hood; that kind of thing.

Instead, it's one of my readers' favorite companies getting sued over potential deafness from iPods. Personally, I thought that perhaps it'd be some cell phone company being sued by someone who has to crank up the volume on their precious mode of communication they can't live without, so that they can hear whomever over the traffic and hubbub of daily life. I also imagined the plaintiff in such a case would be an Angeleno; seems like every other person in this town has a phone glued to their ear, 24/7.

Nope, the person taking this case to court hails from Louisiana, and has filed a class-action suit, so this could potentially be a Big Thing if it gets as far as going to trial. Yet I have a feeling this fella may be shit outta luck. My father gave my mother an iPod for Christmas, and among the instructions there is a warning from the company: "[P]ermanent hearing loss may occur if earphones or headphones are used at high volume.'' No duh! You blast over 100 decibels at close range into your ear, you can expect to join the ranks of the hard-of-hearing before long. Given the numbers of people who insist on destroying their hearing, I'm surprised we deaf haven't gotten more of a groundswell of support for captioning in all manners of media and environments. Actually, that just might explain why I don't see hearing folks dashing out of open-captioned movie showings: perhaps they secretly welcome it!

So based on common sense and the company's warning message, I don't see this suit going very far. But then, again, We Shall See.

Some folks in this country are going deaf due to lack of self-control with technological devices; but some are morally and ethically deaf (and blind). Let's consider the instance of our dear "leader," Smirk. He has set forth his budget for FY2007, and oh, my. Crummy and his boys over at DOD (that's Department of Defense for those of you not fluent in Washingtonese) get a whopping $439 billion, an almost 5% increase over last year. The wars we have going on get another $120 billion to hand over to the folks at Halliburton and other corporations with no-bid contracts. Of course, handing over a chunk of change like that means we have to come up with the money from somewhere, right? Taxes? Nope, Smirk is still on course as wanting his tax cuts for his pals made permanent-- the total will be $1.4 billion over ten years. There's also the humonguous deficit to deal with as well, and in order for that to be reduced, there's gotta be some source of revenue or way to reduce costs. Hmm. The only other alternative is to cut programs. So far Smirk's hit list hasn't emerged, but I'm sure in the coming days we'll find out exactly what goes. I figure Smirk must have some hearing loss from his days as a daring young pilot in the wartime skies over Texas (or the bars of New Orleans, or the coast of Maine, or wherever he was actually serving); when he was proclaiming himself a "compassionate conservative" and touting his faith in Jesus, he must have missed stuff like the Sermon on the Mount, turning the other cheek, doing as much as possible for the least among us... For all the talk about following the Prince of Peace, Smirk's budget is more geared towards a Lord of War.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Snowing the Public

In the middle of the warmest winter in ages for many places, there's a snowstorm steadily emanating from D.C. Even here in sunny Southern California, where I'm wearing shorts and tees, I can feel the blast of chilly air accompanied by huge white flakes-- not the pretty kind, where no two are ever alike, but the kind of storm intended to obscure my vision.

Unfortunately for the snow machine in the White House, it's not working all that well, at least not on me. First off are this week's hearings on the NSA wiretaps, currently starring the Attorney General. Gonzales is one of those (along with John Yoo) who informed Smirk et al that the Geneva Conventions could be safely ignored and our gummint could do practically whatever it wanted with its detainees. That was back when he was White House Counsel; now he oversees the Department of Justice. Theoretically, he's the nation's top lawyer/cop, but during the hearings thus far, he's been trying to dodge questions so that our elected representatives will throw up their hands and allow Smirk to continue sidestepping the Constitution. I find it interesting that for a "president" who admires such strict Constitutional constructionists as Scumlia, Uncle Clarence, and presumably Roberts and Scalito, and acts as if though the Constitution should be enshrined and never malleable to any extent, Smirk has no problem calling laws such as FISA, which is a hell of lot more recent than the venerable Constitution, an outdated law.

I don't have much faith in the Judiciary Committee, or any of the Senatorial committees these days, especially not after the Alito debacle. Glenn Greenwald over at Unclaimed Territory agrees, in this post, "Questioning the Attorney General." Do click on the links to his ten questions. They're thoughtful and should be asked by our Congressfolks before they throw up their hands and proclaim they can't do anything.

There's a lot of things that bug me about the whole spying thing. First is the fact that anyone, theoretically, can be spied upon. Given the unsavory history of spying in this country (Exhibit A is of course, J. Edgar Hoover), I'm willing to bet that such attempts to gather information now are and can be abused. The gummint doesn't need to know what I'm surfing for on the net; it doesn't need to know who calls me and why; and it doesn't need to know what books I check out from the library or purchase from a bookstore. Yet with the Patriot Act and FISA and now warrantless spying by the NSA, I'd bet you somewhere, either now or in the future, there'll be a file or a cache with some or all of that information in it.

The second thing that bothers me is that if Smirk is allowed to get away with this, it essentially means that the so-called Unitary Executive Theory (this is from Wikipedia, which currently has the warning that "the neutrality of this article is disputed." Still, I find it a good place to start to begin to understand what it's all about) comes fully into play, and both Congress and the Supreme Court become totally irrelevant. Congress' function is to pass laws, and the Court's function is to rule on them. Indeed, the Court affirmed this in the famous Marbury v. Madison (1803) decision. This case formalized judicial review, and placed the Court on an equal footing with Congress and the Executive branch in reality, just as it already had been in theory in the Constitution. It also established the Court as the final place where the buck stopped when it came to Constitutional questions and issues.

The Unitary Executive Theory argues against Marbury v. Madison, in that the President should have the opportunity and right to interpret the Constitution as well. That also includes the right to ignore completely or conveniently discount portions of existing laws. The most noted and controversial example of this is Smirk's use of "signing statements," especially when he signed the McCain Detainee Amendment (another sad event: the fact that we even had to submit and approve such an amendment, and the fact that it took a Republican to do it. Where are the Democrats???). By invoking the Executive Branch's right to legal interpretation, Smirk was essentially saying that he reserved the right to allow torture. By allowing him to get away with this, we're essentially handing over unchecked power to a sole individual.

Part of the current bunch's argument in favor of that is that we are at "war" (even though it was a war of choice, rather than of necessity-- no one put a gun to our head and said, "Invade Iraq or else."), and the President's powers should be as unfettered as possible. But given that the so-called "war on terror" is an open-ended war, do we really want a leader with such unchecked power? If we allow our President to do whatever he wants, who will operate the brakes? Indeed, will there be any brakes? If we follow tradition and law, it is conceivable our next President (or the next one) will be a Democrat. Would those currently in power want that?

What's scary about this is that while I think (and feel) that allowing this to happen would be unconstitutional, Alito hasn't disavowed support for this theory; I'm pretty sure Scumlia and Uncle Clarence would have no problem with it either. If enough Justices saw no barriers to allowing such power to be assumed, all the parallels some people like to draw between the current gang in D.C. and Imperial Rome become that much more accurate.

Back to Gonzales; if Congress doesn't get off its butt now and pierce the veil of all the snowjobs the administration is trying to pull, then we can expect more and more limitations on privacy. I'm not taken in by the administration's claims that spying is okay; unfortunately, not that many people seem to be taking it as seriously as they should.

(This isn't to say that it's only Smirk that's weakening the foundations of our nation; back in November, habeas corpus was under fire from Congress; our esteemed *cough* lawmakers wanted to suspend this ancient right to appeal for those currently incarcerated at Guantanamo. But of course, that leads us down a slippery slope-- if you suspend habeas corpus for one group, what's to stop it from being suspended again? Here's a piece written by a lawyer defending one of the Guantanamo detainees (WaPo; registration required), and an excellent analysis of "Why Habeas Review Matters," by ReddHedd over at firedoglake.)

Another area where the gummint is trying to pull the wool over our eyes regards the lead-up to our current debacle in Iraq. It hasn't been confirmed as having actually been followed through on, but apparently Smirk and his poodle ally Blair discussed fabricating an excuse to lure Saddam Hussein into war by using a U-2 in U.N colors to enter Iraqi airspace, hoping that Saddam would attack the plane. The pretext would then be established for war to break out. Yet our gummint wants us to believe that Iraq had WMD. No, no, Iraq was an immediate threat. Waitaminit-- Iraq was responsible for 9/11... yeah, that's the ticket! Oh, hell, the man tried to kill my daddy! He's part of an axis of evil! He's...

Sorry, Smirk, Scowl, and gang: I don't buy it.

Postscript: Today is the one-year anniversary of this blog. Even though I haven't kept up with it much since November, it's cool that I've gotten this far. Hopefully this blog will be around come 2007 for the second anniversary!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

For Your Consideration

Well, earlier this week the Oscar nominations were released, at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. (see how we Left Coasters have to accommodate you folks on the Eastern seaboard? Hmph.) As a film buff, I admit I enjoy the awards season, since it helps me to determine which films I might have missed earlier that would be worth viewing, or which movies I've seen that I enjoyed rated as award-worthy by the Academy. Some years I've seen none of the films, and have had to wait for video release. In recent years, with the advent of DVD and the improvements in captioning offerings/technologies, I've seen anywhere from at least one to nearly all the movies by the time the Oscars roll around.

This year's choices are not only a motley lot, they're also not obvious box-office choices. I've only seen one so far, "Crash," in the major categories. There's been a lot of moaning and groaning around town about the box-office slump, and newspapers and columnists around the nation have picked up the baton to explain why this is. Personally, I think a large part of the problem is ticket prices. For us, we can get away with matinee viewings, and it isn't too bad as long as we don't go too often (Marina Del Rey is our choice, thanks to the captioned movies there, and the matinee price there is $6.50). But consider the average family of four in this country-- admission alone would run anywhere from around $30 to $40 dollars, depending on time of viewing and age of minors in said family. Throw in the inflated concessions prices, and you're talking about a total cost just for the theater itself at around $50-$60. How often these days can a family afford to go the movies?

The second big problem is the fact that the idiots in charge of the studios keep jumping on the bandwagon and making several movies in one particular genre to the point of exhaustion, or worse yet, remaking movies that are best left alone. Sequels are problematic too. Some are good, most are bad.

There's a few other things that I think could be fixed too, but back to the Oscars for now. It'll be interesting to see whether the Academy gives a nod to politically and socially relevant movies ("Good Night and Good Luck," "Crash," and "Munich"), or to films dealing with sexual issues ("Bareback..." oops I mean "Brokeback Mountain" and "Capote"). No "Titanic," "Lord of the Rings," or "Cold Mountain" type of films this year. These are the kinds of movies and scripts that play well in art houses or do better on DVD than in the nabes.

Some years I have absolutely no idea who'll win; other years, the winners seem fairly predictable. Sometimes I'll enter contests, and other times I'll just sit back and relax. For all the hoopla, often films that are much better or worthy don't get nominated. For example, one of my all-time favorite movies is "Lone Star," which only garnered one nomination, for writing. Its director, John Sayles, makes good movies, in my opinion, but rarely is recognized by the Academy. Even Sayles' weaker efforts, such as "Silver City," contain far more layered nuances, character development, and intelligent dialogue than the average film, and does so without being too intellectual or "artistic."

Usually my choices or guesses don't always win. One year I entered a contest at my hometown video store, and won either second or third place. The prize was something like 10 or 20 free rentals, and the videos of "Babe" and "The Aristocats." Not too shabby. Since then, my record has been hit and miss. However, this year, I think I can safely predict at least some of the winners. So I'm gonna throw caution to the wind and tell you who I think has the best chance. We'll see if I'm right come March 5th.

For Best Actor, I'd prefer David Straithairn in "Good Night and Good Luck." He's a great actor, has been in some Sayles films such as "Eight Men Out" (he played pitcher Eddie Cicotte), and at a time when our county is in dire straights, portrays one of the best journalists of the 20th century, a man who stood up to McCarthy and McCarthyism. However, I'm going to venture that Phillip Seymour Hoffman wins. From what I've read (and no, I haven't seen "Capote," so this is a wild guess in a way), he practically owned the role and the film.

For Best Supporting Actor, I'd love to see Matt Dillon win. He is an underrated actor who has come a long way since his teen acting days (and even then he was pretty good- for example, see his turn as a bully in "My Bodyguard."), and he did an excellent job as a racist cop in "Crash." But Paul Giamatti got burned by not copping an Oscar last year for "Sideways," so even though the Academy has already honored the requisite boxing movie with "Million Dollar Baby," my guess is Giamatti gets it for "Cinderella Man."

For Best Actress, Reese Witherspoon will probably walk the line for "Walk The Line." I don't see any of the others having much of a chance, especially considering Charlize Theron and Judi Dench have already scored their statues.

I'm not as certain when it comes to Best Supporting Actress. Just going by careers alone, and the buzz surrouding the movies they're in, I'd say it's either Catherine Keener in "Capote" or Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener."

Considering all the press its gotten, and the fact that its director is quite good, I'm gonna go with popular sentiment at the moment and say that Ang Lee and "Brokeback Mountain" take the Best Director and Best Picture awards, respectively. If for some reason that doesn't pan out, I'd say "Good Night and Good Luck" and George Clooney has a shot, if only for the fact that many of us out here in L.A. are rather socially and politically liberal, and this movie is an antidote to the current bunch in the White House.

Those are the main categories-- I'm not as certain about all the other categories, but I will say that I think "Wallace and Gromit" will get the Best Animated Picture. For all of Disney's ballyhooed switch to computer animation, simply junking your traditional 2-D hand-drawn animation unit doesn't guarantee an Oscar nod. It's about the story, you fools, and "Wallace and Gromit" did well in that area. "Corpse Bride" was neat to watch, but the story was skimpy and quite predictable. A nice way to kill 80 or so minutes, but definitely not something for the ages.

So there you have it. I'm not exactly Ebert or Maltin, but for what it's worth, that's my take, for your consideration.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The End of the Beginning - STOP- Of the Information Age

Well, it only took 150 years, but the end of the beginning of today's Information Age has arrived. As of last Friday, Western Union no longer issues telegrams. Long a staple of American telecommunications, especially in the first half of the 20th century, the use of telegrams lately has been limited to period piece films and TV shows. I always wondered what it would be like to get a telegram, but as I got older, realized there were a lot cheaper ways of getting the message across. Of course, now I'll never get one.

I've seen a few though-- when I was helping to go through some family papers a while back, I came across some that had been saved for posterity, or stuck in between other papers instead of buried at the bottom of some landfill somewhere. It's kind of fascinating to look at something that wasn't sent all that long ago, and reflect on how rapidly communications has developed since Samuel F.B. Morse sent that very first telegram in 1844. From the telegram to videophones in just over 160 years-- not too shabby.

For us deaf folks, our connection with Western Union is a bit more than the average person might realize. Old Western Union teletype machines formed the basis for our first TTYs/TDDs, as outlined in A Phone Of Our Own, by Harry Lang (worth a read, if you haven't already!)-- a history about telecommunications for the deaf. One Western Union term was co-opted for use on the TTY- one example is "SK", which means "the conversation's done." While you might think it stands for Stop Keying or some other obscure origin, it's actually a corruption of the Morse signals for "30," which meant "no more" or "end." A lot of newspaper stories or radio flashes sent over the original Western Union TTYs used to end with this number, and looked like this: - 30 -

The abbreviated tone of telegrams and telegraph communications continues today through ham radio, TTY and web-based relay conversations, and IM. So while Western Union may be defunct, telecommunications haven't ended; they've merely morphed and changed with the times.

As long as we're on the subject of (tele)communications, if you've been worried of late about the surrender of search engine companies and other communications sources to government intrusion, and you don't want the gummint to know about your search for hemorrhoid remedies or Googling your boss' name in search of new office gossip, then you may want to follow the suggestions posted here at InformationWeek. I knew most of them, and the majority of you probably will, but it never hurts to review.

Adieu, telegrams -STOP- What's next?