Contact Wyden About NSA Spying

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence which is (according to his website) “charged with overseeing and making continuing studies of the intelligence activities and programs of the United States Government. … The committee also oversees all United States intelligence activities to be certain that they conform with the laws and Constitution of the United States.”

Drop the senator a note and ask that he push the committee to investigate President Bush’s authorization of the NSA to spy on the United States without first obtaining warrants. While you’re at it, ask him if he was one of “leaders in Congress” Bush claims have been briefed “more than a dozen times” on this matter.

Knee-Jerk Anti-war Activists On “Face the Nation”

Quicktime, 4.2MB

This week on CBS’s Face the Nation (11 December 2005), host Bob Schieffer twice used the same phrase to introduce Congressman John Murtha (D-PA). In the show’s opener, he said this:

John Murtha is no knee-jerk antiwar activist. He’s an ex-Marine and twice wounded in Vietnam, so when he said it is time to pull back our forces, people listened.

Then, as the interview was wrapping up, he asked this question:

Congressman, was this hard for you? Because you were a hawk on this whole operation, you’re an ex-Marine, you were twice wounded in Vietnam, you’re not the knee-jerk anti-war activist. Uh, was it hard for you to finally make the decision to say what you said?

What Schieffer is saying is that Murtha’s military service gives him more credibility on the war than others who opposed the war. More importantly, Schieffer’s characterization of anti-war activists as “knee-jerk” ignores the fact that many of those who opposed the war from the beginning (including Murtha and most of the rest of the world) were unconvinced by the administration’s claims that Iraq was an imminent danger, a viewpoint that Face the Nation (among others) has never acknowledged. It wasn’t simply s reflexive (“knee-jerk”) reaction to US military policy for many — if not most — Americans who were against the war.

I wrote to Face the Nation, pointing out that fact. Surprisingly, I received a (short) response from Schieffer:

Oh Please, I meant no disrespect to those who oppose the war. Nor do I believe many would take it that way. Bob Schieffer

But is there any respectful way to use the term “knee-jerk”? Certainly, there are people who are opposed to war in any form on moral grounds — Quakers, for instance — but I’ve never seen “knee-jerk” used in any other than a derogatory way. Would you take it as a sign of respect? Or would you be one of the people Bob Schieffer doesn’t believe in who would find it disrespectful? If you’d like to let him know yourself, write to the Face the Nation comment address. Please, be respectful, but tell him whether you think the characterization is appropriate.

The clip (Quicktime, 4.2MB) contains both usages of “knee-jerk” and — just for giggles— a bit from the same show where Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-MS) was on as the “balance” to Murtha. In his last response, to a question about Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sessions made this startling admission:

I think what Joe Lieberman brought to this discussion was he voted to — as did almost all the Democratic leadership: Daschle and Reid, Hilary Clinton, uh, vice-presidential candidate Edwards, presidential candidate Kerry — all voted for the military action. But Joe Lieberman has consistently tried to make it a success. He’s tried to support the President — who was elected this time — to make sure that we could be successful and I think that’s been the differences in his commentary and some of the political comments we’ve been hearing.

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Still Here

Dancing On My Grave

On 12 December 2002, two months to the day after a fall from a stepladder broke my leg and ankle, and about a week after my 41st birthday, I was making my way down the stairs at my office to where my wife was waiting for me with the car. At the bottom of the stairs (thankfully) I passed out. Barbara managed to get me to the emergency room, where several doctors and nurses spent 45 minutes trying to find veins for IVs (never easy on me under the best of circumstances), where I got a CAT scan, a sonocardiogram, and spent the night in the ICU after they’d confirmed that I had suffered a pulmonary embolism. More specifically, multiple embolisms, because I had a number of blood clots in both lungs. A week in the pulmonary ward, a year of blood thinner treatment, and I’d be good as new.

This photo’s from the Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery in Southeast Portland, where Barbara and I bought a cremation plot last month. That brown patch under my feet is our spot (the marker is not ours), which is just few steps from the plot of Oregon Gov. W.W. Thayer (1878-82).

Biodiesel in SE Portland

I’ve used Jay’s Garage, on the corner of SE 7th Ave. and Morrison St. for gas and service on our car for several years. It’s locally-owned, they still wash your windows, and they’re pretty friendly. So I have no compunctions to pass along the word that — if you’ve got a diesel engine and you drive through central Portland — Jay told me the other day that he’s carrying biodiesel now. If you’re coming out of downtown, just pop across the Morrison Bridge, make a left at 7th, and you’re there in 1 block.

On Disaster Preparation and Republicans

Just a little tidbit from “Fat Man” by Louis Menand, a June New Yorker review of a biography of Herman Kahn, one of the architects of the theory of mutual assured deterrence. Maybe it explains why the 9/11 Commission didn’t give out very good grades last week (emphasis added):

RAND was leery of civil defense for client-relations reasons: money spent on fallout shelters and dosimeters was less money for the Air Force. Eisenhower, too, opposed civil-defense programs, in part because he didn¬ít think that nuclear war was survivable, and in part because he was a cheapskate. Facilities for the evacuation of millions cost too much to construct. In the nineteen-fifties, the people who were enthusiastic about fallout shelters and evacuation drills, the now derided emblems of Cold War domestic culture, were liberals. All of the hundred million black-and-yellow fallout-shelter signs that appeared in the United States during the Cold War were put up by the Kennedy Administration—which also made Kahn happy by distributing two million dosimeters.

Robert Sheckley 1928-2005

Although I met many of the Oregon-based science-fiction and fantasy writers community over the course of a couple of two decades from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, I never had much contact with the late Robert Sheckley. For a number of years he lived within walking distance of my house; his wife, Gail Dana, wrote a couple of pieces for my book review magazine. In earlier years, I probably would have tried harder to meet with him, but I’ve tried to be more observant of authorial privacy as the years go by.

I always admired Sheckley’s wit. His stories, in particular, always seemed to have a sardonic edge to them that appealed to me. Sheckley belongs to the tail end of a generation of science-fiction writers that is fast disappearing, a generation that developed in the dark of an era where you really had to go looking for material from the genre, before it broke into the light of mainstream culture and movies. I’m already starting to regret not pressing harder to get to know him personally.

Robert Sheckley’s website

The Unbearable Blackness of Kettles

As a SE Portland resident of nearly two decades, a once-upon-a-time toiler in the bowels of this city’s bookselling business, and former book review publisher, I’m not unfamiliar with the name of David Morrison, who had a shop on SE 37th & Hawthorne Blvd. for some years and was the subject of this week’s Oregonian A&E “Film Freak” feature by Ted Mahar. But I’ve never had any real contact with him.

Morrison admits having “mixed feelings” about Fahrenheit 9/11, because while “there has been no major debunking of his [Moore’s] case,” he thinks Moore’s “antics in front of the camera are often embarassing.”

That’s a fairly reasonable argument, if — in the previous paragraph — Morrison hadn’t described himself in this way (bold emphasis added):

Who: Rare book and manuscript dealer. Also: “I run a fundraising operation for juvenile diabetes, which my 8-year-old daughter has. I’m heavily involved with a research group trying to get the word out that 9/11 was an inside job, and that a real investigation should be conducted into the roles of Bush, Cheney and their crowd. I doubt that they will ever be held accountable, but enormous amounts of material were omitted from the investigation, and it should be made more widely public. Seven of the supposed hijackers have been seen alive since 9/11.

All That Glitters

“Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things…. Stuff happens.”
      — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on looting in Iraq, 11 April 2003

I was thinking of singular breach of rationality this morning as I listened to an interview on “All Things Considered.” The subject was Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, who’s a student of classics and — back in the States — a New York City prosecutor who’s written a book called Thieves of Baghdad about how he took his unit to the Iraq Museum to stop the looting when he heard about it, and his attempts to recover significant items taken from the museum.

As Bogdanos points out at the end of the interview, not only are the missing pieces historically and culturally significant, but they’re worth a lot of virtually untraceable money. Nobody who buys them for the millions — or tens of millions in some cases — that they’re worth is ever going to be able to display them publicly. He says: “We have found that the trafficing in illegal antiquities has gone to funding the insurgency.”

I haven’t seen Bogdanos’s book, so I don’t know how well-documented his claim is, but stolen art has a good value/weight ratio, and it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that if the Americans spent several months building up a military force on the border and you wanted to get some items that you could fit in the back of a pickup truck that might be worth tens of millions of dollars, the museum might be a place to look.

Then again, if you were expecting to be greeted by flowers and candy (well, not you specifically, but the troops you are nominally in charge of) why would you bother to lock down a bunch of old, dusty crap?