Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011 at Venice Beach

This blog owes its existence to many influences, not least among them my wife Alma and the American author Henry David Thoreau. Many people know Thoreau for his pastoral Walden, but Thoreau was also quite the political radical in  his day. He committed non-violent civil disobedience in response to the Mexican-American War of 1848, refusing to pay his taxes and serving a jail term for that refusal. And he subsequently penned the treatise On Civil Disobedience which has served as a touchstone to other practitioners of non-violence such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

So I should mention in the interests of full disclosure that I, like Thoreau, have that dual focus of appreciation for the pastoral mixed with political radicalism. From 2001-08, I was heavily involved in the anti-war movement here in Los Angeles, attending many of the early mass demonstrations against the Iraq War and later, as the war dragged on, attending local anti-war vigils in Mar Vista and Venice twice- and thrice-weekly. As a result, I personally witnessed sentiment on the west side of Los Angeles turn from pro-war to anti-war and anti-Bush, and I saw it happen like time-lapse photography from one week to the next.

Those seven years were not without their sacrifices. On more than one occasion, my car was vandalized while parked on the street -- radio antenna bent over, tires flattened, tail light cover busted. Well, my car is an old beater and I do not fetishize automobiles, so no big loss there aside from the petty annoyances. On another occasion, I was physically assaulted by a pro-war Bush-bot while standing by myself at the corner of Palms and Centinela Boulvevards. That was scary and Alma made me promise not to demonstrate by myself after that, a promise which I subsequently kept by only demonstrating when I could do it with at least one other person..I remained at a dead-end job working for a subsidiary of The Los Angeles Times, simply so I could access its cafeteria each day wearing my anti-war buttons and peace signs.

But my sacrifice pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by the soldiers in these foolish imperialist ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, there are some 'bad apples' among those soldiers, as the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Bagram airbase revealed. But, for the most part, these soldiers are ordinary working-class folks, same as you and me, and the Masters of War move them around and sacrifice them like they are pawns in some global game of chess. Many of them enlist because the domestic economy offers so few opportunities. It is with some justification that the anti-war movement calls this the 'poverty draft' as you seldom find children of the middle- and upper classes serving.

Every Sunday, since 2004, the local chapter of an anti-war group called Veterans for Peace has erected a monument to the dead and wounded in these wars of imperial aggression.

The monument, erected just north of the Santa Monica Pier, has come to be known as 'Arlington West' (so-called because Arlington National Cemetery lies just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.). I am not a veteran and so am not a member of Vets for Peace. But I have watched the monument grow over the years from a few hundred crosses to the over 2600 that are currently on display each Sunday.

Memorial Day is not a day to debate the justness or lack thereof of the various wars. Memorial Day is the day to honor those who gave the "last full measure of devotion" (quoting Abraham Lincoln). But, to honor our dead and have that gesture mean something, we must also honor the dead and wounded civilians of these conflicts:

It is time to bring the troops home. Let us hope they come home soon and that their wounds, both external and internal, shall heal. No more deaths, no more destruction. End the wars now!

To learn more about Veterans for Peace and Arlington West, click on the link below:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Start of the Summer Season Approaches

Friday, May 27, will mark the official start of the Summer Season (and the kick-off to the 3-day Memorial Day weekend that typically ushers in that start). Even yesterday, it was chilly for this time of year and stiff breezes blew. Each day, though, you start to see a few more people on the beach, although free street parking on weekdays is still plentiful. But I expect that, come Friday, the number of people on the beach will mushroom and it will become more difficult to locate free parking in close proximity to the beach.

Another sign that the summer approaches is that there are now 2-3 lifeguard stations open each day where, just a couple weeks ago, there was only one lifeguard on duty for the entire 3-mile stretch Alma and I walk. There does not yet seem enough business to keep 3 lifeguards occupied, as the water is still very cold and few people venture into it. Still, Alma and I see quite a few surfers, especially around the Washington Blvd. pier. Just a couple days ago, we watched as high winds threatened to drive an intrepid surfer onto the rocks at the breakwater north of the Pier. A lifeguard from the station there had to rescue the surfer, a feat accomplished with a minimum of fuss and a surfeit of professionalism.

The high winds we have had here recently have taken a toll on aquatic and avian sea life. Not a day passes that we don't find at least one or two seabirds washed up dead on shore. And a couple days ago, Alma and I saw what looked to be a dead seal washed up into the surf. We felt bad but a passer by pointed out that the dead seal was a good thing for the sea gulls who were gorging themselves en masse on the seal's entrails.

A sad sight confronted us two days ago when we came across a pelican sitting stock-still in the sand, so quiet that at first I thought it was dead. Many pelicans call the Santa Monica bay home and we frequently see small groups of 5-10 flying together and dive-bombing the Pacific in pursuit of food. Pelicans can appear somewhat inelegant and comical when up close but they are highly efficient diving machines when they launch into a vertical dive into the ocean. At the Villa Marina jetty, we can usually count on seeing a group of them swimming placidly in the calm waters each day when we reach that terminus of our walk.

Alma approached this pelican and it opened its eye and rotated the eyeball to follow her approach. But it made no move to get away, clearly ill or simply winded from fighting the wind and the elements. We informed the lifeguard at the breakwater who said she had contacted Animal Control. We saw no sign of the bird yesterday while walking the same stretch, so either Animal Control rescued it, the sea re-claimed it or it re-gained its strength and flew off to join its companions. I hope it was the latter.

Monday, May 23, 2011

False Alarm. Rapture Rescheduled to Dec. 21, 2012

Well, dear readers, Saturday came and went and, as far as I know, no one got raptured. The charlatan who promulgated this latest millenarian hoax, one Harold Camping, is reputed to have enriched himself to something on the order of $80 million USD from donations made to his religious outfit by the sadly deluded. People like Robert Fitzpatrick who spent his retirement savings of $140,000 helping to put up billboards advertising the coming Rapture.

The New York Daily News ran a story on Sunday that featured Fitzpatrick. "I don't understand why nothing has happened," a deflated Fitzpatrick said in Times Square just after 6 p.m. "I did what I had to do. I did what the Bible said. I obviously haven't understood it properly, because we're still here," added Fitzpatrick.

One of our local television stations, KTLA5, ran a story about a Palmdale woman who tried to kill her two daughters, aged 11 and 14 by slitting their throats, before trying to kill herself, all in order to avoid the May 21 "tribulation." The woman, Lyn Benedetto, is not your garden-variety loon: she was to all outward appearances an affluent, solidly middle-class person. But she still fell victim to the crazy.

I also read an account of someone in the Detroit area who killed his dog so it would not suffer when the Rapture happened. Left unanswered was the question of exactly what kind of loving Jesus would rapture a pet owner but leave the pets behind unattended.

So, while there was much levity to be had in the Rapture spectacle -- Alma and I went to a Rapture party at our local coffee house on Saturday night where we heard a great country singer named, appropriately enough, "J.C." (full name on the program was 'J.C. Hyke') -- there was also a lot of pathos.

The next Rapture is scheduled tentatively for December 21, 2012. Stay tuned. As for May 21, the photo below says it all:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On (Not) Bringing Arch Villains to Justice - Part III

I thought this post, originally published on May 12, had vanished down the memory hole when Blogger crashed last week. But in looking through my Drafts folder (after having read the Admins' reports that the bug was fixed), I found a working copy of the post floating there in limbo, as it were.  I am posting it now, although it is a little bit out of date, mainly so my readers can read the brilliant analysis of the DUer named SoDesuka.


I'd like to copy a post on Democratic Underground that I think brilliantly lays out the position that Obama seriously undermined the rule of law in having Osama bin Laden summarily executed.

This is by a poster on DU who goes by the name of 'SoDesuka'

A Fatwa Is Not a Declaration of War

Calling a fatwa a declaration of war is a silly argument. An organization of civilians is not a state; the most they can be is a gang . . . .

Only a state can declare war. Osama bin Laden is the lead criminal in a gang of criminals, not a head of state. If you want to proceed lawfully against bin Laden, you can't change his status to that of a soldier; you have to respect the fact that regardless of his own statements he remains a civilian.

The Bush administration made it plain that they were not going to be constrained by legality except if they chose to do so. For example, waterboarding is illegal; has always been illegal; and it can't be made legal because of novel theories. Similarly, novel theories can't change what is and what is not a war.

Neither Obama nor Bush has the right to decide which laws they'll obey depending on whether they can get somebody like John Yoo to develop a novel theory to support what they're planning. I hope you can see how dangerous it is to allow executives to make it up as they go along. Bush was notorious for that; and now, unfortunately, Obama is following his bad example.

We can't have government just winging it; there have to be constraints. In another post I compared Obama to Nixon, who also believed in winging it. Hit squads operate outside the law; and there's no accountability. Nixon started the "plumbers" unit to plug leaks of government secrets; but that led to his use of this gang to commit ordinary felonies. Nixon later claimed that whatever the president does is legal.

Do we really want to go down that road - allowing the executive to get away with whatever he feels like so long as his lawyers come up with some novel theory? It's not about whether Osama bin Laden deserves capital punishment; it's about whether the president has the authority to order commandos to kill criminals on his say-so alone. No, he doesn't.


All I can say is 'Wow.'

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Rapture is Coming - Don't Be Left Behind

As if to make up for the high seriousness of the assassination of Osama bin Laden, we now have the comic relief of an approaching Rapture this Saturday, May 21. Apparently, a certain prophetic figure named Harold Camping has predicted it and some fundamentalist Christian group has spent oodles of money (in excesss of $150,000) purchasing billboard space and renting RVs with signs proclaiming that the faithful will be raptured up to heaven this coming Saturday while those "Left Behind" will face a time of mounting tribulation leading up to Armageddon and Judgment Day.

You can read sympathetic accounts of what some Christians believe is coming at the following links:

Pretty creepy stuff on one level, but hilarious on other levels. FaceBook has been running a satirical page for people to sign up for the 'Post Rapture Looting Party" and I've been getting a lot of laughs out of reading some of the responses to it:

(N.B. You will need to sign up for a FaceBook account if you have not done so already, if you wish to take part in the festivities. More than 130,000 people have already signed up as 'Attending.')

Amidst all the levity, we do need to remember that a certain sub-set of people are more vulnerable to the charlatans and hucksters amongst us. I feel badly for anyone who has quit his or her job and disposed of all his or her possessions in anticipation of being raptured. I don't think there's much that can be done to prevent people from making foolish mistakes that will cost them dearly; Lord knows, I've made more than my share. But even as I snicker, I do wonder how people can be so gullible.

Being an adherent of Thoreau and his philosophy to pare life back to what is 'necessary,' I do not forsee a need to engage in much post-Rapture looting for myself or Alma. OK, there is that Taylor guitar I've been lusting after for 10 years and that I was going to buy if I ever won big in Vegas. But, aside from that, there's not much I want in the way of material goods. Funnily enough, I have to get a new permanent crown on one of my molars Saturday. I sure hope that God\Jesus\Holy Spirit has made a general Rapture Exemption for dentists. Otherwise, I'm screwed.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Post Has Disappeared

Blogger went down late Friday night, apparently as the result of some unintended consequences to routine software maintenance. When it came back up, my most recent post from Thursday, titled "On (Not) Bringing Arch Villains to Justice - Part III," had disappeared from the blog. I was especially sorry to lose it, as it contained a copy of a post from someone at Democratic Underground named SoDesuka that simply eviscerated the logic behind the standard defense of bin Laden's execution, namely that bin Laden had declared war on the U.S. and thus deserved his summary execution. (Unfortunately, DU removes easy access to posts after 48 hours, so it is too late for me to try to recover SoDeskua's eloquent and elegant words.)

On the other hand, President Obama announced last Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes" that people like Alma and me who question whether Osama got what he deserved need to have our 'heads examined.' And Senator John Kerry, 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee, said people like Alma and me should "shut up and move on."

Well, I will be moving on. I shall not be voting for Obama in 2012, nor for any Democrat who aligns him- or herself with Obama. As I wrote in the post that disappeared: Good riddance to bad rubbish. And perhaps the Democrats say the same about me.

I sure hope Blogger is able to recover that post that has gone missing. But I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, May 9, 2011

On (Not) Bringing Arch Villains to Justice - Part II

Almost a week has gone by since my last post, On (Not) Bringing Arch Villains to Justice, wherein I laid out my initial reservations about the raid that led to Osama bin Laden's death. Alma and I have been walking at the beach each day but it seems as if my every waking minute in the days since my last post has been spent on Democratic Underground, trying to mount a spirited, rear-guard defense of the rule of law.

I actually went on something a tear on Tuesday, placing a large number of DU participants on "Ignore" for their willingness to dispense with civilized norms on what seem to me the flimsiest of pretexts. When someone on a progressive discussion board like DU argues that they have no problem that OBL was killed without receiving a trial and that they wished he had suffered more, what more is there really to say. Trust me, many of the folks on DU posted responses indistinguishable from the most atavistic of right-wing responses during the reign of Bush the Younger.

I am actually now working on a more full-length essay on the subject which I hope to post here soon. But bin Laden's execution has led to a mini-Civil War on Democratic Underground. Interestingly, while polls show that OBL's killing has an 87% approval rating here in the U.S., opinion abroad is not nearly as favorable to U.S. imperialism and its offices. One of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative colleagues took issue with her expression of approval and called OBL;s killing 'medieval,' a sentiment with which I heartily concur. Make that medieval with helicopters and automatic weapons.

I cannot remember being this worked up since the run-up to the Iraq War, a war based entirely upon lies and, predictably for same, one of incredible destructive sadness. I remain as convinced today as I was last Sunday that we had no right to assassinate OBL without doing all within our power to ensure he received a trial first. I'm afraid I shall be leaving DU soon or be forced to leave by its administrators. Tant pis pour eux, as they say in France. ('Their loss').

At any rate, below is one piece I put on DU tonight:


You ask, "Why is OBL worthy of some consideration (that 'due process' be followed) we have not afforded so many others?"

Here's my answer:

We treat evil men decently not because of who they are, but because of who we are. (Tip of the hat to DUer EFerrari for this insight.) I grant you that many before OBL had died who were unarmed and offering no resistance. They too received no due process, a sad fact for which my twice- and thrice-weekly protests from 2001-08 seems to have provided little or no amelioration. But your principal argument seems to be that, because those thousands did not receive due process, that therefore OBL should not receive it either. This seems like the mirror image of "two wrongs don't make a right" thinking, specifically, "two wrongs do make a right". In other words, you seem to suggest, because the thousands did not receive due process (a wrong), OBL is not due it either (2nd wrong), and therefore some higher moral purpose is served (the right). Well, I'm not sure you really believe that but that seems the import of your words. Do note that your way of thinking increases the net amount of wrong in the world by adding a 2nd wrong to the first, without adding any further right to the world that I can see.

Realistically speaking, had we caught bin Laden and brought him under the rule of law, my guess is that he would have died while in captivity (a la Milosevic). We have managed trials for other such arch villains in our history and, I would argue, the principle that each man deserves a trial before being executed is an important enough one to run the risk of some damage to the course of our political history (which hardly can suffer more than it has during the reign of the Bush junta).

I cannot speak to the courage or cowardice of our current political leadership. I will say this (and perhaps this is a sign of how fucked up this whole scene has become): Early on (like Monday or Tuesday) there were apocryphal reports on DU that the right wing was advancing some sort of theory of a military coup d'etat that had forced Obama's hand. According to this right wing story, Obama had not wanted OBL assassinated and the military had overrode him (thereby accounting for Obama's overly stern expression at the podium on Sunday night). Crazy story, right? Except that there was a part of me wishing it were true, desperately wishing that Obama had indeed ordered OBL not be assassinated, only to find himself disobeyed by a military no longer bound to the laws of morality, mortality and human decency, but instead a monster unleashed and uncontrollable by any decent force.


To Be Continued . . .

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On (Not) Bringing Arch Villains to Justice

 The news these past couple days has been full of accounts of the raid by U.S. Special Forces that killed Osama bin Laden in a compound in Pakistan. Yesterday while walking on the beach it occurred to me that I am about as physically distant as it is possible to be in the 'lower 48' from Ground Zero. The beach I walk that overlooks the Pacific is about as physically different as it is possible to be from the towering structures of the New York City skyline.

Alma and I have been talking about the matter seemingly non-stop since news of it first broke late on Sunday evening. We both remember our immense grief in the hours and days immediately following 9-11. We also remember how the nation then made a sharp right turn towards something neither of us recognize as America in the years that followed. And we remember our grief and anger at the many innocent victims of Bush's subsequent war-mongering in the middle east and central Asia.

One matter that really bugs me about the closing of the OBL chapter in the GWOT ('Global War on Terrorism') is that it seems no attempt was made to capture or arrest bin Laden. Instead, the force of 30-40 Navy Seals went in guns a-blazin' in typical Wild West, shoot first, ask questions later fashion that has become the hallmark of America's militarized foreign policy in the years since 2001. So when Preisdent Obama said we had brought Osama "to justice," I had to pause. "Justice" was not served in this case.

I spent much of yesterday in raging debates on Democratic Underground ( arguing with people as to why no attempt whatsoever was made to arrest bin Laden, such that the due process of law could work itself out and bin Laden's fate be sealed with the full magesty of the law. Alma was carrying on similar debates with her friends and acquaintances on Facebook.

I am extremely disheartened to report that Alma and my position is a minority position, based on my unofficial sampling of opinion on DU and Alma's reports of her experiences on FB. Osama bin Laden has already been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion it seems, so such niceties as the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence seem easily dispensed with by people one would think should know better.

Instead, what I found on DU was massive support for the extra-judicial assassination of bin Laden, eitther because (as mentioned above) he had no right to a trial or, in a contradictory rationalization, he was 'resisting arrest' at the time of the raid. The latter is laughable in its naievete and within 12 hours of the raid, a credible news report had surfaced on the esteemed new service Reuters that the team that was sent had no instructions to arrest bin Laden but instead were sent with orders to 'kill' him."

The Reuters story, if true, depicts an America I don't much care for, an America where the ends justify the means. And sure enough, this morning, there were stories that the Americans' use of torture had somehow contributed to the clues that led to Osama's location. The right wing is trumpeting this as proof that torture works. No matter that torture is against the law, both U.S. and international treaties to which we are signatories. If we can learn where Satan resides (the end), torture of his minions to find out (the means) are justified.

Disgusting, infantile and puerile. Even more disgusting were the televised displays of people outside the White House and in New York City engaged in atavistic displays of chest-beating Yahooism. "Unseemly" is how one person on DU referred to it and to that I fully agree and wish to add 'hypocritical.' Everyone here got in a fit of dudgeon when scenes were shown of people in the middle east dancing and celebrating the deaths of Americans. Seems like it's far easier for Americans to spot the splinter in their neighbor's eye while ignoring the mote in their own.

I'd like to say that it comes down to a difference of opinion. I believe that terrorism is a law enforcement issue and that law enforcement works best when principles like due process are observed. The people celebrating in the streets believe that terrorism requires a military response and arcane niceties like due process vanish when the battle begins. I'd like to say that. But I don't believe it's as simple as a mere civil disagreement any longer. The America that presided over the Nuremburg trials is long gone. The Americans who fought the battle against fascism in the 20th Century are now retired from the fields of battle. What has replaced that America and those Americans is a mob of ignorant and vainglorious boobs who cannot even tell you what due process of the law means. Infuriating and sad at the same time.

I am happy to report that not everyone on DU or on FB has signed on to the return to the days of Star Chamber and Bills of Attainder. Indeed, a healthy contingent of folks on each site agree with Alma and me, despite having to endure the cyber equivalent of being spat upon for enunciating such politically unfashionable positions.

My audience on this blog, while heavily American, is also healthily global and to my readers abroad I say that the America I remember and the America I want back does not torture for expedience. The America I remember and want back does not kill people without a trial. I will not be voting for Obama in 2012 unless he publicly apologizes and renounces the use of such tactics in the future. I don't think he will be doing that any time soon, as his cowboy antics have all but guaranteed his re-election.

To the souls of the 2970 dead at Ground Zero, may you rest in peace. To the soul of Osama bin Laden, may you also rest in peace. To the souls of all the innocent civilians we have killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, may you rest in peace. And enough with the "God Bless America" malarkey. How about this instead?

God Bless Everyone (No Exceptions)