Hawking Up Hairballs

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Last night I watched Brian DiPalma's movie Redacted. It's about a small unit of American soldiers who are manning a checkpoint in Iraq. One night a couple of them get drunk, and rape a fifteen-year-old girl. To cover up what they have done, they kill her and her family. The movie centers around this incident. It shows what leads up to it, and the consequences that flow from it. It's quite good. I recommend it.

The only quibble I have with the movie concerns the two characters who commit the atrocity. They are the least intelligent and least educated of the soldiers, and come off as natural born thugs. You get the sense that they would be in a penitentiary were they not in the military. The movie would have had more impact had the characters been more neutral. War atrocities are often committed by quite ordinary soldiers who are otherwise moral and responsible. It's of the nature of war to turn men into beasts, and Iraq has certainly done that to a lot of American soldiers. As is pointed out at the beginning of the movie, during a 24-month period, 2000 Iraqis were killed at checkpoints. Only sixty of them were determined to be insurgents, but not one soldier was ever brought up on charges.

One thing that struck me over and over again as I watched the movie was the timeless nature of the awful dialetic between the occupier and the occupied. I kept thinking that I could see something similar going on between the Romans and the peoples of the Middle East. Only the uniforms and weapons have changed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Deprogramming Jihadis

So, I finally switched from dialup to DSL. That meant moving from Earthlink to AT&T. Yeah, it's a frying pan to the fire scenario, but the DSL isn't costing me any more than the dialup was. Anyway, I now have an AT&T home page, which is a Yahoo! page. I don't know, I suppose they have some kind of deal going. But there was this new item there today: "Can militant jihadis be successfully deprogrammed?" It's about this camp in Saudi Arabia, facetiously called the Betty Ford Center for terrorists. The Saudis claim to have "deprogrammed" 100 inmates with a 100% success rate. Of course, this perfect record was marred last week when a couple of guys who had been released from the place publicly returned to the jihadi movement.

A couple of things about this article made me shake my head. In the first place, there's that word "deprogrammed". In order to be deprogrammed, they must have been programmed in the first place. And who could have done the programming? Why, the evil ones with glowing eyes and beards, the sinister ones who run the jihadi organizations. The Lord only knows, but they're probably in league with Satan, because no one could choose to be a jihadi based on experience and reflection. Jihadi beliefs represent a distortion of the mind, akin to mental illness or diabolical possession. At least that's what they have you believe when they start throwing around words like "deprogrammed".

I'm not in favor of most terrorist tactics. The killing of noncombatants is neither ethical, nor particularly effective in a political sense, but I can see where desperation and a sense of powerlessness would convince one to embrace such tactics. One doesn't have to be mentally ill, in league with Satan, or brainwashed. Remember back in the Soviet era when they would put dissidents in mental hospitals. The rationale was that since the Soviet Union was a workers' state, it was the best sort of society that human effort could hope to conceive of. Thus, anyone who couldn't understand that had to be mentally ill. The same kind of logic is operating here. Just subsitute, "free market capitalism and Western democracy" for "workers' state".

As for that success rate, it only makes me laugh. What the hell do they think the inmates are going to do? Unless they want to be viciously tortured or have their heads separated from their bodies, they'll pretend to go along with the deprogramming so that they may be released. Why that shouldn't be abundantly obvious is beyond me. Of course, the whole thing may be a scam. There's a lot of support for fundamentalist Islam in Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis know they can't just release these guys without incurring the wrath of the US government, so they could be putting on this little charade as political cover.

At any rate, I'm including a link to a Time magazine piece that has a number of photos of this camp. You should find them amusing. I about fell out of my chair laughing when I saw the inmates doing "therapeutic painting".


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bush Boo-Hoo?

I just had to link to this photo of Bush that was taken on his way to his farewell address. I have nothing to add beyond that which is said on the Boing Boing web site. Judge for yourself.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Drug Advertising

I am opposed to the advertising of prescriptions drugs to the public. Most people don't have the knowledge to determine whether or not the advertised drugs are suitable for them, yet there will be those who've seen the advertising who will go to their doctors asking for the drugs by name. As has been shown in studies of the prescription of antibiotics, doctors often succumb to a patient's request for a drug, even when it is of little or no value in treating a patient's condition. I've known plenty of people who've walked into the doctor's office with the cold or flu, and walked out with a prescription for antibiotics, which have no effect on viral diseases. (It could be argued that the antibiotics are a precaution, but with the problem of bacterial resistance, that doesn't wash. It's more like the patient expects a pill, so he's going to get a pill.)

I decided to check out a couple of prescription drugs that I've recently seen advertised on TV. The first is Lyrica. The commercials are pitched toward women who suffer from fibromyalgia. Lyrica was originally approved as an anticonvulsant to treat epileptic seizures, and to treat the pain of nerve damage caused by diabetes and shingles. It works on he calcium channels of the central nervous system, apparently inhibiting the ability to feel pain. So, it appears that Lyrica has some legitimate uses, but it's only fibromyalgia that is mentioned in the commercials, and fibromyalgia is a dubious diagnostic category. It is characterized by widespread chronic pain, and a heightened, painful response to light touch. However, it appears that fibromyalgia may well be a psychosomatic condition. In fact, the doctor who was the lead author in the 1990 paper that defined the condition was quoted in the New York Times last year as discouraged and cynical about the diagnosis. He now feels that the condition is a physical response to stress, depression, and economic and social anxiety. And Lyrica is a drug that can be abused. In its trials there were those who abused it, taking higher than recommended dosages. They said it had an effect like that of Valium.

I've also been seeing a lot of commercials for Abilify. Its primary use is as an antipsychotic in the treatment of schizophrenia. In the commercial, the viewer is told that if he is taking an antidepressant but still having symptoms of depression, he should ask his doctor about Abilify. Talk about irresponsible. When taken in large enough doses over a long period of time, Abilify causes tardive dyskinesia. This is a condition characterized by repetitive involuntary movements like lip smacking, grimacing, and rapid eye movement. Though the condition is poorly understood, it's known that it results from damage to the dopamine system of the brain, and it can persist for weeks or months after the drug is discontinued. Sometimes the damage is permanent. The question that begs to be asked is this, if large doses cause this kind of damage, what about smaller doses? Could they be damaging the brain in ways that aren't apparent? The dyskinesia isn't all of it though. It can cause strokes in elderly patients, and it can raise blood sugar. The list of common side effects is long. They include: the inability to sit still, headaches, unusual tiredness and weakness, trouble sleeping, shaking, blurred vision. Abilify is some nasty shit.

In a better world, no one would take a drug like Abilify. Unfortunately for those suffering from psychotic conditions like schizophrenia, it may be the best of some bad choices. It may also make sense to prescribe it for someone who is suffering from a particularly severe case of depression, but to advertise it on TV? A lot of people are being treated for depression not by psychiatrists, but by family physicians. The idea of those guys handing out scripts for drugs like this leaves me shaking my head. A word to the Obama administration. Here's something else that needs to be regulated.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Doctor, Doctor, Mister M.D.

I just had to pass on this link. There is apparently a restaurant in Riga, Latvia with a hospital theme. I don't have a nurse fetish or anything like that, more like an aversion to all things medical, and I hope to drop dead without ever having to enter a hospital, but this made me chuckle. There are a lot of photos, so you get to see what the place is really like. They could get prettier waitresses though. The ones in the photos look like they've just been dragged off the farm, and those red wigs are pretty tacky.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

They Call It Manhood

Dr. Strangelove was on the Turner Classic Movies channel last night. Given that it is one of my all-time favorites, I had to watch it, and I wasn't disappointed. The movie has aged well. Its premise is simple: The Cold War was a who's-got-the-biggest-dick contest among the politicians and the military of both sides, and the bastards were going to get us all killed with their posturing. This premise is made pretty clear right at the beginning. We see a close-up of the boom of a refueling tanker in midair, which is obviously meant to symbolize a hard dick. Next we see the boom from the tanker's perspective as it connects with the bomber below it. Then we have General Ripper, who stopped making love with women because they wanted to sap his bodily essence by draining him of his fluids, i.e., semen. George C. Scott is brilliant as the mad warmonger General Turgidson. The two most memorable characters of all are Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove in his wheelchair, and Slim Pickens as Major Kong. The major's got the biggest symbolic dick of all, the hydrogen bomb that he rides down to his, and everyone else's destruction.

This warrior conception of manhood is still alive and well in America but, as is so often typical of us, though we glory in it, we don't have the courage to truly embrace it and accept the consequences. The TV coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are an example of that. As John Stewart recently pointed out on The Daily Show, the AP news feeds, which he gets to see, show the war as it is. There are plenty of shots of dead, mangled bodies which make it abundantly clear just what war is really about but, as he said, none of that ever makes it on the TV news. The coverage is sanitized for our Polyanna sensibilities.

This notion of manhood isn't just manifest in war coverage. Last weekend I watched some of the NFL playoff games. In promoting the matchup between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the TV analysts were going on about how it would be a manhood game characterized by hard hitting and vicious tackling. They were really getting the prospect of it. You could almost see the drool on their lips. Then during the game, a Baltimore player was hit particularly hard and didn't get up. He apparently couldn't feel his extremities for a while, and they were afraid that he had suffered a spinal injury that would leave him paralyzed. All of a sudden, the TV guys got all serious and talked about how no one wanted this sort of thing to happen, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Bullshit! Professional football is ritualized combat, and the point of the defense is to punish the ball carrier. That's why defensive coaches tell the players they want to see hats on the ball carrier. They expect their players to hit him as hard as possible. They are to lead with their helmets in order to dish out the maximum physical punishment. People are going to get hurt when you do that, so don't act like you don't welcome it. That's like saying people don't like the wrecks in NASCAR racing.

And since I'm on the subject of the warrior conception of manhood, I have to smile every time I hear some bozo go on complaining about gays in the military. Don't they know anything about history? The warrior ethic is intensely homoerotic. The ancients knew this and they accepted it. The Celts and Spartans are just two examples. They took lovers among their fellow warriors. Their wives were little more than brood mares. Lest you think that there's been "progress" and that this sort of thing is no longer the case, I refer you to Churchill's remark that the British navy ran on "rum, the lash, and buggery." But then, we're not a reality culture, and we haven't been for a long time. We were the ones to come up with Disneyland. We're the ones who invented public relations and advertising as they're known today. To paraphrase, Jack Nicholson's line, we can't handle the truth.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Greider On Obama And The Economy

I thought that I would pass along the following link to commentary by William Greider in The Nation. He talks about the problems facing Obama in regard to the economy. It's a solid piece.


Exit Dick Cheney

So, there I was at about eleven o'clock on Tuesday night. I had just settled into an easy chair The Daily Show with a glass of Sam Adams Black Lager in hand. I hadn't watched any of the coronation, I mean inauguration, events, so I thought I'd get John Stewart's take on it. I had just taken a drink of my beer, but I never got a chance to swallow it. Some primal reflex kicked in and I spewed it across the room and onto my TV screen. Dick Cheney in a wheelchair?!

I had to rub my eyes. Was I seeing that right? Yep, there he was. He'd allegedly hurt his back and had trouble walking. Damned convenient, wasn't it? I searched my mind for an explanation of why he would do that. Maybe he was trying to create some sympathy for himself lest they think about prosecuting him for his misdeeds. Naw, that doesn't really ring true. Maybe he wanted an excuse not to show Obama respect by standing. Hmm, that sounds more like our Dickie. And what was with that cane he was carrying? I'm guessing it was one of those James Bond type of devices that fired a shotgun shell. That way if you messed with him, you'd end up with a face full of bird shot. Or perhaps it was something more sinister, like those old KGB umbrellas with hypodermics loaded with cyanide hidden in the tip. In the words of Bugs Bunny, what a maroon. Why doesn't someone do us all a favor and turn off that pacemaker of his?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I watched an interesting documentary called Nanking last week. It's about the Japanese attack on the Chinese city of the same name. It's been called the Rape of Nanking, and with justification. The postwar commission that prosecuted Japanese war criminals estimated that over 200,000 civilians and unarmed prisoners of war were killed. In addition, it is estimated that something like 200,000 rapes occurred.

People get exercised about the atrocities committed in war, but what do they expect? You take a bunch of testostrone-soaked young men; you train and indoctrinate them to overcome the human reluctance to kill one's fellows; you give them and turn them loose. They're going to kill, and a lot of them are going to be quite enthusiastic about it. They aren't going to make a distinction between soldiers and civilians. See, shoot. That's what they were taught to do.

That said, the Japanese were particularly brutal. They regarded the Chinese as a kind of untermensch, and their warrior code said that one should fight to the death, that surrender was unacceptable. Hence, they regarded prisoners of war with nothing but contempt, and deserving of any abuse that was heaped upon them. That included summary execution. A lot of them were really into it too. The documentary showed a Japanese newspaper article, with an accompanying photo of two infantry lieutenants. It was a human interest piece about how the two men were having a contest to see who could first kill a hundred men with his sword. One man had already killed over fifty, the other over twenty. Now, these weren't deaths in battle. They were executions. In fact, there are several extant photographs showing Japanese officers beheading captives with their swords. No matter how high feelings ran in America during the war, no American newspaper ever would have run an article like that. It would have been unthinkable.

After watching Nanking, it's a bit harder to have sympathy for the Japanese killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It seems like a kind of karmic payback, but that's a petty sentiment. The fact is, if you want to prevent atrocities, then don't have wars. It's as simple as that. Wars should never be fought unless there is absolutely no other choice. As they say, no one who takes part in a war comes out undamaged, whether they were wounded or not. It's an inhuman activity. On that point, I read recently that the pilots of those unmanned aircraft that attack targets in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan are having an unusually large incidence of emotional problems. I suppose that they're more properly operators than pilots, since they aren't actually in the planes. They're far away in some safe base, and that's where the problem lies. They don't get the sense of being in battle, of participating in combat, so that many of them come to feel that they're merely executioners. I'm sure the military will soon adapt to that. All they have to do is recruit among those with psychopathic tendencies.

Here's an interesting side note from Nanking. It's based upon the letters and diaries of several Westerners who were on the scene and credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands of Chinese by moving them into a safety zone that the Japanese authorities reluctantly allowed them to establish. Perhaps chief among these Westerners was a German businessman named Rabe. He was a Nazi, but he apparently didn't understand what his political comrades were up to back in the fatherland, because he was intensely disturbed by what the Japanese were doing, and did everything he could to prevent it. The Westerners managed to surreptitiously film some of the atrocities, and smuggle reels of the film to the outside world. When Rabe returned to Germany in 1940, he took a reel with him and showed it to Hitler. He was subsequently arrested and the film confiscated. The Gestapo interrogated him, and released him with the warning that he was not to discuss Nanking with anyone. After the war, the Soviets also arrested and interrogated him. Not long after, the mayor of Nanking learned that Rabe was living in poverty. He collected thousands of dollar, mostly from people who Rabe had helped, and flew to Germany to present it to him. It's proof that there is goodness in the world, though it appears all to infrequently.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Piggie At The Trough

I found this little item on a site called The Economic Populist. General Motors plans to use a billion dollars of their bailout money to upgrade their operations in Brazil. The Economic Populist folks don't identify the source of the quotation as a whole, though part of it is cited as coming from a Brazilian business daily. It has the ring of truth though, given the shenanigans on the part of others who have received bailout money. I have a feeling this is all going to end very badly. I read Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times on Monday, and he seems genuinely worried that Obama's stimulus is not going to be sufficient. It's a bad sign that Obama wants a tax cut for businesses. Most economists agree that such a tax cut would have little stimulus effect. But, what the hell, here it is Inauguration Day, and the media is playing it like it's the second fucking coming of Christ. More likely it is, as one commentator I read on the CounterPunch site said, the return of Clintonian triangulation. Welcome the new boss. He's the same as the old boss, or at least the one before Bush.

"General Motors plans to invest $1 billion in Brazil to avoid the kind of problems the U.S. automaker is facing in its home market, said the beleaguered car maker.

"According to the president of GM Brazil-Mercosur, Jaime Ardila, the funding will come from the package of financial aid that the manufacturer will receive from the U.S. government and will be used to 'complete the renovation of the line of products up to 2012.'

"'It wouldn't be logical to withdraw the investment from where we're growing, and our goal is to protect investments in emerging markets,' he said in a statement published by the business daily Gazeta Mercantil."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Changing Of The Guard

Last Thursday evening, I turned on my TV so I could watch My Name Is Earl. Yeah, I know it's a mindless sitcom of no particular note other than the fact that it features two very hot babes, but that's not why I watch it. About that time of day is when I feel like a little, mindless entertainment, and I've gotten in the habit of watching the show. Last Thursday evening though, my pleasure was deferred. Our man Bush was giving his farewell address. I couldn't listen to the son of a bitch but he was only going to be on for fifteen minutes, so I muted the TV. You should try muting the TV sometime. It can be an interesting exercise. Watch your favorite show with mute on and you'll quickly see who can act, and who can't. The good ones know how to use body language, gestures, and facial expressions. You might be surprised at how much they can communicate that way.

Anyway, I was talking about the muted Bush. The thing I noticed was that smirk of his, the one you just want to slap off of his face. Well, it was there the whole time. It's his default facial expression. Absent his policies, that right there would have made him a divisive figure. Someone who smirks like that, if you disagree with him, you just want to pop him one. If you support him, then you like the smirk. It shows you in how little regard he holds his opponents.

Last week, The Daily Show had on Dana Perrino (sp?), the current press secretary. John Stewart was needling Bush a bit, and the little twit was still working hard to defend him. She claimed that he has a really good sense of humor, that he's a witty man. Yeah, if you like cruel humor. Judging by the evidence, the basis of Bush's humor is disdain for others. Remember the remark he made about that woman on death row in Texas? It was the day before her scheduled execution and a reporter asked then governor Bush what he thought she was thinking. Bush replied with a snide, "Please don't kill me. Please don't kill me." Hell, his nickname for Karl Rove is Turd Blossom, and the man is supposed to be a friend of his.

Meanwhile, the president-elect is doing his best imitation of Lincoln, riding a train into Washington. Judging by his appointments though, it's going to be Slick Willy redux. Watch yourself with the interns, Barack! It's hard not to like the man's style though. The Daily Show contrasted a press conference he gave with one of Bush's. Obama called on the reporters by name and organization. He'd actually acquainted himself with who was going to be there. In his press conference, Bush addressed the reporters in his usual snide manner. For example, he called on one of them by saying, and I paraphrase, "You there, dancing man." It's also hard not to like Obama's relative honesty. A reporter at his press conference asked him if there were going to be any political appointments to ambassadorships. He replied that it would be disingenuous of him to say that there wouldn't be. Still, Obama is being asked to preside over the decline of the United States, and I suspect that events will overwhelm him, even if his intentions are good, about which a cynic like me is unconvinced.

Monday, January 05, 2009

By George

I ragged on the NPR book reviewers for their recommendation of Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist. Now I'm going to have to give them their props. In the article on books that flew under the radar, they also recommended By George by Wesley Stace. Talk about a damned fine novel. This is it. I won't attempt a synopsis. Instead I quote from the publisher.

"In the illustrious history of the theatrical Fishers, there are two Georges. One is a peculiar but endearing 11-year-old, raised in the seedy world of `70s boarding houses and backstages, now packed off to school for the first time; the other, a garrulous ventriloquist's dummy who belonged to George's grandfather, a favorite traveling act of the British troops in World War II. The two Georges know nothing of each other — until events conspire to unite them in a search to uncover the family's deepest secrets."

"While the dummy lays dusty, silent, and abandoned, his young namesake sets out to learn about his dead grandfather's past as a world-famous ventriloquist, his magical powers, and their family's curious history. Weaving the boy's tale and the puppet's 'memoirs,' by George unveils the fascinating Fisher family — its weak men, its dominant women, its disgruntled boys, and its shocking and dramatic secrets. At once bitingly funny and exquisitely tender, Stace's novel is the unforgettable journey of two young boys separated by years but driven by the same desires: to find a voice, and to be loved."

One might think that a novel, a significant portion of which is told by a ventriloquist's dummy wouldn't work, but Stace pulls it off. The book is clever, funny, and very well structured. It was a joy to read. I don't know what more to say than that, except that I don't know why the novel wasn't more well received by the literary folks. Perhaps it's due to the fact that Stace also has a career as a folk singer under the stage name of John Wesley Harding. And the answer is yes, he did get that name from the Bob Dylan album.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Talk About A Liberal Weenie

If only we had a real left in this country, one based in the most oppressed classes instead of liberal weenies like the self-described "activist" who wrote this article on AlterNet. She apparently had a disturbing encounter with a Brink's guard at her local supermarket. Here's her description of the incident.

"On Nov. 6, at approximately 12:45 p.m. on a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, I walked through a parking lot en route to my neighborhood Albertsons market to pick up a prescription. I paid no mind to the Brink's armored truck to my right, as it waited alongside the store. The second I reached the store entrance, the uniformed Brink's guard emerged from the market with his gun outstretched, pointing in my direction. His face was turned away from his gun, leaving him unaware of my presence. Before I knew it, I'd walked right up to his gun, stopping inches before colliding. The suddenness of my stop thrust me slightly forward. I was so close to his gun that I saw its every groove -- from its "sexy" color and shape -- to its perfect fit in his hand. Its glimmer still glares in my mind.

"Just then the guard turned and saw me and completely lost his cool. He flinched at my proximity just as I flinched at his. He became more aggressive despite my obvious fear. Instead of assessing that I was no threat and pulling back to allay my fear, he took the opposite tact (sic). He became more aggressive and waved me off with his loaded gun, shaking it threateningly to move me away. I responded without hesitation, believing that if I hadn't, I might end up dead. In that one brief encounter, my entire 59 years of believing I was fearless evaporated in air. For the first time in my life, I experienced overwhelming, palpable fear and a vulnerability I'd never known."

She explicitly compares herself with people threatened by men with guns in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. She claims that she experienced an injustice. Oh, please. I'm not going to defend the Brink's guard. It's not clear what he was doing with his gun out and pointing at anyone. As she mentions in her article, that's contrary to what they're supposed to do. However, it hardly compares it to what happens to people in the places she mentions, and I don't see how she can maintain that she's been done an injustice. It seems like an unfortunate incident to me, an unfortunate incident that could have been averted had she not been such a bozo.

Think about what she says. First of all, she paid no mind to the Brink's truck. How could she be so oblivious? I've found armored trucks parked in front of stores that I'm about to enter before. The first thing I do is assess the situation. I want to know where the guards are, what they're doing, etc. If they're exiting the store with money, I wait until they're out of the way. These guys aren't exactly professionals. They don't go through any real training, and they don't get psych evaluations. I want them to know for certain that I'm no threat. You don't just walk up on them. But let's give this woman a pass on that. People get distracted sometimes. They've got other things on their minds, but look at what she goes on to say. The guard comes out of the store with his gun up. That right there should set off all of your personal alarms. A man with a gun up. You stop and move out of the way, but what did she do? She walked right up to him and got close enough to startle him. Say what?! I hope that prescription she was going to pick up was for her Alzheimer's, because I can't think of any other reason why someone would behave so stupidly.

There's a lot of injustice in the world, and people are unjustly threatened with guns, but I put this incident on the woman to whom it happened. You've got to be responsible for yourself, and part of that responsibility is that you make yourself reasonably aware of the world around you. You don't just walk up to a person with a drawn gun and startle him. That's just plain stupid. Then, of course, she goes on to over-dramatize the whole incident, talking about how she experienced a "overwhelming, palpable fear and a vulnerability I'd never known." I've had guns pulled on me before. It was in the Sixties. A number of us blocked a draft bus and the cops came at us with guns drawn and pointed. This was in Gainesville, Florida too, back when the cops didn't appreciate what they called hippie protesters. It certainly focused my attention, and it was literally one of those moments when time slows. I was shaking when it was over, but I never experienced anything that I would call overwhelming fear or vulnerability, and it certainly didn't mark me in any way.

Of course, the woman thanks that nut bag and media hound Vincent Bugliosi for his "insight, support and collaboration" on her article. I guess that right there should tell me something, but it still bothers me. People like her make those on the left look like weenies and fools.

For those of you who might like to read the whole article, here's the link.