Peregrine flight

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney

Who can forget Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smith? Unfortunately the story goes that most of the original tapes were destroyed by Metromedia in a pissing match with Winchell and very little still survives. Jerry Mahoney, Snuffy Smith, Ignatz and Krazy, Officer Joe Bolton were all part of a New York kid's normal afternoon. The great Bob McCallister Show. Wonderama. He would often wear a John Lennon style military jacket with a peace symbol on it.

I left Texas for New York with my stepfather and my younger brother Buzz in late 1968. We left my sisters, youngest brother and mother behind for about six months as sort of an advance scout team so my stepfather could start a new job with Control Data. We were way beyond broke in those days, maybe one pair of pants and two shirts to my name.

We drove a black Ford Mustang and towed a U-haul trailer out. Don't remember much but we hit the worst blizzard I have ever seen in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania and the hitch tore the bumper off the car. Tow trucks were getting stranded and we were stuck in Jennerstown for three days. Shacked up in an old hotel that I swear was haunted. Doors would mysteriously lock on their own accord, it was nightmarish. My brother and I spent our time reading worn copies of Cracked Magazine.

When we finally got to Long Island, we holed up in a Howard Johnson's in Huntington for a month or two. My brother and I were not allowed to leave. My stepfather, who was abusive, would come home every night and beat the shit out of us for some real and imagined crimes but I think mostly to stay in shape. Our only solace in life was Metromedia Television, King Features Syndicate. I think that we can still recite every commercial that played on WNEW by heart.

We ended up in a shitty little neighborhood in Syosset. Mostly working class Irish and Italian. My parents made me walk to the Esso station, two blocks from the house in the morning to use the bathroom. My stepfather was drinking heavily, straight Oso Negro with the little plastic bear and we quickly became the shame of the neighborhood. Ever live somewhere where you knew you didn't belong? That was Syosset. Lots of petty thievery and violence. Once a train derailed by our house and an army of eleven and twelve year olds offloaded it's cargo, eighteen giant cases of blackberry brandy. And drank it. I shudder to think of the stuff to this day. One of our punishments when we weren't getting beaten was having to pick dandelions out of the ratty yard, I once was restricted and had to do it for a whole summer.

My brother and I finally couldn't take it any more and flew back to California when I was twelve to live with my real father and the wicked stepmother, who eventually shipped me off to boarding school. I remember looking at Buzzy and talking to him about how our whole life up to that point had been consolidated into that one small suitcase...

Palisades has the Park, Palisades has the fun, so come on over...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Impending Doom

Separated at birth?

I am having a hard time reading the tea leaves on this Arlen Specter party switching move. Stupid me, I thought that it was a clear win for the president's agenda but after a look at the blogosphere, I'm wrong, wrong, wrong. If you listen to the right wing columnists, it is a portent of dire consequence for the Democratic Party.

William Kristol in the WaPo: Good News for Republicans. I wonder if today’s Arlen Specter party switch, this time to the president’s party, won’t end up being bad for President Obama and the Democrats. With the likely seating of Al Franken from Minnesota, Democrats will have 60 seats in the Senate, giving Obama unambiguous governing majorities in both bodies. He’ll be responsible for everything. GOP obstructionism will go away as an issue, and Democratic defections will become the constant worry and story line. This will make it easier for GOP candidates in 2010 to ask to be elected to help restore some checks and balance in Washington -- and, meanwhile, Specter’s party change won’t likely have made much difference in getting key legislation passed or not. So, losing Specter may help produce greater GOP gains in November 2010, and a brighter Republican future.

So let me get this straight, Bill - the defection is a good thing because the Democrats will now have the power to do everything they want, and eventually the country will get sick of them. Is that it? Like D-Day was a clear win for the Nazis because they wouldn't have to bother funding a military for the next 50 years.

Sen. James Inhofe says that Specter's departure is evidence that the GOP was on its way back: "Now the evidence of this was found out when Arlen Specter made his decision," Inhofe explained. "And that is all of a sudden, we find out that Arlen Specter is down in the Republican Party, down in terms of his popularity. The guy that ran against him and was defeated by Arlen Specter in, six years ago, now is so far ahead of him that Arlen Specter's own advisers said there's no way that you can win this thing unless you change to the Democratic Party. Now to me, that's the evidence it's coming."

Forget the fact Jim, that Pennsylvania overwhelmingly voted for Obama and the Democrats, the Democrats just won eight more Senate seats and that in the latest Pew Research Poll earlier this month, only 24% of Americans identified themselves as Republicans.

Sen. John Cornyn : During the last 24 hours, much has been written about U.S. Senator Arlen Specter's (D-PA) defection to the Democrat Party. Unsurprisingly, the Washington media have cast Specter's announcement as a devastating blow to the Republican Party, and are predicting doom and gloom for us in the months and years ahead. Senator Specter's decision indeed carries important ramifications, but there is another side to this story that has been largely ignored by the Beltway pundits. First, his departure likely spares Republicans from spending valuable resources in what would have been an expensive and divisive Republican primary - a primary battle that Specter appeared extremely unlikely to win. Indeed, Specter cited recent polls showing him trailing former U.S. Representative Pat Toomey (R-PA) by more than 20 points as his main reason to bolt the Party. While Senator Specter's decision was indeed disappointing, it did allow us to realize - perhaps sooner than we would have liked - the dangerous ramifications of unbridled, one-party rule in Washington. Come November 2010, this may ultimately be viewed as a positive development in the Republican Party's climb back to power.

You got me John, you've obviously got the Democrats right where you want them...

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina is positively giddy about Specter's departure. "I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in the principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than have sixty who don't have a set of beliefs."  

Gee Jim, might not be a great time to talk about free markets and deregulation.  We just saw what happened when the foxes guarded the henhouse.

The de facto leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, has referred to Specter in the past as being the leader of a "liberal lynch mob." He said that Specter should take McCain and his daughter with him.

The Republicans are on a witch hunt to restore ideological purity to their party. Snowe and Collins are the next (and probably last) two moderate Senators likely to be in the crosshairs. The Repugs are down to one Senator in the northeast, Gregg, who has signaled that he is retiring. Apparently the party was backing Specter's conservative opponent Toomey in the next election. Is it any wonder he bolted? I am convinced that most Americans are interested in centrists, yet the vanquished pachyderms continue to charge to the fringe. Soon they will be near extinct and only visible in zoos and circus tents.

This is like having a front seat at the Donner Party. Pardon me for my glee at watching the sick spectacle. But if this is somebody's idea of bad news for the left, please bring me a second helping.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sniff, Swig, Puff

Priceless footage of the late Bea Arthur and Rock Hudson. What a hoot! Rock was in one of my favorite all time movies, John Frankenheimer's 1966 film Seconds. Bea, born Beatrice Frankel, was a Brooklyn girl who made good. L'chaim!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Brenda Holloway

Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered...

In another case where timing is everything, GOP lawmakers continue to filibuster Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius. It seems a rather inopportune time considering the fact that we are facing a swine flu pandemic. But the ire of these folks over Sebelius' pro-choice views and her getting donations from an abortion doctor once again trumps their common sense. Last time I looked, Roe v. Wade was the law of the land. Has been for some time. She seems like a very capable moderate who will be an excellent addition to the Cabinet.

So their hatred for Democrats and the Red Staters scorched earth policy that seemingly causes them to obstruct every single Obama policy may now move into dangerous ground. More people will be infected and some may die because of Republican posturing. Without a leader at the hem, the top 15 health jobs now remain vacant. We don't have a full time Director at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and five important health nominees are now stalled in the Senate. Homeland Security is having to fill in right now.

Not to sound too histrionic but it's time to tell the Republicans to stop playing politics with people's lives. Allow an up and down vote on the nomination.

Bankrolling Hamas

In a continuation of President Obama's new policy of engagement with our foes, news today that he is attempting to change the rules so that we must give the Palestinian Authority 840 million dollars, even if it falls under the control of Hamas. The Hamas that has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and death to the Jews. Pardon me if I am skeptical. This is an ill timed and an ill advised finesse. Similar in our way to the billions of dollars in aid we have foisted on Pakistan, which is clearly teetering.

The late Terrence McKenna postulated that the world as we know it would end in 2012. Way things are going, I don't know if I would take the bet or not.

I know what you are thinking. Freaking jews, they want to love the world to death until it's their ass on the fire. Mea Culpa.

Pakistan, Si?

I don't know about you but I am having a serious deja vu flashback to Godfather II, when Michael Corleone is in Havana, and the Batista government is assuring him that the Cuban government is stable.

Islamabad has surrendered the Swat valley to the Taliban militia, who have imposed sharia law, instituted beheadings and started burning down girls schools.  Now they have moved into the Buner district, a mere 60 miles from the capitol.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has insisted that his country was doing what it must to root out domestic militants. Zardari said Pakistan's nuclear capabilities were in "safe hands," but called for more foreign support for his cash-strapped country to prevent any danger of that changing.

"If Pakistan fails, if democracy fails, if the world doesn't help democracy, then any eventuality is a possibility," he said.

Does that last statement assuage your concern?  Can you imagine a nuclear Taliban? It appears that it is closer than we think?  Hello, Dimona?

Medical Humor

My buddy Brett Stokes sent these true medical stories over. Pretty funny stuff.
1. A man comes into the ER and yells, 'My wife's going to have her baby in the cab!' I grabbed my stuff, rushed out to the cab, lifted the lady's dress, and began to take off her underwear. Suddenly I noticed that there were several cabs ---and I was in the wrong one. - Submitted by Dr. Mark MacDonald, San Antonio , TX .

At the beginning of my shift I placed a stethoscope on an elderly and slightly deaf female patient's anterior chest wall. 'Big breaths,' I instructed. 'Yes, they used to be,' replied the patient. - Submitted by Dr. Richard Byrnes, Seattle , WA

One day I had to be the bearer of bad news when I told a wife that her husband had died of a massive myocardial infarct. Not more than five minutes later, I heard her reporting to the rest of the family that he had died of a 'massive internal fart.' - Submitted by Dr. Susan Steinberg

During a patient's two week follow-up appointment with his cardiologist, he informed me, his doctor, that he was having trouble with one of his medications. 'Which one?' I asked. 'The patch, the nurse told me to put on a new one every six hours and now I'm running out of places to put it!' I had him quickly undress and discovered what I hoped I wouldn't see.. Yes, the man had over fifty patches on his body! Now, the instructions include removal of the old patch before applying a new one. - Submitted by Dr. Rebecca St. Clair, Norfolk , VA

While acquainting myself with a new elderly patient, I asked, 'How long have you been bedridden?' After a look of complete confusion she answered...' Why, not for about twenty years - when my husband was alive.' - Submitted by Dr. Steven Swanson, Corvallis , OR

I was caring for a woman and asked, 'So how's your breakfast this morning?' 'It's very good, except for the Kentucky Jelly. I can't seem to get used to the taste' the patient replied. I then asked to see the jelly and the woman produced a foil packet labeled 'KY Jelly.' - Submitted by Dr. Leonar d Kransdorf, Detroit , MI

AND FINALLY!!!.. ......... .......

As a new, young MD doing his residency in OB , I was quite embarrassed when performing female pelvic exams. To cover my embarrassment I had unconsciously formed a habit of whistling softly. The middle-aged lady upon whom I was performing this exam suddenly burst out laughing and further embarrassing me. I looked up from my work and sheepishly said, 'I'm sorry. Was I tickling you?' She replied, 'No doctor, but the song you were whistling was, 'I wish I was an Oscar Meyer Wiener'. - Dr. Wouldn't submit his name

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

It's a beautiful breezy Sunday in the land of guacamole. I am feeling a little bit better every day. My prostate's trip to the precipice has been narrowly averted. The incredible pain from the beginning of the week was largely retired with the removal of my new plastic plaything. I can candidly attest that I can pee again, at least in dribbles.

I opened my shop on Friday and Saturday and lo and behold sold some paintings, one pretty good one, so looks like I might have enough money to go for another month and not stress. I was on the verge of borrowing money and don't want to go there if I can help it.

A client came in yesterday and bought a German surrealist painting from the thirties and two Joichi Hoshi prints. She is very sweet and owns a winery to boot locally. A cool spot in De Luz where she is experimenting with pinot noir vines. Should be very interesting, hope she can pull it off. I want to invite her to my next wine party when I can drink again. Good solid regular clients, I appreciate them so much! Our regulars will pull us through all the crap, and we will all take care of each other.

An amazing customer came in and bought a small painting as a gift for a friend. She is an attorney, whose husband, also an attorney, was a serious burn victim. She married him after the accident, cares for him completely and is totally in love. I am in awe of the selfless people I meet who have the love and breadth of character to devote to those in need. There are a lot of special needs kids that work out at my gym and I get the same feelings when I consider their selfless and gentle caregivers. People who face their struggles with an ever present smile blow me away.

Speaking of those in need, my mother in law, who is wheelchair bound and has been for nearly 19 years with M.S., had an unfortunate accident in Coronado last week when kids either left or launched a skateboard in front of her scooter, causing her to break a clavicle and spend a night in the hospital. Very painful injury and the kids all ran away. Little shits.

The Film Festival is wrapping up today with an awards ceremony and a party at the Pala Casino, which I might skip. Not quite as much energy as last year but might be my own low ebb.

John Morris brought me a box of books to recuperate with, am reading an interesting one called The Carpet Wars that looks at the conflicts in Afghanistan and the surrounding areas through the prism of a carpet collector.

No caffeine, alcohol or spicy foods for a month, I am seriously jonesing. Thanks again for all the good wishes.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hopes for reconciliation?

Republicans are apoplectic about the Democrat's potential use of a tactic called budget reconciliation to push through the pending health care legislation. They threaten to go "nuclear" and shut down the Senate. Senator Judd Gregg (R- N.H.) calls it an act of violence. Budget reconciliation is a way to fast track a bill and allow it to pass without the threat of filibuster and to be passed by a simple majority.

They have very short memories. Budget reconciliation was used often in the past administration, including both the 2001 and 2003 Tax cuts and the Deficit Reduction act of 2005. The Republicans tried to use it to open ANWR for exploration but failed.

According to the site Think Progress, the following bills all used budget reconciliation, through various administrations:

Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1980
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981
Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1982
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1983
Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993
Balanced Budget Act of 1995 (vetoed)
Personal Responsibility and Budget Reconciliation Act of 1996
Balanced Budget Act of 1997
Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997
Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999 (vetoed)
Marriage Tax Relief Act of 2000 (vetoed)
Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001
Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003
The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005
Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005

Obviously, their teeth gnashing is another sign of how the petulant little babies, who have worn the crown for so long, are now beside themselves at not being in the driver's seat for the first time in eight years. The hypocrites who said that 51% of the vote was enough to ram through their agenda, and who brooked no opposition to their party are suddenly wailing about partisanship.

The same Republicans who failed to give President Obama a single vote on the budget bill and only three votes on the stimulus bill, after he watered down several provisions for their support, now demand to be seated at the table. So pardon me for saying that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Until the party of no can pull up their big boy pants and realistically work with the other side of the table, look forward to a majority pushing through their own platform. That's why they have elections.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fallbrook Film Festival is happening.

The Fallbrook Film Festival started last night and runs through Sunday evening. Three excellent personal favorite films on tap for tomorrow, Saturday, Catching Dreams, La Camara Oscura and Bicycle Dreams. Catching Dreams is the real life story of a 38 year old business guy who shucks it all to join the circus and become a trapeze artist (and who hasn't thought of that?). Camara Oscura is a beautiful Argentinian film about a woman who lives a life in the shadows, without intimacy. Bicycle dreams is a documentary about the 2005 RAAM transcontinental Bicycle Race, the toughest ride in the world. I judged about a hundred films but these are definitely some of my favorites.

Check the link at the bottom of my blog for times and admission. Also the Fred Willard award presentation and party tomorrow. There are day passes available and single admission tickets for five dollars. Fallbrookians should try to support their local festival. Hope to see you!

Wes Montgomery

The great thumbmeister.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

We have come to free you - or else...

News from A.P. today that 87, 215 Iraqi citizens have been killed violently in Iraq since 2005, and a total of 110,600 since the 2003 invasion began. These deaths run the gamut from bombings to executions to just about everything in between. The government cautions that these figures are probably ten to twenty percent low.  Read the story here. Now I am pretty sure this doesn't include the 87 Iraqis who died today, the deadliest day of the year so far.

You know, all I can say is it serves them right for bombing the World Trade Center. Wait, you mean to tell me that Iraq had nothing to do with that?  Well, never mind.

Family Guy

trouble man

I've posted and deleted a blog or two in the last couple days that were just too personal and self absorbed but since many of my friends and family do check this thing out for updates on my current travails and medical condition, will try to keep this thing up, short and to the point.

It has been a week of genuine hell, pain beyond memory. My parts have been irritated, inflamed and tortured like they went on a two week vacation to Abu Ghraib Prison.  No position has afforded me any comfort at all, except laying down and that only worked for a short time. My favorite extremity felt like it had a blind date with a pizza oven.  But enough detail.

The doctor said that today is the Alamo for me. He put me on a Flomax/Levaquin combination.  If it doesn't do the job and open me up I will have to have another hospitalized surgery on my prostate.  I was freaking out with fear and apprehension all night about removing the catheter this morning  but it managed to come out without the same problems as I had last time.  However, it has been two hours and I still haven't peed.  If I can't by twelve o'clock, we will probably travel to the doctor on the coast so that the fun can start all over again.  And they say the middle years are boring...

If nothing else, it is liberating to spend a few hours without my latex companion.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Robert Cray

The new crusades.

The May issue of always excellent Harper's magazine has an extraordinary cover story on the current evangelization of the military, from Petraeus on down. It is entitled Jesus killed Mohammed: the crusade for a Christian military and written by Jeff Sharlet. Harper's frowns on being reprinted and you will not be able to download the story from their website but I recommend you pick up a copy from a newsstand or library. Try to click on my title link.

The article trods over the now familiar ground of Mikey Weinstein and anti-semitism in the Air Force Academy but it also shines a light on a lot of major evangelizing being done right now in Iraq, including tanks with graffiti that boast on their sides that Jesus killed Mohammed. You will experience a very sick feeling in your gut after you read this article. And it looks like this deluded proselytizing starts at the top of the chain of command. A lot of our military apparently are not real keen on the concept of a separation of church and state either. Many of our soldiers have been taught that they are fighting a holy war against the forces of, you guessed it, Satan Himself. Please check it out!

Unholy Parsing

untitled©2009 Robert Sommers

Angry charges and countercharges are flying back and forth in the debate over CIA torture or "enhanced interrogation" practices. The right is seething right now that the most recent disclosure of the torture memos will damage the ability of our government to successfully protect us and interrogate in the future because terrorists will know how far we are prepared to go.  

The left feels that Obama, in apparently deciding not to prosecute the past administration figures for illegal torture violations, is turning his back on those who demand accountability from a rogue Pentagon and CIA. I am trying to understand the issues more clearly and would like to offer a few of my own partisan views on the matter.

I downloaded the Geneva Conventions, international rules on the regulations concerning prisoners of war, which were adopted August 12, 1949, and started reading them yesterday.  You can find a link to them here.

These Conventions were ratified partially as a reaction to Japanese barbarity during World War II.  We were signatories because we did not want our captured servicemen to experience the type of torture and cruel treatment that occured in places like Baatan.

All nations that are signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture have agreed they are subject to the explicit prohibition on torture under any condition. This was affirmed by Saadi v. Italy in which the European Court of Human Rights, on February 28, 2008, upheld the absolute nature of the torture ban by ruling that international law permits no exceptions to it. The treaty states "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture". Additionally, signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are bound to Article 5, which states, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

Now that we are wearing the velvet glove and bearing the iron fist, things start to get disingenuous.  After the clamor erupted after the revelations of Abu  Ghraib and Guantanamo, the past administration made it a point to change the Army Field Manual to prohibit these actions by the members of our armed forces.  But they squirmed around and apparently never curtailed the power of the CIA to engage in the same nefarious deeds replete with sexual humiliation, attack dogs, waterboarding, beatings, suffocation, etc.  The administration lawyers went so far as to say that it wasn't torture if there wasn't severe organ damage.

The United States's Office of Legal Counsel stated the CIA's definition of waterboarding in a Top Secret 2002 memorandum as follows:

    In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual's feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth… During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of twelve to twenty-four inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths… The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout… You have… informed us that it is likely that this procedure would not last more than twenty minutes in any one application."

Waterboarding was originally used by Chinese Communists against American prisoners during the Korean War.  Ironically, the United States protested the use of the technique vigorously at the time as a violation of the Geneva Convention.

You can't have it both ways and a responsible administration would realize that you either accept the Geneva Convention or you don't.  And if you don't, you lose any moral high ground in the unfortunate event that our men are captured and tortured in the future.  The rules don't suddenly change when the Americans in their white hats ride into the scene.  How will we feel and what will our reaction be if we get a taste of our enhanced interrogation medicine in the future?

Dick Cheney says that terrorist acts have been averted by the information that we received from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Zubaida. I do not know if this is accurate but will for the sake of conversation take him at his word.  Now it is one thing to rough a guy up when he has just set the wheels in motion to blow up the eastern seaboard. Save America, god and family, you would have to have your head in the sand to think that an occasional asskicking shouldn't occur. But to inflict 183 waterboarding sessions on one guy (Mohmammed), over a long sustained period is medieval and yes, torture.  And as bad as these apples are, when the lines have gotten all fuzzy and blurry, our own cries will not be heeded and we will have surrendered our right to be indignant.

According to ABC News, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

"The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.

The techniques are controversial among experienced intelligence agency and military interrogators. Many feel that a confession obtained this way is an unreliable tool. Two experienced officers have told ABC that there is little to be gained by these techniques that could not be more effectively gained by a methodical, careful, psychologically based interrogation. According to a classified report prepared by the CIA Inspector General John Helgerwon and issued in 2004, the techniques "appeared to constitute cruel, and degrading treatment under the (Geneva) convention," the New York Times reported on Nov. 9, 2005. 

It is interesting that the one country that is truly on the front line of terrorism, Israel, refuses to torture it's prisoners and will not allow the information gleaned from torture at trial.  I think that we need to show some moral courage and follow their lead.

The United Nations' Report of the Committee Against Torture: Thirty-fifth Session of November 2006, stated that state parties should rescind any interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, that constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.  It is interesting that while Cheney, Bybee, Yoo, Addington and the other torture enablers of the Bush Administration deny that waterboarding is torture, the CIA operatives who performed the technique on the prisoners say that it definitely is.  Here is the 2002 Office of Legal Counsel memorandum that authorized the practice:

    As we understand it, when the waterboard is used, the subject's body responds as if the subject were drowning -- even though the subject may be well aware that he is in fact not drowning. You have informed us that this procedure does not inflict actual physical harm. Thus, although the subject may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain. as we explained in the Section 2340A Memorandum, "pain and suffering" as used in Section 2340 is best understood as a single concept, not distinct concepts of "pain" as distinguished from "suffering"… The waterboard, which inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever, does not, in our view, inflict "severe pain and suffering". Even if one were to parse the stature more "finely" to attempt to treat suffering as a distinct concept, the waterboard could not be said to inflict severe suffering. The waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering… We find the use of the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death… Although the procedure will be monitored by personnel with medical training and extensive SERE school experience with this procedure who will ensure the subject's mental and physical safety, the subject is not aware of any of these precautions. From the vantage point of any reasonable person undergoing this procedure in such circumstances, he would feel as if he is drowning at the very moment of the procedure due to the uncontrollable physiological sensation he is experiencing. Thus, this procedure cannot be viewed as too uncertain to satisfy the imminence requirement. Accordingly, it constitutes a threat of imminent death and fulfills the predicate act requirement under the statute. Although the waterboard constitutes the real threat of imminent death, prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the statutory prohibition on infliction of severe mental pain or suffering… We have previously concluded that prolonged mental harm is mental harm of some lasting duration, eg, mental harm lasting months or years.Based on your research into the use of these methods at the SERE school and consultation with others with expertise in the field of psychology and interrogation, you do not anticipate that any prolonged mental harm would result from the use of the waterboard… In the absense of prolonged mental harm,no severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted, and the use of these procedures would not constitute torture within the meaning of the statute.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and a deputy director of the State Department's office of counterterrorism,  wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust … than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets." 

The journalist Christopher Hitchens voluntarily allowed himself to be waterboarded in May of last year.  "There is a common misconception that waterboarding simulates the sensation of drowning, but you are to all intents and purposes actually drowning". He said that although he was somewhat prepared for his ordeal, he had not been prepared for what came later: "I have been waking up with sensations of being smothered" Hitchens concluded, "if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture. Believe me. It's torture."

John Kiriakou is the first CIA agent to publically admit to engaging in waterboarding and says that he now has mixed feelings about the practice. He said that he thinks the technique provided a crucial break to the CIA and probably helped prevent attacks, but that he is now convinced that waterboarding is torture, and "Americans are better than that." So we now have Rivkin, Hayden, Theissen, Cheney, Mukasey all carrying water in recent editorials endorsing the practice and the genuine operatives calling it for what it is, torture.  Talk about consistency.

New disclosures today appear to show torture taking place months  before Bush Admin memos authorized it to take place.

Of course, there are plenty of torture stories that don't involve waterboarding.  Such as the case  of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who died during an interrogation at a base near Qaim, in western Iraq. Mowhoush was smothered to death. The four soldiers involved were  Chief Warrant Officers Jefferson L. Williams and Lewis E. Welshofer, Jr., Sergeant First Class William J. Sommer, and Specialist Jerry L. Loper. All were charged with murder and dereliction of duty. Williams, Welshofer, and Sommer were members of the 66th Military Company, a unit of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Loper was a member of the regiment’s Support Squadron, and assigned to helicopter maintenance. Only Welshofer has training in interrogation practices. Mowhoush, allegedly a high-ranking member of the anti-American insurgency, surrendered to US forces two weeks before his death.

 The Pentagon initially reported his death as due to “natural causes,” but now admits Mowhoush was tortured to death. “General Mowhoush was allegedly placed in a sleeping bag and then bound to prevent his movement,” a Pentagon report says. “One of the warrant officers [Welshofer] reportedly sat on his chest and continued the interrogation. General Mowhoush was then rolled over, and the warrant officer sat on his back.” Mowhoush died in that position. A medical examination proved that he had died of asphyxiation. Other documents later show that Mowhoush had a bag pulled over his head, the bag was wrapped tightly with electrical cords, and he was beaten and kicked by a crowd of interrogators and officials.  Charges were dropped against everyone but Welshofer, who was given a reprimand but neither incarcerated or discharged by the military.

Brigadier General David Irvine, a retired intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years, and human rights activist David Danzig, will call Welshofer’s sentence a “slap on the wrist,” and write that the verdict “spared the defendant, indicted the prosecutor, and found the law irrelevant."

Another torture victim was Manadel al Jamadi who was beaten to death while hanging with his wrists suspended behind his back. Link to his story at NPR here.

We live in a brutal world and our enemies are not choir boys, but murderous thugs who engage in the most loathsome behavior imaginable.  The people who paraded around with Daniel Pearl's head.  In war, terrible things often happen and many innocent people unfortunately suffer.  But the strength of our country is our commitment to the constitution and the rule of law. We have to stop playing semantical games and thinking that our actions are always beyond reproach.  In war, people get killed, but they don't have to suffer torture or cruel behavior.  Here's to the quick bullet.  America doesn't have to torture because we are better than that.

The Bush Administration had many abettors in their crimes.  "Nazi" doctors and psychiatrists were more than willing to cover for them as were their accomplices in the Office of Legal Counsel who would split infinite hairs in order to provide legal reasoning that would allow any action, no matter how brutish, no matter how morally repugnant.  To Dick Cheney, the end has always justified the means.

We can't pick and choose what treaties and moral obligations apply or don't apply to us without putting undue risks on our own military and citizenship in the future.  I fear that the consequences of our arrogance and myopia regarding torture are destined to prove tragic in the years ahead.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Adam and Steve

Miss California USA's perfect little nose is in a bit of a snit. Carrie Prejean thinks that she was jobbed from winning the Miss USA crown because of her somewhat parochial views on gay marriage. Now I don't know if the Miss USA judges used her personal views as criteria for demoting her or not - her answer was a bit awkward but not Miss Carolina from last year bad - but would like to use the occasion to throw my own tiara into the ring, as it were.

If you are against gay marriage, don't marry one. It's simple.  Why should another couple's pledge of fidelity and matrimony have any effect on your own vows and marriage?  If you want to pledge lifelong fealty to Elsie the Cow, it's your bag.

I think that all marriage should be outlawed. Well, that's a bit harsh, let me put it another way: Why not go back to just having civil unions for everyone?  No one gets sore then because society bestows exalted status on heterosexuals. Everyone gets the same legal rights of property, tax status, survivorship and death benefits.

If you feel the need to have your civil union sanctified in some temple or church, have at it, but it would just be window dressing really. I am really serious about this issue.  In this scenario, religious types wouldn't feel like they're views and personal edifices were being threatened. I often joke that gay people should have the right to be as miserable as the rest of us married folk but am kidding around.  I love and appreciate my wife and hope to be with her as long as she will have me.

But the arguments against gay marriage are so stupid and hateful.  Especially the one's that go like this:  Marriage is about the reproduction of the species and turkey basters aside, god doesn't have any use for two sockets or two male adaptors. First of all, last time I checked, the world had plenty people, more than enough, I'm afraid.  Secondly, the marriage as a continuation of the species argument is insulting to the many americans like my wife and I, who voluntarily chose not to have children.  Is our union any less valid than yours?

I think that in the end, it is the power of the church once again raising it's sometimes ugly head, refusing to accept gays with the same weak refutations it used to use when it characterized blacks or the children of Ham as eternally damned to be subhuman.  The same religious view that still treats women as property in large sections of the world.  Or maybe it's just repressed homophobes who are so afraid of their own secret attractions that they strike out with the lord's angry vengeance.
I hope that we will look back on this issue with wonder in a hundred years and ask ourselves why we stayed stupid so long?  Gay people have shown that they are as good as the rest of us in everything, including parenting.  Let's give them a break.  And forgive me for not being so tolerant of your intolerance.

Forgotten Artist Series - Billy Stewart

Millard Fillmore sent this interesting track over and asked that I post it. The groovin' black Hoss Cartwright. Done.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday afternoon at the Blog Delicatessen.

It was a deadline day and I was nervous.  Not a new idea in sight and a hungry readership waiting for the next pearl to launch off my tired keyboard.

I did what any self respecting writer would do in similar circumstances - I hustled on down to the blog delicatessen.

"Hey Bernie what you got for me today, you got any irony?"  "Sorry, Rob," he belched, as he wiped his hands across his schmutzy smock, "We're fresh out of irony, can you settle for some of this bloated self importance - I hear it's delicious!"  

I shook my head sadly, and thought to myself, still have plenty of that I'm afraid from last week." "How about humility, Bern, how's that looking today?"  

"It was looking good until that Susan Boyle thing hit Youtube, now every wannabe artiste is out there walking around in a frumpy dress looking like a hausfrau."

"Damn,  Well what do you suggest?"

"You could buy some of this tortured introspection."

"No go, Bern", I muttered, "I've been playing this sick card for months and I think the jig is almost up."

"You got any of that polysyllabic puffery in stock?"  

He cocked his fat head to one side and scratched his neck, "We had oodles until about fifteen minutes ago.  George Will just left."


"How about the little guy getting screwed by the Man again, Rob, that's always a big hit with your customers?" 

"Man, Schman, they've heard that one coming out of my frigging banjo until it's running down their freaking ears, give them two bucks and they become the man."  "And the little guy doesn't buy expensive paintings - can't exactly upset the apple cart."


"Way last week."

"Sexual Peccadillos?"

"Deli man, I'm sporting a catheter, don't even go there. One erection, I break in two..."

"Righteous indignation - false sincerity?"  "Witty repartee - ribald sexual innuendo?"

 Too fatty, I sadly shook my head.

"We are running a half off special on Bush Bashing - you know how well you did with that last year."

"Christsakes, he's picking up dog poop in Crawford and throwing out first pitches. Talk about a no go. Don't peddle me that old stock. And I can't turn on Obama yet, not after writing about him like he was covered in holy light and shitting gold bricks, my readership would have my hide.

I left with the tongue and pastrami. Please don't tell my cardiologist.

©2009 Robert Sommers

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Doobie Brothers - Toulouse Street

I have never been a big Doobie Brothers fan but this song has always captivated me. Very pretty, hope you like it.

Wistful Spring

One of the joys of spring are the wisteria blooms that grace our fence line this time of year. Several hundred feet of blooms map the front of our property, the usual overgrown snaggle suddenly coming to life and making sense. The purple blossoms climb to the top of our large oak tree. Our house is known as the house with the pretty wisteria and I see people come by to check it out from time to time. If you click on a photo, it should zoom for you.

The beauty of these flowers is complimented by the fragrant aroma of the near bye jasmine and orange blossoms.

When the Sommers ranch was young, people let a bit more chaos into their landscapes. Now the city dwellers have slowly moved in,  and I get to be a lawless anachronism. Viva la difference.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Long and winding road

Things haven't been going so well for the last day or two.  The doctor had given me instructions to remove the catheter in the shower yesterday, something I had done before, so I thought I would get an early start and do it at four in the morning after a last dump of the bilge bag. I cut the secondary tube under the valve but the thing would not release. I held the hydra like monstrosity in my hand with fear and apprehension and yelled for my wife who came up quickly from bed and sleep.  She taped the bag to my chest and I called the emergency room at Fallbrook Hospital.

The bored and nonplussed attendant who answered my call said it sounded like something for my physician to deal with.  I had read about problems when catheters don't deflate and said that I was coming anyway but after hanging up the phone, called and woke my urologist at 4:30a.m.  He wanted to know why I couldn't have waited until 7:30 to remove the contraption, a fair question, and managed to work me through removing it with brute force.  He told me to drink a lot of water and to call him later in the morning.  I then quaffed about 100 ounces of the stuff. Unfortunately, I still couldn't pee, if I was lucky I would get one drop, and my bladder was in total agony.  Sitting caused sharp pains in my lower abdomen. (I have been mostly laying down the last two weeks.) 

I went to my coffee klatch to say hi to my buds for the first time in a month but felt like a crypt keeper.  I called the doctor's office around 9:00 and she told me to drive in immediately.  I decided not to bother Leslie, who has been so great and willing to do everything for me as usual, and drive myself.  Mistake.  The pain was building up so much that I was in total panic and agony. Needed to pee, couldn't pee.  Thought about just driving the car off a bridge.  

When I got to the doc, I was whisked to a room and he came over to see me.  He was surprised that I came by myself and couldn't give me a sedative this time since I had no one to drive me.  Called several friends, no one answered but Richard and he was working. (But he did offer.) So I got a nova type gel and he drained me and re catheterized me. He cultured the urine and said there was no infection, so the prostate is just totally inflamed and irritated.  I didn't ask him but my guess is that the catheter wouldn't come out because the passage has been totally occluded. He corroborated that I am in the middle of a vicious circle, the prostate is reacting negatively to a foreign body, the catheter, and yet the attendant reaction requires a catheter. He gave me some flowmax to start taking monday in hopes of opening up the main port.  Got the always pleasant prostate handshake which he says thankfully is not terribly enlarged.  He says my system has taken a big hit and I need to chill. 

Last night's fitful rest turned into a waking nightmare as I woke to find that I had somehow unscrewed the catheter in my sleep and was now sitting in a pool of yellow.  Old tricks die hard.

So another penniless day away from the shop today, I will sit around and watch movies.  I am in the middle of a stunning Japanese classic Ugetsu by Kenji Mizoguchi which won a major award in Venice in 1953.  I love Japanese movies, Ran, Yojimbo, etc. and this is one of the best.  

Dave sent the pic of the upper scar on my fat stomach, my hand covers the large bruise at the top.  I have to show everybody.  Many have huge aspirations in this life.  At this point I just want a normal pee stream.  My doctor, whom I genuinely love, says that one day this will all be a bad dream.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cellular Popcorn Hijinx

The operant question is what are they doing to our brains?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Susan Boyle - Scottish Chanteuse

Over five million hits on youtube in the last three days for this incredible singer who popped out of no where in Scotland and ended up on Britain's Got Talent. Link here. Her command, voice and sincerity is heartwarming. Check it out. Pluck her eyebrows and give her a makeover and this woman is going to get very wealthy. What a great story. What a natural talent.

Susan Boyle - 1999 - Cry me a River.

Susan Boyle circa 1984

Fear and Self Loathing in Avoland

It is a gray day. I sit on my couch in a darkened house and watch the wind and light rain buffet the avocado trees. I have been good for two or three hours of activity in town each day and then hit the wall and have to come home and lie down. I stopped at the library on the way home and looked for a few diversions to pass the time. I settled on an old friend, the first paperback I ever bought as a precocious adolescent, Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger and a japanese subtitled movie thing that I don't have energy yet to tackle. Do you ever reread books that you loved in your youth and past and find that the meanings have totally changed. Salinger's The Laughing Man from this collection had great impact on me as a kid. I am savoring these one by one and will see very shortly if it still has an effect.

We had an eleven thousand book library as a child that got donated to a school and we read everything, Bruce Catton to Tolkein to Roth. Not having a television, my brother Buzz and I memorized the World Book one summer. I went through a Hesse phase at 13 or 14, remember great upwellings of sadness when I read Narcissus and Goldmund and wonder at Magister Ludi but thought they were total shit after an adult reread. The things you think you know...

Big Dave came down with his boys to Legoland yesterday and we went out for sushi with Leslie. My friend Brigitte was there with her hubby Morgan and their high powered Jewish producer friend Roz, also from Chicago. Dave and Roz had never met, they are both brilliant type a heavy duty former Microsoft computer mochers and after a short round of requisite butt sniffing, started into a competitive bout of launches and past successes. I must say that she was far more gracious and less self aggrandizing than Dave but it was funny to watch. The male and female version of the same organism sitting at the same sushi bar. Really capable productive people are enchanting and both of these two have made it happen again and again.

She even talked about hiring me to write for one or two of her current projects but I told her that she might want to read me first as I am pretty disjointed at present and would need to tighten up my shit considerably to become a "writer". But maybe she will read me and lord knows I can write if nothing else.

I am trying to give myself a serious break and the time to heal but it's weird not to have my nose to the grindstone and not be continuously pushing to make something happen. Luxury of illness and supportive friends and family that tell me that they will not let me fall.

I am craving ice cream and must call my wife so that she will bring home a quart for a fix. I have been following the nasty give and take between the Palins and Levi Johnston with such guilty pleasure that I feel like my dad found my porn stash. Real People Magazine stuff, the sanctimonious Eliza from the gutter having to confront all of those folks who know where the bodies are buried. The illegitimate grandchild, like a bomb descending on her storybook family, you couldn't make this stuff up.

I figured out last night that some of my discomfort arose from a rash on my torso from adhesive residue. Leslie got up in the middle of the night and we used some special swabs and removed what we could and I feel better. I saw Doctor Reynolds, a pulmonary specialist, at the coffee shop, and he said that everything appears to be healing well. Thursday I yank the catheter and see if the prostatitis goes away.

Feels good to blather. Catch you soon.

Humble Pie

I know that I am in danger of adding whiplash to my host of other ailments, but how about those San Diego Padres? The sound you now hear is me jumping on and off the bandwagon. This gutty little team of bad news bears is 6-2 to start the season. Rodriguez to Eckstein to Gonzales doesn't quite roll off the tongue like Tinkers to Evers to Chance but it looks like they will not be as bad as I made them out to be.

They are overloaded with young pitching, carrying I think 13 pitchers, which leads to a very depleted bench of four position players. They still don't have a clean up hitter or a big sock guy. Maybe they will bring Blanks up from the minors at some point. But you have to hand it to Kevin Towers for once again assembling chicken salad out of...well, you know. See ya, Alderson, we don't miss your meddling. If they can finish ahead of the evil blue pinstripers to the north, the season will be a success. Stop all talk of trading Peavey. Once again, my favorite Padre, Hairston, has shown athleticism, a penchant for the late game knock and good defense. Hope they can keep it up.

Our friends in the middle east

Supposedly a Kuwaiti professor.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Shiver me timbers

The repubs must be positively seething right now after the successful conclusion to the Maersk pirates affair. I can just picture Fred Barnes pacing across his vestibule, gnashing his teeth, "that charmed sonofabitch, how did Obama pull this one off." Make no mistake the contributions that a relatively minor event such as this can have on the national gestalt. Americans felt the same surge of pride and testosterone when Bush made his first "Clint Eastwood, make my day speech" - but Obama preferred to defer the false bravado and histrionics and just kept a cool finger on the trigger. Contrast the national mood with the misery inflicted on Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan during their respective catastrophic bouts in Iran and Lebanon. Yes, we owe much to luck and providence, and brave action by our military, but we cannot underestimate the positive impact on the american psyche after a successful campaign against the forces of, cough - ahem, darkness.

More news today that the new CNN poll shows that contrary to Dick Cheney's protestations, a whopping majority of 72% of Americans do not agree that the actions of President Obama have put the country at greater risk of terrorist attack. This poll was taken before the Pirate saga began. I have never understood why we cede national security position to the conservatives, Bill Clinton did an able job with our military in the Balkans. Few presidents, of any political affiliation, are lucky enough to leave the position without a few black eyes. Same sense of wonder when you look at the success of democratic administrations in balancing budgets as opposed to the republicans. Yet we give the redstaters this free pass as being fiscally conservative.

The Somalians are threatening to kill the next American hostage they capture as retribution for the killing of their comrades and our impact on their chosen vocation. This brandishing of swords and big mouthed swagger might be ill advised. America is still more than a little pissed off about Blackhawk Down and Mogadishu. Although we lost eighteen soldiers there, it was a fraction of the Somalis taken out. Next time we might not be so hygienic. They were talking really big in Iraq before the invasion as well about the sand awash in American blood. And long term, I guess they have a point. But I don't think we are talking nation building here, we are talking about protecting poor defenseless merchant seamen who should be free to ply their trade on the waters without fear of misery and death. I would think that the best solution is to have a multi - country task force including Russia and China come in with the Americans, French and Brits and sweep the Somali coastline. Look for swank hillside palaces, nice mercedes, satellite antennas and clean out the hornet's nests. Waiting on a nascent and emasculated Somali government, probably rife with corruption and links to the buccaneers, is foolhardy.

The poll also says that 71% think that restrictions on Cuba should be lifted, something I have long advocated and that most think the first lady has boosted the American image internationally. Yet the conservatives choose instead to dwell on "did the President bow to a Saudi King, did he improperly touch the Queen, does he really have a United States birth certificate ( the State of Hawaii says yes), is he a socialist waiting for the call from mother Russia to open up the gulags?" The letters to my local North County Times are ridiculous.

Old Clarence Thomas, who hasn't spake a word publicly at work since 2006, weighed in to a bunch of students this week and yearned for the good old days when they had crucifixes on the walls in his schools and people didn't talk about rights but instead obligations. Oh, to be back on the plantation! He made the casual observation that Law Professors knew a hell of a lot more about his job than he ever did. People that never vote are responsible for electing people who appoint people like this - so bitter and so obviously unequal to the challenge before him.

Count me in as a centrist who is disappointed in Leon Panetta's and the administration's decision not to at least investigate Bush era torture questions. I also have to question the reversal on mountain top mining prohibitions. I can understand Obama wanting to resonate with the vast middle who call themselves independents but think that he needs to pay attention to the issues he ran on and his base. The country voted for a clear break with the past administration.

We lost both "The Bird", Mark Fidrych today and Marilyn Chambers, the Ivory Snow girl with the taste for sensual pleasure. Phil Spector, he of the incredible hairpiece and wall of sound, finally has received comeuppance for his bizarre, murderous behavior.

It is amazing that the country which only weeks ago was at the economic death's door, has managed to rebound so quickly, at least in the markets. Goldman Sachs and the rest of the Barbary Pirates on Wall Street are all getting in line to pay their TARP funds back so that can go after more unrestricted swag and booty. Although I must empathize with those financial institutions that were forced to take money and then had the terms of the deals changed. Hope we don't have to send the Seals to New York. And go after the real brigands.