Sunday, July 30, 2006

Are You Being Servile?

I don’t like to talk about politics much because my views don’t align neatly with any specific party. I’m a kind of Conservative-Libertarian-Democrat-Lite. In real life, this translates to things like:
  1. Uphold the Constitution.

  2. No, really. UPHOLD the Constitution.

  3. Religion is great. Shut-up about it already and leave me alone — and I’ll do the same for you.

  4. Taxes suck, but decent roads are useful; polluting the environment is vile; and starving people on the doorstep do not make for a pleasant environment. So, shut up already and pay your taxes — and I’ll do the same.

  5. Health insurance (or lack thereof) is a nightmare that is killing the economy. Fix it.
If I had to choose just one thing from my list, I would choose the first, because, silly me, I drank the kool-aid all those years ago in American National Government. I learned to believe, truly, that the Constitution is the cornerstone of freedom. Oh yeah; and I learned to believe that freedom is worth fighting for.

Have I managed to amaze you yet, by channeling both Ann Coulter and Hilary Clinton in the same paragraph? :-)

The thing is, I’m disappointed about so many things to do with politics that it would be a blessed relief to be able to identify with anyone at this point. I don’t think it’s going to happen because politicians (and their supporters) seem to spend all their time arguing over the stupidest things and ignoring the important ones — like freedom.

Freedom used to get a lot of accolades from Americans, but it sure doesn’t now. Oh, it gets lip service, but that’s about it. In practice, “security” trumps freedom (not to mention the Constitution and the Bill of Rights), and our future seems destined for the sort of tyranny that would have been unimaginable back in the days of my American National Government class.

Don’t scoff. Instead, ask yourself:

What Is Tyranny?

TYRANNY IS THE NAME that must be applied without distinction to any government in which he who is charged with the execution of the laws may make, destroy, break, interpret, hinder, and suspend them, or even only evade them with assurance of impunity. And … the lawbreaker, whether he be hereditary or elective, usurper or legitimate, good or bad, one or many, who has sufficient force to do this is a tyrant; every society which accepts him is a tyranny; every nation which endures him is servile.[1]

I’ll bet you’re scoffing. If you are, however, you might want to pause to consider why President Bush has acted repeatedly to subvert the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Rule of Law.

For example, a federal judge has rejected government arguments and is allowing a lawsuit challenging the legality of the NSA “terrorist surveillance program” in which secret surveillance, without judicial warrants, was conducted on Americans suspected of having ties to terrorists. In addition, more than 20 cases have been filed in relation to telephone companies’ roles in the NSA program.

Obviously, the people filing these lawsuits (and allowing them to proceed) are very much concerned by America’s slide toward tyranny.

And what was the response from our leaders? According to Paper Chase:

The government requested that the cases be consolidated into one civil action in the US District Court for the District of Columbia … so it could invoke the state secrets privilege and seek to have the cases dismissed.

That’s right. Let’s “invoke the state secrets privilege” and violate the 4th Amendment with impunity. Better yet, let’s just throw the whole damn Constitution out the window — as outlined in the draft of the new anti-terrorism legislation President Bush plans to introduce. According to the AP report, the bill is intended to authorize military tribunals for suspected terrorists since Bush’s previous incarnation of these tribunals was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last month. It:

…would toss out several legal rights common in civilian and military courts, including barring hearsay evidence, guaranteeing ''speedy trials'' and granting a defendant access to evidence. The proposal also would allow defendants to be barred from their own trial and likely allow the submission of coerced testimony.

SO, the president’s response to the Supreme Court ruling that his tribunals are unconstitutional is to try to get this unconstitutional crap enshrined into LAW?

Right.

This is a tyrannical power-play that should be denounced. The servile will not, but the rest of us have the responsibility to stand up and fight to preserve the freedoms we hold dear, in spite of the injustice of the fact that if we succeed, the servile fools will benefit along with the rest of us.

Contact your legislators. Write letters to the editor. Blog it. But DO something.

"Live free or die."
- General John Stark

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1 Vittorio Alfieri, Of Tyranny, trans. Julius A. Molinaro, & Beatrice Corrigan; p. 11 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Heat Wave? Beautiful!

While I have sympathy for everyone sweltering in the current heat wave, I, frankly, am in the mood to jump for joy. This is the first day since I arrived in Washington (in May) that it's actually felt like summer -- and I LOVE it! Until today, the temperature has only made it up to 70F/21C twice this month. As far as I'm concerned, that's a *miserable* state of affairs since this is the hottest part of the summer. But today, this GLORIOUS heat wave has brought us well past the old record high of 77F/25C. The last time I looked, it was 88F/30C, and tomorrow may be even better: 90F/32C.

The Weather Service have issued a "heat advisory". LOL!

Gee; I might have to turn on my fan. This is hot? The humidity isn't even 30%. They ought to spend a few days on the Gulf Coast with at least that temperature, but with 98% humidity.

So, I intend ignore the Weather Service killjoys and enjoy this weekend of perfect summer weather.

It's margarita time (finally)!

Sunday, July 9, 2006

More Mount Baker Days!

Yesterday was another perfect Mount Baker Day, and the view from my window was enticing:



So, we decided to combine errands with fun — we walked around our new town, Coupeville.



Coupeville, the second oldest town in Washington, is tiny, with not much more than a single main street, which you can see in the photos above and below. Most of the shops are a bit touristy, but there are some excellent restaurants (like Toby’s) that you can access by going down some stairs on the side of the buildings facing the water.



The Coupeville Wharf extends out from Penn Cove.



The wharf itself has a restaurant and a few more tourist-oriented shops. It also has an area dedicated to posters with information about whales, which are frequent visitors to the area. Suspended from the ceiling above the posters is the skeleton of a HUGE whale that died after beaching nearby. I’m not that keen on dead whales, but the views from the pier are amazing!

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Mount Baker Days!

When we first moved to Bellevue, back in 1993, several people told us about “Mount Baker Days”, which were, apparently, days that were clear enough to see Mount Baker in the distance. We were there nearly 7 months before we had a Mount Baker Day, and then we understood the stories about people being so entranced that they would stare at it for great lengths of time, and forget they were driving a car!

We’ve had a lot of Mount Baker Days in the last few weeks, and today was one of the best. I took this shot from the Coupeville wharf — and it doesn’t nearly do it justice — the snow on the peak was like glitter in the sun.



Today was only the second day I’ve really been out and around since getting sick after moving here. The first day was two weeks ago, when some friends who just moved to Seattle joined us in a visit to Lavender Wind Farm and West Beach. That was a Mount Baker Day too, but we were looking west, so we didn’t notice it.

Lavender Wind Farm really is amazing. You can walk through the fields, or follow a path through a clever labyrinth, planted only with lavender, and look out to the sea, and to the Olympic Mountains beyond.

The water and mountains were so beautiful, I forgot to take a photo of the labyrinth. You can just see the edge of it on the right in the photo below.



In addition to lavender, the farm has fields of other flowers too.



Along with an errant strand of my own wildly whipping hair, this shot shows West Beach, which is rocky as well as windy — and that wind is cold — even on a sunny summer day!



West Beach, with the Olympic Mountains beyond.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Historical Fiction????

A couple of days ago, I picked up a book by an author I've enjoyed in the past. At least, I enjoyed her first book; I thought the second was a little far-fetched. Still, historical fiction is my favourite type of reading, and novels set in the thirteenth century aren't that common, so I was willing to overlook book number two. Things started out well enough in the new one, but my enthusiasm continued to fall — until I finally abandoned it, just as I reached the climax. At least I think was the climax — when archbishop Stephen Langton summoned the wife of a fair-to-middlin’ baron to act as his scribe and translator during the negotiation of Magna Carta — because he didn’t have a clerk who could write in Latin.

What???

I should probably backtrack here and explain that while I love medieval history, I’m *not* that picky about so-called accuracy in historical fiction — to me, fiction, by definition, is a story; it’s made-up. I have no interest in poring over novels, to see if I can spot the recipe or the tool that was used too early. I can overlook events that are time-shifted to fit a plot. I can even overlook mistakes in the names of historical figures, although I’m a bit disturbed when the names can be easily found in a basic textbook.

This novel, however, is so far beyond the plausible that it is absurd. The pity is that the author is a decent writer and this could have been a good book, if not an excellent one. Instead, she wrote a book that gradually descended into ludicrous drivel.

I’ve omitted the names of the book and the author here because I don’t like to trash things hastily. It’s too easy to be spiteful about books one doesn’t care for, possibly hurting the author’s feelings and the sales of the book. I do, however, intend to post a review on Amazon — not a positive one, but not a hostile one either. Later, after I’ve gotten over being completely annoyed.

More on historical fiction soon...

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Bon App├ętit

It's been a while since I've posted -- a few days after moving to Washington, I was rudely interrupted by an intestinal thing that landed me in the hospital for a week and kept me in serious misery for several weeks afterwards. I'm better now, and back to blogging.

Apropos of nothing, my topic for the day is inspired by several things, among them, local news coverage of a battle to keep Wal-Mart out of a nearby town. For the record, I'm not a big fan of Wal-Mart; to some extent, I agree with the critics that there is a societal cost to the downward pressure Wal-Mart exerts on wages, and to the negative effect Wal-Mart has on local businesses who cannot compete.

That said, however, I cannot alienate myself from Wal-Mart entirely, because the arguments against Wal-Mart are so frequently couched in terms of the soul-less corporation, the evil empire, the greedy bastards who want to eat your lunch. I can't hate Wal-Mart for those reasons, though, because, to me, it's perfectly understandable why they'd want to eat your lunch, and I can't blame them for it.

Why? Well, let me explain.

I'm from a small town in southern Arkansas, not far from the Mississippi Delta; my cultural background is probably best-described as 'Deep South'. In other words, although my culture has its own pejorative descriptions (e.g., redneck, Bubba), I'm not a hillbilly. The difference in this may seem like pointless semantics to those unfamiliar with the region, but in spite of the frequency with which negative stereotypes about ignorant Southerners feature in the national consciousness, the hillbillies of the Ozarks have always had the worst of it.

To see this in action, think of The Beverly Hillbillies. Or, better yet, think of Deliverance. "Deliverance did for them [North Georgians] what Jaws … did for sharks." [1] And of course, there were endless critical cartoons depicting Bill Clinton as a hillbilly president, although like me, he is from the southern coastal plain, and therefore, Clinton may be a Bubba or a redneck, but he most decidedly is not a hillbilly. This matters because, apparently, hillbilly was one of the most derogatory things Clinton's critics could think of to call him. A recent attempt by CBS to create a reality-based TV show called The Real Beverly Hillbillies shows another example of the ways hillbillies are viewed in wider culture. In this case, CBS planned to choose a family from the hills of Arkansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, or Kentucky and set them up in a luxurious house in California, presumably for the purpose of laughing at the foibles of ignorant rubes.

The show generated protests from many, but even in their opposition, some critics revealed incredibly negative attitudes about the culture of the southern mountains. Critics from outside the region such as Christopher Caldwell of the New York Press, who was against the show, illustrate this attitude:

... Caldwell argued the show could not possibly be realistic for the network would not dare show the mountaineer family as it really would be — rabidly Pentecostal, anti-semitic, violently homophobic, and interested only in sex and drugs. More in keeping with earlier comedic depictions, a story in E! Online News called on would-be applicants to “brush your tooth” and warned that “livestock” would not be counted as a member of the multigenerational family. The article also questioned the efficacy of CBS's hotline to field calls from applicants because there is “no word on how many members of the Deliverance set have phones." [2]

And what does all this have to do with Wal-Mart wanting to eat your lunch? Well, if it isn't obvious, Sam Walton, who was from Oklahoma, started his retail business in Arkansas. And in an interview with CNN Money, former Wal-Mart CEO and chairman David Glass, who was from Mountain View, Missouri (and another hillbilly), pointed out something that, perhaps, isn't obvious:

Discount chains like Kmart and Korvette bought from wholesalers, and that was a big benefit [to the merchant]. The wholesaler came in, wrote the order for you, and when the merchandise arrived, he'd come in and put it on the shelves for you, and that was great. We never considered that here because there were no wholesalers available for us. So from the beginning we had to be self-sufficient. [3]

As Glass indicates, self-sufficiency was important to the success of Wal-Mart because there was literally no alternative. I have personal experience of this; my little Arkansas town was the beneficiary, and I don't use that word loosely, of one of the earliest Wal-Mart stores. And before it arrived, we used to drive the 50 miles to Harrison (location of the second Wal-mart store), to eat at Pizza Hut and go to Wal-Mart, or visit the grandparents in Little Rock, where there were both department stores and discount stores like K-Mart. That's right; we didn't have a pizza place or a department store at all, and the closest thing we had to a discount store was a derelict Ben Franklin. When Mr. Sam (Walton) opened the Wal-Mart in Mountain Home, he was opening what, to us, *was* a local store. If the Wal-Mart put any other local shops out of business, and it may have, it was likely to be the crappy Ben Franklin -- a "foreign" franchise. And it was no great loss.

So, when I hear people ranting about the evils of Wal-Mart, I remember all the demeaning comments I've heard about hillbillies, and although, intellectually, I don't love Wal-Mart, some small part of me feels the tiniest glow of satisfaction -- Wal-Mart represents the hillbillies; the ones everyone else loves to ridicule -- and I think maybe, in the end, your lunch may be a fitting payback.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I can't altogether hate Wal-Mart.

Happy Independence Day!

"Live free or die."

- General John Stark


--------------------------------
1. Anthony Harkins. Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon. Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 206.

2. Ibid. pp 223-5.

3. CNNMoney.com. April 5, 2004.