Archive for December, 2003

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

6

The Dowbrigade considers himself a normal, red-blooded American
news-junkie, not sick or subversive or overly enamored with schadenfreude.

Lately, however, we have had to question our taste if not our sanity,
for when we look deep into our soul, God help us, dear reader, part of
our heart is actually hoping for the next terrorist attack to hurry up
and happen.

Before you go all Ashcroft and drop a dime on your poor correspondent
for baring his soul in a public forum, let me say that in my waking hours
the Dowbrigade is a committed pacifist, and a patriotic defender of the
values and form of government that made this country great.  Yet
many mornings, when we awaken in our warm and cozy bed and reach for
the remote control, pre tuned to Fox News Channel, a tiny voice in the
back of our mind whispers, "Maybe it’s happened while we were asleep…"

The Dowbrigade, believe it or not, is no stranger to little voices at
the back of his head, and over the years has learned to at least consider
what they are saying, and so we set out to analyze what could be behind
such
a sick and sorry sentiment. Somewhat to our own surprise, we came up
with a number of grounds on which, although a horrible and all-too-real
possibility, a new terrorist attack on the homeland could be eagerly
anticipated. To wit:

  • The Boy Who Cried Wolf Syndrome – If something doesn’t happen soon,
    people are going to stop paying attention when the government raises
    the terrorist threat level.  Many are already questioning the value
    of a system that just gets everybody all excited and makes them feel
    less, rather than more secure. If there was an attack, at least
    they would have a REASON to feel less secure, and to pay attention
    to warnings in the future.
  • 9/11 Nostalgia – It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.  America
    came together in those terrible days, and it was a beautiful thing.  We
    felt proud to display the American flag for the first time since our
    childhood. Neighbors talked to neighbors, there was national focus and
    consensus, and it was clear what we had to do. Resist.  Overcome. Fight
    back. Then we got bogged down in the details, and the Bush-Hussein
    family feud. Another attack would bring things back into focus.
  • Gripping TV – TV has become the spiritual center of the American
    family, the icon at which the masses worship.  9/11 and its aftermath
    were the most gripping Reality TV mini-series in human history.  Ratings
    went through the roof. We rushed home from the office or store to check
    on the latest updates.  We didn’t sleep for days on end, so engaging
    was the coverage.  For the true news junkie, extended national
    preempts like this are what we live for. Life takes on a clear, hard
    edge and
    things MATTER for a change. The whole news game is taken to a
    higher level. It’s sick, but its fascinating.
  • The NASCAR Effect – Why do you think car racing is the second most
    popular spectator sporting event in this country? Its not because they
    want to
    see a gang of grease monkeys change a set of tires in less than 30
    seconds. Its
    because they want to see if there is a spectacular crash and burn.
    Not that they actually WANT any of the drivers to get hurt, heaven
    forbid,
    but the possibility of a fiery disaster is a sure way to attract
    a crowd. The same is true of a terrorist attack. No one but the terrorists
    actually
    wants it to happen, but when it does, no one wants to miss it.
  • Flushing Out the Enemy – This is in line with one of the most cynical
    and controversial theories about what we are doing in Iraq. Some critics
    of the war say that while there were not many international terrorists
    and rabid America-haters in Iraq before the war, there are sure a lot
    there now, and we are attracting more every day, sneaking over the
    borders from Iran and Turkey. Some defenders of the war reply, what
    if that is
    part of the plan?  To attract all of our enemies to a desolated,
    God-forsaken shooting gallery where we can line them up and shoot them
    down without worrying too much about collateral damage.  Easier
    than tracking them down one by one in spider holes and embedded cells
    in dozens of different countries. By the same token, we know there
    are numerous sleeper cells in cities and towns across America. Only
    when they attack will we have the leads, the threads, the chance to
    root
    out them and their ilk and excise them like cancer cells on the body
    politic.
  • Waiting for the Counter Punch – As any righteous person who has been
    drawn into a fight knows, you don’t want to throw the first punch. And
    we didn’t. But sometimes, when provoked, even when attacked, one cannot
    immediately locate the enemy.  One
    stands, primed for action, every muscle tensed, every sense alert,
    waiting for the slightest clue, sound, smell to betray the enemy so
    that one’s
    devastating counterpunch can be delivered.  As a nation, we are
    standing thus. C’mon, give us your best shot. Hit us again, so
    that we can see where you’re coming from, and show you what’s what.
    We won’t get sucker punched again…
  • The Dentist Effect – Waiting for the appointment is much worse than
    anything the Dentist actually does to you (usually).  It is the
    ANTICIPATION that is soul-wearying and stress-producing.  When
    something bad is coming it is natural to want to JUST GET IT OVER WITH, all
    the waiting and wondering makes it very hard to concentrate on anything
    else or get on with your life. "
  • Homeland Insecurity – Finally, in a somewhat unhealthy mental health
    trait, the Dowbrigade would love to see all of the preparation and
    paranoid rights infringement endorsed by Mr’s Ridge, Ashcroft and Cheney
    proven utterly inadequate and off track for facing the real threats
    to our nation’s security.

Please, don’t get me wrong.  The Dowbrigade is not endorsing, or
hoping for, or encouraging another attack on America. We hate war, and
love our country.  In addition, even the hint of another attack
on the homeland would end any slim hope we have of retaining our job
as foreign students return for the bargain basement rates on American
higher education.  We can only imagine the pain and grief of families
who have lost loved ones in terrorist attacks, and sincerely hope than
none of them are personally offended by these sentiments.

But we have to confess.  Every morning when we flip on the TV we
are reminded of that morning in September that changed our lives and our
world. Maybe because the world so clearly needs to change and we are
so short-sighted and impatient, we are always a bit disappointed to see
that Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart are still at the top of the headlines.

Dowbrigade Loses Another Title

42


World’s Biggest Snake Discovered in Indonesia

Its
a good thing Norma Yvonne is on vacation, far, far away from here, or
she wouldn’t go near the computer for a week just from seeing a snake
this
big on the screen. Honestly, she is so serpent-phobic that when
Honey the cat bounds through the window, proud as can be, with an innoculous
pencil-gauge garter snake, (which happens several times each summer)
she makes me
move
the bed,
turn
over the mattress, move the furniture, look under the rug, etc. for SEVERAL
DAYS merely on the irrational possibility that there is another one lurking
in the house somewhere.

Anyway, this here critter is supposedly WAY bigger than the previously
recorded Biggest Snake in the World, and more than twice as heavy. How
does something like this suddenly appear? Genetically enhanced escapee
from
some secret bio-lab, or a divinely delivered sign of the approaching
apocolpyse? You decide…

It’s a fussy eater, apparently. But when you are longer than a double-decker
bus, and weigh as much as six grown men, you can afford to be.Certainly, the
owners of a zoo in Indonesia haven’t been quibbling over the dietary needs
of an enormous python, which prefers to eat four fierce brown
dogs every month.

The snake, they claimed yesterday, is the longest and heaviest ever captured.
Doing so was no mean feat in itself. According to reports, it took 65 men and
the blessing of a tribal leader to snare it.

Officials at the zoo in Curugsewu, central Java, told the Republika newspaper
that the reticulated python is 49ft long and has a maximum body circumference
of almost three feet. It weighs, they say, 998lbs. The
Guinness Book of World Records lists the longest captured snake as a 32ft reticulated
python found on the Indonesian island of
Sulawesi in 1912. The heaviest is a 402 lb. Burmese python in Illinois,
US.

Republika quoted a keeper at the zoo, Rohmad, as saying that when the
unnamed snake was captured, in Jambi province on Sumatra in mid-2002,
it was 61 long. 12 feet reportedly had to be severed after a rotten deer
was found undigested in its stomach.

Reticulated pythons, found across south-east Asia, are considered the
longest snake species but adults usually measure only between three and
six metres long. They kill their prey by biting it, hanging on with their
100 teeth and then squeezing it to death by wrapping their bodies around
it.

from the
Guardian

Proximity Cards – No Need to Swipe

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Cards
that can be read from your pocket, without having to be swiped? Incredible
convienience, or an invitation to electronic pocket-picking? How long
til your student ID chip is implanted under your skin during your freshman
physical? Thank goodness this is at MIT, where no student
would dare to actually hack into an official network. No, I did NOT
order 6
cannisters
of
nitros oxide from Acme Welding Company!

MIT has begun to switch faculty and students from magnetic swipe identification
cards to "proximity" cards readable from a distance, but has yet to
address the security concerns with both the new system and the old
system as a whole.

Like the replacement of the student services card with the original,
multipurpose, magnetic-stripe MIT Card in the spring of 1994, the shift
to a new technology raises concerns over security and privacy.The possibility
of covertly reading and copying the cards, even as they rest in other
students’ pockets, remains a concern. Nobody has demonstrated
this, but nobody is prepared to say it is impossible or even particularly
difficult for MIT’s electrical engineering majors.

"Since [proximity cards] can be read at a distance, someone could set
up a bogus ID reader in Lobby 7 to scan ID’s as people pass," said Chris
T. Lesniewski-Laas G, who proposed a replacement for the MIT Card in
1999.

from the
MIT student newspaper

Bush Popularity Falling Falling

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People
considering a tandem skydive would trust cartoon character Homer Simpson
over US President George Bush, according to research.

The public voted the
daft dad of hit TV show "The Simpsons" as their number one choice if
they were participating in the daredevil stunt.

More than 1,000 adults were asked to rank personalities in order of who
they felt was most trustworthy. Homer got 20% of the overall vote in the
survey,
while President Bush got just 8%.

from Ananova

Lost in Translation

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The Globe’s political coverage takes a turn for the lyrical, as
Peter Canellos whips up some wacky images in a review of the convoluted
rhetoric concerning
foreign policy flying around the campaign, and the difficulty in parsing
political pronouncements and off-the-cuff remarks:

Foreign policy has been hidden, twisted, and reduced to slogans in
American presidential campaigns for so long that it makes the discussion
of
domestic issues seem, in contrast, a model of truth in packaging.
Like a chess player dressed in football gear, Bush seems to be preparing
for both a high-minded discussion and a low-minded scrimmage.

from the
Boston Globe

American Values Questioned

1

James
Caroll, in a
Boston Globe op-ed piece
, mentions some alarming statistics concerning
the US criminal justice system. He makes the argument
that racism has been so effectively and insideously institutionalized
under the guise of the "War on Drugs" that we have liquidated an entire
generation of our minority population. The Dowbrigade assumes that
had he been born a member of a more obvious minority he would have
been
put away long ago…..

In late October, in a speech in Fall River, Robert A. Mulligan, chief
administrative judge of Massachusetts, noted current characteristics
of US criminal justice. The American prison population recently went
over 2 million for the first time, putting the United States ahead of
Russia as the world capital of incarceration. Add to that number those
on parole or probation and the total under "correctional" control
grows to 7 million. Thirty years ago, one in 1,000 Americans was locked
up; today, almost five are. In famously liberal Massachusetts, the prison
population has grown, since 1980, from under 6,000 to almost 23,000.
In 2003, for the first time, the amount of money Massachusetts spent
on prisons was more than what it spent on higher education.

These statistics accumulate a punishing weight falling more on African-American
males than anyone else, and from that springs the year’s fundamental
epiphany. Justice? Democracy? In the United States, according to Judge
Mulligan, one in three African-American males between the ages of 20
and 30 is "under correctional control." In places like Baltimore
and Washington, more than half are. The number of African-American men
in college is less than the number of those under supervision of the
courts.

from the
Boston Globe

 

Detained Suspect Claims to Be Ben Franklin

1

December 30, 2003 – Washington — The FBI is warning police nationwide
to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular
annual reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather
trends could be used for terrorist planning.

In a bulletin sent to about 18,000 police organizations,
the FBI said terrorists may use almanacs "to assist with target selection
and pre-operational planning." It urged officers to watch during searches,
traffic stops and other investigations for anyone carrying almanacs, especially
if the books are annotated in suspicious ways.

from the Associated press

 

Picture on the Scratchpad

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mooose
photo via T. Adams

Naval Undersea Warfare Center Tests Blogs

1

Blogging,
or keeping a weblog, is often seen as a solitary effort. An individual
can type frequent updates onto their log, sharing opinions or ideas with
anyone with Internet access. The future of blogging could look a lot
different. The Office of Naval Research and the Naval Undersea Warfare
Center (NUWC) are testing out the idea that weblogs can be powerful communication
tools to bring together teams of people.

The ONR and NUWC are leading a government-industry team to develop a blog
as a promising new approach to speeding up the exchange of information
on new defense technologies and thereby speed up getting the technologies
into the field.

from US Navy web site

Waiting for The One

5

The Dowbrigade, whose social life makes Airport Ramada look like
Paris Hilton, has been invited to a party tonight. Not exactly a New
Year’s Eve party (that would be too much to ask for), but close; a Day-Before-New-Year’s-Eve
Party.  Actually, it’s not exactly a party, either, but more
of a fund-raiser.  For Howard Dean.

This raises a slew of questions regarding propriety, politics and just
how pathetically desperate for social interaction the Dowbrigade is.  Although
we have officially
endorsed Dean
in this space, due largely to his spirited
criticisms of George Bush and Bush’s manner of going about the nation’s
business, we have also repeatedly excoriated
him
for his tepid and uninspired
attacks
on the
underpinnings
of presidential power.

Can one in clear conscience support a politician one truly believes
doesn’t "get it" and lacks a serious chance of getting elected, just
because he is the best of a sorry lot? Is it worth backing a candidate
who has closed the door on any substantive change (and perhaps doomed
his candidacy to defeat) by agreeing to play by the Major Media and Major
Party ground
rules which have been silently and surreptitiously imposed on We
the People over the past 80 years to insure that the power remains in
the hands of a small homogeneous elite largely behind the
scenes and off of the political stage? 

Does it make sense to give
our money to a campaign which will immediately hand it over to the
very Media Conglomerates we believe are sucking the lifeblood from the
American
political process and keeping the public in the dark about who is really
running the Republic, what their Game Plan is, and how they plan
to get us all to play along?

Our problems with Howard Dean are nothing personal.  We are sure
he is an honorable man, and would probably be an enjoyable and entertaining
dinner companion. But it has become increasingly clear to the Dowbrigade,
and seemingly to a number of other bloggers, commentators and political
pundits, that he is not The One.

Howard Dean is not The One who is going to wipe away the subterfuge
and meaningless rhetoric which have blocked the arteries of our political
process and get the blood flowing once again.  He is not The One
who is going to challenge, and break, the Major Media Monopoly on our
collective consciousness.  He is not The One capable of igniting
an unstoppable brush fire of grassroots actions which are going to truly
revolutionize how the political process works in this country.

Make no mistake, we are not whistling wistfully in the wind. The Dowbrigade
firmly believes The One is out there somewhere, and his or her moment
is swiftly approaching.  Our
existing political process, honed and evolved in a period of governmental
and media encroachment into all areas of public and private life, simply
doesn’t work any more, and is incapable of producing leaders of the stature
and
integrity
needed to get us out of this quagmire of disfigured development. The
dynamic and the technology to effectuate an authentic revolution in how
political
decisions are made and implemented don’t need to be invented or brought
about.  They exist today.  The One will be the first public
figure to figure out how to catalyze these conditions and start them
revolving around his or her vision.

How will we recognize The One? Probably, it will be like pornography
– it’s hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.  Or like
love – if you have to ask, "Is this the real thing?", it’s not. The Dowbrigade
is waiting to be swept off his feet by a political uprising so spontaneous
and clear-cut that we are powerless to resist. The Dean people are correct
in concluding that the next true political change will be effectuated
by the 55% of eligible adult Americans who currently can’t be bothered
to vote. The question is, who will be able to get those people off their
couches, out of their hazes, away from their comfortable niches and
lives and vices, and out into the cold hard light of day to take specific
actions?  It
won’t be Howard Dean.  It will be The One.

We suspect that The One will not emerge from either of the Major Political
Parties, simply because they are both so over-burdened by morally bankrupt
hacks, ingrained corruption and insidious commitments and compromises.  To
win the endorsement of either the Democratic or Republican parties as
presently constituted in this country a candidate must mortgage his soul
so completely that
maintaining any kind of righteous credibility with people so
desperately desiring a credible leader is simply impossible.  Should
a leader with the requisite qualities emerge from one of the major parties,
he
or she would certainly be mercilessly attacked and undermined from within
their own party with increasing viciousness the closer they approached
their
goal.  The
result would almost certainly be a messy defeat in the nominating process
or a messy defeat in the general election, either of which would be used
by the enemies of change to delay the inevitable another presidential
cycle, at least.

Yes, despite the pernicious pessimism rampant in the land today, we
believe The One will inevitably appear some day soon, a Generational
Giant, clearly
towering
above
the
Political
Pig-Me’s
currently
cluttering
the stage.  He or she will have an immediate and innate grasp of
the situation and the new tools with which it can be turned to OUR advantage.
Instead of sucking money out of the Internet and blowing it into Major
Media, The One will move assets FROM the traditional political infrastructure
TO the internet. The One will embrace Blogs not as docile cash cows to
further political ambitions, but as revolutionary tools to communicate,
organize and wrest control of our lives and our national destiny from
the rich, isolated little pricks who have hijacked it.

The One is going to understand much more than Blogs. The One will have
the whole Internet thing figured out. The One is going to be a master
of Flash Mobs, for example. Amazing, isn’t it, that at this stage of
the
game
the race for the White House consists mainly of "The Men Who Would be
President" meeting with 10 or 20 or 50 people in a living room or a Rotary
Club or a Pancake House in New Hampshire and Iowa. Imagine what roving
Flash Mobs could do to that process.  If every time Kerry or Lieberman
or Dean arranged a cozy little coffee klatch 100 or 500 or a thousand
supporters of The
One
showed
up.
Not violently, or aggressively, but silently, solidly, and seemingly
impossible to avoid, surrounding, enveloping and absorbing the small
crowds attracted
by the lesser candidates.

The One is going to ignite political passion in a way this country hasn’t
seen in a long time. Observers and pundits long in tooth and short in
imagination are going to cry "Unfair!" "Absurd" and "UnAmerican!" Supporters
of The One are
going to rewrite the rule books on what a political campaign looks like
and how it operates.The resulting commotion will bring the system to
the border of collapse. But
collapse
it will not, for our system was designed in sterner times
and the vision of our founding fathers goes far beyond what is considered
"normal" by the eunuchs and pig-me’s running the game these days

So, adding it all up, we think we will skip tonight’s Dean Gala. The
lesser of several evils is, after all, still evil, even if unwittingly
so. Instead,
we will probably be right here, at our computer, endlessly searching
the Internet and Blogosphere for evidence that The One is approaching.

Rock of Ages

2

Joan Anderman, writing
in today’s Boston Globe, has some very interesting observations on inter-generational
taste in music. She
is a music critic, and up on Foo Fighters or Ben Harper or Korn or Sheryl
Crow, while her kids go nuts for the Doors, Cream, Led Zepplin and Yes.

It reminds the Dowbrigade of our #1 son, now residing in the mountains
of Peru trying to simulataneously build and manage a small hostel on
a piece of land we bought 25 years ago because it was the most intensely
beautiful spot we had ever seen. When he was 3, we lived in a tourist
hotel in Huanchaco, a beach town known chiefly for its excellent surfing
and reed boat fishing industry.  The Dowbrigade taught English Literature
and Linguistics at the National University by day, and ran the Bar/Discoteque,
named "Joey’s Pub" after self-same #1 son, by night. Which might at least partially explain what he is currently doing up in the Andes.

It was a wild and
extreme part of our past, and there wasn’t much time for sleep. The whole period
is admittedly hazy in our mind, but we do remember that every night, just
as things were starting to ramp up
at
the disco
next door, and Joey was being put into bed, he would insist on having
Pink Floyd’s "Atom Heart Mother" put on the stereo. With his blankie
and his He-Man Jammies, and Floyd’s orchestral masterpiece booming in
the background, he was inevitably sound asleep by Gilmore’s guitar solo.

A few years later, the same son refused to board the school van in the
mornings without first listening to the Who’s "Magic Bus" at high volume
(this
was in the days before kids were born with walkmans). On the other hand,
his younger brother, who just enlisted in the Marines, has never liked
the "old stuff" and listens to an extraterestrial collection of whirrs
and clicks and swooshes which can only marginally be classified as music. Go figure. Anyway, Joan writes…

I live in a disco. It opens at 7 a.m. I rise to the primal flow of "Jungle
Boogie," brush with "Mr. Big Stuff," stumble downstairs
to "Super Freak." My daughter is the DJ. The music is coming
from her bedroom. She’s 12, begins every day blasting the "Pure
Funk" compilation, and would rather eat a tomato than allow Avril
Lavigne to infect her record collection.

There are more like her at my house. A 10-year-old who sleeps under
a wall-size poster of the "Stairway to Heaven" lyrics. A
15-year-old whose massive collection of downloaded music is anchored
by what appears
to be every Grateful Dead bootleg ever made.

But there’s been no calculated effort to steer them toward “good” or “real” or “substantial” music. This is no gingerly insinuated nostalgia trip. I’ve never put on a Jimi Hendrix album and I have no idea how my children discovered Pink Floyd. One could argue that this is the way a forward-looking rock critic’s kids rebel — by dismissing mom’s newest favorite lo-fi indie-pop band and embracing the dinosaurs.

from the
Boston Globe

Date Rape or Xenophobia?

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This story from today’s Globe highlights the lack of consistency in
resolution of legal conflicts, especially if one of the parties is a
citizen and the other is not. And extra-especially if one of the parties
is Harvard…

CAMBRIDGE — He had kissed her before. She never disputed that. He had
hugged her and bought her dinner. They had talked late into the night
over hot tea about their lives. He thought he was falling in love.

After winter break, when students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education
returned to their dormitories, she walked to his floor and said hello.
She entered his room, they kissed, and for a brief moment, Giorgi Zedginidze,
a 34-year-old visiting student from Eastern Europe, considered himself
a lucky man. Four hours later, he felt like his life was unraveling.

That night, Zedginidze was arrested on charges of sexual assault. He was
handcuffed, strip-searched, and jailed. Nearly two years later, he was
acquitted at trial, yet Harvard refuses to readmit him and has resisted
scheduling a tribunal to consider it. In the school’s eyes, Zedginidze
said, his status is limited to one word: rapist.

"It has been a nightmare," said Zedginidze, from the Republic
of Georgia. "They
think I am guilty no matter what."

A Middlesex jury acquitted Zedginidze of all six counts of sexual battery,
but he cannot finish his degree until the graduate school’s Committee on
Rights and Responsibilities clears him. The committee, however, has shown
no inclination to schedule a hearing on the matter.If a hearing does take
place, he has no right to a lawyer, to face his accuser, or to cross-examine
witnesses.

Zedginidze, meanwhile, has lost a full scholarship from the US State
Department, a stipend, and the right to stay in the country.

from the Boston Globe