Saturday, December 30, 2006

Twisting Slowly, Slowly in the Wind

Dubya Says . . .

Before: "My name is Inigo Bushoya. You tried to kill my father. Prepare to die."

After: "Daddy, Daddy! Now you have to love me best!"

The execution of Saddam Hussein occurred on Eid ul-Adha, the culmination of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. This holy day is
also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, which commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Choosing to execute Hussein on this date of all days in the calendar is comparable in foresightedness with the Romans executing that crazy rabble-rouser Yeshua bar Joseph at Passover. Just asking for trouble, and of a very specific kind: creating martyrs to inspire further rebellions and uprisings.[1]

We've done enormous damage in Iraq. The number of civilians killed by direct military action is over 50,000. We've lost just about 3,000 soldiers, with a minimum of seven times as many as that being wounded. (Some estimates of wounded American soldiers give the ration as 33 wounded for every 1 killed.)

There's evidence that the CIA helped the Baathist Party -- Saddam's party -- to reach power in a 1963 coup designed to protect our oil interests. That's an unjustified act of war.

There is no evidence, and I mean none, that the weapons of mass destruction ever existed or that Iraq helped the suicide bombers who wreaked such destruction on 9/11. That's another unjustified act of war.

In the aftermath of the international crimes against humanity of 2001 we have tortured, we have murdered, we have brutalised and killed the innocent - we have even added our shame at Abu Ghraib to Saddam's shame at Abu Ghraib - and yet we are supposed to forget these terrible crimes as we applaud the swinging corpse of the dictator we created.

Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability.

And the mass killings we perpetrated in 2003 with our depleted uranium shells and our "bunker buster" bombs and our phosphorous, the murderous post-invasion sieges of Fallujah and Najaf, the hell-disaster of anarchy we unleashed on the Iraqi population in the aftermath of our "victory" - our "mission accomplished" - who will be found guilty of this?

[1] Yes, I worship that rabble-rouser as God incarnate. Nevertheless, from a purely political point of view, Herod and Pilate made a poor decision.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Driveby Moments, California Style

I wouldn't say that Northern Californians are blase, but they take certain kinds of geekiness for granted. Nobody looks twice at unusual people.

Like the handsomely dressed lawyer with the $400 briefcase waiting to cross the street to the courthouse who pressed the "Walk" button with a flawless karate kick.

Or the stocky gentleman in the Hayward BART station who was wearing a horned metal Viking helmet. Maybe because he was wearing iPod earphones beneath it.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Annual Christmas Poem

The Journey of the Magi

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death."

--T. S. Eliot

This Christmas, several friends of mine are mourning recent losses or awaiting the expected passing of friends or family. Christmas can be a cruel time for the grieving. But even in this midwinter gloom, when the journey seems pointless, when pain and despair tarnish the bright tinsel and tears silence the carols in the throat, there is the promise of the Christ Child. Not just a God reaching down from an infinite remove, but the Word embodied, sharing our pain, loving us from inside. The Divine, with us every step of the way.

There's an Episcopalian evening prayer I particularly love, and I pray it for you, my readers, tonight:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

May the infinite compassion of Jesus enfold you in love and care this day and all the days of your life.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

I’ll Be Quaked for Christmas

Over the past few days, there have been half a dozen earthquakes on the same spot under the University of California at Berkeley. (Note to trivia buffs: in the Bay Area, “Berkeley” means the city; the university is referred to as “Cal.” The Berkeley campus is the flagship of the whole system.) The smallest tremors were barely perceptible microquakes—1.6 on the Richter scale. The biggest were in the 3.5 to 3.7 range—big enough to feel, small enough to do no damage.

Earthquakes this tiny happen all the time, but there’s something a touch disturbing about the repeated hammering on one spot. Seismologists dismiss worries that the cluster of temblors is a precursor to the big one.

“We think we have a small patch of the fault which is having a creep episode,” Oppenheimer said. “Does it mean a big one is coming? There's a slightly enhanced probability that this could be a foreshock, but it's a very low probability.”

I’m spending Christmas day a couple of miles from the epicenter. Given that some of the most devastating earthquakes have happened on religious holidays—the 1964 Alaska earthquake (magnitude 9.2, third largest earthquake ever recorded) on Good Friday; the 1906 San Francisco earthquake on Easter Sunday, the magnitude 9.3 2004 earthquake and tsunami on Boxing Day—I won’t be at all surprised if the Hayward Fault chooses Christmas as the day to cut loose.

Apparently Mother Earth gets overstressed by the holidays, just like the rest of us.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Quote of the Day
Come to think of it I don't know that love has a point, which is what makes it so glorious. Sex has a point, in terms of relief and, sometimes, procreation, but love, like all art, as Oscar said, is quite useless. It is the useless things that make life worth living and that make life dangerous too: wine, love, art, beauty. Without them life is safe, but not worth bothering with.

--Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Change a Child’s Life

Books have always been a refuge for me. In the most difficult times of my childhood, I could escape by immersing myself in books, which also taught me better ways to behave than I could have learned from my family. Most children who survive abusive childhoods have one adult who takes an interest; I had books. It’s not too much to say they saved my life.

If any kids need books and stories, it’s poor children—the ones who are least likely to have any available. No books at home. Not enough books at school. No nearby libraries.

For the almost 12 million children living below the poverty level in the United States today, growing up with books of their own is a dream rather than a reality. More than 60% of low-income families have no books at all at home for their children. Over 80% of programs serving children in need have no age-appropriate books or other print materials.

First Book gives poor children a book of their very own to love, read, and cherish. A book that may open the doors of learning. A book that can foster creativity. A book that says, “You matter.”

First Book has distributed more than 40 million new books to children from low-income families across the United States.

The results are remarkable: More than half of the children — 55% — reported having an increased interest in reading. Additionally, the number of young people demonstrating a "high interest in reading" nearly tripled (increasing from 23% to 61%) after receiving books from First Book.

Donate now. Free a child’s mind. Give the gift of imagination. Give books.