Thursday, September 23, 2004

On another insignificant benchmark

Okay, so I know this matters to absolutely no on who isn't me, but it's cool enough that I'm going to mention it anyway, because that's the whole point of having your own blog. Anyway, if you find yourself in need of thirty seconds of mindless entertainment, try this: Go to Google. Type in "practically harmless", with or without quotes. Hit "I'm feeling lucky." What page comes up? Practically Harmless, baby! Number one with a bullet. You better recognize.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

On Darrel J. Riblett

Okay, so this was brought to us back in August by Daily Kos and revived recently by Jesus' General. From what I can tell, it was never mentioned by the national news media and certainly never by the Bush administration, because this - this, above all other things - this is what the war is doing to our soldiers, and this is how much Bush cares about our troops.

Pfc. Darrel J. Riblett, who won the Purple Heart after being wounded by shrapnel in a November attack near Kazimiyah, Iraq, died Aug. 14 of a self- inflicted gunshot wound. He was 20.
The Denver Post obituary tells of how, as a child, Darrel loved his blankie and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It tells stories of a four-year-old Darrel crashing his mother's car in a Costco parking lot, and a sixteen-year-old Darrel restoring a 1969 Mustang. And it tells the story of a seventeen-year-old Darrel who so admired the military service of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather that he got a waiver from his father to join the Army Reserves. In May of 2003, Darrel left Fort Riley, Kansas for Iraq; six months later, he received a shrapnel wound so serious "that later, in Germany, surgeons could remove it only by forcing the metal out through the other side."

Darrel came home to a Purple Heart, a welcoming family, and a high school sweetheart that he married in April. And August 14, at age 20, he killed himself.

A story was found on Darrel's computer after his death. It was about a knight "whose armor hides deep misery from his admirers," the obituary says. Darrel wrote, "A black, hardened shell is sometimes all that is seen covering the dark, withering heart once full of happiness and joy. But once again, there is hope, and despair should not rule, or will it. ..."

Darrel wasn't the first soldier to take his own life after returning from Iraq. In January, Spc. Jeremy Seeley poisoned himself in a Kentucky hotel room. In March, Chief Warrant Officer William Howell chased his wife around their Colorado home with a revolver before shooting himself. In late August, Sgt. David Guindon killed himself the day after returning from Iraq. Two soldiers have killed themselves at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. And according to the Marine Corps Times, at least 29 soldiers have committed suicide in Iraq between March of 2003 and March of 2004.

But as far as I know, Darrel Riblett was the youngest. Darrel, who loved his blankie as a child and his Mustang as a teenager and his country enough to join the Army Reserves when he wasn't even old enough to do so without parental consent, was twenty when he died. He wasn't old enough to drink. He wasn't old enough to reserve a hotel room or rent a car. But he was old enough to go to Iraq and see things and do things and bring things back with him such that he couldn't live with it when he got home.

I really try to avoid profanity, but what in the fucking hell are we doing to our soldiers? We send them to Iraq for some ridiculous war with a thousand different bullshit justifications, and the ones who don't get killed by guerillas or suicide bombers or roadside ambushes we abandon to the horror of thoughts and memories and experiences that no human being should be expected to handle on their own. We send 18-year-olds to Iraq to die and to watch their friends die, and we expect them to take it like men, shake it off, rub some dirt in it.

And we do this. We do. Not just Bush, or his administration or whatever - us. Because we don't question. Those who have the power to question don't question. Bush claims to be the best thing that's ever happened to the military and it's bullshit and we don't question. He says that he's raising their pay and their benefits and making sure that everyone is getting counseling when they get home and it's bullshit and we don't question. He says that the war in Iraq is justified and that we're doing good things and that it's a "catastrophic success" and it's bullshit because young men - little boys, practically - are coming home from Iraq and killing themselves and we don't even fucking question.

When John Kerry was asked whether he would vote again to give Bush the power to declare war, knowing what he now knows, Kerry said sure. He said that, as president, he would hope to have the same power. And at the time, it made sense to me - he wasn't voting for the war, he was voting to give the president the authority to decide if war was the best option.

I've changed my mind, though, because I do know what I now know. What I now know is that Bush - and everyone who pulls the Bush puppet strings - is a complete and fucking moron who can't handle authority. I now know that the vote wasn't giving military authority to a rational adult, it was giving a loaded gun to a methed-out teenager. So I'm going to have to hold John Kerry responsible for Darrel Riblett's death, along with everyone else who voted to give Bush the authority. And I'll also lay the blame on everyone who voted for the legislators who voted to give Bush the authority. And I'll lay the blame on everyone who voted for Bush. But most of the blame, the overwhelming majority of the blame, goes on Bush himself. God forbid - I pray to God that He will forbid - that Bush ends up in the White House for another four years, because we're running out of twenty-year-olds with big hearts.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

On September 13

Okay, so I'm posting this on September 19, but it was actually written on September 13 - September 13, 2001, two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (in case anyone has actually managed to forget what happened that day). Three years and eight days after the event, three years and six days after I jotted this down, probably while sitting in shocked two-day-old silence in front of a TV full of nothing but bad news, a lot of the feelings here are still valid. Some of this, I stil believe; some of it I don't. I'm not going to bother pointing out which is which. And I'm not going to edit it, even a little; I'm just going to post it exactly as it was written back when all of it was still fresh. Keep in mind that this was written by a college junior trying to sort through her thoughts in the wake of a completely unprecedented event, and that it was never really meant for publication. But here it is anyway: 9/13/01, Reflections on a National Tragedy:
1. Why are people always looking for a person to blame? It's the liberals, it's George Bush, it's the CIA, it's the INS. Why can't they understand that, sometimes, there is no one person who can take the blame. Abstractions. Evil. Fear. Ignorance. Bigotry. Why do bad things happen to good people? Twelve, that's why.

2. Why don't I feel worse about this? Everyone was almost blasé when the first plane hit, and so was I. Then it came out that the whole thing was a calculated and massive terrorist attack, and people were horrified, angered, and saddened, and so was I. Now, people are still horrified, angered, and saddened, and I’m… not so much. I feel awful for the many, many families who lost loved ones. I feel sympathy for the workers who put their lives on the line every day to dig through the rubble in a largely futile search for life. But I’m not scared. I don’t feel helpless. I don’t mourn. I’ve almost become inured to the sight of the World Trade Center bursting into flames shown over and over again on CNN. Far from standing with hands clasped and dewy face upraised as three hundred freshman sob to the strains of “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely,” I pin a ribbon to my shirt, plan a time to give blood when they aren’t so busy, and amble home, wishing the news would only show breaking news and end this 24-hour coverage in favor of my soaps. And Oprah, for goodness’ sake.

I think that part of my attitude is due to the fact that, with few exceptions, I am very careful about not jumping on the grief train. I did not wear crepe to mourn the passing of either Princess Diana or Aaliyah. When Mother Teresa died, I mourned the world’s loss, not my own. I try to keep things in perspective. Unfortunately, this does not play well to a national audience. And when the tragedy is on a national scale, like it was on Tuesday, it doesn’t take me long to get pragmatic and composed, which is far from the majority reaction at this point.

3. Why don’t I know what to do? I know what they say we all can do: give money (I’ll give what I can), give blood (give me a baggy and a needle and I’ll stick myself), show patriotism and support (I spent all day making ribbons for Flags Across America). But I feel, as I usually do, like there is something out there to contribute that I and only I can do. I just can’t figure out what it is. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

4. Is anyone else wigged out that the World Trade Center isn’t there any more? It’s not just a sentimental, “Oh, I was there once, and now it’s gone, sob” thing, either. It’s actually more awe and disbelief, in a more “There was this huge monolith, this architectural wonder, that was there, and suddenly it’s gone, and it’s not coming back.” I find that to be just awesome (in an “unbelievable” way, not a “gnarly” way.

5. Why do people want to bomb entire countries for the work of a few? People keep talking about bombing Afghanistan, but does that make sense when the guilty parties are few and far between? I understand that the Taliban, as the party providing shelter and assistance to Osama bin Laden, needs and deserves to get punished in a big way, but can we possibly be in the right if we kill even once innocent? I mean, the terrorists didn’t mind killing innocents, and we characterize them as “evil.”

6. Am I the only person who thinks the people on the United flight that crashed near Pittsburgh were incredibly heroic? I mean, they knew they were going to die one way or the other, and they decided to take out the hijackers and save the lives of the people at their next target, wherever that was. Now that’s real heroism.

7. Isn’t it wonderful how this nation has come together? In the face of crisis, the people of America – and even the world – have unified to help however they can. The Red Cross has a glut of blood, prayer groups and support groups are popping up like mushrooms, and literally thousands of people have turned up to sift the rubble for survivors. God will that we keep up this fellowship and unity after the disaster has passed.

8. If I see the bad side of this country, does that make me a bad person? People keep talking about the wonderful things America has done for the rest of the world (which, don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge and appreciate) and the reasons for the attack given by various politicians is that America stands for freedom and goodness and right and rainbows and puppies, and raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. But the whole time, my inner devil’s advocate is thinking of all the bad things America has done and coming up with a thousand reasons why a terrorist group (especially one as crazy and brainwashed as Osama bin Laden’s) might want to blow up the country. I know that it’s wrong to express these thoughts, because people keep saying that. But does it make me a bad person even to think it? And if it does make me a bad person just to think it, how am I ever supposed to save the world?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

On the Columbus Ledger-Inferior

Okay, so I count myself a proud former Columbusite - proud not because I lived there, but because I don't live there any longer. Now, it isn't an entire town of morons; both my parents live there, and I still keep in touch with a few high school friends, so there might be as many as seven or eight non-morons. But the general tone of the town is one of utter moronity, recently exemplified by this fancy little tidbit from today's Ledger-Enquirer:

Left vs. right

With Jesse Jackson and Peggy Noonan in town this week, we asked each about today's political arena from their perspectives.

Head here

Text goes here and here. Text goes here and here. Text goes here and here. Text goes here and here. Text goes here and here.

Head here

Text goes here and here. Text goes here and here. Text goes here and here. Text goes here and here. Text goes here and here.
Head here, you say? Text here and here? But why not here? Oh, this layout thing is so complicated.

Thanks to World O' Crap for the link.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

On still more Yahoo!-ing sickos

Okay, so I've been forced to change my little blog subhead thingy from its original "intellectual masturbation for the information age" due to the overwhelming(ly disturbing) number of searches for masturbating dogs or masturbating Swift Boat veterans or masturbating Barack Obamas. I realize that I'm kind of closing the barn door after the horses have gotten out, but after getting a click-through from a google search for "Michelle Malkin on masturbation," something had to be done. I mean, ew.

On Redskins 16, Buccaneers 10

Okay, so newcomers to Redskins football might not realize that this score represents a fantastic accomplishment for your own Washington Redskins. This is a team that went 5-11 in the 2003 regular season, a team that couldn't convert on the third down if you had a gun to their mamas' heads, a team that couldn't get it into the end zone if a naked Charlize Theron was perched on the goalposts. Don't get me wrong, these are my boys. They're just not boys I'm going to bet money on. Or they weren't, anyway. Now, we've got Clinton Portis running it back 64 yards for a touchdown in the first series. And a nice, comfortable win in the end.

What changed? Steve Spurrier took a damn hike, for starters. Uppity punk thought he could coach pro ball. Get your lip-flapping ass back to Florida, Steve-o. Joe Gibbs is back, and it's time to play some damn football.

Welcome back, Joe.

On Bulldogs 20, Gamecocks 16

Okay, so we got a bit of a slow start, but anyone who wasn't absolutely sure that we wouldn't come back and win it cannot call him/herself a Georgia fan. I'll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day of the week, and besides, this one wasn't so very, well, ugly anyway.

Nope. Not too ugly at all.

Friday, September 03, 2004

On the President's speech

Okay, so this might just shock the poo out of some of my regular readers (and when I say "regular readers", I should really just say, "Hi, Daddy!"), but President Bush's speech last night really didn't get my panties in a wad. Why? Because I cut out near the end to watch "The Daily Show." No! Because he didn't say anything that could or should enflame anyone one way or the other. He just said basic, y'know, Republican-type campaign stuff. His campaign speech could have been shortened to, "I support bunnies, sunny days, small children in yellow rain slickers, and chocolate. If elected, I'll give everyone in America a zillion dollars and a pony." No real breakthroughs, nothing earth shattering, certainly none of the Zellfire and damnation of the night before (and, speaking of the Man Without a Country, it would appear that the Republicans are backing away from Zell just as fast as the Democrats can shove him away with both hands).

Regardless, a couple of phrases did raise eyebrows in the Practically Harmless household (the household that consists of Nate the Fish and myself). As a service to the public, I present you with the Practically Harmless Handy Dandy Presidential Translator:

"To create jobs, we will make our country less dependent on foreign sources of energy." ... by reducing our protected national wildlands to a smoldering wasteland dotted with curiously phallic oil wells.

"And we must protect small business owners and workers from the explosion of frivolous lawsuits that threaten jobs across America." ... which became desperately important to me the moment Karl told me that Edwards is a trial lawyer.

"To stand with workers in poor communities -- and those that have lost manufacturing, textile, and other jobs -- we will create American opportunity zones." ... because an entire land of opportunity just isn't cost-efficient.

"In a new term, we will change outdated labor laws to offer comp-time and flex-time. Our laws should never stand in the way of a more family-friendly workplace." For instance, with the money my brother saves handing out comp time instead of overtime, he can take my family on a vacation in his new boat.

"We must strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their taxes in a personal account -- a nest egg you can call your own, and government can never take away." The only way to protect this vital government safety net is to phase it out and make people get their own damn safety nets.

"No dejaremos a ningún niño atrás." That was Spanish. I'm compassionate.

"... [T]here are some things my opponent is for -- he's proposed more than two trillion dollars in new federal spending so far, and that's a lot, even for a senator from Massachusetts. To pay for that spending, he is running on a platform of increasing taxes..." Not me. When I propose federal spending, I cut taxes way back and depend on my faith in Jesus to balance the budget.

"And I will continue to appoint federal judges who know the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law." ... and who will be careful to always codify my personal opinion.

"Members of both political parties, including my opponent and his running mate, saw the threat, and voted to authorize the use of force. " Specifically, they voted to give me the power to use force, and boy, was that a mistake.

"Because we acted to defend our country, the murderous regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban are history..." ... except, of course, for those Taliban that are still in Afghanistan blowing people up.

"... [T]he Senator said, "I actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars before I voted against it." Then he said he was "proud" of that vote. Then, when pressed, he said it was a "complicated" matter. There is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat." Especially when you're cutting taxes and paying for the war with Jesus money.

"During our emotional visit one of the Iraqi men used his new prosthetic hand to slowly write out, in Arabic, a prayer for God to bless America." I tore up the prayer and set it on fire, because we don't need blessings from his evil heathen god.

"One thing I have learned about the presidency is that whatever shortcomings you have, people are going to notice them -- and whatever strengths you have, you're going to need them." I'm working hard to develop some in time for the election.

"God bless you, and may God continue to bless America." 'Cause if I win in November, we're gonna need it.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

On Zell

Okay, so GWBWYPGN?! has an open letter to Zell Miller in response to his speech last night at the RNC, and it's a really, really good letter. Doug really has more of a personal bone to pick; he and Zell have a history. But I can add a bit of my own perspective, just as a Democrat and a Georgian, and will do so... now.

Zell Miller can go right to hell. I'm not going to try to debunk every single asinine statement he made in his ridiculous speech because, let's face it, not a one of them has any basis in actual fact. When has a Democrat proposed that we turn control of our foreign policy over to the United Nations? When has a Democrat said that our military are occupiers and not liberators? What the hell is up with the whole "spitballs" thing (which, by the way, was just about middle-school enough for me to roll my eyes without barfing). It's all ridiculous, written for an audience of ridiculous people. There's no arguing against it because it's just ridiculous. You can't argue the color of the sky with someone who insists that the sky doesn't exist; such a person has no basis in reality. Kind of like Zell.

People call Zell Miller a turncoat and a traitor to the Democratic Party; I don't. I call him a Republican. I call him a Republican because I don't want him. I'm not offended or hurt by what he says because a) I know that he has no basis in reality and b) he's not one of mine. All I ask is that he stop throwing the name "Democrat" around like it still applies to him. As soon as he stops pretending to be one of us, which he obviously, obviously is not, and it's ridiculous to keep saying that he is, I won't care what he says, because it'll just be another Republican being ridiculous like Republicans so frequently are. But he needs to cut loose this whole idea that people will think that even Democrats are turning against John Kerry - it's not fooling anyone, and it just makes him look like the asshole that he really is.

Update: Also from Doug (who posted from his home computer on his lunch hour, y'all) comes this little gem, which Doug so charmingly describes as "Zell flipped the f$#! out on 'Hardball,' getting so enraged at Chris Matthews that he effectively challenged Matthews to a duel." Check it out, and also check out Doug's comments regarding Zell and Alzheimer's - it's almost enough to make you feel sorry for the man. Actually, it might be enough. But it's a close call.

On my cool job

Okay, so I’m going to take a quick break from the whole political thing to say that I really, really love my job. Except for when I hate it. But I generally love it, because it sends me to Events, and I get to go for free, and I get to eat for free (when I get the chance to eat), and I am on the receiving end of quite a bit more up-sucking than many other journalists in similar positions. So it was at last night’s rainforest benefit at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, where dozens of people (some important, most not; some well-dressed, most not; some sober, most not) flocked to my camera for a two-inch-square space on a far-back page in a magazine that not a one of them has ever actually read.

My photographer and I got there sevenish, just in time for complimentary cocktails and pictures of people who were still reasonably sober. My first impression as our little pack of media persons was led through the Gardens was that the huge greenhouse looked like the setting for some James Bond movie, that at the end of the evening, Sting would appear dressed in a futuristic black suit, stroking a Persian cat and outlining our role in his plot to take over the world. That, just so you know, didn’t happen.

Quasi-known country musician Colt Prather was rocking out onstage and doing a pretty good job of it, if you like country music, which I really don’t. I felt bad for him, though, because for all of his hard work, he was getting absolutely no attention; his “how’s everybody doing tonight?” was met with your average disinterested crowd-hum because The Man Himself had arrived and when Sting is in the same zip code, no other man exists. Sting wasn’t around for long, though; he stood, surrounded by people, just long enough for my photographer to not get an awkward half-shot of him over someone’s shoulder, and then was ushered off by a handler for, she said, “a shirt change before the event.”

Heaven forefend that he should appear twice in the same shirt.

‘Sokay, though, because he’s Sting and I’ll love him always.

Anyway, we were ushered into a banquet hall where a brief video was shown and hors d’oeuvres were distributed. The video was your average save-the-rainforests appeal, all in black and white with solemn narration, subtitled South American native types, and inspiring soundtrack courtesy of (you guessed it) Sting. No one really paid any more attention to it than they had that poor country musician, What’s-His-Name.

India.Arie, she of the curious punctuation, was a pleasant if curious chaser to the video. Pleasant because I like her music; curious because, well, let’s face it, this wasn’t exactly the most ethnic crowd in the world. The crowd loved her take on “True Colors” (“It’s the song from the Kodak commercial!” you could hear them whisper), but her midsong pause to explain the hip-hop usage of the word “fly” only underscored the fact that not a face in the (moneyed) audience was any darker than the deep, leathery tan of a Buckhead socialite just back from a Cancun vacation. The opening chords of “Video” prompted cheers from the crowd; as Atlantans, they’re proud of this song, although they’re not quite sure why. A roomful of faux-soulful aging white folks swaying in quasi-rhythm with the song, combined with the effects of my second V&T of the night, made me just a little bit queasy.

Ms. .Arie was followed by an actual live auction – a weekend in Tuscany, a gold watch, and a massive pair of ugly turquoise earrings went quickly at prices more than twice my monthly salary. A stylized Buddha head statue went more slowly; it was made out of recycled phone books. It finally sold for more than five thousand dollars. The crowing moment of the evening came when Sting appeared onstage himself to present what would be the biggest moneymaker of the auction: a Fender bass guitar bearing his signature, for which I would have sold my car, my brother’s car, and one or both of my kidneys had I known it was for sale. The auctioneer presented it as a “bass” guitar (pronounced like the fish), and it sold within moments for thirty-three thousand dollars, with a huge surge in the bidding when Sting took his shirt off and began stroking the guitar affectionately. My damn photographer, who had buggered off by that point, is not getting paid for last night.

Alas, nothing can top a half-naked Sting, so the evening kind of went downhill after that. Alison Krauss, blonder than I’ve ever seen her, played serviceable bluegrass, although she skipped over my favorites and included that song about being a man of constant sorrow that would annoy me far less had I not heard it for eleven hours straight on a family car trip to Virginia. My drunken tablemate knocked her vodka rocks off the table, shattering the glass, showering my linen pants, and filling my purse with Grey Goose and lime. The finale, which was rumored to include surprise performances by both Sting and Annie Lennox, was actually just a guy, some guy, any guy, standing up to thank us for, like, caring about the environment, and stuff. The goody bags were granola-crunchy and worth probably a hundred bucks each – I don’t actually own a yoga ball, strap, wedge, or block, but if I get one, I’ve got a bag to carry it in.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled political tirade.