Friday, January 31, 2003

No Surprise

It didn't strike me until today -- just now, as a matter of fact -- that my words might have sounded strange. It didn't occur to me that my point of view might have appeared odd given the profession I practice.

We stood there at the counter looking at the newfangled gadgets -- microscopic MP3 players, digital cameras, personal digital assistants. And then we walked over to the wall of software. And I mumbled half to myself half out loud something about how we don't need all that educational software, anyway.

We don't need that stuff, I said. Our kids need to be reading and writing and drawing and playing music. They need to be running around outside.

I didn't strike me until just now that that might have sounded odd coming from the mouth of a software guy. Did it? It shouldn't have, although I bet it could have. But think about it...

Does a plumber expect the kids to play with pipes and valves? Does the carpenter expect wood working tools be available in the classroom? Does the mechanic bemoan the lack of automotive instruction in elementary school? The butcher? The baker? Then why so me?

What I said should have come as no surprise. It's only common sense.

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On Time

Dave Winer writes about time:

When you're young life creeps at a glacial pace. Oh I wish adulthood would finally come, sighs the young person. Youth is wasted on the young, says the old fart.

An image of an old geezer sitting in a rocking chair on a front porch appears, and I understand what he's saying. Rush, rush, rush, that's all young people do, says the old geezer (in an Abe Simpson-like voice). But there's wisdom in the rants of a silly old man. First the old guy's body doesn't rush so well anymore. All the aches and pains. They quiet down if he just sits and watches. Young people don't have those pains. He doesn't remember. But time is rushing by fast enough. Old folk may know how to stop and savor a moment, just hold it, and appreciate it for what it is, without thinking of the future (which old people don't have) or the past (there's more of that all the time).

I'm not really old yet, but I'm not young anymore. I'm one of those inbetweeners. Not just starting, but not finished. January 31. What a weird thought.

I don't know. Doesn't seem like such a weird thought to me. (He says, pushing back in his rocking chair.)

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 Thursday, January 30, 2003

That Would Be Nice

There are single men, and then there are single men. Some of them choose to be that way, others not. Phil was a single man but not by choice.

Several months ago he was spoken for. He lived in a comfortable house with a wife and a dog and an herb garden in the back. He mowed his lawn. He planted trees. He took out the garbage twice a week. Being single was not something he would have given a second thought. Nevertheless here he was, single again living the apartment life.

Vicki was a single woman. Phil met her once at a party. He was there because of his empty refrigerator. She was there for the Halloween festivities.

He and she chatted a while. Given different circumstances, he might have asked her out, but he wasn't in the mood. He had only recently become single and frankly didn't have the energy. So it stopped at a chat.

Months later, Phil was looking for friends after work and saw a woman gazing at him from across the room. He didn't recognize her and anyway was certain that no good looking woman would be smiling at him, so he continued searching for his friends.

Hello, she said as he walked by. Remember me? Looking at her again, he realized he did. They spoke for a moment or two, but as she was standing by another man they didn't talk long.

Then yesterday, Phil went home at noon to work out at his apartment complex gym. (It is a funny thing about being single again that you find time for such things where you had no time before.) He went to the gym and began his routine.

And there was Vicki. He and she chatted while they exercised. She talked about her cold. He talked about his yoga class. And they both finished at the same time.

Outside she went one way and he the other. He said goodbye, but that was all he could bring himself to do. As he returned home, he lamented being so shy. He should have said more.

Back home, he showered. He ate. He went to check his mail. And as he got in his car to drive back to work.

And there she was again. Here. Take this, she said, handing him a piece of paper. It had a phone number written on it.

Call me. Tell me more about the yoga class.

He looked up at her and in a great moment of spontaneous courage said, And maybe ask you out for dinner.

That would be nice, she said.

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 Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Protesters on the Bridge

Before Bush's speech in the evening began, before the media fired up their graphics and brought out their anchors and experts, before the pundits and spin doctors began to pontificate, before the sun went down, both sides of Congress Avenue were lined.

Both sides of the bridge were lined with people who held up signs and waved their hands and cheered and whistled as traffic streamed by.

Yes. They many of them had long hair or beards or carried backpacks. No. Few if any wore business suits or carried briefcases. Yes. This tends to be a liberal town. No. Not every car was honking. Yes. The police were there. No. There was no visible anger in the faces of those who lined both sides of the street.

The protesters were smiling not shouting. And the honking could be clearly heard upwind a half-mile away. And as I jumped back onto the sidewalk when I got past the crowd and ran down the stairs and back to the trail, chills ran down my spine.

Chills ran down my spine as I absorbed the significance of what I had just seen.

Only here. Only here can that happen. And whether you have long hair or short, whether you carry a briefcase to work or a tattered backpack, whether you even have a job or not, whether you agree or disagree with the bureaucrats and politicians, you have to admit that it's an amazing thing.

It's an amazing thing.

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 Tuesday, January 28, 2003

W's Speech

Daily Kos had blow-by-blow comments on Bush's speech:

[Part I] Taxes. Budget. Social Security. Health care. Energy. Environment. Compassion. Abortion. Cloning. Afghanistan. Middle East.

[Part II] AIDS. Terrorism. Shields. Isms. Iran. Korea. Iraq.

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Apollo 1

In memoriam: Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee

27-28 January 1967.
23:31:04.7 First verbal indication of fire reported by crew.
23:31:16 Rupture and resulting jet of hot gases.
23:31:16.8 Beginning of final voice transmission from crew. Entire transmission garbled.
23:31:19.4 Command module ruptured.
23:31:21.8 End of final voice transmission.
23:31:22.4 Television monitors showed flames spreading.
23:31:25 Swirling flow scattered firebrands, spreading fire.
23:32 Fire apparatus and firefighting personnel dispatched.
23:32:04 Attempts to remove hatches.
23:36 Hatches opened, outer hatches removed. Resuscitation of crew impossible.
23:40 Firefighters arrived.
23:43 Doctors arrived.
00:30 Photographs taken, and removal efforts started.
source: http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4029/Apollo_01c_Timeline.htm
more info: http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Apollo204/

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 Monday, January 27, 2003

The Madman and the USA

In an article (linked by No War Blog [1]) in Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer and Walt [2] argue that Saddam Hussein is not the wildly crazed, suicidal, undeterable, irrational madman we are told by the White House that he is. They review a few facts that seem to be forgotten by the press in their Countdown to War:

The Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88 [...] Although the war cost Iraq far more than Saddam expected, it also thwarted Khomeini's attempt to topple him and dominate the region. War with Iran was not a reckless adventure; it was an opportunistic response to a significant threat. [...]

The Gulf War, 1990-91 [...] The U.S. State Department had earlier told Saddam that Washington had no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait. The United States may not have intended to give Iraq a green light, but that is effectively what it did. [...]

Saddam's Use of Chemical Weapons [...] The United States backed Iraq during the 1980s -- when Saddam was gassing Kurds and Iranians -- and helped Iraq use chemical weapons more effectively by providing it with satellite imagery of Iranian troop positions. The Reagan administration also facilitated Iraq's efforts to develop biological weapons by allowing Baghdad to import disease-producing biological materials such as anthrax, West Nile virus, and botulinal toxin. A central figure in the effort to court Iraq was none other than current U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was then President Ronald Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East.

[1] http://www.nowarblog.org/archives/000633.html
[2] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/wwwboard/walts.html

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Raked Pine Needles

We raked some pine needles and bagged them up, bagged them up and brought them to town, bagged them in Houston and drove them here, where we unbagged them all and threw them down on the ground.

We threw the pine needles down by the tree that grows outside the window. We threw them down and spread them around so they cover the ground with a mound of light brown. So the tree sits there now blanketed in pine, an oak in the cold and the bitter north wind.

We raked some pine needles and brought them to town, just for our evergreen Monterey Oak tree.

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 Sunday, January 26, 2003

Cows on the Hill

The TV went a long time ago. It hasn't been missed, and it won't be. Still, there are times when its absence makes itself known.

You know that commercial, Eileen asked. The one with the cows going down the hill?

Everyone at the table nodded knowingly with broad smiles of recognition on their faces. They all chuckled out loud. I sat there quietly waiting for Eileen to continue. It wasn't important that I didn't have the faintest idea what she was talking about. She would make her point soon enough.

Well Audrey just loves cows, and when that commercial comes on she lights up and gets all excited.

The moms and dads all knew what she was talking about. And of course, I did, too. Or rather I did and I didn't.

I could imagine her reaction, but I didn't know the commercial, and so my brain was briefly sidetracked inventing imagery of cows skiing downhill, mooing? colliding? swishing to a graceful stop at the bottom? By the time I came back to the conversation, it had moved on to bread and butter or spilled Sprite or coloring inside the lines or other such things.

And although the TV was briefly missed, it was only a flash, and it frankly wasn't missed for long.

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 Saturday, January 18, 2003

90 Minutes

90 minutes. She was in there 90 minutes to buy a pair of running shoes. Her old ones were shot, and she never really liked them all that much, and she really needed a pair she felt good about.

For 90 minutes while other runners milled around, jogging in a new pair here or another pair there, gazing at the wall of alternatives or wandering over to the colorful socks, she struggled to find the right pair for her feet.

The salesman was in no rush.

For 90 minutes he was patient and helpful, bringing out boxes for her to try. And he explained each one, why he thought they might be right. He was good in the RunTex way. He analyzed her gate. He noticed a slight roll of one foot. And so he brought out shoes to help with that, some cheaper some not.

After 90 minutes of jogging and talking and lacing and relacing, she had a dilemma on her hands: a relatively inexpensive pair that felt warm and cozy or an expensive pair that might help with her hurting foot. The salesman sat quietly while she thought.

Then of course, he said. This is RunTex. If you run in them several times and they don't feel right, just bring 'em back in. We'll find you something else.

She bought the expensive ones.

And she was speedy on the lake, today.

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 Friday, January 17, 2003

Racine and the ACLU

Here's news from the 16 January online issue of the Racine Journal Times that well illustrates how constitutional rights and public policy making can harmonize:

[City dismisses all rave charges]: BY JEFF WILFORD, Jan. 17, 2003 Faced with a threatened class action civil rights lawsuit, the city has agreed to dismiss all 442 citations issued at a dance party in early November.

The city will also refund the money of people who pleaded guilty or no contest and paid fines, and will dismiss those citations as well, Assistant City Attorney Scott Lewis said in Municipal Court Thursday.


The tickets given at the party originally carried a $968 fine for each person. The city knocked that down to $100 to entice people into pleaded guilty or no contest, thus avoiding the need to conduct hundreds of municipal trials.

When that didn't work, the city reduced the citation to disorderly conduct. When that didn't work, the city offered to expunge the original citation, and its drug references, from people's records forever.

Even so, few people accepted the deals. The majority of people cited chose to fight it out in court.

The city and the ACLU started negotiating a settlement in mid-December, and had most of the pieces in place by the beginning of January, Diaz said. They finalized the deal Thursday morning, then took it to the judge.

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And Some Good News

Howard Bashman [How Appealing] writes:

Ninth Circuit holds that compliance with NAFTA's requirements does not justify violating federal environmental law...

[Ninth Circuit]:Although we agree with the importance of the United States' compliance with its treaty obligations with its southern neighbor, Mexico, such compliance cannot come at the cost of violating United States law. Because we conclude that the Department of Transportation acted without regard to well-established United States environmental laws, we grant the petitions.

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 Thursday, January 16, 2003

Funny Little Things

It's funny little things that make the clock tick-tock, funny little silly things that make the hands go round, funny little sappy little minor major things.

Like sweat dripping off your temples as you run around the lake.

Like a successful compile when you've written new code.

Like a boy walking to school with lunch box and backpack and trombone in hand.

Like a command line prompt on a flat-screen iMac.

Like a dog curled up in a ball on a cold day or a cat sitting quietly on the window sill.

Like selectable channels in Java 1.4.

Like a young Monterey Oak tree leaning in the wind.

Like your boss calling you in hard times to scrounge some work while other poor laid off souls walk the post-boom ghost-town streets.

Like hot coffee in the morning or maple syrup on waffles or cream cheese on bagels just out of the toaster.

For heaven's sake, such silly little things that make the clock tick-tock. Such things that make you realize how lucky you are in spite of what you might think or otherwise say.

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 Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Reviled by Vegas

I thought I was alone with my feelings about Vegas:

[Daily Kos]: I hate Vegas. I mean I loath it. It's what the whole country would look like if it were run by the Mafia. It's Bedford Falls in the part of It's a Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewart was never born. It's Hunter S. Thompson, without the charm. And I hate it even more now that the corporations have turned it into the R-rated Disney World.

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The Gulf Between Them

They sat in the dark with the burning fire before them. They were old friends, and they had done this before. As the fire burned low, they sat there talking about their lives and the world and everything in between.

He told her about his diminishing view of the general state of things and how he had begun to feel withdrawn. She didn't seem to understand.

He kept trying to explain, but for each step forward he got pushed back two.

Why on earth would you want to live that way when you can have nice things? Clearly, she thought he was a basket case.

I don't want those things as much as I want truth. No, as much as I want openness. No, simplicity. He sat in thought, searching for better words.

Don't you see, all those nice things, all that metal and plastic and cellophane is nothing more than that: metal and plastic and cellophane. We race up and down the aisles buying new gadgets to replace our old ones, and we don't stop to see what's happening, what we are becoming, what we have become.

She stared at him blankly.

For heaven's sake, what are you talking about -- useless plastic and metal. What, you want to live in a cave?

One step forward. Two steps back.

No, he sighed, I don't want to live in a cave. What I am saying is that while we race around like headless chickens seeking to slake our unquenchable thirsts, things are going on in the world outside that we should know about, that we should be worried about, that we should talk about. But nobody's talking, everyone's busy scouring the aisles.

I don't care about the world outside. I just want to be able to come home at night and know that I can send my children to school in the morning. And are you complaining about shopping, now!?

One step forward and two steps back.

It's more than just the world outside. It is us, too. We are becoming automatons. We work like slaves from morning to night and are thankful that for the fact that we even have jobs. We consume what is put on the grocery store or video store or music store shelves. That's all we do: consume like mindless drones. Nobody grows their own tomatoes anymore. Nobody sings around the fire anymore. Nobody sings period.


Go ahead: sing me a song.

You're being silly, she said. I don't have a good voice.

Neither do I, he said.

You see? she responded quickly.

But if you ask me to sing you a song, I will.

She rolled her eyes. I know you would. What does that prove?

One step forward. Two steps back.

What I'm saying is that I just can't listen to the drivel on the TV, anymore. It's been a long time since they had anything interesting to say. I can't even listen to the radio.

Oh, she said. You don't like the news.

No. I don't...

Then don't watch it. But you don't have to throw out your television!

One step forward. Two steps back.

I don't like the news. I don't like the way in which everything gets filtered and made more palatable for mass consumption. When is the last time you saw a real scene from the war, scenes that really showed you what this war is all about?

I don't want to see the bodies. Nobody wants to see dead bodies. People don't want to hear about sadness all the time. We've had enough of that. We have a right to some happiness, too.

Yes. You have a right to happiness.

One step forward. Two steps back.

There was nothing to do but pipe down. Half a globe away, millions were dying of poverty and disease. Half a globe away, bombs were dropping in mountains and on oil fields and anyone else who had the misfortune to be in the way. Half a globe away, the war on terrorism had paved the way for the return of the multinational corporations under the guise of caretaker governments and occupying forces. At home, edicts had been issued from the highest places instructing the government to round up trouble makers and put them in jail. Laws had been changed, giving the police had new powers to decide for themselves who had gone too far over the line, to define the line as they saw fit.

She didn't want to hear about it, so the fact that no one talked about such things was fine by her. She just wanted her DVDs and MP3s. She just wanted warm fuzzy stories on the news about cat shows and growing bigger rose bushes.

The gulf between them was wider than it had ever been.

Nobody, nowhere, no time. Pure fiction.
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 Monday, January 13, 2003

Cat and Mouse

The cat sits on the desk much of the time, sitting looking out the window or sitting looking at the mouse. Sitting there staring at the mouse. Normal cat, I guess.

This has gone on for some time now: the cat sitting on the desk periodically looking over at the mouse, watching its every move with great intensity. It has been going on for some time, but the inevitable only happened today.

The cat was sitting there on the desk, looking at the mouse with great intensity and then began to paw at it (in the way that cats will paw at such things). This did not go on for long, however; for there is a clear line in this house when it comes to dogs and cats and computer hardware. So as the cat pawed at the mouse for a third or fourth time, ignoring all entreaties to cease and desist, the cat found herself airborne and subsequently landed (on all four feet) on the opposite side of the room.

Now, the cat has chosen the carpet in the corner, clearly convinced that the desk and perhaps even the mouse aren't quite as attractive as they once seemed to be.

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 Saturday, January 11, 2003

Cold Once Again

The sun came up pink this morning, burning its way into a mostly clear sky. Wisps of cloud in the southeast came ablaze, and the treetops turned golden as the sun climbed into the blue.

But today's sun won't be like that of yesterday, and today's air will be cold, where yesterday's was hot. The season is back upon us. The trees are leafless; it is still January, after all.

But yesterday was something to behold. While the sun was up, the day was like summer. You could almost forget the barren branches along the trail and the echoing sound of birds in the trees. You could almost forget the litter of fallen leaves on the ground as you ran in the sun in your shorts and your short-sleeved shirt with sweat running down your cheeks. In the day that was yesterday, it was easy to forget the season.

Not so today, though. For even with the pink and the blue and the gold in the sky, even with the blazing morning sun, it is going to be cold once again.

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 Friday, January 10, 2003

Move Over!

Move over! I need my space. I need to sit up high and view the land as I roll down the road.

Move over, slowpoke, smallfry! You're in my way. As I roll down the road in the comfy comfort of my leather luxury, with my surround sound around me and the empty seats beside me, I have an appointment to make.

Move over, you whining weasel. Don't tell me I'm supporting terrorists. Don't tell me I'm guzzling gas. Don't tell me I'm belching smog. I don't want to hear it. I'm not listening.

My life. My SUV. So what if it gets 11 miles to the gallon? [1]

Just move over!

[1] Anti-SUV television commercials: http://www.thedetroitproject.com/
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 Thursday, January 9, 2003

I Chose Death

Two girls, rough house, a loose tooth, and...

[...] So finally we said, Okay, Cynthia, look: you either have to let Daddy pull out your tooth or you'll risk choking in your sleep.

To which Cynthia replied I CHOOSE DEATH! [defectiveyeti]

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Methods of the Enemy

It is mad not to use the power and methods of the Enemy ... Many ... might be corrupted by it -- but not so a true Man... Look what a warrior could do!

Boromir to Frodo in drafts of The Lord of the Rings ["The Treason of Isengard," Christopher Tolkien]
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 Tuesday, January 7, 2003

At MacWorld SF, after introducing iLife and Safari and Keynote, Jobs says "put on your shoulder belts..." and he announces the the $3300.00 1-inch-thick PowerBook with

  • Bluetooth built in
  • Firewire 800 built in
  • 802.11g
  • 17-inch display
  • auto-sensing light on the keyboard (when the lights go down)
and their smallest notebook ever, the $1800.00 PowerBook with
  • Bluetooth
  • 802.11g capable for $99 more
  • 12-inch display

Our competitors haven't even caught up with what we introduced two years ago [the original Titanium PowerBook]; I don't know what they're going to do now.

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At MacWorld SF, in his keynote speech, Steve Jobs announces Safari for the Mac, the first major new browser in 5 years. It's fast.

It uses the open source rendering engine, KHTML. Apple is posting their modifications and improvements to the KHTML source code on the Web today.

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 Monday, January 6, 2003

You Were There

You were there

  • in the rain
  • in the sun
  • in the dark
  • thru the months
  • by the trail

You were there

  • the night before
  • the morning of
  • on the subway
  • at the park

You were there

  • before the rising of the sun
  • as the first red rays of morning hit the city
  • as we stepped into the throng
  • as starting gun fired

You were there

  • at mile 0, smiling and waving from the curb
  • at mile 12, where you said you'd be, smiling and waving when you caught sight of me
  • at mile 14, where you said you'd be, too, although I didn't see you or hear you as I ran by
  • at the end, with the wind blowing off the lake, under the sunny blue skies, when I limped up shivering with tears in my eyes

With my brother, with my son, with my mother, you were there.

And so, when you set out now on your long runs along the trail, and when you set out then on your race along the road, and when you cross the finish line, I will be there.

Because you were, because you are, always there for me.

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 Sunday, January 5, 2003

A Good Evening

It was dark. The smell of cedar was rolling down the hillside on the cold evening air. Orion was high in the black night sky chasing the seven sisters into the west. It had been a good evening -- good friends, good things to eat.

As I turned the car around and switched on the headlights to drive down the hill, Ben said from the back seat, Well, that was a good evening of elderly friends!

What!? I gasped from behind the front. Elderly?

Trudy laughed.

A good evening with ... elder friends, he said, having rechosen his words.

Elder friends?

... with old friends.


Well, he said, starting from scratch. That was a good evening with friends of old.

Now you're talking.

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Sandwiches by Barton Creek

On the far side of the creek, a grove of sycamores lines the bank. Their smooth, pale trunks shoot up into a cloudless, dark blue sky. Their red roots twist down into the white limestone, emerging here and there into the course of the rushing stream.

On the near side, more sycamores cluster by the water's edge. They lean downstream, persuaded by the evident force of annual springtime floods. Their trunks are battered and twisted, their broken limbs bashed by the surge of some spring long-ago.

Between the trees, the cool waters of Barton Creek race downstream, over shallow rapids, around in slow eddies, and into pools so deep that the light of midday fails to reveal their depths although the water is crystal clear.

The waters fall into a swirling green-blue foam. Their soothing sound fills the canyon. And amid this all, we eat our ham sandwiches.

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 Friday, January 3, 2003

The Autocrat

Chávez, amid the shouting and the chaos and the violence and the pots banging and the oil tankers sitting idle. Chávez, the first brown-skinned president of brown-skinned Venezuela.

He's a populist. Not a socialist. Not a communist. Yet perhaps not the kind of democrat many might hope for. He promises land reform. He insists on a strong government hand in the country's oil industry. He blocks privatization of water. He expects the oil giants to pay royalties from the cash in their bulging corporate coffers in exchange for the oil they take.

And for this he has earned the visceral hatred of his country's established white elite. And that's why he's called an autocrat. This cannot go on. He must be stopped. The autocrat must be neutralized.

And when it happens, we will be told that the assassination was the fault of the rioting masses, and we'll imagine terrorists with bandanas concealing their brown-skinned faces. And when it happens, we'll be relieved that the mob was stopped. Stopped dead in their tracks.

That's what we'll think, because so little of the story is being told.


Much credit to Greg Palast who spoke live on KPFT-Houston this afternoon.

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 Thursday, January 2, 2003

There They Sit

There they sit, on a chair on the lawn in the sun in the chilly early-January air. There they sit: a boy with his ice cream (in the chilly early-January air!) and his book, and a dog -- the dog trying mightily to displace the other two.

There they sit, on the chair on the lawn in the sun in the chilly early-January air. There they sit, the boy on the chair, his nose buried in his book, the ice cream now eaten; the dog under the chair (the ice cream now eaten) sniffing the air.

There they sit, with the blue sky over them and the sun shining down on the bright green lawn and a new year just beginning.

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