Archive for September 2007

The Genocide Olympics – Beijing 2008

China - Myanmar's Best Friend

New sports for the 2008 Beijing Olympics:

Monk shooting – Odds are Myanmar will do well in this event.

Village Burning - In this team sport, competitors vie to rape the inhabitants of a village then burn the huts afterward. Watch the Sudanese – they’re early favorites for the gold in this event.

Kowtowing - China is credited for single-handedly revising this Olympic sport which had been dropped after the 1936 Olympics. The American team – with team co-captains George HW Bush and James Baker with team mascot Jimmy Carter – is expected to score high in this traditional Chinese sport.

UPDATE:

The United States, Japan and others have turned a hopeful eye on China — Myanmar’s biggest trading partner — as the most likely outside catalyst for change.

But China, India and Russia do not seem prepared to go beyond words in their dealings with the junta, ruling out sanctions as they jostle for a chance to get at Myanmar’s bountiful and largely untapped natural resources, especially its oil and gas. – Yahoo

Booting an Ancient Computer

Before the Kid was born, I wrote a poem about him on the only computer I had at the time, an Apple Powerbook 145b. I recently mentioned the poem to him, and he wanted to see it; so I pulled the Powerbook out of storage, plugged it in, pressed the power button, and heard that old-school Apple sigh. But the 9.1 inch 1-bit 640×400 passive matrix screen stayed white – so I pulled the battery and power, put them both in again, waited a minute this time, and tried again.


This time the Powerbook fired up, I saw the Happy Mac, and within a minute the cluttered desktop appeared exactly as I had left it 10 years ago. It was a veritable treasure trove of forgotten memories. Letters to people I haven’t thought of in years and some seriously bad fiction writing. Some of the letters were written during my first trip to Africa; I wrote and edited each letter on the computer before transcribing it by hand to paper and mailing it. After all, this was 1994 and I was here, isolated and cut off from the rest of the world aside from shortwave radio and letters carried out of the park by the occasional tourist or park official.


The letters were packed with detail and lengthy – as letters once were before they were replaced by email, and the Kid several of them thoroughly. "Wow, you and mom sure did a lot before I was born," he said afterward. Indeed we had.


The experience struck me on several levels. First, we are so caught up in the present that we often forget the big picture about what we have done and where we are going. We might think we have an understading, but the abstract "I’ve lived in the African bush," means little until you read and remember that you counted 40 species of ants in your research camp, or noted two species of galago that took separate shifts "serenading" you nightly with their banshee-like screams through the night.


Secondly, the ancient Powerbook was like opening a door to the room that had been shut for over 10 years. There was an old resume without mention of anything computer related. There were a few whining notes that seemed humorous now (“fussy baby” – Jeez, that’s music compare to “fussy pre-teen” I occasionally get today. A Word doc that listed all the items were trying to sell in a “sayonara sale” before we left Japan (4000 yen for a VCR? We sold it).


Being a technophile I couldn’t help but notice how much things had changed tech-wise. The copy of Word I used, Word 5.0 actually fit on a floppy. The one I have loaded on my laptop purchased this year is split amongst several files and folders but probably weighs in closer to 200 meg.


Since I’ve pulled it out, I’m struck by the need to back it up, to save it like an antique – after backing up the data. It’s a beautiful machine in more ways than meets the eye.


It’s the machine that I carried with me in my backpack, leaping from the Mwongozo onto a heaving wooden boat a mile from the shore on Lake Tanganyika at 3am in July 1994 – scared out of my wits and bone tired. It’s the machine I wrote and completed my first novel on, “The Healing Place.” It’s the machine I tapped away on on the train from Kuzuha to Sanjo station.


It’s more than a piece of obsolete electronics, so very much more. I think I’ll pull it out and put it on display like the true, priceless antique that it is.


The Wife is going to just love that…

Sports Writing is Some of the Best Writing Around

The more I read about sports – a relatively new pasttime for me – the more I’m beginning to think it’s some of the best writing around.

Take this article by Bill Conlin of the Philly Daily News. Conlin begins by talking about the falling dollar, and how gold is becoming increasingly attractive to investors.

What a time to own gold. What a time to own the NFL’s “Gold standard franchise,” in the opinion of owner Jeffrey Lurie, pro football’s Ben Bernanke. The Eagles fell on the Detroit Lions like an armored car filled with gold bars yesterday, officially ending the municipal suicide watch with a prolific, 56-21 flogging…

Armored car… Municipal suicide watch… Flogging… All these images add up to a fun read. He then segues into Philadelphia Eagles’ throwback colors of “hideous melted-butter yellow and cathouse ceiling blue,” an apt description of the Birds’ fagtastic uniforms if there ever was one. He goes on to weave the images together perfectly in a single sentence, “With the spot price of gold at $731.50 an ounce Friday, Goldflinger – Donovan McNabb – shed the perceived tarnish of last week’s HBO airing of his racial angst and ensuing fallout with a 22-karat performance.”

Reading Conlin is fun. It’s easy on the eyes, yet vivid storytelling at its finest. And the thing is, I’m seeing it more and more in the genre of sports writing. Perhaps the audience, one that demands good writing and story telling from writers, has made the writing shine. After all a sportwriter has to fight for his eyeballs; the reader will turn the page the moment he makes an obtuse comment like Dennis Miller (whom I also admire and like, by the way).

Since I never read sports until this year, I now realize that I’ve missed an entire genre of good, vivid writing – the kind that Mr. Mansfield SJ tried to inspire out of me my sophomore year of high school. It makes me almost wish I had spent more time hanging out with the jocks than the burnouts and punks.

Almost…

Jena 6 – America 0

You’ll know that African-Americans have achieved equality when they don’t feel compelled to support thugs:

Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil rights leader, said the scene was reminiscent of earlier civil rights struggles.

Marching for voting rights is one thing, but for 6 toughs who beat 1 kid into unconsciousness?

“We all have family members about the age of these guys. We said it could have been one of them. We wanted to try to do something,” said Angela Merrick, 36, who drove with three friends from Atlanta to protest the treatment of the teens.

Excuse me but I have family members their age too, and if one of them jumped a kid with five others and beat him unconscious, I sure as hell wouldn’t be marching in the street for him. I wouldn’t even bail him out of jail.

These aren’t 6 kids who were jailed for a crime they didn’t commit. These were kids involved in the beating another kid to unconsciousness. Now that word may not mean much to most people, but making one unconscious – especially a health 16 year old – takes a lot of effort; and it doesn’t take much to go from unconscious to coma and death, which is why the prosecutor initially charged them with attempted murder. That kid is lucky to be alive – and the “Jena 6” lucky to have a prosecutor that quickly ratcheted the charges down to battery.

6 Kids railroaded by the cops for a crime they didn’t commit? That’s an offense worth protesting. But black Americans have got to stop running to the defense of other black Americans who happen to be criminals. I don’t get all charged up about the fact that the majority of child predators and serial killers happen to be white guys. In fact when one is arrested, I feel relief that there’s one less criminal on the street.

These 6 kids weren’t altar boys. They worked together like a wild pack of animals to savage another human being. Chances are they will do so again, and since most crime victims of black criminals happen to be black Americans, their next victim will most likely be another black American.

Will those marching today march for them?

UPDATE: 9/24/2007 – It’s clear that there is more going on with this story than meets the eye – so my above commentary may be off-base. I may have jumped the gun in leaping to my conclusion that the Jena 6 got a fair deal. If so, Aziz P gets some credit for showing me the error of my ways.

The Marine

Last week the Family traveled to southern California to see the Marine – the Wife’s son. The Marine was in the field for the first few days of our trip, but was able to spend a day or two with us. It was the first time I had seen him since 2000, and back then he had left with his trailer-trash wife after putting us through an emotional wringer. Then 9-11 hit and things changed. I took the opportunity to reach out to him through his email account two weeks later…

Given the situation in the world right now I am taking
the opportunity to contact you. Whether you respond or
not is up to you.

Contrary to what you think, there are still people
here who care about you. The world has become a much
more dangerous place in the last two weeks, and you
are in an organization devoted to the protection of
our nation. Your safety is on every one’s minds, and
if you wish to pretend that it’s not then go right
ahead. Ignore this email.

However if there is a part of you that wants to change
the situation, I want to offer you the opportunity to
do so. That’s why I’ve decided to contact you without
your mother’s knowledge…

The world has changed. Everything that happened before
09/11/01 has little relation to today. It is a time
for new beginnings for those who choose to do so. The
choice is yours.

His trailer-trash wife intercepted the email when he was on his way to Afghanistan and twisted it around. Several weeks later, after I saw his picture in the newspaper and received several letters returned to me unopened by his father, I received a long letter dated 10/06/01…

As you sit in your comfortable house with your high paying job and your college degrees, you look down on me as your dumb marine infantryman. Let me explain something to you. If it wasn’t for “this” dumb grunt with a GED you wouldn’t have the freedom to look down upon me. You are what is wrong with my country. You are weak minded.

The Marine didn’t know me. He knew a caricature of me painted by his father – who assumed I was a typical college educated liberal and who also knew nothing about me. He didn’t know about my blue-collar upbringing and the stories of my dad’s experiences fighting in the Philippines during World War 2 that were some of the few memories I had of my father before he died. He had only spent a few weeks with me and his mother when he was 11 – so he assumed the worst.

At the time he was writing that letter, I was writing this.

Currently there is a strain of logic that is appearing on college campuses and salons of the Left as America goes to war. This logic is what is called the “rape victim asked for it” defense of the indefensible. This logic which has been repeated in the letters to the editor of this and other papers states that the terrorists are not at fault for the attack on the Pentagon and WTC – we Americans are. The terrorists were merely reacting to American policies abroad such as the support of Israel and continued sanctions on Iraq and are therefore ultimately not responsible for the 7,000 dead. The American government is – and since the government represents the will of our people, we Americans are to blame for the death and destruction of September 11, 2001. All that remains is for a call for reparations to the families of the dead hijackers.

Although I consider 9-11 as a metanoia, or spiritual conversion on my part, one of several things that hadn’t changed was a deep respect and reverence for the military, the men who were in “the Service” as it was then known. My father was one of these men, as was my brother-in-law who brought me home a tiny jacket embroidered with a map of southeast Asia and the slogan, “Fighters by day, lovers by night, drunkards by choice, ready to fight. Cu-Chi Vietnam.” Unlike my father my brother-in-law didn’t speak about his experiences in the War – not because his war was Vietnam but because he was a quiet man. Kind of like me – when I’m not pounding away at the keyboard.

Dad w/ Colonel Badger
Dad on the bottom left 1945 Philippines

So Friday rolls around and the Marine is supposed to be at a “meeting” with his men to discuss the week’s training. We popped into his girlfriend’s apartment to see his kid when lo and behold there he is.

28 years old. Thin but well-built, with tattoos spiralling around his neck and arms. He was in a hurry to get back to the meeting and I only had a few moments with him.

“There’s so much I want to ask you,” I said.

“Go ahead. Ask anything,” he replied as he prepped to leave.

The first question that came to mind after knowing about where he’s been and where he’s going: “Was it worth it?”

He answered the question in a unique way, and as he did so it dawned on me that how he viewed Iraq and the GWOT and how I viewed those things were different. He answered the question by talking about how the aspects of his work were just part of the job to him.

And over the few remaining hours together, there wasn’t much talk about the big picture (except to knock a few of the Useful Idiots like Nancy Pelosi). To him going to Iraq and fighting wars was just a job.

I design computer systems. He designs ways of keeping his men alive as they clear out apartment blocks filled with bad guys hiding behind women and children. I go to work in a suit; he goes to work wearing 50 lbs of ceramic plates in his flack jacket. I wield a keyboard – he has medals for pistol and rifle marksmanship.

But beyond that we are common men with jobs to do, there is one key difference between us:

He’s a hero. I am not.

He’s better at being a hero than I am. It’s his job, and personally I don’t want fighting terrorists to become my job – which is why I worry when Democrats thrust their heads into the sand and minimize what terrorists have done in our country, and have said they would do given the chance.

Being a hero is an important distinction between the two of us, and one that I respect. I hope he understands that what he does is more than a job. I don’t go to work with the fate of my nation on my back. I am not trained to exercise a license to kill when called to do so in defense of others or our country. I don’t know if it’s his natural humility or his youthful vision that keeps him from seeing the differences between us.

He’s a United States Marine. I wish I was a United States Marine. Hoo-rah.

Bad Cops Bad Cops… What’cha gonna do?

St. Louis county has scores of incorporated areas. Some of these areas pay the county to provide their own police protection, others hire a cop or two. In order to pay for their own force some of the incorporated towns set up speed traps. These are widely known by the locals, so only out of state visitors or the distracted ever get pulled over.

If you live in South St. Louis County, you know the St. George police. There’s a stretch of Mackenzie/Reavis Barracks Rd. where the speed limit drops from 35 to 30 – that’s St. George. Go 31 and you’ll get pulled over and ticketed. Do anything out of the ordinary and expect the same.

I like cops. I think they have a tough, dangerous and usually thankless job. In my time I’ve been on the wrong side of the law – not often or recently, but I’ve raised my own version of hell and paid the price. In every case I was treated fairly and decently by the police.

In every case except for a run in with the cops of St. George.

I was 16 and had my license for less than a week. I was driving my mom’s car with my best friend Lenny beside me. He was wearing his torn up Sex Pistols shirt and must have a touch of Anarchy in his brain because as we passed a St. George cop who had pulled over some unlucky driver, he leaned out of the passenger window and let rip with a wolfish howl.

At the time I didn’t think anything of it and continued driving. After about a half mile or so I spotted flashing lights in the distance. I knew it was the St. George cop so I did what any 16 year old with a week old driver’s license does: I decided to run.

That sounds more dramatic than it was. What I actually did was I turned into the maze of my subdivision, and then made a few quick turns – all while never breaking the 25 mph speed limit. You won’t be seeing it any time soon on World’s Fastest Police Chases.

The cop had me in less than 3 blocks.

What followed was an ass chewing very similar to the one this 20 year old kid got.


1:32
[I exit the vehicle]
Officer #1: Let me see your ID.
[I give him my valid Missouri License]
Officer #1: Let me see your insurance card for the vehicle.
Brett: Did I commit a moving violation?
Officer #1: Yeah you did, when you were coming in here.
Brett: Really? What was that?
Officer #1: Yeah, you wanna try me? You wanna try me tonight? You think you’ve had a bad night? I will ruin your ****ing night.
[Officer starts to get close up to my face]
Officer #1 You want to try me?
[Officer is inches away from my face, screaming as I’m pinned between him and my vehicle]
Officer #1 Do you wanna try me young boy? Do you want to try me tonight young boy?
Brett: No I don’t.
Officer #1: Do you want to go to jail for some ****ing reason I come up with?
Brett: No I don’t.
Officer #1: Do you wanna see who knows the law better, me or you. My experience compared to your young ass. Huh? Don’t ever get smart mouthed with a cop again. I show you what a cop does. Do you understand me?
Brett: Yes sir.
Officer #1: Try and talk back—Talk back to me again. I bet I could say you resisted arrest or something. You want to come up with something? I come up with nine things. Do you wanna try something?
Brett: No I don’t.
Officer #1: Wait here.

Read the entire thing.

As I said, I like cops – and even when I was an idiot I never disrespected them. They scared me way too much for that.

But the ass chewing I got from that cop in St. George I always thought was a bit undeserved. He ended up following me home that night, and sat in my driveway as I told my mother what had happened. He didn’t say a word to her or me. I think he went over to Lenny’s house and did the same thing with his parents. Even my mother – who in her 60+ years of driving has never once been ticketed – didn’t think it was a big deal.

I always felt that it was a pure power trip for the St. George cop. It fit their image – shaking down law abiding citizens for no good reason. The town’s police chief was even implicated in a car bomb that killed a mob boss as he drove down an interstate bordering St. George. If memory serves, he allowed the person who triggered the bomb to sit in a car waiting for the old man to pass nearby.

I was 16, a sophomore in Catholic high school and at that time, a pretty good kid. He completely ripped me a new one for kicks.

Cops protect the weak; they don’t pile on them. Yes, what Lenny did was stupid but it was rather innocuous. He could have let the incident pass, or at least, not scared the beejesus out of me. I was 16 and weighed all of 110 lbs. He thought he was going to teach me a lesson – and he did: Some cops are assholes.

So congratulations, St. George. I saw your town slammed on the “law & order channel” Fox News 1200 miles away.

It’s amazing how some things change, and others stay the same. 24 years later and your town still sucks.

UPDATE:
After reader feedback, let me make something clear: I like cops. I think they have a crappy job that they don’t get paid enough to do. I view a sign of maturity as spotting a cop and NOT getting scared.

My beef is with cops who make ordinary law abiding citizens into criminals. St. George cops were notorious for throwing their weight around unnecessarily. I respect the badge, but I don’t respect abuse of the power that sometimes comes with that badge.

Oh, and for what its worth, I’m a big fan of Cops and CourtTV.