Clay Bennett Cartoons

In these times of turbulence, I think we need something to make us laugh. I think Clay Bennett’s cartoons for the Chattanooga Times Free Press are hilarious.

On a more sober note, as Americans start to vote for their next government, the presidential campaign is getting bitter. The McCain camp is blaming the organizing group ACORN for everything from originating the current financial crisis to destroying the fabric of democracy. This wouldn’t be because of their highly successful drive to register new voters, by any chance?

Governor Palin meanwhile refers to Senator Obama as “elitist.” Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like a new word for “uppity?” Just asking.

The Fourth of July, 2008

This July Fourth holiday weekend has been unusually subdued. The usual neighborhood block parties seemed relatively quiet affairs, and there were no large gatherings of people playing and picnicing in the parks— just the usual weekend crowd.

Another sign of disaffection is the lack of flags on display. While most people around here do not display a flag at other times of the year, there is usually a good display for Independence Day. This year, walking several miles throughout the area, I have seen just four American flags. Even the flags bearing the peace symbol were absent, despite being so popular last year.

With the downturn in the economy, and with wars and rumors of war, I imagine people here find few reasons to celebrate. On the contrary, the mood seems to be one of protest, rather than celebration.

This mood is particularly evident in the blogosphere. For example, see the article that professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history, Juan Cole, wrote. With a nod to Kahlil Gibran, he begins:

Your Fourth of July and My Fourth of July

Your Fourth of July is blood for oil.
My Fourth of July is the pure sunbeam of peace.

Yours is the imperial presidency and “so what?” to public opinion.
Mine is “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”

Yours is profiling and discrimination.
Mine is “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

Yours is “My country right or wrong.”
Mine is avoiding “Offences against the Law of Nations”

You can read all of Your Fourth of July and My Fourth of July at Informed Comment.

Less circumspect articles appear at The Progressive and Inter-Press Service. The IPS article is titled Little to Cheer on U.S. Independence Day. Matthew Rothschild’s article in The Progressive is in memory of George Carlin. The piece is called Why I’m Not Patriotic. It begins:

It’s July 4th again, a day of near-compulsory flag-waving and nation-worshipping. Count me out.

Meanwhile, a group calling itself the Bill of Rights Defense Committee took out an advertisement in Thursday’s New York TimesA Declaration for Our Times (pdf) – which they hope will help mobilize support for a movement to “reverse the freedom-robbing government actions and policies that are threatening our nation’s future.”

The United States right now is not a nation of happy campers.

Winter Soldier Two

In 1971, a hundred Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to share their stories with the public. One of those veterans was Navy Lieutenant John Kerry. Three months later, Kerry testified before a packed Senate Committee hearing, in which he delivered one of the most famous anti-war speeches of the time.

This weekend, in recognition of the value of the first Winter Soldier hearings in 1971, veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are gathered in a Washington, DC suburb to testify to their experiences. The four-day event is being broadcast live on radio, satellite television, and the Internet. What I have already heard today is difficult, emotional, and important. The picture is in stark contrast to the propaganda coming out of the Pentagon and the White House.

The name “Winter Soldier” is a play on the words of Thomas Paine. In the winter of 1776, trying to lift the spirits of the Revolutionary Army, defeated in most battles against the British, he wrote: “These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Veterans from the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are sharing their experiences, backed up by video and photographic evidence. In addition, panels of scholars and specialists are there to give context to the testimony. The organizers have done their homework, and all participants have been vetted via independent research to ensure the witnesses are genuine. All of this is important, to establish the credibility of the hearings.

Security at the hearings is tight. A sometimes violent rally of people opposed to these hearings threatens to disrupt the proceedings. Incredible as it may seem, many of those most vocal in insisting Americans must “support our troops” oppose the rights of these troops to bear witness to their truth.

Today I listened to panels on the Rules of Engagement; the crisis in Veteran’s Health Care; and Corporate Pillaging and Military Contractors. I also heard evidence from some Iraqi civilians— this despite the difficulty of bringing Iraqis to the U.S., as the State Department regularly refuses entry visas for them. I’m not sure what’s ahead for the weekend.

I can only echo what that other Englishman said, over 200 years ago: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Feeling the love in Iran

A bit behind the times, as I no longer read the San Francisco Chronicle on a daily basis. But I thought this letter to the editor worth sharing:

Feeling the love in Iran

Editor – I have just returned from a tour of Iran, and l want to share my wonderful experience about this country and its people.

I have never seen such kindness, friendliness and spontaneity from women, men and children alike. One morning I decided to skip one of the scheduled tours and visit the Ebrat Museum by myself. I found myself alone in an auditorium with about 50 Persians watching a film. They all smiled at me and later on a Persian guide started explaining the exhibits in Farsi. At this point, a young man approached me and in basic English asked me if I understood Farsi. When I said I didn’t, he insisted in translating every word from the guide – this tour took two hours! On another occasion, a lady approached us and gave a member of our group a ring, as a token of friendship. They constantly welcomed us to their country.

I have traveled all over the world and have never seen such hospitality. I hope that by sharing this experience I can encourage more people, especially Americans, to visit Iran, not only to meet its wonderful people but also to learn about their rich culture and history. I encourage people to disregard the negative comments which spread unnecessary fear and prevent tourism into that country, which is much needed.

SYLVIA VAN SACKER

Walnut Creek

Potholes on the Super-Highway

After years of connecting to the Web from home using dial-up, I thought it time to investigate faster speed options. It seemed reasonable to use the Internet to seek out what choices I might have. That was a mistake.

Googling for “broadband internet services,” I eventually found a listing of seven services available in my area. Most of these offerings are packaged with telephone and television services that I have no use for, but two seemed promising.

The first one I looked at presented me with a page that required my address, to check if their service is available here. It was quite an involved form, that also needed my phone number, split up, like Caesar’s Gaul, into three parts. The address was similarly precise, with separate inputs for street number, street name, unit type, unit number, and so on. But when I pressed the “find” button to see if the service is available, the results page complained that it could not locate my apartment.

I went back to try as many variations on my address as I could think of, always with the same result. At this point I should mention that Google Maps can locate me on the entire planet from a one-line address. Hmm.

So on to the other service offering. This time the form to fill in had even more detail. Not only type of unit, but floor number, type of building, and other details were required.

With some misgivings now, I pressed the “find” button. The result? I got a page containing a large, bold admonition: “You are not authorized to view this page” it read. Oh dear. I decided to give up for the night.

Yesterday I came across an advertisement for a new broadband service that promised a low cost to people ordering on the Web. So I began my quest anew.

The service site offered to locate me either from my telephone number, or from my address. So I attempted to enter my phone number.

Three input boxes are provided for the number, but when I tried to enter my 3-digit area code in the first, I found that the box only had room for two digits. Hmm. “This won’t do,” I thought, “Better try the address option.”

Once again, the form for the address has many fields to fill in. You can imagine that I held my breath when I pressed the “find” button.

My hesitation was justified. There on my screen was a beautiful display of computer code. No matter that I know the computer language the code is written in, it did not help at all in finding out if the service I want is available at my address. As in all these cases. I did go back to try different input, but always with the same result.

Finally, in desperation more than from logical thinking, I switched to another browser to try again. The first browser I used tends to make text appear a bit larger than normal on my particular computer set-up, compensating for the high definition of my screen. This time I used a browser that displays text a bit smaller, so I returned to the page that offered to locate me from my telephone number.

Better luck this time. The area code fits in the input box now. So I enter my complete phone number and press the “find” button.

I think you can guess what happens next. That’s right – the same computer program code comes up in my browser window.

There seem to be some potholes on this electronic super-highway.

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