July 22, 2010

Las Vegas: This place will be dead without cars

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 10:27 am

I finally made it to the Netroots Nation convention in Las Vegas — even after some [clumsy person] knocked my glasses off my head and stepped on them on the plane, forcing me to stumble blindly through the Las Vegas airport. But some kind soul directed me to a hotel shuttle and, well, here I am — in what has got to be the car capital of the world.

On The Strip they have bunches of 50-story hotels but the most amazing buildings I drove by on the shuttle were the ten-story parking garages. Ten stories high and two blocks long, they were hotels for cars. Cars only. Only cars!

Twenty years from now, when the world runs out of oil, won’t people be SO embarrassed about having spent so much of their capital and infrastructure investments on cars. And wars. And other disposable consumer goods that nobody really needed.

Then I got to the Rio hotel, got my room on the 27th floor, admired the view of all those freeways, wandered down to the casino floor to watch hundreds of people gambling, regretted that I didn’t have the $54 necessary to attend the Chippendale show (just kidding) and tried to register for the convention.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will be speaking here on Saturday. And they will have a lot of explaining to do. Why are Republicans still setting the agenda for Congress? Why are we still spending all that money that we don’t have on all those stupid “wars” on the Middle East? And why are we still bailing out Wall Street but not Main Street?

Also Alan Grayson will be speaking here on Saturday as well — that is if he survives the death threats he’s been getting after Fox News stirred up all the wingnuts against him this week because he spoke out in favor of bailing out the jobless instead of the oligarchs. Sigh.

The keynote speaker tonight will be Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana. Plus I just scored a free ticket to the hotel’s all-you-can-eat buffet.

Stay tuned.

Right-Wing ‘Journalism’ for Dummies with Andrew Breitbart


July 21, 2010

Don Quixote and the electronic voting machines

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , — Bob Patterson @ 2:11 pm

The New York Time’s recent obituary for Rev. William R. Callahan stated that the death had been announced by the Quixote Center. That was the first this columnist had ever heard of that group and we wondered if, in this age of ubiquitous awards ceremonies, they hand out kudos and statuettes annually to people who attempt the impossible. Everyone knows that if God intended for man to fly He would have given homo sapiens wings, but that doesn’t mean that those crazy Wright Brothers don’t deserve an award for trying.

A recent online article by Allison Kilkenny informed readers about a study that concluded that partisan citizens are not prone to being converted by facts, so it becomes obvious that the “preaching to the choir” aspect of political commentary carries with it a meager payoff and that is about all those with a liberal point of view can expect for their efforts.

Those two bits of news added together make it extremely poignant for a fellow who learned that any contributed content (to a certain other liberal web site) concerning the possibility that the Republicans would use the electronic voting machines without a paper trail to rig elections in favor of their own candidates earned him a chance to be (as they say in drinker’s terminology) 86’ed off the site. The very idea was denounced as being a conspiracy theory indicating the writer had lapsed into lunacy. Whatever. The bottom line is that only one of two conclusions can be reached. So what binary choice does that indicate?

Well, if the columnist turns out to have been correct in his assessment of the situation, after the ambush is unleashed and (as a hypothetical example) a Republican, backed by a Republican majority house and Senate, is sworn in as President in January of 2013, then the inauguration will provide the writer with a pyrrhic victory that is filled with a bitter taste and an opportunity to produce eight more years of (Jeb) Bush-bashing columns.

Conversely, if this year’s fall elections and the Presidential election in 2012 turn out to be overwhelming mandates for Obama and the Democrats to “continue doing what you’re doing,” then the ostracism of the “rigged elections” point of view will have been a bit of digital streamlining that – while seeming to be a contradiction in the “free exchange of concepts and ideas” policy espoused by the non-ditto-head faction – will turn out to have been (in retrospect) an example of editing efficiency.

This columnist knows positively that he has been wrong before (Native Dancer had a lock on the Kentucky Derby’s winner circle until Dark Star blew past in the stretch) and so we’ll try to turn our attention to more mundane matters while we await the mid term mandate for Obama to appear via the election night stats on the TV screens across America.
One of the liberal radio personalities (Tom Hartman?) pointed out that the conservatives are saying that President Obama is taking too many vacation days. When Bush was President the liberals said the same thing. At this point in the presidency, Bush had taken 96 vacation days and Obama has taken 36. Good thing facts can’t be used to dissuade fanatical Republicans, eh?

What compassionate conservative Christian wouldn’t be enthusiastic about ending unemployment benefits for his neighbors as a way of paying for a war that is killing dozens of infidels? Actually in a country full of homeless people and empty homes that have been foreclosed, a policy of guns not butter makes complete sense.

President Obama has encouraged folks to visit the Gulf region where it is allegedly a case of business as usual. Trouble is, if we do that and accidentally wind up too close to an oil boom, we can not afford the $40,000 fine for blogging without BP’s permission, so our financially motivated response is: “We’ll take your word for it, Mr. President.”

Back in the Vietnam War era, wasn’t it an in thing for celebrities to get arrested in anti-war demonstrations? If Hunter S. Thompson were still alive wouldn’t he go down to the oil spill and get arrested for reporting just to make a point? Why can’t Brian Williams be Hunter’s proxy?

Can’t you just picture Bob Schieffer being hauled off in handcuffs? Then wouldn’t his brother, Tom Schieffer, call his friend and former business partner George W. Bush and put the fixeroo on that situation?

Speaking of folks going to jail, it would make a good column if we could find out if Paris Hilton will visit Lindsey Lohan while she is incarcerated. Ms. Hilton has been maintaining a low profile since her well publicized “house arrest” stint. We thought she was going to become an activist publicizing the plight of people with claustrophobia who are forced to serve a time in a jail cell.

Don Quixote spent a lot of time tilting at windmills. Hans Brinker saved the day for the country of windmills. When it comes time to write a column that a topic that the writer thinks is extremely important, how can he know if it will be a “saved the day” effort of just another variation of the Sisyphus assignment?

This columnist has tried to convince folks that the electronic voting machines can and are being used by the Republicans to micromanage the election results, but very few people will listen and fewer can be convinced that it is happening. (Picture Kevin McCarthy yelling: “They’re here!”) Unfortunately, it turns out that the Quixote Center doesn’t seem to hand out awards for exorcises in futility.

The Quixote Center describes itself online by saying this: “a band of ‘impossible dreamers’ who joined together in 1976. We are a multi-issue, grassroots social justice organization with roots in the Catholic social justice tradition. Independent of church and government structures, the Center operates with an understanding that an educated and engaged citizenry is essential to making social change. For over 30 years, the Quixote Center has gathered together people of faith and conscience to organize highly effective campaigns for systemic change.

We draw inspiration from the satiric idealism and gentle madness of Cervantes’ dauntless Don Quixote. We trace our roots to the Gospel and the Catholic social justice tradition; but today, we gather people of faith and conscience from many diverse traditions to share our common quest for justice and peace. We work on issues of justice with people who have few other resources. By laughing a bit in the midst of struggle, we gain strength and heart to sustain our efforts for a more just and peaceful world.”

Since this columnist is a duly ordained minister; by the powers granted to me by the state of California, I hereby declare that the attempt to achieve the impossible will henceforth be yclept “the Brinker-Quixote Syndrome.”

If the New York Times does a feature story on the Quixote Center, we’ll always wonder: Did their obit inspire the follow-up, or did this column?

What does that leave to use as a column topic?

Would it take much time (and get many hits?) to bang out a column about: Comic-con 2010, The Hemingway Days Look-alike contest at Sloppy Joe’s, or Netroots Nation?

Maybe we could go and cover the annual Oskosh Air Show and on the way back stop and see the Seventhieth Annual Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis?

Are you aware that there is a Hokonui Moonshine Museum in Gore, New Zeland?

Maybe we’ll just stay home and see if we can catch Rush Limaugh in a rare bit of extreme exaggeration or his first flat out fib?

Wait! This just in! It’s about time for this year’s winners of the Emperor Norton Awards to be announced. The award is given for “extraordinary invention and creativity unhindered by the constraints of paltry reason,” in memory of Joshua Norton I, Emperor of the United States of America and Protector of Mexico. Heck no conspiracy theories there, eh?

Yogi Berra has (supposedly) said: “You can’t think and hit at the same time.” The same principle, during the electronic voting machine era, also applies for watching election eve voting results.

Now the disk jockey will play the “Man of La Mancha” soundtrack album, “When You Wish Upon a Star” and Jerry Reed’s “Eastbound and Down.” We gotta go check out why our name fell off the voter registration rolls and we had to cast a “provisional” ballot for the recall election when Arnold Schwarzenegger suddenly replaced the Democratic governor of California. On second thought, why bother? It will only sound like a conspiracy theory. Have a Barron Munchausen type week.

July 20, 2010

Mr. and Mrs. Republican Reveal the GOP Economic Plan


The Tattlesnake – Palin’s Muddle Tongue Edition

So Sen. Crash Pilot’s erstwhile 2008 VP candidate and half-baked Alaska Governor has decided to invent her own words like ‘refudiate’ – just like that Limey fella Shakespeare, by golly!

Well, since Mama Grizzly Palin wasn’t doing too swell with the dialect most Americans speak, perhaps she had no choice but to become the ‘Mutter Curage’ of the English language.

Back here at the Tattlesnake hovel, I’ve decided to conjure up a few words the newly self-anointed wordsmith can add to what Stephanie Miller aptly described as her ‘Fictionary.’ You’re welcome, Sarah.

Historectumy: 1. Pulling inaccurate historical ‘facts’ from your rear end to make your erroneous opinion seem less idiotic. (See also: ‘Fox News’ and ‘Beck University.’)

Stuperior: 1. Superiority in your utter stupidity. 2. The backassward side of something so stupendously dumb that when viewed at multiple angles, every side is backassward. (See also: ‘Willful Ignorance,’ ‘Religious Insanity’ and ‘Unwarranted Arrogance.’)

Taxicology: 1. The uniquely Republican economic psychosis, a colossal failure since its inception, that you can cut taxes and maintain the same level of revenue that you had before you cut taxes by way of the magic fairy dust of the ‘free market,’ which no one has ever actually witnessed in action. 2. Ignoring the rotten condition of the schools, roads, bridges, parks and other public projects that serve the common good in order to avoid making the wealthy unhappy by having to pay taxes. (See also: ‘The Big Rock Candy Mountain’ and ‘This is Your Brain on Milton Friedman.’)

Teabaggy: 1. The feeling of exhaustion from living in a perpetual state of ignorant outrage and bilious hatred. (See also: ‘Damp Dittoheads’ and ‘Michael the Savage Weiner’)

Teabuggery: 1. Having your organization sodomized by Republican money, operatives and influence. (See also: ‘Dick Armey, Lobbyist’ and ‘FreedomWorks.’)

Wasillingus: 1. Using one’s mouth to spread the pernicious political virus of far-right Christopublicanism. 2. A perky rural Alaskan’s foot-in-mouth syndrome. (See also: ‘Diseases of the Crack Pipe’ and ‘Polar Meth Lab Sickness.’)

That was fun; I may add some more in the future.

© 2010 RS Janes.

July 19, 2010

New Evidence Proves Alvin Greene’s SC Senate Nomination Was Stolen

You don’t have to know much about South Carolina to know that, except for certain areas, the Republican Party owns the state, including the no-paper-trail ES&S voting machines that made Greene the winner. As Garland Favorito notes in “New Evidence That Alvin Greene’s ‘Win’ in SC Was Stolen!”:

“As you may already know Alvin Greene, an unemployed former military veteran who paid a $10,000 qualifying fee, did not even run a campaign. Greene held no fundraisers, ran no paid advertisements, made no campaign speeches, hired no campaign manager, conducted no state wide tours, attended no Democratic Party county events, printed no yard signs and did not even establish a web site. Vic Rawl, a county commissioner, former judge and four-term state representative, ran a normal, aggressive campaign as his campaign manager, Walter Ludwig, has explained. He personally campaigned in at least half of the counties made radio and TV appearances, attended the state convention, collected official endorsements, had 600 volunteers, printed 10,000 bumper stickers, established 180,000 database contacts, created a 104,000 Email distribution list, had 3,300 Facebook Friends, sent out 300,000 Emails just prior to the election, received 20,000 web site hits on Election Day alone and was more active on Twitter than the other Democratic Party candidates.

“So how did this happen? All South Carolina elections are conducted on statewide unverifiable electronic voting equipment manufactured by Election Systems & Software (ES&S). South Carolina’s voting machines have no independent audit trail of each vote cast. This is necessary to audit the accuracy of the vote recording mechanism that transfers the selections the voter sees on the screen to the vote storage areas. All precinct printouts, ballot images and any other forms of paper documents that can be printed are not created independently but produced internally from the machines after the vote was recorded and could have been corrupted. It is technically impossible for anyone in the state to claim that South Carolina’s Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines record accurately on Election Day since there is no mechanism such as a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) to independently audit the vote recording. No amount of pre-election testing can assure DRE recording accuracy. The Federal Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) Technical Guidelines Development Committee concluded that: “The National Institute of Standards and Testing & EAC Security & Transparency Subcommittee do not know how to write testable requirements to satisfy that the software in a DRE is correct” The reason for such a conclusion is that many electronic voting machines, such as those used in South Carolina, can be programmed in a variety of ways to count differently on Election Day than during testing. As a result, South Carolina voters cannot verify that the selections they see on the screen were electronically recorded, election officials cannot audit the actual vote counts and there is no directly created evidence of voter intent that can be used in a recount.”

So, while Vic Rawl won handily in certified mail-in absentee paper ballots by a 55 to 45 percent margin, the easily hacked and unverfiable ES&S equipment gave the hapless GOP plant Greene a 60 percent landslide. The probability of this happening is on the order of winning the Power Ball lottery 10 times in a row. As Favorito writes elsewhere in the article:

“Alvin Greene was declared the winner based on a near landslide 60-40% margin in Election Day electronic voting results. However, certified mail-in paper ballot results, received from the counties after a 15-business-day response period allowed under South Carolina law, show that Vic Rawl actually won the verifiable mail-in paper ballot absentee voting by a solid 55-45% margin.”

(Read the article and a detailed breakdown of the numbers here.)

Sen. Jim DeMint and the SC GOP must be mighty afraid, following the Gov. Mark Sanford sex scandal and the other Republican disasters, to pull a stunt like this.

It’s also interesting how uncurious our Big Media is over this obvious election theft. Will this new evidence bring them around?

Videos confirm additional leaks reported in seabed near capped well

Filed under: Uncategorized — Greg in cheeseland @ 2:08 am

Author’s note: RS Janes and many others are correct in not believing the horse hockey from BP, the feds and their mouthpieces in the media about this leak being stopped. ABCNNBBCBSFOX is trying to con America into thinking that the gulf disaster is over simply because the well head is capped. This propaganda is being put out because BP wants to limit their financial losses over this mess and Obama does not want the Gulf Disaster, which was caused by not reining in the MMS during the first 400 days of his Presidency, following Democrats into the November election.

When BP announced they had successfully capped the well and stopped the flow of oil that has been gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20, several scientists and industry experts were skeptical. It appears their skepticism has been confirmed by recent reports and videos that show oil and methane gas leaking from the seabed.

Both MSNBC and the AP reported that a federal official says “scientists are concerned about a seep and possible methane near BP’s busted oil well.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official also said that methane might be escaping through cracks in the seafloor and that could be a sign of leaks in the well that has been capped off for three days as part of a test of its integrity.

Testing had been extended until 4 p.m. ET Sunday, but that came and went without any word on whether it would continue even longer. The official is familiar with the spill oversight, but would not clarify what is seeping near the well. The official says BP is not complying with the government’s demand for more monitoring.

A close look at BP’s own camera footage of the area near the capped well, however, clearly shows leakage from the seabed (see videos below). That would explain why pressure readings have been less than expected. As reported by the Washington Post, initial pressure readings peaked at around 6700 psi, well below the 8000 to 9000 psi that would be considered assurance that the well bore and surrounding seabed are intact. There is no way of knowing how many other leaks may exist farther from the well site.

As early as late June, the Washington Post reported that Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, said “additional leaks are a possible source of deep-sea plumes of oil detected by research vessels. But this part of the gulf is pocked with natural seeps,” he noted. “Conceivably the drilling of the well, and/or the subsequent blowout, could have affected the seeps. Once you started disturbing the underground geology, you may have made one of those seeps even worse,” he said.

Geologists have said that if the well casing is substantially breached, the oil and methane gas will find a way through fractures in the surrounding geology and make it into the ocean. The Houston Chronicle also noted in June that “a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Monday noted research vessels found natural gas seeping from the sea floor several miles away from the well…[and] if the well casing burst it could send oil and gas streaming through the strata to appear elsewhere on the sea floor….”

If there are natural oil or gas seeps nearby, there are already pre-existing channels up to the seafloor, so that may very well be the path of least resistance for the subterranean oil to flow up through the seafloor. In other words, if there is a substantial breach in the well bore and/or fissures in the seabed, nearby natural oil and gas seeps could very well increase in volume, while pressure readings under the cap would remain relatively low.

Michael Rivero, writing on his blog, puts it this way:

Common sense (and engineering) will tell you that if you have a pipe with leaks, putting a cap on one leak simply drives the oil out the other leaks. From an environmental perspective this makes no sense, because the oil is still leaking out of the well, just in a different place. Of greater concern is that the oil can flow out into the surrounding rocks the way the mud did during the failed Top Kill procedure, forming what is called a subsurface blowout….Capping a well with known leaks below the surface really serves only one purpose, and that is to present to the media video images showing the well is capped….But the hard reality being withheld from the public is that the problem is not fixed. The leak has not been stopped, it has just been moved out of sight. The camera feed of the capped well head will be shown constantly to assure Americans that all is well and lull us back to a useful torpor. No other views from around the well will be allowed….Except that the cat is already out of the bag!

BP and the current administration have two simple motives in hiding the leaks from public view. The Obama administration would probably like to get this disaster out of sight and out of mind before the mid-term elections that are a little over three months away and BP would like to minimize leak estimates in order to minimize the damages it has to pay under the Clean Water Act. BP likely will try to pretend that the nearby natural seeps always had the same volume.

As the leasee of the site where the spill is occuring, BP may be the only party to have mapped out the nearby seeps, so they can get away with saying whatever they want about the scope of these additional leaks. This document, from BP’s own web site, seemingly contradicts everything they have said publicly about being unable to accurately measure the flow of their leak.

So do not be surprised when formerly tiny seeps become gushers and BP tries to pretend that they were always that large. Given BP’s record of prevarication, it will not be shocking if BP pretends that brand new gushers are ancient, natural seeps.

Given that same tendency toward prevarication and their hesitancy to disclose information, it is becoming clear that BP cannot be trusted to stop the oil gusher. It may be time to remove the criminals from the scene of the crime and replace them with scientists and engineers that do not have such a poor safety record and such a clear conflict of interest.

Here is a series of videos that show additional leaks from the seabed near the capped well.

Get links and see videos here: Madison Independent Examiner – Videos confirm additional leaks reported in seabed near capped well

FDR to Obama: Listen to the Past



July 17, 2010

Memories of Marcus: A sad Saturday in Berkeley

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Jane Stillwater @ 11:33 pm

Every Saturday morning, me and my granddaughter Mena do pretty much the same thing. First we walk over to Sconehenge on Shattuck and buy Mena a carrot-zuchini muffin. Then we walk up to Whole Foods on the corner of Telegraph and Ashby and get some bacon and eggs from their “salad bar” breakfast buffet. For just two or three dollars, you can pick up enough bacon and eggs to keep you going all morning.

And then it’s on to the Claremont branch of the Berkeley Public Library for the toddler story time. Mena loves books. Plus they’ve got a great Lego table in the children’s section.

After that we walk up on College Avenue to pick out a balloon at Sweet Dreams toy store. Today Mena wanted an orange balloon. “Watch out for trees,” the sales clerk said. Right you are. Last week’s balloon ended up getting popped by a balloon-eating tree.

Next we turn right on Russell Street, go to Nabalom Bakery, get a nice slice of cheesecake for only two dollars and listen to a jazz band playing oldies on a keyboard, ukulele and slide guitar. And then we walk back home down Stuart Street.

That’s pretty much been our schedule every Saturday for the last year or so, rain or shine. But today was different. Today me and Mena were on a mission — everywhere we walked, we collected flowers. Sorry, Stuart Street gardeners, but it was for a good cause.

After the library and the cheesecake and the walk, we went home, got some chalk and went over to write “I love you” on the sidewalk where young Marcus Mosley had been killed Friday night.

I’ve known Marcus since he was four years old. He used to play with my son Joe. Joe and Marcus were born just three months apart. Joe will turn 31 this October. Marcus will not. Hearing about Marcus’s death was like a punch in the gut for me — but it must have been so much more terrible and even a whole lot worse for his mother. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose a son. I can’t even imagine the anguish that his mother must be going through right now.

I remember Marcus when he was seven years old, playing football with Joe and Nigel out in the play area next to Nigel’s home. I remember it like it was yesterday. And now Marcus is gone. Shot and killed in a drive-by. “Maybe Marcus was up to no good,” someone said. I don’t the freak care! I don’t care if he was a saint or a devil or an avatar in disguise or whatever. I just want Marcus back here, back home — and ALIVE.

Today at a benefit concert for Arnieville, Michael Parenti spoke about the tragedy of Marcus’s death and equated Friday’s waste of human life here in Berkeley with the daily waste of human life that is constantly going on all over the world — as the oligarchs and corporatists who own America spend all our wealth on weapons, guns and instruments of death instead of on life. And Parenti is right.

Imagine a world where guns and weapons are no longer allowed to be manufactured and sold and promoted as being the best way — the ONLY way — to solve disagreements or settle feuds. What if mothers all over the world no longer had to cry out for their dead sons? What if the only loud, scary, popping sound we were to ever hear again would only be caused by Mena’s balloon running into a tree?

What if all of us mothers in the world finally united together and said, “No more! Enough! Not one more mother’s son more will ever have to die under the gun.”

I think that Marcus would have liked that.

The GOP’s ‘Lemon Situation’ in 2010


July 16, 2010

Cold & Hard: Spending the night in Arnieville

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Jane Stillwater @ 4:11 pm

Mark Twain’s autobiography is finally getting published — almost one hundred years to the day after he wrote it. And from what I can tell after reading the book’s advance reviews, Twain was also one hundred years ahead of his time, having apparently come back from the grave just in time to give us a much-needed warning about being wary of America’s oligarchs and to nail today’s corporatists for what they are — greedy bastards.

And I think that it was also Mark Twain who said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Me and my daughter Ashley stopped by Arnieville last night, where disabled people are camping out in protest of Governor Schwarzenegger’s callous cuts to their home-care workers’ salaries. Arnieville has been set up on a traffic island on Adeline Street near Russell in Berkeley, right down the street from my apartment. “How’s it going?” I asked some folks in wheelchairs who were sitting in front of the campsite eating dinner and chatting about stuff.

“It’s going okay, considering the horrible mess that our state’s finances are in,” replied a blind woman. “And we’ve going to try to stay here until the State of California actually manages to come up with a budget.” Yikes! That could take for-EVAH.

“It’s not so bad here during the day,” said another woman in a wheelchair, “but at night it gets a bit heavy-duty.” I can imagine — you can’t just take a hot bath, turn off the lights and pop into bed here. No pre-bed glass of warm milk and bedtime stories either. Plus you can’t even turn off the street lights — although the City of Berkeley has been kind enough to not run the sprinklers at 4 am. And the automobile, truck and bus traffic on Adeline Street goes on all night long, just five feet from your head.

“We do have a security team that takes turns keeping watch so it’s fairly safe here, but sometimes I’m the only woman at night and it gets a bit gender-heavy on the masculine side. I wish that we had more women camping out,” looking directly at me as she said this, hint hint. She also wished that the campers had more monetary donations so that they could pay for their wheelchair-accessible PortaPotty. That’s probably not covered in the state budget either.

Then I went home and got to thinking. I gots bad knees. I’m 21% disabled. Those people are doing this for my sake too. I should be out there camping with them! So I went back this evening and asked if I could stay too. “You can borrow my tent,” said my daughter Ashley who used to be a Girl Scout.

And I could wear my warm flannel nightgown and my bunny slippers!

But then, as we sat there chatting with the protesters, fog started rolling in from across the bay, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and I started to chicken out. “And besides, Big Brother 12 is on TV tonight,” I whined. So much for roughing it for a good cause.

So. Will I spend the night in Arnieville tonight? Or will I let people who are even physically weaker than me end up doing the heavy-lifting for all of us? Will I protest the injustice of having so much of California’s tax money go to large corporations and rich people but not to the people who actually need and deserve it — or will I just stay home snug in my bed and turn a blind eye to injustice like most other Californians seem to be doing?

Or will I bite the bullet, haul my sleeping bag out of the closet, be brave like the disabled people down at Arnieville (and Mark Twain), and nail these corporatists for what they really are — greedy bastards.

PS: Yes, I finally did get up enough nerve to actually go camp out. Remember those baby chickens that I got at the county fair last week? Well, last night I looked at them and they looked at me and I swear I actually heard one of them saying, “And you’re the one that’s calling ME a chicken?” So I figured that I’d better put my money where my mouth is.

“You can sleep in that yellow tent over there, said a member of the security team when I arrived (chickenless) at 1:00 am in the morning last night, pillow and blanket in hand.

“And how’s progress on the state budget coming along?” I asked. Not so good. And camping out didn’t go so well either. The ground, like the Governator, was cold and hard too. Plus I’d forgotten my flannel nightgown and bunny slippers. I don’t see how these disabled people do it.

Last night I slept in a yellow tent next to an empty wheelchair, some crutches and an artificial leg.

PPS: Country Joe McDonald is giving a free concert at Arnieville on Saturday July 17, 2010 at 3:00 pm. Please come to the concert. Please support Arnieville. Please donate air mattresses!

PPPS: You can also donate $$$$ to keep Arnieville alive (and representing other Californians besides just the oligarchs) by going to their website at

PPPPS: Does anybody out there want to adopt any baby chickens? Ones that I (almost) promise won’t talk back?

Keep Your Eye on Jeb

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:20 pm

While writing a rough draft for a mostly whimsical column that would assess the summer of 2010 from the hypothetical point of view of a future historian looking back at it, we came across a Huffingtonpost story
about Jeb Bush
and realized that the Huffington story augmented by a series of similar items might, in retrospect, be recognized as a very important harbinger of the United States’ political future.

To get Jeb Bush elected as the President of the United States (POTUS) in 2012, legitimately or not, one would have to prepare the country in advance for such a potentially (to some) distressing result. If it is predestined to happen, it would be very prudent to plant a series of “news” stories assuming that such an election result were possible. Otherwise if it just came to be that Jeb started winning primary contests in early 2012, some of America’s less gullible citizens might raise a hue and cry. If, however, the free press would show their sportsmanship and help set the stage, it could go a long way towards sidestepping a rancorous national debate about the need for a continuation of the Bush Dynasty.

In the realm of deceptive activity designed to fleece an unsuspecting victim of his/her money a common factor is often an assistant who seemingly is a stranger to both parties and who provides a “count me in” factor to the proceedings that is designed to alleviate any of the victim’s points of objection. People tend to be reluctant to be the first to make a move but they also tend to have a flock mentality when a trend gains traction.

Thus, if some political strategist (with a tendency to play his role in a Svengali/Merlin manner) is calling the shots, the press can play the role of the “count me in” accomplice by rehabilitating the rather tarnished image of the Bush family. A complicit press could help refurbish that image as one of an American tradition that has suffered a temporary setback rather than a total derailment via the low public opinion of the last President. With the press’ reputation for truthfulness and integrity (imagine it in terms of Edward R. Murrow doing a “Person to Person” interview with Jeb in his home [or is it “one of his homes”?] with lotsa “softball questions.”), they could do a great deal to help restore the tarnished Bush brand name back to its former eminence.

Obviously this sounds outlandishly implausible, but if someone told the reader back in the “Impeach Clinton now!” phase of the country’s history that the Republicans would win the next election in the conservative majority Supreme Court and then pull off an even more impossible upset in 2004, who would have believed it back then?

Quite often historians find the most fascinating items go mostly unnoticed while they are part of the contemporary news scene. Hence, we strongly assert that folks, coping with foreclosure or not, pay more attention to the stories about Jeb and ask themselves if such items are a legitimate examples of a “nose for news” journalistic value judgment or if they are part of a concerted effort to set the USA up for yet another con job.

It could be that the Summer of 2010 will, some day, be remembered in some obscure and esoteric example of historians scholarship as the time when the World’s Laziest Journalist posted the first claxon alarm about the next successful Republican presidential campaign.

For the time being, such a premise will, for the most part, be blithely dismissed as being inconsequential alarmism. So noted. We now return you to our regularly scheduled whimsical column about the Summer of 2010:
Mel Gibson made an audition tape for his efforts to be hired as Uncle Rushbo’s occasional fill-in replacement and when it fell into the wrong hands it got misrepresented in the media and that got him into an embarrassing position. On the tape did he say anything that would cost him his job if he were saying it on the air from the Excellence In Broadcasting studios?

If Lenny Bruce were still alive would he be fostering a comedy genre called “slick” humor?

Being alive in the summer of BP love is providing curmudgeons with a smorgasbord of news stories just bound to please the “you kids stay off my lawn” style grouches while sending the far lefties into the throes of agony.

The Republicans are castigating (careful with that word) President Obama for fighting a war in Afghanistan that is unwinnable (Word spell-check, like many Republicans, refuses to accept the existence of that word). Didn’t George W. Bush hand his war off to his successor and wasn’t that a bit like when that silly bird hands the coyote the lit stick of trinitrotoluene (AKA TNT)?

What grump wouldn’t like the Eddie Haskell-ish trick of wrecking the economy and then ridiculing the folks collecting unemployment during the succeeding administration’s effort to restore prosperity?

Is there a misanthrope alive this summer that doesn’t see that the way to explain Alvin Greene’s meteoric rise to fame and political prominence can be explained by the old concept of “charisma”?

Isn’t it a shame that cartoonist Charles Addams didn’t live until “death panels” became one of Uncle Rushbo’s recurring leitmotifs?

Back in the Sixties, liberal writers in the mainstream media (MSM) who couldn’t write about very liberal programs and ideas learned they could pull an end-run on the conservative publishers by doing trend spotting stories about people with liberal points of view. For instance the New York media heavy hitters who couldn’t be anti Vietnam War in their stories could write about folks who were such as Bob Dylan and Hunter S. Thompson and the Rolling Stone magazine. That brought bigger audiences to those cultural phenomenons which, in turn, helped them get their message out to a bigger audience. That way the frustrated writers on the nationally respected media plantations could claim that they had (indirectly) helped spread the liberal memes.

Does Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly ever mention online sites that pointed out the shortcomings of the Bush Junta? If there is a new online equivalent of the Berkeley Barb or the East Village Other will they ever become a cultural force thanks to trend spotting stories in the MSM? Is helping to stifle voices of dissention a stealth way to help conservatives?

Does Murdock’s media ever criticize BP? Was it a group of rogue miscreants who arranged for the Lockerby prisoner to go free in return for some off shore drilling rights from Libya?

Summer of 2010 was also when scientists made news by studying the DNA of Ozzy Osbourne. It was when the “cheesy easy song of the day” on the True Oldies Channel was in its first year of existence. It was also (personal note alert) when this columnist discovered Joe R. Lansdale, the man we proclaim to be the heir to wear the “best living” mantle at the next convention (known as Bouchercon) of hard-boiled detective story writers. BTW the convention will be held in San Francisco! ! !

Will the summer of 2010 be referred to by techies as: “when Apple made their Edsel”? ? ?

In the summer of 2010, the conservatives are having a ball laughing at dumpster diving for kids and folks running out of their unemployment checks. Those compassionate conservative Christians are such cut-ups, aren’t they? The web site Tea Party Jesus puts conservative quotes in the mouth of Christ. It’s meant as irony.

You can help the restoration of the Bush family dynasty by writing to the managing editors of all national mainstream media and demanding that they omit any mention of , Broward Savings and Loan from their suck-up “news” stories.

Senator Jim Bunning’s famous “Tough shit!” line may be a strong contender for the 2010 quote of the year.

Now the disk jockey will play “19th Nervous Breakdown,” the “Easy Rider” soundtrack album, and “Helter Skelter.” We have to go check out the topic of how to get a bet, on Jeb in 2012, with long odds, down now in Vegas. Have a “Great But Forgotten” type week.

Ye Olde Scribe Presents: Plugging Another Foul Spill

Filed under: Commentary — Ye Olde Scribe @ 12:31 pm

It took damn near an eternity but BP engineers and da Gov finally found a way to tampon-close the splurging, spluttering sludge spewing from deep within cavernous edifice close to the almost bottomless bowels of da ocean.

Jeez, Scribe can do gross out better than most, but that almost made Scribe gag on his own attempt at a gag!

One engineer, let’s call him “Costello,” turns to the supervising government official, “Abbot…” (No second “t,” because he once was a nun before the sex change. Now he’s “ABBOTT!”) …and says…

“We fixed that! Thought we’d never fix it for a second.”

“Well, we’ve got another job to do first in LOU of stopping now.”



In unison.

“Oh, no not THAT bit again!!!”

So they went off to fix the most foul, vile spills ever reported on the planet. The vile substance being spewed was so toxic it polluted the planet with a vomit-ous substance; and no one has been able to curtail the flow yet. It is a screeching sound that makes nails on a blackboard seem like a symphony, a jackhammer a violin. Bagpipes literally make music for the angels in comparison. You can literally hear it everywhere.

One can only hope for a case permanent laryngitis before the extinction level event. Or Sarah Beyond the Palin just shuts the HELL up.

BP caps leaking well, but industry experts say it may not be a permanent fix

Filed under: Uncategorized — Greg in cheeseland @ 4:04 am

Author’s note: Firstly, BP wouldn’t be taking the time and effort with this new cap just before the relief well is about to be complete if they did not know that the relief well has a very little chance of being successful. Even if the relief well manages to intersect the main well, the sandblasting effect may have eroded the main well enough that it cannot be plugged with drilling mud and cement. If the pressure from the well blew out the mud from the top kill, why would anyone think the same thing would not happen deeper down, where the pressure is just as great is not more? Secondly, there have been numerous reports of additional leaks in the well bore itself and from fissures in the ocean floor near the site. Installing this new cap will confirm that, and if that is the case, neither the cap nor the relief wells will stop the leak. Thirdly, if this cap actually does work it would provide a means to accurately measure how much oil has been flowing into the Gulf, which most scientists know is far more than BP or the feds have admitted. That is crucial in determining how many billions of dollars BP will pay in fines. Do you think BP really wants anyone to know that? Lastly, the only thing BP has a good record with in this disaster is BS. Why would anyone think that will change now?

BP announced yesterday that at 2:25 PM CST, a cap placed over the leaking well had stopped the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. While that is great news for everyone, some industry experts caution that it may not be a permanent fix.

As early as May 31, after the top kill procedure failed, a BP official admitted to the Washington Post that “We discovered things that were broken in the sub-surface.” He said that mud was making it “out to the side, into the formation.” The official said he could not describe what was damaged in the well.

According to industry experts, if that is the case, the integrity tests with the new cap could make matters worse. Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of geosciences programs at the University of Houston, told CNN today, “We don’t know if there are significant leaks deep in the well. There’s a couple of weak points at 9,000 feet, and one at 17,000 feet, that they might be particularly interested in looking at and watching in the seismic.”

Any additional leaks in the well bore below the surface could cause the well to blow out again during integrity testing, and make it more difficult, if not impossible, to plug with relief wells. Recently-retired Shell Oil President John Hofmeister made a similar point:

I think the fundamental issue… is there are serious concerns about the integrity of the casing that is the well itself. And that by putting the cap on and doing the stress tests… that the integrity of the steel is insufficient to hold the pressure of the well. And if you lose the casing it’s game over. It’s like having a volcano on the bottom of the sea. If you lose the casing and oil starts coming up on the outside of the casing you cant stop it. There’s nothing you can do that would stop it…other than implode the well. There are many in the industry that feel the casing must have been damaged because of the power of that well, the pressure of that reservoir.

Another oil industry expert, Rob Cavner, who has been correct about virtually everything regarding the disaster thus far, previously explained that there is damage in the oil well beneath the seafloor. He also says that he is worried that the well integrity test could further damage the well bore and could blow out the entire well even further (see video here).

Cavner believes BP may have an ulterior motive in capping the well instead of just completing the relief well: “While they have every incentive to get the well killed, BP also has every incentive to not capture 100% of the well flow until they do,” Cavnar wrote last week at Huffington Post. “As soon as they do capture all the flow, then a real, measurable number will be in front of the public, and that’s the last thing BP wants, since that number will then be used to extrapolate environmental damage, hence per barrel fines that will likely run to the tens of billions anyway.”

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen’s comment on CNN yesterday seems somewhat suspicious in light of Cavner’s allegation. He cautions: “This isn’t over” and talks about the cap as a temporary measure to be used for hurricanes. “It remains likely that we will return to the containment process… until the relief well is completed,” (see video here). So it looks like the plan is to go back to releasing the oil and letting it pump up to the surface.

Worse yet, there have been reports of additional leaks in the seabed miles away from the well, (see videos below). Rep. Ed Markey, Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, addressed that issue in a letter to BP asking: “Do any or all of these events indicate that oil and gas could be flowing from somewhere other than the target reservoir?” If he has received an answer, it has not been publicized. If the answer is “yes,” then neither the new cap nor the relief wells will stop the flow of oil into the Gulf.

BP does not have a good record in terms of public disclosure. BP suspended the “top kill” operation for 16 hours because, according to numerous experts, it was creating more damage to the well bore. BP did not tell the media, local officials or the public that it had delayed the effort until long afterwards. Similarly, it took more than 5 hours for BP to publicly announce the delay of the well integrity test after the decision to delay was made.

Is the well integrity test a meaningless PR stunt or a ruse to hide the true scope of the leak, which is delaying completion of the relief wells, and failing to bring us any closer to permanently killing the oil gusher? Or is it a valuable tool to see if the well can be protected from further damage during a hurricane?

Only time will tell… Let’s continue hope for the best.

Read more, get links and video here: Madison Independent Examiner – BP caps leaking well, but industry experts say it may not be a permanent fix

The Tattlesnake – Dick Cheney Doesn’t Have a Pulse Edition

Rachel Maddow reported July 14th that five-heart-attacks-since-he-was-37 Dick Cheney is hanging on by a thread following complete heart failure, kept alive only by a machine called a LVAD resting externally on his belly that keeps his blood moving. Ironically, because an external machine is circulating his blood rather than his damaged heart, Cheney apparently has no pulse, not that I would have sworn he had one before. Although I wouldn’t wish death on any human being (leave that to the kill-crazy wingnuts; I’d rather see him in jail), and Deadeye Dick marginally qualifies in that category, this would seem to be close to the end of the line for the Torture Boy – the doctors can do no more except a full heart transplant and he’s physically in such bad shape he likely couldn’t survive the operation. (Although the sci-fi plot possibilities of Cheney receiving the heart of, say, a peaceful Buddhist monk and publicly renouncing his past self is nearly irresistible. “I’ve done wrong and now I must pay the price! President Obama, put me in prison for war crimes – waterboard me, I insist! And I’m donating all of my millions in wealth to Green Peace! Liz, stop crying like that!”)

If he goes, are we going to be subjected to the full-pomp, days-long state funeral, or will every news outlet but Fox let him pass with just a brief mention and obit? I also wonder if, in his final moments in this realm, a fearful-of-judgment Cheney will pull a Lee Atwater and ask forgiveness for his past crimes and deceptions?

© 2010 RS Janes.

July 15, 2010

Why Europe will never let Iran get bombed…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 12:13 pm

Has Europe just been appointed Iran’s designated driver? Is Europe going to keep Iran from getting bombed? And, more important, can Europe take away America’s and Israel’s car keys as well? Yes, yes, and yes.

Let’s talk realistically here. The various corporatists and neo-cons who have seized control of the military decision-making processes in both America and Israel have been making a lot of strong noises lately to the effect that they really really want to attack Iran. Sober up here, guys! Get a grip. You seem to have carefully isolated yourselves — and also your backup crew of citizen right-wingers — from all too many of the realities and facts on the ground that are readily available to the rest of the world.

For instance, did you know that people in Europe view the Israel-Palestine situation from a very different perspective than most Americans do? Almost everyone in Europe has been pretty much disgusted by the American-backed Israeli neo-cons’ failed 2006 invasion of Lebanon, its brutal 2009 invasion of Gaza and its recent viscous attack on the internationally-sponsored humanitarian flotilla to Gaza.

Knowing this, what makes Israel’s and America’s corporatist decision-makers think that Europe (and also Russia, China, etc.) is going to welcome an invasion of Iran with open arms? Not gonna happen!

Further, by isolating and restricting our major media to the point where it mainly prints opinions that corporatists in Washington want to hear, Americans and Israelis may be cutting off their own noses in order to spite their face with regard to Iran.

At this point, the media war for America’s hearts and minds needs a serious reality check. Otherwise, Americans may find themselves once again swimming out into the deep end of the pool at their own peril — just like what happened in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Won’t someone please take our military-industrial complex’s car keys away! They may think that they are sober — but in reality they have drank far too much of the “Endless War” Kool-Aid and are in NO condition to drive. Europe knows this. But apparently we Americans do not.

It seems that if corporatists, neo-cons and right-wingers don’t like reality, they try to make it disappear. And the main difficulty with this approach to reality is that we the people are getting suckered into situations that we might normally avoid like the plague. However, trying to convince Europe, Russia, South America and Asia to go along with these war plans against Iran may turn out to be a hard sell indeed.

And there’s another major factor involved in this facts-on-the-ground equation as well — unlike Iraq and Afghanistan (and to some extent Palestine), many Europeans, Asians, etc. have actually BEEN to Iran.

Who the freak went to Iraq before Shock and Awe? Hardly anyone. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was not exactly some hot new tourist destination. And tourists hardly ever went to Afghanistan — except for perhaps a few hippies with wanderlust back in the 1960s. But. What Americans and Israelis apparently don’t comprehend or understand is that Iran is a major tourist attraction — for both Europeans and Asians. Think Egypt and the pyramids. Think Taj Mahal. Iran is to Europe what the Grand Canyon or the Great Wall of China is to us. A major tourist hotspot!

So while a huge number of Americans still think that Iran is filled with sand and camel jockeys and harems, most Europeans and more than a handful of Asians have been there, done that. They know, for instance, that Tehran is the Paris of the Near East. They know that the ruins at Persepolis rival the ruins at Karnak. And they know that Estafan’s grand palaces and mosques can easily compete with the coliseum and Vatican in Rome. And Europeans flock to Iran by the tens of thousands annually.

Europeans have been there. Americans have not. You can tell Americans ANYTHING about Iran and they will believe it. You can’t tell Europeans diddly-squat about Iran — because they have actually been there themselves.

For this reason alone, I’m willing to bet the farm that Europeans will never let Iran get bombed.

PS: And I’ve been to Iran too. Here’s Part One of my report on the wonders of Iran. “Iran never disappoints.”


Innocents Abroad: On the Road in Iran
October 8, 2008: “I have no idea what to wear to Iran,” I whined. I’d heard stories of women actually being executed there for not covering themselves from head to toe.

“Don’t worry about that,” said an Iranian-American friend. “Just wear long sleeves, long dresses and a headscarf and you’ll be fine.” But I don’t even own any dresses. Crap. This is going to be like dressing up for a trip to the moon. I’m totally out of my cultural depth.

“It’s just not that big a deal,” said my friend. But it is. All I ever wear these days are jeans and T-shirts. Jeans and T-shirts. That’s it. “Jane, get a grip. Jeans are made of cloth. Dresses are made of cloth. Same difference. You’ll do fine.”

But still I worry. I’m not worried about going to Iran during a time-period where that idiot George Bush is threatening to bomb it and being there when the bunker-busters drop. And I’m definitely not worried about getting any tourist diseases over there. No, I’m all worried about clothes and I’m also worried about getting a ticket from the fashion police for looking like a dork.

“Jane,” said my friend, “you went on Hajj and spent a whole month in Mecca. You visited Afghanistan. You even stayed on in Palestine. And you loved every moment. You’ll like Iran as well.” Will I? I’m going to find out tomorrow. I’m leaving tomorrow for Tehran.

October 9, 2008: It’s 4:00 am in the morning, our jet plane is somewhere over Iceland, I just watched a re-run of a movie I saw last spring when I flew to China, I’m uber-tired and I’m stuck in a middle seat with no legroom – but other than that this has been a very smooth flight. I haven’t been reduced to total terror so far.

The man in the seat to my right – 35F – is from Monte Negro and he just gave me a capsulated rundown on the Serbo-Croatian war. “Serbs, Croats and Monte Negrans all speak dialects of the same language,” he added, “but the people from Kosovo speak Albanian, which is a language unto itself.”

“What’s Monte Negro like now?”

“We have a lot of beaches. It’s a tourist destination and we have hydropower and aluminum. Tito was in charge when I was a boy. There wasn’t all that much freedom of speech like there is now but we had excellent free education and healthcare.” Trade-offs.

The woman on my left – 35D – was from India and remembered the days before the partition. “Hindu and Urdu are also similar languages,” she said. I didn’t know that.

Both my seatmates had lived through civil wars. “I spent the entire duration of the Serbo-Croatian war in Russia,” said the Monte Negran, “and the United States.” Good thinking. Avoiding a war zone is always a good idea.

There’s a kind of fugue state generated by flying and I am now definitely in that zone. If I read any of what I wrote here later, will it make sense? Probably not.

After we landed in Frankfurt, a bus came out to our 747 and drove us for about a mile to the terminal, past a very long flight line. “How many wide-bodies do they have in this place!” I exclaimed to the Indian lady.

“Maybe 50?” Or more – all bearing the name “Lufthansa”. Some were being driven from place to place like they were cars. Others sat parked in long parking-lot lines, like they were waiting around for their owners to get back from the mall and drive them home. “Aren’t they pretty!” someone said. Yes.

Then I trundled off to my free Sheraton Hotel dayroom, soaked in a nice long hot bath and slept for five hours. Heavenly – except for the dream. The dregs of society were down by the waterfront planning a wedding. One woman-man had a tongue made of metal and the end of his-her tongue had rusted off. Eeuuww.

Meanwhile back on the plane to Tehran…. We saw a lot of cartoons. “Why are we watching children’s shows?” said a member of our group that I had met at the Frankfurt airport gate lounge while waiting for our flight.

“Because Iranians love cartoons.” Interesting. We watched Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the Little Mermaid. Since when does the Little Mermaid pass the dress code?

There were two wonderful babies on the plane. More and more, I’ve been noticing wonderful babies – of all races, cultures and creeds. Maybe I just started noticing wonderful babies because of my wonderful granddaughter – or maybe more wonderful babies are being born because there is a greater need in the world now for wonderful babies than there ever has been before. Perhaps they will all grow up and save the world.

We have one hour and eleven minutes before we arrive in Tehran. Is it time to start putting my headscarf on yet?

I met up with the rest of my tour group at Gate 22 of the Frankfurt airport. They all seem very nice – three younger women, several women my age and a middle-aged couple. There’s supposed to be one more man but I haven’t met him yet.

“Do you have a copy of the itinerary?” I asked one of the women my age.

“Sure. We’ll be flying to the northern part of Iran and then driving back down south.” Oh goodie! We’ll get to see a lot of the countryside and not just Tehran. “Yadz, Persepolis, Esfahan.” Tourist hotspots and famous archeological digs. Cyrus and Alexander were here. I may have accidentally stumbled onto the trip of a lifetime – besides Egypt of course…and maybe India. Manchu Picchu? The Potola in Tibet? Shut up, Jane.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a very important announcement,” said the stewardess. “All women are required to cover their heads so we ask you to put on headscarves before we land in Tehran.” So I ran to the toilet area to put on my long skirt and coat-dress — and the plane started rocking and the “return to seat” light started flashing and the stewardess kept saying, “Return to your seats,” and there I was, halfway in and halfway out of my costume and bouncing around the toilet compartment and muttering “Oh crap!”

But when I got back to my seat, the Iranian men I had befriended on the flight all smiled and cheered and I was a big hit – except for the man next to me who got all nauseous and rang for the stewardess and was going to throw up – hopefully not because of me.

I’m so glad my daughter Ashley isn’t here. She’d laugh her head off at the sight of me in a skirt. But at least in all the excitement of me coming out of my cocoon as an Iranian butterfly, I forgot to be terrified of the turbulence.

After we got through customs, only our group was made to wait and wait and wait. “Sometimes they hold Americans at the airport for three or four hours – in revenge for all the waiting that Iranian citizens have to go through at American airports.” But as we waited all alone in the now-deserted airport, I noticed that the immigration department computers all had Windows XP screen savers and we were waiting next to a Panasonic advertizing sign.

And then the customs police brought me a chair.

Boy did I misunderestimate the temperatures here. Once we got through customs, the fresh cold air hit us hard – freaking San Francisco weather. I’ve packed the wrong clothes.

“117 million people live in Tehran proper,” said our new guide, “and an additional 22 million live in Greater Tehran. And the airport is one hour’s drive from the downtown .” We climbed onto the bus. It’s now 3:00 am, Iran time.

Our four-star hotel room had all the amenities – hot water, a bed, towels, sheets, cockroaches.

October 11, 2008: “Good morning!” said my new roommate. How does one civilly reply to something like that at 7:00 am after getting only three hours of sleep? I am so freaking tired.

I guess from my first impressions that the only difference between Iran and other places in Europe and America is that the women here wear headscarves and blouses that come down past their hips. But that’s about it. I could be sitting in any other hotel in the world.

“People in Iran are overly polite – that’s the big difference between Iranians and Americans,” said our guide. “In that respect, we are more like the Japanese.” Oh, and you CAN brush your teeth with the tap water.

“We just got word that we will not be meeting with a prominent ayatollah as planned,” said our guide. “He is not feeling well.”

Much to my surprise, everyone here wears western clothes and hardly anyone is in full Muslim drag.

“American dollars are getting stronger in Iran right now so you are lucky,” said our guide, “and a lot of people here actually take dollars.” And apparently inflation has hit here hard in the last year. “The price of eggs has doubled and housing costs three times as much.” The inflation rate is around 500%. Wow. “Gas used to be 40 cents a gallon but now it is 40 cents per liter, and living in Tehran is very expensive. A lot of people work two or three jobs.” The wives work as well as the husbands.

The first stop on our tour was the archeological museum, built in the 1930s as part of a plan to stop the looting of archeological treasures by western collectors. “This museum covers the period of the fifth millennium BC to the seventh century AD – the pre-Islamic period.”

Iran is four times the size of Iraq – which is the size of California. “Iran is approximately one-fourth to one-third the size of the United States, excluding Alaska. The name ‘Iran’ is derived from the word ‘Aryan,’ the people who migrated down from the area which is now Russia. Our national history starts from around 1900 BC, when the Aryans came and subjugated the local people. Cyrus the Great is a descendant of the original Aryans.” And they call all white people Caucasians because that’s the area where the Aryans originally came from, so Americans, European and Iranians all come from the same stock.

“Iranians are basically Caucasians – but because we are located at such a geographical crossroads, we have all kinds of ethnic diversity too.” Aryans, Semites and even Mongols. Then we saw a lot of paleolithic stuff at the museum. That stuff was OLD.

“There’s a museum in Chicago that has more Persian antiquities than this one,” said one tour group member. Still and all, this stuff is nice. Plus it gives us a taste of what we have to look forward to at Persepolis – lots of statues of impressive-looking bearded guys.

I didn’t see many statues of women here. “The role of women in the Middle East has always been secondary, not just since Islam.” I guess that’s right. With a few notable exceptions, Jewish women were secondary to their men in the Middle East back in biblical times, and even look what happened to Mary Magdalene when she stepped out of her place — she got called a whore.

Back on the bus, we passed two churches on our way to a ceramics museum. My idea of a good museum is one that has places to sit down. This one had lots of chairs.

“These necklaces date back to the fourth millennium BC.” Even then, human beings appreciated art. I gotta start appreciating art too. Human beings create art – it’s what distinguishes us from beasts. Less bombs, more art. Let’s spend the Pentagon’s budget on teaching people to paint, draw, write and play the violin instead. Iran and Israel could have a battle of the bands. May the best poet win. There is a peaceful quality about museums. Then I accidentally sat in the museum guard’s chair – but he was extremely gracious about it.

What’s next? Lunch. “We are going to one of a chain of restaurants that serve traditional Iranian food.” Mostly stews. Ours was a stew composed of extract of pomegranate, walnuts, vegetables, dried lemon and kidney beans, served with plain rice. Then we got to talking about fast food. “People here really like fast food – burgers and pizza.”

“Is there a McDonalds?”

“No, but we do have Coca-Cola.” So much for sanctions. I had a Sprite. Someone else had a pseudo-Red Bull. My Sprite can said, “Canned under authority of the Coca-Cola Company.”

Apparently traditional Iranian food includes chicken pasta salad. “And this dish is fried onions, tomatoes and lamb.” Then the shish kebob came! And dates and macaroons for dessert. “Is lunch or dinner the main meal of the day?” I asked.

“Every meal is the main meal of the day.” My kind of people.

Then we got into a discussion about headscarves. There are advantages and disadvantages regarding the treatment of Islamic women. “We sacrifice some things yet we also receive more respect,” said one Iranian woman. In one way I like the headscarves because they grip my skull and keep my brains from rattling around in my head.

When people found out that Americans were at the restaurant, it took on a festive atmosphere as diners from other tables came over and offered us food. “Try this yogurt. Try these olives!” Sure. I wonder what the poor schmucks who think Iran is such a horrible place are doing right now? Probably just stuck at home at McDonalds.

I can see the direction this trip is going in. Once I get back from Iran, I may never have to eat again.

“Next we are going to the jewelry museum. An 18th century corrupt shah was so busy with his harem that the Afghans were able to invade. But then a new shah came to power and kicked the Afghans out and got back the treasury that the Afghans had seized – plus a lot more.” That’s where we are going now – to view the gold and gems once owned by this shah. I’m definitely up for looking at gold.

“The jewels exhibited here,” said our guide, “are priceless.” Imagine a huge underground vault filled with hundreds of thousands of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, gold and other shiny stuff – worth trillions of dollars.

“Are any of the people who owned this still alive?”

“No, all of them are dead.” There’s a moral here – that even a treasure-house full of jewels won’t make you immortal. Deep, huh.

“Do any of the current Iranian state leaders wear any of these jewels?”

“They wouldn’t dare. Their reputations would be ruined.” But there were so many thousands of diamonds that they just seemed like rhinestones, paste and glass beads after a while.

“Diamonds used to be the most valuable stone,” said our guide, “but they are still mining diamonds – whereas there are no more rubies left to be mined and so now rubies are five times more valuable.”

Then we went off to buy Islamic dresses. Islamic dresses basically look like overcoats. We all had fun trying them on but the ones that were stylish cost over $50 and the cheap ones didn’t fit at all and were ugly. I finally found a black cotton one for $25 that wasn’t too bad, if a little bit tight. Hey, it had pockets. I look like a sausage. But it was fun shopping for it and I can always move over the buttons.

October 12, 2008: My roommate and I really get along well outside our hotel room but once in our room we (politely) fight about everything – what time to set the alarm for, whether or not to open the window, what speed to set the air conditioning on, when to turn out the light and even where to put the toilet paper roll. Weird. Plus she snores a lot and I certainly don’t want to be the one to tell her that.

Right now, all my extra money is going to the hotel’s internet café. The Iranian government denies me access to and but gives me access to That’s strange. All three sites offer the same articles and all three sites worked their little hearts out to prevent Bush from attacking Iran. I submitted an appeal to whoever manages this kind of stuff to unblock the sites.

I wonder what we are going to do today? I need to buy some T-shirts. I packed five skirts and dresses that I will never use but not enough T-shirts to wear under my manteau (that’s what they call these overcoat dresses here).

Our hotel is one block away from the Petroleum Ministry. That probably contains more gold than the jewelry museum.

“In a few minutes we are going to pass the former U.S. embassy. You are not allowed to take photos.” But mostly it was just a view of a wall, you couldn’t see the embassy itself, nothing strategic. But I figured it was okay to take pictures of the wall. It had lots of anti-American phrases and murals that had been done back in the 1970s and were now almost the only place in Tehran that you could see anti-American slogans. “Iran will outlast the American superpower,” said one section of the wall. At this point that might not be very hard to do. The reports on BBC News this morning about the American economy were really bad.

Then we drove through the old Armenian quarter. It looked like the Lower East Side of New York City.

“Tehran is 4500 feet above sea level. The population went from 3.5 million in 1978 to 17 million now, creating a population boom as people streamed into Tehran searching for jobs and creating large ghettos and sections of poverty. Plus over a million people died in the Iran-Iraq war, which also affected Tehran because people came here to be safe.”

To the east of the city, high mountains suddenly rise. I know that the mountains are in the east because I always carry a compass – but you know that I still always manage to get lost.

“We are now going to a palace complex that belonged to the former shah. The closer you get to the mountains, the more expensive the neighborhoods get.” Lots of 20- and 30-story condo towers – with helicopter pads on their roofs. “A two-bedroom condo in this area goes for a million dollars. There is a lot of construction going on and, unlike in the USA right now, housing is still a lucrative business here.”

Iran has 30 provinces but Tehran is the most popular place to live at. “They are trying to transfer the capital to Esfahan to lower the congestion here but that move is still in the works.” Then I got the sneezes from all that air conditioning last night.

“You can find the best-paying jobs in Tehran but you have to spend more to live here.”

Then we passed through a lovely tree-lined boulevard. “It is not allowed to cut down trees in Iran. There’s a $20,000 fine. This street is the Champs de Elysees of Tehran.”

We passed some Starbucks wannabes here, only they had changed the name to “Starcups”. Many brand-name stores are coming to Iran now, such as Versace and Baskin Bobbins. “Tehran is not an ancient city, only about 200 years old.” We will try to see three palaces today. King Reza, the founder of this dynasty, had four wives. And his son, the last Shah, had three wives. The last shah had 18 palaces but we are only going to see three of them. And after the palaces, we are going to go shopping at Nordstrom’s.”

Tourist buses were lined up at the palace entrance and little girls in lavender cupcake uniforms sat on the steps of one of the palaces and said good morning to us in English. Third graders.

Then I tripped over nothing, fell flat on my face and screwed up my left ankle. Crap. It really hurts. I feel like a horse that needs to be taken out and shot. “Are you okay, Jane?” No. But, hey, I tripped on the same path that one of the cruelest dictators in the whole world used to walk on daily.

Next we went to a museum for the paintings of Mahmoud Farsachian. My initial reaction was “kitsch” – but technically well-executed kitsch. I’m such a snob. I couldn’t have possibly drawn or painted any of his stuff. Would I hang any of his work in my home? Sure. I’ve already inherited about 20 other kitsch paintings from my mom. These would fit right in.

Then we found a restroom with options besides a squat toilet. And the men’s side was cleaner than the women’s, giving me a whole new respect for Iranian men. Men’s rooms in America suck eggs.

Then we went off and got our photos taken in ancient Persian dresses while sitting in front of a Cinderella-style carriage that used to belong to a shah. I think. And then we toured the last shah’s palace with a group of Korean tourists and the women in the group wore the most beautiful headscarves, all covered with sequins. The shah had a lot of fabulous Persian rugs.

Then we went off to the Black Palace which is now an art museum. Lots of stairs, no chairs.

“These are paintings of Persian nobility from the 17th century.” I’d hang any one of these in my home any time. I loved them. Who ARE these people? And where do they shop?

One portrait showed two young men, six young women and an old lady, fondling each other. “Back in those times, relations between women were not uncommon and were considered normal.” Why not? There was probably nothing else to do in the harem.

And that was our day, spent flitting through the palaces of the former shah. Back on the bus. “About 60 years ago, you wouldn’t see any houses around here, only lawns, gardens and trees.”

Time for lunch.

We drove up a winding street up on the hillside of the poshest part of town. “That home there costs 25 million.” Dollars. This is the Beverly Hills of Tehran. “Here is our restaurant.” Men sat outdoors on carpets. We sat outdoors too, under trees, in a garden – but not, thankfully, on the floor. Barley soup, eggplant anti-pasta with dill sour cream – just for starters. I’m already full. Lamb kebabs, chicken, potatoes, dates and tea.

Then we went off to an upscale mall. Not quite Rodeo Drive – but close. “Don’t think of this as window shopping,” I told someone in our group. “Think of this as anthropology!” Exploring how the Tehran upper class lives. Incredibly stylish ways to wear black dresses of course, but also Dior, Tommy Hilfiger, Benetton, Yves St. Laurent, Givenchy, Mont Blanc, D-Squared and Elle! I was all in a daze.

I also found an ATM machine at the mall. Good. I was running out of money and had $200 less than I thought I had. But my card was rejected. “This machine will not accept your card.”

“Where can I get money?” I asked one of our guides.

“There’s no place that you can get money from America here.” Wow. The banking and credit system has gotten THAT bad? The dollar has sunken that low? “No, it’s just that there are no commercial ties between Iran and America.” Tell that to Coca-Cola and Tommy Hilfiger.

“What about Western Union?” I’d seen a Western Union sign near our hotel.

“Yes, you could do that.” But how?

“No tourist has ever been killed here in the past 200 years,” someone said. Good to know — but not surprising. Tehran is an extremely civilized town. I wonder, however, if any tourists have ever died of starvation due to access to an ATM machine. And I also wonder if I will have enough money to be able to buy a soccer jersey for Ashley or a doll for baby Mena. And maybe a small Persian rug for Joe?

One Iranian explained the gas situation to me. “We don’t have that many gas stations here so there are always long lines. Some people get up at 3:00 am to buy gas. And it’s rationed too. And if you don’t have a ration card, gas costs four times as much.”

Then we went off to a carpet museum. I’m assuming that they have a bathroom.

“There are two different types of carpets: Tribal rugs and urban rugs.” They showed us a rug from 500 BC. Awesome. A whole museum full of carpets. I wonder how many people went blind weaving these rugs?

“Urban rugs are more valuable if they are perfect but flaws in tribal rugs are acceptable, even expected.” Persian-type knots, natural dyes. “144 knots per (something, I didn’t hear what, perhaps inch?) is the highest amount you can get.” And it is illegal to import Chinese rugs into Iran. Then we looked at the rugs themselves. They were stunning, impressive. But I still like my little prayer rug better. It’s been in my purse since 2005, followed me everywhere, been around the world with me, kept me company. Just like the nomadic rugs.

Next stop – the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring an exhibit by art instructors in some of the local colleges and design schools. Nice building. Nice exhibit. My feet hurt. Can I go back to the hotel and use the internet yet?

“None of this stuff is political,” someone commented, “and none of it reflects the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war.” I get the opinion that almost everyone in Tehran is trying to forget it.

The sofas in the museum are incredibly soft – but hard to get out of. So I sat in the one by the door, waited for someone in our group to walk by and pull me out of the sofa, and listened to an Iranian Muzak version of “Sketches of Spain”. I used to listen to Miles Davis’s version of that in college back in 1963. I’d play it again and again – that and a whole ton of Joan Baez – and now I am sitting here listening to it in Iran.

Then we went off to a park where I saw the first man I have seen since I got here who was wearing a thobe — the traditional Middle Eastern white nightgown worn by men. “That isn’t a typical Persian item,” said a guide, “and, also, Tehran is such a new city that everyone here wears Western garb except the mullahs. That man was probably a Pakistani.”

This park actually has park benches! Whew! And we also found a bunch of Nautilus-like exercise machines. And I got to sit down on the stationary bike.

Speaking of exercise, someone here told me that, “The girls in Iran eat very little until they get married and then after that….” The day after the wedding day they say goodbye to their diets.

(To be continued when I get back from the Netroots Nation convention in Las Vegas)

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