Saturday, September 30, 2006

New book about the Hajj: Stephanie Plum goes to Mecca?

The sacred Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca has been the subject of innumerable religious tracts, travelogues and scholarly tomes but never, prior to the publication of Jane Straitwell's new book, "Mecca and the Hajj: Lessons from the Islamic School of Hard Knocks," has the Hajj been made to sound quite so interesting, frustrating, stressful and, er, FUN.

The author, in describing her experiences while going on Hajj, writes in a style reminiscent of Janet Evanovich's murder mysteries featuring Stephanie Plum -- only without Lula, Morelli and Ranger.

In "Mecca and the Hajj," Straitwell is reverent and respectful of this legendary spiritual journey and yet at the same time manages to drag the reader along with her on her grand tribute to this awe-inspiring pilgrimage to the heart of Islam -- and to also make the journey both fascinating and fun.

I totally recommend this book -- and not just because I'm the author's publicist either. This is a really enjoyable book! I myself have read the book three times already and have every intention of reading it again. Learning about the awesome world of Islam, Mecca and the Hajj has never been so entertaining. To paraphrase Ranger, "Straitwell never fails to disappoint."

PS: I also highly recommend any of Janet Evanovich's mystery-genre series featuring Stephanie Plum. Start with the first book, "One for the Money" and go on from there. The love scenes in these books are a bit too racy for me, but I guarantee you will never find another series that will have you so consistently "Laughing Out Loud"!

Mecca and the Hajj is available on

Why they hate us: Because they can't control us!

Okay. I have a question for you. Could someone please explain this to me? Here we have George W. Bush and his buddies, sitting in the catbird seat, the ultimate Big Cheeses, in control of the entire world.

They got the money.

They got the guns.

They got control of the White House, the Congress AND the Supreme Court.

They are heroes and gods to the world's elite -- those rich-beyond-your-wildest-dreams global corporations who run the economies of every country in the world with the possible exception of Cuba and Venezuela.

They have more celebrity status than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

They OWN the media. Katie Couric regularly kisses their butts.

They got their own fleet of Learjets tricked out with fancy names like "Air Force One".

They gots hundreds of billions of dollars salted away in Swiss bank accounts. The IRS pumps our money into THEIR gas tanks. In possession of America's multi-trillion-dollar economy for collateral, they can max out their credit cards any time they want.

With all that going for them, why would Bush and his buddies even notice us little bloggers and malcontents and "liberals"? With that kind of money, status and power -- not to mention weaponry -- why would they even care we exist?

With more power and more money and more status than anybody in the history of the world including Julius Caesar, why do these guys spend 18 hours out of each 24-hour day hating us, passing wiretapping laws against us, setting up situations that will make it legal to torture us? Trying to scare us, focusing on us, arresting us, calling us names?

Go away, Mr. Bush. Go fly off to Crawford or London or Kennebunkport. Enjoy your power and wealth and celebrity -- and just leave us alone!

Why do they hate us so much? Why does Keith Olbermann get so viciously attacked and William Rivers Pitt worry about "disappearing" and everyone in my e-mail group exchange phone numbers in case the internet shuts us down?

They hate us because they can't control us...because they know that for all their wealth and power, they need us -- all of us, all of the wretched of the earth. But guess what? We don't need them. If we absolutely have to, we will live in cardboard huts out in the desert and eat fried worms with our fingers -- if that's what it takes to be free.

Bush and his buddies know this. They know that they can't control us. And that's why they hate us so much.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Jericho and Yom Kippur: TV worth watching & a holiday worth observing

Good grief! I just watched the first episode of that gripping new TV series, "Jericho". My jaw just dropped! What if what they described actually DID happen -- that there was a nuclear attack on Denver and Atlanta and who knows where else -- and YOUR small town was the only thing left standing in the entire USA? This is one heck of a TV show. I'm looking forward to future episodes.

How is the small town of Jericho gonna deal with what happens next? With radioactive fallout? With no more gas and electricity? With panic, fear and the disintegration of civilized behavior? With no more food -- not even spinich!
You know, the strange thing about this series appearing right now is that six years ago the whole premise would have been really hard to market. Nobody would believe such a thing could possibly happen. And now? There's nobody in the world today who can read a newspaper or watch TV news who doesn't believe that this scenario could happen at any minute.

So. What to do? Well, how about with Yom Kippur -- the sacred Jewish high holy day of atonement -- coming up, that every single human being in the entire world take a deep breath, count to ten and "Forgive thy neighbors". All of them.

"Jane! We can't do that! We have to bomb them before they bomb us!"

Sure we can. We can do this. Why? Because we have to. If we don't want to end up like the small town of Jericho, do we realistically have any other choice?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Big Dog has spoken: Bush is doomed....

My friend Aprille just sent me a transcript of Bill Clinton's recent appearance on Fox News. When referring to his all-out search for Osama bin Ladin back when he was President, our Bill really got into it! "But at least I tried," he expounded. "That’s the difference between me and some...including all the right wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try and they didn’t. I tried."

What Clinton is saying about all the "right-wingers" -- aka the same group that inflicted us with George W. Bush -- is very true. This isn't really hot news. All of us underground bloggers and "conspiracy nuts" have been saying something like this since approximately 9:30 am EST on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. So. Why, six years after Bush's total failure to act on security intelligence regarding Osama bin Ladin and/or the airplane hijackers, is all this so newsworthy now?

Because the Big Dog is dissing George Bush and his base right out in the open for God and everybody to see and hear!

Clinton has his pulse on the heart and soul of America. He KNOWS what America thinks.

So. If Clinton is actually coming out and saying something like this in public, then this IS news. It means that Bush is in deep dog dookie! Even more accurately than Gallup or Zogby, Clinton knows how America thinks -- and also how America will vote.

Full transcript:

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

If you can't fight them, join them: Hacking the vote for the Dems....

Recently, a couple of nerds from the "Freedom to Tinker" blog went off to Princeton University and demonstrated how to hack into Diebold voting machines -- by using the key to a mini-bar. Do you KNOW what this means? Elections are about to take on a whole new twist! Democracy is about to get a LOT more interesting.

I can see it now:

"This is Brit Hume, reporting for Fox News on the winners of the November 2006 Congressional elections. Just before the polls closed tonight, it seemed as if Democratic candidates all over the nation were taking the lead -- but then suddenly the Republicans came up from behind, energized their base, got out the vote and, in precinct after precinct across the land, performed the impossible and overtook the Democrats' strong lead." Obviously the Diebold fix had been pulled off yet again.

But wait! Suddenly the Dems once again pulled ahead! Have they too been using their mini-bar keys? It looks like the answer is yes!

"This is Bill O'Reilly. What a race! With the numbers pouring in from precincts all over the nation and people voting in record numbers FIVE MINUTES before the polls closed, the Republicans have once again surged ahead!"

But then, just as suddenly, the Dems now had SIXTY-FIVE PERCENT of the vote! What is going on here?

"This is Allan Colmes. The final election results are now in. The Republicans have won the House AND the Senate by an amazing ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY PERCENT margin of votes."

So. Will the Democrats be able to top even that? Do the Dems still have their keys to the mini-bar? America, this is the most exciting race in election history! It's anybody's guess as to who will be leading our nation! Please stay tuned....
The Thailand coup: Pentagon, please take note!

I just e-mailed Tom, my American friend who lives in Thailand. "What the heck is going on over there! Are you all right?"

He e-mailed me back. "Aside from some temporary difficulty with getting connected (and staying connected) to the internet this morning, there's been no interruption or inconvenience to me, at all. Schools are closed today, not because of any threat of danger, but rather to facilitate the flow of traffic, making it easier for the military and police to ensure and maintain order."


"Those of us who've lived in Thailand long enough have been through this before," Tom continued, "and while military takeovers have been greeted with much displeasure in the past, many of us are pleased to see the uniforms this time. Most Thais I know are pleased as well." That's good to know. I know that the Thai king is very popular with his people and I have heard that he supports the coup.

"It seems to be the general consensus of opinion today that Thailand has won by a knockout," said Tom, "with Thaksin being carried out in a stretcher. It remains to be seen what will become of him now, and we are counting on justice taking its course. Mr. Thaksin and his cronies have caused a lot of damage to this country."

A military coup in Thailand that took out the bad guys? Works for me. Hey. George Bush has done A LOT of damage to America -- especially to national security and the effectiveness and preparedness of our military.

Maybe the Pentagon will take note....

PS: My friend Rob just wrote me, "Are you suggesting that the Pentagon should take note of a corrupt leader who is hurting the country and do something about that leader?"

Who ME? Isn't it illegal to suggest something like that? But a LOT of things are illegal these days and nobody else seems to mind. Isn't election fraud illegal? And "Executive Orders" to detain our citizens and wiretap our journalists? That's illegal. And looting the U.S. Treasury for an illegal "war"?

I would never suggest nothing illegal! Heck, no. However, a ring of tanks around the White House just might bring its illegal tenants -- you gotta be elected to live there; it says so in the U.S. Constitution, the White House's lease -- to their senses and put Kerry and Gore back where they belong.

Am I suggesting that the PENTAGON run this country? Ha! They can't even defend themselves against Rumsfeld and Bush!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Four ethnic "Survivors": An interview with four Oakland teen prostitutes

I'm currently reading William Manchester's history of European medieval times entitled, "A World Lit Only by Fire". Trust me. Our ancestors were a barbaric lot. Even compared to our current wars and corruption and decadence, the human race has evolved A LOT since the Dark Ages.

According to Manchester, there was A LOT of killing going on back then -- and A LOT of sex.

According to Manchester, murder was an everyday affair but only perhaps one in a hundred killers were caught. And between the hardship of life back then, the highwaymen and bandits, the free-handed use of torture, the endless wars and the non-existent healthcare, you were considered an old man if you managed to survive to age 30!

According to Manchester, the traditional fairy-tale hero called the Pied Piper was actually a pervert who chopped up his young followers into neat little piles of torsos, arms and legs. Eeuuwww!

But what amazed me most about Manchester's description of medieval Europe was his chapter on sex. Back then, everyone in a family all shared the same bed. And when anyone in the family had sex, everyone else watched. People who remained loyal to their spouses were considered to be oddballs and prudes -- if not downright anti-social. The "oldest profession" was considered an honorable -- and necessary -- trade. Women "hiked up their skirts" at every opportunity and men "wore codpieces" as an advertisement that they were ready for action at all times. If one's daughter somehow miraculously survived to age 14 as a virgin, she was among a very small minority. And marriage was what you did after you got pregnant -- and if you didn't know who the father was, the most likely candidates all drew straws.

Forget about the Puritans! According to Manchester, our good Christian ancestors were basically libertines, rakes, nymphomaniacs and whores! And butchers, sadists, liars and thieves as well.

I didn't know that.

William Manchester liked to research medieval Europe but not me. I like to research Modern Man -- like what's going on in the latest episode of "Survivor". This season they divided the tribes into four ethnic groups: African-American, White, Asian and Hispanic.

This division by ethnicity reminded me of four teenage girls I met recently at the Hilltop Mall. I usually never go to malls but a friend talked me into it. And while she was shopping, I sat by the fountain and started talking with the four giggling teenage girls sitting next to me. They were sweet girls, friendly and bright-eyed and hopeful and full of life. One was African-American. One was White. One was Hispanic. And one was Asian. Hey, that's just like "Survivor"!

"Would you like me to read your lifelines," I asked them after my friend hadn't yet shown up and I was bored. They thought that idea was so cool!

"There are three kinds of lifelines in people's palms," I told the girls. "There is the 'American Plan' line which most Americans have -- it's a straight-forward line depicting an easy life." No hardship. No toil. Just a life-long series of trips to the mall. These girls looked like they would have that kind of line.

"The second basic type is the 'Stay out of the Army' line. That one has chains in it and means that there will be danger in your life but if you are careful, you can avoid it." The girls were fascinated.

"The third one is the 'I've lived through Hell and survived' line." I usually find this kind of lifeline on people with really sad stories -- refugees from Haiti, people who had survived childhood leukemia and the like.

"Okay, girls, let me see your dominant hand -- the one you write with." Eagerly, they all held out their hands. And all FOUR of these sweet, innocent NORMAL American teens had the dread "I've lived through Hell and survived" lifelines. Oh my God.

I took a much closer look at these girls. What could I tell them? That their lives had been extremely hard so far? And that their lives were about to get MUCH harder?

"Er, girls. Uh, er, you wanna tell me some more about yourselves? Er, ah, er..." I was stalling for time while I tried to think up something reassuring to say. "Er, for instance -- how did you meet?" Went to the same schools? Played on a sports team together? Went to the same church?

"We all have the same pimp!"

"You met on the street corners of Oakland? You're kidding me? Right?" Nope. Then they started telling me their life stories and showing me their various scars and tattoos just in case I might have any doubts. By the time they got done, I had absolutely no doubts -- and no illusions -- left. Trust me on that one.

One girl pulled up her sleeve and showed me a knife-wound scar. Two of the girls told me how they had moved from foster home to group home to foster home all of their lives. Another one told me about her life as a gang-banger. Another one's mother had been on crack. They explained all about the street-corner life -- what prices they charged, how they used the back seats of cars, renting cheap hotel rooms by the hour, the Johns, the pimps, getting arrested.

Hearing these girls' stories, I just wanted to hug them and cry -- but they just laughed. They liked being whores. They thought it was glamorous and edgy. And they liked shocking me too. And I WAS shocked. If I hadn't heard the stories and seen the scars -- one even had a bullet wound on the side of her abdomen -- I would never have believed that these all-American girls....

These girls ARE Survivors. But unlike on TV, they are playing a very dangerous game. And the winner is NOT going to take home a million dollars and a new car.

Unlike William Manchester, I'm finding it really difficult to be objective here. An African-American girl. A White girl. An Asian girl. A Hispanic girl. Which one will survive?

And what can we do to protect them from modern-day Pied Pipers?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Eat your heart out, Texas: A typical Sunday in Berkeley

Because I've lived in Berkeley so long, I sometimes forget how many wonderful and exciting things there are to do here. And aside from our university, museums, concerts, gourmet restaurants, marina, bookstores and parks, there is also Berkeley's proximity to San Francisco, the wine country, Silicon Valley, the ocean, the bay, the redwood groves and historical locations such as the gold country, Chinatown, the missions, etc.

Plus there is all the ordinary stuff that you can do in Berkeley for very little cost -- or for free.

I was watching "Survivor" on TV the other night when the phone rang. "This is Reg from," said the guy on the phone. "We've opened a new office in Oakland. Please stop by and visit us. It's at 360 22nd Street, Suite 210, near Broadway." Good grief! MoveOn actually now has an office! "Actually, we have 35 of them," said Reg, "in cities all across the country. There's no way we can challenge the Republicans monetarily in the November election but we do have a LOT of volunteers...and could use more. Can you come down?"

Hummm.... "Do you have donuts?" He did.

So I popped onto the BART train, got off at the 19th Street station, visited the new MoveOn office -- and ended up offering to let one of their phone-bank people stay in my home until election time. She's really nice. She leaves at 7 am each morning and comes back after midnight each night -- seven days a week. The perfect houseguest. You moneybags neo-cons had better watch out. With devoted volunteers like this fighting against all your corporate-welfare programs, you are gonna have a run for your money this year. It's not going to be as easy to steal THIS election.

I was watching a DVD from the local library this morning when the phone rang. "Hi. It's Almira. Wanna go over to the Thai temple for breakfast with me this morning?" Sure. Why not? In a six-block radius around my house, there is a Zen Buddhist temple, a Thai Buddhist temple, a Catholic novitiate, two AME churches, a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center, a Hari Krishna temple, a Russian Orthodox church, a Presbyterian church, a mosque and a 7-11. Something for everyone!

I was amazed by the Thai temple breakfast. In Berkeley, we have a long tradition of going out for breakfast on Sunday morning. they used to eat pancakes, ham and eggs. But not any more. There were over 200 people sitting out in the back yard of the Thai temple, seated at trestle tables and consuming pad Thai. And 80 more people were standing in line waiting to buy food. Was half of Berkeley here eating Thai soup and drinking Thai tea for breakfast? Nope.

After ingesting more exotic cuisine than I was used to at 9:00 am in the morning, I walked home and started watching the morning news on TV. I was just getting AMAZED at all the lies Dick Cheney can fit into one sentence when the phone rang. "Hi. This is Nick. Want to go to the 'How Berkeley can You Be' parade with me?" Sure. I went -- but I was really disappointed. They only had ten naked guys this year. Humph. But they did have a rap band, a fire-spitting art car, a bunch of people on stilts, the fire department, a solar-driven skateboard, a bicycle brigade and someone dressed up as George Bush.

Hey, George! How come YOU never come to our parade? You are always talking about the "Clash of Civilizations". You should come here. We gots LOTS of civilizations here. But no clashes. Everybody in Berkeley gets along just fine.

Are we doing something wrong?

As I biked back home from the parade, I decided to stop and see a movie. Berkeley has all KINDS movies to chose from. Art films, foreign films, blockbusters, independent films, documentaries -- you name it. I had a choice between an Arab film festival, a women's film festival, a Jewish film festival, an animation film festival and Lassie.

When I got back home, I was sitting in front of my computer, watching the screen, when the phone rang again. "Hi. This is Toni from Texas. I'm bored." Hey, come to Berkeley! We got a TON of stuff going on.

But, despite everything that is happening in Berkeley these days, I'm still worried about George Bush -- that Berkeley just doesn't have enough "Clash of Civilizations" for him. Are he and Dick gonna be disappointed in us? Maybe George could come here and start up another war? That would be exciting. But I gotta stop wanting to hog all the fun. Let him start one in Texas instead. They need more excitement than us.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Be very afraid: 10 things that are FAR more scary than "terrorists"

"We MUST stop the terrorists!" says President [sic] Bush -- over and over again, like he was some broken record. Okay. So we spend a trillion dollars and stop ALL the terrorists. Gone. They're all gone. Floating in a gulag off Australia or something. Finito. The end. Good job, George.

Now we have nothing to be afraid of ever again. Right? Wrong. Here's my list of the ten top things we will still have to deal with long after Bush's "terrorists" have disappeared off the face of the earth:

1. Without terrorists, global warming will STILL be pushing the waters of San Francisco Bay up over my roof. Category 5 hurricanes will still be forming in the Gulf. Droughts will dry up our water supply, kill our trees and reduce our long, luxurious half-hour showers down to two-minute sponge baths. All of America will smell bad. Hey, that's scary. I'm scared.

2. Without terrorists, we will STILL lose our jobs to outsourcing and the New World Order globalization's wet-dream of Cheap Labor -- now safely contained in the slums of third world countries -- will invade America from shore to shore. Shanty towns in Ohio? Sure.

3. Without terrorists, we will STILL face the neo-cons' obession with "endless war" and the shame of knowing that OUR country is still responsible for dropping one million cluster bombs on a bunch of poor schmucks whose only curse is to live either over an oilfield or in the path of a proposed oil pipeline. With that on our counscience, we will all be going to Hell. That's REALLY scary!

4. Without terrorists, we will STILL have to deal with gasoline shortages because the jerks who run this country have spent all our money on the "War on Terror" instead of developing alternative energy sources. We will be stuck with no gas and no other means to heat our homes or drive our cars. Back to the "dark" ages for us!

5. Without terrorists, we will STILL be in danger from cancer. All kinds of cancer. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Because EPA standards have been lowered so drastically in the last six years, toxins are hiding in every dark alley -- just like the terrorists used to do.

6. Without terrorists, we will STILL have to deal with the loss of our freedom and the loss of our Constitution. Do you think for one moment that just because terrorists are now all hidden away in Guantanamo that Dick Cheney is gonna give any of our freedoms back? If you believe that, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

7. Without terrorists, our kids will STILL be dumb as posts. Why? Because all the money we were spozed to spend on schooling them was spent on the "War on Terror" and on Halliburton and and lining Bush's Swiss bank accounts.

8. Without terrorists, we will STILL have election fraud. Eliminating terrorists is NOT going to keep evil men's hands out of our ballot boxes. And the next thing you know, the same jerks who stole the 2000 election and the 2004 election will have us paying for yet another "War on...." and being told how scary [fill in the blank] is and how we are all in mortal danger from [fill in the blank] and that we should all run out and buy DUCT TAPE and stand in line for SIX HOURS in order to take airlines because we need to be TERRIFIED of [fill in the blank]. Without terrorists, our "government" will STILL be corrupt.

9. Without terrorists, we will STILL have to get up each morning and deal with our boring, meaningless lives -- where buying more and more STUFF is supposed to make us happy but doesn't. We watch all those commercials and then spend all our time either buying stuff at the mall or WISHING we could buy stuff at the mall. "Life is a competition. The winners are the ones who do the most good deeds." Face it. Without terrorists, we'd STILL be losers. And bored ones at that.

10. Without terrorists, we will STILL have terrorists! This is the irony of it all. You can arrest every terrorist in the world -- and jail or kill everyone who has ever even said HELLO to a terrorist all the way up to six degrees of separation -- and even MORE terrorists will still start springing up. According to author John Gray in his wonderful book "Children are From Heaven," punishment ALWAYS leads to resistance. And to guerrilla warfare. And to fighting back. This is true of kids. You know kids that lie and steal? That's kiddie guerrilla warfare! And all this is also true for adults. Bombing Fallugah is NEVER gonna make us safe. And it will only create MORE terrorists. And it is expensive. And counterproductive. So why bother....

It's time to suck it up, America. You can't just go around being terrified all the time. It's time to stop snivilling in a corner and get The Right Stuff -- the courage to have principles and STAND for something. Truth. Justice. Freedom. Education. Jobs. Honest Elections. The Ten Commandments. And commercial-free TV!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The trees of Trinity County, the trees of Tibet: Forest fires & toilet paper....

I just got a desperate e-mail from a friend of mine who lives at Rigdzin Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Trinity Alps of northern California. "There are two large fires burning out of control right near us," she wrote. "The total acreage of these fires is currently 50,000 acres. The terrain, much of it in the wilderness area, is very steep and they are using helicopters and air tankers for hot spots, with ground crews trying to hold it back in critical areas. However, these fires will essentially burn until heavy rains come to quench the flames.

"On Wednesday we are expecting a large Alaskan front to move in with winds of thirty to forty miles an hour, blowing in our direction," my friend continued, "and this storm is supposed to last for three days. They have felt until now that the Trinity River, which is between us and the fire, would act as a break. However, with high winds, it is possible for the fire to breach the river and come in our direction.

"We are doing everything we can to defend Rigdzin Ling, and are taking every precaution. However, we are prepared to evacuate if necessary. We ask for your prayers, particularly that no harm come to anyone in the Junction City Community or to any of the fire crews, which number over 1,000 personnel. We need for the wind to be pacified and for rains to come. We will keep you posted. Please pray for us."

Tibetan Buddhists pray differently from other people. They put their money where their mouth is. First they go out and do a good deed. Then they say, "I dedicate any merit I may have accumulated from this good deed to the benefit of all sentient beings in general and to [fill in the blank] in particular -- and to their families, friends and enemies."

If you are reading this now, PLEASE run right out and do a good deed! Then dedicate the merit you have accumulated to the firefighters of Trinity County, the town folks of Junction City and Weaverville and the residents of Rigdzin Ling. Thanks.

PS: Rigdzin Ling was founded about 20 years ago by Chagdud Tulku, a Tibetan lama. His name translates as "Iron Knot" and that pretty much described him. He was born in Tibet, walked over the Himalayas as a young man in order to avoid being slaughtered by the Chinese Communist army, spent many years in Indian refugee camps before moving to California and then on to Brazil where he opened another monastery before his death in 2002.

Chagdud Tulku was a master of Pho'wa, the practice of transferring one's spirit, through prayer, from one's body to what Americans would call "Heaven" while one lay dying -- and thus neatly avoiding having to spend eternity in Hell. One can also help others to do this too and is a very useful skill to have in times of trouble and war.

Chagdud Tulku also practiced Chod -- the ability to take on the misdeeds and "sins" of others and to wash them away. This is also a very good talent to have in times of war.

For instance, when George Bush confessed on national television recently to having committed war crimes, it would have been highly beneficial for him to have a Chod master in the studio afterward. But I digress.

Rigdzin Ling monastery is losing its forests to fire. That's very sad. But what is even sadder still is the way that Tibet are losing its forests -- to toilet paper!

I ran out of toilet paper yesterday and trotted off to Lee's Market to buy more. $1.59 for four rolls -- and the package was stamped "Made in China". When I was in Afghanistan in June I also bought toilet paper "Made in China". There goes the forests of Tibet! Now every time you wipe your bottom, you are experiencing a piece of Tibet. Eeuuwww.

.PPS: Maybe you live on a desert island and forest fires are not really such a big threat to you. But for the rest of us, forest fires are becoming more and more of a clear and present danger.

According to Dr. Michio Kaku, as a result of global warming we can expect even bigger and more fierce blockbuster summer forest fire seasons -- bigger than even the huge ones we've had in the past several years. The seasons themselves will be longer, the individual fires within each season will be more frequent, each individual fire will burn longer and they will be a lot harder to put out.

The average forest fire used to last a couple of days but now it is not uncommon for a forest fire to burn for four or five weeks. And, as the planet heats up, this trend will get much worse. Expect a LOT of hardwood to go up in flames this year. And next year. And the year after that.

As a result of all this thermal activity, logging companies are gonna take a lot of hits and the price of lumber is gonna skyrocket. If global warming continues at its current rate, even WOOD may become a thing of the past. It may go the way of dinosaurs and Melmac.

And then WHAT will we use for toilet paper?

Nothing else seems to motivate Americans to DO something to stop global wrming. Maybe the threat of having no TOILET PAPER will finally cause them to spring into action!

Nothing else seems to motivate Americans to DO something to stop global warming. Maybe the threat of having no TOILET PAPER will finally cause them to spring into action!

One way to stop global warming is to vote the Bush bureaucracy neo-cons out of office! And how do you do that? How can you actually make your vote count and know that your ballot won't get disqualified or "lost"? According to Melinda Pillsbury-Foster, the best way to safeguard your ballot is to register as a Republican. That way you can be more reassured that something untoward won't happen to your ballot -- and it won't end up in the toilet.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Credit where credit is due: Monetary survival in middle-class America

I've never used credit. Not once in my entire life. I always pay cash.

Last winter, I was required to have my credit rating checked with regard to a job I was applying for. "Uh, Ms. Stillwater," said the human resources guy, "there's something wrong here. You have NO credit rating." That is a good thing, right? Apparently not.

Apparently it's better to have BAD credit than NO credit. People with bad credit at least play the game. "Ms. Stillwater," said the HR guy, "you are not playing by the rules." He had never seen anything like this before. Ever. NO credit rating? At all? What's with that? Was I a Communist or, worse yet, an anarchist? Maybe I was a terrorist? The HR guy decided there was something not-normal about me. "How can someone with NO CREDIT be trusted in such a high-security job?" The guy actually TOLD me this!

Apparently, in America a BAD credit rating is better than no rating at all. What kind of statement does that make about us?

Apparently living on credit is the way that the American middle class survives. For the lower classes, survival depends on below-code housing, used clothing stores, free clinics, canned food outlets, public transportation and sometimes homeless shelters and food banks -- but for the American middle class, survival depends on MasterCard and Visa. No savings to fall back on? A $50,000 debt? The house could be foreclosed upon at any minute and the car repossessed.

These people are living life on the edge just as surely as those of us who get our wardrobes out of the free box.

I understand HOW the American middle class balances their budgets by paying off one credit card debt by borrowing off of another one and other such tricks. This I understand. I have friends who talk about this kind of stuff.

But what I don't understand is WHY they do it. I can see going into debt or refinancing the house for a major emergency such as a life-threatening disease but to constantly risk one's future and the future of one's family by trudging through a bottomless swamp of quicksand-like debt -- to constantly put one's very life in danger -- because of the latest new car or something on the shopping channel or $100-a-pop LINGERIE? C'mon.

PS: Someone just e-mailed me that I was being too hard on people who use credit. "We all use credit because we have no choice," he said. "Credit is a tool. A very good tool if it is based on the proper assessment and employment security. Of course it can be abused. But people who have to live in the system are not to blame. We do our best." He pointed out that it's almost impossible to buy a home or send your kids through college without using credit.

Point well taken -- but.... I'm talking about people who go into eternal debt for frivolities. Like the Bush bureaucrats who sent America into hopeless debt -- that we will never be able to pay off -- in order to buy a frivolous "war".

Here's another good example of putting one's family in danger: People who purchase those new McMansions use a scary new pay-on-the-interest-only pyramid scheme called "Option ARM" to finance them. NOBODY needs that many rooms in their house if it ends up putting your family out on the street!

In his article, "The Neutron Bomb in Housing," John Case explained the extreme dangers of Option ARM. "Just out of curiosity, you stop into one of the Mall real estate offices. ....The friendly agent takes one look at your preliminary application. Then, she notices exactly which half-million dollar home photo you had been staring at while waiting, and says 'So, when do you want to move in?'"
"You're hooked," Case continues. "You're in the dream house.... Then, 29 months later, the bill for not reading the fine print...comes due. The interest ADDED to you mortgage principle from paying the minimum is now $50,000. The lender has exercised their right to 'reset' your loan. Your new payment is $4,100.00 per month." $4,100 a MONTH? Oops.

PPS: My neighbor just got EIGHT packages delivered to her from the Home Shopping Network. And she averages the delivery of five packages a DAY from HSN. UPS drivers know her address by heart. How does she DO it! On a clerk's salary? She must be in debt up to her neck. And WHY does she do it?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Low Rent District: Spending the night at the Berkeley Public Library

What did I do last night? I spent the night at the south branch of the Berkeley Public Library. Why? To see what it was like to be homeless in America.

In June, I took a trip to Afghanistan with Global Exchange. Afghanistan is the fourth poorest nation in the entire world but in all the time I was there, I NEVER saw anyone sleeping on the street. Or in doorways. Or in front of public buildings. If you were homeless in Afghanistan, you could always find SOMEONE kind enough to take you in.

Is that true in America? No.

I was driving through the streets of south Berkeley one night last week when I got a really big shock. Right there, on the front porch of the south branch of the Berkeley Public Library, I saw about 30 or 40 lumps. Lumps? In Berkeley? I took a closer look. They were sleeping bags! With sleeping bodies inside. I was shocked.

I went home. I thought about this. I decided to join them.

Last night I dragged my ratty old sleeping bag down to the corner of MLK and Russell Street and spent the night. How did it go? It was cold!

It was hard.

It was scary.

There were freaking FAMILIES camped out in front of the library. Little kids played on the grass in front of the library. They were normal little kids, playing tag. "I gotta go to the bathroom, Mommie," one little kid said. Mother and child then took a walk down the street. At 10 o'clock at night.

The light is on for you all night long at the Berkeley Public Library. The man next to me snored. The woman on the other side of me had nightmares. How do they do it? Night after night? Under these conditions, who could sleep?

In the morning, I got up after a very restless night. The sprinklers came on at 2 am. At 4 am, the cops cruised by and shined their spotlight on me. At 5 am the garbage truck made an incredible amount of noise and at 6 am, "I gotta go to the bathroom, Mommie," started up again. At 8 am some of the working poor started combing their hair, changing their clothes and getting ready to go off to their jobs.

You try sleeping on cold, hard concrete. With twenty or thirty other bodies huddled up close to you. With no bathing facilities. And no TV! As more and more jobs disappear and more and more people in this formerly-great country become homeless, these impromptu camp-outs appear to be the wave of the future for America under the leadership of the Bush bureaucracy. Hey, that makes me a fashion diva. I'm a trend-setter! I'm getting in on the ground floor!

At 8 am, I said goodbye to my new roommates and toddled on home, back to my safe warm sweet little bed. With the down comforter. And the bathroom nearby. It was a great social experiment, my night at the Berkeley Public Library. The people there were kind to me, protected me from the dangers of the night and even offered to share a bag of Cheetos with me. Nevertheless, I hope that I never have to do it again.

Neo-cons such as Bush and Cheney and Schwarzenegger seem to be working on the theory that they can do ANYTHING to Americans and get away with it. And Americans keep proving the neo-cons' theory is right -- time after time after time. The neo-cons take away our healthcare, our schools, our Constitution, our good-guy image with the rest of the world, our jobs, our housing, our wages, our money, our CHILDREN -- and what do Americans do? They keep voting for neo-cons! "George Bush is MY President! I LOVE George Bush," says my friend Jean. "Why do you keep saying such bad things about him?" And she'll probably still be saying good things about George when it is HER turn to spend her golden years spending her nights at the Berkeley Public Library.

PS: Did I ever tell you about the time I served an eviciton notice on President [sic] Bush? For violating his lease, the U.S. Constitution? "You gotta be ELECTED to live there," my eviction notice read. But did the sheriff show up, evict George and Laura from the Lincoln bedroom, throw their stuff in the street and change all the locks? Sadly, no. But I still have hopes!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The meek shall inherit the earth: An ode to Slim the Cat

This story is my own personal from-the-heart ode to a brave and glorious cat! Slim the Cat.

"Joe," I wailed into the phone. "Slim is dying! What should we do!" Joe is my 26-year-old son who knows just about everything. All four of my children know just about everything but Joe is the only one willing to share that knowledge with me.

"How old is he now?" asked Joe. Age? What does age have to do with it! Slim is a living legend! Living legends don't just up and die. "He's 15." I guess that's pretty old in cat-years. Maybe it will make me feel better if I tell you the whole story about Slim.

I have a back yard the size of a postage stamp. One day in 1990, a strange kitten started living in my back yard. The kids called him "Spiderman". Wrong. SpiderMAN was a girl. How did we find out? When she gave birth to four kittens, we got our first clue. Three were out-going, cuddly and friendly. One of them was the runt of the litter. We named him Slim.

Spiderman ran away. We found good homes for the other three kittens. But Slim just looked meek and trembled and wouldn't let us touch him so we just left him in the back yard. Pretty soon, other feral cats started adopting our back yard. They had kittens. And their kittens had kittens. We caught them, gave them away to people in front of the supermarket, put ads in the local newspaper for them, sent them off with friends who lived on farms, had them spayed and neutered, trotted them down to the Humane Society -- and even pushed one particularly feisty cat out of the car in the middle of the night in a Good Neighborhood. Shhh. Don't tell no one about that.

All this time, through all these cats, Slim meekly hid up in the lemon tree -- and survived.

Then there was the family of raccoons who moved into our back yard. And then there was the family of possums. Between the ferals and the critters, the place started to look like the Wild Kingdom. We even had a family of roof rats. Yuck! Slim managed to survive all that.

"Come into the house, Slim? Here kitty kitty kitty kitty...." Nope. Slim was basically a wild cat, an outdoor cat -- and a 'fraidy cat. I was the only one who could even get near him, but only because I put out a bowl of dry cat food for him every morning and night. That worked for me. I wasn't a cat person. It worked for him too. He wasn't a person cat.

Then the neighbor next door got it into her head that Slim was a nuisence and started calling vector control on him. For a while there we had vermin specialists from the City of Berkeley banging on our door and trying to collect Slim. I finally had to threaten the neighbor with certain tidbits of Hot Gossip I had about her to get her to back off.

Meanwhile, every fierce tomcat in a ten-block radius decided to prove his macho-ness by trying to beat up on poor Slim -- who, like Gandhi, refused to fight back. And now, after 15 years of using non-violence to defend his turf, Slim is battling his final enemy. Cancer. And Slim is finally losing the War on the Back Yard. Cancer finally is winning. Cancer has more WMDs.

"What should I do, Joe?" I just can't bear the thought of putting Slim to sleep. The sweet little 'fraidy cat has fought so HARD for so many years just to LIVE.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Madame Jane Predicts: "With Bush in jail, a new 9-11 threat is avoided...."

"Expect the best," the cards say. What? I always expect the worst! What can be worse than Bush in the White House, a quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, our phones being wire-tapped, our liberties being threatened, Jesus being dissed by war-mongering crackpots hyping The Rapture and our economy on the skids?

What could be worse? Another 9-11.

"I predict," says Madame Jane, with her turban askew and her eyes rolling up in her head, "that another 9-11 is almost upon us...." Holy crap! "I predict that America's future can already be seen. Go to Kabul. Go to Baghdad. Go to Beirut. Go to Gaza...." Okay. I'm willing to travel. Will you pay for it? Do you see "Go to Tahiti" in there too?

Madame Jane continues. "Here you will see the kind of future the neo-cons specialize in. They have in mind this kind of future for America too...." A cold shiver ran down my spine. Really? "Imagine Lower Manhattan...and multiply that by 500." You don't have to be a fortune-teller to see this. It's a logical progression. "This is what the neo-cons are good at.... Destruction." Madame Jane had spoken.

"Is there any way that we can avoid this fate?" I asked.

"Yes." Oh goody. "Bush must be in jail by Christmas. Otherwise I cannot guarantee...." Madame Jane faded out. But with just one more word of advice. "Always expect the best in the future, my friend...but also work to make it come true."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

American absolutists' two biggest mistakes: Communist China & Islamistan

I've written about this before but the subject still fascinates me. After World War II, American absolutists in Washington DC totally discredited all foreign policy input from the exact people they needed to hear from the most -- the "Old China Hands". Diplomats, historians, soldiers, missionaries and many other experts on China at that time repeatedly warned the know-it-all idiots in Washington that their policy of supporting corrupt dictators and funding wars in China would only lead to a complete take-over by the Communist army under Mao.

As a result of their efforts to talk sense into the American absolutists formulating government foreign policy in Washington, the "Old China Hands" were called Commie sympathizers and hounded out of politics. At least I think that's what happened. Good Grief! Now I'm going to have to go do some research. I hate research.

Don't you just love it when Fox and CNN tell you exactly what to think and you don't have to think for yourself?

Time to get out my 1982 edition of "The World Book". Nope. No mention of the politics of that time. It just says that Mao took over China in 1949. I need something more substantial than that. Time to break down and Google.

"John Service, along with other diplomatic and military personnel stationed in China," said Google, "became an advocate for a change of policy in China. Service was one of the more articulate spokesmen for this point of view. They saw the existing Chinese Nationalist Government as 'selfish and corrupt, incapable and obstructive' – certain to lose the civil war with the Chinese Communists that was sure to follow the end of World War II." (Source:

"The policy recommendations of Service and others were rejected in Washington," continued Google, "and Service was recalled to the U.S. in 1945. When the Chinese civil war resumed (as Service predicted it would), the new Ambassador to China, Patrick Hurley, blamed that fact on U.S. Foreign Service officers such as Service who, he said, had pro-Communist sympathies and had sided with the Communists." That sounds like something John Bolton would say! Or Karl Rove. Or Joseph McCarthy....

"The fall of China to the communists was followed by the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy (R) of Wisconsin. McCarthy charged that the defeat of the Nationalist Government was the result of disloyal U.S. State Department officers. One of those named was John Service, whom he described as 'a known associate and collaborator with Communists'. The bitter irony of it was that...Service and other Foreign Service China specialists were blamed for the loss of China even though the China policy they had recommended more than 5 years before the Communist victory was not the one the United States followed." Shades of Donnie Rumsfeld -- who labels all critics of his failed Iraq policy as being supporters of terrorism. Or fascism. Or communism. Or all three.

We've done our Google research. Good for us! And now we know pretty much without doubt that American absolutists who refused to listen to good advice in the late 1940s ended up helping create modern-day China just as surely as did Chairman Mao.

Fast forward to 2001, when the current American absolutists in Washington refused to listen to ANYONE who knew anything about the Middle East. American generals who objected to the absolutists' ill-conceived plans for invading Iraq were fired. UN warnings were ignored. Even the CIA's advice was discounted.

Will the result be the same for the Middle East today as it was for China in 1949? Yeah. Most likely. If the American absolutists now in power in Washington continue in the direction they are now going in, they will cause -- indeed, have already started in motion -- a reaction that will soon create a new Middle East nation as large and possibly as powerful as China, stretching from Kosovo in the west to Indonesia in the east.

This new nation should be called Bushlandia, after its creator. More likely, however, they will call it Islamistan.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Burning Man grand finale: Setting 400 billion dollar bills on fire

On Labor Day weekend, in the Nevada desert, with 43,000 people watching, "The Man Will Burn". Will I be there? Hell no. I'll be in a Motel 6 in Reno, trying to recover from nasal congestion and a week without sleep.

"Will you come back to Burning Man next year?" the man at the exit gate asked me as I left. Hummm.... Probably not. But I wouldn't have missed THIS Burning Man for the world. It was amazing. Absolutely amazing. Everyone in the world should go at least once.

Meanwhile, however, while you are waiting to buy your ticket for next year, there's another kind of fire that you don't have to go 100 miles out into the Nevada desert in the middle of a sandstorm to watch. You can watch THIS amazing fire right in the comfort of your own living room. Just turn to any news channel on TV and you can watch the latest episode of "The Neo-Cons" as they set fire to a pyre of 400,000,000,000 dollar bills -- OUR dollar bills.

Yes, "The Man will Burn". Every night. In Iraq.

Understand this, America, and understand it well. Whenever you spend dollars on war instead of on food, health, education, housing and art -- whether it's spent here or abroad -- you might as well be holding a cigarette lighter next to George Washington's portrait on a greenback and setting it on fire.

War is a waste. It is a total waste. And anyone who tells you differently does NOT have your best interests at heart.
Burning Man: And then there's the party aspect....

I actually have a Burning Man media badge! How cool is that. Under a shade-producing tarp near center camp there are a few worn-out old sofas that serve as media headquarters. But they got electrical plug-ins there and I somehow managed to borrow a laptop. I'm good to go.

Much to my surprise, at the world's most jankity Media Center this side of Lebanon, I met one of the world's most renowned journalists. And what are top journalists if not sources of magnified hot gossip? This guy knew ALL of the juicy tidbits. And was actually willing to spill....

Before talking with him last night, I had NO idea how many prominent Republicans were gay -- but not the gay-marriage type of gay. "I'm talking about the closet types who have orgies in the White House and then denounce homosexuality on the floor of Congress the very next day." Oh. Those kind.

So. Who was Jeff Gannon actually sleeping with? "My bet is Scott McClellan." Not Tony Blair?

I love hot gossip and this guy named names. "Jane, all that stuff that Dick Cheney said at the VFW convention in Reno about the NSA only wire-tapping foreign-originating phone conversations is a complete lie. He taps the phones of every journalist in America. I know for a fact that I've got a tap on my phone." Gee. I wonder if my phone is tapped too. That would definitely promote me to being a "real" journalist and not just a Molly Ivins wannabe!

Then I talked with another representative of the press as we went on a wonderful after-dark media tour of the Art Projects of Burning Man. They drove us around in a gigantic three-story bus tricked out to be a fire-breathing dragon and escorted by eight glow-in-the-dark Samurai. It was awesome.

"There's a blog run by U.S. soldiers in Iraq that has adopted me as their current object of scorn," I told this journalist, who had just gotten back from Iraq. "Here's my question -- this blog is one of the most up-scale efforts I've ever seen. Graphics to die for. Fabulous writing. Oxford dictionary-style grammar and spelling. Comment forms that actually work. How can they pull all that together if they are stuck out there in Iraq?"

"They can't. Soldiers stationed in Iraq ARE NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE BLOGS. In many cases, they aren't even allowed to get e-mail. It sounds like this blog is a psy-ops operation." Journalists know everything!

Well, I myself did some Investigative Reporting last night. There I was, curled up in my sweet little tent -- which had just withstood the biggest sandstorm in Burning Man history. How big was the storm? A 40-foot-high geodesic dome near me was casually uprooted by the wind and sent rolling down the road like tumbleweed. But I digress.

There I was in my sweet little tent, trying to sleep. It was like trying to sleep in the front row of a SuperNova concert. Not gonna happen! And this went on all night. It seems that I had inadvertently camped next Space Cowboy, the ultimate rock-and-roll theme camp. I heard one woman walking past my tent say, "I used to party on the other side of Black Rock City, but not any more!" Oh dear.

At around 3 am, I finally went over to tell my neighbors to turn the damn techno-rock down. Sleep-deprived and wearing my flannel nightgown and bunny slippers, I was a Force to be Reckoned With. "Turn that stuff down," I screamed. "People here are trying to sleep!" Wrong. I was the only single solitary person in all of Black Rock City that was trying to sleep. I'm here to tell you. Burners know how to party Bigtime! Here was a whole other side of Burning Man that I'd never seen. I had NO idea. Burning Man is the world's biggest party!

Then some young woman dressed in pink hair and gigantic fairy wings came up to me, gave me a big hug and handed me a drink. The drink was blue. I refused it and, instead of having the time of my life and dancing my heart out until dawn like everyone else, I wandered off and got lost while searching for the Porta-Potties. What was I thinking!

"This is your investigative reporter, Jane Stillwater, reporting from the Black Rock desert. It's a whole other world here at night!"

Friday, September 01, 2006

Burning Man: The Good & the Bad (and the Evil Twin)

On the way to the annual Burning Man art and fire festival out in the Nevada desert, I stopped in Reno and discovered the Sad Truth about slot machines. They aren’t any fun any more. THERE ARE NO MORE 25-CENT SLOTS! Now you just insert your credit card and the machine prints out a ticket if you win. Why waste time plunking in the quarters and pulling the handle and hearing that fabulous ching-ching-ching that announces to the world that "You are a Winner". No more fun for you! Now your money goes directly from your bank to theirs. It’s all very corporate. It eliminates the middle man – you.

I think that Diebold’s voting machines have done the same thing too. They have eliminated the voter -- you.

At Bruno’s Last Chance Saloon – your last chance to buy real food and use real rest rooms before entering the Burning Man desert – they actually had 25-cent slot-machines. I lost a whole roll of quarters but felt that I had triumphed over Corporate America just the same.

Arriving at Burning Man in the middle of a sandstorm white-out was really intimidating. Ghost-like men and women dressed like extras from the old “Road Warrior” film moved past me like shadows on a Hiroshima wall. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. All I wanted to do was go home! Burning Man was bringing out the worst in me. Disgust and fear. “Burning Man will change you forever,” said my son -- and it had. It had unleashed my evil twin.

Thank goodness I had brought my burka. In the middle of a sandstorm, it is THE fashion statement to have. I never thought I'd say that.

Finally, after the wind died, I was able to set up my tent – right next door to what appeared to be a yuppie 30-something version of a 24-hour strip show. “Turn off that noise and get a life!” I screamed at about 2 am. This is what these guys do when their mothers aren’t around? I want to go home!

There is NO internet here. Unless you are an internet junkie like me, you have no idea how much that sucks eggs.

My glasses are coated with fine white dust. EVERYTHING is coated with fine white dust. No place to brush your teeth. No place to pee. I want to go home! Then I ran into some really nice man and he showed me Black Rock City – and Burning Man – through his eyes. “It’s all about community,” he said. “People here really work at being friendly and helpful and kind.” Kind is good. I started looking more closely. People smiled at me. I smiled back. That never happens in downtown America.

“I think the other reason that people come here,” the man continued, "is because they missed out on the 1960s and this is like another Woodstock.” You mean the young adults today actually CRAVE the idealism and hopefulness – and war-resistance – of the 1960s? I guess they do. There are 43,000 people here. At $250 a pop.

Then the sun went down. And the terrible world of heat and dust and "The Road Warrior" disappeared and a magical festival of lights came out. Up above me, I could actually see the Milky Way for the first time since I was a child. A procession of medieval lamplighters glided silently by, lighting all the kerosene lamps. All the bicycles have colored rainbow lights on them as they go by. Various theme camps glow in the dark. Hummm…. Maybe I WILL stay another day at Burning Man....
Road Warrior: Kerouac, Cheney, China, the VFW & hot dogs

On the road again. I HATE leaving home -- but am driven to leave my cozy corner by legions of devils in my mind that whisper, "Time to go." Me and Jack Kerouac. "Jane," said my friend, "are you really going to drive that 1990 Toyota across the Sierras and through the high Nevada desert? You're crazy!" Hey, the wagon trains did it. So can I. Burning Man, here I come! Easing into the I-80 truck lane at 45 MPH, the Toyota and I aced the Sierras but it was touch and go. "If we make it over Donner Pass," I promised the Little Toyota that Could, "I'll give you the most expensive tune-up you ever had!" At Campus Auto Repair in Berkeley. It doesn't get much better than that.
We finally drove down into Reno just in time for a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. And guess who the guest speakers were? Dick Cheney and Donnie Rumsfeld. Good grief.

“The National Security Agency is only using wire-tapping on foreign-originating calls,” said Cheney. “We don’t tap domestic calls.” Yeah right. Our world delivered…to the NSA. “Using wire-tapping, we were able to discover the London airline plot,” he continued. Really? That shouldn’t have been very hard to discover. All you had to do was wire-tap the White House’s international (and domestic) phone calls.

I talked with several VFW convention-goers. “If I had known that Cheney was going to be the surprise guest speaker,” said one VFW post commander from Oregon, “ I wouldn’t have come.”

Surprise speaker? Cheney was a surprise? Since when has the Vice President [sic] of the United States of America become so unpopular he has to sneak in the back door? Top world power, my foot – when a handful of ladies from Code Pink have Cheney on the run!

Then I stopped by the corner of First Street and Virginia to chat with my friend Woody who sells hot dogs from a little stand there. “I used to be an ambulance driver in Oakland during the 1960s,” he said. “After watching a person die in front of my eyes every day for 15 years, I gave it up and started selling hot dogs.” Woody also had definite opinions on Dick Cheney. “People lacking authenticity have fooled themselves into a wrong notion regarding what is true to one’s spirit and character. Some things matter more than money. Money doesn’t mean anything to me but Cheney has sold his soul for it.” Woody sells hot dogs. Cheney sells greed and death. Who is the better man? Woody or Cheney? Who would you rather be when you go to meet God? Woody! Of course.

Then I popped back into the Toyota and drove the last 100 miles through the hot Nevada high country desert to the Burning Man arts and fire festival. As I drove, I listened to Books on Tape. “After the Second World War,” said the tape, “American absolutists in Washington pursued a policy of non-negotiation with the Communist Chinese, saying that they were evil and ‘we don’t negotiate with evil.’ As a result of demonizing a popular movement and propping up greedy dictators instead, America lost China.” Wow! History is repeating itself. Because of the doctrinaire absolutists in Washington who are demonizing Islam, America is about to lose the Middle East too. How deja voo can you get?

Then I arrived at Burning Man. Holy cow! The theme was “The Future”. It was the future all right. It looked just like a scene out of that old Mel Gibson movie “Road Warriors”. Heat, dust, people dressed in weird costumes and really funky bicycles, school buses and cars. I kept looking for Mad Max.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect out in the Nevada desert but I didn’t expect THIS!