Thursday, September 17, 2009

Revisiting two Ukrainian holocausts: Chernobyl & Babi Yar 
     Back when I was a Beatnik wannabe living in a suburb of San Francisco in 1958, I would walk all alone through the halls of my high school, dressed all in black and muttering, "I want to suffer! I want to know LIFE!"  And here I am, fifty years later, with a front row seat on true suffering, mass suffering, unbelievable and indescribable suffering.  And all I can think now is, "To hell with suffering.  Suffering is NOT a good thing." 
      This afternoon I went to the Chernobyl museum in Kiev and learned all the horrifying details of when that nuclear power plant exploded in the middle of the night due to carelessness and lack of knowledge on the part of the people who ran the plant.  And if Chernobyl can blow for these reasons, then any nuclear power plant in the world is also vulnerable to human error.   And to make it worse, the old Soviet government tried to cover up the disaster, exposing millions more to fallout and radiation poisoning -- even as far away as the United States and Japan. 
     What are the casualty figures? Let me check my notes.   55 died immediately.  18,000 of the area's residents and first responders died within the first few weeks.  5,000 firefighters and soldiers conscripted to attempt clean-up operations were exposed without adequate protection from radiation.  150,000 people and 70 villages were evacuated.  Chernobyl is still a dead zone and will be for the next 500 years at the least.   The explosion had the power of 500 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs.   18,000 children have been treated for leukemia.  Millions still live in the endangered regions.  
     The nuclear reaction at the original plant is STILL going on.   The blow to the Soviet economy was great.  At least 18 billion dollars have been spent so far -- and that is a very conservative estimate. This tragedy greatly contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union.  Every single radiation survivor still alive still needs at least $100 a month for medication.   I could go on and on about what an incredible disaster this was.  Google it yourself and see.  It will have you in tears too. 
      After learning about Chernobyl, I next drove to the Babi Yar memorial on the outskirts of Kiev.  Two sad and unnecessary holocausts in one day!  According to Nazi records, 33,771 Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies were shot and killed by Nazi soldiers on September 21, 1941 at Babi Yar -- ten at a time.  They were lined up at the edge of a 150-foot-deep ravine and splattered with machine-gun fire while loud music played in order to drown out the victims' screams (They also played loud music to drown out victims' screams at the Killing Fields in Cambodia).  
     The entire killing spree took over 48 hours.  Ten bodies would fall.  Every ten minutes.  Then bring in the next group.   This has been a moving and horrific day for me.  And I say, "Never again!"  No more nuclear plants that can take down a whole region if someone blunders.  And no more genocide.  Ever.  This whole killing thing has GOT TO STOP.  Human beings are not animals.  We are not.  Rending the flesh of women and babies by the thousands is not even something that animals would do.  Never again!  Not in Yemen.  Not in Palestine.  Not in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Not in the AfPak territories.  No.  Just no.  Never again. 
PS: Here's a short video clip of one of the original first responders speaking at the Chernobyl Museum.  Notice that behind the speaker there is a whole wall full of photos of some of the thousands of children who survived chemotherapy after they had been exposed to radiation.  Many of these children were treated by oncologists in Cuba.   
     One of the saddest things I ever saw was when I was in Cuba several years ago and toured an oncology ward for Chernobyl's children.  And even sadder still was the the image implanted forever in my mind of blond-haired young Ukrainian mothers walking along the road near the hospital -- alone, far from home, scared and praying that their children would live.  And many of them did, thanks to Cuba. 
PPS: Here's another sad episode of the Jane Stillwater Show, broadcast live from Babi Yar. Grim. Just grim. 33,771 dead.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rosh Hashanah: Me & 25,000 Hasidim arrive in Ukraine

"The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," my mother always used to say -- and I agree. I just love to travel but whenever the time to actually take off on a trip actually approaches, my entire body starts to go on strike, including my brain. Everything just starts to shut down.

"But this time I'm leaving for RUSSIA," I tell myself. "This trip is going to be FUN." But to no avail. A dark cloud of dread always starts to follow me around. Why? Because I hate airplanes.

My doctor gave me some Ativan to take for this flight but the side-effects listed on the print-out were so horrendous that I didn't dare to take any. "Watch out for the paradoxical effect," I was warned, "wherein the medication enhances the very anxiety it was designed to prevent." Great. Suppose I take the freaking pill, have an accelerated anxiety attack in mid-air, run up and down the aisles of the plane stark naked and then get locked away forever for being a terrorist? No thank you.

But I finally did find something that would help -- Jin Shin Jyutsu. "When you get worried," an expert on the subject told me last week, "just hold one thumb for three minutes with your other hand. And when you get fearful, take a hold of your index finger for three minutes. Then switch hands. And if that doesn't help, then just SIT on your hands for three minutes." And it worked.

When we hit some turbulence over the Atlantic that was so strong that the plane snapped, crackled and popped, there I was, sitting on both hands. And it worked. It looked a little bit weird but it DID work.

Then I was on layover in Paris for a whole hour and a half, and then I got on another plane for Kiev and it was filled with Hasidic Jews. "I didn't know so many Jews lived in Ukraine," I said to the man sitting next to me wearing a yarmulke and peyots.

"We don't," he replied. "We are going on a pilgimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman. For Rosh Hashanah. Approximately 25,000 Hasidim make the trip every year." Oh. Rebbe Nachman was one of those wonderful eastern European rabbis during the 18th and 19th centuries who, if I remember correctly, performed miracles and practiced Kaballah. And then our plane landed in Kiev and suddenly I found myself awash in a sea of davening Jews, mostly from Israel and Brooklyn, wearing prayer shawls and black hats and gabardine overcoats -- approximately 150 of them.

And the customs officials took two hours to open their counters, and me and the Hasids stood there and stood there (and I sat) for all that time while we waited. Good for us. Maybe some of the blessings of their holy journey will rub off on me too.

And after I finally made it out of the customs blockade, there was nobody waiting for me, no one holding up a sign reading "Stillwater". I'd been forgotten. I did run into a herd of gun-toting Italians, however. "Where are you off to with all those guns?" I asked them.

"We are off to reenact the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Crimea."

PS: The question of who has the right to control Rabbi Nachman's grave, like the question of who has the right to control Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, is also the subject of a big dispute. According to the Jerusalem Post, "The hassidic rebbe's grave, the focus of mass pilgrimages, is a major tourist attraction and moneymaker. Last Rosh Hashana, 24,000 Jews -- secular and religious, Sephardi and Ashkenazi -- descended on the town of Uman, Ukraine, to pray and be near Rabbi Nachman's grave."

And there have been recent troubles with regard to this Holy Land too. "Pietro Pavlivich Kusmenko, a building contractor and a member of the Ukrainian parliament with extensive political connections, won a court case against the Breslav World Center, which owns the grave site and surrounding buildings.... Since Breslav has backed out [of its deal with the BWC], it must now pay [a] fine. However, in lieu of payment, Kusmenko might put a lien on the site, effectively taking control."

PPS: On my flight from SFO to Paris, I sat next to a Frenchman who kept me nicely entertained with stories about this year's Burning Man festival. And another man in our row gave me a copy of William Wiser's book, "The Twilight Years: Paris in the 1930s". It's all about American ex-patriot writers such as Hemingway and Miller. And now I'm an ex-pat writer too!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mena meets some Tibetans and I plan to meet David Duke

Yesterday me and my 20-month-old granddaughter went to a religious ceremony hosted by some local Tibetan holocaust refugees, and it was very inspiring. Mena played with the Tibetan kids like she had known them all of her life, but hated the little red ceremonial pills they gave out. She slept through half of the event and made friends during the other half -- and I saw Tibetans there that I hadn't seen in years. And then Mena presented her ceremonial scarf to Nechung Rinpoche like she had been doing this all of her life.

And here are the photos to prove it! (That little kid that you can barely see who is getting tapped on the shoulder by Nechung Rinpoche? That's our Mena.)

PS: I'm leaving for Russia and Ukraine tomorrow. If I run into David Duke in Kiev, I'll ask him if I can see a photo of his private parts as well -- to check and see if he was actually born in Oklahoma like he says he was.

But please don't ask me to ask him to drop his drawers. I'm not THAT committed to becoming America's first progressive Birther. Eeuuww!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Local Blogger Settles Dispute With Defense Department: Hey, that's me!

The "Daily Californian" just published a description of my legal battle with the Department of Defense and how it finally got settled. Go me!

Two precedences might have been set here. The first (and most unlikely) one is that reporters who have lost money because their embeds were canceled without good reason may now be able to get their out-of-pocket costs reimbursed. And a possible second precedence that this case might have set would be that if one represents oneself against the government in a lawsuit brought about by unjust actions performed by said government, there is a very high possibility that one will get creamed completely. But, on the other hand, one just might possibly be able to wear the government down and obtain a settlement based justice, sure, but also simply on being totally annoying.
PS: Here's the latest episode of "The Jane Stillwater Show," wherein I explain how to accessorize your flak jacket. Enjoy.

PPS: Here's the article from the "Daily Californian":

Jane Stillwater, 67, grandmother, traveler, and UC Berkeley alumnus, is definitely a trendsetter. She began blogging back in 2000, before most bloggers today took to the web. "I became a blogger overnight because I was so incredibly angry when George Bush stole the 2000 election," Stillwater said. "There weren't that many of us -- I expected the FBI to come to my door any second."

Despite her age, Stillwater has spent her time traveling from country to country, including North Korea and Iran. In particular, she focuses on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was how she entered into a yearlong legal debate with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Stillwater applied to embed with the U.S. Army in Iraq on Jan. 18, 2008. After her request was granted, she purchased a non-refundable airplane ticket to Kuwait, from where she would then be escorted to Iraq.

Shortly after she purchased her ticket, however, Army officials informed Stillwater that her embed mission was canceled, citing numerous reasons. "They said I couldn't go over there because it was a battlefield," she said. "But why would I want to go if it wasn't a battlefield? Then they said I didn't have a large enough readership, and I said that thousands of people read my blog."

Stillwater appealed the Army's decision, and on Feb. 12, 2008, she flew to Kuwait. "Her embed appeal was still pending, giving her the impression that her embed might still be granted," a case management statement said. Upon landing, Stillwater learned that her embed request had been denied. She spent two days in the airport's Starbucks until the U.S. Embassy was able to arrange a flight home.

Stillwater decided to sue the Department of Defense for $1,780 -- the cost of the airplane ticket, 15 mocha lattes at the airport Starbucks and the pain and inconvenience she experienced while waiting -- in Alameda County's small claims court.

On Dec. 31, the United States Attorney's Office informed Stillwater that her lawsuit could only be heard in federal court.

"It could cost you up to $100,000 in legal fees," she said. "I was suing them for $1,780, so they dragged me kicking and screaming to federal court. I thought, as long as I'm here, I might as well relax and enjoy it." Stillwater then increased the amount of her lawsuit to $7,500, the maximum amount allowed [in small claims court] for alleged malicious persecution.

Before the lawsuit went to court, however, Stillwater entered into negotiations with the Department of Justice, which was representing the Department of Defense. "I made some offers, they made some offers and we came up with a resolution we were all happy with," she said.

After deciding on a reimbursement for the cost of Stillwater's original airplane ticket-a total of $1362.15-the order to dismiss was signed on Aug. 19. However, the settlement was not viewed as an admission of wrongdoing by the U.S. government.

"This ... compromise settlement shall not constitute an admission of liability or fault on the part of the United States, its agencies ... or employees, and is entered into by the parties for the purpose of compromising disputed claims and avoiding the expenses and risks of litigation," the official settlement said. Meanwhile, Stillwater reapplied for another embed mission in April [of 2009], but her request was denied once again because her lawsuit was still pending. "I don't know if I'll be able to re-embed or not, if this has screwed up my chances or not," she said. "But I think I'm going to have to go back to Iraq and Afghanistan to find out what's going on because it's pretty much a swamp right now."

Stillwater has more trips planned for the remainder of the year in an effort to create new content for her blog followers. "The last trip I'm going on is Antarctica in December," she said. "It's beautiful, silent and white, and it may be the last chance to get there before it freaking melts."

PPPS: NewsMax just announced that, "The post office doesn't work, so why would government healthcare?" The editors of NewsMax have obviously never lived in one of those foreign countries where mail delivery is spotty at best. And when can you ever remember your gas and electricity bills not being delivered on time?

But here's something that you will probably never hear NewsMax suggesting: "Let's give everyone in the U.S. a chance to opt for having MediCare BEFORE they turn 65."

However, NewsMax might be more than likely to suggest something like this: "Let's give all red-blooded Americans a chance to opt for having our mail delivered by the same price-gouging rich guys who run our health insurance companies. We'd soon be not only missing our mail but also paying five dollars a stamp. How patriotic is that!"

But on the other hand, while you sometimes CAN argue successfully with the government in court, J. Douglas Allen-Taylor tells us that arguing with the Republican Scream Machine is a true waste of time. “You can’t win at mud-wrestling with a pig. You’ll only get dirty, and, regardless of the outcome, the pig always loves it.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Wilson Scream: Where was Joe Wilson when Bush lied?

I'm supposed to be rushing out the door to my acupuncture appointment right now but I just can't resist saying a few words about Rep. Joe Wilson before I go. Needles can wait. This can't.

Wilson did a "Dean Scream" in the the chambers of Congress during an Obama speech recently -- only the "Dean Scream" was a scam perpetrated by the media who photo-shopped out the audience's screams, making it appear that Dean was talking loudly for no reason. The "Wilson Scream" was the real thing. Fine. But where was Joe Wilson's scream when Bush was lying to Congress?

There is now a whole generation of Americans who know friends and classmates who have died in the Iraq "war". There are thousands of America's best and brightest young people who died for a lie. And there is a whole well-oiled American military machine -- perhaps machine is the wrong word here -- that was the pride of our country until Bush wore it down so that his cronies could rake in the huge profits that only come from turning out war machinery day after day, year after year.

I've been to Iraq four-and-a-half times. I've seen our fighting men and women in action. They are the best of one whole generation. And they are still being wasted and ground up and savaged for fun and profit by Bush's lie.

Wilson, where were you back then? Where was your "Liar!" scream then?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

America: Like a monkey with its hand in a trap

There are four things that human beings must have in order to survive: Air, food and water, sure -- but also they need to feel good about themselves. So if you tell people bad things about themselves, then they are not going to like you because you are creating a life-threatening situation for them. So. It's always a good idea not to talk smack about your fellow-man.

But I'm gonna talk smack here anyway because I just can't resist.

I should say that America is a wonderful country and Americans are the Salt of the Earth. Instead, however, I'm going to indulge my weakness for pointing out character flaws in others and just tell the truth. "Americans are like greedy little monkeys who have put their hands in a trap, who could free themselves from the trap if they would only let go of the banana inside but who just can't bring themselves to let go."

The corporate Americans who rule us simply can't let go of the gigantic profits that they rake in from wagging endless war -- even though they know that war is polluting our environment and destroying America's economy (and the entire planet's economy and environment as well) and that because of their greed we're all probably gonna end up dying of nuclear radiation poisoning if nothing else.

American healthcare insurance companies can't let go of their bananas either, even though 335 Americans a DAY die because of their lust for unreasonable profits and their strangle-hold on America's doctors, nurses and hospitals. To solve our healthcare problems, all we gotta do is give MediCare to anyone under 65 who wants it, and then the freaking monkey would be out of the freaking trap. But no. The insurance companies seem hell-bent on destroying the system that they milk. Greed has trapped them -- and us as well.

But Americans aren't the only ones who won't let go of the banana. Over in the Middle East, Israel has its hands on a banana called "The Occupation," which will eventually strangle Israel economically, politically and morally if it keeps holding on. For instance, when Israel was first created, most Americans thought of it as a shining beacon of idealism -- but how things have changed since 1948. People don't look to Israel as a moral leader any more, not so much. For example when the recent kidney-selling scandal came up, all too many people in America were willing to believe rumors that the Israeli Defense Force was selling body parts because of the many atrocities that the IDF had already committed over the last 60 years. Israel needs to let go of that "Occupation" banana!

And all too much of the Islamic world is in the banana trap too. Did Mohammed (PBUH) ever envision that such a large number of Muslims would all be out there trying to kill each other? Like in the Iran-Iraq War or the ongoing Shia-Sunni split? Is this what Mohammed (PBUH) had in mind? Hardly. (Not that Christians are all out there eagerly obeying Jesus' Golden Rule either! The American Civil War, World War I and World War II immediately come to mind. Must I repeat myself? War is the ultimate monkey trap.)

Not only that, but Muslims -- and also Hindus, Christians, Jews and even atheists and animists -- need to let go of the monkey trap of treating women as if they were mere property and/or objects of lust. They need to stop keeping women under house arrest where they are probably getting rickets from lack of sunshine Vitamin D. If treating women like this is such a wonderful and pious thing to do, then why aren't men doing these things also? Women make up half of the human race. Wherever women are treated as inferiors, we are wasting at least half of the human race's sorely-needed talents and capabilities. Men need to let go of that banana as well.

And me? I'm not perfect either. I gots my own banana-traps too. I need to get rid of all that extra stuff that keeps cluttering up my apartment. And I also need to do everything I can to help all of us monkeys get out of our traps so that all of us can start feeling good about ourselves -- and survive.
PS: What's new on the fabulous Jane Stillwater Show? Here's my latest interview -- with Paul Larudee, an expert on the Israel-Palestine situation.
PPS: Here's an even bigger news item: announced that the price of gold just topped the $1,000 mark.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Lord of the Manor: US foreign policy in Iraq & Afghanistan

(To see a video of me interviewing a Afghan terrorist on "The Jane Stillwater Show," click here: )

I'm not really sure if my latest theory about Iraq and Afghanistan is correct -- but if it quacks like a duck, then I say let it fly. Here's my theory: That the folks in Washington seem to want to milk both Iraq and Afghanistan for all they are worth financially -- but from a safe distance. It's like that old lord-of-the-manor, castle-and-peasant trick. Build a huge castle on your fiefdom, squeeze the peasants dry until they scream and then retire back into the mega-base, er, I mean, castle again whenever things get too hot. Does this theory sound right?

I hate research and I may have to google all this stuff to get backup evidence but here's what I've come up with so far:

1. Everyone knows that Iraq has oil -- but what the freak does Afghanistan have that has kept everyone in Washington so fascinated with the place? I couldn't figure this one out for a really long time. The pipeline? Well maybe.... I know! It's the poppies!

There's a HUGE traffic in opium poppies coming out of Afghanistan. Somebody has to be making a profit on its opium sales and we know it isn't the Afghans or they wouldn't be living in such abject poverty. They'd all be sitting pretty and their country wouldn't be all hovering down at the bottom of the wealth-of-nations list next to Haiti and the DRC. Hell, they'd probably even have a seat on the Security Council.

And the Taliban ain't getting the poppy money either. Those guys are living in CAVES.

So who buys this stuff? And who profits? Europe and America. Ever since the U.S. lost most of its manufacturing, one of the biggest industries left to us appears to be illegal drugs. Am I right on this one or not?

According to RAWA, "Afghanistan now supplies over 90 percent of the world’s heroin, generating nearly $200 billion in revenue. Since the U.S. invasion on Oct. 7, 2001, opium output has increased 33-fold (to over 8,250 metric tons a year). ...Common sense suggests that such prolific trade over an extended period of time is no accident, especially when the history of what has transpired in that region is considered. While the CIA ran its operations during the Vietnam War, the Golden Triangle supplied the world with most of its heroin." And after the U.S. took over Afghanistan? “Within two years of the onslaught of the CIA operation in Afghanistan, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world’s top heroin producer.”

Okay. So we apparently gots Afghanistan replacing the Golden Triangle as the biggest source of illegal drugs in the world -- with the possible exception of Columbia in South America, another CIA stronghold.

Bottom line: Afghanistan is a cash cow -- if you know how to milk it right.

2. Iraq. And we all know about Iraq. Tons of oil. But are the peasants getting any of the benefits? Not. Many Iraqis -- if not most -- are currently living in poverty. I've been to some places in Anbar province that are poorer than poor. So who exactly IS getting Iraq's oil profits? Ask Paul Bremer.

3. Mega-bases are being constructed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. From Bagram AFB and to Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, the place has been pretty much castled. And from its Camp Victory to its Balad AFB, Iraq has been castled too. Now. Flash back in your mind to those cheesy dioramas of feudal Europe that we used to make in fifth grade. See, there's the castle. See, there's the serfs.

Based on the above-cited information, there seems to be a trend going on in these two countries that supports my new theory nicely. "But Jane," you might ask. "So what?" So this: All that castle-ing stuff that is going on in Afghanistan and Iraq is about giving more power to America's Lords of the Manor. Those "wars" that we got tricked into fighting weren't about Democracy or even Saddam or Osama after all.

Afghanistan used to be a rather advanced country. Education was valued there. Women went to college. They had schools. They had jobs. They had roads. And then Afghanistan got reduced to rubble during the USSR invasion and Charlie Wilson's War and the power-vacuum aftermath that resulted. Afghanistan became positively medieval, feudal. So doesn't it seem fitting that America should become Afghanistan's new "Lord of the Manor"? With castles and all.

And as for Iraq? Mega-bases apparently make sense there too. You gots a population that is prone to fighting among itself like peasants. So why not have a "Lord of the Manor" there too? Why not seize the moment.

And look what is happening in America right now as well. We too are all squabbling among ourselves. The wingnuts are all talking about staging a Revolution. "Go for it!" I say. And then in the rubble that is left after that, we also will probably end up with a few "Lords of the Manor" -- who will then be able to siphon off our country's wealth unrestricted. And America will also have lots of mega-bases as well.

PS: Speaking of drugs, my friend JoAnne just sent me an e-mail on the subject. "Of course America wants to control the drugs in the world," wrote JoAnne, "since we consume most of them! The Wall Street Journal said about two weeks ago that Mexico has made about 40 different types of drugs (weed, heroin, opium, meth, etc.) legal in small quantities there because their country was simply falling apart over drug wars. My guess is they want to stop the war at the street level where every thug is now fighting for turf. Imagine that -- making drugs legal so there's no more criminal element in the business."

Maybe they should do that here in the U.S. too -- except that Big Pharma would probably get its knickers all in a twist when marijuana starts to out-sell all its big money-makers like Prozac and Welbutrin.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Down-home music at its best: Berkeley's old & new Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse

(Photos are of the old Freight & Salvage kitchen crew, the old Freight kitchen, U.Utah Phillips dressed up as Santa, me as Santa's helper, me and some of my children -- including Joe --circa 1979, and toddler Mena inspecting the new F&S and dancing to Eric and Suzie Thompson's cajun music in the park)

"I'm about to go off to the grand opening of the fancy new Freight & Salvage folk music coffee house," I told my son Joe, "but I seriously doubt that it will be as good as the original old funky Freight was back in 1972." Remeber the old Freight & Salvage? Legendary! "Remember that time when I almost gave birth to you right there on the Freight's kitchen table?" You don't? Oh.

"I loved the old F&S!" I exclaimed. But to my delight and surprise, the new Freight & Salvage turned out to be equally as awesome as the original Freight & Salvage -- and perhaps even more so.

For eight long years back in the 1970s, my life totally revolved around Berkeley's old Freight & Salavage Coffeehouse. I worked in the kitchen baking cookies, listened avidly to the music, took money at the door, painted and cleaned the place up during the day and kept the musicians [very] happy at night. Our boss, Nancy Owens, had started the Freight in a former storage facility on San Pablo Avenue, across from the Albatross bar. I started working there in 1972. I'd make the coffee and my daughter Ruby would fall asleep under the kitchen table or in the musicians' room. All of us lived on bluegrass, coffee laced with smuggled in Jack Daniel's, home-made brownies and handfuls of raw cookie dough.

So today when I went to the grand opening of the new uptown Freight and Salvage, I wasn't really expecting too much. But I thought that I'd stop by anyway, re-live some old times and see all the people I used to know back in the good old days. But you can't go home again. I didn't know ANYBODY at the new Freight. And the place was upscale, high-tech and didn't even HAVE a kitchen table any more. I asked one docent if I could take a photo of my granddaughter Mena next to a snack table, the closest thing to the old table I could find.

"No you cannot," replied the docent. "Liability insurance won't allow it." Humph. The old Freight & Salvage never had no stinkin' liability insurance. And all of the staff's kids practically lived in the place. The old Freight ran on fiddle music and the laughter of children.

At the new Freight grand opening, when me and my granddaughter Mena went over to listen to a singing demonstration, Mena started to sing along -- and a patron actually came up to me and said, "If you want, I can take your granddaughter out in the lobby to prevent the other patrons from being disturbed. They hate being distrubed." Times have certainly changed.

The closest I had come to experiencing anything like that at the old Freight & Salvage was when the lead singer for "Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen" came up to me after he saw that I was pregnant and said, "It's not mine and Goodbye!"

Then, like I said, there was the time that I almost gave birth to Joe right there in the kitchen rather than miss out on a night of good fiddle music. And baby Joe also spent time sleeping under the table at the Freight.

But the main focus at the Frieght & Salvage was always the music. We featured some of the best bluegrass, folk and old-timey music in the world. Lightning Hopkins, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, Ralph Stanley, the Joy of Cooking, U. Utah Phillips, Rosalie Sorrels and High Country. I remember when I was going out with the main singer for High Country, Pat Enright, and he said that he wanted to move to Nashville and try to make it in the big-time. I can't believe that I actually told Pat Enright that he would never make it in Nashville, that he should stay here in Berkeley and that Nashville would only break his heart. Ha! Two Emmies, something like ten CDs and a world tour as a singer in the Nashville Bluegrass Band later....

Anyway, Nancy Owens got tired of running the Freight and we workers then tried to buy it. "Let's form the Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music," I said. And we did. And we ran the Freight until some other people came along who offered to run it better. But good grief! Eight years of my life went into that place. I had music coming out of my ears! And now I go off to the freaking Grand Opening of the New Freight & Salvage and nobody even recognizes me -- and nobody even cares.

And then Mena and I went into the main stage concert hall and a Hawaiian guy named Patrick Landeza started playing slack key guitar over the best sound equipment I have ever heard. EVER. And suddenly the old Freight & Salvage magic that had made the original F&S a magical place that I just loved was there right in the room with me again. And the new Freight & Salvage was suddenly as good as or better than the old one. And Mena started dancing. And nobody stopped her.

Plus on the way out afterwards, one of the new managers spotted my antique "Freight & Salvage" T-shirt, came over to me, said hello and actually volunteered to listen to all my old stories about the old F&S -- maybe even the ones that are X-rated....

Then, on our walk home, Mena and I stopped by Provo Park, where the Freight & Salvage grand opening also had some open-air music going on and Eric and Susie Thompson, who used to play at the Freight 30 years ago, were playing Cajun waltzes and two-steps in the park and there were suddenly little kids everywhere -- and them and me and toddler Mena did the two-step and it was suddenly even more like old times.

PS: About that fight that Mena had in the park with the 11-month-old over Mena's stuffed Totoro? Well. Forget what you heard to the contrary. Mena won. I think. I have it on tape. Click here. Take bets. Mena weighed in a few pounds heavier but that 11-month old was FIERCE!

PPS: Here's a short video of Mena, fighting for her Totoro. She's the one in the green dress. Princess Mena-noke!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Jane Stillwater Show: Why haters hate

Now that I've finally discovered how easy (and fun!) it is to make YouTube videos, I've decided to start my own YouTube talk show too. Craig Ferguson and Jon Stewart, eat your hearts out. I'd mention Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck as well but they aren't really true talk-show hosts. They are just hateful people who are bringing America down.

Anyway, here's the first episode of my fabulous new talk show: And if you can't download it from YouTube, then here's the written account:

Why Haters Hate: "Love thy neighbor as thyself"

"I just had psychic surgery performed on my knees by one of the top psychic surgeons in the Philippines." How's that for a fabulous lead sentence?

"Did it work?" you might ask. Who knows. I'm still in post-op recovery. But it was intense, almost like having two knee replacement operations without anesthetic. Well, maybe not that bad, but still. You had to have been there. It was intense.

There is a legendary psychic surgeon now living in the Philippines, Montsignor Marcos Orbito, who is descended from generations of psychic healers and is famous all over the world. At age 84, Montsignor Orbito is still actively healing people and is planning to speak at the 2009 Parliament of World Religions in Australia in December. And the man who operated on me has been training with Montsignor Orbito for his entire life.

My knee procedure took approximately 20 minutes. There may or may not have been chicken blood involved. My knees may or may not have gotten healed. But this experience, for me, was completely life-changing -- in a way that had nothing to do with my knees.

"Before we begin," said the psychic healer, "I would like you to read a few passages from the Bible." Sure. "Read Mark 12:28-31."

"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." It was Jesus' second commandment -- one of a boxed set of two.

And while the healer was psychically cutting into my knees, it suddenly hit me. "That commandment is DEEP." Loving one's neighbor is hard. Then I vowed that when I got out of this surgery, I was going to bite the bullet, man up and actually start loving my neighbor -- because this Commandment is the real key to world peace, which I desire even more dearly than actually possessing workable knees.

Then I had another revelation right there on the operating table. Love thy neighbor? Like thyself? Holy crap! "Before one can love one's neighbor like oneself, one has to love oneself first!" That's TOTALLY deep! It means that all those people who keep saying hateful things about others -- like wingnut talk-radio hosts who spew hatred and fear and distrust, like racists, war mongers and even like CIA torturers, Al Qaeda and the Taliban -- really ARE loving their neighbors as much as they love their own selves. People who hate others are only broadcasting to the world just how they feel about themselves. All those people who hate others? They must truly hate themselves even worse.

They must be following Jesus' commandment to the letter. They must be loving their neighbors just as little as they love themselves.

"Sorry, Jane. There's going to be no world peace for you -- at least not until all the haters of this world can stop hating -- stop hating themselves."

PS: There is currently talk among some of my gun-toting right-wingnut friends regarding marching on Washington and staging a Revolution. However, I have two questions regarding the wisdom of such a plan. First, suppose that you guys do have a successful Revolution, all those weapons in the Pentagon aren't trained in your direction and that you actually DO manage to bring down the government. Then what?

Are any of you even half-way prepared to deal with the chaos that will surely ensue?

And my second question would be, "Where were you guys when Bush and Cheney were squelching our freedom, turning patriotism into a an excuse to 'water the tree of liberty' at American citizens' expense, murdering our children by sending them off to fight illegal wars for profit, and otherwise looting our wallets any way that they could?"

PPS: All this hatin' on Van Jones is also really starting to get me down. I've known Van since 1998, when he was friends with my boss Robert Treuhaft and his wife Jessica Mitford. Van is everything that you could ever want an American to be -- smart, honest, well-educated, compassionate, hopeful, responsible, all that stuff. He is one of our best and brightest. And he is also African-American -- which makes him fair game for a bunch of hate-filled unpatriotic losers who couldn't even make it to college let alone graduate from Yale.

Of all the people who actually did great harm to America that the GOP could have picked on (Bernanke for instance -- or Summers or, God forbid, Cheney and Bush), they picked on Van Jones instead. That so bodes ill for the future of America and for our next generations. That so sucks eggs.

OMG Becky! The Taliban & the Northern Alliance might be the same guys!

(One of these photos is of the Northern Alliance. The other one is of the Taliban. Can you tell which is which?)

I woke up this morning with a terrifying thought -- that the same dudes who fought the USSR in Afghanistan are now fighting the USA there too. Eeuuww.

Remember how we used to root for those poor ragged Afghan guerrillas who held off the entire Soviet army during Charlie Wilson's War? I'm thinking that those very same ragged Afghan guerrillas (or their sons and grandsons) are now holding off the American military too. Good grief. Those dudes are fierce!

And here we were thinking that our sweet little Northern Alliance buddies were separate and different from the evil and hoary Taliban. Wrong. They are both Afghan fighters and they are both fierce. "Don't mess with Afghanistan."

So. All we gotta do now to defeat the Taliban is to figure out how the USSR defeated the Northern Alliance and then to use those same techniques.

PS: Oops. We already are using them.

PPS: Of course I am aware that the most of the Taliban hate most of the Northern Alliance. But I'm also thinking that they also hate the people who invade their country much more.

The point of this essay is not only to have fun (you GOTTA have fun writing this stuff or you will grow hair on your palms and go crazy and die from not being able to change the grim direction our world is now heading in), but also to do whatever little bit that I can to end the flow of America's wealth into endless wars that benefit only America's corporatists.

Becky, this essay is a work in progress -- just like the destruction of American democracy by corporatists is a work in progress too.


And here's me and baby Mena reciting the "Talking OMG Becky Taliban Blues" -- as described above -- on YouTube. We're fierce too!


From The Times of India: There is nothing called the 'moderate Taliban' [Pakistan isn't doing too well against Afghanistan either]:

....Benazir Bhutto and the ISI did not create the Taliban in the winter of 1994 for war against America. Its purpose was to defeat fractious Afghan warlords, and establish a totalitarian regime that would equate Afghanistan's strategic interests to Pakistan's. The ISI conceived an "Afpak" long before the idea reached the outer rim of Washington's thinking.

Pakistan worked assiduously to widen the Taliban's legitimacy and would have drawn America into the fold through the oil-pipeline siren song if Osama bin Laden had not blown every plan apart. In some essentials, things have not changed. Pakistan's interests still lie in a pro-Islamabad Taliban regime in Kabul. The "moderation" theory is a ploy to provide war-weary America with an exit point. India's anxieties will be offered a smile in public and a shrug in private.

History is uncomfortable with neat closures. Neither the Taliban nor Pakistan are what they were in 1994: the former is much stronger, the latter substantially weaker. The fall of Kabul to the Taliban this time could be a curtain raiser to the siege of Islamabad.


Here's an e-mail I just received from yet another angry Marine Mom: Afghanistan strategy sacrifices U.S. troops:

Here's a quote from the speech Adm. Mullen delivered to our troops at Forward Operating Base Ramrod, Afghanistan Friday, July 17, 2009:

“We cannot succeed here without taking care of the Afghan people first. We’re heavily focused on making sure that we absolutely eliminate civilian casualties. You could be in a really hot firefight but you need to be thinking how to get through that in a way that doesn’t really hurt the overall effort strategically.”

And in a statement published on the Joint Chiefs of Staff Web site Adm. Mullen said: "The US military effort in Afghanistan lacks credibility because the US hasn’t done enough to establish relationships with local communities, and its actions don’t always match its words."

Way to go, Admiral! Put the blame on our troops for not having established good relationships.

It’s time for the Admiral to retire.

The only way to absolutely eliminate civilian casualties is to leave Afghanistan, which, after eight years of bungling, apologizing, and making solitia payments to those shooting at our troops, may now be our only option.

This method of leadership only creates fear and insecurity with our forces and is why the situation has continually deteriorated.

The turning point was when we allowed the Afghans to falsely accuse the MSOC-F Marine Company who had been hit by a suicide bomber and ambushed, of killing civilians, and within six days, ordered the entire company of 120 SpecOps Marines out of Afghanistan along with their 32 containers of equipment.

We have too many risk-adverse generals with little or no combat experience willing to destroy the troops under their command.

Lt. General Francis Kearney III -- The only combat experience Gen. Kearney had was in Granada, yet he was put in charge of Special Forces in Afghanistan. He ordered the entire company of 120 SpecOps Marines out of Afghanistan.

An experienced combat veteran would not have stated “There is no evidence that the Marine Spec Ops platoon came under small-arms fire after the bombing. We found no brass (ammunition casings.)”

Instead of investigating the suicide bomber and the source of the weapons and mortar bases found at the site, Gen Kearney ordered a criminal investigation of the Marines who were attacked. Kearney took the side of the insurgents, who were firing on our troops. The problem with apologizing and making payments before any investigation is completed is that the Afghans take this as an admission of guilt, and these exaggerated false counts are broadcast around the world enormously damaging our efforts.

Army Col. (now BG) John Nicholson -- Nicholson publicly apologized to the Afghans saying he was “deeply, deeply ashamed and terribly sorry that American Marines had killed and wounded innocent Afghan people. This was a terrible, terrible mistake,” Nicholson said. “And my nation grieves with you for your loss and suffering. We humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness.”

And for the first time upped the number of dead from 10 to 19, based on no evidence but the word of the Afghans in this Taliban-controlled village, who he paid for their trouble. The military did not explain the discrepancy.

Nicholson paid the families of the insurgents who fired on our troops. Brian Williams reports on an interview Jim Maceda had with Col. Nicholson: By the end of his 2006 tour in Eastern Afghanistan, Nicholson’s unit had lost 45 men and 350 wounded,­ the highest U.S. toll in the war. <>

Allowing the Afghans to falsely accuse our troops of killing civilians, he paid compensation for exaggerated, false counts, and unbelievably, apologized, knowing it was a fabrication.

Air Force Col. Patrick Pihana, Kearney’s chief of staff with no combat experience was assigned to investigate. Pihana recorded and took signed statements from all 29 Marines on the patrol. Pihana also met with Army and Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Experts. The two explosives experts filed their report stating that the impacts on the MSOC vehicles were from small arms ammunition. The explosives experts both testified that they were 99% positive that the impacts could have only been from bullets.

Both explosives experts testified that Col Pihana repeatedly met with them and attempted to have them resubmit their reports to reflect that the impacts were from explosives and not small arms. Both explosives experts testified that they refused to comply with Col. Pihana’s request because they were sure of their original reports.

After expelling the SpecOps Marine Company, Kearney was promoted to LtGen and assigned as the Deputy Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. Col Nicholson of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division was promoted to BGen and assigned deputy commander, regional command south, after he made false statements publicly.

The US Air Force Investigating Officer, Col. Pihanas, who conducted his shoddy investigation was rewarded this winter by a distinguishing Service Medal awarded from LtGen Kearney.

The various lists of supposed injured and dead civilians cannot be verified by any source. The Army did not check the solatia list, instead, accepted the list from the Nangahar governor. Afghan testimony contained numerous instances of fraud. Tribal elders told some citizens to say they were injured to receive money.

Within 15 minutes of the attack, the first team of Military Police arrived on th e scene; they saw no injured people or dead bodies other than the body parts of the suicide bomber. No bodies were recovered; there were no autopsies, no forensic evidence.

These senior commanders were so fearful for their careers should the American public be made aware of and scrutinize their military misadventures, they were willing to destroy and imprison innocent servicemen.

As long as we continue to promote these risk-adverse, self-seeking officers with little or no combat experience, we will continue to have weak leadership and unforgiving, stunning casualty rates.

Our generals would do well to concentrate more on winning the war and less on blaming and prosecuting our troops.