Amazing eyewitness article on the fall of the Berlin Wall

Here. All I have to say is amazing. The fall of the Wall still brings tears to my eyes every time I see it on TV.

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Governor Girlie Man Strikes Again!

Herr Governer Schwarzenegger, warum haben Sie uns in Stich gelasst?

 Arnold Schwarzenegger, der Ahnold, once was the epitome of badass masculinity, with his gigantically chiseled physique, and “ve vill krush you” Teutonic accent. He was buff. He was bad. He was not someone you’d want to be on the bad side of. He was known for playing men of action in the movies. Conan. The Terminator. John Matrix. Mr. Freeze — OK, scratch that last one.

But he went and found politics. After the disastrous governorship and subsequent recall of Grey Davis, Schwarzenegger was voted in as his replacement, mostly on name recognition. Conservatives thought they were getting the second coming of Ronald Reagan — hey, he was an actor, and a Republican, and had become Governor of California, so completely the same, right? Everybody else thought that Schwarzenegger would hold a hard line with the legislature and perhaps set off some verbal, political fireworks on the level of his movies — after all, his Predator co-star, Jesse “the Body” Ventura, was known for his combativestance to government (and damn near everyone else) as Minnesota’s chief executive.

Wrong on both counts. After a brief attempt to impose fiscal responsibility on the state (that found no traction with the Legislature or, sadly, the voters), he bent over completely, and went on a spending spree the likes that can only be imagined.

Now, courtesy of the economic downturn, the bill has come due, and it’s not pretty. This state is $11 to $15 billion in the hole. This was the gap that caused the budget fiasco over the summer. And even though after the commedia delle arte was over, they still could not find a good way to close the gap between income and spending. 

Schwarzenegger has proposed a 1.5 cent increase in the state sales tax (with the stated hope being raising $4.4 billion). That means that in some areas, such as here in Los Angeles County, where we just voted for to add a half a cent to the sales tax, the sales tax alone will come out to over 10 cents per every dollar. And Schwarzenegger wants to see that tax applied to more products and to services. So that we can subsidize and bail out the Legislature’s bad behavior. Just as our illustrious Congress is using our money to lay out the safety net for mortgage lenders who took the economy down a rabbit hole thanks to their criminal stupidity? No. I say no!

What California needs to do, immediately, is STOP SPENDING. We just voted ourselves a shiny new bullet train which the state’s going to borrow $9.95 billion for, a $980 million payout to childrens’ hospitals — even though the bond money from the first ballot initiative of a few years ago has largely gone undisbursed, and a $900 million bond to give veterans low-cost housing loans. This is on top of billions voted in past elections in recent memory for such things as stem cell research. And this also on top of grasping, greedy state unions who abuse the fact that the same politicians who are supposed to negotiate labor contracts are bought and paid for by them to run up ridiculously expensive salary and benefit tabs — and with clauses that make it almost an act of God to fire a state employee. (I, for one, am surprised Schwarzenegger was able to sew his balls back on long enough to threaten to cut all state employees down to minimum wage, a sublimely stupid and pointless movethat merely ended up shaking the hornet’s nest that much harder.) For years, and years, and years, we have spent money and raised bonds until our coffers havebeen drained and our public credit is hovering just above junk-bond status. We havebeen bled white. We cannot give any more. And it is a shame, because children’s hospitals and veterans are worthy, noble causes for the state to aid.

When we have the money. When budgets have been busted due to union greed, lawmaker cupidity and our own fiscal foolishness, something then has to give.

In Los Angeles, as KABC’s Doug McIntyre is eager to point out, trash feesin the ‘burbs have been raising steadily since Antonio Villaraigosa took office, with the stated aim of hiring 1,000 new police officers. In August, the fees were raised yet again, to a whopping $38 a month. And yet no new officers have been recruited as far as we can tell. Yet Villaraigosa can find money to plant 1,000,000 trees around the city. Yet Councilwoman Gloria Molina could find enough money in the civic coffers to build a Mexican-American cultural heritage center. Villaraigosa and Molina and the rest of the City Council are not merely fiddling while Los Angeles burns — they’ve formed a friggin’ orchestra! And yet, city revenues go down, businesses bolt (thanks to the fact that many places in LA are just not safe — good luck getting businesses and jobs into Watts and South Central Los Angeles, where they are desperately needed to lift the long-suffering populace out of their economic and gang nightmare), taxes go up and the Crips, Bloods, Aveneidas, Mara Salvatrucha and other gangs still rule the streets of the inner city.

Even the Los Angeles Times realized this in a recent editorial against a city measure that would have placed a $36 hike on city parcel taxes to go into gang-diversion programs. While a noble goal, the Timesconcluded, the players in the plan, including Villaraigosa and the now-defunct and trouble-plagued LA Bridges presented too much of a risk of a money hole to be given the funding. This is how the Times— usually leading the parade for Villaraigosa, put it:

 It is far too early to add new taxpayer funding to programs that may or may not work. It would be like trusting that a drug-dependent friend has kicked his habit based on only his promise, before he has even completed his first stint in rehab.

Pink Floyd said it best — “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?” It’s time to cut what spending we can — where bonds have already been sold, shikata ga nai. Outside of that, we need a governator who is man enough to start slashing spending, and perhaps even bust unions when he can to get spending down to a reasonable level. Before the Golden State becomes the Pyrite State.

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President Obama, it’s time for your closeup!

History was made last night, and don’t you think that the supporters of Barack Obama are going to let anyone forget that for quite some time. From Washington DC all the way to the town of Obama, Japan, celebrations have broken out across the globe, hailing the first black man to become President of the United States (no. Bill does not count, no matter how much he billed himself as “the first black president.”). That in itself is an amazing, epochal, foundation-shaking event. Only 50 years ago, within a human lifetime, blacks were refused seating in restaurants across the south, were told to sit at the back of buses — they even were forced to use separate drinking fountains from whites. Less than 150 years ago, blacks could still be legally kept as property. And now, a black man is president. In an election won in a majority white nation. I do not agree with President-elect Obama on the issues, and did not vote for him, but I salute, congratulate and celebrate him and his achievement. He’s earned his place in the history books.

A few things to remember though:

For the Democrats, remember that “all glory is fleeting.” Obama has won the presidency. The Democrats have also consolidated their hold on both houses of Congress (as of this writing, they still have, if four razor-thin-margin races go their way, a shot at a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate). They essentially rolled back the clock to the pre-Newt Gingrich status quo, where the Democrats had held a majority in the Senate and House, and had even wrested the presidency away from the Republicans — in effect this was the delayed Democratic answer to the Reagan landslide of 1980, when it seemed that were were on the cusp of a perpetual Republican ascendancy through Ronald Reagan.  Before Bush the Elder, Clinton and Bush the Younger.

Now, it’s Obama’s turn, and he has a job that nobody should envy. Iraq is improving, but both we and the Iraqis see a need to stick around, at least in the short term and it can still get messy. However, with anti-war groups seeing him as the last best hope for a full withdrawal immediately, he is going to be pulled in two directions at once, especially once the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) between Iraq and the US is finally settled. The economy is still in shambles from the sub-prime mortgage fiasco (if I were advising Obama, I would suggest he order criminal investigations of Lehman Brothers, AIG, Bear-Stearns, Countrywide, and the other subprime lenders, and then introduce bills in Congress geared towards making sure this disgrace never happens again), and it will fall to Obama to start picking up the pieces — Lord knows Bush hasn’t had a run of particularly good luck or competence in repairing it — the $600 stimulus giveaways were a joke, and the bailout only seemed to reinforce the perception that the Bush Administration was only interested in helping out well-heeled donors and corporate grandees (it didn’t help that AIG turned around and sent its top execs some of the same people who got us into this misshive in the first placeto a spa resort for pampering). The bailout did nothing to fix the problems with selling mortgage-backed securities, particularly from those at risk of default, that was the powderkeg that exploded the crisis. 

Obama undeniably benefited from this groundswell of anger at a Bush administration now widely seen as incompetent, and it showed. Here, in California, for instance, numerous counties that had gone for Bush in 2004 (while the president was still riding the post-Iraq high)  flipped to Obama, including San Bernardino County, which has seen a drastic increase in foreclosures since the crisis hit.  People were not voting for the Democrats. They were voting for change, as represented by Obama. He could have worn a ferret or a marmoset or a Thompson’s Gazelle on his lapel instead of a donkey — so long as it wasn’t an elephant, he was golden.

Since much of the vote is coming down to the pocketbook, we still have to see which Obama is going to be the one in office — the financially secure if governmental expansionist Obama who will lay on a new New Deal or the “marxist,” “redistributionist” Obama who will raise taxes on the rich (whatever his definition really is) to try and float all boats equally. If we get the latter, whether from a desire to be that or through his being goaded by radicals who want to see implicit promises carried through, it could end up backfiring if the economy suffers.

And to that, remember that the electorate is fickle. They want to see a quick turnaround (even though such may be impossible, and even Obama acknowledged that in his victory speech, pleading for patience by saying that solutions may not take effect in one year or one term) and if the situation does not improve to their satisfaction, 2010 is right around the corner, hanging like the sword of Damocles ready to drop on the Democrats.

For Republicans and conservatives who may be on suicide watch right now, the message should be “don’t panic.” The sun rose in the sky this morning, even if it be over a America that elected Obama. The world is not going to tilt off its axis. This is not a sign of the apocalypse. It’s just an election. Take a deep breath and realize that Pennsylvania Avenue is NOT about to be renamed Red Square or Arafat Boulevard or some such nonsense like that. And, let’s call a spade a spade — John McCain was about as electrifying a candidate as a soggy paper towel, which is a let-down because the man showed cojones of brass while a guest of the NVA in Hanoi. He chose not to forcefully fight Obama, carrying on a bizarre campaign that would play things close to the vest and then suddenly lunge out and mention Bill Ayres or Jeremiah Wright, while not attacking Obama’s use of private contribution funds after publicly stating that he would eschew them to qualify public money. His plans were often non-existent and poorly articulated, and his attempts to suspend the campaign and get back to Washington, in the hopes that it would make him look like a statesman still on the nation’s clock while Obama blithely continued on with business as usual, backfired hugely, as it both tied him with the pork-laden abomination as well as make him look panicky by going when there ended up being little to do.

 So, suck up, buck up and come back with a new plan if you seriously want to retake either Congress or the White House.

And stop with the sour grapes nonsense. On the radio today, I heard some callers talk of how Obama’s not “my president.” It doesn’t work that way. Whether or not you agree with him (and I don’t), Barack Obama won the election of 2008 fair and square. He earned it. He is our president, or at least he will be on January 20, 2009. To say otherwise is to strip him of his rightly-deserved laurels and to strip the office of President of the respect it deserves. I dislike George W. Bush for a great many things. But he is my president. I distrusted Bill Clinton. But he was my president. I will likely disagree with Barack Obama on a great many things. But he will be my president. We do not have the luxury in this country of setting up a “government-in-exile” every time an election goes awry (or when the candidate, as here, just seems to say “screw it”). There will always be another election. But for now, it’s time to deal with President Obama.

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British Councils banning Latin words.

UK Councils: No Latin Lovers…

There’s only one thing to say about this — “It is un-American. It is un-British. It is French.” — Mark Twain.

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Your Underwear Knows Where You Live!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1082707/Outrage-chastity-belt-lingerie-fitted-GPS-tracking-system.html

You have got to be kidding me. GPS-enabled underwear.

While, yeah, you can argue that some wome will buy it for security, how much do you, dear reader, want to be tthat the grand majority of the lingerie wil be bought by insecure nebbishes who are completely and utterly afraid their sweetie is getting some on the side? Even though the article claims that the system can be turned off at will by the wearer, it would still show a marked lack of trust on the part of any husband or boyfriend who would buy it. (Unless they’re wearing it themselves and are into that sort of thing. Not that there’s anythng wrong with that…)

Some feminists have called the device a “modern day chastity belt” and the designer, one Lucia Lorio, a “modern-day slaver” (a charge which is just on the cusp of Godwin’s Law territory). It’s not quite that dire, in my opinion. It’s just creepy to think that your significant other might be keeping track of you, in a world where we’re already surveilled into annoyance by marketers and into apprehension by government.  The last thing people need now is for their underwear to be broadcasting their location to everyone.  And what if unsavory folks get a hold of the GPS info?

For the fashion designers who dreamed this up, here’s an idea you might want to take for a redesign of the undies, a GPS lingerie 2.0, if you will…

If nothing else, it’ll fit in with the whole high-tech sci-fi theme, right? And the rather outdatd “keeping women under control” thing as well. (Hutt crime lord not included, unless you’re in to that sort of thing. )

Although on the other hand, this could have some interesting benefits too… perhaps they could put a IFF (or in this case, a IFWB?) on the devices to signal whether the wearer is taken or not or looking for romance/nookie…

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Short Order History: Caesar at the Rubicon

This piece was originally published in the Palos Verdes Peninsula News.

                January 10, 49 BC. The great man stood in a gladiatorial ludus in Ravenna on the banks of the River Rubicon. Across the stream, flooded by a midwinter’s rain squall, lay the border of his authority. Gaius Julius Caesar, Proconsul of Gaul, watched a display of training gladiators but with scant interest. His mind was on a more immediate and bloody task than slaves sparring with wooden swords. He stood ready to declare civil war – all for the chance to stand for election unmolested.

                He’d intended on returning to Rome, the center of power, as a victorious general – the man who had finally put an end to the traditional Roman bête noire, the Gauls, and there stand for his second election to the top post of Consul. It had all been arranged between Caesar and two other ambitious men – the legendary general Pompey and Crassus, the richest man in Rome. As the Triumvirate, they’d run roughshod over the Senate for years. Yet now the Senate, led by Cato, was ready to exact its long-awaited vengeance. They took advantage of Crassus’ death and Pompey’s alienation from Caesar as the former junior partner rose into ascendency to offer Pompey command of all the Republic’s armies should things come to blows. The Senate demanded nothing less than Caesar immediately laying down his commission and returning to Rome a private citizen. Caesar knew what would happen next – he’d be buried under a mountain of lawsuits and private prosecutions that would sap his finances, prevent his candidacy, expel him from the Senate and likely result in his permanent exile from the city. He had the measure of Cato – the old drunkard wouldn’t rest until Caesar was utterly ruined. And if Caesar merely ignored the summons, Cato had a pliant Pompey in charge of the Senate’s armies to use for coercion. 

                This Caesar would not allow. His sense of destiny was too strong. He would impose his reforms on the decaying city of Rome, by any means necessary.

                He appreciated the risk – by leading his troops out of his province, he was declaring war on Rome. He’d be in direct combat with Pompey and all other loyal generals. If he failed, he’d be declared an outlaw and executed if caught alive. Even if he succeeded, his hold on power may well be precarious – common wisdom said he’d have to become a bloody-handed tyrant like the dictator Sulla or else leave himself exposed to the threat of a counter-coup. He had plans to navigate between those two rocky shoals – he had been famous for his clemency, perhaps it would serve him well now. And Caesar had always been a gambler – his obituary, political and otherwise, had been written countless times in the past.

                That evening, as the storm still raged, Caesar waded into the river, beckoning his men to follow, men who had followed Caesar to hell and back for almost ten years in Gaul. They had every intention of following their leader now to glory or destruction. As Caesar entered the water, he uttered a phrase half-remembered from an old play by Menander:. Alea Iacta Est. The die is cast.

                The die had been cast, and only Fortuna would know whose number would come up – Caesar or the Republic’s.

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Old Potsherds, New Discoveries

This has been a banner couple of months for archaeologists. There was the discovery of the tomb outside Rome of the famed Marcus Nonius Macrinus (one of Marcus Aurelius’ most trusted advisers [and the prototype for Russell Crowe’s “Maximus” in Gladiator–except that Macrinus’ life had a much happier ending]). Then, the discovery of ruins outside Venice of the ancient Roman city of Altinum, hidden until satellites were able to tease the outlines of the ruins from the earth.

And now, archaeologists have announced that they may have found some of the earliest Hebrew writing in existence — actually dating back 3,000 years, to the time of King David — at a site near Jerusalem. Written on a potshard, they believe it to be a letter, from a people whose literacy at the time was in doubt.

As a language and history wonk, this makes me squee (a word I’ve rarely used and hopefully never will again) with delight. This (if it’s proven to be Hebrew and not another language that used the same alphabet) could show the clear development of the Hebrew alphabet from … It also could shed light on the accuracy of the Bible, and whether the histories presented could possibly have been true chronicles or just oral-tradition histories of folk heroes (as with the Odyssey). If this letter survived 3,000 years buried in a Levantine desert, who knows if there might not be inscriptions waiting out there that could have been actually chisled by Solomon or David, stating in thir own words what they did (or would have liked their subjects to believe they did), as we have with the capsule autobiography of Augustus. We can’t prove the Scorpion King’s existence, nor Gilgamesh’s, nor really Jimmu Tennou, but we might be tantalizingly close to proving the existence of a King David.

Then again, it might all disappear like a desert mirage.

However, don’t start jumping on this to prove or disprove the existence of God. As we all know, God exists by two falls to a submission.

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