Saturday, December 30, 2006

The United States as world court

Of all the bizarro developments in the story of Saddam Hussein, I gotta say one I never expected was someone to try to get a stay of execution in a U.S. court.

"In a last-minute filing to the U.S. District Court of Washington, Saddam's lawyers asked for a temporary stay of execution because he is a defendant in a civil case in the same court and he has been prevented from being able to defend himself.

"'Saddam Hussein has not been informed of the civil action against him and has not been advised of his rights nor been allowed counsel to assist in his defense of the civil action,' the lawyers wrote in the court filing.

"They said Saddam had a constitutional right to defend himself and said the court had jurisdiction to ensure that Saddam's legal rights were protected."

The main thing I remember from the movie Falcon and the Snowman is a scene where one of our titular protaganists is about to undergo torture in a foreign prison. "You can't do this, I'm an American!" he insists. The torturer's response, quietly as the scene fades away: "This is not America."

The wacky last-minute petition did get one thing right: Defendants in a U.S. court have a right to defend themselves, even if they have a past as brutal dictators. The concept of a separate kind of justice for non-citizens, i.e. Guantanamo, is unique to the past few years and clearly unconstitutional - at least to anyone who reads the Constitution, an increasingly irrelevant exercise these days.

I suppose someone may argue that as long as the United States is being judge, jury and executioner of so many folks overseas, it may as well step in on this one. But the judge in this case did the only thing she could do - she threw up her hands and said, "Ain't my decision to make, bub."

Not that I especially think killing Saddam is a good thing. My attitude towards the death penalty mirrors the Vatican's, in point of fact: Killing a killer compounds one crime with another. "The death penalty is not a natural death. And no one can give death, not even the State" - well, sure the state can give death, but it isn't right.

But a U.S. court has no business telling the Iraqis what to do with their prisoner, even if U.S. forces imprisoned him first before handing him over. Granting the defendant's motion would have (or should have) been an exercise in futility for the U.S. judge.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Smile if you love freedom

There's a catchy song the Christian pop-rock band Newsboys did early in their career, called "Shine."

Shine ... make 'em wonder whatcha got
Make 'em wish that they were not
On the outside looking bored ...

Their idea was to let the love of God shine through, because people will wonder what's up with you and may just end up loving God, too. It's a thought that transfers well to lovers of liberty, methinks.

Michael Jarrell has some intriguing thoughts after reading about Sunni Maravillosa's recent bout with happiness. "Bout" is the right word, because in many ways she had to fight to get happy: As Michael notes, "What struck me most was that she had to take some very difficult decisions to get happy. It wasn't just something she had managed to stumble across or have randomly occur."

That insight leads to many more - go ahead and read it here. I'll wait. Tum de dum, tum de dum ...

See what I mean? Hey, it's easy to be grumpy and unhappy and outraged by the liberty-crushing instincts of the herd and the big bosses. Getting happy and staying happy takes work, but the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right and well worth exercising. Not only that, but if the love of liberty shines through, more and more people will "wonder whatcha got."

"Those who wish to further the cause of freedom and liberty must work hard to find their 'happy place' and work harder still to stay there if they wish to win," says Michael. "As we well know, happy people are much more productive than those beaten down by the blues. And it's a lot easier to make converts if you're smiling ..."

Here's one thought along that way: The government cannot control your happiness. Literature and real life abound with examples of government controllers frustrated and infuriated by people who laugh, sing and enjoy life in the face of efforts to make them miserable. It drives them cuckoo, and, more important, it denies them their power.

This is not to say "put up the blinders and ignore the tyrannical bastards." Just remember that when you are angry, despairing and discouraged by the attacks on liberty, you are letting the tyrannical bastards control you. It's like fuming all day at some idiot who nearly caused an accident on the highway, a crash that would have taken you with him - you just let some idiot ruin your day.

No, this is not "Don't worry, be happy." This is "smile if you love your freedom." Exercise your liberty as best as you can, and enjoy yourself doing it. Find what makes you happy and do it more often. Share that happiness with those around you. Tyrants can't thrive when their subjects aren't afraid and cowering.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New Year ruminations

Oh, here we go again. What is it about this time of year that sends me off into reflective analysis land? Must be all of those "top 10 stories of the year" pieces and "people who died" articles, not to mention the magazine that named me as Person of the Year because I spend so much time tapping at these keys.

Reflective analysis makes me melancholy. I never live up to my expectations. Then again, if I was already all the man I wanted to be, what could I set for a goal? If I met and/or exceeded expectations, where would I go from there? Maybe my resolution for 2007 should be not to be so hard on myself.

2006 is, after all, the year I finally dug The Imaginary Bomb out of the box and tossed it out there for your examination - and eternal thanks to "Uncle" Warren Bluhm for serving as my voice on the podcast. Hey, it's a start, just as 2005 was the year I finally dug out of the shell and started sharing my thoughts with the outside world. What do I do for '07?

I had big plans to churn out the first sequel to The I-Bomb this fall and make it a regular (quarterly?) series, but writer's block and projects at the day job kept me away from the keyboard. My imaginary friends Bob, Pete and Baxter won't shut up, though, so I think we'll get that one going in ought-seven. Where else do we go from there? Not sure. I registered just to be on the safe side - All it does for now is take you back to here, but there's something empowering about creating a domain name. It's not quite the same as creating the domain itself, but at least it has a name.

Whither Richardson in '07? Hard to say, but thanks for coming along with me this far. It's been cool picking up friends like Sunni Maravillosa and Wally Conger and Tom Ender, and the three of you especially have been enormous help and support in my little endeavors. I am your fan as well, I hope, as your friend.

Sorry about walking away for a week and then returning with just a few I-me-mine ruminations. Sometimes a guy just has to stop for a little while. The question is now, what next? but then, isn't it always?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Government as a big fat leech

I was tickled some time ago to find something I wrote on a friend's signature line in a forum: "... government is not a big fat pig, it's a big fat leech." It was a pleasant surprise - pleasant because it's always a rush to be quoted (Did I just date myself by using the word "rush"?), and a surprise because it wasn't until it was repeated that I realized I'd written something worth repeating.

The cliché, of course, is to describe government as the big fat pig with many, many little piglets sucking at its teats, but the fact is so many of those piglets aren't being nourished - because the "pig" is sucking back. To benefit from the government's largesse, you must (at the minimum) surrender your privacy and beg for the cash, and you very likely won't get all that you ask for.

Thus the analogy of the leech, especially in the old sense where it was thought attaching a leech to yourself could solve medical problems. In reality, the leech sucked out your blood in exchange for very little benefit. Yep, that's our present-day concept of government, all right.

Someone who doesn't grok me or libertarian thought suggested the other day that those of us who stand for limits on government are basically telling the poor to "go fuck themselves."* He asked if I thought "society" has an obligation to care for children whose parents cannot or will not. My reply: "
Yes, we do. And one-size-fits-all government programs developed in Washington by politicians have thrown billions of dollars down a rathole without helping those children. As I stated above, the only children who reap the benefits of those dollars are the wealthy children of well-paid bureaucrats."

Mind you, we is a word I used in the heat of battle, and I should not have committed anyone but myself to the answer. He was using "society" as if the word were synonymous with "government." I was trying to shake him out of that thought and try to get him thinking of solutions that don't involve taking people's money by use or threat of force and redirecting it toward "programs." This is the basic flaw in the argument he was making: He believes government is "We the People" just like it says there at the beginning of the Constitution. Therefore anything "our representatives" do to us is OK because they were elected by "We the People" and so anything they do is a result of majority will doing its democratic thing. The government is us, you see. Nice theory. Not reality.

It seems to me that the truly needy - people who just cannot fend for themselves - will get more actual help from friends, neighbors and motivated strangers, freely and willingly offering a helping hand, than they will get help from Washington, D.C., your friendly state capital or city hall. And the extent to which they don't get that help is in direct proportion to the extent to which "We the People" have made the bogus assumption that the government is there to provide that help.

If you were to see an assault in progress, what would you do - try to stop the assault or call a cop "because that's what the police are there for"? If you were to see a person weak from hunger, or struggling to climb back into a wheelchair, would you feed him or give him a lift, or would you call Social Services "because that's what the government is there for"? Government gives potential Good Samaritans an excuse to keep walking and ignore the need. And, like the leeches of old, applying government solutions to the needy mostly just sucks the life out of them.
* Do you know this is the first time in nearly 400 posts that I've inserted the word fuck into this conversation? I didn't realize how hard I try not to use "those words" until I hesitated in midthought and pondered whether to type "fuck" or "f***" or the like. It's a perfectly, um, serviceable word; I guess I just enjoy the search for alternatives.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I'm not sure if I enjoy this brave new virtual world we're living in. I tiptoed to the computer this morning so as not to wake up the household, and clicked on a story at - only to have the morning quiet blasted into smithereens by a radio-type jingle and "Hi, this is [a Denville car dealer]." I shushed the computer before he could tell me about whatever hot deals he has on the lot.

I'm not sure if Milady was awakened by the cacophony, but it saved me at least one cup of coffee this morning - although the gentle jolt of caffeine would have been more pleasant than the sudden adrenaline rush.

!#@?*&!! Durn-fangled popups ...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Saying it all

James Leroy Wilson says all you need to know about the "Blue-State Fascism" that will replace "Red-State Fascism" come Jan. 3.

"Long before the Conservative Movement betrayed conservative values, 'Liberalism' went through a similar abandonment of liberal values in at least three key areas," says JLW, and goes on to describe the mess we're in concisely and brilliantly.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Nothing important will change

A senator from the Democratic Party suffers a stroke, and fits are had everywhere about the balance of power. If he dies, the Republican governor can appoint a successor, which would tip the balance back to the GOP.

How much easier, and relatively boring, it is to analyze the situation when you discern no substantive difference between the two parties. Although it gives the human part a higher priority: Let's pray for (or keep in our thoughts, if you prefer) this fragile human being and his family during the coming hours, days and weeks as doctors work to put him back together.

As for the Senate, no matter what this man's fate, it will continue to poke its nose into business that, according to the Constitution, is none of its affair. A majority of senators will continue to propose and vote for measures that confiscate your money, compromise your property rights, regulate your personal behavior, and monitor your actions, your private and public statements and even your thoughts. Some of this will be done in the name of homeland security; some of this will be done to protect the planet; some of this will be done to protect businesses that cannot campete in a free market; some of this will be done because the senators, frankly, don't believe you're capable of taking care of yourself. And a majority of senators will continue to relinquish their role and grant illegal authority to the executive branch to launch and wage illegal wars.

Now, the party affiliation of the senators plays some role in how these various indignities play out. But almost no one within either party is willing to suggest that the Constitution be taken literally. To do that would involve throwing hundreds of thousands of government employees out of work; ye gods, it would mean dismantling an empire that has taken close to a century to build.

So here's your official Montag analysis of the political impact of the senator's stroke: Nothing important will change. Short, not so sweet, but to the point. Let's hope and pray for him as a human being and forget the delusions that it has any deep political meaning.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Takashi Shimura 1905-1982

It's funny, with all of the beautiful movies out there to find, how circuitous the route to finding one can be. I've just finished being moved by a gentle little story called Ikiru (To Live or Living), which no doubt all film buffs know as one of Akira Kurosawa's masterpieces, but which I was barely aware of.

The main reason I picked it up off Netflix is my recent discovery that Takashi Shimura, the kindly Professor Yamane in the early Godzilla flicks, had a life outside of monster movies. And what a life! He's the leader of The Seven Samurai, one of the key characters in Rashomon, and countless other roles. His listing names 199 movies from 1935 to 1981, a year before his death.

I will explore that filmography gleefully, but I think I'll always be haunted by the sight of him on a swing in the snow, quietly singing:

Life is brief
Fall in love, maidens,
Before the crimson bloom
Fades from your lips,
Before the tides of passion
Cool within you
For those of you
Who know no tomorrow ...

What an amazing leap from "A trilobite - a three-winged worm that was thought to be extinct."

This is an incredible discovery!

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Car wreck

Toy Story 2 is one of my favorite movies - not just one of my favorite animated movies, favorite movies period. I loved Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles. In fact, the Pixar crew is probably the only movie company I'm actually a fan of. People don't say "Oh cool, I'm going to that new Miramax flick" or "Oh boy! It's a Universal." But I do say, "Hey, it's a Pixar movie, I should check it out."

But the other day, 15 minutes into Cars, I pressed "eject." I'm still trying to figure out why.

Was I just in the wrong mood? Don't think so - we slapped in Real Women Have Curves instead and had a good ol' time. I sure wasn't offended or anything like that.

It's just that 15 minutes into the story of the cocky race car that learns humility, I was - dare I say it? - bored. I think my problem was that the point about the cocky race car was made in the first five minutes, and 10 minutes later he still was nowhere near to starting on his road to redemption. At this point in my life, I suppose my patience with arrogance has worn thin. Lightning McQueen quickly became uninteresting, and I didn't care to find his redeeming qualities.

Of course, I don't get NASCAR either.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mainstream libertarians

At the invitation of a comment writer, I checked out I see mainstream thought but not libertarianism.

As if conscious of the betrayal, these tenets of mainstream "libertarians" are ninth, 10th and 11th on a list of 11 positions [My responses are in brackets]:

* Using the Military to fight terrorists overseas, when necessary, rather than here at home. [Zero aggression principle? We don't need no steenking ZAP or respect for sovereign nations. Let's go get them buggers.]

* Assisting with the liberation of repressed peoples from tyranny. [See first response.]

* Protecting our Borders from Illegal Immigration through beefed up enforcement, more Border Patrol and fencing. Allowing for a Guest Worker Program for Mexicans who wish to work temporarily in the U.S., with a criminal background check. Citizenship only for those who endeavor to learn English. [Tougher government enforcement over individuals - yep, those are libertarian ideas, all right. (insert rolleyes here)]

Sounds like another pack of apologists for the American Empire. Thanks for visiting, but don't try to fool me into calling you libertarian.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Seeking a third alternative

A new report says U.S. intelligence was bugging Princess Diana's telephone conversations without the approval of the British security services on the night she died.

Let's see, Diana died Aug. 31, 1997. That means this invasion of privacy and violation of an ally's sovereignty would be when Democrat Bill Clinton was president of the United States.

Just another reminder to those who think Democrats are more likely to restore the Bill of Rights than the current Republican administration.

Freedom is threatened in America as long as Republicans and Democrats call the shots.

Nothing nice to say

"If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all," moms have said, probably since the beginning of time. But isn't that the same thing as saying "Ignore it and it'll go away"? Not to argue with someone's mom, but sometimes you just have to point out unpleasant truths - otherwise the emperor will walk around naked and get away with it.

And what we have here is naked abuse of power and abandonment of the principles that led to a bunch of radicals usurping the British throne and setting up their own government a couple of centuries and a third ago. Oh, and while George W. Bush has taken full advantage of his opportunities, he didn't invent the concept.

The coming years are not going to be an improvement over the Bush II/Republican Congress years. Just as Bush I paved the way for Clinton and Clinton paved the way for Bush II, the assault on our liberties will continue "even with" Democrats controlling the federal government's two legislative houses - because Democrats had always been more likely than Republicans to think of the individual as subservient to the collective. Bush II's enhancement of the hive mentality in U.S. politics was merely to adapt it to a Republican agenda.

We will see more invasions of our privacy, more laws that go where no Founder of this nation ever intended the federal government to go, more laws that presume that the average citizen of this nation is a dolt who cannot think for himself or herself. This past week has seen the rulers of the city of New York presuming that the average citizen must be protected from the urge to consume trans fat, and that it is right and proper in a free society to pass laws to do so.

"If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all." If tyranny slaps you in the face at every turn, is it "not nice" to point it out? And if you are surrounded by people who embrace tyranny and wish it on their neighbors and even on themselves, is it "not nice" to call it tyranny? The petty tyrants of the world don't think of themselves as tyrants, they think of it as protecting society. They think of it as promoting the common good. They think of it as homeland security.

In a private forum the other day, my friend Warren Bluhm wrote that "live and let live" is a basic American philosophy. He was writing in response to a guy who proposed that libertarianism is a quaint 18th century philosophy that doesn't translate well in the face of 21st century realities. Warren suggested the Republican "revolution" of 1994 and the Democratic victory of 2006 were won by the political party perceived as more libertarian that the other - that Democrats won this year because Republicans abandoned the cause of liberty as a priority.

But anyone who perceives that a Democratic Congress is more likely to pursue freedom and individual rights wasn't paying attention prior to 1994. A long, bumpy ride awaits ahead, something out of George Orwell's nightmares or the 1960s TV show The Prisoner. We are not numbers, we are free men and women, but the folks in charge - and many of our countrymen - don't believe that. Oh, they'll talk about freedom until the cows come home - but the thing is, the cows came home a long time ago, marched into their stalls and contentedly agreed to surrender their milk to the greater good in exchange for food and security. Or at least they thought that was the agreement. Let one of them stop giving milk, and see what happens to her security. I do love ribeye steak ...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

'Hate to say I told you so ...'

Yeah, what Vin said.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I don't want this for Christmas, thank you

I liked Peter Jackson's King Kong, I really did. But I have no interest in viewing the new "extended cut" DVD, with 38 extra minutes. Holy moley, my only beef with the theatrical release is it may be about 38 minutes too long to begin with.

Sometimes less is more. I'd also like to see a somewhat shorter version of the theatrical release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and an edit of Ang Lee's Hulk that eliminates the last 15-20 minutes.