Sunday, June 25, 2006

Flagging Enthusiasm

I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag.
~~ Representative Craig Washington (D-Texas)
Once again, our Congress is ignoring the environment, Iraq, the destruction of the economy, and everything else that really matters. Instead, they're wasting time and money on a subject that looks good for the voters: a ban on burning the US flag. And not just something simple like a law: they want an amendment to the Constitution.

This is, of course, a scam. This is something that lawmakers do to hide the fact that they haven't done anything worthwhile.

I'm not sure who came up with it first, but there's a basic truth floating around out there.
Countries that already outlaw burning the national flag include China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Cuba.
That's Iraq under Saddam, by the way. That seems like a nice crowd to be associated with, doesn't it?

Let's be clear about one thing. Nobody can be hurt when a flag is burned, unless they're busy wrapping themselves in it. A flag is just a symbol. And before we get our knickers all knotted up over the destruction of a symbol, perhaps we should ignore the symbol for a moment. Because we should be more concerned about the people destroying what that flag stands for - America and the values this country used to represent.

There isn't a lot of flag burning going on in America right now. It all seems to be overseas, and mostly in the Middle East - the last place America invaded, you might notice. And oddly enough, since they aren't subject to American laws over there, they aren't too worried about getting arrested for their un-American activities.

And by the way, do you happen to know what the official method of destroying a tattered or frayed flag is? Let's check out the US Code - to be exact, 4 USC 8(k):
The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
OK. So if this amendment passes, they won't be getting a lot of volunteers for that duty.

Oh, wait. The difference between respectfully burning the flag, and burning the flag in protest of something changes how the arsonist in question is treated? So now we get to arrest people because of what they're thinking? Who is it out there that thinks that a formally-defined federal law enforcing "thought crimes" is a good idea?

Personally, I don't have a problem with Joe Iraqi burning an American flag. I already knew he didn't like us. On the other hand, I have a problem with people who attach flags onto their car to show their patriotism. This started happening a lot right after 9/11.

Trouble is, the average flag (and especially the average small souvenir-type flag, cheaply made in some third-world country) isn't made to stand up to speeds of sixty miles an hour, or even thirty miles an hour. So it doesn't take long before you end up with a frayed red-gray-and-blue rag on a stick. And yes, that qualifies as desecration.

Incidentally, a car is a carefully-engineered machine, and anything attached to the outside, even a three-by-six souvenir flag, will increase wind resistance by a small amount, which will increase the amount of fuel that the car burns. And even if it's only by a miniscule amount, that amount is multiplied by the thousands of other cars on the road with attached flags.

And increased gas mileage means more money into the pockets of Middle Eastern regimes, many of which are known to support terrorism. Which means that by attaching a flag to your car, you are supporting terrorism. Think about that for a while.

But that brings us to the biggest problem with an amendment to the Constitution on his subject. Do you just ban "burning" (which would leave the market wide open for "US Flag Toilet Paper®"), or are you going with a more general "desecration"?

Well, the trouble is, you then have to define "desecration." For example, how about a jacket with an American flag across the back? Or a red-white-and-blue bandanna tied around your head?

What about a Ku Klux Klan rally? Personally, I think that when the American flag is used to celebrate racism, then that action qualifies as desecration. But you don't see me rushing to get an amendment into the Constitution, do you?

Many businesses use the American flag in ads to sell their product. Great. But does that mean that we have to look over the newspaper before we use it to start a fire in the fireplace? Don't want to have the Feds breaking down the door when the two of you are making love on the rug in front of a roaring fire, do you?

Or how about a soda in a "Forth of July Collectable can?" Are you allowed to just throw that away, or will there be a special method for disposing of it?

If you have a flagpole in your front yard and the flag touches the ground as you're lowering it, is that a problem? Even if it gets muddy? What about those displays by various groups where a bunch of souvenir flags are planted in the ground? Are you subject to arrest for stepping on one?

Which leads into the other problem with this concept: they haven't defined "flag." Yeah, it seems like a simple question, but let's go back to that newspaper ad. Suppose somebody printed an American flag on a sheet of newsprint, with a one-inch white border. Is that a flag? Or is it a picture of a flag? And if it's a picture of a flag instead of a real flag, can you burn it, or would you still get in trouble?

For that matter, what if you ran some polyvinyl through that printing press? Is it still a flag if it has a white border around it? Or is it an image of a flag on a cloth-like substance? How about painting an American flag in oil paint on a canvas? It's just a painting, right?

What if someone takes an American flag (an actual flag this time), and paints a large black swastika in the middle of it? Can you burn that? Wouldn't any true patriot want to?

And which flag are we talking about, anyway? America has had a bunch of them, after all. Is it just the current flag that we can't burn, or are we including all the flags through history? The one with thirteen stars in a circle? The forty-eight-star flag from the fifties looks awfully similar to the current one.

What about the various versions of the "Don't Tread On Me" snake? Does he count? That one's usually not even in the right colors.

An amendment to the Constitution over a badly defined and unenforceable "crime" is a waste of both time and money. And how many people would be arrested for burning a red-white-and-yellow flag? Or one with fourteen stripes or fifty-four stars? By definition, they are innocent of any crime, although it might not appear that way to the casual observer.

Maybe we should stick to prosecuting crimes where people are actually getting hurt. Can we do that?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Suffering from Rove Rage

You know, it's strange. I spent twenty-one years in the military. I've had three kids (two of them are twenty and technically adults; one is sixteen and technically a pain in the ass). It takes a lot to make me angry. I've been yelled at by experts. I've been lied to, in my face, by both experts and complete amateurs. I've hunkered down in fox holes, wondering if the next bomb would drop just a little bit too close. I've watched inexperienced, uncaring idiots try to destroy the country that gave me life.

And I'm pretty placid.

I know about the morons wandering through America. I can even rail against them. But, for the most part, I don't really get carried away with my feelings. It takes a lot to make me really angry. I see the morons, I wonder at their ability to ignore simple logic, but it's been years since I've felt the heat rising to my face, felt my blood pressure rising, and been unable to control my anger over the injustices being perpetrated by an uncaring government.

On the other hand, I left the Air Force because George Bush got reelected.

For entirely logical reasons, of course. I felt that it was time to get out of the military. I'd been to Iraq, and I hadn't had to kill anyone. And I didn't want to take the chance that I would end up going back and killing an Iraqi, who would be attacking people invading his country - in other words, doing for his country exactly what I'd be trying to do for mine if our situations were reversed.

(Yes, I understand that there are outside forces at work in Iraq. But there are also people born in Iraq, who see Americans as the evil bastards who attacked them, destroyed their country, and started torturing and killing innocent Iraqi people. And those are the people I wouldn't want to shoot.)

However, just like everybody else, I'm a prisoner of my upbringing. My father was a career Army officer: a West Point graduate, from a time when they were still able to instill ethics in their officers. And then I became a non-commissioned officer myself, with a certain inherited sense of history and ethics.

So you might (or might not) understand that I hate to be lied to. It’s a flaw in my character, but one that I can't really control that well. Liars and hypocrites bother me, and I find myself automatically disliking them.

When you couple that minor quirk in my personality with a barely-perceptible pride in my military background, and you end up with a convergence of attitudes that, to be honest, rarely intrudes on my life.

Until Karl Roves stands up and talks.

The man is bad enough when he stays behind the scenes. He's one of those lower life forms that do well in politics. He likes to play his little games, lying about people and setting up his little tricks. And he seems to be pretty good at it, until he starts to make speeches.

Karl Rove's entire career has been built around dirty politics. Any history of his career mentions him sneaking in to the headquarters of Illinois Democrat Alan Dixon, stealing some official letterhead, and sending out a thousand invitations to a party at the Democrat's headquarters, promising "free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing." (This was in 1970, before home computers and printers, when "letterhead stationary" meant a lot more than it does today.)

Or in 1986, Rove was working for Republican Bill Clements. Right before a debate between Clements and Democrat Mark White, Rove told reporters that the Democrats had bugged his office. Oddly enough, the battery in the bug was so small that it needed to be changed every few hours, and it had just been changed out before Rove showed it to the press. The police and FBI dropped the investigation. But White's reputation was shot, and he subsequently lost the election.

With just a little bit of research, you start to see that Karl Rove has a long history of dishonesty and double-dealing. But let's look at more recent news.

Rove gave a speech in New Hampshire a week ago, where he accused Democrats of being cowards.

(Nor is this the first time that he crawled out from under his rock and called Democrats cowards and traitors. Odd how that works: if you disagree with Bush's policies, there's no way that you could just have a difference of opinion. You must immediately be labeled a traitor. Or a Nazi. Strange, that...)

Let's consider the words of that brave leader of men, Karl Rove.
"When it gets tough, they fall back on that party's old platform of cutting and running," he said. "They may be with you for the first few bullets but they won't be there for the last tough battles."
But strangely enough, despite his strong words about patriotism and bravery, when Karl Rove had the opportunity to go to war himself, he ran away.

While my father, a man with a wife and three children, was spending two tours in Vietnam, Karl Rove was dodging the draft. He took student deferments when he wasn't a full-time student. He moved and didn't notify the draft board.

Of course, he isn't the only one. George Bush has never been able to document his time in the National Guard. Dick Cheney took five deferments to get out of Vietnam. Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz - even the Republican's unelected spokesman, Rush Limbaugh, avoided the draft because of a boil on his butt (OK, technically a pilonidal cyst, but I'm too busy resisting any "pain in the ass" jokes to make a medical diagnosis).

And that's where my problem with lying starts to kick in. If a pasty-faced coward like Karl Rove is going to stand up there and talk about bravery, maybe he should reach down and see if he has testicles of his own.

Karl Rove didn't have the courage to stand up for his country for "the first few bullets," much less "the last tough battles." It's time for him to shut the hell up.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Cats make a house a home (a Home for the Criminally Insane)

You know, I've never been a cat person. Dogs, at least, will give you unconditional love in exchange for the disgusting food you feed them. Cats, on the other hand, will ignore you until they're hungry, when they'll yowl in a loud and obnoxious manner until you feed them.

And sometimes, they might even consent to lie next to you and let you pet them.

But, despite the obvious similarities between cats, as it turns out, they have distinctly different personalities. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I seem to have become the zookeeper for a collection of (among other beasts) four different cats. And here's the way you tell them apart (aside from relatively insignificant differences in size and fur color, of course).

Our primary cat, Bucky, is a large (but not quite overweight) orange tabby beast, whose primary purpose in life is finding a comfortable place to sit. She has the gift of immovable stubbornness, in that if she's sitting somewhere, that place is off limits for everybody else in the family. She will even stare down the dogs, if they deign to intrude on her space. Once she's ensconced herself in a seat, it is, by God, hers. Nobody dares to move her.

Except me, of course. Because I'm apparently a bastard. I'll just sweep her from whatever spot I plan to sit down in, and plant my butt right in the recently-vacated cat-shaped dimple (and then get yelled at by my wife for being mean to the poor little kitty).

Screw it. There's only one computer chair, and I'm not going to learn to type standing up at this point in my life. But if you're looking for two words to describe Bucky, I think I've encompassed them in the last two paragraphs. "Stubborn" and "lazy."

But then there's our second cat, Phantom. Ugliest beast you ever saw. In a moment of weakness, I said that we could have a second cat ("But only one!" You see how well that worked out...) to keep the first one company. My only rule was that we should get a kitten. (Hey, I like kittens. What's your point?) And we ended up with a black-and-brown mottled beast with a light spot across one eye. My wife says it looks like the Phantom of the Opera mask. Hence the name.

Personally, I think it looks like an irregular birthmark, but nobody wants to hear my opinion. (I remember when the "man of the house" was respected. What the hell happened to that perfectly good attitude?)

Phantom (occasionally Menace, as in "the Phantom Menace") is a bully. She's the second biggest cat in the house, and she figures it's her duty to keep the other cats in shape. She's their personal trainer - her exercise regimen consists of jumping on them from darkened corners, attacking them when they're asleep, and generally making life "interesting" for them.

She doesn't do this to Bucky, because Bucky wouldn't stand for it. But she still has two other cats to annoy, so she's happy.

So let's consider those two other cants. We have Pandora, who's supposed to belong to my daughter. (Oddly enough, the daughter moved out, but the cat's still here. How the hell does that happen?) Pure black, small for her age, and needy. I stopped having to wake up for two o'clock feedings years ago. Nonetheless, I still find myself wandering down the hall at God-awful early hours of the night, to grab the lonely cat yowling in despair and lob her into my son's room. (Hey, let him take care of her. I'm going back to bed...) She can't stand to be alone, and she'll sob piteously if she suddenly thinks that everyone has left.

Not that anyone has. She's just on the wrong end of the house, and doesn't have the brains to find her way back to us, across that huge 20-yard expanse of rug, without getting lost.

And finally, we have Abby. (Short for, as far as I'm concerned, Abby-normal.) No matter how stupid Pandora might be, she's a Nobel Prize winner next to Abby. I have actually seen Abby jump for a windowsill and miss. Three times. I have seen her sitting at the end of the hallway, watching as Pandora gets mugged by Phantom: Pandora runs away, Phantom retreats into her shadowed corner. And Abby goes marching down the hall, right into the kill-zone where even the houseplants can figure out that Phantom is going to attack her.

All the brains of a ball-peen hammer. I wonder sometimes why Darwin doesn't come back from the dead and kill her himself.

Abby has issues. For example, she doesn't like cat food. She'll eat it, if forced, but she prefers dog food. In fact, she loves it so much that I've come into the kitchen to find one of the dogs snorking up the kibble like a vacuum cleaner on steroids, and there, on the other side of the bowl, is Abby, coated in flying dog-spittle, delicately munching away.

So yes, if forced, I will admit that cats have personalities. Maybe not good ones, but personalities.

I still prefer dogs.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Let's check in on Michelle Malkin

So, here's what we have.

On October 20, 1970, Michelle Maglalang was born to Filipino parents in the United States on a work visa (a fact that her official bio is strangely silent about, although you can find it mentioned in passing at other sites). She married college sweetheart Jesse Malkin (who some have accused of being her puppet-master/co-writer, or at least the source of her political leanings), and began writing under the name (you guessed it) Michelle Malkin.

She recently made some statements critical of "anchor babies" - babies that foreign nationals have in the United States, which those damned brown people (or as she calls them, "obstetric tourists") use to gain American citizenship. A scenario which sounds strangely like her own biography.

The General, in another brilliant letter, called her on this apparent hypocrisy. Somehow, I doubt that she'll reply to him.

Hell, she never sent me an answer. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Absentee Blogger

Haven't posted for two weeks or so. Major plumbing work in my house, and didn't have the time. Sorry for those (two) of you who are actually reading my babblings.

Here's some thoughts on home repair for you:
1. Every job takes three times as long as you allow for it. Even if you budget for three times as long, you've then moved the end date up three times farther into the future.

2. Just when you think you've got a handle on fixing one problem, something else breaks.
2(a). If you think that you've got a handle on fixing one problem, you don't know the whole story.
2(b). Oh, yeah, and by the way. That other thing? It's still gonna break.
3. Pain is God's way of saying that you're doing it right.
3(a). Except when it isn't.
4. You didn't need that knuckle, did you?

5. Hear that grinding noise? That's gonna cost you. Feel free to switch out "dripping," "whining," "snapping," or "crackling." Or no noise at all.

6. You know that wall board you just ripped out? Four choices.
6(a). You didn't rip out enough.
6(b). You ripped out wa-aaay too much.
6(c). You ripped out entirely the wrong one.
6(d). Hey, check out the new problem you just found!
7. "Uh, honey? Did you remember to pay the homeowner's insurance?"