best when viewed in low light

7.25.2007

Who's Your Daddy?

So, not one to comment on celebrity culture, I found myself appalled and aghast at the cover of today's New York Post.

Look - Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan may be fucked up souls, so confused by the negative attention/shameless idolatry of the majority of the US population that they just aren't capable of distinguishing between their lives and their fantasies. Point.


But who's fault is that?


Yes, maybe they are attention-hungry whores who have sold themselves to the great american butcher to be torn limb from delicate limb by all of us not ambitious or suicidal enough to make that kind of sacrifice.


But there's another side to it.


We are striving for salvation. We look towards the future to find it, because the past is white-washed perfection and today is always worse than any other.


For the human species, salvation offers itself up willingly, and with all innocence, in the form of an untouched, beautiful young girl - she shows us the potential of our species. That's no accident, because she is, in fact, fertile ground for reproduction, and consciously and unconsciously, we all know it.


[Look at the beauty/fashion industry and celebrity culture, especially the monotonous starlets, for confirmation.]


For a time, Lindsay and Britney embodied this salvation, this future, this purity.


And now they don't. Now they are women: bloodied and dirty from 'experience'.


And we are punishing them for it, mercilessly.


We feel cheated, disillusioned, and shamed for our idolatry. And now the paternalistic nature of our culture takes over full force to string them up in public and shame them for revealing how impure, vulnerable and self-deceiving we all are.


Lindsay and Britney are trying to figure out who they are - living and fucking up just like the rest of us. They deserve nothing but respect for that, and a little compassion, too.


So, American Public, shame on you!

7.23.2007

New Meaning to AIDS

The retro sensation that's sweeping the nation.

Well, not our nation, as far as we know, but many others.

[And really, so long as it's others, do we care?]

7.20.2007

Bush Ass Procedure

While the US/Western mainsteam media reports that Bush will temporarily transfer Presidential powers to Dick Cheney tomorrow [thanks!] on account of a colonoscopy, the independent news media [aka bloggers] have suggested that this is a cover-up for a major surgery...


removing his head from his ass.


The jokes are flowing like...

7.19.2007

Iraqi Nationalism, Step 1

There is hope on the horizon!

And I can't help but notice that this must be an internal response to the realization that the US is not just going to bug out - at least not until after a left-leaning Democrat wins the Presidency. [And given the field of candidates, that may not be the next time around.]

It's a great fantasy to think that people of different backgrounds, experience, ideas and ideals can all live together in peace inside the borders of a self-proclaimed nation. But it's still a fantasy.

Even in the US, and all the other stable governments, there is a war raging. Subtle though the slings and arrows may be, they are there, and they represent our right to think for ourselves. That's not a right that we need a constitution for - it is a biological imperative.

I was shocked by yesterday's anti-Islamism manifesto. It reeked of blindness and ignorance and self-absorption.
[Salman, I get the point, but I'm surprised at you! Buying in so completely to the Western machine? It doesn't seem possible!]

Why? Because domination, censorship and slavery exist in the West, too. We've just learned to hide it better.

[If you disagree, ask a black man who's in charge in this country. Ask a racist bigot, an aggressive woman, and an anti-corporate radical how they feel about freedom of expression in this country. And ask a 22 year old, ESL high school drop-out how they feel about opportunity in this country. For that matter, ask a 35 year old, college-educated cubicle-surfer - you'd probably get the same answer.]

The drug is Power. The dealer is Control. The payment is your Truth. And the whole world is hooked.

From The New York Times:

July 19, 2007
Stymied by G.O.P., Democrats Stop Debate on Iraq
By CARL HULSE and JEFF ZELENY

WASHINGTON, July 18 — After Senate Republicans yet again thwarted a proposal to withdraw American troops from Iraq, Democratic leaders on Wednesday abruptly halted consideration of a major Pentagon policy measure, heading off the introduction of competing Iraq plans.

The Democrats’ decision, coming after an all-night session and after more than a week of intensive debate in the Senate, meant that President Bush had essentially won the added time he said he needed to demonstrate that his troop buildup was succeeding.

The move appeared to postpone the next Senate showdown over the war until September, despite a White House report that claimed no more than mixed progress in Iraq. It also allowed Democratic leaders to avoid votes on alternative initiatives that Republicans had sought to portray as evidence that they were seeking a change in Iraq as well.

Though four Republicans joined 47 Democrats and an independent in backing the beginning of a troop withdrawal in 120 days, Mr. Bush was able to hold on to nearly all Republicans in the Senate despite public expressions of dissatisfaction with the war by several.

The Democrats fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. They said the outcome showed Republicans were preventing a majority of the Senate from trying to force Mr. Bush to begin winding down combat operations in Iraq, and pledged to use an August recess to keep pressing Republicans.

“Our colleagues in the Senate are going to have a chance to go home, explain their votes and vote again,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat. “And eventually, I am confident, they’ll join us in changing the direction in Iraq.”

The Democratic move angered Republicans who had hoped to get a chance to push their approaches.

“If the American people suspect for a minute that any of us in the Senate are using those tactics as political issues, more than an effort to develop a consensus, I think there will be a heavy political price to pay,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee.
He said he was disappointed the Senate would not get to vote on his proposal to put recommendations from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group into law.

The final 52-to-47 vote came after a debate that unfolded around the clock, starting at 11:25 a.m. on Tuesday and concluding shortly after 11 a.m. on Wednesday, with more than half of the membership of the Senate delivering speeches. Lawmakers were required to vote formally from their desks rather than rushing in to cast votes as usual. Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who is majority leader, cast his vote with Republicans for procedural reasons so he could revive the issue later.

Mr. Reid then unexpectedly announced he was ending consideration of the annual Pentagon policy measure. “We will come back to this bill as soon as it is clear we can make real progress,” Mr. Reid said.

Though he would not specify when that might be, other Senate officials said they were confident that the fight over Iraq would not be taken up again until September, about the same time a full administration report is due on the course of the war.

Republicans accused Democrats of wasting time on a fruitless talkathon. “Nothing we have done for the last 24 hours will have changed any fact on the ground in Iraq or made the outcome of the war any more or less important for the security of this country,” said Senator John McCain of Arizona, senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Democrats hope the intervening weeks and public unrest with the war will cause more Republicans to break with the president. Almost immediately, activist groups announced plans to conduct antiwar events in the states of key Republican senators. The pause will also allow Republicans to charge that Democrats are stalling a major Pentagon measure, including a military pay raise, to make political points.

In the House, Democrats said Wednesday that they were still considering pressing Iraq-related votes before the August recess.

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 6 in 10 Americans say Congress should allow financing for the war in Iraq, but only on the condition that the United States sets a timetable for the withdrawal of troops. Still, 28 percent say Congress should allow all financing for the war without conditions. Just 8 percent of those polled said Congress should block all money for the war.

The poll, conducted July 9 to 17 with 1,554 adults nationwide, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

One Republican who joined the Democrats in voting to stop the debate, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, said she did so because she objected to the filibuster, not as a sign that she supported setting a deadline for troop withdrawal. Even as Mr. Reid praised her, Ms. Collins criticized him for shelving the Iraq debate.

“He chastises Republicans for not allowing a vote,” Ms. Collins told reporters. “But he’s the one who is pulling the bill from the floor and thus precluding further consideration of all of the Iraq amendments that we have pending.”

While it came as a surprise, Mr. Reid’s decision to suspend the Iraq debate was reached Monday after a meeting with Democratic leaders, party strategists said. If Mr. Reid allowed senators to vote on anything short of a firm withdrawal deadline, strategists said, they feared it could give Republicans political cover.

Tempers were frayed as the marathon debate came to a close. Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, called the proceedings an indignity. The overnight session turned parts of the Capitol into a temporary dormitory. Among the Democrats who caught a few winks on cots in a room near the Senate chamber were two freshmen, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who do not have the seniority for private Capitol offices.

A steady stream of Democrats and Republicans stayed on the Senate floor from before sunset on Tuesday to beyond sunrise on Wednesday, forming a nearly unbroken rhetorical chain. More than 40 senators did not come to the floor to speak, including several Republicans who had voiced concern about Iraq strategy.

Presidential candidates were not afforded special treatment. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, hunkered down in her windowless hideaway office waiting for her 4:15 a.m. window to speak.

Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, had hoped to address the Senate for 30 minutes beginning at 6 a.m. But when colleagues with more seniority exceeded their allotted time, he had to squeeze his thoughts into a one-minute speech and submit the rest into the written Congressional record.

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.

7.18.2007

Still A Threat?!

Yeah, yeah. Tell me something I don't already know.

I love the New York Times. No other newspaper is as good at stating the obvious.

July 18, 2007
News Analysis
6 Years After 9/11, the Same Threat
By SCOTT SHANE

WASHINGTON, July 17 — Nearly six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives expended in the name of the war on terror pose a single, insistent question: Are we safer?

On Tuesday, in a dark and strikingly candid two pages, the nation’s intelligence agencies offered an implicit answer, and it was not encouraging. In many respects, the National Intelligence Estimate suggests, the threat of terrorist violence against the United States is growing worse, fueled by the Iraq war and spreading Islamic extremism.

The conclusions were not new, echoing the private comments of government officials and independent experts for many months. But the stark declassified summary contrasted sharply with the more positive emphasis of President Bush and his top aides for years: that two-thirds of Al Qaeda’s leadership had been killed or captured; that the Iraq invasion would reduce the terrorist menace; and that the United States had its enemies “on the run,” as Mr. Bush has frequently put it.

After years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and targeted killings in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere, the major threat to the United States has the same name and the same basic look as in 2001: Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, plotting attacks from mountain hide-outs near the Afghan-Pakistani border.

The headline on the intelligence estimate, said Daniel L. Byman, a former intelligence officer and the director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, might just as well have been the same as on the now famous presidential brief of Aug. 6, 2001: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

The new estimate does cite some gains; known plots against the United States have been disrupted, it says, thanks to increased vigilance and countermeasures.

But the new estimate takes note of sources of worry that have arisen only since 2001. The Iraq war has spawned Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as the “most visible and capable affiliate” of the original terrorist group, inspiring jihadists around the world and drawing money and recruits to their cause. The explosion of radical Internet sites has created self-generating cells of would-be terrorists in many Western countries. Lebanese Hezbollah, rarely considered likely to attack in the United States, now “may be more likely to consider” doing just that in response to a perceived threat from American forces to itself or its sponsor, Iran.

And if there had been progress after 9/11 in isolating and immobilizing Al Qaeda’s leaders in the tribal areas of Pakistan, some of it has come apart in the past year, with Pakistani troops abandoning patrols in North Waziristan and allowing greater freedom of movement to Al Qaeda’s core.

All told, despite the absence of any new attack on American soil since 2001, the conclusion that Al Qaeda “will continue to enhance its capabilities” to attack the United States suggests some miscalculation in the administration’s basic formula against terrorism: that attacking the jihadists overseas would protect the homeland.

“I guess we have to fight them over here even though we’re fighting them over there,” said Steven Simon, a terrorism expert who served in the Clinton administration and is the co-author of “The Next Attack.”

Democrats proclaimed the document a “devastating indictment” of Bush administration policies, in the words of Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a presidential candidate. The document’s pessimism was striking; it may reflect a determination of the intelligence agencies, accused of skewing some reports to back the president’s Iraq invasion plans in 2003, to make clear that their findings have not been tailored to suit the White House this time around.

But Max Boot, a security analyst who has generally supported the president, said the estimate “cuts both ways” politically. Even if some administration policies have been ineffective or have backfired, the estimate also concludes that Al Qaeda will probably try to capitalize on the network built up by its affiliate in Iraq, lending some support to the argument that a rapid exit from Iraq might prove dangerous for American security, said Mr. Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “War Made New.”

“It makes clear that the threat from Al Qaeda in Iraq is not just to Iraqis — it’s to the U.S. homeland as well,” he said.

The new assessment in some respects harks back to a National Intelligence Estimate in July 1995, which predicted terrorist attacks in the United States, specifying Wall Street, the White House and the Capitol as potential targets. It described “a worldwide network of training facilities and safe havens.”

An update of that N.I.E. in 1997 was the last such assessment issued before Sept. 11, a gap that the 9/11 commission decried in its review of the attacks. A new estimate earlier in 2001, as the spy agencies’ alarm about a possible attack increased, might have better focused government efforts to detect a plot, the commission argued in its report.

An estimate of the global terrorist threat last September described the emergence of the Iraq war as a “cause célèbre” for jihadists around the world. But that document also highlighted American actions it said had “seriously damaged the leadership of Al Qaeda and disrupted its operations.”

The bleak new assessment relegates almost to an aside those achievements, saying that Al Qaeda’s ability to attack is “constrained” and that the United States is now seen as a “harder target.” And it does not emphasize the absence of successful new strikes against the United States, a development that few security experts would have dared predict in late 2001.

The dreary judgment reflected in the new estimate emerged in part from Britain’s discovery in August 2006 of a major plot to take down trans-Atlantic airliners, said Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University, who has studied terrorism for three decades. Mr. Hoffman said that there were indications that Qaeda leaders may have had a role in the plot, adding, “It became impossible to ignore Al Qaeda’s evolution and resilience.”

But the same plot underscored one of the notable bright spots for the United States: jihadist sentiment has so far turned out to hold little attraction for American Muslims, by contrast with those in Europe generally and the United Kingdom in particular, with its large population of South Asian immigrants.

I've Been Thinking...

that the amount of trash we produce from the packaging of consumer goods is absolutely atrocious. Unacceptable! Lazy! Unimaginative!


Knowing what we know about the chemical combinations that are extraordinarily harmful to our environment and our bodies, the continued use of chlorofluorocarbons, plastics [in unnecessarily profuse quantities] and other non-reusable, non-recyclable materials is self-destructive, and therefore, completely insane.

In Brooklyn, there is an economic niche of humans who collect recyclable goods from other people's trash [those of us too lazy to separate and take it for the return] and make money from the state-sponsored deposits. [You're paying for this on top of the retail cost. You know that, right?]

While I applaud the economically creative and socially responsible ingenuity of these 21st century adapters, I am repulsed by our inability and unwillingness to remove these excess materials from our system of production and manufacturing.

The health, safety and marketing concerns that drive this over-packaging dynamic are sometimes valid, mostly hypochodriacal and oddly mythic in symbol and cultural residue.

The health concerns are sometimes valid - if it was actually the packaging that was preventing the spread of diseases and pests. Recent news proves that the packaging is ultimately irrelevant.

The safety issue is evidence of the increasing infantilization of humans in our culture - THEY will protect you so you don't have to think about it or pay attention to your own choices and actions. [It used to be that you could just dive into the swimming pool. If you judged wrong, you suffered the consequences. Now, diving isn't even an option.]

Marketing = modern myth-making

If I need to say anything else about this, try looking at a package of singly-wrapped prunes...I mean, "dried plums".

If this doesn't convey something to you, put your head back in the sand.


There is a simple and straightforward solution to this problem:
1. Ban the harmful substances,
2. Legislate extremely stringent guidelines for packaging materials and designs,
3. Require reusability or recyclability for all materials used,
4. Set a start date approximately one year hence,
5. Let everyone figure out what they're going to do,
6. Impose MASSIVE fines on those who do not comply - in effect, put them out of business.

What will we do without plastic wrap, straws and twist-ties?

SUFFER!

No! We'll do like we always did before those things were mass produced - make our own, or go without.

Kind of like we'll have to do with water, air and food once the environment has been completely trashed.

7.17.2007

The Victoria Age

On the way over from Merrie Olde Englande, the Puritans completely lost their sense of humor.

And now that the United States of America is the laughing-stock of the rest of the planet for any of myriad reasons, we have no ability to laugh at ourselves.

Enter Victoria & David Beckham, the diplomats of our time.

Unfortunately, I didn't mark their flight time on my calendar, but ever since they made their debut, Posh & Becks have been getting the good old American cold shoulder!

And why? Because they know what it is to be famous, and they are parodies of American indulgence [Paris Hilton is master] to a degree that we can NOT find funny. We want to act like that!

The American intelligentsia plays it objective, the masses revolt, while the Brits are laughing their asses off!

7.16.2007

Translation: "Good Riddance"

Dear God,

It's me, George.

Maliki wants US out of Iraq!

What do I do?!

I invaded, just like you said. Then I made them establish a democratic government, because that's what you said would be best. And I even tried to train them in acting like they're free, but they still try to blow us up!

Did you read the news this weekend? I didn't, but they told me that lots of people got blown up.

(starts to cry) God, I've done everything I can to make those stupid Iraqis appreciate peace and democracy and freedom, but all they want to do is blow us up and throw us out! Like they know any better!

(sniff) This is a lot harder than I thought it would be.

GOD: George!

GWB: God?!

GOD: Who else?

GWB: Oh, right.

GOD: George! Sit up straight! Now wipe those tears off your face and pull yourself together! Sheesh!

I put you in charge of taking over the middle east and look what you've done! Can't even get a little foothold in there before you run to me, tears in your eyes, voice shaking and beg me to tell you what to do.

Pathetic.

What are you? Caving into political pressure at home? Do you want to give up and let Allah run that shit? Leave me hanging like that?

Do you have any idea how many angels I lose to Allah every year? It looks pretty good over there, what with the virgins and whatnot. I don't have incentives like that, but I am still the only God, the One True Faith!

And you're making me look bad!

Figure it out, or I'm finding someone else for the job! Maybe Rupert Murdoch would have a better idea of how to take over hostile territory? At this point, I'd take that ego-centric, egalitarian-minded Clinton over you!

GWB: You worked with Bill?!

GOD: No, you idiot! I meant Hillary! And don't ask me about the others. You don't have clearance.

I gotta get outta here. Just looking at how compromising you are makes me want to release a plague. So don't tempt me.

GWB: Don't worry God, I'll do anything! Whatever it takes! I'll make those people love capitalism and freedom, come Hell or high water!

GOD: Be careful what you wish for. Peace.

7.13.2007

I Am The Law!


Is it safe to say that national sentiment towards our President is something along the lines of: If we have to endure this cocksucker til the next election, so be it! And even though we detest his policies and want Congress to assert their legislative rights and overpower him, we're all just going to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the even-deeper-shithole currently being dug for us all by this egomaniacal, self-indulgent manifest-destiny freak!

I can't even read this article. I don't need to know what it says, because I am already in awe of the carefully plotted Bush agenda.

The brilliance required to assert oneself as a complete fucking idiot, and then surprise everyone with megalomaniacal genius - truly inspiring... If you think that running rough-shod over the US political system and global politics is inspirational, that is.

It's kind of like my good friend [I wish!] Eddie Izzard says: At a certain point, individuals who are responsible for the deaths of a large number of people cease to scare us, and instead become impressive and mesmerizing, pop culture icons.

"You're schedule must be very busy! Wake up in the morning, death, death, death. Lunch. Death, death. Afternoon tea, death..."

Even though I think you are evil for perpetrating your fundamentalist, tyrannical and draconian social and foreign policies on the world, I have to step back and say:

Go on with your bad self, George.

From The New York Times:

July 13, 2007
A Firm Bush Tells Congress Not to Dictate War Policy
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and JEFF ZELENY
WASHINGTON, July 12 — President Bush struck an aggressive new tone on Thursday in his clash with Congress over Iraq, telling lawmakers they had no business trying to manage the war, portraying the conflict as a showdown with Al Qaeda and warning that moving toward withdrawal now would risk “mass killings on a horrific scale.”

Hours later, the Democratic-controlled House responded by voting almost totally along party lines to require that the United States withdraw most combat troops from Iraq by April 1.

The 223-to-201 House vote, in which just four Republicans broke with their party, came as the White House continued its intense effort to stem a growing tide of Republican defections on the war. Officials from the White House — beginning with the president himself — have been reaching out to party members all week, trying to persuade them to wait until September to pass judgment on Mr. Bush’s current military strategy of sending more troops to quell the sectarian fighting and pursue insurgents.

The Senate has so far fallen well short of the 60 votes needed to approve a troop withdrawal, but more votes are expected there next week. And while Democrats have failed to win enough Republican votes to force a change in policy, Democratic leaders say they remain hopeful. Even some Republicans conceded Thursday that it could be difficult for Mr. Bush to hold the party together for much longer.

At a morning news conference where he released a mixed progress report on his troop buildup, Mr. Bush repeatedly invoked the threat of Al Qaeda as a reason to stick with his strategy, saying the group he referred to as Al Qaeda in Iraq “has sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden.”

The president acknowledged that public opinion might be against him — he said that “sometimes the decisions you make and the consequences don’t enable you to be loved” — but suggested that Congress was overstepping its constitutional role by trying to force a change of policy on him.

“I don’t think Congress ought to be running the war,” Mr. Bush said. “I think they ought to be funding the troops.”

It is the first time since the Vietnam War that the legislative and executive branches have fought so bitterly over the president’s authority as commander in chief. Around the Capitol on Thursday morning, televisions were tuned into the White House news conference, as lawmakers and their aides passed around the White House’s status report on Iraq.

Lawmakers in both parties bristled at the president’s suggestion that Congress was overstepping its role in the war debate. Among them was Senator George V. Voinovich, a Republican from Ohio who has called for a change of direction in Iraq.

“We have a role to express our opinion in regards to the way he does anything,” Mr. Voinovich said in an interview. “He should welcome our point of view because it does reflect the point of view of the people who elected us to office.”

Mr. Bush wants Congress to wait until September, when the top military commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the top civilian official, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, deliver a fuller assessment of progress of the troop buildup. But the president also said he was not “going to speculate on what my frame of mind will be,” at that time, and he would not say how he might react if the September report is as mixed as the one delivered Thursday.

The report assessed the Iraqi government’s progress in meeting 18 benchmarks set by Congress on military, economic and political matters. It found the Iraqis had made satisfactory progress in meeting eight benchmarks, including committing three brigades for operations in and around Baghdad, and spending nearly $7.3 billion in Iraqi money to train, equip and modernize its forces.

But the Iraqis made unsatisfactory progress in meeting another eight benchmarks, including passing an oil revenue-sharing law and preparing for local elections that could help reconcile the country’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions. On two benchmarks, progress was too mixed to be characterized.

The report bluntly criticized the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, saying the government continued to permit political interference in some military decisions. Though the report claimed that Mr. Maliki was not involved, it singled out the Iraqi Office of the Commander in Chief, which reports directly to Mr. Maliki, saying there was evidence that the office formulated “target lists,” primarily of Sunnis.

And Mr. Bush himself offered only lukewarm support for Mr. Maliki at Thursday’s news conference, declining to echo the praise he put forth in Jordan last November, when he proclaimed Mr. Maliki “the right guy for Iraq.” Asked if he still felt that way, the president responded, “I believe that he understands that there needs to be serious reconciliation, and they need to get law passed.”

As Mr. Bush offered his interpretation of the report, administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, were working behind the scenes, offering to interpret the document for Republican senators. Among those called was Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, who is working with Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, to draft a proposal calling for a change in the military mission in Iraq.

Mr. Warner said the report was disappointing. “That government is simply not providing leadership worthy of the considerable sacrifice of our forces,” he said of the Iraqis, “and this has to change immediately.”

Despite such warnings, administration officials, who just two weeks ago feared Republican support for the troop buildup might collapse, say they think they will be able to hold the party together until September. One senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the feeling inside the White House was that while Americans want to get out of the war, they have enough doubts about withdrawing to give Mr. Bush leeway to pursue his strategy at least for another two months.

“There’s something in the American psyche that says this is important,” the official said, “and for all the criticism about how we got into it, we’d better be careful about where we go from here.”

Mr. Bush has been making the case, as he did again Thursday, that the troop buildup, which was completed only last month, cannot be fully evaluated until September. He said Congress itself had dictated that schedule in an emergency spending bill passed earlier this year, and he urged lawmakers to stick to it. Mr. Bush said the military gains cited in the report would ease the way for progress in creating a viable, effective Iraqi government.

But even among Republicans, patience is wearing thin, and the White House has not spelled out why it believes that Iraq will look substantially different in just eight weeks.

At the news conference, Mr. Bush was asked why — after failing to anticipate the sectarian divisions that would tear the country apart after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s government — Americans should believe he has the vision for victory in Iraq. The president responded by appearing to lay blame for mistakes in the war directly on one of his military commanders at the beginning of the war, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who led the invasion more than four years ago.

“Those are all legitimate question that I’m sure historians will analyze,” he said, adding that he had asked at the outset of the war whether his military commanders needed more troops. “My primary question to General Franks was: ‘Do you have what it takes to succeed, and do you have what it takes to succeed after you succeed in removing Saddam Hussein?’ And his answer was, ‘Yeah.’ ”

Critics of Thursday’s White House report said it overstated the Iraqis’ progress. In sections of the report dealing with efforts to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure, for example, two different benchmarks were given satisfactory grades while offering little evidence that reconstruction was anywhere close to improving the delivery of electricity, water, sanitation or other services.

In 2006, for example, the Iraqi ministries were criticized for failing to spend all but a small fraction of the billions in oil revenues the Iraqi government had set aside for reconstruction. But American officials said in an interview on Thursday that spending had only modestly accelerated toward the end of 2006 and into early 2007, and that the Iraqi government had not provided precise figures for this year.

David S. Cloud contributed reporting from Washington, and James Glanz from New York.

7.12.2007

Beauty Is As Beauty Does



Just another sign of the apocalypse.


The World Is Flat


I started this blog to broadcast messages from the future - good and bad - as evidence of our conscious and unconscious striving for pattern, balance, and knowledge.

I find evidence of fear and a hangover from the past so painful, so palpable, that we have given up the struggle for something new, something better.

In a thousand years from now, I would read the news of today and say to myself: We learned nothing from the past - we ignored it, relived it, enslaved ourselves to it.

[And maybe, a thousand years from now, we will still be enslaved.]

Rebuild New Orleans? Why?

It would be more honest just to burn it to the ground, erect a wall and never venture there again. It would amount to the same thing as the plan that is now in place, and the gross neglect perpetrated by our government and our society [that's you, me, your mom and everyone else] on the people who used to make that place their home.

Even ignoring the classic New York Times progressive-urban-liberal journalism [Ha!], it is clear that the Bush administration never gave a shit about the human beings stranded in and/or expelled from New Orleans during and after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The rhetoric was good, though.

Yeah, there are black folks on TV [interracial relationships, even!], Oprah is one of the richest women on the planet [and building a school in South Africa...], and maybe, just maybe, a black man will win the Presidency [ummm...].

Meanwhile, "Sicko" shows President Bush congratulating one of his supporters for her patriotism when she tells him she urgently needs subsidized healthcare because she is barely making it on the income from 3 jobs - the working poor are invisible, even though they comprise a large portion of the US. [And also on the front page of the NYT, a market for mattresses in the $20-50K range.]

Let's not continue to fool ourselves. Prejudice lives and breathes, crushing everyone under a weight of anger, guilt and futility more destructive than poverty, violence or outright fascism because there is no way to confront it.

Two articles from the New York Times:

July 12, 2007
Road to New Life After Katrina Is Closed to Many
By SHAILA DEWAN

CONVENT, La. — This was not how Cindy Cole pictured her life at 26: living in a mobile home park called Sugar Hill, wedged amid the refineries and cane fields of tiny St. James Parish, 18 miles from the nearest supermarket. Sustaining three small children on nothing but food stamps, with no playground, no security guards and nowhere to go.

No, Ms. Cole was supposed to be paying $275 a month for a two-bedroom house in the Lower Ninth Ward — next door to her mother, across the street from her aunt, with a child care network that extended the length and breadth of her large New Orleans family. With her house destroyed and no job or savings, however, her chances of recreating that old reality are slim.

For thousands of evacuees like Ms. Cole, going home to New Orleans has become a vague and receding dream. Living in bleak circumstances, they cannot afford to go back, or have nothing to go back to. Over the two years since Hurricane Katrina hit, the shock of evacuation has hardened into the grim limbo of exile.

“We in storage,” said Ann Picard, 49, cocking her arm toward the blind white cracker box of a house she shares with Ms. Cole, her niece, and Ms. Cole’s three children. “We just in storage.”

Their options whittled away by government inaction, they represent a sharp contrast to the promise made by President Bush in Jackson Square on Sept. 15, 2005.

“Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to cope, but to overcome,” Mr. Bush said. “We want evacuees to come home, for the best of reasons — because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love.”

As of late May, however, there were still more than 30,000 families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita spread across the country in apartments paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and another 13,000 families, down from a peak of nearly 18,000, marooned in trailer or mobile home parks, where hunger is so prevalent that lines form when the truck from the food bank appears.

Thousands of families have moved off disaster aid. It is not clear how many evacuees have permanently settled into their new communities, but postal delivery data suggest that more than 56,000 people have returned to New Orleans in the last year.

Those still in trailers and FEMA apartments are the least equipped to start over. In Houston, according to a city-sponsored survey in February, a third of the people in those apartments were elderly or disabled, a third were employed in mostly low-wage jobs, and a third were still looking for work.

Hardly any of the 77,000 rental units destroyed in New Orleans have been rebuilt, in fact, and the local and federal governments have done almost nothing to make it possible for low-income renters like Ms. Cole, who has a ninth-grade education, to return. Because she was never a homeowner, she is not eligible for a federally financed Road Home grant to rebuild her house, destroyed in the hurricane’s floodwaters like the rest of her neighborhood.

With rents double or triple what they were before the storm, she could barely afford a studio apartment, much less anything like the little shotgun house she had, serenaded by brass band parades, on a street traditionally used by Mardi Gras Indians on carnival day.

Despite their longing, some evacuees are afraid to return; they must choose between formaldehyde-laced trailers and a city they view as contaminated, poorly protected from floods and more violent than ever before.

For those who do not plan to go back, or just want to sustain themselves until they can, government solutions like the trailer parks have turned out to be obstacles, especially for the many evacuees like Ms. Cole, who has no car and lost her job at Jack in the Box when she could no longer get a ride to work. At Sugar Hill, 18 miles from the nearest supermarket, the public bus stops only four times a week.

Into the Garbage Can

JoAnn Anderson needs a job.

She has filled out applications and taken drug tests. She has asked people who are already employed for help. A hotel housekeeper for 22 years in New Orleans, she has called every hotel and motel in the hotel and motel section of the Memphis Yellow Pages. They are not interested.

“I keep calling them back,” Ms. Anderson said. “Once I get started working, I know they would like me because I know I do my best and I do my job. I want to work. I don’t want to just sit around getting my bones all old and everything.”

Ms. Anderson, 53, and her longtime companion, Jeffery Evans, 52, are in the category of people for whom recovery is furthest from reach. Near the end of their working lives, unappealing to employers, yet financially unable to retire, many are on the brink of ruin — or will be when their federal disaster assistance runs out.

“I was born poor; I’m probably going to die poor; and before the storm came through I was doing pretty good,” Ms. Anderson said. She and Mr. Evans paid $325 a month for half a duplex in the Uptown section of New Orleans, with “a little porch watching the laundrymat,” she said, “and a backyard.” The streetcar took her right to her job at the Columns, an elegant 1883 hotel in the Garden District. Mr. Evans built cabinets and countertops.

Now they live in a monochrome apartment complex. An empty swimming pool bakes in the Memphis heat, and frayed ropes dangle where the swings should be. FEMA pays the rent. Their social life consists of church on Sundays. For the first time in their lives, they are on food stamps, and to make them stretch, Ms. Anderson shuns the nearby Kroger in favor of a distant Save-a-Lot. Without a car, she trudges home from the bus stop with frozen turkey legs in a canvas bag over one shoulder.

For months, they searched the unfamiliar city for work — she at hotels, he at temporary agencies and, when that failed, at fast-food restaurants. But being an evacuee seemed to be enough to tip the scales against them, perhaps, the couple said, because the evacuees who took jobs right after the storm were not in their right minds.

“I didn’t really ever think that I was going to get hired, for the simple reason that I have to show my Louisiana ID,” Mr. Evans said. “It was like, I give them an application, and from their hands to the garbage can.” At one business, he said, hurricane evacuees were required to take anger management tests.

Ms. Anderson said she applied at one hotel that never responded but, weeks later, was advertising for housekeepers again. She filled out another application.

In May, Mr. Evans finally found a warehouse job near downtown. The bus ride takes so long that he leaves the house at 5 a.m. to get there by 7. He earns $6 an hour.

But Mr. Evans is not complaining. “I’ve been trying to get a job forever,” he said, “so I’m very, very satisfied that I got a job like that.”

Closed Doors for Renters

What makes this couple’s situation all the more bitter is that New Orleans is desperate for workers like them. Luxury hotels are trying to recruit temporary employees from South America. Homeowners are desperate for craftsmen and builders.

But Ms. Anderson says the city is doing nothing to bring them back, pointing out that Charity Hospital, where the poor received heavily subsidized medical care, has not reopened.
“The places where poor people, poor black people lived at, they wasn’t trying to fix up any housing,” she said. “Everything was closed down.”

Only 21 percent of the 77,000 rental units in the five parishes in the New Orleans metropolitan area are slated to be rebuilt through government grants and tax credits, according to a recent study by PolicyLink, a nonprofit research institute, with a disproportionate number for families on teacher or police officer salaries, rather than much lower-paid home health aides or hotel clerks. Rents on the remaining units have doubled or even tripled.

Despite pitched opposition, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is going forward with plans to demolish and redevelop the city’s four largest housing projects, knocking out 3,000 apartments that were occupied by low-income families before the storm and adding middle-income families to the mix. So far, there is money in place to rebuild only about 1,000 units affordable enough for previous residents.

At the state level, officials have allocated $6.3 billion for the Road Home’s assistance program for homeowners, dwarfing the $869 million allocated to the Small Rental Property Program, which housing advocates say is the most likely to replace affordable units quickly.

And when the homeowner program faced a shortfall, one proposed solution was to transfer as much as $667 million from the rental program to cover it, said Broderick Bagert, an organizer with the Jeremiah Group, which advocates for renters. That idea died, but the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which controls the money, recently voted to transfer 5 percent of the budget for renters to the fund for homeowners.

Walter J. Leger Jr., the chairman of the authority, said the 5 percent transfer was temporary to satisfy Congressional demands. Washington will be asked to replace the money down the road, he said.

Mr. Leger said the state’s focus had been on homeowners in part because landlords were more likely to be insured, but he acknowledged the need to do more to replenish the city’s work force. “We’d like to get more money for the rental program, if Washington will help,” he said.

Poor renters, though, are not the only ones who need a hand. Terry Coggins, the coordinator of a consortium of aid groups in Memphis, said many middle-class people were only now asking for help.

“They’ve exhausted their savings,” Mr. Coggins said. “They’ve exhausted their insurance money. They’ve exhausted their ability to drive back and forth and check on their property.”

Barriers for Trailers

In many ways, evacuees have become the region’s new pariahs, shunned by towns and parishes who have erected a number of legal barriers to keep them out.

At least five jurisdictions in Louisiana and Mississippi — St. Bernard, St. John the Baptist, and Jefferson parishes in Louisiana and Pascagoula and Ocean Springs in Mississippi — have begun revoking permits for trailers or allowing their zoning exemptions to expire. Those moves affect families still living in 7,400 trailers across the Gulf Coast, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a group based in Washington that has sued to stop the evictions.

Joseph D. Rich, project director for fair housing and community development with the committee, said some jurisdictions have complained about crime in the trailer parks, prompting FEMA to provide extra security. Mr. Rich said he believed there was another motivation for banning trailers.

“There are severe racial overtones to these actions,” he said. “Because there’s all this concern that black and low-income people will be coming into your neighborhood.”

Some local jurisdictions are also fighting to prevent the construction or repair of rental units. In Jefferson Parish, the suburb just west of New Orleans, officials blocked a 200-unit complex for the elderly in Terrytown, citing concerns that it would increase crime, and they are fighting a second complex for the elderly in Marrero. Westwego, also in Jefferson Parish, has placed a moratorium on multifamily buildings.

“You have some people that just lack any degree of civilization,” said Chris Roberts, a Jefferson Parish councilman who has fought to remove FEMA trailers and block subsidized housing developments. “I think low-income housing which is not properly run invites those people.”
Mr. Roberts complained that such residents were often idle, but many evacuees have burdens that prevent them from working.

Gwendolyn Marie Allen, 55, formerly of the Uptown section of New Orleans, now lives in Renaissance Village, a large FEMA trailer park near the Baton Rouge airport. Ms. Allen is the sole caretaker for a son, 20, who was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia after a violent episode in the park, and a severely retarded brother, who huddled on the bottom bunk of a bed in their travel trailer, clad only in adult diapers. In an interview, Ms. Allen periodically shushed his wordless moans by waving a green flyswatter in his direction.

“I want to get out of here, baby, this is not no house,” she said. “I want something where he can move around.”

As proof of her resourcefulness, Ms. Allen opened the freezer of the trailer’s compact refrigerator where, to make room for bargain packs of meat from the supermarket, she had removed the shelves.

“The renters aren’t asking that much, just give us a start,” she said. “Put us there, and we could do what we have to do to survive. We could catch it from there.”


July 12, 2007
The Money’s in the Mattress
By PENELOPE GREEN

ONE hot morning in late June, I was lying flat on my back on a bed in lower SoHo, my eyelids struggling to stay aloft, when Henry Burney, a gentle guy with a borscht belt sense of humor, leaned over and asked, “So, would you rather sleep with an Italian or Mr. Ed?”

Mr. Burney is the United States sales representative for Magniflex, the Italian mattress company that makes the $24,000 foam mattress I was lying on in the Casa Poggesi bedding store on Crosby Street. His little dig was aimed at a Swedish mattress maker, Hastens, which stuffs its versions with horsehair and charges as much as $60,000 for them. But his focus in this seduction scene was less on trashing the competition than on winning me over, not just to his product but to the seemingly absurd notion of the multithousand-dollar mattress. And he was not alone.

All spring and summer, Hastens has been running an ad in magazines like Elle Decor: a photograph of the blue-and-white-checked Vividus bed topped with a puffy white down comforter, one corner pulled back invitingly, with a pair of sharp-toed stiletto shoes on the floor beside it. The come-on reads: “Who would spend $59,750 on a bed?”

Who indeed? And what is the calculus — economic or otherwise — that brings a mattress to that particular figure? Or to $24,000, in Magniflex’s case? Or $50,000, which is the sticker price of a bed being made by Hollandia, an Israeli company that opened a showroom in the Marketplace Design Center in Philadelphia last fall and a flagship store in the Mall at Short Hills, N.J., last Thursday. I mean, what the heck? Why would anybody pay that much for a mattress?

“What did that guy say when he was asked why he climbed Mount Everest?” said Pamela N. Danziger, a marketing consultant and the author of “Let Them Eat Cake: Marketing Luxury to the Masses — as Well as the Classes” and “Why People Buy Things They Don’t Need.”

“ ‘Because it’s there!’ ” she exclaimed. “I would be very interested in how many they sell at that price. I would suggest the price is more of a positioning tool, though it is true that there are a lot of rich folks. Those making over $250,000 a year are the fastest-growing households by income in the country. We know that from our survey.” (Ms. Danziger’s company, Unity Marketing, tracks the luxury market in an annual survey of the spending habits and behaviors of affluent Americans.)

Like nature, the luxury market abhors a vacuum. But certain luxury items are selling better these days than others, Ms. Danziger said. Driven, still, by inexorably aging baby boomers, all 78 million or so of them, the luxury market is most active right now, she said, with things that can be described as “experiential” and restorative, like a huge new spa bathroom or an exotic vacation. Further, some boomers are suffering the aftereffects of those exotic vacations — some may even have mounted Everest themselves. Their rotator cuffs are torn, their knees and hips are shot. They are, in fact, more achy and tired than ever — and are sleeping less, as a raft of sleep studies will attest.

“They don’t want to put their money on a new handbag anymore,” Ms. Danziger continued. “They aren’t buying that Kelly bag. A mattress really does deliver an experience to the consumer. And as you get older, sleep doesn’t come like it used to.”

After the craze over Ambien, the boomers’ last deep love, was derailed by a flurry of bad press about its potentially bizarre side effects, including sleep-eating and sleep-driving (a state that Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island, may have experienced late one night in Washington last year), the mattress industry is cheerfully hurling itself into the breach, marketing mattresses to cure every ill, claiming even to put the brakes on time itself.

The narrator of a Hastens promotional video states, in a charming Swedish accent, that its beds, which start at $4,375, will give you fewer wrinkles and can slow aging.

(Hollandia turns out to be a maker of adjustable “sleep systems, ” priced from about $15,000 to $50,000, that look and feel like nothing so much as high-end hospital beds. With their German motors and 12 massage programs, they seem to acknowledge that a body ravaged by time can be only soothed, not remade. Its marketers also claim its beds cure snoring.)

Tempur-Pedic, the foam-mattress maker whose beds range from $1,200 to $7,299 (chump change on planet Hastens), sponsored a study recently that claimed, straight-faced, that Americans would rather sleep than exercise as part of their “wellness regimen,” that three out of four Americans say a good night’s sleep makes them feel younger and that a good pillow is a better “sleep accessory” — nine times better — than a “sleep partner.” More than a third of them spend as much money on their mattresses as they do on their sofas or their televisions, and 17 percent as much as on their vacations.

At the low end of the luxury mattress market, at least, things have been heating up. Six years ago, barely 2 percent of the mattresses sold cost more than $2,000, according to the International Sleep Products Association, a trade group for the industry, which had $6.7 billion in sales last year. By 2006 about 5 percent of purchases had crossed the $2,000 line. (The median price of a queen-size mattress was $650 last year, according to a survey by Furniture Today, a trade magazine.)

“I think it’s about time that Americans place the value on sleep that they place on other aspects of their life,” said Rick Anderson, president of Tempur-Pedic North America, adding, as every good mattress executive is wont to do, that “after all, we spend a third of our lives in bed.”

Mr. Anderson’s company has just rolled out a television campaign — with dreamy little spots of tropical islands, misty fjords and glistening jungles — that positions Tempur-Pedic as a “wellness brand” and its mattresses as “nighttime renewal aids.”

“If you asked someone 10 years ago what their mattress is for,” Mr. Anderson said, “they’d say it’s where I sleep. Now they expect it to relieve their stress, to relieve their aches and pains, to provide comfort. It’s emotional, it’s physical and it’s a status thing, too. You know what they say: sleep is the new black. Sleep is in style.” Gone are the days, Mr. Anderson suggested, when captains of industry bragged about sleeping just three hours a night. The power nap, he said, is gaining currency.

As proof, Mr. Anderson pointed to nap centers like the two that MetroNaps and Yelo operate in Manhattan, charging $12 to $14 for 20 minutes of shut-eye, and recent studies by the National Institutes of Health and Harvard about napping and productivity. (There is even a nap how-to book, out since January from Workman: “Take a Nap! Change Your Life” by Sara C. Mednick, a napping-research scientist at the Salk Institute.)

Ty Wenger, editor of Trader Monthly, a lifestyle magazine for a select segment of the self-made superrich, like hedge fund managers, agreed with this paradigm shift: a good night’s sleep isn’t a sign of weakness, but something to boast about.

“My readers are almost like athletes in the way they perceive themselves and pamper themselves,” Mr. Wenger said. “A good night’s sleep can mean millions for them the next day. How they prepare themselves for their job is the difference between brilliant and wealthy and going completely belly up. They aren’t hedonist playboys like those ’80s guys. They work out like crazy; they eat the finest food. It’s all about honing their instrument.”
Will they spend tens of thousands on mattresses?

“Absolutely,” he said. “The high end exists because there is somebody who wants to spend that kind of money. It’s like a consumer dare.”

Casa Poggesi has been offering the $24,000 Magniflex Gold for a month and a half, and as of yesterday afternoon, Mr. Burney said, no New Yorker had bought one. He added that on average, Magniflex mattresses go for $1,200 to $3,000. “But the Gold gets people in the door.”

Mr. Burney said his company had sold 53 Gold mattresses to individuals in Russia, and one to a hotel in Dubai. Its cost, he said, is largely a result of the fact that its cover is woven with 22-karat gold thread — “gold is a natural antimicrobial,” he said, as well as a barrier against dust mites and bedbugs — and has a cashmere underlayer. What’s inside the mattress is, as in most mattresses, a mysterious layer cake of stuff. Like every mattress sales agent, Mr. Burney has cross sections at the ready, along with diagrams and schematics and a pocketful of scientific-sounding terms.

“I know, none of it means anything to anyone,” said Mr. Burney, who explained that in plainer terms the Magniflex mattress is foam with holes drilled through it. So it breathes, as opposed to, say, a Tempur-Pedic mattress, he said, which has ridges so the air flows around the foam, but not through it. “People complain that the Tempur-Pedic is too warm,” he asserted.

“If you consider the average person sweats about a pint each night,” he said, pausing to let his words sink in.

WARREN SHOULBERG, the editor of Home Furnishings News, a trade publication for the furniture industry, reckons that a mattress purchase is the most “blind” purchase anybody ever makes.

“You only buy it once every 10 or 20 years,” he said, “so you are woefully unprepared and uneducated. You are confronted with this police lineup of white boxes that all look remarkably similar. The one that’s $500 doesn’t look all that different from the one that’s $5,000, or, now, $50,000, the way a Hyundai looks different from a Ferrari. The attributes that distinguish this product you can’t see.

“So you do the obligatory five-minute lie-down, but you’re incredibly self-conscious. Whatever very personal way that you sleep, you can’t do it on the floor of Sleepy’s. It’s not a product you can shop smart for, and that’s allowed the mattress companies to be all over the place. They kind of went crazy, and you’ve got to hand it to them.

“Now, there are a lot of affluent people who will pay a lot of money for a good night’s sleep. Or the perception of a good night’s sleep. I think the mattress guys are the smartest people in the whole home furnishings business. They have managed to attach an emotional element to your mattress. It’s not just layers of foam and padding.”

The Hastens store, in a classic SoHoian cast-iron building on Greene Street, is huge and white. This whiteness sets off the fetching blue and white plaid ticking that covers nearly every mattress. (The alternative is a white and taupe plaid.) Lina Schleenvoigt, the store’s young manager, listed the layers in a Hasten’s mattress: flax, wool and cotton, as well as horsehair, which has been not only cleaned but permed.

“Horsehair is hollow tubes,” she said proudly. “Nature’s air-conditioner. If you consider that you sweat one liter a night, and all that stays in the bed, unless the bed can breathe.”

Here we go again.

If the foam mattresses promise, as Mr. Burney said, better living through chemistry, Hastens, with its horse-and-fjord imagery, is the antifoam — the free-range bed. Its show pony, the Vividus, lives behind a velvet rope. With permission, I clambered aboard, and Ms. Schleenvoigt pushed down on my shoulder.

“You want to feel that the bed accepts you,” she said. “You have to open yourself to a new experience.”

“This,” she said, answering the $60,000 question, “is something without compromises. It takes 160 man-hours to make this bed. The horsehair is hand-selected, for example, and longer and straighter than what we use in the other beds. It has a deep feel, a bottomless feel.”

Not only that, she said, it comes with a brass plate engraved with your name.

I spent an hour here, rolling from bed to bed. It is true that the Vividus is very, very comfortable, but all the mattresses there are — beyond anything you can imagine, which is as it should be, considering that most of them cost more than a car. They even need maintenance like a car, specifically a massage and a flip every month for a year. “We call you and remind you,” Ms. Schleenvoigt said.

I flopped down next to Beth Fussell, who was splayed out on the Excelsior mattress ($15,500), her clogged feet hanging over the edge.

Ms. Fussell, 41, works at an architectural firm around the corner. She said she and her husband, who is also an architect, have been visiting this bed once a month for a year, and they plan to buy it in 18 months.

“What do you need in the city?” she said. “You don’t need a car. We sold our car last year. I think you need a good bed. It’s so stressful here.

“We were subletting an apartment and sleeping on a futon. I like the idea of something that lasts. The feeling of this bed is almost primal. You feel safe on this bed. You can’t forget this bed.”

It took two years of research and bed-testing for Suzanne Durand, 57, and her husband, Everett Ferri, 62, to circle in on their Hastens, the $22,950 2000T, which they bought in December. (“Lina let us take a nap one Sunday,” Ms. Durand said. “She turned up the air-conditioning, turned down the lights and gave us a comforter.”).

Her husband has had rotator cuff issues, she has sore hips and they had been buying mattresses every four or five years, they said. “I was still waking up as stiff as a board,” Ms. Durand said. “The way I rationalized the cost was that this was something that was going to last us for the rest of our lives. And I think that you wake up and feel better is worth it. And I do feel better.”

Mr. Ferri said he did ask Ms. Schleenvoigt if she would take their ’05 BMW X3 in trade.

The 2000T is the company’s best seller, said Erick Svensson, Hasten’s sales manager in the United States. As for Vividus sales, he said guardedly that “more than 15” have sold since the introduction last fall.

THERE is something about a hospital bed that works, said Sharon Kaplan, 59, who bought a $23,000 Hollandia with her husband, Arthur, 62, a few months ago. Or dueling hospital beds, which is what a Hollandia looks and works like: two single adjustable beds that sit side by side but operate independently.

The Kaplans, real estate developers who live in Philadelphia, weren’t looking for a new bed, but a friend invited them to Hollandia’s grand opening last spring, and one thing led to another. “You get to a certain age,” Ms. Kaplan said, “and it’s the one thing you can do, give yourself a good night’s sleep. I haven’t slept this well in years.”

I asked Mr. Kaplan how he rationalized the cost.

“You don’t,” he said. “It’s not possible.” And then he tried to, a bit: “I used to sleep on a $6,000 mattress. Now I sleep on one that cost $23,000. I sit on a sofa that costs as much, and I’m only on that for about 20 minutes a day.”

On a recent Monday, David Ashe, who is marketing Hollandia’s beds in the United States, was presiding over the company’s showroom in Philadelphia.

“Let me get you on a bed,” he said soothingly, leading me to a red velvet number in the showroom window. He drove the remote, elevating both my feet and my head, and Maria Rohe, another marketing manager, tucked a sarcophagus-shaped blanket around me. It had a pocket to slip the feet into and two pockets up top, for the hands. It was wicked comfy.

“Do you like the way that feels?” Mr. Ashe asked. “All our fabrics are coated with aloe vera.”
The obligatory cross section was hauled out, a stunning array of layers and mystery substances. The curly stuff was coconut fibers; the pink and cream-colored stuff, drilled with holes like a Magniflex, was a foam. “A natural foam,” Mr. Ashe hastened to say.

What’s in it?

“A bunch of stuff —— ”

Ms. Rohe broke in: “A proprietary blend of material.”

And then, like Mr. Burney, Mr. Ashe began tearing into Tempur-Pedic. “Take Memory Foam,” he began. “It’s synthetic, it’s dense, it doesn’t breathe, it’s hot, you end up lying in a pool of your own perspiration.”

The sweat again. How much did Mr. Ashe reckon the average person dropped in a bed each night? Was it, and I quoted Ms. Schleenvoigt, a liter?

“That’s disgusting,” he said. “I’m not sleeping with you. I’d say a cup, max.”

Fine. Now where was the $50,000 bed? We’d discussed it on the phone — its mohair cover, its built-in iPod jacks and television. I was ready.

“It’s not here,” Mr. Ashe said. “It’s in Israel. It will be here in a year. I do have a $35,000 that’s coming next week ...”

This is what’s known as the old switch-eroo.

Mr. Ashe said, in a mollifying tone, “You know, I can get you a great night’s sleep on a $17,000 bed.”

Sleep, sleep our little fur child,
Out of the windiness,
Out of the wild

7.11.2007

Doctored Medicine


Guess what?!

The former Surgeon General, Dr. Richard H. Carmona, says the Bush administration pressured him to work within political boundaries, NOT as an impartial doctor for the health of US citizens.

[I was surprised! Were you surprised?]

What's really telling is that the Surgeon General from the Clinton administration, Dr. David Satcher, says they did that shit too - "discouraging" and influencing the reports so that they matched a pre-determined political agenda.

If they're doing that with cigarette smoke, needle exchange programs, and STD prevention, imagine what we don't know about...

genetically modified foods
chemical concentrations in public drinking water
effects of carbon monoxide & CO2 pollution
genetically modified humans
increased exposure to UVA & UVB rays
psycho-social effects of skyrocketing population density
urban poverty
processed foods
etc

From The New York Times

July 11, 2007
Surgeon General Sees 4-Year Term as Compromised
By GARDINER HARRIS
WASHINGTON, July 10 — Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona told a Congressional panel Tuesday that top Bush administration officials repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations.

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to a “prominent family” that he refused to name.

“I was specifically told by a senior person, ‘Why would you want to help those people?’ ” Dr. Carmona said.

The Special Olympics is one of the nation’s premier charitable organizations to benefit disabled people, and the Kennedys have long been deeply involved in it.

When asked after the hearing if that “prominent family” was the Kennedys, Dr. Carmona responded, “You said it. I didn’t.”

In response to lawmakers’ questions, Dr. Carmona refused to name specific people in the administration who had instructed him to put political considerations over scientific ones. He said, however, that they included assistant secretaries of health and human services as well as top political appointees outside the department of health.

Dr. Carmona did offer to provide the names to the committee in a private meeting.

Bill Hall, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said that the administration disagreed with Dr. Carmona’s statements. “It has always been this administration’s position that public health policy should be rooted in sound science,” Mr. Hall said.

Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, said the surgeon general “is the leading voice for the health of all Americans.”

“It’s disappointing to us,” Ms. Lawrimore said, “if he failed to use this position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies he thought were in the best interests of the nation.”

Dr. Carmona is one of a growing list of present and former administration officials to charge that politics often trumped science within what had previously been largely nonpartisan government health and scientific agencies.

Dr. Carmona, 57, served as surgeon general for one four-year term, from 2002 to 2006, but was not asked to serve a second. Before being nominated, he was in the Army Special Forces, earned two purple hearts in the Vietnam War and was a trauma surgeon and leader of the Pima County, Ariz., SWAT team. He received a bachelor’s degree, in biology and chemistry, in 1976 and his M.D. in 1979, both from the University of California, San Francisco. He is now vice chairman of Canyon Ranch, a resort and residential development company.

His testimony comes two days before the Senate confirmation hearings of his designated successor, Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr. Two members of the Senate health committee have already declared their opposition to Dr. Holsinger’s nomination because of a 1991 report he wrote that concluded that homosexual sex was unnatural and unhealthy. Dr. Carmona’s testimony may further complicate Dr. Holsinger’s nomination.

In his testimony, Dr. Carmona said that at first he was so politically naïve that he had little idea how inappropriate the administration’s actions were. He eventually consulted six previous surgeons general, Republican and Democratic, and all agreed, he said, that he faced more political interference than they had.

On issue after issue, Dr. Carmona said, the administration made decisions about important public health issues based solely on political considerations, not scientific ones.

“I was told to stay away from those because we’ve already decided which way we want to go,” Dr. Carmona said.

He described attending a meeting of top officials in which the subject of global warming was discussed. The officials concluded that global warming was a liberal cause and dismissed it, he said.

“And I said to myself, ‘I realize why I’ve been invited. They want me to discuss the science because they obviously don’t understand the science,’ ” he said. “I was never invited back.”

Dr. Carmona testified under oath at a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee headed by Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California. The topic was strengthening the office of the surgeon general. Dr. C. Everett Koop, surgeon general in the Reagan administration, and Dr. David Satcher, surgeon general during the Clinton administration and the first year of the administration of George W. Bush, also testified.

Each complained about political interference and the declining status of the office. Dr. Satcher said that the Clinton administration discouraged him from issuing a report showing that needle-exchange programs were effective in reducing disease. He released the report anyway.

Dr. Koop, said he had been discouraged by top officials in the Reagan administration from discussing the AIDS crisis. He did so anyway.

All three men urged major changes in the way the surgeon general is chosen and the way the office is financed.

Dr. Carmona described being invited to testify at the government’s nine-month racketeering trial of the tobacco industry that ended in 2005. He said top administration officials discouraged him from testifying while simultaneously telling the lead government lawyer in the case that he was not competent to testify. Dr. Carmona testified anyway.

Sharon Y. Eubanks, director of the Justice Department’s tobacco litigation team, was in the audience during Dr. Carmona’s testimony.

“What he said is all correct,” she said. “He was one of the most powerful witnesses. His testimony was very important.”

Dr. Carmona said that he felt that the duty of the surgeon general, often called the “nation’s doctor,” was to tackle many of the nation’s most controversial health topics and to issue balanced reports about the studies underlying them.

When stem cells became a focus of debate, Dr. Carmona said he proposed that his office offer guidance “so that we can have, if you will, informed consent.”

“I was told to stand down and not speak about it,” he said. “It was removed from my speeches.”

The Bush administration rejected the advice of many top scientists on this subject, including that of the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Elias Zerhouni.

Similarly, Dr. Carmona wanted to address the controversial topic of sexual education, he said. Scientific studies suggest that the most effective approach includes a discussion of contraceptives.

“However there was already a policy in place that did not want to hear the science but wanted to preach abstinence only, but I felt that was scientifically incorrect,” he said.

Dr. Carmona said drafts of surgeon general reports on global health and prison health were still being debated by the administration. The global health report was never approved, Dr. Carmona said, because he refused to sprinkle the report with glowing references to the efforts of the Bush administration.

“The correctional health care report is pointing out the inadequacies of health care within our correctional health care system,” he said. “It would force the government on a course of action to improve that.”

Because the administration does not want to spend more money on prisoners’ health care, the report has been delayed, Dr. Carmona said.

“For us, the science was pretty easy,” he said. “These people go back into the community and take diseases with them.” He added, “This is not about the crime. It’s about protecting the public.”

7.10.2007

I'm So Happy I Could Just DIE!

Elizabeth Wurtzel, fucked up and bitchy though she may be, nailed us just a bit too soon.

But nail us, she did.

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), anti-depressants are the most prescribed drugs in the US.

Yay! Happy, happy, happy!

Maybe it's just that day-after-vacation blues, but since I'm already depressed, this just sounds like further evidence of the imminent apocalypse.

And you know what? You're not supposed to be happy all the time! Because then you wouldn't have any idea what life is really like. You'd be trapped in an infantile world of complete acceptance, indulgence and immediate satisfaction...

kind of like every bourgeois, middle-class US citizen!

I mean, really, since when has being unhappy been a "disease"? At around the same time that choosing to drink or fuck or eat too much became a disease, too?! Or maybe those diseased souls who don't like to read, or prefer to beat people up, or are bored in school...

I'm in a bad mood today, and it's for a damn good reason. A couple damn good reasons, and I don't want to pretend it's not there, because I can honor that emotional state and not ACT it OUT because I am an accountable human being, and I don't want to blame anyone else for my displeasure.

I'm sure that there are humans that are, in fact, so lacking in the natural hormones and chemicals that help to balance their emotional and psychological states that they may be unable to objectively consider their behavior. I'll give you that.

And I'm sure that prescription drugs exist to help rectify that imbalance, as do other chemical agents and certain types of physical activity. Great.

At what point does something over which we, as individuals, have the only accurate perspective and the only consistent ability to control... When does this become a disease?

Because I think I might be coming down with something...

N.P.M.T.A - short for "NeverPaying MyTax esAgain" disease
or
Paisiak Miodwt - aka "People Are Idiots So I Am Killing Myself Instead Of Dealing With Them"
or
Iify - an up-til-now-undiscovered epidemic, also known as "Isn't It Friday Yet?!"

I don't mean to make light of other people's depression [Yes I do, how else are they supposed to 'lighten up'? Ha ha! Get it?] but I do think that categorizing depression as a disease is like the best possible way to convince someone that they will never free themselves of this perspective, never find their own way of dealing with it, and continue living in the reality that most people are unhappy at least some of the time.

Because sometimes life sucks, even when you wake up smart, rich, honest, compassionate and beautiful.

In the past...