I have been having severe trouble, recently, attempting to reconcile my rage, despair and guilt over what is happening to the United States with my inability to propose anything that can make it better. This is a post I made to Brad DeLong's weblog, which recently offered an extremely sobering account of a speech made by Sy Hersh. Mr. Hersh has been the journalist largely responsible for the degree of attention being given to Abu Ghraib. The post to which I responded can be found at:


Here is my comment, posted to that entry. There are no links; I'd rather it stand as it did there. I have replaced *textual emphasis* with tags where possible.

This is a personal exposition from an American who has long been against the war and Bush. Please don't think I'm saying this to excuse myself. Quite the opposite is true. What truly upsets me about the arguments here is that, in fact, there is something positive about them that should be encouraged, not drowned in ideological sniping or personal attacks.

I'm sorry, that came out accusatory, and it wasn't meant to be. I'll try to be more clear. On both sides of the fence, above, are examples of people (Americans and others) stating that they are in the process of re-examining their positions based on new information coming to light. Others are realizing that their long-held concern has been correct, but that they have not matched actions to their worries or even their words.

Yes, some may have started from (or even remain in) an ideological position you dislike, or detest. However, I'd like to exhort all here to remember one thing - unless we all think, and pay attention, and examine not only the 'evidence' and 'information' coming from media and other sources, but examine our own thoughts, feelings and ideas on the matter - then we've already lost what may be the most important fight. That is the fight to remain the United States of America - not a 'morally superior America,' not a 'feared America,' not a 'responsible' America, or even a 'secure America.' It is fairly clear that all of those things have fallen away in the minds of many people here and around the world.

But what made the United States wonderful - and what has made many other nations wonderful institutions in the past, I'm not claiming we invented this - is the capability to learn and change.

Even if you think that the Bush administration is on the right course, even if you think that this is a 'left wing circle jerk,' I ask you (as an American) to try, please, to retain your sense of civic responsibility. The one that our country's founders had in such great quantity. Never allow your government to think it is above its people. Never allow those in the U.S. Government to think that they are 'above' the rules which placed them there.

After all, if the liberals are wrong, then truth will out. Why? Because you, as a supporter of the administration, should be carefully watching everything with firm attention. Watch the left, and watch the right. Watch the press. Don't take anything for granted. THINK. If the liberals (yes, I am one) are in fact trying to take down an administration unjustly, then LOOK AT EVERYTHING and try to prove it. Don't try to tear down the liberals for trying it; they're doing their JOB. The attempted impeachment of Bill Clinton was something that infuriated the liberal establishment, such as it is in this country, but I (personally) feel an opportunity was missed, in the fury - the chance to try to rise above 'not-me' and reach 'us.' Whatever we thought about the attempt to impeach Clinton, more of us should not have tried to counterbash the Right by claiming they were simply playing 'partisan politics.' That's their role as citizens and members of a party. Our job was, and we blew it, to try to take our opponents to the table and say (essentially) "Okay. You have these things you say have been done that are wrong. We want to sit down here now, and define what, really, would qualify as impeachable - what was breaking the law. And then, together, in teams, we need to go look for everything. If, after that process, we are going to deadlock on if something was right or wrong - let's at least agree to have a common view of what we can establish happened.

I'm sorry, I'm straying. I'll wrap up here shortly. I realize that the United States has some unbelievable work ahead of it to regain the trust of the rest of the world, should that be something the US decides it wants (and I'm for it). I would ask that:

Those who are not Americans, and are watching us, urge us to take responsibility for our own nation and have real civil oversight. If after the paroxysm of democracy that is surely coming, you feel we have not gone far enough - that's your opinion. Tell us then. In the meantime, whenever an American tells you in open forum that they are having doubts, or changing their mind - don't bash us for where we started out. Help us learn to change our minds, to strive for the truth. There are good people in this country; I (PERSONAL BELIEF) think that most people here are simply average humans making their choices influenced by their surroundings, and are not 'evil.' I don't even really know what those are, in truth, good and evil. But I do know that I'd rather be in this kind of mess because I made a mistake than because I didn't try or do anything at all, and hid my head in the sand.

To all sides of the debate, liberals, conservatives - don't bash each other for our starting positions. Do whatever you can, please, to encourage everybody, on all sides, to push for full disclosure of what happened 'in our name' and for full punishments or rewards for those who deserve it. Reach out to those who tell you they are wavering in their 'faith' or their commitment to one side - because those are the ones who are thinking. Those are the people performing their duty as citizens. They are paying attention and accepting data.

Not everyone is 'swinging' of course. To the liberals who are digging in their heels - it doesn't matter if you were right earlier. It doesn't make you better. It makes you uniquely positioned to try to convince the other side that these flutterings they feel are the right thing. Even if a conservative or neocon tells you that they are flatly behind the President, that's their right. Ask them if they are interested in a full disclosure of what happened at Abu Ghraib. Convince them that while loyalty to the President is not a bad thing in itself, loyalty to a President, or a nation, or a person without the acceptance of constant new information and the analysis of that information is indeed a bad thing - it is an obsession, not a position.

I'm sorry to go on so long. I thank everyone here who has made an effort to ensure that the facts come out - and everyone here who is doing what they feel is best for the United States, so long as they are doing it because they feel their own position, viewed in a vacuum (i.e. not compared to the other side) is a 'right' or 'proper' one.

We're never all going to agree on what we should do. That's what makes us American. Let's try to agree that we need to be Americans, and that we need to take up the reins and responsibility that our founders and our predecessors and our teachers, who after all came from all over the world, left in our hands.

Thank you.

This was posted in a comments thread that had gotten somewhat vitriolic; this is why I am addressing particular people or groups above. It was written off the cuff, in a furious attempt to express the complexity of my feelings about this whole thing; it's not an attempt to justify myself, or anyone else. There is much more I should have said; I'll save it, for now. I welcome any comments, arguments, corrections, etc. as always. Thanks for reading, and whatever you do, keep asking questions whether they are of the conservatives or the liberals; of the Republicans or the Democrats; of the politicians or the press, of the people or the government. Don't be afraid - remember, this is all our responsibility. Ours. Whether it was done for good or ill, it was done (ostensibly) in our name, by our leaders who we put there, whether by voting for them or by failing to recall them. What happens because of it, afterwards, is not yet written. I believe firmly that this nation, our nation, can be an amazing force for progress, for justice, for peace, as well as for war, for death, for corruption and for oppression. Note that 'can' in this sense means that it has the potential, the possibility to do both or either. It's up to us, and to those watching us around the world, asking us the difficult questions, to shape that outcome.

I'd be more afraid if I hadn't realized, somewhere along the way, that the future looks like this all the time. It's just the present that changes.

-The Custodian

It's been a week and a half since I quit smoking.

I started smoking cloves in August of 2003. I was at a convention for a message board I hang out on. Someone offered me a Djarum and I fell in love. When I got back home, I bought a pack from the local tobacco shop. I was a good smoker for a while. I smoked a pack a month, stretching it out. "No more than one a day." I told myself. I would not get addicted.

I went back to school, in New York City, and kept smoking. School grew stressful, and I would occasionally smoke two. I would smoke with the other students who smoked. It was a social activity. Eventually, I realized that, yes, I was addicted. I also didn't give a shit. However, I could only stick with Djarum Specials for so long. First off, I was the only guy who smoked them that I knew. If I was out, and I needed my nicotine fix, well, I had to bum a real cigarette from someone. When I went home for a weekend, I decided to buy a hardpack of filtered Lucky Strikes from the Walgreens. I went back up to school, smoking my Luckies. When that pack ended, I bought another pack of Luckies... this one was a softpack... Unfiltered.

Smoking unfiltered was a learning experience.. I would constantly get bits of tobacco in my mouth. Icky. One day, standing out back of the dorms, in a cold drizzle for my nicotine fix, I said "fuck this." and quit. Right there. I was done with cigarettes for good. I threw out the remaining half-pack of Lucky Strikes, but kept the matches like a good Boy Scout. I was clean as a whistle. Then, I failed out of school.

Coming home, one of the first things I did to deal with the stress was blow $6.50 on a pack of Djarum Specials. (One thing I don't miss about New York City is the price of cigarettes. That pack would have cost me at least two bucks more up there.) Even still, I was actually good. I managed to stretch the pack from January to June, mostly by not going out to actually smoke. My social life was nil, as all my friends were still in college. When I smoked, it was when I got out to look for a job. The event that made me give up smoking for real? I had gone downtown to see Hella and Need New Body at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia.

I smoked two waiting for the show, out of the three left in my pack. Later that night, I bummed two Camels, and finished off my last Djarum. Factoring in the second-hand smoke, I had had more than enough nicotine than I was used to. I felt rather nasty when I got home. It was that night when I decided to quit. The next few days were rattled with headaches, nausea. I had a nasty day on the job, with muscles aching. I knew it was my body craving a smoke. I've persevered, and (thanks to asprin) the constant headache is but a memory. I think I'll be fine. It's all about self control.

Of course, after three months, I'm buying another pack of Djarums. I never said this was permanent.

Almost a two months ago, grundoon had this Tell me of the nature of love 100-word challenge. I tried and tried to come up with something, only to rip it up, crumple it in to a wad and toss it in the trash. As I read the entries in that node, I figured it was a good idea to quit while I was ahead. Each one struck a crystalline note or an ambient chord.


A while later I thought about it some more. Without getting too sappy or deep, there's all sorts of natures of love between all sorts of people. Some are unknown until you actually meet the person who is the object of that love. More often than not wrapping this love in words is like grabbing a meth-head anaconda in a pool of baby oil, no matter how eloquent we are.

Sometimes you have to rely on cartoons.

SweetFaceBoy and I were watching the Justice League, sprawled on the couch, lights off, everyone else in the house either gone or asleep. It was the two-parter with Aquaman where he is double-crossed and all land-based humans are threatened with potential drowning. (OK -- if you must know it was a Season One episode titled The Enemy Below.)

Anyway, in Part II Aquaman has to rescue his infant son from certain death by being crushed beneath an undersea mountain. However, Aquaman has his arms bolted to a rock. He manages to break one arm free. The other one won't budge. He sees his baby screaming, sliding toward oblivion. Then he sees a knife.

Cut to a Superman and Martian Manhunter scene.

A few scenes later we see Aquaman carrying his baby in to his palace, ready to open up the whoop-ass on the baddies. However, he needs medical attention because he cut part of his arm off to save his child.

Villians are vanquished and the world is at peace once again.

At the end SweetFaceBoy said, "That would never happen."

"What would never happen?"

"Someone cut their hand off to save someone else."

I sat up. "You don't think so?"


"Look at me."

He shifted around, sitting cross-legged on the couch. I put on my non-cartoon-watching face and adjusted my Dad-voice.

"If you were in any danger, any danger or in any harm whatsoever, I would hack my arms and legs off and roll through burning glass and barbed wire to save you with my teeth if that's what it took."

He said nothing, but I saw behind those big brown eyes and underneath that spikey blond hair the wheels turned, processing and grasping.

The rest I said to myself, avoiding an overbearing Dad speech: Every parent worth the name would do that. One day that's coming too fast for me you'll understand what it's like to cherish someone beyond your own life, to sacrifice yourself willingly for that person, to have that person's happiness be paramount.

"Got it?" I said.

"Got it."

It was getting late, but Samurai Jack was on next, one of my favorites. No reason to end the evening on a heavy note, however sincere.

"Want some ice cream, Bub?"

"Dad, we already had dessert."

"Let's have it again."

The stress of buying a vehicle was almost nonexistant when we got another car this week. We bought it from a private owner. My wife saw the ad in the local newspaper for a 1997 Subaru Legacy. It had low mileage and was being sold to settle an estate. Ironically, my son and I were out for a run later in the day and saw the same car. It was parked on a residential street with a For Sale sign on the back, side and front. I paid no attention to it but my son insisted we stop and take a look. He will be driving in six months.

"I think this is the same car your mother saw in the paper this morning." I said.

When we got home she had the paper opened to the ad and asked me if I would call. I said I would think about it. After a quick trip to the store for a gallon of milk I thought, what the hell, and dailed the number. I got the answering machine and left a message. He called back early the next day. I was on my way to work so my wife went and took it for a ride. I drove it later that day and after looking it over decided we would buy it.

Flashback: We are taking a long trip for vacation this summer and we didn't trust the two vehicles we had to go any great distance. We will be traveling about 3000 miles total. So we decided to look for something better.

I told the owner I would write him out a check for (10 percent less than what he was asking). Total deafening silent response. I always come in low with the first offer even if the price is firm. He finally said, "How about if I make a counter offer?"

I told him to go for it. I was waiting for it anyway and he went halfway between the asking price and my offer. I bit. It was still a good deal. We arranged to transfer the title the next morning at the AAA office. AAA is the best place to go and transfer your title. They have it all arranged so that the vehicle is registered at the state capital, home of the Department of Transportation, in about five minutes. We were in and out of there with a new licence plate for the car and all the paper work complete in 20 minutes.

Everybody was happy and it was actually fun. I called the insurance company to add the new car onto our policy. We will see an increase since it will be replacing a 1997 Chevy S10 pickup truck which is a most basic form of transportation. Now we have to find someone to buy the truck.

If anyone is interested it's parked out in front of the house with a For Sale sign in the window. Stop by and kick the tires, test the shocks and take a peak underneath if you know what you're looking for. I always look under the hood as I did when checking our new Subaru. I don't know what I'm looking for. As long as the engine is there it looks good to me.

Let me take this opportunity to share with you some of the many letters I receive via e-mail on a daily basis. These are just a sample from this morning's e-mail.

Dear TheDeadGuy,

I have been very interested in your work for some time. Often I will read something you wrote before going to bed, both to help me fall asleep easier and to induce lucid dreaming. I hope you will not consider it to forward of me to ask if you will consider bringing me into your army of blonde Christinas, as I feel my talent and star power could be of valuable assistance in organizing and gaining more worldwide attention for your efforts. Thanks, and please let me know as soon as possible.

P.S. I hope you've bought my latest album. I think you will like it.

Sincerely yours,
Christina Aguilera

Dear Christina,

Thank you for your nice note. No, I haven't bought your latest album and in fact do not own any of your music. Perhaps you could send me some free samples so that I can decide whether or not you fit into the Christina equation. I don't have that much money right now and what little I do have is spent on alcohol. I look forward to hearing from you again.


Dear TheDeadGuy,

We've never met, but you may remember me from my stint on Family Ties in the 1980s. I was the one who looked like a slice of ham fat. However, I have since died my hair black and have been playing in a really cool rock band called Jaded. I've been looking for something to do when I visit the Orlando area later this year and perhaps you would like to consider me for your army of Christinas, even though I've died my hair and I am no longer blonde (but really I am). Contact me soon!

Rock on,
Tina Yothers

Dear Tina,

I'm going to have to sleep on that one. Look me up when you are in Orlando and we can meet for a drink. I'm not making any promises.


Dear TheDeadGuy,

What's up? Do you like me? Check "yes" or "no" and send this e-mail back to me. Okay? Cool.

Christina Ricci

Dear Christina,

Please try harder.


Dear TheDeadGuy,

I went to the website you talked about after we went out drinking the other night and what the fuck? There is no information on me on the page with my name on it. What's wrong with you people? You better make sure someone writes something nice about me soon at that fucking website or I'll beat the shit out of you next time instead of doing that ice cream thing you get so into.

Make it happen, asshole,
Christina Applegate

Dear Christina,

Hurt me, baby.

See you soon,

Attention TheDeadGuy,

Enlarge your penis by three to four inches just by to use our penis pill for growth. Order now!

Penis Pill Man

Any resemblance to characters, living or dead
Is purely coincidental

Well, I wasn't gonna tell the true story cause I didn't want to have to type it, but my conscience has been torturing me and when Jesus finally catches up I want to be able to say 'Bill? Yea. I'm with him.'

Dr. Berens had already departed for Michigan, planning a return trip through the Finger Lakes in New York. We'd spent the morning and afternoon on Martha's Vineyard, hiking around the island and generally relaxing on our third perfect day in a row. The weather had been ideal all week and Saturday was no exception: temperature in the mid seventies with that ocean breeze mixing the salt, seagulls and sunshine into an East coast cocktail that keeps you coming back. We were properly sunburned upon our return, and ready for a BBQ.

Saturday night was like home away from home. So far our trip had yielded some nice local fare - clam chowder, bluefish, scallops and the ubiquitous shrimp cocktail - but nothing beats a home cooked meal, especially when an outdoor grill is involved. Bill, it turns out, can cook. One onion, one enormous red bell pepper and a pile of chicken became a marinaded delight as he tended the grill, keeping pace with the conversation and lubricating us all properly with a red from Down Under. He'd invited a few of his local friends over and the stories were flowing. These people weren't fooling around. They'd been around the world, they were probably going to go around again, and unlike many of my friends they could remember most of it.

Munching on fajitas and a delicious spinach salad we dedicated fifteen minutes to solving the world's problems. Politics. Everything everybody said was probably right, and none of us really agreed. Classic. The only way to settle it, the only way to settle anything, really, was a no-holds-barred game of foosball. Unfortunately, Bill didn't own a foosball table.

What Bill did own was a monstrosity of rusted metal, twisted plastic and the detritus you find on the floor of a hardware store - random washers, nuts, bolts and I think I saw a band-aid. This ... this was a contraption. If you took a high school metal shop class and locked them up with an erector set and three tabs of bad acid this is what you'd find in the morning. It was beautiful. Mad scientists had assembled this thing in the Antarctic, sailing around in the Glomar Challenger. Call it a side-effect of the Ocean Drilling Program. At the end of the voyage Bill had taken it with him. I'm glad he did. (Later we find that, mounted upside-down on his VW van, a gas station attendant in West Texas had mistaken it for a pig feeder. We were not surprised.)

Playing foosball on this device didn't evoke memories of childhood's arcades. This was vicious. The thing used golf balls instead of ping pong balls. Seriously. Very little of it wasn't solid metal so dislodging a dead ball involved slamming the table as hard as possible with one of the rods. It was delightful and terrifying to me at first on account of my external genitalia. I got used to it. (The fear, that is, I still haven't gotten used to the genitalia.)

Back upstairs for some ice cream, rum and a walk along a sunsetted beach. Discussions of hurricanes, heavy rain and the rich bastards who were ruining it for the locals. A bigger house, a louder car and the future is coming. It can't be helped - tomorrow we head back home.

Sunday morning we slept in, cleaned up the cottage and slowly drove up the coast and back to Logan. A 5 day getaway, worth every second of American Airlines and its torturous 1974 'astrojet' coach seating.

Can't thank you enough, Bill. You've got a beautiful family, a lovely garden and a fantastic life carved out of the Cape. We were honored and overjoyed to be included, and I'm almost sure this sunburn will be gone by tomorrow.

With gratitude,
-Ryan and Sally

It's enough to make ya grouchy

Well, I wasn't gonna tell the true story cause I didn't want to harsh on everybody's mellow, but my conscience has been torturing me and when the police finally catch up with dem bones, I want to be able to say 'See? I told ya so.' 

I knocked myself out to show him a good time and  he wasn't even appreciative!  I mean I put out a lot of effort to set up this visit for him and the ingrate never even said thank you.  Well, he sort of did, but more on that later.  The low point was when I overheard my daughter discussing their upcoming visit with a friend, "Sorry I can't come to the party, a bunch of weirdoes from my Dad's cult are coming to visit..."  Ouch!

Back when he offered me my E2 Admin badge, I thought he was just kidding with that lame line, "Someday I will come to you with a request..."  Turns out he totally meant it.  The cheapskate lives off these cheezy little E2 perks and now he was jonesing for a free vacation.  I put my foot down when he asked for my Frequent Flier account number!

Kids these days!

He's kind of embarrassing to hang out with too. I mean he can't make casual conversation, gets drunk on one beer and has zero interest in anything except this silly website that his scriptkiddy friends invented and gave to him to play with.  His wardrobe is so 90's, like grunge is way over and it's not the height of fashion to own everything ever sold with an E2 logo on it.  He's even got an E2 tongue stud! Picture a hyperactive bulletheaded gnome in a NinjaGirl French Tee. Pathetic

He can't sit still for five seconds and always has to be the center of the conversation... He's got this sneaky way of steering any topic into a discussion of E2 and how he's the Chief Gawd and all that.  Pathetic.  I had this party for him on Saturday, just so that he could get a taste for how grownups interact with each other.  It was a total disaster. My friends are real people with real lives and it was so sad to hear him try to convince them how cool E2 is.  They just sort of laughed, like "Yeah sure, I'll hafta check it out someday..."  

Then he got stumbling drunk on one margarita and started ranting about how Globalization was destroying the world.  My friends and I are committed liberal Democrats, but I could tell they were offended by this wacko.  He went off on this rant about how John Kerry needed to get out of his conservative rut and start supporting The People! I mean don't they have newpapers on Planet E2

Inquiring minds want to know

Worst of all, I learned way more about the E2 backstory than I wanted to know.  For example, there's only about a dozen live users on E2, all the rest of the accounts are just that psycho bones talking to himself.  He's a very fast typist, I've gotta give em that.  Oh yeah about the money thing.  He was telling the truth about the luxury house they own and all that.  Of course they live opulently, I mean where do you think all that Donation Box money goes?  Sometimes he crashes E2 just to build up the pressure on us all.  He's also got a SlowMo program that he runs just to make us all squirm at the lag. He was bragging about all this stuff!

He instigates all these fights on E2 just for his personal amusement using the editorial staff as cannon fodder.  Totally reprehensible.  And I'm not even sure if Papa Bear is a *real* doctor or just Bone's "personal anesthesiologist," if you know what I mean.  The guy is really demented and it's hard to believe he's not tweaking on something.  All in all, it would be so much better if he'd just turn things over to Halspal and set E2 free of this weary Bones worship thing.

Poor Sally!  

Sally's a real hottie with a great personality and she seems very smart.  At first I thought she was with him just because of all that E2 money, but then I found out that they'd been going together since third grade or something.  She's one of those nice girls who mate for life and she had the bad luck to imprint on this total loser.  I was going to invite them down to Puerto Rico, but now I'm thinking 'no way.'  Maybe I'll ask Sally if she wants to come alone.  

Good Riddance

After making me a personal promise to be out of town at the crack of dawn, he was still in his jammies when I arrived to start hosing down the cottage at noon.  I'll tell you this, he's a harrowing sight when he first wakes up! Really scary.  I just sort of backed up slowly towards the door then fled.  I called the neighbors later to make sure the coast was clear, then came back to survey the damages.  The place looked like it had been colonized by a prepubescent heavy metal band and their hundred closest friends. Candy wrappers, popcorn, pizza boxes, malt liquor bottles, cigarette butts, AAA batteries and used condomsAck!  

After a quick look around I decided to just have a crew come and gut the place.  Anyway, when I was walking around the rubble, I saw this note scrawled on a paper towel and thought, cool, a thank you note, finally some normalcy.  But no, when I opened it up, all it had was this: "C!."  The arrogant runt had the temerity to Ching the vacation! On reflection, maybe it is a compliment after all.  I mean in the labyrinthine corridors of the Boney Brain, XP and Chings ARE real.

So, that's the whole sordid story.  I'm glad to get it off my chest and hope it serves as a cautionary tale to the rest of you.  If you see dem bones number pop up in your caller-ID, DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE. If he /msgs you, CHANGE TO A NEW ACCOUNT IMMEDIATELY.  And if you get a letter from him, CALL YOUR LAWYER.  

Oh yeah, and I did lie about one thing: his voice is all squeaky and thin...

PS.  If you see Sally, tell her I said "Hi!"
PPS, I put a copy of that stupid thank you note on my homenode so you can tell who's *really* telling the truth!

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