Just Another Effin' Observer

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Location: Huntsville, Texas, United States

Monday, January 31, 2005

Another Example of the European Model

I just ran across this item from the Telegraph of London (Hat Tip: The Corner):

If you don’t take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

This is just abso-bloody-freakin’-lutely amazing. Ronald Reagan’s statement that “government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem” has never been more true than in this situation.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit.


The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars.

Okay, let me see if I have this straight: the German government included "houses of ill repute" in its welfare-reform laws, because it was too difficult to tell the difference between a brothel and a bar? Now, I'll admit that it's been quite a few years since I've been to Germany, but I think even I can tell the difference between a bar and a brothel: for one thing, even if the brothel's bartender makes the most exquisite Ketel One Martini on the planet, that's not the reason you're there; and in a bar, your waitress is not on the menu.

The German government legalized –- and mainstreamed -- prostitution in 2002, ostensibly to curtail trafficking in women and help to combat organized crime. Now it appears that, thanks to the all-pervasive European welfare state, the government is now engaged in human trafficking -- through, of all things, extortion; i.e., if a person does not comply with the requirement to accept whatever job is offered (including prostitution), it will cut that person’s unemployment benefits.

Traditionally, when women have been forced into prostitution--what we used to call ‘white slavery’ -- law-enforcement agencies around the world were ready, willing and able to step up to fight it. Now, law-enforcement agencies -- in Germany, at least -- are stepping up to do the enslaving. Some would call this progress; fortunately, I don’t know any of them, and I don’t think I would want to.

Well, at least the second objective -- to combat organized crime -- may be achievable under the new German laws. Once the government starts to muscle in on the Mob’s business, the Mob doesn’t stand a chance.

UPDATE (7 FEB 2005): It turns out that this story is untrue. Which raises an interesting question (well, interesting to me, at any rate): Why did this story get such traction in the first place? Of course, the salaciousness of the whole premise -- government-coerced entry into prostitution, and all that -- was a factor, but even so..., why were so many people willing to believe it? Blogger Xrlq has an interesting hypothesis, and quite possibly captures a good part of the answer, but I cannot help but feel that something else is at play here. I suspect that anyone who has read Philip Howard's The Death of Common Sense can at least guess at the rest of it -- that hide-bound adherence to bureaucratic, regulatory "procedures", coupled with the inevitable atrophying of individual judgement and the all-pervasive Law of Unintended Consequences, will, almost by necessity, produce results that are not what the people who drafted these regulations intended, or even could imagine. In other words, the idea that a government regulatory regime could force a woman into prostitution, by threatening to withhold unemployment benefits if she doesn't comply, is just so plausible! It is exactly the kind of bone-headed nonsense that one would expect -- and, with astonishing regularity, witnesses -- from an over-reaching, politically-correct, government nanny-state mentality. It's almost a pity that the story isn't true.

The Rest of the Story...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

On The Local Front

A few items in the local paper (the Houston Chronicle)....

Looks like the Enron big-shots are going to have to face a Houston jury:
Despite their plea to be tried outside of Houston, a federal judge ruled today that the fate and future freedom of ex-Enron chieftains Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling will be put in the hands of a Houston-area jury.

The central issue here was that the two defendants expressed doubts that they could find an impartial jury in the Houston area; defense attorneys cited commissioned polls

... in which one-third of area residents surveyed associated [Skilling's] name with negatives like "pig," "snake," and "economic terrorist."
Was that a multiple-choice questionnaire, or did the respondents get to choose their own answers? And what other characterizations weren't on that list? Enquiring minds want to know.
That was about three times the percentage of people in Atlanta, Denver and Phoenix who came up with negative responses. Skilling suggested the judge move the case to those cities, and Causey also suggested New Orleans.

New Orleans? Hmmm. When's Mardi Gras, by the way?

Well, after this post, I seriously doubt that I'll be selected to sit on that jury.

Two questions arise from this item: 1) Why was this kid carrying a gun to school? and 2) Where were all those metal detectors that schools are installing these days, to prevent just this type of infiltration?

Well, at least in this case, the armed student chose the right target: himself. Sorry, libs, but I have a strict zero-tolerance attitude toward bringing firearms into schools: you don't. Period. There is only one conceivable reason why anyone would want to bring a gun to school, and that is to shoot someone. And that ain't allowed. (It is seriously detrimental to the other kid's self-esteem; any educational "expert" will tell you that.)

And if the kid ends up shooting himself, well, that's just a Darwinian self-correction: one down, several to go. (Although this idiot appears to have gotten off with a warning. Well, better luck next time.)

Every time I see something like this, I thank God for the State Legislature; were it not for that august body, people like state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (a Democrat, as if you hadn't already guessed) might have ended up in the corporate world where they could do some real damage. (See the first item, above, about Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. If those guys were U.S. Senators, for example, none of that Enron crap would have happened; it would have been the Federal budget they goobered up, and who would ever have noticed that?)

I have to close the paper now. The cynic-o-meter is pegging, big-time. Where's the crossword?

The Rest of the Story...

CBS - The 'Network' Network?

There's a major shakeup in the works for CBS News, according to the New York Times. CBS News chairman Les Moonves described some of the changes in the works as "revolutionary". Hell, I'd think just sticking to the facts would be revolutionary enough, but no, Les is aiming for bigger game.

The back-story:

As everyone with an Internet connection knows by now (with one startling exception, on which I am not at liberty to elaborate -- but if you're reading this, it's about damn time you jumped on the bandwagon!), CBS News has been in ratings- and credibility-freefall since early September, when anchor Dan Rather aired a story about President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service that turned out to be -- how can we put this delicately? -- less than authoritative. Oh, screw delicacy, it was a pack of frickin' lies, is what it was: forged documents, and breathtakingly amateurish forgeries at that, provided to the network by an "unimpeachable" source who turned out to be a barking moonbat with a grudge against the President, the whole package put together by a producer who had been chasing this particular Grail for five years with naught to show for it. It was the stuff of Pulitzers, at least of the Walter Duranty vintage; that is, until bloggers started picking at the seams, and then the whole fabric of the story started to unravel like a ten-dollar Hong Kong suit. Four people have been fired -- so far -- and Rather has announced his retirement from the anchor desk on March 9. Even CBS' own Dave Letterman has opened up with both barrels. Clearly, CBS News is in trouble, and something has to be done about it. But what?

That's where this story takes a sudden detour into the surreal:
But Mr. Moonves said he was looking to install something more "cutting edge" this time. As part of the overhaul he indicated he would even consider a role for Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "Daily Show." Mr. Stewart has emerged as both a late-night comedy star and a biting commentator on the news.
Can you say 'Howard Beale', boys and girls?

Then again, consideration of Jon Stewart for a slot on the CBS Evening News might be nothing more than a tacit acknowledgment that CBS' coverage of the news is a running joke, and Moonves is simply adapting to the reality of the situation. If so, he might want to keep one thought in mind as he ponders this prospect: Dennis Miller's brief (but not brief enough) stint on Monday Night Football. Bad karma.

In any event, it's starting to look like, no matter what direction they turn, CBS News is heading over a cliff.

Happy landings.

The Rest of the Story...

Bench Press?

From a recent editorial in the New York Times:
When the Senate battles fire up again over the merits of President Bush's nominees to the federal courts, the administration will have a surprising new partisan on its side, the National Association of Manufacturers, the powerful business lobby that heretofore has stayed out of such high-profile political fracases.
This should make things interesting. It's good to see that more people are starting to take judicial appointments seriously, which, to me at least, was one of the defining issues in the recent Presidential campaign. Heaven help us had Kerry won; we'd be faced with a Supreme Court that looked frighteningly similar to the Ninth Circuit -- with no higher court to overrule them. (The Ninth Circuit is the most frequently overruled court in the entire Federal system.)

Of course, the editorial makes clear where the Gray Lady stands in all of this -- firmly on the side of "do as I say now, not as I say on any other occasion." The last paragraph in the piece is positively breathtaking in its chutzpah:
In response, Big Labor and other liberal groups have begun talking of spending more on the judgeship fights. And that will further degrade a debate that should be about a nominee's merits, not the whose-side-are-you-on simplicities of feral politics. (Emphasis mine.)
And where was the NYT during the last four years, when Miguel Estrada, Pricilla Owen, Charles Pickering and William Pryor, to name but a few, were being sandbagged by Tom Daschle and the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee? Shoveling the sand, that's where.

The Rest of the Story...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Bonnie Prince Heinrich

Since I lack, for the moment, anything more substantive to write about, I thought I'd weigh in on the Prince Harry "Wardrobe Malfunction" flap.

Honestly, people, do we really have nothing better to talk about? Apparently I don't, so here goes.

Anyone who hasn't heard about this already should seriously consider getting a more reliable DSL provider; I swear, the story's been all over the Web for days. Anyway, here's the gist: Britain's Prince Harry, younger son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, third in line for the throne but destined for a tasty title in his own right -- a Dukedom, at least, but I couldn't begin to tell you which one -- was photographed at a "fancy dress" party (that's a costume party to the non-British, i.e., a masquerade) wearing a Nazi uniform. The politically-correct worldwide shit eggrolls.

Meanwhile, at the St. James Theatre, on West 44th Street in New York, audiences are seeing the exact same costume in nightly performances of The Producers, and laughing so hard over it that they're practically puking their Chicken Supreme of Sardi into the aisles.

Okay, I can concede that His Highness' taste in clothes is, well, somewhat questionable. I mean, he lives right down the road from Bond Street, so scoring some decent duds shouldn't be all that much of a problem; he shouldn't have to resort to shopping at an army-surplus store. (Although at the very least, he could be a bit choicier as to whose army.) And let's face it, the Nazis were a thoroughly nasty bunch, and not exactly a sterling role model for a Head-of-State-in-Waiting. But still....

Hasn't anyone ever heard of irony? Satire, even? Hell, the British practically freakin' invented satire, for pity's sake! Isn't it just remotely possible that Harry was "'avin' a bit of a larf"?

You know, it always strikes me as a bit, shall we say, inconsistent that a heavily-photographed Royal should get his ass chewed out over going out in public in a ridiculous outfit, but something like this doesn't even raise an eyebrow.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to take these people seriously anymore.

On a slightly tangential note, however, I did notice a brief item about this (I believe it was on The Corner, but I wasn't taking notes at the time) to the effect that, if the costume was intended to distract from the fact that Harry was holding a cigarette in that photo, then it was spectacularly successful. A cigarette? Hey, with any luck, Alfred Dunhill, Ltd. might just get the Royal Warrant back. Always look for the silver lining, that's my motto.

The Rest of the Story...

The "Are You A Barking Moonbat?" Quiz

John Hawkins at Right Wing News has posted a quiz for the "Reality-based Community". It's definitely worth checking out.

I am a long-standing sucker for quizzes, the dumber, the better. Not that this one is dumb, you understand; actually, the questions are, by and large, pretty incisive. It's just that I love quizzes. (The ones that show up every so often in the Enquirer -- and no, I flatly refuse to link to that online birdcage liner -- are especially fun. I particularly loved the "The Way You Attack A Salad Bar Reveals Your Personality" quiz. No, wait -- I actually made that one up as a joke, and sent it to them a number of years ago. They didn't publish it; I guess they saw through the gag. Okay, so maybe they're not complete nimrods.)

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to take the quiz here, on my own blog. I copied and pasted the questions, and set them in bold type; my answer follows each question.

1) Do you think a significant percentage of prominent Republicans would secretly like to see the US become a theocracy?
No. To the contrary, I think there is only a vanishingly-small percentage of Republicans, prominent or otherwise, who would have even the vaguest clue as to how to bring such a consequence about. An even more vanishingly-small percentage would even be so inclined. Indeed, the closest thing to a theocracy this country faces at this point in its history is a theocracy based on the Gospel According to... Liberalism.

2) Do you believe it was a mistake to go to war in Afghanistan?
No. I don't think it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq, either. And I don't think it would be a mistake to go to war in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or even France. We have refrained from kicking ass -- it doesn't particularly matter whose -- for too damn long.

3) In your opinion, is it a myth that American soldiers were spit on when they returned from Vietnam?
No. It was not a myth. Every news organization on the planet (CBS, ABC, NBC, AP, UPI, Reuters, etc.) has the photo archives and footage. They should, since they did most of the spitting.

4) Michael Moore's distribution group, Front Row Entertainment, received help marketing "Fahrenheit 9/11" in Lebanon from the terrorist group Hezbollah. Do you believe that was appropriate?
Yes. It was perfectly appropriate, considering that Michael Moore is probably a card-carrying member of Hezbollah.

5) Do you think you can be a patriotic American and support Iraq's anti-occupation resistance?
It depends on exactly who you mean by "anti-occupation resistance". If you mean the people in Iraq who are saying, "Okay, you've done your job, we'll take it from here. You can go home now," then yes, it is possible. If, on the other hand, you are referring to those whack-jobs who are cutting people's heads off and blowing up everyone else in a fifty-yard radius, trying to derail Iraq's upcoming elections, then I don't see how anyone could reconcile those two positions.

6) Do you think there is a significant chance that the capture of Saddam Hussein was timed to help George Bush politically?
No. Some things are simply fortuitous; they happen when they happen. This was one.

7) In your opinion, is there a significant chance that Diebold is rigging elections in order to help the GOP?
No, but anything that helps to offset the Democrats' graveyard/homeless-wino vote cannot be an altogether bad thing.

8) Is George Bush more "evil" than Saddam Hussein?
No. This is a trick question, right? Can anybody be that frickin' stupid? George Bush never fed anyone feet-first into an industrial plastic shredder, did he? I mean, I'm sure I would have seen it on the news if he had, right? Ask Dan Rather; he'd know.

9) In your opinion, is there a significant chance that Republicans rigged some of the Senate races in 2002?
With better candidates, better positions on the issues, more effective GOTV efforts...? I know a few leftists who might call that "rigging" the election. As for myself..., no.

10) Was Ingrid Newkirk right when she said, "There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They're all mammals"?
Ingrid Newkirk is a 24/7 idiot. She is never right about anything. Ever.

11) Is there any nation in the world that's more of a force for good than the United States?
Not in the last 80 years or so, no. In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to nominate a candidate from before that time, as well.

12) In your opinion, is the US a "stingy" country?
Another trick question, right? The American people are the most supremely generous people who have ever lived. We are blessed in so many ways, and we rejoice in sharing those blessings. We don't even particularly care who receives those blessings. (We would appreciate a polite -- and sincere -- 'Thank you' now and then, however....)

13) Is there a significant chance that America will become a fascist state in let's say the next 10 years?
Only if the Left takes over the reins of government. Then all bets are off.

14) Do you think there's a significant possibility that liberals will be rounded up and put into some sort of camps in let's say the next 10 years?
I don't see it happening, but it's a nice fantasy.

15) Is America an imperialist nation in your opinion?
An "imperialist nation" -- no. An "imperial power" -- yes. And it's high time we acknowledged that reality and started to act like one.

16) Do you think "losing" in Vietnam was good for America?
No, on a number of levels. 1) It caused the world's tyrants and thugs to stop taking us seriously; 2) It made us too risk-averse to be effective in the world's dust-ups for far too long; 3) It convinced the Left that they were right -- and they were not right then, and they are not right now.

17) Are you sometimes ashamed to be an American?
Never. To the contrary, I'm a flag-waving, anthem-singing, hat-doffing, hand-over-the-heart, utterly unrepentant American, and if you have a problem with that, Francois, then -- what's French for "I wish Eisenhower had landed in Belgium"?

18) Do you think it's wrong for the President to put the welfare of Americans ahead of the welfare of people in other countries?
Certainly not; that's his job, for God's sake! He is, after all, the President of the United States. Or didn't you get that memo?

19) Do you see significant, noteworthy, parallels between America and Nazi Germany?
Yes, but not in the way you think. I recommend that you pick up a copy of The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff; it will scare the crap out of you, even if it is a bit dated.

20) In your opinion, was Iraq primarily a "war for oil"?
No. Iraq was, in my view, a war to put the fear of God into a bunch of Middle-East despots and thugs -- and if it convinces the Euro-weenies to be a bit more circumspect around us, then so much the better.

21) What about Afghanistan? Was that primarily a "war for oil" as well?
No, that was vengeance, pure and simple. With a little "Thou shalt not fuck with a superpower" thrown in for good measure.

22) Do you think it's likely a draft will be declared by the end of George Bush's term?
A draft ain't gonna happen. And may I point out that the only ones who actually introduced legislation in Congress to reinstate the draft were... Democrats.

23) Do you think Iraq was preordained and planned before 9/11 ever took place?
Probably. At least since 1998, when Congress passed, and then-President Clinton signed, a resolution making "regime change" in Iraq official U.S. policy.

24) In your opinion, is sleep deprivation a form of torture?
A college student cramming for finals probably doesn't think so; a college student trying to sit through a three-hour lecture the morning after an all-night kegger might.

25) Would you prefer that we lose in Iraq?
No. On the contrary, I think we should prosecute the war far more aggressively than we now are.

26) Do you believe anyone who goes to Afghanistan or Iraq as a soldier is fighting for an evil cause under an evil commander in chief?

27) Was Michael Moore correct when he said, "There is no terrorist threat in this country. This is a lie?"
Two-part answer: 1) Micahel Moore is an idiot; 2) Michael wasn't in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001; I was. Trust me, there is a terrorist threat. I saw it from my office window.

28) Is there in your opinion a significant chance that the Bush administration either was behind 9/11 or knew it was coming and allowed it to happened?
No and No.

29) Do you think there is a significant possibility that the Bush administration had a hand in Paul Wellstone's death?
No. Now, if you asked if I thought there was a possibility that Hillary Clinton had a hand in Vince Foster's death, again I would say 'No'. I do, however, think there is a possibility that White House staffers, under Hillary's instruction, moved Foster's body from his office, and tidied up afterward. (Why else would they keep the police out of his office for so long? What were they doing in there? Cleaning the carpet, perhaps?)

30) Do you believe that somebody rigged the vote in Ohio during the 2004 Presidential election?
No, but you can't blame the Kerry campaign for trying. Well, actually, I guess you could, the incompetent boobs.

31) In your opinion, do you think there is a significant chance that the Bush administration was behind the anthrax letters that were mailed out to some members of the media and US Senate?
No. No-one in the Bush Administration writes that sloppily. (Check out the addresses on those letters. A four-year-old with carpal-tunnel has better penmanship!)

32) Had George Bush lost the election, do you believe there was a significant chance Republicans would have thrown a coup?
No. Republicans may not be particularly graceful losers, but when they lose, they at least recognize that fact and accept it. (Let's see just one Democrat try that shtick.) I don't even think the Republicans would have pulled Barbara Boxer's silly-ass stunt.

33) Do you believe there's a significant chance that Karl Rove or someone else in the Bush administration had something to do with the last minute appearance of the Bin Laden tape right before the Nov. 2nd election?
No. I think bin Laden did this on his own, in a desperate effort to make himself relevant again. Hey, that al-Zarqawi scumbag was hogging all his press; he had to do something.

34) Do you believe comparisons of George Bush to Hitler are appropriate?
Comparisons of Bush to Hitler are not only ludicrous, they vividly illustrate a person with no sense of perspective, an abysmal ignorance of history, and an all-around -- here I go again -- idiot.

35) Do you think Communism could work if the right people were running it?
Communism cannot work, no matter who is running it. That is its fundamental problem: someone has to run it; because the people, acting according to their nature as rational (nod to Ingrid Newkirk) animals, will always act in their own self-interest, with survival as their primary objective. They will never, in the absence of coersion, sacrifice their own self-interest to the interests of others. (And to pre-empt that old canard about a father -- or mother -- sacrificing his/her life for a child, the survival of a child is in the parents' self-interest, you ignorant twit, both culturally and genetically. So there.)

36) Do you believe that black Americans who support and vote Republican are betraying their race?
On the contrary, I believe that black (or any other ethnic) Americans who insist that black (or any other ethnic) Americans who vote Republican are betraying their race are the ones doing the betraying.

37) Do you think people who say Al-Qaeda doesn't exist are right?
Thanks to Bush and the military, they are closer to being right than ever before, and getting unrelentingly closer. This, I would argue, is a Good Thing.

38) Are the insurgents in Iraq roughly comparable to Americans who fought against the British in your opinion?
Not even close. The Revolutionists of 1775-1781 were fighting for independence; they were fighting to create a new country. The "insurgents", on the other hand, are fighting to create chaos. Where, pray tell, is the "insurgents'" Declaration of Independence?

39) Do you believe Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur was correct when she said, "One could say that Osama bin Laden and these non-nation-state fighters with religious purpose are very similar to those kind of atypical revolutionaries that helped to cast off the British crown"?
I believe that Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur's constituents need to stop voting by reflex; this woman is an idiot. (I do seem to love that word, don't I?)

40) Do you believe there's a significant chance that the US Government knows where Bin Laden is and is deliberately allowing him to remain free?
Does the government know where he is? It's possible. Is the government deliberately allowing him to remain free? Not bloody likely. Unless you subscribe to the belief that, if we do reel him in, a large portion of the American populace will say, "Okay, we got him. War's over. We won. Stand down." So let me amend that last answer: not likely, but possible. For the aforementioned reason -- because that "unless" is entirely too possible. Unfortunately.

Hope I get an A.

The Rest of the Story...

Monday, January 17, 2005

Where I'm Coming From

Okay, I think it's necessary that you should all know exactly what my 'take' is on the topics I'll be discussing in this blog. So I'm going to post an essay I wrote a little over a year ago, by way of explanation.

When I wrote this, it was never really intended for public consumption; it was meant as more of a palliative, a self-therapy, if you will. It described a day in my life that started so great, and ended so badly. I call it:


It was a breathtakingly beautiful Indian summer morning. Not a cloud in the sky, and just the merest hint of the approaching autumn: a crispness in the air, not quite summer anymore, but not quite fall yet, either.

The bus trip into Manhattan was swift and uneventful. We breezed through the Lincoln Tunnel, and arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal well ahead of schedule. From there, the stroll down the concourse to the Times Square subway station was, well, if I had to choose a word for it, ordinary. The subway musicians were at their usual posts. There was the little old Korean guy, playing an absolutely horrendous rendition of Beethoven's Ninth, on a traditional Korean instrument perched on his knee, its single catgut string sounding like it was still attached to the cat. I speculated (not for the first time) that that rumbling I felt under my feet was not the uptown A train rolling up to the platform under the Port Authority; it was Beethoven spinning in his grave. The black spiritual singer was belting them out as enthusiastically as ever, accompanying himself on an electronic keyboard, whose power source I had never been able to locate. This morning was no exception; where that thing got its juice from remained an impenetrable mystery. There was the harmonica player, who only knew how to play one note; the violin player had learned a new one, bringing his total to four. The accordionist was, mercifully, absent that morning. I swear, if I have to hear Lady of Spain one more time.... The bums were cadging change on the subway platforms, as always.

I watched two young women on the R train as it rumbled downtown, drama majors at NYU, I suspected; they had a certain 'never been to Bergdorf's, never will' look about them. New York is probably home to the highest concentration of mortified parents in the Northern Hemisphere; here was proof. What grabbed my attention about these two was the fact that one of them had red hair. Not naturally red hair, or even any shade of deliberately-dyed red hair; this was painted hair, almost fuscia in color. That, plus the fact that they sat beside each other on the train, literally grooming each other, exactly like you would see in the Primate House at the Bronx Zoo. I couldn't help myself. I laughed out loud. The man standing next to me asked what was so funny. I pointed to the two girls, and said, "Everyone told me that this city is a zoo, but I always thought that was just a figure of speech!" He started laughing, too. We were still laughing when I got off the train at Prince Street.

Coming out of the subway station, and crossing Broadway, I entered Dean & Deluca's espresso bar. The guy behind the counter knew me, and he knew what I wanted: large coffee, black, and two croissants. It's good to be predictable. I walked down the block to Spring Street, crossed at the light, and stopped in front of my building. I set my bag of croissants on a narrow ledge in the masonry, fired up a Dunhill, and leaned against the wall of the building, sipping my coffee and bracing myself for a very busy day. It was just after 8:45 in the morning.

What the hell was that? A loud boom, reverberating through the streets of lower Manhattan, with no discernable source. I didn't think much of it; sudden, loud noises in the City were not at all unusual, even though this one was louder than any I had ever heard before.

Then I spotted The Suit. He crossed Spring Street, heading down Broadway, outfitted in typical Suit regalia: attaché case in one hand, cell phone pasted to his ear in the other. Getting the deal closed before he got to the office; time is money, and there was never as much of the one as he needed, never as much of the other as he wanted. Then he stopped, almost directly in front of me, looked up and said, "Holy shit!" Not into the phone, not to anyone in particular. Just an observation, and a reaction. I couldn't see what the Suit was staring at. A large banner, advertising the trendy Soho boutique next door, hung from a standard that extended over the sidewalk, blocking my view of the downtown skyline. I pinched out the butt, gathered up my pastries, and went into the building, up to my office on the eighth floor.

To call it an office was, perhaps, overly generous; it was an alcove in a hundred-year-old building, with two cubicles shoehorned into it. But it had one feature that most cubicles do not have; it had a window. The window faced south, overlooking an alley, and it offered a magnificent view of the Twin Towers. Every day, gazing out that window into the alley below, I always halfway expected to see Lucy and Ethel gossiping on the fire escape. On this day, however, when I arrived at my desk, I saw through the window a plume of thick black smoke streaming from the North Tower and over the East River, billowing from a blackened gash in the side of the building. Paper, thousands of sheets of paper, fluttered in the air above the Financial District, reminiscent of a ticker-tape parade down Broadway. Well, this was definitely Broadway, but this sure as hell weren't no ticker-tape parade. What the hell was going on?

I pointed the Web browser to CNN. 'Plane hits World Trade Center' was the headline. That was pretty much all I was going to get from CNN that day; all subsequent re-queries of the page -- of any page -- returned a 404 error: 'The requested page could not be found.' The 'Net was down.

Other people who worked on my floor had started to gather in my cubicle. Naturally; I had the view. There was rampant speculation, but no one actually knew anything.

Then, as I watched, a huge fireball erupted from the South Tower. I never heard the explosion that must have accompanied it; there is a limit to what our senses can absorb, and the sound could not get past the image. But I vividly recall watching that ball of fire expand, in slow motion, frame by frame, like a stop-action video. And then, from a radio on the ninth floor, we heard what was actually happening, what we all, by then, knew.

For some inexplicable reason, mine was the only phone that was working on that floor, so I gave up my cube as the de facto communication center. A friend called me from Austin. She just needed to hear my voice, she said. I assured her that I was fine, that we were miles away from the scene. (It was actually less than one mile, but she didn't need to know that.)

A woman who worked on my floor, whose father worked in the South Tower, tried repeatedly to get in touch with him, to no avail. Then, at a little before ten o'clock, she stood beside me as we watched the top of the South Tower heel to the left, slide sideways, and then the entire building crumbled in a cloud of dust. She gripped my arm, tight; it was three weeks before the bruises finally faded. I never learned her name, but I did learn, several days later, that her father had escaped.

A few minutes later, we were ordered to evacuate the building.

On the street below, the building authorities realized that the only thing they had done was to put several hundred people in the way of the rescue efforts, so the evacuation order was rescinded. Most of us complied, if only to get out of the way of the fire trucks, police cars and ambulances racing down Broadway, and the masses of people streaming in the opposite direction. While we were trudging up the stairs to our offices, the North Tower collapsed. The word went out again: not an evacuation this time, business operations were suspended until further notice. New York City was closed.

There were about a dozen of us in my work-group, and all but one -- me -- lived in Brooklyn. They decided to set off as a group, across the Brooklyn Bridge to their respective homes. They raided the vending machines in the break room, pooling their change and stashing provisions into knapsacks; screw the Cokes and Skittles, they were after bottled water and Power Bars. They pleaded with me to come with them; they didn't think it was a good idea for me to be on my own in the chaos of a city under attack. I assured them that I would be okay; it was only about five miles to the Port Authority, I told them, and if there was any way across the river to Jersey, that was where I would find it. They accepted my decision, reluctantly and not without argument, but we parted company on the street outside the building. We kept each other in sight for as long as possible, looking over our shoulders, until we lost each other in the crowds.

Subway operations were suspended, and buses and taxis had been commandeered to transport the injured to area hospitals. So I walked. Up Broadway, through Union Square, past Madison Square Park, Macy's, the Garden, Penn Station, to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, with every step repeating a single mantra to myself: Don't look back. I knew what I would see if I did, and more painfully, what I wouldn't see, what I would never see again. But what I did see were the Faces. Some numb with shock, others contorted by grief, still others burning with anger and rage. Keep moving, keep walking, the voice in my head kept repeating. And don't look back. I kept walking. I didn't look back.

The Bus Terminal was closed; so were the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, and all of the major bridges. There was a six-hour wait for the ferries crossing the Hudson River. No place to go, and no way to get there, but still I kept walking. An advertisement, on the side of a building on 8th Avenue, across from the Bus Terminal, promoted Target Stores; it was a twist on the 'I-Heart-NY' graphic, with the heart replaced by Target's bulls-eye logo. 'I target New York.' The whimsical had turned macabre. I felt sick to my stomach; I turned away, and kept walking. Night fell, and I kept walking. A local news broadcast flickered on a marquee on 42nd Street, across from a movie theater, playing the images of the morning over and over. Hundreds of people stood on the sidewalks, watching. I couldn't bring myself to see it again -- once was quite enough for me -- so I kept walking. Finally, a Port Authority Police officer directed me to Penn Station; New Jersey Transit had resumed train service, outbound only, to Newark. I started walking again; only this time, I had a destination.

Track Three, the ticket agent at Penn Station told me. Where do I get a ticket? All the ticket windows were closed. He shook his head; Track Three, he repeated. I boarded the train, found a seat. The doors closed, the train started moving, and for the first time in what seemed an eternity, I no longer needed to.

I arrived at Newark's Penn Station at a little after ten o'clock that night. From there, I spent over an hour in a taxi, circumnavigating the road closures, to get me to the only place I wanted to be at that moment: my neighborhood hangout, a place called Harold's, in Lyndhurst. Since eleven o'clock that morning, I had been alone, utterly alone, in a city of eight million people. I didn't want to be alone anymore. At Harold's, I knew I wouldn't be.

By the time I got there, it was nearly closing time. But they were waiting for me. I had been coming to this place for years, and they knew me well; the bartender had a Martini in front of me before I sat down. I downed it in less than five minutes, a drink that I normally would nurse for the better part of an hour. I asked for another; it was already in the shaker, waiting for me. By now, it was approaching midnight, time to get home. I tried to settle my tab. Not tonight, the bartender said. Go home, get some rest; you look beat. I took a cab back to my hotel.

I was finally home. I was finally safe. (Well, as safe as anyone could pretend to be that day.)

I finally had time to cry.

The Rest of the Story...

JAFO: An Introductory

"You should start a blog. I'll bet you'd get a lot of hits."

That's what a Web site editor e-mailed to me when she rejected (conditionally, in her defense) an article I wrote for her site, about -- of all things -- love-bugs. (I'll explain later, but only on request.) Well, as they say, 'Be careful what you wish for....'

I must confess that I had second thoughts about even starting this blog. After reading the kind of bilge that Michelle Malkin has to put up with on a daily basis, I spent a great many hours asking myself, "Who needs this shit!?" But then I decided, "Hey, if Michelle has the balls to tolerate this spewage, then so damn-flippin'-well do I!"

In the 1983 John Badham movie Blue Thunder (John Badham directed; Roy Scheider starred), one of the characters is called ‘JAFO’, for “Just Another Fucking Observer”. Well, that’s me. With this post, followed by a couple of rants on some of the hot-button issues of the day, I hereby inaugurate my blog, appropriately titled ‘JAFO’. Because that is precisely what I am: Just Another Fucking Observer.

The introduction of a new weblog invariably prompts the usual quorum of reactions, mostly on the order of, “Geez, like we aren’t up to our armpits in these things already?” Now, I can’t promise that my blog will be significantly different, or qualitatively better, than the six-hundred-and-seventy-two kazillion blogs already floating about in cyberspace. But it will be mine, and that should make it unique, after a fashion, if nothing else.

A former manager (not mine, actually, but I worked closely with her department as part of my responsibilities toward my signature project) once told her staff: “If you don’t piss off at least one person in the course of your day, then you’re not doing your job.” I have taken that little snippet of smart-assed wisdom to heart, and have incorporated it into virtually every aspect of my life. Thus I think I can safely promise that, in the entries I shall make on this site, people will be pissed off. Some will be pissed on. (Figuratively speaking, of course; I’m not into that kinky-sex scene. In point of fact, I’m not particularly into sex at all. I figure that if God had meant for us to enjoy sex, He wouldn’t have made it sticky.) Oxen will be gored. Sacred cows will be rendered into mouth-watering Prime Rib. (With the obligatory horseradish sauce, and gently-steamed asparagus spears with Hollandaise. Washed down by a particularly saucy Pinot Noir.)

Hopefully, some of my observations will strike a responsive chord, and prompt lively (civil would also be nice, but I ain’t holding my breath!) debate. It is entirely possible that some people may even actually agree with me. (As Bloody Mary said in South Pacific, “You gotta have a dream….”)

What are you likely to find in these pages? The usual bloggy crap: long-winded pontifications about this and sundry; short, pithy commentary in re some of the more moronic news items I run across; pointless ramblings about whatever gets my delicates in a twist; the obligatory, massive ego-stroking; links to other, more reputable, blogs, mostly in hopes that those more-reputable blogs will link back to mine, thus driving up my hit-count; occasionally some tit-shot JPEGs and fart jokes. You know, S.S.D.URL.

What you will not find is: any reference whatsoever to cats. I hate cats. I am allergic to cats. And the musical sucked harder than a Hoover. (The vacuum cleaner, I mean, not J. Edgar. Although rumors abound….) I will, therefore, from this point forward, decline to write another word about cats, mine (which I don’t have) or anyone else’s. Let me qualify that a bit: I will write nothing about cats that does not convey, in the most vivid terms, my utter disdain for those hairy, dander-poofing, furball-hocking, cosmically self-absorbed little beasts who, like the Alderaan wing of the Democratic Party, can't seem to get it through their heads that the sun has, in fact, finally set upon their imaginary empire.

And so, without further ado…, on with the blog.

The Rest of the Story...