The Town Scryer is a mixed bag of humor, socio-political observations and ephemera from the perspective of a eclectic Pagan veteran of the counter-culture.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Libya the Tattooed Lady

      Today's New York Times reports that the no-boots-on-the-ground no-fly zone military action in Lybia now includes CIA agents coordinating with Libyan rebels so as to better assist them with tactical air support. British MI6 agents are acting in a similar capacity.

     During the Viet Nam era these were called "military advisers". That worked out just fine, didn't it? See? Nothing to worry about. It will be over in just a few days.

     The McClatchy news service is featuring a story with the headline, "Libyan Leader Spent Much of Past 20 Years in Suburban Virginia". I am sure there are plenty of other suburbs in Virginia besides Langley. Probably just a coincidence. The Libyan leader in question has the unfortunate last name of Hifter which only looks like an invitation to invoke Godwin's law.

    More irony as it develops. 

     Be seeing you

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

This Is Why I Don't Laugh At PETA

A video of [a slow loris] being tickled has gained more than six million views. A new clip, posted this month, in which a loris clutches a cocktail umbrella, has been viewed two million times...

    From "The Independent":

Poachers steal infant lorises from their parents in the wild to sell at open-air markets in Indonesia, where they are traded for as little as £10.
The export market is most lucrative in Japan, where lorises stolen to order sell for £3,500. The trade is now expanding into the US and Europe, with illegally smuggled lorises reported in the United Kingdom.
But many do not survive the journey. "The only reason the loris isn't biting the person holding it in the video is because it has had its teeth ripped out with pliers," said Chris Shepherd of Traffic Southeast Asia, which campaigns against the trade in primates.
The teeth are removed because the loris, listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, can deliver a toxic bite. Mr Shepherd said: "The creature is then effectively doomed because of infection. Most don't last very long after that."

 Dr Nekaris said the loris in the umbrella video had suffered a head wound, most likely caused by being transported in a cage. Although the creature may look happy, it submits to being tickled as a passive defence-mechanism to deal with stress.

The loris is a nocturnal animal and is effectively being blinded by the daylight in the videos. Disoriented, it grasps at the umbrella believing it is the bamboo of its natural terrain.

Fear, In a Handful of Dust

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,  25
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
                                          "The Waste Land" T.S.Eliot

"Kidd of Speed" Is the chronicle of a young Ukrainian woman's motorcycle journeys through the dead zone near the tomb of the Chernobyl reactor. As the daughter of a Ukrainian nuclear physicist, she says that she is carefully operating within safe limits as she twists the tail of the dragon. I suspect that one day her cumulative whole body dose will catch up with her, but at least she is making an informed decision. What follows are a few short excerpts from her amazing. and chilling travelogue through the surreal wasteland. 

"My dad used to say that people are afraid of a deadly thing which they can not see, can not feel and can not smell. Maybe that is because those words are a good description of death itself."

"As we pass the 86th kilometer, we encounter a giant egg - which marks the point where civilization as we know it ends - and the Chernobyl ride begins.
Someone brought the egg from Germany. It represents LIFE breaking through the hard shell of the unknown. I am not sure if this symbolism is encouraging or not. Either way, it makes people think, and for us this is our last chance to stock up on edible food, drinkable water and uncontaminated fuel. Our journey from here is a gradually darkening picture of deserted towns, empty villages and dead farms.."

"This old man lives in the Chernobyl area. He is one of 3.500 people that either refused to leave or returned to their villages after the meltdown in 1986. I admire those people, because each of them is a philosopher in their own way. When you ask if they are afraid, they say that they would rather die at home from radiation, than die in an unfamiliar place of home-sickness. They eat food from their own gardens, drink the milk of their cows and claim that they are healthy.....but the old man is one of only 400 that have survived this long. He may soon join his 3,100 neighbors that rest eternally in the earth of their beloved homes. It appears that the people with the most courage were the first to die here. Maybe that is true everywhere."

"As I pass through the check point, I feel that I have entered an unreal world. In the dead zone, the silence of the villages, roads, and woods seem to tell something at me....something that I strain to hear....something that attracts and repels me both at the same time. It is divinely eerie - like stepping into that Salvador Dali painting with the dripping clocks."

"Usually, on this leg of the journey, a beeping geiger counter inspires to shift into high gear and streak through the area with great haste. The patch of trees in front of me is called red - or 'magic" wood. In 1986, this wood glowed red with radiation. They cut them down and buried them under 1 meter of earth.
The readings on the asphalt paving is 500 -3000 microroentgens, depending upon where you stand. That is 50 to 300 times the radiation of a normal environment. If I step 10 meters forward, geiger counter will run off the scale. If I walk a few hundred meters towards the reactor, the radiation is 3 roentgens per hour - which is 300,000 times normal. If I was to keep walking all the way to the reactor, I would glow in the dark tonight. Maybe this is why they call it magic wood. It is sort of magical when one walks in with biker's leather and walks out like a knight in a shining armor."

Read the rest of her story at the link.  We owe it to the dead.

According to Neil Gaiman's Journal, the author actually took the trip by car and there are many factual errors. I am leaving the post because I admire the poetry of the narrative and because the pictures are still real. Here is a link to Neil Gaiman's journal:

Be seeing you.

Monday, March 28, 2011

An Open Letter From an Old School Liberal... the New Militant Atheists.


     I understand what it is like to be in the minority. Really I do. You want to lash out at the people who refuse to acknowledge you. It is so very easy to over-generalize. I've been there.

     Here's the problem: It's OK to mock hypocrisy. It is even laudable. Likewise, I have no issue at all with you mocking people who want to make their dogma into the law for everyone. Go to it with my blessing. I do take issue however, with mocking other people's beliefs in general, in the mocking of all Christians, or Moslems or Buddhists. 

    The history of the Progressive movement in America is not the history of politically active atheists. There have been a lot of atheists and agnostics in the leadership I am sure, but without the thousands of Baptists and Methodists and Quakers who faced tear gas and nightsticks and dogs and sometimes guns there never would have been a civil rights movement or an anti-war movement in the 50s and 60s. I first learned of the anti-war group that I joined in 1968 from a flyer I found at the local Council of Churches building. If you want to find out where the action is with the Liberal causes in your city, the best place to go is still the Unitarian Universalist Church or the American Friends Service Committee (the service arm of the Quakers).

     If you alienate these people you are insuring that the fundamentalist and Dominionists faction of Christianity will get its way.

      You will be just another part of the problem, not the solution.

      Be seeing you.

Welcome to Chernobyl

More photos at The Atlantic:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

And So it Goes

   Some times I will read a short article in the paper and the underlying tragedy and drama behind the simple facts  conveyed there will peek out from behind the dry prose, reach out and clutch at my heart. The following story is such a case. It tells of a young woman who was born in my home town. I may well have seen her in the Sacramento Ballet as a child. She overcame unbelievable obstacles and had succeeded as an actress, only to die too young through a chance mis-step. The excerpts are from The San Francisco Chronicle:

     "Ms. Serafin's health had suffered another setback. With her kidneys failing, she had a double organ transplant at the University of Minnesota, receiving a kidney from her brother, Ryan Serafin of Portland, Ore., and a pancreas from another donor.
The transplant rejuvenated her, her father said. Five weeks after the operation, she and Brooks opened in the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," receiving rave reviews."

     After all this and more, ten days ago she went out on the fire escape for some air, slipped and fell three stories, yesterday she died of her injuries. 

     I feel cheated today. I would have liked to have seen her perform as an adult. Yet the small and the mean and the petty thrive. Indeed, they flourish.

    And so it goes.

    Take a moment and read her story.

    Be seeing you.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Some Folks Collect the Strangest Things (probably NSFW)

Even though Iceland has a smaller population than most big American cities, it is home to The Icelandic Phallological Museum, which boasts the worlds largest, and probably only, collection of well...penises. Every species of mammal native to Iceland is on display  and many from other nations as well, from the sperm whale to the lowly hamster. There is no human specimen as of yet, however. Recently Iceland's economy was very nearly destroyed by a few corrupt bankers. Unlike America, Iceland is prosecuting their bankers. 

If I were them, I would be nervous.

Be seeing you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Most Domestic Terrorists Aren't Moslem...

...They aren't even Arabs.

July 2008: A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how "liberals" are "destroying America," walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.

October 2008: Two neo-Nazis are arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder dozens of African-Americans, culminating in the assassination of President Obama.

December 2008: A pair of "Patriot" movement radicals -- the father-son team of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who wanted "to attack the political infrastructure" -- threaten a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, with a bomb in the hopes of extorting money that would end their financial difficulties, for which they blamed the government. Instead, thebomb goes off and kills two police officers. The men eventually are convicted andsentenced to death for the crime.

December 2008: In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear "dirty bomb" in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.

January 2009: A white supremacist named Keith Luke embarks on a killing rampage in Brockton, Mass., raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police as he is en route to a Jewish community center.

February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material.

April 2009: A white supremacist named Richard Poplawski opens fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who come to his house on a domestic-violence call and kills all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens like himself. Poplawski is currently awaiting trial.

April 2009: Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, similarly fearful of Obama's purported gun-grabbing plans, kills two deputies when they come to arrest him in a domestic-violence matter, then is killed himself in a shootout with police.

May 2009: A "sovereign citizen" named Scott Roeder walks into a church in Wichita, Kansas, and assassinates abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

June 2009: A Holocaust denier and right-wing tax protester named James Von Brunn opens fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.

February 2010: An angry tax protester named Joseph Ray Stack flies an airplane into the building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas. (Media are reluctant to label this one "domestic terrorism" too.)

March 2010: Seven militiamen from the Hutaree Militia in Michigan and Ohio are arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate local police officers with the intent of sparking a new civil war.

March 2010: An anti-government extremist named John Patrick Bedell walks into the Pentagon and opens fire, wounding two officers before he is himself shot dead.

May 2010: A "sovereign citizen" from Georgia is arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse.

May 2010: A still-unidentified white man walks into a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque and sets it afire, simultaneously setting off a pipe bomb.

May 2010: Two "sovereign citizens" named Jerry and Joe Kane gun down two police officers who pull them over for a traffic violation, and then wound two more officers in a shootout in which both of them are eventually killed.

July 2010: An agitated right-winger and convict named Byron Williams loads up on weapons and drives to the Bay Area intent on attacking the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, but is intercepted by state patrolmen and engages them in a shootout and armed standoff in which two officers and Williams are wounded.

September 2010: A Concord, N.C., man is arrested and charged with plotting to blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic. The man, 26-year--old Justin Carl Moose, referred to himself as the "Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden” in a taped undercover meeting with a federal informant. 

GOP Vision For America?

The above is a photo of children sorting coal in Pennsylvania in 1895. The Republican Party in Missouri introduced a bill to repeal child labor laws in February of this year. Evidently this is their vision of "The good old days".

Be seeing you

Photo source:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why They Hate Us

    From Der Spiegel:

   The suspects are accused of having killed civilians for no reason and then of trying to make it look as though the killings had been acts of self-defense.

    Adam Winfield, 21, described the incident to his father in a chat on the social networking site Facebook. "They made it look like the guy threw a grenade at them and mowed him down,"

    The full article, including some very disturbing photos of soldiers posing with the dead as though with a trophy, at:,1518,752310,00.html

    This act alone will recruit dozens to take up arms against American and NATO troops. The court martial must  be swift and public or a bad situation will become still worse.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Note to the CEO of BP

    This is what you are supposed to look like when your production facility contaminates half a state. Even though he has an earthquake and a tidal wave to blame, he has remorse and honest-to-God tears. This goes down with the consumer far better than arrogance and hubris.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Chronicle of Lazarus

 "And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter." (Revelation 8:10, 11 )

    "Chernobyl" means "wormwood" in Ukrainian according to Fredrick Pohl in his book "Chernobyl

    It is a little after 5AM. I woke up a little while ago. While surfing the web for news of the reactor accidents in Japan I came across these video clips. The first is the last film of Vladimir Shevchenko. He literally died making it.

  The next two include interviews with survivors of the "bio-robot" crew.

   Thousands of men paid with years of their lives for the foolish mistakes of others. Some paid with all of the years they had. The footage of the men reading the newspaper in the bus on their morning commute to hell will be with me for a long time.

   I am going to try to stay awake for a while. I don't want to sleep just now.

    I might dream.

    ``I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all''--

    T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Deathwatch, With Strontium 90

...another angel
    approached me.
This one was quietly but appropriately dressed in cellophane, synthetic
    rubber and stainless steel,
But his mask was the blind mask of Ares, snouted for gasmasks.
He was neither soldier, sailor, farmer, dictator, nor munitions-manufacturer.
Nor did he have much conversation, except to say,
"You will not be saved by General Motors or the prefabricated house.
You will not be saved by dialectic materialism or the Lambeth Conference.
You will not be saved by Vitamin D or the expanding universe.
In Fact, you will not be saved."
In his hand was a woven, wire basket, full of seeds, small metallic and
    shining like the seeds of portulaca;
Where he sowed them, the green vine withered, and the smoke and
    armies sprang up.

Nightmare, With Angels- Steven Vincent Benet 

      I have become an Al Jazeera  junkie. I keep watching, waiting for some good news and knowing damn well that they are putting a good face on it so the people don't panic and that the whole thing has gone pear-shaped, but still I watch. I sit in front of my monitor and watch as a row of nuclear power plants explode at the rate of one per day and each time the assurances get a little more feeble until finally, this evening, it is announced that the radiation was briefly so intense outside of the plant that they had to pull the workers out for 45 minutes before they let the poor bastards back in to try to stop four reactors that had no power to cool the cores from melting into a molten glowing nightmare in  Cherenkov blue. I watch and I think of the myth of Sisyphus rolling the immense weight up the hill only to watch it roll back down, over and over to the end of time.

     And so I watch and wait. In a day or two unless some very tired engineers can pull off a miracle, I will e-mail a friend in Alaska and suggest that she switch to condensed milk for about a year. 

     In a week there will be Congressional hearings on reactor safety. The committee's recommendations will be watered down by the House majority before it comes to a floor vote and we will all be told that we are safe and that if we ever want to break our addiction to foreign oil, we have to rely on some nuclear power. We will go back to the way it was.

     In a decade or so it will happen again. 

     I am not saying that reactors cannot be made acceptably safe. I am saying that any design that requires that a water pumping system work 100% of the time, even when the system isn't running, to prevent catastrophic failure is not an acceptable design. It is guaranteed to do exactly what is happening now, or something like it, once in a while. The Canadians appear to have found a different way. I understand that when their new reactor overheats the casing holding the neutron moderator shatters and the moderator spills out. The experts seem to think that will prevent this sort of thing. We might want to look into that.

    The government of Germany is still buying radioactive wild boar from hunters because the truffle is really good at concentrating radioactive isotopes from the Chernobyl fallout. 

"And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust." 

     "The Waste Land" -T.S. Elliot

      Be seeing you.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I Thought I Couldn't Be Shocked Anymore.

I was wrong.

In 2008, Monroe County Tennessee Sheriff’s Detectives Doug Brannon and Pat Henry actually posed as a federal defense attorney in an attempt to get incriminating information out of suspect John Edward Dawson, who was in jail on a host of charges, including theft and drug distribution. Not only that, but in doing so, they also talked Dawson into refusing to cooperate with his public defender and to plead guilty to the charges against him.

When all this came to light, Dawson’s real attorney asked for a continuance in his case so she could assess the damage. Remarkably, Tennessee Tenth Judicial Judge Amy Reedy refused the request.

   The judge was reversed upon appeal.

     "That Detective Henry would illegally pose as an attorney and arrange the circumstances of the defendant’s case to make it appear as though he had successfully undertaken legal representation of the defendant is abhorrent.  That the detective would specifically instruct the defendant not to communicate the relationship to his appointed counsel, in what we can only assume was an effort to enlarge the time for the detective to gain incriminating information from the defendant, renders completely reprehensible the state action in this case.  Given the unconscionable behavior of the state actors in this case and the fact that the defendant was essentially prevented from proving prejudice through no fault of his own, we have no trouble concluding that the only appropriate remedy in this case is the dismissal of all the indictments."

    None of the agents of the law were prosecuted for their actions.

Additional material from The Agitator.

Be seeing you

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Sense of Awe and Wonder

    Every generation of the modern era has events that defines it. If you examine these events you gain insight into their motivations. My grandmother saw the replacement of the horse with the automobile as a means of personal transportation. The Wright brothers flew when she was in college. She lived through the Great Depression and the Great War. These things shaped her reality. For me it was the space program and nuclear fission. I grew up in awe of the first and in the shadow of the second. When I was in the hospital having my tonsils out I read about Chuck Yeager and Scott Crossfield and all of the other X craft pilots in comic books. I collected bubble gum cards a year or two later with pictures of of all of the Mercury and Gemini astronauts on the front and a 3-D serialized comic book very much like the later movie, "Mars Attacks" on the back. They had to be viewed with special glasses with one green and one red cellophane lens. I watched eagerly on black and white TV as the rockets roared aloft from the stained hard places.
   About the same time we got the new telephone book dropped on our front porch. Inside was a piece of cardboard with instructions on how to prepare for and shelter from a nuclear attack. Once a month there would be "bomb drills" in addition to the fire drills in my grade school where we would all file into the hallway and crouch on our knees with our little hands clasped over the backs of our necks to protect them from flying glass.Bert the turtle said, "Duck and cover".

  The bogeyman of the day was Communism. In my grandmother's day it was "The Yellow Peril". Now the fear du jour is "terrorism" and Islamophobia.
   When I was sixteen I watched Neil Armstrong on TV and in that one magical and surreal moment the moon was transformed from a light in the night sky to a place. Someone had actually gone there and I might some day go there too.Technology was god in the 60s. "Better Living Through Chemistry" hadn't become a cruel joke yet. Rachel Carson's book "The Silent Spring" had just come out but most of the down-side of pesticide reliance wouldn't make the news for years yet. They had built a nuclear powered submarine and nuclear powered spacecraft were coming one day. Freeman Dyson had designed one that would use atomic bombs for propulsion. There was even talk of using nukes to dig a new canal like the one in Panama across Honduras!

      The generation after mine grew up with the space shuttle as something so common that it got scant news coverage...until January of 1986 when it all went horribly wrong. Now the Discovery is being retired and the others will soon follow. The X-37 is supposed to replace them but it is being tested in secret. There isn't much awe and wonder to be had in a secret trial. A pity. The next generation growing up could probably use a little wonder about now.

     It is good to have something to balance out the fear.

     Be seeing you.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Serving Their Country

    As late as the 1970s American soldiers and prisoners were used as medical research test subjects.

Henry Langlois was one of 38 soldiers who were told in 1955 that they were serving their country when they volunteered to inhale a biological agent that the government was testing.
A year later, inmates at the Ohio Penitentiary were told they were serving society when they volunteered to let researchers inject them with live cancer cells.
In the 1960s and 1970s, 15,000 Marines were told the same thing when Ohio State University scientists tested a pneumonia vaccine on them.

Perhaps the most famous was the cancer-vaccine test. As many as 160 prisoners were injected with live cancer cells.

The study, co-sponsored by Ohio State and the Sloan-Kettering Research Institute, ran from 1956 until 1961. Eventually, researchers said they lost track of most of the prisoners and thus had no results.
More at the link:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ulrich von Lichtenstein

My Gods! There really was one!

You probably remember Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein from "A Knight's Tale"

Well, I have discovered thanks to Beachcombing's history blog that there was such a knight. Not only that but that he often fought in drag! An excerpt followed by linkage:

Ulrich von Liechtenstein (obit 1278) was a standard thirteenth-century knight. He had castles (three of them). He fought – above all, in Eastern Germany. And he also dressed up as a woman and rode from Maestre (Venice) up to Vienna.

Ulrich describes how he decided to undertake his quest as an act of homage to one lady, but also, by extension to all women. Indeed, his autobiographical work – ich comes up frequently – is entitled Frauendienst (Lady Service).

By the end of his little jaunt Queen Venus (i.e. Ulrich in drag) had broken 307 spears, donated 271 rings and unhorsed four knights. Included among his honoured opponents was a knight dressed as a monk that Beachcombing will let go without any comments. But also interestingly another knight dressed as a woman.

More at the link:

I'll never be able to see that film again without a really bizarre visual now.

                  Be seeing you

Same As It Ever Was

     The Daily Kos has an article that I commend to your attention. It puts much of the current Republican ploy of turning the working class against itself in historical perspective and shows that this same tactic with only minor variations has been in play since the the 1840s.

     The following are excerpts. a link follows.

     For America, the tea party movement is just an update of a very old script.
You could see the same forces at work in 1843, as factionalism split the Whig Party and produced a third party movement. 


What powered the movement?  Most of the energy came from a source that's still highly potent today: demonization of immigrants. The leaders of the movement (which soon changed its name to the American Nativist Party and then just the American Party) warned that the uncontrolled wave of immigration was destroying what made America great. The new immigrants lacked both education and culture. They were insular, odd, and dangerous; unwilling to adopt American customs and values. They were shiftless, without the productive and creative spark of Americans, but at the same time they were willing to work so cheaply that they threatened to steal jobs from American workers.
These immigrants were other. This invading army had their own language, their own music, and most threatening of all they brought with them a corrosive philosophy, one that was the enemy of both democracy and capitalism. This philosophy was out to cripple trade and destroy companies. It encouraged laziness, diminished respect for personal property, and threatened established institutions. Despite these un-American tendencies, traitorous and corrupt politicians had been elected who were beholding to these immigrants. These America-hating politicians refused to pass tough federal laws to clamp down on immigration. They even argued that state and local laws limiting immigrant's rights were unconstitutional. They tolerated or encouraged their new philosophy. Some even embraced it. In response, the American Party platform mandated English as the official language and restricted the government from printing documents in other languages, it sharply limited immigration and raised the requirements for citizenship, and it limited all political offices (including school teachers) to native born Americans.
The wave of dangerous immigrants came from Ireland and Germany. The anti-American philosophy they propagated was Roman Catholicism.


       These days it's Arabs and Mexicans and Muslims, oh my!

"Prejudices are what fools use for reason." 
— Voltaire
     Be seeing you