Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Conscience and Community, III

Who Is Torturing Whom?

The controversy over the use of torture continues. Interested parties should read the "torture memos," classified documents affirming the use of frightening and painful techniques in the interrogation of individuals captured by US security agencies or military personnel. These memos, written by high-ranking staff in the Bush administration, outline procedures that sound like torture to me. I haven't yet read all the memos, but I have read one written by Jay S. Bybee, in his capacity as an assistant attorney general. Bybee is now a judge on the US Court of Appeal for the Ninth District.

Reading Bybee's memo doesn't bring me much clarity, though I'm pretty sure he shouldn't be sitting as a judge anywhere. I understand from other coverage that Bybee felt uncomfortable about writing the memo. But he didn't refuse to write it, and his protestations clearly come after the fact. Perhaps, he's simply disturbed that he has been publicly associated with systematic torture.

For me, the lack of clarity lies in my own discomfort with the discussion. I draw lots of lines between good and bad, good and evil, in my own life, but those lines do not always guide my own attitudes, or my behavior.

I want my family, my friends, my community, my country to be safe. If there is someone out there who wants to attack the United States, to attack Washington, DC, the city I live in, I want somebody to know about those plans. I do not want to see a recurrence of 9-11.

But the fact remains that there were far more Iraqi deaths in the First Gulf War, which began in 1990, than American deaths from Sept. 11 events. Perhaps, 20 to 40 times as many.

And as many as 1,000,000 more Iraqis may have died as a result of sanctions imposed on Iraq after the first war. "Some researchers say that over a million Iraqis, disproportionately children, died as a result of the sanctions, [13] although other estimates have ranged as low as 170,000 children."

Estimates of Iraqi deaths since the beginning of the 2003 invasion of Iraq have been as high as one million or more. The number of Iraqis displaced by the war and the ensuing occupation has been estimated at more than four million.

There may be as many as 30 million people currently living in Iraq. All told, sanctions, bombings, invasion and occupation may have killed or displaced as much as one-quarter of that number. To have the same effect on the United States, terrorists would have to kill, wound or displace somewhere between 80 million and 90 million people.

No level of terrorist activity, indeed, no hostile action of any type, short of alien invasion, will ever have such an effect on the United States. In fact, climate change is the only earth-based event likely to have that kind of an effect on the US. Perhaps, we should be torturing "climate-change deniers," like George Will, to find out more about possible plots against America.

Nancy Pelosi wants a Truth Commission to identify those responsible for sanctioning the use of torture. But it's obvious, we have all sanctioned torture in some way. That blanket of guilt does not fall on each of us just because we failed to speak out against torture. It falls on us for, among other things, the torture we have visited on Iraq and Iraqis these last 20 years or more.

My idea for an investigation into who did what to whom would be more along the lines of a national self-investigation. Abu Zubaydah may wish that he could deliver the same sort of mayhem to Americans that we have visited upon others, but that's only a dream. Compared to Americans, Zubaydah is a piker.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Conscience and Community, II

In Torture We Trust

Though I posted Conscience and Community just yesterday, I'm not entirely sure why I did so. After all, there are always issues requiring some moral judgment. Why bring it up, at all? And in such an abstract way?

Torture is a hot issue right now (read "Military Agency Warned Against Torture" in the Washington Post). Supporters of "enhanced interrogation techniques"--a sterilized term for a dirty business--argue that our use of torture has prevented terrorist attacks on Americans and American interests.

Of course, because torture occurs mostly in secret, we have no real way of knowing whether or not that is the case. Or, why, in a discussion of the ethics of torture, we ought to concern ourselves with the claim of effectiveness.

Dick Cheney (remember him?) claims that torturing prisoners has helped protect the U.S. The debate about the merits and legality of torture, Cheney says, would be greatly advanced by releasing all the government memos on the subject, "including those that show success."

This must be disingenuous. After his eight years of leadership in creating opacity in government, one can't help but greet his call for openness with a bit of skepticism.

As the most influential vice-president in history, Cheney specialized in obstructing the free flow of accurate information, beginning with his closed meetings with oil company lobbyists and others in the early days of the Bush administration. Cheney and his colleagues went on to manipulate the news in the Valerie Plame affair, oppose disclosure and public discussion of Abu Ghraib (this entry about Abu Ghraib includes some details about WMDs, another Cheney obsession) and oppose the closing of Guantanamo.

In all probability, Cheney is reasoning that there will never be full disclosure of classified documents related to the torture question and that his call for transparency gives him a claim to some sort of high ground in the debate. But my goodness, with his history, who could possibly entertain the notion that Cheney ought to be part of the discussion about torture, too?

Still, in the interests of maintaining dialogue and community, I'm going with Mark Danner's smart piece in the Post.

"Beginning more than a half-dozen years ago," Danner writes, "Bush administration officials broke the law and did repugnant things to detainees under their control." But, he reminds us, that is not the only important element of this scandal.

"The dirty little secret of the torture scandal and of all the loud expressions of outrage now clogging the nation's airwaves is that, until very recently, the politics of torture cut in the opposite direction. This is why, although we have known the general narrative of torture since summer of 2004, most politicians have been loathe to do anything about it."

Danner has more to say, but the fact is that it would have taken far more courage to speak out against torture five years ago than it does to day. Personally, I was appalled. But I took no action and did not speak out.

The controversy about torture provides something of an example for discussing conscience and community, but it is not an act of conscience to speak loudly now. Everybody in the debate, regardless of their position, has allies and cover. Perhaps, one day supporters of torture will run huge political and social risks bucking an established ethical consensus, but they don't now. And calling for a truth commission is hardly a big risk these days, either.

So--I'm still asking myself--where ought a discussion of conscience and community be headed? And what else is there to say?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Conscience and Community

Humans are social animals. We form couples and, frequently, families. We gather in groups. Groups become tribes. Tribes establish communities and permanent settlements. Settlements grow into villages, towns and cities.

We connect these settlements with networks of roads, with means of communication. We speak to each other directly whenever possible, we carry messages between friends, we write, we phone. Increasingly we rely on new media, electronic media, and find new ways to build community.

And we worry about those left out. We visit the elderly. We create shelters and services for the homeless. We maintain libraries and free museums to create access to common knowledge and contact with others. We establish standards to make newer technologies more accessible. Some of this we do very imperfectly. But we do it.

In the process, we develop techniques for managing our disagreements. We delegate the responsibility for others to represent us when issues require discussion and when decisions need to be made. Wishing to remain connected to our community, to build a stronger community, we listen to each other’s arguments, sometimes carefully, and we respond, sometimes constructively; we modify our disagreements and search for common ground. We return to the same questions again and again, reopening old discussions, searching for better resolutions.

Much of this does not happen smoothly. We are different from each other in important ways. We vary in compassion and empathy. We vary in ambition and need. We vary in our native gifts and in our personal limitations. Sometimes our experiences and desires unite us to others, but separate lives and unique longings also divide us as individuals and as groups.

Very nearly all of us find ways to be part of a larger community; even loners do so. Most, if not all of us, will adjust our personal requirements, our demands, our disagreements, so that we might remain connected.

But there is the question of conscience. What role does conscience play in community? How do we develop one? How do we learn to make moral judgments, and to take action based on those judgments? How much will each of us tolerate before deciding to speak out? How much will each of us tolerate before taking action? Is the consensus surrounding us ethical? How would we know?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Advice To The Washington Post

Your Future Is At Stake

We all know that the Post could fail any day. In universe-sized terms: In the blink of an eye. So here's some recommendations for dramatic change:

Positive Steps To Take:

1. Switch to tabloid size. It will take less good stuff, or any stuff, to fill the front page.

2. Put Doonesbury on the front page. Above the fold. Big.

3. Run Dan Zak's stuff on the front page. Assign him to the galactic news beat.

4. Put Carolyn Hax on the front page. Let her do whatever she wants.

Remedial Steps To Take:

5. Dump George Will. The man is still arguing about global warming. Soon he'll be standing on the beach raving at the rising tide. Have nothing to do with him.

6. Get over the "we got the Watergate story thing" and the Pentagon Papers thing. Think of all the stories you missed. Remember WMD's? Tonkin Gulf? Oh, never mind. But show a little modesty.

7. And, yes, I know it's hard working in a newsroom decimated by payroll cuts. But people have been working in more dangerous and short-handed places for years. When somebody makes a mistake in workplaces like that, somebody gets injured or even dies.

Oh, and no need to thank me. I'm happy to help.

Israel: "Hamas Is Worse"

An Appalling Standard

In today's Washington Post (see "Hamas's Bloody Hands"), columnist Richard Cohen seems happy to announce that Israel is not "a place where a chance remark can get your legs riddled with lead." Perhaps not, but it is a matter of record that as a protester you could get run over by a bulldozer (see "Israeli bulldozer kills American protester").

Cohen is a sometimes critic of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, but that's not good enough. Israel must be held to a higher standard.

Elsewhere in his column he quotes the Hamas charter, which "reads like it could have been written by Hitler." Certainly, it is an ugly document, and the Hamas regime in Gaza is thuggish and undemocratic. But it is unlikely that Hamas could survive in any significant form in a free, democratic Palestine. Hamas will likely maintain power in Gaza success only so long as Israel maintains the siege of Gaza and sustains the armed occupation of Palestinian territory (for more on Hamas see Teddy Greenstein's blog here).

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's current prime minister, says he will refuse to discuss the establishment of an independent Palestinian state until the Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state (see this Al-Jazeera report). This will never happen and Netanyahu knows it. But his stance may actually move the situation along. Though for many Palestinians, the creation of the state of Israel in any form is both the original and continuing Nakhba (catastrophe), it is its existence as a Jewish state that makes movement toward enduring peace more difficult. Focusing attention on that fundamental conflict may make a difficult situation seem even worse, but it will clarify matters.

The modern Jewish presence in Palestine began with 19th century Zionism. which as a practical matter was both a form of Jewish nationalism and a European settler movement in Palestine. It was not inevitable that Zionism would result in the Jewish theocratic state of Israel. That development grew out of a variety of additional factors, including European colonial ambitions, the Holocaust, the Cold War and the American use of surrogates (Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.) to establish dominance over Middle Eastern oil resources. Absent the manipulations of great powers, the area's Jewish settlers would have had to choose real compromise with the established Palestinian population.

Obviously, the history matters. And, as Richard Cohen likely knows, in that history Hamas does not matter much. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza matters much more. It causes enormous Palestinian suffering, sustains armed fundamentalist Islamic resistance and undermines the security of Israel's residents.

In the long run, there will be a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. If that state is to be democratic and a force for peace in the region, Israel will have to undo much of what it has done since 1948, especially the settlements established since 1967. To do this, Jews in Israel will have to come to the conclusion that security based on the use of force and the oppression of Palestinians will never be stable. They will have to take the risk of entrusting their security to increasing cooperation between Israel and the future Palestinian state.

But that will not be the end of an historic march toward peace and prosperity, either. It will just be the step before the next step. That step will come when Israel transforms itself from a Jewish theocratic state into a democratic state in which Jews and Palestinian Muslims and Christians live as equals. When that happens, the distinction between a democratic Palestine and a democratic Israel will take a different form. Perhaps the two states will disappear altogether into the single state solution that would have been the better part of wisdom many years ago. Somewhere along the way, Hamas will have become a footnote.

Perhaps such a happy ending sounds more like a fairy tale. I certainly do not mean to gloss over all the difficulties that will be involved--the blood and anguish, the further dislocations, the dismantling of settlements, the granting of the right of return and the reparations for historic displacements of populations, the fears and anxieties that accompany the reconciliation of enemies--but I'd sure like to get the process started.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Bad Idea: Generals Making Social Policy

The Army A Democracy Deserves

According to Abe Lincoln,"war is too important to leave to the generals." But the larger truth is that there's just about nothing in a democracy that can be safely entrusted to generals. Or admirals, for that matter. For a recent example, check out Gays and the Military: A Bad Fit, a column that ran on April 15 in the Washington Post.

By law "homosexuals are not eligible for military service" wrote Generals James Lindsay, Buck Shuler, Joseph Went and Admiral Jerome Johnson. Section 654 of U.S. Code Title 10 says so. Further, they claim, if gays were allowed to legally and openly serve in the military, tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of valuable veterans would decide not to reenlist. "Losses of even a few thousand sergeants, petty officers and mid-grade officers, when we are trying to expand the Army and Marine Corps, could be crippling."

It gets worse, the generals wrote. Legislation legalizing the service of openly gay men and women "would impose on commanders a radical policy that mandates 'nondiscrimination' against 'homosexuality' or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived." The generals are also worried about "consuming valuable time" in training classes and litigation related to legalizing gay service in the military. And finally, "team cohesion and concentration on mission would suffer if our troops had to live in close quarters with others who could be sexually attracted to them."

The generals think they know that their boys have never previously "lived in close quarters with others who could be sexually attracted to them," because, I suppose, they also think that gay men are hyper-sexual people who are always up, or out, when the pants come off and the lights go out.

Perhaps when the generals put quotes around 'nondiscrimination' and 'homosexuality' they are trying to be true to some source. But who thinks such words need to be distinguished from real words, as though they depict some fanciful state?

Actually, guys, nondiscrimination is a primary and historic goal of American democracy. You need to get with the program. And homosexuality is a point on the continuum of sexuality. We all fall on that line somewhere and everyone on that line has to figure out how to manage their sexuality. Arguably, heterosexuals fail that challenge far more often than homosexuals do.

And, really, if we had left it up to your predecessor generals and admirals, we'd probably still have a racially segregated military. And women in the military might still be limited to changing bandages and emptying bedpans.

The military in a democracy ought to look like the democracy, itself. Otherwise, it becomes something more like a cult, dedicated and competent and serving a purpose, perhaps, but failing the democracy it claims to serve. It may be that in a true democracy, generals should be seen, but not heard.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Even Narrators Must Engage

A great voyager’s soul,
an incomparable gift.
Cling, if you will, to a version of yourself,
all tenacity and unsated desire.

But narrator, depart. Follow the path of power
to heal, power to enrich,
the explosive power to awaken the heart,
the wondrous possibility of no return.

This journey trembles with such power,
beckons with emphatic gestures,
scatters gleaming dust and small gems.
Wrap your strong arms around these riches.

Check the list of recommended strengths
passion, dispassion, agility, balance, presence.
All important. A capacity for delusion
appears there, follows

an affinity for stillness,
precedes tender regard
for homebodies and a green thumb
for memory's cultivars. A list with no end.

Deficits attend the beginning,
fears plague the interim,
defeats close the journey,
but, man, what a ride. And this peace.

Friday, April 10, 2009

On Gillian Conoley

Some Gangster Pain

So, I’ve owned this book, or a copy, anyway, Some Gangster Pain, for some time. Gillian Conoley, the poet, has introduced the entire collection with a quote from Pablo Neruda:

“Where bullets fly on the wind,
I am left in envy of the cowboys,
left admiring even the horses.”

and a line from the bible:

“…the glory of his nostrils is terrible.”

Job 39:20

This makes me wish that I could introduce my poem, Ecstasy, with the very same lines.

But it also makes me want to understand the poetry of Gillian Conoley better than I do. Conoley is a tough poet to crack. She uses words for every known purpose and, maybe, has invented a few new uses. She uses words for whispering. For intimating. For caressing. For hammering. For launching projectiles. Conoley uses words to excavate and to bury. Trying to stay on top of one of Conoley’s poems is like putting in a day riding broncs at a rodeo in Texas, the poet’s home state.

Some Gangster Pain starts off manageable, even for those new to rodeo. I can stay on “The Invention of Texas,” easy. It’s good poetry, clear as a bell, with a moral perspective that makes sense to me. But, compared to the rest of Conoley’s poetry, it’s like riding a pony. I don’t get bucked off, and I end the ride feeling like I just met a poem I can’t help liking and don’t mind liking.

But one poem later, I’m getting up on “Patsy Cline," and it’s suddenly obvious how much I have to learn about Conoley’s poetry and how hard I’m going to have to work to learn it.

The first three lines, I’m all there, all present; I’m up on this ride.

“When I’m alone, I like how my nylons
mesh, the rustle I get
just walking.”

For a ‘50s fetishist like me, this is an open invitation. But just a few lines later:

“…Not like she did
in that yellow skirt,
strolling in
so everyone saw.”

Wait. Just wait. If “I” am Patsy Cline, then who is “she?” But if “I” am Gillian Conoley and “she” is Patsy Cline, then do I want you to know so much about me, Gillian.

I like the image: that yellow skirt swinging so that everyone could see (see what?). And it’s not like I have that many unanswered questions…but then you walk in and I know I don’t have any idea who you are or why there’s money falling out of your pants. Yes, there seems to be more than one voice here. I am barely holding on to this bronc, to this sexy, feisty poem

“But I still see
that bar, the lights
strung bare above every man’s back,
the sticky perfume,
her skirt a breeze you could carry.”

and I just plain forget to hold on. I’m flying skirts up, ass over elbows and I hear the next line (and I can hear it still):

“Once I got home…”

So, even though I have no idea who “I” is, I am so enjoying being “I” that I just may go back to the beginning and start reading the poem all over, again.

(And this, I did. Imagine, if you will, an interlude.
Be mindful that I am half way through the second poem in a book with about 40 poems.)

Ah. That was refreshing. Where were we?

There’s a lot more from the time “I” got home and the end of the poem, but let me jump here to that end. What comes next will in no way spoil the poem for you (I might already have done that). I’m betting, instead, that once you know how it ends, you’ll want to do the hard work of reading the poem yourself. It ends:

“I may be walking backwards onto this plane,
but you’re looking
like some rat-eyed pimp,
some hillside jack on a slide.”

Of course, it ends that way. I always knew there was a guy like you involved. I just didn’t know where in the poem the heel was going to show up, or that the heel would be you. Or, if you prefer, that you would be the heel.

So, without believing for a moment that I actually understand “Patsy Cline,” that’s what I’ve gotten so far out of reading it. If you could have that kind of experience, just for taking a harder look at 33 lines, why would you bother to read anything longer?

On the theory that other doors will open if I read Some Gangster Pain through to the end that’s what I’m going to do.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cut Military Spending!

or Learning to Love a Republican at DOD

For 40 years, I've believed that cutting the military budget would solve most major problems in the United States and a host of minor ones. "Cut military spending" has become a near-mantra for me. It soothes, it focuses, it rejuvenates.

Want to effectively oppose U.S. imperial adventures? Cut military spending.

Want to find the money to rebuild urban public school systems? Cut military spending.

Want to reduce government waste and reduce the influence of lobbyists? Cut military spending.

Too cold outside? Problems with regularity? Need a new computer? Cut, cut, cut military spending.

Clearly, I've been guided by my faith. But it is equally clear that my prayers generally have been falling on deaf ears.

So, it is with some astonishment that I read in today's Washington Post about Bob Gates, our Republican Secretary of Defense, who proposes to cut the military budget ("Gates Seeks Sharp Turn In Spending" and "Contracting Boom Could Fizzle Out"). Gates does not want to cut defense spending as much and as deeply as I do, I'm sure, but "the proposal by Gates amounts to a radical change in the way the Pentagon buys weapons."

I'm not one to believe in a thing just because the newspaper says it's so, but in a lifetime of voracious consumption of news, I can't recall ever seeing or hearing the phrase "radical change" conjoined with "Pentagon" in a corporate daily outside a readers-respond section.

Is this "Nixon Goes to China" or is it "Dewey Defeats Truman?" The answer remains to be seen, but Gates is reported to have said that some weapons programs are "truly in the exquisite category."

Such a statement may not reverberate for the average reader, but for me the words have the power to seduce. I am overwhelmed by the thought that I may have found a new muse.

Alas, much stands between me and the consummation I desire so devoutly. Count Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sen. Jon Kyl, Sen. Jim Inhofe, Sen. Pat Roberts, Rep. Ike Skelton, Rep. Jack Murtha, Rep. Norman Dicks and Rep.Todd Tiahrt among the enemies of true love (read about them in "Pentagon Chief Calls for Cuts; Congress Opens Fire"). These and other members of Congress have constituents whose jobs depend on maintaining spending that Gates proposes to cut.

There are plenty of political theories that would justify the regional chauvinism that motivates the political behavior of some elected officials (e.g., Harold Lasswell and "Who Gets What, When and How"), but the power that they wield together ought to inspire fierce opposition. We need a new caucus in the Capitol, say, Congress Opposed to Narrowly Defined Interests in Defense Budgeting; that would be CONDID-B, it sounds safely militaristic, like the name of a naval base in the Pacific, or something.

Falling in love or otherwise, I am willing to bet my future working with Bob Gates that we can create a good job and a half rebuilding bridges or building new public schools for every defense job we cut (see "Report Shows Increased Military Spending Slows Economy" or "Military Feast, Public Poverty" or The "Economics of Peace" Conference). If I am wrong, I don't deserve the Bob Gates of my dreams, but if I am right, and if Gates gets his way, I get to cross boundaries that have held me back for years. I get to love a Republican.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Democratic Jewish State?

or How an Oxymoron Inhibits Justice

"The problem with [Binyamin Netanyahu's opposition to Palestinian statehood] is that it could deliver a fatal blow to the two-state solution, which most Israelis recognize as the only way to preserve a democratic Jewish state," editorialized the Washington Post on March 31. Though the entire Post editorial seems deeply flawed to me, it is this statement that most makes me want to blog and argue.

Netanyahu's muscular nationalism is a real problem, to be sure. But it seems unlikely that anything short of the genocide of Palestinians could deal a "fatal blow" to the dream of Palestinian statehood. The real problem with the statement lies in the irreconcilable tension between the notion of a Jewish state and the requirements of a democratic state.

There are plenty of sophistic arguments about how much freer Palestinian Israelis are than are the citizens of other Arab states, but the more relevant truth is that Palestinian Israelis are less free and less privileged than are other Israelis. Such undemocratic conditions are a challenge for a democracy to solve, but they are not solvable in a theocratic state, which Israel is, both in law and in practice.

All democracies are incomplete. We need look no further than the United States to recognize that fact. The U.S. constitution legitimized slavery and defined slaves for census purposes as three-fifths of a person, hardly a promising start. Women couldn't vote, either. It took the better part of a century to end slavery and another 50-plus years to extend the franchise to women. True democracies must be in motion, addressing obstacles to equality and justice. Inequality and discrimination subvert democracy and subvert claims to democratic legitimacy. For as long as such de jure and de facto provisions endure, they define republics that privilege the interests of a few over the interests of the many.

There are other considerations in Israel, of course. Near the top of that list is the security of that portion of the Jewish people who live there. Many American supporters of Israel believe that maintaining Israel as a Jewish state is the only way to guarantee the survival of the Jews who live there. I believe the opposite. Maintaining Israel as a Jewish state is the best way to guarantee that Jews in Israel will never be secure.

The truth is that nothing that Netanyahu does, short of cleansing Palestinians from Palestine, will prevent the eventual emergence of a Palestinian state in some form. And nothing short of the eventual unification of Israeli Jews and Palestinians in one or more democratic, non-theocratic states in the area currently occupied by Israel, the West Bank and Gaza will create security and prosperity for Jews living there.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Eco-debacle in My Home Cyberspace

or How I Made Truce with Reality

It has been a week since I posted something. I've gone silent for that long in the past, but never because my home computer network both betrayed me and resisted fixing so thoroughly. The story of my experiences in the past week falls far short of tragedy, but it never once got funny, either. It was kind of a bogging down in an uncharted swamp, a particularly unexotic wandering in fog, a seemingly endless journey on a train to nowhere, a pitiful confrontation with bureaucratic indifference, a virtual hostage experience with no opportunity to fall in love with my captor. I'll add right here, right now, that whoever you may be, random reader, you are forgiven for not noticing that I was gone.

I do most of my writing on an older Mac IBook. It's familiar and I like that I've worn the A off the A-key entirely. The S is going, as well. But the microprocessor is too slow, so I can't upgrade to the latest Mac OS and can't update my internet browsers (like Safari or Firefox or, even, Explorer.) Using an older browser works most of the time, but, increasingly, there are websites and services that I can't access. And, when I want to access design or layout or link-embedding features on this blog, I have to switch to Brendan's Gateway PC. This is rarely a problem, but it ain't efficient.

So, I bought a used IBook with a faster microprocessor only to discover that my new (used) Mac wouldn't play well (at all, actually) with my Linksys wireless router. This is not a good thing, because the alternative is a hard wired connection, which though perfectly adequate, would require lots of new wiring I was reluctant to run. But Thursday, I decided that I had to connect the new-old IBook no matter what it might demand of me. In committing to that course of action, I started a cascade of events that I still haven't entirely recovered from.

My Thursday efforts to connect appeared to crash or freeze my router, That evening, I called the helpline for the manufacturer and reached a very considerate Asian Indian man who, but for our difficulties communicating, might have helped, but didn't. It didn't work, either, when I called the help line later that evening and spoke to an individual working out of Mumbai (or wherever in India the service is based). By the end of the second call, Thursday had morphed into Friday. I opted for bedtime and a fresh start come daylight.

I woke feeling optimistic. I called Mumbai, or wherever, again. The tech on the other end seemed happy to talk to me, but we didn't make anything good happen. I wrestled with the problem on and off during the day Friday. At least, I wasn't in sometimes unitelligible conversations with people living somewhere else, but being at best a two or three-trick pony with computers made me feel as though I spent the day trying to convert lead into gold. I did decide that I would buy a new router on Saturday and, once more optimistic, went to bed.

Saturday afternoon, I bought the new router, a Belkin. I followed the instructions for installation on the CD that came with the router, but I couldn't make it work. In fact, connectivity seemed to recede. I also tried to reinstall the operating system on the new-old IBook and ended up with the screen frozen, the CD stuck in the disc drive of computer, and no apparent way to get it out or restarted. Saturday evening, giving up on computers, I focused on TV and drinking, which seemed helpful at the time.

But Sunday morning, when I woke up, still without internet access, I was also somewhat the worse for the drinking or the TV or something. The rest of the day? A big dose of trying the same old things and walking away in disgust.

Oh, yeah, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there was at least one call a day to the Comcast help desk to no avail. Nothing wrong with their modem, they reported with remarkable consistency. And because I insisted in calling on my landline, for which Comcast is also the provider, the call would get dropped each time when the help desk would helpfully remotely restart the modem, temporarily cutting phone service, just in case the modem needed clearing.

Changing direction on Monday, I actually called the Geek Squad. They would charge me $100 just to show up on Tuesday and fix the problem. This, of course, was a deal and I quickly agreed.

During the day on Moday, using an ethernet cord I had on-hand, I hard-wired the connection between the modem and my old, always previously reliable IBook. Thus connected, I could bypass troublesome routers, get a hard connection for one computer, but live without wireless printer connection and without wireless connection for the PC and, still, with the new-old IBook stuck on the Apple screen and stuck with a nonresponsive CD in the disc drive.

I also had to sit on the floor with the old IBook (which has an aging, quickly drained battery) balanced on my lap, connected on the left by short ethernet cord to the Comcast modem, connected on the right via Apple charger to a slightly more distant electrical outlet. I don't want to say I wasn't grateful to actually be connected, but it was less than a writer's dream.

So happy to see the Geek Squad guy on Tuesday morning--no afternoon, really--that I almost kissed him when he arrived and right there offered him a piece of chocolate cake with another piece as bonus, if he set things straight. It would be nice to report that he pulled it off.

But when he left later that afternoon, I had only the hard-wired connection with which I'd started the day. He did get the bad disc out of the new-old IBook, a good trick considering there wasn't an emergency eject that could be managed with a paper clip and that the computer was not talking to anyone or anything, wouldn't force quit, wouldn't restart, wouldn't go anywhere. He left charging me only the $100 I owed for him showing up. He wouldn't take the cake, never went to the bathroom, never took a drink, and stayed about two hours extra before he went off to his next appointment for which he was going to be very late. I hope he kept his job.

While the Geek Squad guy was around and after, I called Comcast three times. I don't want to describe what some of those calls were like, but the first time Comcast remotely restarted their modem, even though we told them not to do it because we were talking to them on the landline.

The second time I called and scheduled an appointment for their tech guy on Wednesday. My position was that Comcast couldn't keep telling me that the problem wasn't their modem. They were going to have to send someone out to see the problem for themselves. They told me I'd have to pay for it, a not unreasonable $19.95 charge, if their tech didn't have to do too much. I'll pay, I said, I want you guys to see what I see. Fine, the help desk responded, we'll schedule the appointment for some time between 11 and 2 on Wednesday.

I only made the third call to Comcast on Tuesday because I got a robocall from them as I sat on the couch, in the dark, head throbbing. We are calling to confirm your appointment for Wednesday between 5 and 8, the robovoice said. Taking care not to injure my telephone, I punched my way through a number of menus until I got a live person. I believe I was quite self-controlled as I rescheduled the appointment for the original 11 to 2 slot.

Barely prompt, at one o'clock or so on Wednesday, the Comcast tech arrived. He was pleasant, claimed he never left without getting a customer connected, and then departed, leaving me with a wireless connection to the PC that dropped within moments of his departure.

I turned all the computers off, disconnected the router, turned off the modem and left the house for a pleasant walk around the block, maybe six times around, or so. After returning home, I restarted the modem, restarted the Gateway PC, stuck the install disc for the old router into the PC and carefully followed the step-by-step instructions for "activating your router." It worked, a wirless connection. Buoyed by my success, I restarted my old IBook, the barely adequate one with the too slow microprocessor, followed additional step by step instructions and wirelessly connected with that one, too.

The new-old IBook sits, still inoperable and unconnected. I think I'll take it to an Apple Store and get their opinion. In the meantime, here I am, blogging about my almost life in a virtual world that nearly, but not quite, bested me. It's Thursday. I am wirelessly connected on two computers, which like each other and like the router. The modem is doing what it's sposed to do. I am wirelessly connected to the printer.

I am connected, therefore, I am. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.