Friday, August 31, 2007

Budapest memories

I visited Budapest, in October 1999. My friend, Ricki, whom I had met at the wedding of my friends Andre and Vicky Danielson, happened to be studying there at the time, and she graciously put me up in her dorm room at Central European University.

Well, I got to enjoy the city for 3 days and I fell in love with it almost immediately. I got to meet many intellectuals at the university, whose names I have forgotten. But I remember 2 in particular. One was a young Russian, I'll call him Yuri. He was what one imagines when one conjures an image of Stalin's ideal Soviet citizen: broad shouldered, narrow waisted, athletic, smart, handsome, and courteous. He had the unassuming optimism that I have always associated with the ideal of the Soviet republic.

The other student I remember in particular was a Romanian man whom I will call Andres. He typified what I imagine to be the furious Eastern European intellectual: dark, brooding, chain-smoking, disheveled, brilliant. At one point, Ricky and I engaged him in conversation that went something like this:

Andres said, "You Americans are struggling with your national image. You don't seem comfortable with your identity."

"Perhaps," Ricky replied. "But are you comfortable with yours?"

Andres, took a long pull off his cigarette, then exhaled a plume of smoke in a long sigh. He looked up from under his bushy, dark eyebrows and smiled. "I'm comfortable," he said, "with my current identity crisis."

Years later, I still smile when I think about that conversation.

The people in Budapest were fantastic. Unassuming, beautiful, quietly friendly, comfortable with themselves. To be sure, there were some rough parts of the city, where the drinking establishments seemed to be run by some kind of Russian underworld.

But the beauty of the city is undeniable. It was definitely one of my two or three favorite cities visited on the Grand European Tour. If you ever get the chance to go there, by all means, take it.

Happy Labor Day!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Self-loathing Republicans

If it were only Senator Larry Craig, one could dismiss his sorry case as an aberration. A conservative senator, vehemently against gay rights, is discovered to be something of a sexual deviant* and a sad, conflicted soul that certainly must despise himself.

* Note that I use the term "deviant" not in reference to Senator Craig's alleged homosexuality. Rather, "deviant" refers to his seeming propensity to seek anonymous sex in public restrooms.

But, Senator Craig is only the latest in a long list of so-called "conservative" figures to have been exposed as living a life completely at odds with their public positions. A short list:
  1. Senator Larry Craig - a dyed-in-the-wool staunch anti-gay conservative solicits sex from anonymous men in public restrooms.
  2. Representative Mark Foley - founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus revealed to have sent seductive text messages to congressional pages.
  3. Senator David Vitter - promoter of "traditional family values," and admonisher of President Bill Clinton for unbecoming behavior, admitted to having solicited sex from prostitutes that were part of a Washington DC escort service.
  4. Reverend Ted Haggard - a condemner of "homosexual activity" from his pulpit at the head of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, later exposed as having solicited gay sex and drugs from a Denver-area prostitute.
  5. Commentator Rush Limbaugh - advocated stiff penalties and zero tolerance for drug users before being revealed as having an addiction to OxyContin, which he purchased illegally.
One wonders what must have passed through the minds of these individuals. Were they aware of the hypocrisy in their words as they spouted their high-handed judgements? Or, were they somehow unable to see it? Did they somehow imagine themselves as being outside the moral framework that they impose on everyone else?

I'm sure the answer varies according to the subject in question. For example, it is hard to imagine a brute like Rush Limbaugh being capable of any kind of introspection. And Senator Vitter is probably just a cynical pol, willing to say whatever will help him achieve his agenda.

But someone like Senator Craig, I imagine, must be tortured by self-loathing. Having been conditioned to be repulsed and disgusted by his own behavior, yet unable to escape his proclivities, he overcompensated. By day, he was Dr. Jekyll, earning the admiration of people from whom he was secretly alienated. But at night, Mr. Hyde emerged, and he became that which he reviled. A hellish existence.

As sad as it is, I believe that Senator Craig is only an extreme case. I think many conservatives share in this self-loathing to varying degrees. They are compelled to behave according to the morals imposed on them by their church or their society even when it goes against their urges.

To be sure, this is not necessarily bad. We wouldn't want every psychopath with an urge to kill to be unconstrained by morals. (But then again, psychopaths seem not to worry too much about social mores). The problem is where, in the scope of human behavior, that line is drawn. The conservative mindset takes a dim view of some things that do not bother more progressive people: homosexuality, drug use, pre-marital sex, or even extra-marital sex. And, yet, conservatives are no less likely to participate in any of these activities than are progressives. (In fact, some studies have shown that homophobic behavior may indicate an overcompensation for homosexual proclivities. And ask any pornography vendor about the demographics of his customer base.)

It is this self-loathing, I believe, that evokes most of the vitriol that conservatives are known to spout. Imagine some poor, repressed conservative man who has struggled against his own impulses in order to obey the moral code imposed on him by his church/social class/circle of friends. He despises himself for his longing to "sin." When he sees someone else who does not adhere to the moral code he has fought to obey, he feels outrage, especially if the person he sees appears to be happy. He cannot understand why the other person is not punished or reviled or made miserable. (If the poor bastard, only knew! We progressives are just as unhappy as are they!)

I've experienced this kind of resentment myself. Just living my life in the manner that I believe to be right, I have encountered people who resent me, who resent the fact that I am, at times, quite happy, that I am unaffected by their judgement. My reaction toward such people is usually contempt. But that's my own weakness.

If I were true to my own moral code, I would pity these people, would be compassionate towards them. At times, I manage it. Other times, I react with scorn. Sigh. Maybe next lifetime.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Movie review: God Grew Tired of Us

The other night, Maty and I watched the National Geographic documentary God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan. The film revolves around the real-life stories of three young Sudanese men: John Bul Dau, Panther Bior, and Daniel Abul Pach.

The historical events that serve as prologue to the story are horrifying and tragic. The Lost Boys are some 27,000 Sudanese boys who during that country's civil war in the late 1980s, marched barefoot over thousands of miles of African wilderness to a refugee camp in Kenya after their villages were attacked and their families killed or scattered. The film, however, does not dwell on the suffering and hardship that occurred in Africa. Nicole Kidman narrates the tale succinctly in the film's opening minutes, and director Christopher Quinn displays just the right amount of touch: paying tribute to the heroic feats of survival under such conditions and then moving forward to the late 1990s when the United States agreed to accept some of the Lost Boys as immigrants.

As we watch the three protagonists begin their new lives, we quickly become aware that these are extraordinary human beings. From the opening scenes, where they bid a bitterweet and tearful farewell to their companions and fellow survivors in a refugee camp in Kenya, through their sometimes comic adjustments to modern day conveniences, to their eventual and difficult integration into American life, these young men continually express gratitude, tolerance, serenity, and wisdom.

We watch these young men encounter and endure the sometimes unjust realities of life in the United States: economic insecurity, human indifference, xenophobia (but also kindness, generosity, and friendly curiousity). They struggle through isolation, exhaustion, and trepidation. But they never fail to remember the people they left behind. Each of the protagonists continues to send money to the Lost Boys in Kenya and to search for the families they lost in their flight from Sudan.

As the film concludes, we are treated to the scene of John Bul Dau being reunited with the mother he has not seen in some 15 years. It is only then that we see tears (and perhaps shed a few ourselves).

I came away from this film deeply moved and gently admonished. These young men displayed a heroism and virtue that I admire even while I am grateful for not having had to endure the horrific circumstances that forged them.

Kudos to Christopher Quinn for such an objective examination of three truly remarkable human beings. And, as for John Bul Dau, Panther Bior, and Daniel Abul Pach...each serves as a tribute to the nobility of humankind.

Watch this film.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ari Fleischer, a first-class liar

Remember Ari Fleischer?

I remember Ari from back in the early days of the Bush administration. I remember being astounded at his ability to keep a straight face while spouting blatant, obvious lies. "Now that is a liar!" I thought, awestruck.

When Ari left the administration shortly after the invasion of Iraq, I was disappointed. Having Ari leave was like breaking a set. His replacement, Scott McClellan, although willing enough, just didn't exude the same brash audacity that only the best liars display. Where Ari would maintain his blank, stupefying expression while uttering his falsehoods, McClellan would falter, look down, and stutter: he just didn't measure up. Ari was much more apt for a mendacious and brazen criminal enterprise like the Bush administration.

Well, good news, everybody! Ari's back! If you share my destructive addiction to cable news blather, you will already have seen Ari on MSNBC or Fox News pitching his latest public relations effort: Freedom's Watch. (How's that for an Orwellian moniker?)

This organization is currently running advertisements showing maimed soldiers or relatives of the fallen urging viewers to speak up against a withdrawal from Iraq by calling their congresspersons. I've seen some of the ads, and they are vintage Ari: images of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers (that old conflation gig), pitiful images of a war veteran amputee. It is funded (to the tune of $15 million) by Bush Pioneers that masquerade as a grass-roots movement. You can see the names here.

Ari himself is a little rusty, though. I first saw him on Hardball where Mike Barnicle caught him flat-footed by asking him to name the soldier portrayed in the ad. Ari couldn't, of course. (And why should Ari really care, anyway? The guy already served his purpose by getting his leg blown off.) But the next day, Ari showed signs of getting back into fighting trim. He spoke with Joe Scarborough by phone that morning, and casually dropped the soldier's name, without being prompted. (One can only imagine the ass-chewing Ari administered to some hapless staffer right after the Hardball fiasco.)

The best part of it all is that Freedom's Watch has given us all an opportunity to participate in democratic debate on their dime! The organization has set up a toll-free number that you can call to express your views.


When you call, you will be asked if you believe America cannot surrender the War on Terror by withdrawing from Iraq. Then, if you say "yes," the operator will offer to connect you to your congressional representative so that you can urge him/her to vote against withdrawal.

Well, I called, several times. And, as a personal tribute to Ari, I lied. The operator connected me to Senator Gordon Smith's office, where I urged Senator Smith to do everything he could to precipitate the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

I urge any of you to do the same. If you're uncomfortable lying (and who could blame you?) you needn't do so. Just call and chat. Suggest that Ari get a toupee. Ask about the weather. Tell a joke. Whatever. Just be sure to help Ari and his band burn through that $15 million.

You know that Ari, a world-class liar par excellence, will have to admire the spirit of your call.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Alberto Gonzales resigns

Well, here we are. August. The dog days of summer. Ostensibly a slow time, politically, with Congress in recess, and Junior clearing brush in Texas. And yet, the hits just keep on a-comin'. This morning, Al "Gonzo" Gonzales bit the Big One. He announced his decision this morning in a brief statement and did not take questions after the announcement.

Gonzo's performance in Washington, first as White House Legal Counsel, then as Attorney General is singular in its ineptitude, ruthlessness, cynicism, and lack of basic human decency. Highlights include:
  • Justifying torture
  • Overseeing illegal spying on United States citizens
  • Using the Justice department as a partisan political tool for the White House
  • Perjuring Congress
  • Attempting to intimidate an incapacitated man into authorizing an illegal domestic spying program
Whew! A resume like Gonzo's is enough to make me long for the days when John Ashcroft would croon "Let the Mighty Eagle Soar." (Ashcroft may have been a puritan nut, but he at least seemed to have some reverence for the Constitution.)

As with the sudden resignation of Karl Rove, earlier this month, my first impulse is to wonder if Gonzo is "gittin' while the gittin's good," as Senators Patrick Leahy and Charles Schumer plan to continue their investigations into the US Attorney firing scandal. Time will tell, but I imagine that, once again, the legal mucky-mucks in the White House got together and determined that their game of stall, obfuscate, and obscure in order to avoid responsibility and accountability is best served by having Gonzo outside the White House. In short, legal reasons.

I have heard reports that Junior himself tried to dissuade Gonzo from jumping off the ship. If those reports are true, it would dispel my suspicions somewhat. Maybe Gonzo just couldn't take all the scorn, contempt, and ridicule to which he was being subjected. Regardless, I'll be happy to blow him a kiss on his way out the door. Oh yeah, and Gonzo? Don't forget your subpoenas!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Faces of the "far left"

Right-wing media luminaries such as Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity, with their interminable CO2 emissions, continually attempt to characterize those opposed to Junior Bush's policies, and particularly, the war in Iraq, as "far left loons."

We can only imagine how much time these sages have spent with "regular" Americans. But, in case they've been too busy lately, I thought I'd post a few pictures of these far left loons so that regular Americans will recognize them when they see them.

Just looking at these photos, though, it seems to me that there might be a little problem. Specifically, these far-left loons look exactly like "normal" Americans. Lord have Mercy!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

El diablo que conocemos

El diablo está en casa. Ayer el diablo vino aquí. En este lugar huele a azufre. -Hugo Chavez, September 20, 2006

Doy gracias a Dios que hay una gran parte de la población de mundo que reconoce la mal que viva en el corazon de Junior Bush. Especialmente, la gente de Sudamérica y América Central dan cuenta del peligro del hombre.

Cuando yo viajaba en Chile y Argentina, yo encontré muchos personas que expresaron el desprecio para él. Yo llevé una camiseta que se disculpó en diez idiomas diferentes. Varias personas se rieron.

¿Por qué es el hecho que la gente que viva afuera de los EEUU pueden mirar la verdad de Junior, pero muchos de sus ciudadanos son ciegos?

Quizás es porque ellos en las otras naciónes puede ver más obviamente los resultados de sus políticas. Yo no sé.

En Castro, Chile, un hombre me preguntó, "¿Votaste por Bush?"

"¡Por favor!" yo dije. "Es un mono demente".

¡Cómo avergonzar que ese hombre imaginaría la posibilidad!

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Petraeus Report: a convenient excuse for more political cowardice

As August comes to a close, summer wanes, and Congress prepares to return to Washington to debate further congressional funding and support for the Iraq war, all eyes are on General David Petraeus. It is he that has been given the task of providing an assessment report on the political and military situation in Iraq and all sides in the debate have called a rhetorical cease fire until after he says his piece.

At the risk of sounding cynical (but really, how does one avoid cynicism in this age of Karl Rove?), I suspect that this report will be just another example of the Bush administration finding a way to convince Congress and the media into going along with its folly.

It was recently leaked to the media that Petraeus' report is, in fact, being written by the White House. That, by itself, discredits the validity of the report. But, the administration wanted to go farther and excuse Petraeus from public testimony before Congress.

Well, thankfully, the Bush people had to back off on that little bit of petulance. Now it just remains to be seen if Petraeus will be a man of principle, honor, and integrity by telling the truth despite what Bush may want, or if he will forfeit his credibility, in the manner of hapless Colin Powell, and be a "good soldier" by saying what Bush and company have told him to say. (Just following orders? Where have we heard that before?)

Further, when Petraeus is up before the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, can the American people count on the Democrats to get the truth out of him? Senator Carl Levin (MI), the committee chairman, recently returned from a trip to Iraq, has already made public noises about Bush's "surge" appearing to have had a positive effect. Even Washington state's own Brian Baird, hardly a neo-conservative, has said that the new strategy may be working. All of this before Petraeus has said a word.

As for our fearless, intrepid media, certain analysts have also returned from Iraq saying things are much better than they were a year ago, at least in terms of the level of violence. (Note, however, that the number of casualties suffered by the United States since June, are higher than any other June-August period since the occupation began.)

Well....maybe we should look at motives.
  • Bush administration - The motive here is obvious: to avoid admitting the complete and utter ineptitude and criminal negligence of this administration, the war must be extended, thereby suspending judgement on its success. This is a stall tactic, but it is all they've got. They are reduced to hoping for some unimagined miracle that will pull their rancid fat from the fires of historical judgment.
  • Congressional Democrats - Democrats love this war. By their way of thinking, it is guaranteeing them increased majorities in both houses of Congress and a better-than-even chance at capturing the White House. They're licking their chops in anticipation of all those fat contributions that will be coming their way come 2009. Look for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to "reluctantly" concede that they cannot stop the war, shrug their narrow shoulders, and go along with the next Bush folly, all the while laughing up their sleeves.
  • The media - Anything for attention in this Rupert Murdoch profit-driven business. Some journalists will be motivated by personal greed (remember Armstrong Williams and the "No child left behind" fiasco), others will be angling for White House "access," but be assured that, with a few exceptions, there will be a lot of somber head-nodding pundits who concur with the manufactured consensus that the "surge" has been a qualified success.
The American people have turned against this war. Everyone in the administration, congress, and the media knows it. The game for them now is how to extend it for as long as possible so they can extract every last drop of power, wealth, and influence it can yield.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

La importancia de aprendiendo español actualmente

Quizás, es obvio, pero soporta repetir: en los EEUU actualmente, la importancia de español como una lengua segunda crece cada día.

Por mi parte, enojo hablar español. Es la lengua de un cuarto de mi familia que son mexicanos, y el idioma es hermoso a la oreja. Pero, el hecho es que la porcentaje de la población que habla español crecerá y la importancia del idioma crecerá por consiguiente. Creo que deberíamos enseñar el español como una lengua segunda en todas las escuelas publicas.

Qué lástima que el racismo levanta su cabeza fea. En el debate de inmigración, hay algunos (especialmente los extremistas en el partido republicano) que usan sentimientos xenófobos para sus propios propósitos. Se grita, ¡Ellos tomarán nuestros trabajos! ¡Ellos subvertirán nuestra cultura! (Refiérase por favor a The GOP Trifecta of Fear.) Pero, al mismo tiempo, estes racistas consumen con avidez las frutas del trabajo barato de inmigrantes. (A fin de cuentas, la hipocresía no es nada nueva a republicanos.)

La parte más triste es esto: como los EEUU llegan a ser inevitablemente y lentamente una nación hispana, habrán algúnos que permiten sus temores agobiar sus oportunidades a unir con una nueva cultura. Pero, finalmente, yo creo que la unión es inevitable y junto crearemos algo enteramente diferente y (optimistamente) mejor.

El primer paso es de aprender a hablar español.

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Final Days

Freshly rejuvenated from a relaxing weekend, and hopeful in spite of it all, I am yet perplexed to find that, as I pondered a topic for today's blog, I ultimately (no pun intended) settled on a topic that would seem at odds with a hopeful attitude: the Final Days.

Of course, the End of the World has been predicted probably for as long as human beings have been able to articulate thoughts in verbal form. And at times, it surely must have seemed that such predictions had come to pass (for example, during the Black Death or in the worst days of the Great War). But, so far, obviously, such predictions have been unfulfilled, and those wild-eyed predictors of humanity's demise have been relegated to "crackpot" status.


From this particular vantage point in history, it would seem that the trajectories of a number of potential crises are set to converge in the relatively near future. Check out the talk about peak oil, or about impending financial Armageddon, or about bird flu pandemic, or global warming and environmental degradation. Read Joe Bageant's piece, Ants in a Jar.

I recently read Jared Diamond's excellent book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. The book offers an anthropological explanation for the relative "progress" of different peoples in different parts of the world. Of particular interest was the discussion of the people of Easter Island, who, discovering an isolated paradise in the Pacific ocean, settled and thrived to the point where they eventually destroyed the very land on which they lived (through deforestation, mainly). Their end was ugly: cannibalism, fratricide, and (one can only imagine) despair. I wonder, were there wild-eyed prophets among them, during the seeming height of their civilization that warned of impending doom?

Suppose, just for a moment, that we could examine humanity's history from afar, millions of years from now. The world's population of human hunter-gatherers was relatively stable at something less than 100 million for hundreds of thousands of years before it began migrating out of Africa. The migration began shortly after the Great Leap Forward some 50-100 thousand years ago. Even then, population growth was linear up to the Agricultural Revolution which occurred some 12000 years ago. At that point, there is an exponential growth in the human population to the point where today, it is approaching some 6 billion souls. That is a 6000% increase in population in a scant 12000 years (1% of the accumulated time of human existence).

If the dire predictions of the end of humanity are true, could it not be said that our species became the victim of its highly-evolved brain? Could it not be said that some genetic mutation conferred the ability for analysis and abstract thought upon humans which caused them to develop agriculture? And, could it not be inferred, then, that agriculture caused the human population to spiral out of control and thereby doomed it?

Of course, we can't answer these questions. And it is hardly uplifting to contemplate them. But, referring again to Mr. Bageant's article, we can always do that small bit that fate has placed within our tiny circle of perception, and do it nobly, in spite of its seeming futility.

The Buddhists may have it right, anyway. A coworker told me a joke today that is serendipitously apropos: A Buddhist walks up to a hot dog stand. He says to the vendor: Make me one with everything.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Movie review: Black Snake Moan

When I saw the trailer for Black Snake Moan (it was one of the interminable previews that take up the first 30 minutes of any cinema viewing experience) I was intrigued. The snippets of dialog and imagery hinted at a psychological thriller a la Milton Katselas' When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder? To add to the attraction, Black Snake Moan's leading man was Samuel L. Jackson in what appeared to be an entirely new role: that of a deeply religious and moral black man in impoverished Dixie. And, let's face it, there are few actors today that can bring to bear as much intensity, menace, and intimidation as Jackson.

The movie's director, Craig Brewer was an unknown to me. He has a number of films to his credit, none of which I have seen, but the image he portrays, judging from the little bit I've seen and read, is of a true son of Dixie, southern Gothic from the school of William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor.

The plot revolves around the slowly crumbling lives of two people: Rae (Christina Ricci), a sex-crazed young woman, racing toward her own destruction in a poor, rural southern community, and Lazarus (Jackson), a former blues guitar player and local legend. As the movie opens, Rae is distraught because her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), in an attempt to forge a future for the two of them, is leaving town to report for duty in the National Guard. Meanwhile, Lazarus learns that his wife is leaving him for his younger brother and that his atonement for past transgressions has been in vain.

As the plot develops, Brewer draws his viewers in successfully. Within hours of Ronnie's leaving, Rae has reverted to her nymphomaniacal ways, sleeping with the local crack dealer, then going on a drunken spree that ends with her laying half-naked and severely beaten on a dirt road outside town. Lazarus, waking the next morning, finds her there and carries her into the house to care for her. When Lazarus drives to town for medicine, but fails to alert the authorities to the fact that there is a beaten young woman in his home, viewers are prepared for the kind of intense psychological interplay that is the meat of what makes anyone a Samuel L. Jackson fan. The tension is raised further when, later that night, Lazarus, without having displayed even the least interest in her sexually, chains Rae to his radiator to prevent her from returning to her sinful lifestyle (as we later learn). As Rae regains her senses and contemplates their mutual predicament, both she and Lazarus are forced to confront demons from their past in order to escape from their respective roads to destruction.

Alas, alas. Despite this wonderful, agonizingly slow build up, the film does not deliver. Jackson's performance is probably the best in the film, but it is far from his personal best. (And, why, oh why, must he be made to say "motherfucker" repeatedly in every film he does?) Ricci's performance as Rae was barely adequate, and Timberlake's was quite weak. But, in fairness to all these actors, there is only so much that can be done with the unvarnished (some might say "ineloquent") dialog, which lacks any memorable lines. There is no charming Southern diction; no flavor.

When the movie ended, I had no real understanding of how either of the principals in the story had been transformed. Yes, Rae came away from the ordeal with a new determination to make a go of her life with Ronnie. Yes, Lazarus had taken up the blues again, and had a new love interest in the local pharmacist. But what were the lessons they had learned?

When Lazarus removes the chain from around Rae's waist, viewers imagine that he has finally learned the futility of trying to keep his wife from leaving. Rae, on the other hand, marries Ronnie and ties a gold chain around her waist to remind her of the tie she has to her husband and to keep her from straying. If you love something set it free? If it comes back, it is yours forever?

Give me a break! I came into the film expecting (hoping) to have another facet of life's complexity examined. I left it feeling I had been subjected to an unadorned version of the sentiments one is likely to find in a Hallmark greeting card.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Portland named 2nd most green city in the world!

How 'bout a little good news for a change?

According to Grist, billed as "Environmental News & Commentary," Portland, Oregon is the 2nd most green city in the world! I've always been proud to be from Oregon, and this just makes me more so.

Portlanders are good folks. We've got a great, livable city and an "an' it harm none, do what thou wilt" progressiveness that makes many non-Oregonians imagine that we're all a bunch of stoners. (Hmm...methinks more research is required.)

Anyway, congratulations, fellow Portlanders! Next time around, let's see if we can't bump those crazy Vikings out of the top spot.

Go here to see the complete list of the 15 green cities (and 4 runners-up). I've been to quite a few of these cities. My take on those that I have visited:

Portland, Oregon (2)

My home. Portland has everything: livable city, nearby wilderness (mountains, coastline), great people.

Vancouver, Canada (5)
Our neighbors to the north. Vancouver, Washington, and Oregon have more in common with each other than they do with the rest of their respective countries, in my opinion. We're all a bunch of mellow Pacific coasters. If we were each to secede and form our own Pacific Northwest state, Vancouver would be the capitol.

Copenhagen, Denmark (6)

Ya gotta love those Danes. Reserved, fantastically good-looking, noble, obsessed with doing the "right" thing. And Copenhagen harbor is so clean you could swim in it.

London, UK (7)

To tell you the truth, the London I saw was a far cry from being anything like what I would call "green." Sooty, gloomy, intoxicating, vulgar, beautiful and above all, exciting! I love London, but it didn't strike me as a particularly environmentally-conscious place. According to Grist, London earns its "green" status because of its plans for the future more than its current condition. Fair enough.

San Fransisco, CA (8)
(Note: As hard as I find it to believe, I do not have a single picture from any of my many visits to San Fransisco.)
The jewel of the left coast. North America's Amsterdam.

Barcelona, Spain (11)

Probably my favorite city in Europe (at least among those that I have visited). Gaudi architecture, paella, divine coffee and oranges. And everywhere you look there are those oh-so-utterly-chic Spaniards.

Seattle, WA (runner-up)
Our sister-city to the north. Friendly rivalry aside, Portland and Seattle are literally like sisters: always teaching and supporting each other.

Quebec, Canada (runner-up)

Picturesque, relatively quiet and unassuming. Les Quebecois sont très hospitaliers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Rove Legacy: Mistrust, Fear, and Death

Karl Rove, dubbed Bush's "brain," and the "architect" of Junior's pseudo-reelection, is in the process of leaving the White House. As former North Carolina senator, (and my choice at the moment for president), John Edwards said yesterday, "Goodbye, good riddance."

As I suffered through the cable news talking heads (like creepy Chris Matthews) lauding praise on the biggest, fattest rat in the sinking ship-of-fools they call the Bush administration I took delicious pleasure in the caveats that were inevitably added. After all, regardless of any previous successes, Rove leaves the White House with Junior's approval rating somewhere south of 30%, and with the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years. The fruits of the tree of Karma are often bitter.

For those of us who have never, ever trusted Junior Bush, Karl Rove is the dark heart of evil; the Dr. Moriarty behind all the administration's evil doings; the amoral vampire who will unhesitatingly kill and destroy to acquire power.

As we bid Rove one final, long-fingered salute as he climbs into his sarcophagus to hide from the sunlight of congressional investigations, let's look at the three gifts he has imparted to us with his machinations:
  1. Mistrust: Back in 2004, pundits could often be heard to anguish that the country was polarized. The level of vitriol in the presidential campaign was disgusting. But that was the "architect's" plan all along: divide and conquer. Stir up filthy lies about John Kerry's military service, rile up the ignorant masses (whom Rove himself holds in contempt) against gays, question the patriotism of Democrats. Well, congratulations, Karl: it worked. Junior was either reelected or came close enough to it that he could cheat and get away with it. But those ugly seeds you planted in that election grew and bore fruit. You and Junior earned the eternal hatred of the people you slandered, and as the incompetence of the administration came to light, there were only those few ignorant believers left to pray for you. Meanwhile, the American people are still divided and mistrustful of one another. Good job!

  2. Fear: Please refer to my earlier post, The GOP Trifecta of Fear. Rove did everything he could to keep anxiety about terrorists at high levels. And he succeeded spectacularly. Americans today are more afraid of death at the hands of terrorists than of all manner of more likely but less spectacular demises. Meanwhile, and as a result of this fear, nearly a trillion dollars have been burned in Iraq while our infrastructure crumbles and our nation's financial health is destroyed. Kudos, Karl!

  3. Death: Two wars. One arguably justified, but incompetently managed. The other not only incompetently managed, but pursued for blatantly political purposes. As of today American casualties in Iraq are 3694; reported Iraqi civilian casualties are approximately 70000. There does not appear to be any hope of an end to the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. Karl Rove can put a notch on his belt for each and every one of the deaths that come as a result of the policies he worked to enact. Yay, Karl!
Karl Rove may not be the first or even the most heinous of American villains to leave power with the country reeling from his noisome blood-stink. But he is the villain I know. I earnestly hope that somewhere in the deepest recesses of his rotted soul, a worm of regret has begun to stir. As Rove sits musing in the dark center of his webs of lies and hatred, may that worm awaken and grow strong. May it eat at his heart; may it leave him alive, but dessicated; may it be with him always, that he may helplessly contemplate his crimes as he descends to his inevitable and unenviable fate.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Demon Rove resigns!

Wow! This morning my wife and I were driving to work when I heard the news that nearly dropped my cookies: Karl Rove is resigning at the end of the month!

My first reaction was one of wild optimism: Is he resigning in anticipation of a damning accusation (or possibly even an indictment) that has been heretofore hidden from the public? After all, there are plenty of ugly potential scandals floating around that have Karl Rove's name attached to them: caging lists, Plamegate, or the US Attorney Scandal, to name but a few.

But, you know, I just never get that lucky.

More likely, Rove, Josh Bolten, Cheney, and the myriad of lawyers that surround poor, bumbling Junior have determined that the best way to protect themselves from Congressional investigations and constitutional machinations is for Rove to no longer be a part of the administration.

I'm afraid Karl Rove will just move off the front page and become more of a hidden hand a la Henry Kissinger. But a guy can still dream, can't he?

Since the inauguration of the Democratic congress, my hopes have slowly ebbed as I've watched placators and hacks like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Steny Hoyer steadfastly refuse to confront the adminstration on its obvious lies and impeachable offenses. Even John Conyers has buckled.

You know, if the people don't care enough about this republic and the principles of personal freedom, benevolent society, and law and order, it is doomed. There will be a certain tragic, but poetic and certainly inevitable, justice to the whole sordid epic. Que sera, sera.

Friday, August 10, 2007

La femme de ma vie

All those years I knew before,
The years I looked for You, O Lord,
They fell away to nothing when I knew You;
You sent her on a paper plate,
Unadorned, my matron saint,
She took me by the hand and led me to You;

The seventh deadly sin of Pride,
She looks beyond, to me, inside;
At dawn, the child was not a stranger to You;
And, yes, I left the child behind,
But always kept the place in mind,
And it was she that helped me bring him to You;

I glimpsed the end, or thought I did,
With only me to make the bid,
With only me to tell You that I'd seen You;
But now she tucks me in at night,
She shows me where to find the light,
And everything she does is to reveal You

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Yo te recuerdo, España

Recuerdo bien la neblina sobre Granada cuando me paré en el promontorio de piedra cerca del Alhambra. Hizo sol y fresco y las paredes blancas de las casas debajo de nosotros brillaron. Encontré una mujer joven con un perro que se llamó "Chui."


Y alhambra el mismo, la simetría fractal en el extremo occidental del imperio musulmán: le recuerdo bien.

Monos de Gibraltar
También, recuerdo cuando Mia y yo encontramos los monos de Gibraltar, sobre las cavernas, tomaban manís de los turistas. Tuve un poco miedo de ellos. Especialmente cuando ellos robaron una bolsa de mujer en nuestro grupo.

Y Mijas, anidado en las colinas encima del mar... te recuerdo, también.

Una porción de la fachada de la iglesia de Gáudi en Barcelona
Y más tarde, cuando volví, encontré Barcelona. ¡Qué ciudad fantástica! Tara y yo miramos todos los edifícios de Gáudi, y llegamos a ser amigos en un solo día.

San Sebastian
Y finalmente, recuerdo San Sebastian, la joya del país vasco. Jay y yo, bebimos cervezas y admiramos a las mujeres vascas hermosas.

Algún día, yo volveré a ti, España.

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Christians vs. "Christians"

An Amish church

One of the most offensive aspects of Evangelical Christianity, as it is practiced in the United States, is the propensity of some of its leaders to advocate war and hatred. Consider these gems:
  • But you've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. And I'm for the president to chase them all over the world. If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord. - Jerry Falwell, decomposing corpse, in November, 2004. Read the entire article here.
  • There will never be world peace until God's house and God's people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world. - Pat Robertson, demagogue, in his book New World Order.
Compare the sentiments expressed above, with these expressed by members of a Pennsylvania Amish community, where a deranged gunman had murdered five young girls:
  • In my heart, yes, through God's help. - Enos Miller, grandfather of two of the victims, when asked if he had forgiven the killer.
  • We're really strongly taught to forgive like Jesus did. We forgive the way Christ forgives us. - Katie Weaver, an Amish woman connected to the Pennsylvania community
Clearly, the sentiments expressed by the members of the Amish community would seem to agree with the teachings of Christ:
  • If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. - Matthew 5:39
  • Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. - Matthew 5:7
  • Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. - Matthew 5:9
  • But I tell you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who revile you, and persecute you; - Matthew 5:44
Alas, the creed of the majority of Christians in the United States today seems to align more with sentiments expressed by charlatans like Robertson and Falwell than with the Amish people, who are viewed as anachronistic curiosities. The Amish people lead humble lives; they reject material wealth; they worship in humble churches.

Evangelical "Christians" however, seem to revel in material wealth. They worship in megachurches; they drive big, gas-guzzling SUVs; they shake their fists at the terrorists and rationalize the injustices done in the name of their "freedom." Love thy neighbor? Not in this lifetime!
A Christian megachurch

Of course, hypocrisy is nothing new to right-wing Evangelicals, as we have learned, time and again through such teachers as Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and most-recently, Ted Haggard. Sinclair Lewis wrote brilliantly about it in his horrifying 1927 classic, Elmer Gantry. When it comes to glitch, wealth, and especially power, the bigger the better, as far as these "Christians" are concerned.
Evangelical Christians will continually fall in line behind any charlatan that mouths pious validation of their pre-existing prejudices and bigotry, whether it be homophobia, Islamophobia, or moral ambiguity. (Note that it is largely white evangelical males that continue to support Junior Bush, even as the public at large has finally caught on to him.)

The pathos is palpable. In their perpetual misery, desperate people, frightened by the world around them, cling to their material belongings as the only measure of their worth. They look to cynical leaders to protect them, to validate them, to assure them that they are pious and righteous.

It's not that deep in their hearts they don't know better. It's that they're cowards. It's that they don't have the guts to give what Christ was asking:

Do not Lay up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break in and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupts, and where thieves do not break in nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
- Matthew 6:20-21

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
- Matthew 6:24

So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
- Luke 14:33

Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
- Matthew 19:24

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Movie review: Babel

Maty and I finally got around to watching Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu's 2006 release, Babel. I say "finally" because the movie came highly-recommended by certain of my circle of friends whom I consider to be cinematic aficionados (especially Jim Kidwell). The flick is billed as the last of a trilogy by Iñárritu (his so-called "death" trilogy), the first two components of which are Amores Perros and 21 Grams. (I have seen 21 Grams, and remember it as being worth the watch. Amores Perros has been warmly accoladed by many of my friends.)

The film consists of four seemingly unconnected stories that occur in Morocco, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. As the film progresses, Iñárritu displays extraordinary skill in developing a cultural ambiance that is appropriate for the particular story that is being developed at any given moment.

For example, as we follow the story of deaf-mute Chieko Wataya (brilliantly played by Rinko Kikuchi in the film's standout performance) in Tokyo, the cinematography and camera work imparts the feel of a fast-paced cosmopolitan world, where a lonely, grieving teenager is on her own as she deals with the suicide of her mother.

In contrast, as we follow the intertwined tales of Richard and Susan Jones (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) and the family of Abdullah the goat-herd, the ambiance is decidedly alien and uncomfortable. Miscommunication leads to tragic consequences as mistrust and lack of understanding clouds the perceptions of all involved. As western and Middle-Eastern cultures clash, Iñárritu presents a microcosmic reflection of the larger global issues that we face today.

American viewers will probably relate best to the environment displayed in the story of Amelia (Adriana Barraza), the Jones' nanny who is minding their two children while they travel. The story starts out in San Diego where the two children play with a nanny that they obviously love and trust even though she is different from them. As she takes them to Mexico in order to attend her son's wedding, the children enter a world that, although existing on their very doorstep, is strange and alien. Their mother has told them that Mexico is dangerous. ("It is," says Amelia's nephew, Santiago. "It's full of Mexicans.") As we watch the two American children enter the Mexican world, tentatively at first, then adjusting and becoming comfortable, Iñárritu again displays his deftness at condensing larger social issues into a comprehensible story.

The film is complex. A theme of isolation, displayed in the forlorn solitude of each of the characters, runs throughout the unfolding story lines. But as the connections between each of the stories are revealed, we are reminded of the commonality of humankind: love, fear, vulnerability. And, like all the best stories, we are left feeling saddened, aggrieved, sanguine, and hopeful.

I recommend this film.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Senator Gordon Smith: Moderate? Hardly!

Oregon's junior senator, Gordon Smith, likes to pretend he is a moderate, in line with the mainstream views of his (relatively progressive) constituency. But the truth is that Gordon Smith is really a hard-line "conservative" that will, when push comes to shove, knuckle under to Republican party leaders.

On Iraq

Of late, Senator Smith has made statements expressing exasperation and even outrage at the lack of progress in Iraq and the seeming futility of the war. But let's not forget that even as Oregonians were turning out in massive numbers to protest the pending unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation in 2003, Gordon Smith had already expressed his willingness to ignore international law and throw his lot in with Junior Bush by voting for the war resolution on October 11, 2002.

Senator Smith has never bothered to explain how or why he was so woefully befooled by administration claims of all manner of nasty illegal weaponry at Saddam Hussein's fingertips, including mobile labs for creating biological weapons and unmanned drones that would carry out poisonous attacks on American cities. Some of these claims were preposterous on their faces. Did Senator Smith honestly believe them? Or did he take the easy way out and vote with his party in spite of doubting some of the administration's most outrageous claims? At this point, it doesn't really matter: Senator Smith showed either an amazing gullibility or a shameful lack of independence.

On oil-drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)

For many years, it seemed as though Gordon Smith was in line with the vast majority of his constituency regarding oil-drilling in ANWR. He even voted to kill the ANWR drilling legislation in 2003.

But that was before Karl Rove put the screws to him, apparently. When the chips were down for the administration's 2nd term domestic agenda, Gordon Smith backed off on a campaign promise to protect ANWR, and cast the tie-breaking vote to allow ANWR to go forward. One can only hope that, when the Senator got the phone call from Rove's office, he held out for something and didn't just roll over.

His post-vote comments were unapologetic and hint at the "depth" of his principles. According to Alexander Bolton of the Hill:
Smith said drilling in the reserve “is not the lightning rod it once was. That’s a fact,” he said. “Even in Oregon.”
Are we then to infer, that since ANWR is not a "lightning rod," Senator Smith is justified in changing one of his supposedly deeply-held convictions?

On equal rights for GLBT citizens

I haven't forgotten how, during the Senator's reelection bid of 2002, the grieving mother of Matthew Shepherd appeared in Senator Smith's campaign advertisements, stating that she was sure Matthew would have viewed Senator Smith as a friend because of the Senator's advocacy for gay rights. The poor woman was, I'm afraid, bamboozled.

After his reelection, Senator Smith quickly betrayed his gay and lesbian constituency by voting to end debate on (and thus, clear the way for passage of) the "Protection of Marriage" amendment that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. One hopes that any so-called "Log Cabin" Republicans in Oregon won't be fooled by Senator Smith's frequent appearances on the organization's web site.

Towing the line for GOP Senate Leadership

Most of the time, Senator Smith is little more than a back-bencher in the Senate Republican Caucus. But GOP leadership can always count on him to come out publicly with some manufactured outrage when it is most useful. As a so-called "moderate" he lends the appearance of centrism to the hypocrisy that Republican law-makers continually peddle to the American electorate.

Two brief examples:

When former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger came under criminal investigation for removing classified documents from the National Archives, Senator Smith found his way in front of the cameras to express his outrage. Outrage over the incident is, I suppose plausible. But consider this: Mr. Berger was involved in John Kerry's campaign for president, and the polls were tight. Was Senator Smith (the "moderate") trotted out to distract from the fact that Tim Russert was at that time being compelled by a federal judge to testify about what he knew regarding the leaking of the name of a CIA agent by a high-level member of the Bush administration? And where was Senator Smith's outrage over that sordid incident?

And, going all the way back to the impeachment trial of President Clinton, when certain moderate Republican senators publicly stated that they would vote for acquittal, who was it that appeared at the side of then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, to announce that he would vote to convict, and thereby kept the impeachment effort from collapsing? None other than Gordon Smith.

On accountability in government

Senator Smith will generally respond to written inquiries addressed to his office. I've written Senator Smith many times, and he has always responded (albeit with the placation and vagaries that all politicians use). There is one inquiry I posed, however, to which Senator Smith has never responded, despite repeated letters and messages:
Do you believe there is an appearance of a conflict of interest in that Vice-President Dick Cheney is receiving a salary en absentia from his former employer, Halliburton, at the same time that Halliburton and its subsidiaries are being awarded no-bid government contracts for work in Iraq?

If you believe that there is the appearance of a conflict of interest, will you call for investigations and congressional oversight of the situation? If you do not believe there is the appearance of a conflict of interest, can you please explain your position?
One can only wonder why the Senator finds these questions unworthy of response.


Oregonians need leadership that reflects our independence of thought. We do not need a senator that meekly follows the line dictated by GOP leaders, straying only when it is safe to do so. I hope our state will recognize how poorly she is served by her junior senator, and vote next year to remove him from office.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A picture paints a thousand words...

It's a Grand Old Flag, it's a high-flying flag, and forever in peace may it wave....

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. -Benjamin Franklin

Here's what General Mike Hayden said -- he was the former director here at NSA. He's now the deputy director of the national intelligence -- deputy director of national intelligence -- and here's what he said earlier this week: "Had this program been in effect prior to 9-11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9-11 Al Qaeda operatives in the United States, and we would have identified them as such." The 9-11 Commission made clear, in this era of new dangers, we must be able to connect the dots before the terrorists strike so we can stop new attacks. And this NSA program is doing just that. General Hayden has confirmed that America has gained information from this program that would not otherwise have been available. This information has helped prevent attacks and save American lives. - George W. Bush