Monday, September 24, 2007

Eyeing the horizon...

Today, on the eve of a long, long journey, I pause to reflect. In a scant 24 hours, Maty and I will be well on our way to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to visit her family and to see the land where she was born.

Destination Ouagadougou
In the past, my overseas trips have been minimalist with respect to the amount of luggage I took with me.
  • 5 shirts (1 formal)
  • 3 pairs of pants (2 slacks, 1 jeans)
  • 5 pairs of socks and underwear
  • 1 pair of shorts/swim trunks
  • 1 pair of good walking shoes
  • medicines/toiletries
  • Leatherman tool
  • Reading light
  • Travel books appropriate to destination
  • Guitar
But this time, I want to make a good impression on my in-laws so with Maty's counsel and advice, I'm packed with all manner of "fancy" clothes. Further, we've packed 4 huge suitcases full of gifts to bring to the family. And, alas, due to the sheer bulk of all that we're carrying, my beloved guitar will not be making the journey with us.

Everything must go!
As is always the case, I'm experiencing the emotions that comprise the mental preparation that occurs before I set out on a trek: anxiety, excitement, curiosity, dread. It happens every time.

On the one hand, travel is a hassle. Just before setting out, I'm plagued with feelings of bother and discomfort. Travel is a huge disruption to one's daily routine. There are many concerns. For example, who will care for my two girls, Hannah and Roxanne, while I'm gone? What about the house? How will I arrange for the bills to be paid? How will I keep in contact? Have I tied up all the loose ends at work? Have I packed everything I will need?
    Two of my pre-travel concerns: Hannah (back) and Roxanne (fore)
    But there are also the good questions. These are the questions that have no practical answers, but that can only be answered when one reaches the destination. What will I find when I get there? Who are the people that I will encounter? What will I learn? What will I see? There is a thrill in these questions that hints at the rewards that travel offers.

    There is no way I can describe the feeling one gets when one steps off a plane and into a previously unknown country. I remember flying to Florida, one night back in 1991, and looking out on the utter blackness of the ground 30,000 feet below, with islands of electric light marking cities and towns, and wondering how life was different for those people whose homes I was passing over. And I remember dropping out of the gray London skies that morning in 1997, watching the tiny square houses appear below us.

    The Tower of London
    So, just before we set out, I'm as ready as I can be. Check back here at this blog for travel updates and (possibly) pictures. I'm not sure how much internet access we will have, but I'm going to try to keep the blog updated. Best to all of you, and we'll see you when we return. (I'll be back in late October; Maty, just before Thanksgiving.) As those crazy Germans say: Glückliche Reise!
                    See you soon!

                    Friday, September 21, 2007

                    Ancient Greece knew all about these guys...

                    Cast your mind back to those half-remembered, drowsy days in school, when your teacher droned on about Greek mythology. Remember Daedalus and Icarus? Quoting directly from Wikipedia:
                    Icarus is a character in Greek mythology. Icarus' father, Daedalus attempted to escape his prison at the hands of King Minos. Daedalus fashioned a pair of wings for himself and his son, made of feathers and wax. Before they took off from the prison, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, as the wax would melt. Overcome by the sublime feeling that flying gave him, Icarus soared through the sky joyfully, but in the process came too close to the sun, which melted his wings. Icarus fell into the sea in the area which bears his name, the Icarian Sea near Icaria, an island southwest of Samos. --Wikipedia entry
                    Let's take this synopsis and, with a little rework, apply it to Bush the Elder and Bush the Lesser.

                    Bush Senior's political exile since his humiliating rejection at the hands of American voters in 1992 has been long and desolate. Who knows what bitter hopes and grudges he nursed in his isolation as he endured insult and injury from angry Republicans? Imagine him on his fishing boat off the coast of Kennebunkport, rocking back and forth in a deck chair, fishing rod in hand, sun visor shading his glowering visage, muttering to himself: "Read my lips, damn you! Read my lips." Even those of us who despise him are compelled to shudder at that awful fate!

                    But the Greek gods were a cruel lot, weren't they? It was never enough to destroy the objects of their wrath. They would torment them endlessly, as they did to poor Prometheus. And so it has been with Bush the Elder. The gods, in their cruelty, allowed him, for a brief time, to hope for redemption. Alas, alas!

                    When Bush the Lesser emerged on the scene, long about 1994, being elected governor of the (enlightened) state of Texas, Bush the Elder was no doubt shaken from his dark musing. He glimpsed a beam of sunlight, an egress from his tormented state. After all, if the son could ascend to heights that the father had been denied, would not the ensuing glory allow for a reexamination of what was largely deemed a failed presidency?

                    At first, perhaps it seemed too much to hope for. Bush the Lesser was an unlikely savior, given his checkered past. But hope is a heady wine, and there must have been any number of courtiers bending to whisper into the old man's ear, urging him, encouraging him, enticing him. At last, he succumbed to the temptation of hope and went into action.

                    Carefully, Bush the Elder fashioned wings. He groomed his erstwhile wastrel son, surrounding him with hand-picked and trusted advisers. We must imagine that advice and caution and the accumulated wisdom of a man-who-has-fallen were imparted from Elder to Lesser, lest the latter "fly too close to the sun."
                    In the fullness of time, the day of truth arrived (Florida, 2000). The old man swallowed hard, sent his oldest and most trusted advisor (James Baker) to clear the last obstacle, and kicked his son, his last hope, out into the atmosphere.

                    At first, all was well. Junior soared in ecstasy, post-911. With both houses of congress on his side, and with 90% approval in the polls, he seemed unstoppable. He pushed ahead with his Iraq adventure, with his Social Security reform, with his slash-and-burn politics. Despite the warnings of Elder Bush through proxies like Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Alan Greenspan, and others, Junior soared ever higher.

                    Well, the fickle wings of political capital have melted, and Junior is spiraling down to his historic crash-landing. At present, Junior's job performance meets with the disapproval of approximately 60% of those same people that sang his name in the days when Osama bin Laden rivaled mighty Hades in the rumor of his dread. Now there is no stopping his descent. His name is bandied about, already, as one of the worst presidents in the history of the republic. His legacy appears doomed to be limited to a military fiasco in Iraq, the drowning of New Orleans, the subversion of the Constitution, and the bankrupting of the US treasury.

                    Let's return, now, to Bush the Elder, back on his fishing boat. He's sitting there still. But this time there is no bitterness. Rather, in the tradition of true Greek tragedy, there is only sorrow and grief and an acknowledgment of his own folly. His breath comes out in soft, shuddering sobs as he helplessly watches his last hope, that flawed human being that sprang from his loins, descend toward the pitiless seas. Now old and frail, he raises his gnarly fist, more like a talon than a human hand, and waves it weakly at the cruel sun. "I dared to hope!" he warbles. His balding pate wobbles on its neck like that of an old stork rendered flightless by age. His chin falls forward. "I dared to hope," he mutters into his bony breast. His elbow bumps the martini in the cup holder of his deck chair, sloshing liquid onto his slacks. He emits a long, soft moan. The glare of the sun is merciless.

                    Let's drop the curtain on this sorry scene...

                    Icarus drowns...

                    Thursday, September 20, 2007

                    Los republicanos no pueden decidir

                    Para los republicanos, la pregunta más importante a sus futuro es esta: ¿Deberíamos odiar las minorías abiertamente o fingamos adorarlas?

                    Los cuatro hombres que estan adelante en los sondeos presidenciales (Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, y John McCain) disminuyeron asistir un debate patrocinado por grupas interesado en asuntos de los afroamericanos. Además, la estación de televisión, Univision, que transmita en español, canceló un debate de los republicanos cuando tres de los mismos hombres no aceptaron invitaciónes para participar. (La excepción fue McCain.)

                    Los dos casos presentan problemas diferentes para los republicanos.

                    En el primero caso, los candidatos necesitan apaciguar la base del partido por pareciendo desafiar las demandas de un grupo que la base desprecia: los afroamericanos. Por lo menos que veinte años (quizás más ), la gente común republicana se han quejado sobre programas que procuran dirigir las desigualdades raciales. La retórica es tan tóxica que, si los candidatos republicanos habían ido a ese debate, la mensaje que ellos han constuido con cuidado por muchos años sería violado. Un elemento del partido no ha olvidado la lucha para las derechas humanas cuarenta años pasados, y no ha rendido aún. Pero, los candidatos necesitan esconder las razones que ellos se negaron a asistir. La mayoría de votantes Americanos es repelada por racismo abierto. Para reconocerlo públicamente sería suicidio político.

                    El caso segundo es mucho más complejo para los republicanos. Primeramente, el mismo elemento del base que odia los afroamericanos, los xenófobos y racistas, también desafia los hispanos. Por otro lado, los poderes en la sombra adinerados quieren mucho la obra barata que está proporcionado por la inmigrantes indocumentados. (Lea más aquí.)

                    El lío es de su propia cosecha. Cuando el movimiento conservador moderno estuvo empezado con Ronald Reagan, había una alianza frágil entre los dos elementos. (Mi amigo, Carl Page, dice que es una coalición de los ricos y los estúpidos.) Actualmente, con las manipulaciones de Karl Rove, la alianza ha sido esforzada al punto de ruptura.

                    ¿Cuál grupo ganará? ¿Quién sabe? Pero los signos señalan una pelea díscola y devastadora que podría paralizar el partido republicano por muchos años.

                    Los alemanes tienen una palabra, "schadenfreude," que significa el placer obtuvo de los problemas de otros. Pido disculpa, pero yo tengo un caso severo cuando miro el tormento internal de ellos.

                    (Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

                    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

                    Happy Birthday, wherever you are...

                    I have never found it easy
                    To name my love for you;
                    We were so close I never saw the need;
                    The little boy that cried that night,
                    My suitcase I had packed,
                    I could no more leave than from myself secede;

                    With our humor and machismo
                    We, outward, faced the world
                    Together, we would laugh or we would fight;
                    But now those things we must defend,
                    Have multiplied and grown,
                    And age comes creeping in September's light;

                    We ever keep our swords unsheathed,
                    For each and for ourselves,
                    And others that we deem within our sway;
                    Our celebrated chivalry
                    Is part of who we are,
                    Old Man, you know, had wanted it that way;

                    Though we never would have guessed it,
                    We have lost once or twice
                    And scars have given both a hardened view;
                    I anguish over all those times
                    I hurt you with my words;
                    I'd rather have them back than...

                    I'd rather have them back, I'd rather have them back...

                    Happy Birthday.

                    Tuesday, September 18, 2007

                    Drifting toward disaster

                    Saigon, April 30, 1975
                    We can all see it coming.

                    The disastrous adventure in Iraq is moving inexorably toward its desultory, entropic non-ending. No one can predict with any degree of certainty how it will shake out, but the nature of the conflict precludes any possibility of a festive V-E Day, or even an exhausted and somber Armistice Day. My own guess is that the end will come slowly, with a gradual reduction of US forces culminating in a Saigon-like fiasco.

                    Iraq will eventually come under the influence of some political entity, in all probability, a radical movement a las Khmer Rouge, or Bolsheviks, that will spark the imagination of a tormented and abused people, and rise quickly, like a brush fire, to seize control. Tigris and Euphrates will run red for a time. The United States will be humiliated and weakened.

                    George W. Bush is trapped in a perdition of his own making. At one time, he was Ares, the god of war, striding confidently across the globe, immune to doubt. But it was all an illusion, wasn't it? Military and political realities offer no way out. His pipe-dream of a corporate-dominated Iraq run by a strongman of his choosing has vanished like a mirage in the Iraqi desert.

                    It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months. -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, February 7, 2003
                    Any chance of military success would require a huge reinvestment of US forces and treasure. But for that to happen, Bush must convince the public that the war is vital to the American "way of life," that it merits sacrifice and privation, perhaps even a draft. Alas, Bush already burned that card, back in the beginning when, in selling the war, his henchmen assured us that it would all be over soon, that real sacrifice would not be needed. For Bush to now attempt to rally Americans to his cause, after four years of war and with his credibility destroyed, would be too audacious even for him.

                    The oil revenue of [Iraq] could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon. -- Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, March 27, 2003
                    The political situation in Iraq is even more bleak. Bush's first choice for a despot to replace Saddam was Ahmed Chalabi, a convicted embezzler who proved invaluable to Bush by providing preposterous lies to peddle to a frightened American public in the lead up to the war. But Chalabi turned out to be too untrustworthy and an agent for Iran. Chalabi was on the outs about the same time that David Kay determined that the Weapons of Mass Destruction meme, the ostensible casus belli, was a lie.

                    Gimme a break!
                    Next came the free and democratic "elections." Remember when all the Republicans in congress were waving around their purple fingers in a show of "solidarity" with the Iraqi people? Let's examine how that turned out.

                    Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'a leader, ended up at the top of a raucous, uncoordinated parliament that, lo and behold, only reflected the sharp religious and ethnic divisions of the country. The reality is that the Iraqi parliament seems to be a largely dysfunctional body, incapable of governing. Maliki seems to be cozying up to the Iranians in spite of Bush administration remonstrances, and who could blame him? It is hard to imagine that this is what the Bush administration had in mind when they arranged the elections.

                    Events have bereft Bush of all but two options: begin the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, or stay the course and pray for a miracle. Well, after all, it was prayer that supposedly led him to this place, so I guess it works out alright as far as he is concerned. Of late, he has eschewed public events, relying on his proxies to justify his obstinacy, shielding himself from the harsh, judgemental world. One can only imagine that, in those few moments during the day when he is alone, he spends much time thinking of his Crawford ranch and the lonesome prairie, where he can be alone with his dogs and his chainsaw, clearing brush. His own little piece of heaven, far away from shouting reporters, and whispering advisers, and anguished, tearful Gold Star mothers. Someday, Junior. Someday.

                    Meanwhile, for the rest of us, who cannot look forward to a comfortable retirement isolated from the troubles of the the world, shielded by wealth and influence, those of us who cannot avoid the consequences of our mistakes and the mistakes of those who acted in our name...for us, the war drags on.

                    Armistice Day, Waterloo, Belgium 1999

                    Monday, September 17, 2007

                    Which of these for President?

                    Like it or not, the 2008 race for president is well underway. Fund-raising, advertising, polls...they're all going full blast. The media have apparently annointed Hillary Clinton as the "inevitable" Democratic nominee before a single vote has been cast. On the Republican side of things, the media are confounded by Rudy Giuliani and seem to be keeping their collective fingers crossed for Fred Thompson, the sock puppet.

                    I suppose the past 6 years have jaded me, but I find the polls and commentary put forth by the national media (with a very few exceptions) to be dross. I suspect the media of furthering their own disparate agendas. So, putting aside the drivel they spew, I'd like to take a look at the current crop of presidential hopefuls and see what shakes out.

                    Let's start with the Republicans, since the discussion will be very brief. With one exception, each of them lacks either the courage or the wit to oppose Bush's Iraq war. That disqualifies them out of hand. You've got to hand it to Junior: he's done a great job of coercing the members of his own party into going along with his train wreck of policy even though upwards of 60% of the American public finds it ridiculous. So be it. Let Giuliani, McCain, Romney, Big Fred, Mike Huckabee and all the other nobodies on the GOP presidential slate keep preaching as the house crashes down around them in flames. Good riddance. There's none in this clutch worth saving.

                    As for the Democrats, there are a few for which I can actually muster some enthusiasm.

                    My first choice, ideologically, would be Dennis Kucinich. His voice is strong for social justice, peace, and the restraint of corporate power. I voted for him in the 2004 Democratic primary. I will probably vote for him again if he is still in the race by the time the Oregon primary comes to pass. The unfortunate fact of the matter is, however, that Kucinich cannot win the nomination for one simple reason: his physical appearance. Whatever it may mean, Americans want a tallish, handsome man to be their leader. Kucinich is diminuitive, and his visage doesn't fit the myth of the classic ruggedly handsome American male. To be sure, Democrats should be wary of eschewing a great candidate in favor a a candidate that they think is "electable." That mindset proved disastrous in 2004. Nonetheless, there are ridiculous political realites that are perpetuated by the cathode ray tube. C'est la vie.

                    Another good choice, I think, is Senator Chris Dodd from Connecticut. Senator Dodd has expressed outrage at the constitutional abuses of the Bush administration. He is demanding a change in Iraq policy. (Although this is to his credit, it is tempered by the fact that Senator Dodd voted Yea on the Iraq War resolution in October 2002.) Senator Dodd is an old-school, blue collar Democrat, having already won the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). And I like his hard-nosed debating style. He cannot be intimidated and has no reservations about calling out his opponents inconsistencies and inaccuracies. He's a fighter and God knows we could use one.

                    But, as of this moment, my choice for president is John Edwards. The former senator from North Carolina has a very specific plan for universal health care, focuses on the need to fight poverty in the United States and the world, calls for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and recognizes the need to act to stop the atrocities in Darfur. Although he did vote for the Iraq War resolution while a member of the Senate, he has since called that vote a mistake. Further, Edwards impressed me with his refusal to accept the terms of the terrorism debate. He said of the Bush's War on Terror: "[It] is a slogan designed only for politics, not a strategy to make America safe. It's a bumper sticker, not a plan." That is telling it like it is, as far as I'm concerned.

                    There are other candidates that I would consider: Bill Richardson or Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton, however, just like her husband before her, has blurred the line between her own policies and those of the Republicans to the extent that there is little to distinguish her from them. Mike Gravel is charming, but nutty. Joe Biden might make a good secretary of state, but we don't need a show horse for president.

                    The clincher for me will be the candidate that voices enthusiasm for full investigations into the Bush administration. The candidate that demands justice the loudest and most sincerely will almost certainly get my vote. I want to get to the bottom of each and every stinky scandal that Bush and his gang have tried to pull off, and, if warranted I want stiff prison sentences handed down. Hell, if the evidence is uncovered to support it, I'd advocate extradicting Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld to the Hague to stand trial as war criminals.

                    If current trends hold, though, the Republican party is in for a whipping that will dwarf the pounding they took in 2006. It remains to be seen if the damage that the Bush administration has done can be healed, but at least the people responsible will be publicly repudiated, humiliated, and discredited. There's some comfort in that.

                    Thursday, September 13, 2007

                    Man of the People

                    He's everybody's token on everybody's wall,
                    Blessing all the papers, thanking one and all,
                    Hugging all the babies, kissing all the ladies,
                    Knowing all that you think about from writing on the wall;
                    --Somebody Up There Likes Me, David Bowie

                    Don't believe I'm taken in by stories I have heard;
                    I just read the daily news and swear by every word;
                    --Barrytown, Steely Dan

                    Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
                    Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
                    Everybody knows that the war is over
                    Everybody knows the good guys lost
                    --Everybody Knows, Leonard Cohen

                    We got no-necked oilmen from Texas
                    And good ol' boys from Tennessee
                    And college men from LSU
                    Went in dumb - come out dumb too
                    Hustlin' 'round Atlanta in their alligator shoes
                    Gettin' drunk every weekend at the barbecues
                    Keepin' the niggers down
                    --Rednecks, Randy Newman

                    In their sties with all their packings
                    They don't care what goes on around
                    In their lives there's something lacking
                    What they need's a damn good whacking
                    --Piggies, the Beatles

                    In your pomp and all your glory
                    You're a poorer man than me,
                    As you lick the boots of death born out of fear.
                    -- Wind Up, Jethro Tull

                    Wednesday, September 12, 2007


                    Daddy may have loved you, with his iron-fisted hand,
                    But, of course, he wouldn't show it; he was too much of a man;
                    And when you cried and feared the dark, he knit his mighty brow,
                    And spelled you into silence; it was enough, somehow;

                    On sissy's hand, that special night, a promise ring he placed;
                    Her body, known to Daddy, to all other men was chaste;
                    And Mommy always knew her role, she never raised her voice,
                    She sat, contented, at his feet; his glory was her choice;

                    And he prayed, he prayed; Oh, how he prayed!
                    He kept his eyes shut tight;
                    The Lord would surely love him,
                    If he prayed with all his might;

                    The ever-rushing river swept you on around the bend,
                    No more prostrate before the throne, the time came to ascend;
                    And though you fear the darkness still, you've learned a trick or two:
                    The click of heels, the upraised arm; through fear, respect accrue;

                    And keep your eyes upon the prize, forsake the inward gaze,
                    You've learned the truth: that those who doubt cast worlds in shaded grays;
                    So bow to those above you when they look on you and frown,
                    And those below be sure to show how much they've let you down;

                    And you pray, you pray; Oh, how you pray;
                    You pray with all your might;
                    The Lord will surely love you,
                    If you keep your eyes shut tight!

                    Tuesday, September 11, 2007

                    Petraeus report be damned!

                    The debate we anticipated this month over the future of the Iraq War is over. Bush won.

                    Never mind that the debate never actually took place. The Bush administration successfully kicked the can down the road, buying more time to sell its lies to a compliant media. All the bluster that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi emitted earlier this summer was just that: empty bluster aimed at buying them political cover while they prepared to roll over for Bush yet again.

                    With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how it all unfolded. Democrats puffed out their chests in May with a grandiose display of pseudo-courage, passing a bill that required Junior to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq as early as July. And, while they succeeded in portraying the Republicans as war-mongers (an achievement on par with evoking disgust for a child molester), they made no progress in ending the war, being thwarted by a veto and the deathly fear Democrats have of being portrayed as being "weak on terror" (whatever the hell that means). The outrage of the American public was assuaged with promises of a new debate after General Petraeus submitted a situational report in September. (The absurdity of a military officer setting US foreign policy, rather than a thoroughly discredited administration, went unmentioned.)

                    After the pitiful display in Congress, the Bush administration went to work, sending out their obfuscating message through their contacts in the media. Throughout the summer, we were bombarded by "serious" pundits assuring us that the "surge" had had an impact; that the level of violence in Iraq had fallen; that "progress" was undeniable.

                    Inconvenient facts were ignored or brushed aside. The fact that the Iraqi Parliament adjourned for the month of August without attaining the political benchmarks set for it by the Bush administration was mentioned briefly and then quickly dropped. When the GAO published a report stating that the "surge" had failed, that office's credibility was called into question. In short, it was the same old song-and-dance that the Bush administration had used to start the war: smear and obfuscate.

                    The capstone to this appallingly marvelous manipulation of the media came yesterday with testimony before the House of Representatives by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker who each droned on interminably about the hopeful Iraqi future that would be destroyed if Congress were to impose a timetable for withdrawal. The pervading feeling I experienced throughout the testimony (in spite of its being interrupted by outraged citizens protesting) was one of hopeless resignation. It would be folly to hope that the Democrats would stand up to this mind-numbing assault.

                    So, where are we? Well, while there may be a token reduction in the number of troops stationed in Iraq, the war is going to continue, since Bush and the Democratic leadership all have an interest in making sure that it does (please refer to my previous post for their respective motives). The agony of the Iraqi people will stretch on for the foreseeable future. American service persons will be killed. American treasure will be squandered or redistributed to the Cheney-Bush clan. The military and political situation in Iraq will continue to deteriorate. The looming menace of extremist Iran will continue to grow as American weakness becomes more apparent.

                    The vaunted Petraeus report with all its meaningless charts and graphs turned out to be a nothing, a place holder, a punctuation mark for a long, bewildering lie.

                    Oh, people! People...

                    Monday, September 10, 2007

                    Grafiti del mundo

                    Hoy, demuestro algunas fotos de grafiti que he encontrado en mis viajes.

                    Esta foto es de la Pared de John Lennon en Praga, la República Checa. La pared tiene una historia muy interesante. Puede leerla aquí. Fui satisfecho especialmente ver el semblante de uno de mis héroes personales mientras visitaba Praga.

                    Esta foto es de una parte de la Pared de Berlín, después de la reunificación de Alemania. Este pedazo de la pared es preservado en el museo "Checkpoint Charlie."

                    Y un otro pedazo de la Pared de Berlín.

                    Este mensaje, en Valdivia, Chile, es algo poético. La traducción inglesa es así: At night, you dream that you are free, in the morning the alarm clock reminds you that you are a slave...
                    ¡Un mensaje sombrío verdaderamente!

                    Cuándo yo viajé en Chile, Bush ha sido allí, algunas tres semanas antes. El residuo de su hedor de azufre fue evidente.
                    Imagino que esta pared (de Valparaiso, Chile) tiene significado, pero no sé que es.

                    Una pared festiva en San Carlos de Barriloche, Argentina. ¡Viva el Che!

                    (Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

                    Friday, September 07, 2007

                    Fred Thompson: the aristocracy's new sock puppet

                    Poor, desperate Republicans!

                    They're in a blind panic. A myriad of scandals, ranging from vote-selling to sexual peccadilloes has exposed them as the hypocrites and liars that they are. Junior Bush, the "leader" of their party, is the most reviled chief executive in 30 years. The war that they browbeat a gullible and frightened public into accepting is going badly. Prospects for the GOP in 2008 are dim indeed.

                    Enter Fred Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee. Thompson has apparently been drafted by the mucky-mucks in the shadowy GOP power elite as their savior.

                    On the surface, it seems like a good choice. After all, before Big Fred announced this week, the crop of GOP presidential hopefuls was...shall we say, meager? Each candidate is flawed in major ways that will make the Republican "base" (a combination of the greedy rich and the pathetic ignorant) uncomfortable. Rudy Giuliani is good at shrieking about terrorists and crime, but he's a cross-dresser and cavorts with homosexuals. John McCain's rants about chasing people to "the Gates of Hell" might have played if it weren't for the rumors that Karl Rove started about McCain's mental stability. Mitt Romney is a Mormon which doesn't sit well with the ignorant Evangelicals. The rest of the nobodies that fill out the slate is the usual Republican combination of xenophobes, religious extremists, and racists. (The one exception is Ron Paul, who appears to have enough integrity to buck the party's support for the war. He has about as much chance to win the nomination as does Senator David Vitter of winning Husband of the Year.)

                    So, in desperation, GOP kingmakers have turned to Fred Thompson. In many ways, Fred is ideal. He has never expressed any strong convictions, and is therefore able to shape his message for maximum appeal to the public. He has a folksy way of speaking reminiscent of Ronald Reagan that will comfort that part of the base that needs a father figure. And, most importantly, he's in on the game, having spent many years as a Washington lobbyist, so the corporate pirates need not fear any populist claptrap spilling out of his jowly, slack-chinned mouth.

                    The next step is to crank up the image machine. Look for lots of ads with Thompson waxing eloquent about how Americans need to unite, about how together we can get through this dark time, about how America is still strong and great. Soaring background music. Black-and-white photographs of Daddy Fred peering out of sunlit windows, or at his desk with his shirt-sleeves rolled up, or riding a horse with a shotgun across the pommel of his saddle.

                    We've seen it all before. It's the same thing they did for Junior in 2000 and for Reagan in 1980. Lots of image, minimum substance. Fred is the designated Daddy; the man that will lead them with the power of his convictions and morality.

                    And it will work. At least, it will work for the most hopelessly ignorant of the Republican base. Never mind that Fred's performance in the Senate was less than stellar. Never mind that he came into the race reluctantly and selfishly. Never mind his reputation for laziness and apathy. None of that matters. "He shares my beliefs," the yokels will say, nodding solemnly as he drawls out placations and folksy adages.

                    The big hurdle that Fred and his puppetmasters must overcome (and it is HUGE) is Junior. When they selected Junior to be their sock puppet in 2000 they assumed that they could control him and that he had at least a minimum of competence. (After all, his father is still a respected power broker). But Junior has been unable to meet even their minimal expectations. He has implemented many of their goals (war in Iraq, regressive tax cuts, rollback of environmental regulations) but has been so ham-handed about it that some 60+% of the American public got wise. Bad form, Junior!

                    It all could have been so easy, if Junior could have managed even a smattering of competence. How they must rue the day that they picked such a flawed human being to be their figurehead! Even with Cheney whispering in his ear, Junior couldn't pull it off.

                    Well, one just has to laugh. It will be very amusing to watch the Thompson campaign try to thread the needle, distancing Fred from the colossal disaster of the Bush administration, while still advocating for most (if not all) of its policies. For my part, I hope Thompson gets the nomination. That way, those of us who despise the Republicans and all that they stand for can take their most cherished image, the Ronald-Reagan-on-a-horse father figure, and smash it once and for all. Let them put their best foot forward, so that we can expose it as the sham it has always been.

                    Thursday, September 06, 2007

                    A rationale for faith

                    When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. -- 1 Corinthians 13

                    For the better part of my life, I have wrestled with the concept of God. The product of a union between a part-time Catholic and a part-time agnostic, I was not indoctrinated into any particular faith. However, as a child, I did ponder God, and professed to believe in Him.

                    As I came into physical (as opposed to emotional) manhood, and the flower of my youth, when the world seemed to be at my feet, I came to believe that God was unnecessary to me. I read all the classics of literature (including the Bible) to enhance my understanding of the world; I maintained my health with vigorous exercise; I was a stranger to defeat. I drew strength from my ability to live what I considered a moral and informed life without relying on what I believed to be a crutch for weaker men.

                    But then, of course, life dealt me a lesson or two: divorce (the dissolution of my first marriage), death (my grandparents, my father, my aunt), and the suffocating triumph of ignorance and fear (the Iraq war and the beguilement of the American people by the Bush administration). Gradually, I came to realize that there were many things in this world that were greater and more powerful than was I.
                    When my father passed, in 2001, his wish was that I would be baptized in the Catholic church. In accordance, I contacted the local Catholic parish and undertook to study their faith with an eye toward conversion. To my surprise, the lessons I derived from this experience did not conflict with my secular humanist views. Rather than interpreting the Bible literally, I was encouraged to view the stories as metaphors....metaphors from which we interpret meaning in our lives today. Whether or not there was actually a Great Flood that drowned everyone except for Noah and his family is unimportant. The importance of the story (myth?) is the meaning that we derive from it.

                    Of course, many Bible-thumping Evangelicals will shriek "Heresy!" at such a notion. The idea that the Bible is subject to interpretation is a frightening prospect for those that feel they must have concrete, moral absolutes to guide them through the perils of the modern world. But, for me, it is an acknowledgement of what has become obvious: I am just a man; just a tiny part of the Great Creation.

                    There has been no sudden epiphany (at least, so far). Only a gradual realization that God is something so vast and beyond comprehension that no one faith (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, et alia) can define Him, can claim to know Him. And how can one deny something that is beyond definition?

                    One might scoff at my father's end-of-life return to the church. A larger-than-life figure, who scorned weakness and stupidity, he had rediscovered the church at perhaps his weakest moment: after being diagnosed with Lupus. In short, his conversion came as he faced his own mortality. But when in one's life is one likely to confront the truth of one's existence? As Leonard Cohen so beautifully wrote:

                    And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
                    And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
                    And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
                    He said, "All men are sailors, then, until the sea shall free them;"

                    Wednesday, September 05, 2007

                    Did you get the message, Nancy? Did you get the message, Harry?

                    Congress reconvenes today after an August recess. The recess is a time for Senators and Congresspersons to vacation and also to return to their districts to talk to their constituents.

                    Here in Oregon and in our sister-state, Washington, two messages came through loud and clear: End the occupation of Iraq; investigate and impeach Junior.

                    Oregon's senior senator, Ron Wyden was inundated with angry demands along those lines last month. Wyden has opposed the war from the start and has generally taken stands with which most progressives will agree (at least, as far as the war is concerned; his stance on NAFTA and "free trade" is another matter). Nonetheless, he was upbraided during his recent town hall meetings for not doing enough.

                    Congressman Brian Baird, representing Vancouver, WA, is currently being chastised mercilessly for his wavering resolve against the war. Baird, recently returned from Iraq, said that he felt that the "surge" had succeeded in calming the situation in Anbar province, and that he no longer supported a "precipitous" withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Since that time he has been bombarded by outraged constituents. If Baird does not reconsider this change of heart, he could lose his seat next year.

                    Congressman Peter DeFazio, interviewed this morning on the THC radio show, said that he, too, had heard many calls for an end to the occupation and for impeachment proceedings.

                    And, Senator Gordon, well....Smith didn't have any town hall meetings. I imagine he calculated that it was better to stay hidden than to have cameras and reporters record what he might hear when confronted by his constituency.

                    Granted, Oregon is a blue state, but if the same messages are being conveyed to congress throughout the country...

                    The real question now becomes this: Have Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid received the message? All along they have stone-walled and made excuses for not aggressively confronting the Bush administration. Will they finally find some spine and do what 70% of the country is howling for?

                    Personally, I doubt it. They hear the message, alright. But, to their way of thinking, why should they risk anything politically by confronting Bush? They imagine that they can win simply by doing nothing. Public anger toward Bush is white hot and poisonous. There are people who cannot even bear to hear his voice without being overcome with paroxysms of rage. Pelosi and Reid know this well. They don't want to do anything to cool that anger. After all, it could very well mean that they will both be the leaders of significantly larger majorities in the next congress. If the left wing base of the democratic party is disgusted with their weak performance, what of it? It's a small price to pay for the potential dominant majorities. And besides, they imagine, the left has nowhere else to go. What will they do? Vote Republican?

                    So Reid and Pelosi are happy to make half-hearted gestures in lame protest without effecting any real change as Junior continues down the road to perdition. But neither Reid nor Pelosi have impressed me very much with their prognosticative abilities. They could very well be too clever by half. The anger that is now directed at Bush and the Republicans could readily spread to include the purposefully ineffectual Democratic leadership, could suddenly erupt in some political bird flu that will consume all of them: Bush, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner.

                    Poor, mad Cindy Sheehan has announced that she intends to run against Nancy Pelosi because of Pelosi's waffling and spinelessness. While I might wish for a more stable representative of the progressive left, I admire Cindy's courage, and I think Pelosi and others of her ilk should take notice of what Cindy's quixotic campaign represents: an unwillingness to sweep Iraq and the myriad of Bush crimes under the carpet. Let none stand before the people's righteous anger.

                    If this anger does grow, does become a white hot rage that engulfs all of the current Washington power brokers, I believe it will be good for our country. The purifying fire that cleanses through agonizing pain. New leaders will emerge from the ashes. Leaders like John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich. Leaders with new ideas and new vision.

                    If, however, everything peters out, and Bush is allowed to cover up his crimes and retire to his presidential pension without being exposed as the war criminal that he is....well, then we will have consigned ourselves to his path of cynicism, jingoism, fascism, and fear.

                    Sargeant Dave Karsnia, the officer that arrested Senator Larry Craig last week for attempting to engage in lewd behavior in a public restroom perhaps said it best. When Craig denied what Karsnia had seen with his own eyes, he commented in disgust: "Embarrassing, embarrassing. No wonder why we're going down the tubes."

                    Hear, hear.

                    Tuesday, September 04, 2007

                    Finally, a moment of candor

                    The cable news punditry, or Chris Matthews, at least, is all abuzz today about a new Junior Bush biography due out soon. The book, entitled Dead Certain, is authored by Robert Draper, a journalist in the employ of GQ Magazine.

                    While I won't be reading the book, indications are that it is not exactly a hagiography like Bob Woodward's Bush at War. The one quotation from the book that seemed to cause the poor simpleton Matthews to sputter all over himself (the man drools when he talks....really!) is this one:

                    "I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch," [Bush] says. He also has big plans for making money. "I'll give some speeches, to replenish the ol' coffers," says Mr Bush, who is already estimated to be worth $20m. "I don't know what my dad gets - it's more than 50-75 [thousand dollars a speech], and "Clinton's making a lot of money".

                    Matthews can scarcely believe that Bush would say something so shallow and avaricious while American service persons are serving and dying in Iraq. (The irony here is that Matthews was the same guy who used to gush boyishly about Junior's "great neo-conservative mind." Geez, Chris. Your lack of self-respect embarrasses me, and I don't even like you.)

                    But, what I don't understand is how anyone can find Junior's statement remarkable in any way. When has the man ever hinted at any depth of character? Was it when, in an interview with Tucker Carlson (of all people) in 1999, he mimicked condemned killer Karla Faye Tucker begging for her life? Or was it when he played dress up on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare mission accomplished in Iraq? Or was it when he shared birthday cake with John McCain while New Orleans drowned?

                    No, Chris. I'm afraid that there's nothing very surprising in the Dead Certain quotation. At least, not to those of us that have seen this charlatan for what he is all along. In fact, I think we were treated to a rare moment of candor. Of course Junior is already thinking about his next big scam! Of course he's already calculating how to pitch his song-and-dance for beaucoups de dollars! What would have shocked me, would have been if Junior had said something like this: "My hope is that, starting today and for the rest of my life, I can work to repair some of the damage that I have caused. That I can somehow atone for the misery I have created."

                    Well, Junior, when we all kiss you goodbye in 2009, go ahead and sell your snake oil to whatever combination of ignorant evangelicals and patronizing corporatists can still stomach the sight of you. The rest of us will just be glad you're gone.