Monday, April 28, 2008

The slings and arrows of modern business travel

Mindless zombies

Business travel today, in these post-911 United States, has become something of a humiliating and belittling experience. Small wonder that so many Americans that are regularly subjected to it tend toward aggression, surliness, and a general bleakness of attitude.

When one undertakes a business trip, one must enter the great river of joyless, flowing humanity, that has been browbeaten into disrupting their daily lives, not so that they can go to see and experience something new and exciting, but to go participate in drab and hopeless meetings, to exchange jargon-laced placations with other corporate automatons, to sleep in uninviting hotels, to eat food that has been manufactured rather than cooked.

Even when expenses are "comp'ed," there is a price to be paid. Specifically, business travel draws on the account of one's dignity. The indignities begin before one can even get out of town.

Passing through airport security always requires a degree of public undress: at the very least, one is obliged to remove one's shoes, but it is certainly not unheard of to be required to unfasten one's trousers or remove one's belt, while bystanders witness the application of the metal-detecting wand. Then, of course, airport security may also choose, at their discretion, to rifle through one's belongings, exposing one's personal effects to public view.

The Amazing Snore Machine

I am a sufferer from sleep apnea and my CPAP device, which I have named the "Amazing Snore Machine" never fails to draw the attention of airport security. Without fail they require that I take it out of my suitcase for their visual inspection while the travelers waiting behind me are acquainted with my nocturnal ailments just by default.

The airlines, of course, are looking for creative new methods for raising revenue, seeing as their past mismanagement and lack of foresight has placed them in dire financial peril. There was a time when a domestic flight would include a meal. Today, as I made my way from Portland to Huntsville, Alabama, American Airlines offered little boxes of cold cereal for $5. I've heard also, that soon, fliers sitting in exit rows will be required to pay for the extra leg space. It raises the question of what more the airlines can charge us for: using the armrests? The toilets? The reading lamp?

No doubt there are some who say that the ridiculous security measures were necessitated by 911. But, I don't know. I don't see how being made to get undressed in public makes anyone any safer.

And, as for the airlines milking us for every penny they can get their hands on, it seems like just another example of corporate greed and desperation aimed at squeezing the middle class.

All this being said, I would gladly endure all the indignities in order to go someplace new and experience a new culture or see fantastic sights or experience something different. Travel for pleasure is the spice of life, as the saying goes. But business travel?

Can't we just do a web meeting?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Verse 21

A mote in the blue face of God,
That is how he saw it then,
The dark-plumed raptor hanging like grim death
Over the green-gold pasture;

A tune for a cricket chorus,
That is how he played it then;
The departure of a dogwood flower
On a clear flowing current;

A high summer day of sadness,
That is how he sees it now;
The bliss that followed their angry passion
They both knew was not enough;

Peace and love.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Energy prices and food riots: pending apocalypse?

A recent scene in Haiti
I wonder, do the people of this country dare to turn away from American Idol and the NBA playoffs and even the ridiculous pageantry of American presidential politics for a moment and take a look at the ominous events that are occurring all over the world? Events that are even now permeating our national borders insidiously? Will they even notice that anything is happening? Or will they sit, insensate as the colloquial frog in the ever-warming pan of water, and flip through their cable television channels until the front door is kicked in and reality barges into their living rooms?

I'm talking about food riots.

Prices for food staples like rice and wheat have risen over the past several months by upwards of 75%, causing outbreaks of violence all over the globe.

Protest in India...
Predictably, the unfolding crisis is erupting first in the poorest countries: Indonesia, the Philippines, Cameroon. In Haiti, the government of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis was removed from office after a week of rioting by the nation's poor who were unable to afford basic food stuffs. I became aware of the crisis in a very personal manner, when my wife, whose country of birth is Burkina Faso, called her family and learned that there had been rioting and violence in Ouagadougou. Thankfully, my in-laws are safe and unharmed...for the moment.

...and Mexico...
Americans would be foolish to ignore the crisis; to write it off as something far away; something with which they need not be overly concerned. Writing a check to MercyCorps isn't going to make it all go away. Already, America's big box stores, with Walmart leading the way, are rationing rice purchases. Apparently, customers are being limited to no more than four 20-pound bags per visit.

Experts from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) attribute the rise in food prices directly to a rise in the price of oil, but also to global warming and the loss of arable land.

...and Egypt
Food shortages breed desperate, frantic people. Desperate, frantic people commit desperate, frantic acts. Governments fall; chaos and lawlessness prevail; violence and brute strength become the coin in trade for human interactions.

People, we are staring into the face of the beast.

The reasons behind the rise in the price of oil, the lifeblood of today's global economy, are myriad. But certainly, the greed of oil company executives factors into it. I cannot say that I believe that the Bush/Cheney cabal is entirely responsible for the crisis. I believe that they have exacerbated the problem, and hastened its onset, but it has been coming for years, if not decades.

Even as I have faith that all will be according to the plan of the Great Whatever, it seems to me that our immediate future is fraught with peril and anguish. It is long past time for all of us to look honestly at the dangers we face and determine what (if anything) can be done.

For my part, I hope I face whatever may come with courage. I hope I remain true to what I know in my heart to be right.

Keep your eyes on the minute-hand, people. It's nearly midnight.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Occurrence at Yearning for Zion Ranch

Temple at Yearning for Zion

By now, nearly everyone has heard about the raid that occurred on a remote Texas ranch, wherein Texas state officials removed more than 400 children from their parents and community. The raid was in response to allegations of child sexual abuse and coerced marriages. The raid took place on April 5 and is being called the largest child-protection operation in history.

The ranch, called "Yearning for Zion," is located 160 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas, and is the home of an offshoot of the Mormon church which is called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). The sect, which claims 10,000 members throughout Texas, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, adheres to the belief that a man must marry at least three wives in order to ascend to heaven, and that women must be subservient to their husbands in all things. This sect acknowledges convicted rape accomplice Warren Jeffs as its leader. Jeffs was convicted in Utah of two counts of rape as an accomplice for arranging marriages of underage girls within his community. The sect apparently regularly practices to arrange marriages of virginal girls (some as young as 13 years of age) to older men.

Warren Jeffs

The raid in Texas occurred as a result of a phone call placed to Child Protective Services alleging sexual abuse of a 16-year-old girl by a 50-year-old man who was ostensibly her husband. The girl, who has yet to be found, supposedly bore a child to the man sometime last year.

Since the raid, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the FLDS to win sympathy from the public. Angst-ridden mothers appeared on CNN's Larry King Live pleading that their children be returned to them. The men of the community were conspicuously absent from the interview, and the women would not answer any questions about them.

I watched Larry King interview these women, and I must say, my heart bled for them. (No doubt, this is just what the shadowy leaders of the sect hoped for.) Their pain and worry was sincere and apparent.

As I watched, and empathized with these very polite and demur women, I pondered the actions that the state of Texas had taken. Had the state acted in the best interests of the public? Were the rights of the FLDS being respected? What about the children?

At this point, my feelings on the matter are still in flux. As a matter of principle, I am not convinced that the state has a right to outlaw polygamy. After all, consenting adults should be able to live as they please, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. As the pagans say, "An' it harm none, do what thou wilt."

But the raid wasn't in response to allegations of polygamy; it was in response to allegations of child sexual abuse.

And that's just it, isn't it? The children whom the state removed from their parents were not consenting adults. According to Texas law, girls 16 years of age or younger may not marry, even with parental consent. In other words, the state has determined that a girl younger than 17 does not have the judgment or experience to be able to consent. One could argue that 17 is an arbitrary age and that, I suppose, is true. Nonetheless, until the law is changed, 17 is the age of consent in Texas.

A distraught mother

Ostensibly, the purpose of society and law is to protect the weak and the helpless. Of course, it is also vital that the rights of the individual be respected. (Beware the tyranny of the majority!) Cases like this one necessarily cause controversy and reexamination of laws and social mores. And that's healthy for society. But, alas, for those undoubtedly frightened children and their frantic mothers.

We humans are so often compelled to choose between evils, even as we strive to do good.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The source of dreams

Recently, I had a long, emotionally-fraught phone conversation with one of my sisters.

As is so often the case, as family issues were dredged up, dormant (mostly negative) memories twitched and stirred. Old feelings made their way to the forefront of my consciousness: anger, sorrow, resentment. Family dynamics and history, as we all know, are treacherous grounds upon which to tread. And I've yet to hear of a family that did not satisfy any particular of the definition of "dysfunctional." Suffice it to say, at the end of the evening, as I settled in to bed, my mind was occupied with thoughts from my past, thoughts of the living, thoughts of the dead.

Grandma and Grandpa Metzger
At some point in my nocturnal repose, I received a visit. I dreamed I was in the shower in my house on Hawthorne street when my maternal grandmother, Gertrude Metzger, who passed some 20 years ago, entered the bathroom and said "Hi, Dade." She was smiling, just as I remember her smiling when I was a boy: her face hopeful and sunny, her demeanor completely open. I felt no embarrassment at my nakedness, nothing was completely comfortable. I was very happy to see her, and it occurred to me that I had missed her very much over these past 2 decades. The scene then shifted, in that way that dream scenes do. I was standing on a stage in a small auditorium. All four of my deceased grandparents were in the otherwise empty balcony, occupying the seats before me. From left to right, I could see Grandma Metzger, looking attentive and interested, then Grandpa Metzger, then Grandpa Cariaga, and lastly, Grandma Cariaga. Grandma Cariaga was looking away from me, hiding her face behind her hand. She seemed to be angry with me... fade to black...

Grandpa Cariaga
When I awoke in the morning, I had the distinct feeling that my four grandparents had come to visit me, to offer me some advice, to impart some wisdom.

I'm still mulling that over, puzzling about it. I wonder: what was the message I was intended to receive? And, were the sources of that message actually the watchful spirits of my grandparents, or was it my own subconscious conjuring images from my past?

In my life (and I have to imagine that it is true for you, too, dear reader), there are some dreams that have stayed with me for years. Some were disturbing and frightful; others were warm and comforting. Some of them made me regret having awoken. Some left residual emotions floating around me, sometimes for days afterwards.

Grandma Cariaga with my sister, Paige
There are many web sites that you can find that will help you interpret your dreams. A partial list:
These websites offer some interesting tidbits. But, really, I've yet to find a website or anything else that can really explain a dream to my satisfaction.

When I related my dream to my friend Sarah, she told me that she had heard that dreams are usually expressions of either fear or hope. That is, a dream is the psyche's way of conveying something that is weighing heavily on it, something it dreads (fear) or for which it longs (hope). This seems rational.

But the romantic in me is reluctant to abandon the notion that my grandparents are still out there, watching out for me, and still willing to come back and impart their wisdom.

What do you think?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Movie review: 88 Minutes

Director Jon Avnet's latest effort, 88 Minutes, opened this last weekend in theaters. The film features Al Pacino as Dr. Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist and college professor who finds himself being stalked by an unknown killer as the clock ticks toward the execution of a man, Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), who was convicted, nine years earlier, on the strength of Dr. Gramm's expert testimony.

The story begins with Dr. Gramm learning from FBI agents that a new killer has emerged: a killer whose modus operandi (binding his victims, suspending them from the ceiling, and then torturing and raping them) is reminiscent of that of the condemned man, raising the possibility that Gramm may have helped to convict an innocent. Soon thereafter, Gramm receives a call on his cell phone informing him that he has 88 minutes to live. Gramm sets about seeking the identity of the new killer and engaging the condemned man in a duel of wits by proxy.

Sound unlikely? You don't know the half of it!

This movie is so implausible, there are so many holes in the plot, that to single out any one of them would afford it too much significance. Avnet and script-writer Gary Scott Thompson tax the viewers mercilessly, demanding not just a suspension of disbelief, but an out-and-out vacation from reality. Doctor Gramm zips around downtown Seattle, narrowly avoiding a plethora of clumsy attempts on his life, all the while coordinating his investigative activities via cell phone, handing out instructions to his gay ex-wife and devoted administrative assistant, Shelly Barnes (Amy Brenneman) and his toady friend Special Agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe). Meanwhile, the good doctor must hold at arms length his mysterious and dishy teaching assistant, Kim Cummings (Alicia Witt), and dodge her insanely jealous ex-boyfriend.

One ridiculously unlikely event follows another as Gramm rushes forward toward whatever it is that awaits him. A long succession of poorly sketched characters surface as possible suspects, only to be completely forgotten as they are rendered irrelevant by the next contrived twist. The audience quickly becomes intimately familiar with the ring tone of Gramm's cell phone (much of the dialog occurs in phone conversations) as frantic calls come in from his various minions, interspersed with taunts from the killer. ("Thirty-seven minutes left, Doc. Tick-tock.") Meanwhile, almost as asides, a car explodes from a planted bomb, a high-rise catches fire, a nutty stalker is shot to death and a salacious lesbian relationship is revealed. Dr. Gramm sails on through it all, cell phone at his ear.

I suppose it is a measure of Pacino's professionalism that he does seem to make the attempt at filling out the thinly-written role, but to the extent that he succeeds, it is more a function of his personal charisma than anything else. The rest of the cast, apparently, couldn't be bothered. There are some embarrassingly bad performances. But I can't blame the actors: what can one expect from a script that is so shockingly amateurish?

And why, pray tell, does a man who enjoys as much professional respect as Pacino agree to such roles? When you reach that level, it can't be because you really need the work.

Toward the end of the film, during the final confrontation between Dr. Gramm and the killer, the doctor, shocked at the rapid-fire rush of catastrophes that he has miraculously managed to avoid, asks incredulously "What's next?"

I found that I had been idly wondering the same thing for the previous 88 minutes.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Silver Creek Falls

A ghostly rainbow dancing in the mist;
A sheen between his eyes and the figure
Of his grandfather, standing at the top;

The old man no longer dares to descend
To walk behind the horse-tail waterfall
Where he first brought the boy (though boy no more);

The boy-no-more waves from behind the mist;
Sees the old man raise his arm in reply,
Seeming to urge him on, encourage him;

It has been many long years since the time
When Grandpa held his small hand on the path
And half-carried him on water-slick rocks;

The trail stretches out ahead forever,
Though sword fern and thimble-berry obscure
Anything farther than what is right here;

The path is slippery, he minds his feet,
Then remembers himself and looks back up;
Benediction given, Grandpa is gone;

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My goodness, but this has been a dreary spring!

See? Spring can be beautiful...
Oregonians are a stalwart bunch, generally. Anybody who can face unremitting gray skies from mid-October through mid-April and still manage a smile on most days is pretty resilient. But this spring has been a real test, no?

Temperatures are unseasonably cold, and, though we had one nice day last week, the rain and clouds have been our constant companions for months on end.

Well, hang on, Oregonians! The Pacific Northwest clime is testing us right now, but the good weather will come. People really can enjoy the outdoors here in this mostly rainy land. I offer these photos as proof!

Swimmin' hole near Astoria
Canoeing on the Long Tom River
Gettin' hitched at Sauvie Island!
Hiking at Siouxan Creek
Jammin' at the camp site near Stevenson, WA

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Yo quiero trabajar con mi gente

Por los veinte años pasados, he trabajado en la industria de software como un escritor técnico. ¡Veinte años! Bien, no tengo razón para quejarme. Pero... me encuentro sentirse incumplido. (Yo me imagino que esto es un deseo común. Especialmente con personas, como mi, que tengan cuarenta o más años.)

El primer paso para cambiar una carrera es, tal vez, entender el tipo de trabajo que se desea.

Después de tantos años de trabajando en una industria, la cual que tiene el único objetivo de ganar dinero para ejecutivos corporativos, yo deseo encontrar un trabajo donde tendré la oportunidad contribuir a sociedad. Tal vez, yo pueda trabajar con un programa que ayuda a integrar la comunidad hispana en Oregon. O, pueda escribir para un periódico hispano en Portland.

¿Dónde oculta el trabajo de mis sueños?
¿Pues, cuales destrezas tengo, las cuales que puedo ofrecer? ¿Y donde puedo aplicarlas?

Una lista de habilidades incluye:
  • La capacidad de escribir bien (por lo menos, en inglés)
  • La capacidad a pensar analíticamente
  • Una familiaridad con computadoras
  • La capacidad a hablar, escribir, y leer español
Hay más, seguramente. ¿Y qué son mis requisitos para un trabajo?
  • Un salario suficiente a vivir sin dificultad indebida para mi, la mujer, y la familia (potencial)
  • Un sitio cerca de mi hogar (en el centro de la ciudad)
  • Seguros de enfermedad
  • Idealmente, la capacidad a hacer la mejora del vives de otros
Yo no sé. Quizás, este es demasiado a preguntar. Pero, siempre es difícil a empezar buscando por un otro trabajo. Ese, ya lo sé.

Bien, este boletín parece lastimoso. (En parte, es por que este hecho que lo escribí en español.) Pero, miraremos que será. ¡Me desee buena suerte!

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Obama says he'd review potential Bush White House crimes

Now, we're talkin'.

In an interview last night, Senator Barack Obama was asked whether his administration would "seek to prosecute officials of a former Bush administration on the revelations that they greenlighted torture, or for other potential crimes that took place in the White House."

Wouldn't it be lovely?

Apparently, Obama was asked this question as a result of the recent report by ABC News that major players in the Bush administration, including Beast Cheney, Condi Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and John Ashcroft, held meetings to discuss the specific torture techniques American operatives would use on terrorism suspects.

Obama's answer:

What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can't prejudge that because we don't have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve.

So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment -- I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General -- having pursued, having looked at what's out there right now -- are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it's important-- one of the things we've got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing betyween really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I've said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law -- and I think that's roughly how I would look at it.

Well, it is wordy and not as direct as I would like, but this is something that I've been waiting to hear from a candidate for a long time. My heart lifts when I consider the possibility (however faint) that Junior and the Beast and ridiculous Condi Rice and toady Al Gonzales and the myriad other bad actors in the Bush administration may actually someday be made to answer for their crimes.

Obama is soft-peddling it, to be sure. His campaign has decided that his road to the White House involves promoting a message of hope through unity and mending fences. But, at least, he's acknowledging the sentiment. That's more than you'll hear from nasty Hillary Clinton or befuddled John McCain, both of whom were at least partially complicit in the excesses of the Bush administration.

Certainly, the United States does need to unite its people (after having been divided so cynically by the Karl Rove method of politics) in order to successfully deal with the huge problems at hand. But in order to effectively address the current and pending crises, we will be required to honestly assess how we have come to this pass....and that will mean accountability. Bad news for Junior.

Of course, spineless Nancy Pelosi has taught us that tough talk from Democrats is not to be taken too seriously. But Obama is outside the established, traditional Democratic power structure, at least to a degree. If Obama gets the nomination, it will mean the demise of the (Bill) Clinton faction of triangulators that have sought to appease the neo-conservatives. And a sweeping victory in the general election might finally whip Congressional Democrats into shape.

So, getting way ahead of ourselves here, if we imagine that Obama has a huge victory in November and becomes our next president, perhaps the most important Cabinet post he will have to fill will be the Attorney General spot.

Patrick Fitzgerald would be my suggestion.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Should respect be unconditional?

The post I put up on Friday, April 11th, entitled "A hierarchy revealed," has been chewing at me for a while. In particular, and like a true "liberal" who questions everything, especially my own beliefs, I am troubled by a seeming inconsistency in the advocation I make at the end of the post:
...maybe one thing we can do to work toward an egalitarian society is to simply be respectful to others, regardless of their social class, profession, income level, appearance, or whatever other criterion we might invent.
But, Dade, one might say, you refer to President Bush as "Junior" and call Vice-President Cheney a beast in one paragraph, and then suggest that we all be respectful toward each other in the next. How is that consistent?

Good question.

I don't know if it is consistent, frankly. And, although I say that people deserve respect regardless of their social class, etcetera, I do not say that respect should be unconditional.

Put it down to the principle of reciprocation. I hold that, by default, people deserve respect. But there is a condition: in order to retain one's right to respect, one must afford it to others. If I feel I am not being respected by someone, that person will get no respect from me. In fact, I'll go out of my way to disrespect that person. A person deserves respect up until that time at which he or she fails to afford it to me or one of my people.

Returning to the story I mentioned in the April 11th post (A hierarchy revealed), my coworker, operating according to the laws of her perceived social hierarchy, offers respect to those whom she perceives to be above her in the hierarchy.

For me, it's a little different. First off, I reject the idea of a social hierarchy. The concept of America, at least as it was (perhaps naively) taught to me in school, is that of a society wherein there are no aristocrats, none elevated above the common man by birth or wealth. A person deserves respect not by virtue of his/her position, wealth, or appearance, but because of his/her integrity, honesty, sincerity, compassion, knowledge, kindheartedness. One need not have all of these attributes to retain my respect, but at least some of them must be in evidence. It is possible (and wise) to respect one's enemies if they are honest, if they are operating with integrity.

But for those of one's enemies that have none of these virtues --well, such creatures cannot be treated with respect. To do so only allows them to continue on as they have done. These creatures must be unfailingly ridiculed and belittled until the truth of their corrupt souls is exposed for all to see.

So, now we're arriving at the nub of my disrespect for Bush and Cheney and neo-conservatives in general. These people show no respect for their victims. They have no integrity or honesty. They deceive. They lie to hide their agenda. They despise those whom they perceive to be below them in the hierarchy, but they hide their contempt in order to use those very people whom they victimize for their own ends.

Such people deserve only contempt. And that's all Junior and the Beast will ever get from me.

Of course, there's a Catch-22 in all of this...some kind of chicken-or-egg hypocrisy. But, let's face it, all of us operate from positions that we can't completely defend. So, to the extent that I am inconsistent in my reasoning, I offer mea culpa, and point to my human fallibility.

He who is without sin can go ahead and start chuckin'.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A hierarchy revealed

Isn't it funny how a seemingly innocuous conversation can sometimes reveal attitudes that are.... well... different?

At work, due to the usual corporate shuffling and petty empire-building, I was compelled to move from one office to another, two doors down, in the same hallway. (Anyone who contends that private enterprise is somehow more efficient than government hasn't spent much time working in corporate America, but that's another topic.)

So, when I arrived this morning, the facilities people (two movers and a cleaning lady) were still finishing up the move, getting my desk, table, computer and other things in order. The facilities people at my company are hard-working and dependable and they really go out of their way to do a good job. So, I made it a point to tell them so. "You guys always do a great job," I said. "I want you to know I appreciate it."

Everyone likes to hear things like that, of course, and I could see each of them light up just a bit when I said it. They responded with "No problem," and "You're welcome," and I was rewarded with smiles.

All well and good. They finished up and went on to their next task somewhere else on campus while I settled in to my new office and started to work.

I hadn't been at it long when my coworker from across the hall poked her head in and said, "You did something that I really admire."

"Oh?" I said, clueless.

"I think it was very nice that you thanked the facilities people, that you said those nice things to them," she said.

I was puzzled. "What do you mean?" I asked.

She tilted her head for an instant, considering. "I think it's important to remember people below us deserve respect, too," she said. "Sometimes I forget that."

The conversation went on a little longer, but I can't really recall what was said beyond that point. I was taken aback by the attitude revealed in just that little snippet. Keep in mind, my coworker is a very nice woman: professional, courteous, likable, and friendly. But her remark was shocking to me. People below us deserve respect? What could that possibly mean?

On reflection, it seems obvious that my coworker has established a hierarchy within her mind that she uses to determine the amount of respect that each person is due. Apparently, my coworker thought that by thanking the facilities people for their help, I was engaging in some kind of noblesse oblige. After all, social decorum did not require me to show the facilities people any respect. They are "below" me.

That this social hierarchy exists in the mind of my coworker (and one can be reasonably sure that she is not alone) is a rather revealing tidbit, no?

First of all, how is this hierarchy structured? What attributes must one possess to be at the top? What attributes must one possess (or lack) to be on the bottom? Is it a matter of money? That is, does the amount of one's paycheck determine one's position on the ladder? Surely, the facilities people at my company are paid less than the "professionals" who sit at computers all day. Or, is one's rank determined by the nature of one's work? That is, does a person who performs "white-collar" work outrank a manual laborer? And, if so, why?

Beyond that, if one accepts this social hierarchy, then one must also accept that there are others who are higher up in it. Just as there are people "below us," surely, there are people "above us." And, since my coworker seemed impressed that I had afforded the people she deemed "below" me respect, should we then be grateful when someone "above" us in the hierarchy treats us with courtesy and respect?

I don't get it. Maybe I'm just a hopeless egalitarian dreamer, but, you know, when I go home at night, the CEO of my company is just another schmo on the road, no more or less worthy of respect than anyone else.

Adherence to some unwritten hierarchy would seem to lead to meek submission to authority. It seems to me that the mentality revealed by my coworker is exactly what is required for authoritarian power and totalitarian government, exactly the mentality that allows for monsters like Junior Bush and Cheney the Beast...

....and if that is true, well, then maybe one thing we can do to work toward an egalitarian society is to simply be respectful to others, regardless of their social class, profession, income level, appearance, or whatever other criterion we might invent.

Doncha think?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Another rainy day in Portland

How dreary is the pale sunlight of spring
That paints the skyward facets of the clouds
Which drizzle on the Roseland's ev'ry thing
And soften shapes to gray, besotted shrouds?

Could not Apollo for us intervene
And lift the gray oppression from our souls?
We glimpse his glory in the weakened sheen
But hides he yet behind the nimbus ghouls;

To taunt us thusly seems to me unfair,
So long we've braved the weeping of the skies,
And yearned to see his fiery visage glare,
To offer him salute with shaded eyes;

I know complaint doth offer small reward
But could he not one sunny day afford?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Petraeus shocks exactly no one: Calls for a pause in Iraq draw-down

"When ya get up there to testify, Dave, here's what you tell 'em..."

Anyone who didn't see this coming wasn't pay much attention.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, General David Petraeus called for a 45-day “period of consolidation and evaluation” after the extra combat forces that Bush ordered to Iraq last year have completed their pullout in July. Read about it here. And here's the kicker, quoting from the Associated Press article:
Bush is expected to accept Petraeus' recommendation.
Of course, back in winter of 2006-2007, many people suspected that the term "surge" was just a marketing gimmick that meant "escalation." Now, just as with every other suspicion that critics have had regarding the motives and agenda of the Bush administration, the suspicions about the surge are being confirmed. Hiding behind the supposed expertise of General Petraeus, Bush intends to see this through to the bloody end.

Joining him in this endeavor is presumptive GOP Presidential nominee, John McCain, who has never been bashful about his praise for Petraeus, whom he has called "one of [America's] greatest generals." And why not? It's always safe to praise a general in the field, and McCain's presidential ambitions hinge on the perception of success that only Petraeus can deliver.

But, putting aside McCain's lickspittle commentary, Petraeus doesn't really seem all that admirable. Let's not forget that Petraeus became the Commanding General, Multi-National Force - Iraq (MNF-I) in January 2007, just as Bush was pushing his "surge" idea. It doesn't take much imagination to suspect that Petraeus was selected to replace General George Casey precisely because he agreed to support the idea of the "surge." And remember back in September 2007, when Petraeus delivered his report to Congress, we learned that the report was actually written by the White House, and contradicted a report by the US GAO that indicated that the surge was a failure. Petraeus seems to be little more than another soldier who abdicates his own responsibilities in favor of the easy out: "Just following orders."

Bush and the neo-conservatives are maintaining a low profile throughout the testimony. But secretly, one must imagine they are rubbing their hands with glee. The "surge" has become what they had hoped: an increased and open-ended commitment to their disastrous policy.

The three major presidential contenders are all seated on the Armed Services Committee and will, therefore, have their chance to grandstand, but there will be little effort to change the course in Iraq for the remainder of Bush's term.

Has the surge been a success? Well, not if you use the criteria that were initially set for it. And the recent flare-up in violence, which should indicate how little the surge has really accomplished, is now being used as a reason to maintain troop levels, to defer a troop draw-down.

This long nightmare, initiated by small-minded, but ambitious people, rages on. The tally of the dead, of the maimed, of the ruined continues to grow.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Au revoir, Hannah, mon amour.

Green-eyed Hannah: 1993-2008
Little black kitten, sleeping on my lap,
Belatedly, I write to say goodbye;
Never, never think I didn't love you,
Even though we were apart at the end;

You were the furry pillow 'gainst my leg,
The static-cling meower at my feet,
The pretty kitty napping on the deck,
Daddy's whiskered princess, furry and black;

Au revoir, little Miss Hannah!
Au revoir! Adieu!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ideological rigidity and the death of conservatism

Sam Seder: Tellin' it like it is
I was listening to Sam Seder the other day (he was guest-hosting the Randi Rhodes show) when, as happens so often, he said something that really got me to thinking. He pointed out that the conservative movement is dead. It is devoid of ideas; it is static; it is gripped by some kind of intellectual rigor mortis.

Well, an examination of the criteria that so-called conservatives use to determine the worthiness of a candidate reveals much, doesn't it? To be a "real conservative," one must:
  • unequivocally oppose taxation as a means of raising revenue
  • reject a woman's right to determine whether or not she will carry a pregnancy to term
  • support "aggressive" interrogation techniques for "illegal enemy combatants"
  • advocate a militarization of the US border with Mexico and criminal prosecution of "illegal" aliens
  • insist that military operations in Iraq continue until US forces "achieve victory"
  • express admiration for Supreme Court Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito
  • maintain a (mostly false) public piety and reverence for Christianity
  • speak of Ronald Reagan in reverent terms
This is certainly not a complete list. But to stray from even one of these positions or any of the myriad others is to risk being labeled a "liberal," as laughable as that seems. Let's not forget the bowing and scraping that crazy John McCain felt compelled to perform in order to convince "movement conservatives" that he was worthy of their support (which is still uncertain, 'cause, you know, he just doesn't seem to hate the Mexicans enough and he didn't vote for Junior's tax cuts).

With this kind of hard-and-fast template laid out like a concrete foundation, how is it possible for a movement, any movement to grow and remain vibrant? Especially when the current leader of the conservative movement (ostensibly, Junior) is being so thoroughly stripped of his facade of gravitas?

Oh, brother!
It's pathetic and laughable to see these people, these fools, try to maintain that they are a legitimate political or intellectual school.

Frankly, I think it is past time for people who adhere to the "conservative" template to face the ridicule and humiliation that they have so richly earned. And, hey, I'm trying to do my part with this blog. Heh.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Love'll take a man down

Stone men

Every day, I am reminded of how much I love my wife, Maty Bombay Diop-Cariaga. Because, every day, when I go to work, and I get mired down in all the anxiety and the politics and the madness and latent anger that is inherent in a work place where one's future is uncertain, I steady myself with the thought of my wife and our home in Southeast Portland. I have come to depend on her so much, her steadiness and her faith and her moral goodness, that if I were to be bereft of it now...well, I don't like to think about it.

Suffice it to say that if I were to survive such a catastrophe (by no means a certainty) I would be forever changed. I'd be like one of those terracotta men that stand in the tombs in China: destined to endure until wind and rain and time ground me to nothing. I can't imagine that life would hold any more joy for me at that point.

But, as deserving as she is, this post isn't an homage to Maty. My intention is to elucidate a point implied by the love that I hold for her. It is this: I have become vulnerable.

Before I met Maty, in the long decade I spent as a divorcee, owning my house on Hawthorne Street and renting out the two spare bedrooms, my heart was unladen by responsibility. My only concern, my only province, was myself. If I lost my job or suffered some unforeseen setback, I need only worry about my own person.

I could travel as I pleased. I could spend all night playing guitar with friends. I could make decisions based entirely on my whimsical inclinations without a thought for prudence.

The Happy Bachelor in Salzberg, Austria, 1999

Things are different now.

Those of you who read this that are parents or caring for elderly loved ones or otherwise responsible for persons beyond yourselves will surely think: "Ha! Now you get it!"

Okay. So, maybe I'm slow on the uptake. But this love that I willingly embraced, the love for which I longed, even in my happiest days of bachelorhood, has come at a price. I can be hurt now. I can be made to compromise even my most deeply held principles. I can be forced to accept things I never would have accepted before.

It is suddenly easy to imagine scenarios where, in order to protect and provide for my wife (and, perhaps, someday soon, my child) I might need to diminish my dignity and maybe even my sacred integrity. Because I love her. Because she is more important to me than even those things.

Maty, and all my family, are my rock. They are the solid foundation upon which I have constructed the sandcastle of my life.

There's an irony here, somewhere. I spent much of my life free and invulnerable, but yearning for love. In gaining love, I necessarily, and more or less consciously, sacrificed freedom and invulnerability. The loss of freedom is easy. I don't find myself yearning for it nowadays. I had a good long stretch of it, and it was grand and glorious. But I was ready to move on when Maty came into my life.

Love stripped me of the armor of being self-sufficient. Now, I face every day with the knowledge that there are very real disasters out there that can destroy me, that can transform me into one of those terracotta warriors, forever staring straight ahead, unfeeling and joyless.


Love can take a man down. Love is the self-imposed Achilles' heel for all men. At some level of consciousness, when a man allows himself to love, he exposes himself to the world. He says, "Yes, I will be a part of this beautiful, frightening thing." He says this even as he knows that ultimately, he will be destroyed.

Well, speaking only for myself, and even though, at times I'm deathly afraid, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Move over, Dana Perino, I'm the new White House spokesman

Workin' for the Man!

Well, all, my dreams have finally come true. This morning, I was startled when, suddenly the sound of my phone ringing that special ring tone (Beethoven's Fifth, actually) alerted me that a very special caller was on the line.

I scooped up the receiver, and before I could even say "hello," a familiar voice, a voice that sounded like rocks tumbling at the bottom of a subterranean lake, rasped, "Pack your bags, you bastard. It's your turn to take the heat."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Vice-President," I said, leaping to my feet.

"You'll be taking Dana's job," he growled. "When we hired her, we wanted someone stupid, but, in her case, we overshot the mark. You'll be a better fit."

It took a moment for the awesome news to sink in. Apparently, I'm to be the new White House spokesman, replacing Dana Perino.

"I'm honored, Mr. Vice-President," I stammered. My stomach was in knots, and the hair on the back of my neck felt electrified, like thousands of tiny needles pricking at my spinal chord.

"Shut up," he said. "Just get your bags packed and get on a flight, right away. We're planning a new Iran initiative and we need you to get out there with the verbal soft-shoe."

"Iran initiative?" I asked.

"Let's just say that things are in the works," he said. "The details are on a need-to-know basis."

"Will there be a press conference? What will I say when they ask questions?" I asked.

"Act dumb," he chortled. "You're good at it."

"Yes, sire...uh, sir," I said. His tone had indicated that he was through talking, so I gathered up my courage and stammered, "Um, sir? There's the matter of airfare. I had to fill up the gas tank yesterday, so my credit card is maxed out..."

"Oh, Christ!" he complained. "With help like this..." There was a long silence. I could sense him counting, slowly, as his rage waned to a manageable level. "Alright, listen," he said. "We'll get you on a military flight to Washington." He spoke slowly, and deliberately; the same way my kindergarten teacher used to speak. "Put on your Sunday best and comb your hair and... oh God! Why do I bother? Just get here."

The line went dead.

So, I'm off to Washington, DC, to fulfill my lifelong dream of public service. I have a feeling my new boss is going to be a handful, but on the other hand, if Junior Bush can keep his job, I ought to be able to keep mine.

Wish me luck. And happy April 1st!