Monday, June 30, 2008

¡Felicitaciones, hispanos! ¡Ahora, pueden compartir en la basura!

Bien, la verdad es que este desarrollo refleja la influencia creciente de los hispanos en la política de los EEUU. Pero no puedo imaginar que hay muchos hispanos que tienen mucho entusiasmo de las noticias: muy pronto, las campañas de los candidatos primeros transmitirán anuncios en español.

¡Ahora, los hispanos pueden disfrutar del flujo interminable de palabras en su propia lengua!

El Huffington Post informa que la cantidad de dinero ser gastado en anuncios españoles achicará la cantidad de elecciones anteriores. (El récord anterior, por la elección de 2004, es $9 milliones).

Cualquiera que duda la influencia de la minoría hispana en la política nacional aprenderá la verdad muy pronto. El hecho que ambos de las campañas hablarán directamente a los hispanos revela todo que necesita para entender.

La mayor parte de "expertos" predicen que Barack Obama ganará la vota hispana. La pregunta es el tamaño de la victoria. En el pasado, John McCain disfrutaba el apoyo de muchos de hispanos por su posición independiente en el asunto de inmigración. Pero, por las elecciones primarias, él cambió su posición por ganar el apoyo de los xenófobos en su partido republicano.

La influencia de hispanos en estados como Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, y Nevada podría demostrar decisivo.

Mientras es una buena cosa que los hispanos son reconocidos como una parte importante del electorado, hay también dos tristezas:
  • McCain abandonó sus principios para acallar los fanáticos de los republicanos.
  • Los hispanos necesitan aguantar los anuncios interminables.
¡Qué lástima!

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

For thee, I fight

An icy blade to stab my aching heart:
'Twas thus when I beheld thy desperate mien;
I saw at once how selfish I had been
To daily weep the cast of my bit part;

The gloom of doom accosts me, blackest art,
Its poison vapor seeps its way between,
And pulls thee toward the lip of the ravine
That I did dredge when I let hope depart;

I vow now I will not be cowed by life;
I'll brave disasters, tragedies, defeats
And swing my sword 'gainst dragons that might loom;

I utterly reject a life composed in gloom;
No earthly woe must ever cause retreat
So long as I've the armor of my wife!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

One tiny step in the right direction

Stephen Covey's 1989 book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was, for a time, the guiding text for my life. I remember reading the book, back in the early 90's and being attracted to its positiveness, its hopefulness, its common-sense approach to becoming a better person.

In particular, the first of Covey's seven habits, Be proactive, involves defining one's circle of concern, and within that, one's circle of influence. A quick definition of the concept is this: rather than focus on worries over which one has no control, focus on actions one can take that may effect those worries.

For example, one may worry about global warming and environmental degradation. But, Covey argues, it is far more effective to focus on taking steps that might have a positive impact on these issues. Nothing new in this idea, right? Just common sense. That is one of the most attractive aspects of Covey's book: it illuminates concepts that one immediately recognizes as true through one's inherent human wisdom.

Well, I'm happy to say that I've begun operating within my own circle of influence with a few small actions aimed at addressing a number of worries in my circle of concern. Namely, money worries, global warming, and environmental degradation.

First, the stats: My daily commute to and from work is approximately 50 miles. My car gets about 23 miles per gallon. Therefore, to get to and from work by driving my car requires that I burn 2.17 gallons of gas. Aside from the obvious destructive emissions associated with burning fuel, at $4.25/gallon in Portland as of today, the monetary cost of getting to and from work using my car is $9.22. To quote Tony Montana: Tha's no duckwalk.

So, one action I have taken within my circle of influence is to make an arrangement with a coworker, wherein we will carpool two days/week. I'll drive one of the days, and he the other. That reduces my weekly commuting costs by 20% per week right off the bat.

Then, I have negotiated with my employer to arrange a work-from-home agreement, wherein I will telecommute one day per week. Another 20% off my commuting costs.

Lastly, I have pulled my bicycle out of the basement,and bought a book of Trimet bus tickets. At least one day per week, I ride my bike to downtown Portland, catch the bus that will take me down the interstate close to my work, and then ride the last mile or so. Each Trimet ticket is $2.50, and my commute will require that I use 2 per day, for a total of $5....slightly more than half the cost of driving myself.

Now, given that I must commute to work 5 times per week, the cost-effectiveness of my new habits become apparent:

Drive myself:
5 X 9.22 = $46.10

1 X 5.00 = $5.00 (bike/bus day)
1 X 0 = $0.00 (carpool ride day)
1 X 0 = $0.00 (telecommute day)
2 X 9.22 = 18.44 (drive days)
Total: $23.44

Now, if I persist with this arrangement, in one year's time, my financial savings will be $1178.32! Of course, this doesn't account for vacation time, and holidays, and other times when I will not commute, nor for those times when other factors will require that I drive. Nonetheless, that's a nice little chunk of change.

Good ol' Trimet
And I'll be contributing less to general environmental degradation, and wear and tear on our infrastructure, to say nothing of the wear and tear on my car. Plus, the biking will give me another boost in getting into better shape physically, and will arm me with another positive factor in my struggle against depression.

These are small steps, granted. But, as the ancient Chinese proverb tells us: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And I do believe that the preponderance of individual human actions will be the biggest determinant in the fate that awaits us all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Back on the Pax!

A new day today. A new beginning for me. Well...sort of...

As I mentioned in a recent post, I've been struggling with depression lately. A general angst and a sometimes overwhelming feeling of hopelessness have been regular companions in my life, robbing me of joy. I've been carrying around a pervasive sense of doom, an anxiety, an anticipation of disaster that has taken a huge toll on me in many ways. And also on my beloved wife, Maty.

Well, last night Maty and I had one of those raw emotional conversations. You know, those talks that are upsetting and traumatic and difficult, and very, very necessary. Maty said she was very tired; tired of seeing me mope around, worried and sad and defeated. She was tired of seeing tears in my eyes at odd moments and for no apparent reason. She said it broke her heart and it exhausted her and made it hard for her to stave off her own sadness and anxiety.

When she spoke, I clearly saw her honesty, and I saw the desperation in her plea. She was suffering, and the thought of that stabbed me in the heart like a searing, white hot iron. It made me ache to think that my sadness and hopelessness was hurting her, was making her life difficult.

So, last night I resolved that I must do all I can to beat this depression thing. For her. For this brave young woman. For my beautiful, saintly wife. For Maty Bombay.

Back in December, I took myself off of Paxil, an anti-depressant, anti-anxiety drug that I had been taking for years. I had tried several times previously to wean myself of the drug, and it had always ended badly, with me in a state of mental despair.

This time, I consulted my doctor and he told me I should use my own discretion in determining whether or not to continue the prescription. So, I took the plunge and quit taking Paxil right around Christmas time.

At first, things seemed alright. I was not overwhelmed with anxiety or sadness. But over the months, things have slowly changed. And I suppose that's how things like this happen. The transition is slow and scarcely discernible.

Now, six months later, with a little help from Maty, I have assessed my emotional state and I can see that it is time for me to restart my pharmaceutically-induced stability. When even moments of joy and levity are deadened by all-encompassing sadness and dread, it is time to make a change.

This, I suppose, is something of a defeat. I seem unable to function emotionally without this drug, and that is sobering and worrisome in and of itself. But, on the other hand, life is far too short to be unhappy each and every day.

Me and my life-saver
I popped my first tab of Paxil this morning and followed up with a call to my doctor to get the prescription going again. I'm hopeful that Paxil will once again be the little chemical breeze that disperses the gray clouds in my emotional sky.

This has been a very personal post, and I apologize to you, dear reader, if it makes you squeamish or uncomfortable. But I remain committed to telling the truth as I know it, and so here it is.

And this: As Maty says, quite often, "Sometimes you have to give everything to God."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

War's bitter fruit

Neo-conservative handiwork
Last weekend at the Oregon Democratic convention, John Bradach won election to be a national delegate in Denver this August. John supports Barack Obama and is an ardent and impassioned opponent of the war.

A few weeks ago, John Bradach was one of my choices for delegate representing the 3rd Congressional district, but his run was unsuccessful there. I'm glad he was elected as a delegate-at-large at the state convention.

The reason I supported John at the earlier convention was largely because of the story he told during his allotted speaking time between the first and second ballot. John told the story of how he was working at his law office in the Lloyd district on July 2, 2003, when his wife Cathy called to tell him that three marines were trying to locate his sister, Lynn Bradach. Lynn had a 21-year-old son, Travis, serving in Iraq. Cathy was worried that Travis had been hurt.

But John knew. "Marines don't come to tell you someone has been hurt," he told her. "Travis is gone."

And, in fact, Travis John-Nall was killed by a land mine on July 2, 2003. He was 21 years old.

Travis John-Nall
This tragedy is being played out hundreds of thousands of times, here and in Iraq. These are the bitter fruits of war. And I deeply resent the people who instigated it, who supported it, and who continue to try to justify it. They were so full of bravura and fervor and blood-lust, and so very far away from any real physical danger. I have small hope that any human justice will be served them.

We'll just have to trust in karma, which, I sometimes manage to believe never fails. And we'll just have to nurse these wounds that have been inflicted on us by this cursed war, knowing that they can never heal.

Travis John
by my friend, Kate Power, from Artichoke Music

Under a foreign sky,
My fate awaits me
There but for God go I;
Do not forsake me.
I am a boy, full of promise,
Full of freedom
And now the joy
Is dead and done
I am gone...

Before the western sea,
My home was in the valley.
There with my family
I took to manhood early.
I was the one
My brother called,
My mother looked to me,
Her fine, strong son;
And now the joy
Is dead and done
I am gone...

Finding my way to go,
The call that I should answer
My country's own hero,
Like music to the dancer.
I am a boy, full of promise,
Full of freedom
And now the joy
Is dead and done
I am gone...

Under a weeping willow tree
You planted roses.
There in my memory
Where my eternal ghost is.
I was a boy, full of promise
Full of freedom;
And now the joy
Is dead and done
I am gone...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Brave young woman

Brave young woman

A post today, to talk about this amazing woman that I had the good fortune to marry: Maty Bombay Diop-Cariaga. Let me state up front that I don't want this post to be a saccharine, syrupy, cloying mess. I try never to write that way. I assure you, dear reader, anything I commit to type on this blog is sincere and as close to the truth as I can manage.

That granted, I continue. I've said it before and I will say it again: the woman I married is a better person than am I. She's motivated; she's smart; she's deeply moral; and she doesn't have a mean bone in her body. And, above all, she is brave.

Maty came here to Portland in 2003, from one of Africa's poorest countries, Burkina Faso. When she arrived, she spoke minimal English, and had only an 8th-grade education.

Since that time she has become fluent in English (at least in conversational English; she's still working on reading/writing comprehension), studied at the local community college, applied for and been granted permanent resident status, and entered into the working economy. She has held two jobs here, both of which she found through her own pluck and determination, overcoming imperfect language skills and an alien culture.

Today, Maty embarks on a significant step in her continuing journey. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) classes begin at Portland Community College.

I wasn't there to see her set out from the house, but I know her now, after two and a half years of marriage. She put on her sweater (she's always cold...she's an African in the cool Pacific Northwest, after all), strapped on her backpack and strode out to meet the new challenge with determination and aplomb. She doesn't drive, so I assume she walked down to the corner of Hawthorne and SE 37th and hopped on the 14 bus, toting her laptop computer, her books, and her school supplies.

This class will be a challenge for her, I know. But I also have confidence in her determination, her emotional strength, and her smarts. Whatever may come in life, Maty will always face it with courage and compassion.

When Maty left Africa, it was with the knowledge that she would likely never again live in her homeland, in close proximity to all the people she knew and loved. But she set out, anyway, determined to make a new and better life for herself, without knowing what she would find in America.

Whenever I get to feeling sorry for myself (sadly, that is altogether too often), I try to imagine how it must have been for a young woman in Burkina Faso as she said goodbye to her family and friends to travel half a world away and start a new life in a completely alien country. Any anxiety I might have about changes in my own life seem silly.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Big Oil's last big grab

One thing you can say about Big Oil (Exxon-Mobile, British Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, et alia): it stays true to itself unto the bitter end.

By now, anyone with even a facile awareness of the changing state of the world realizes that the days of a civilization driven by petroleum are numbered. Climate change and peak oil are the inoperable cancers that spell doom for the Old Way, and maybe for civilization itself. Oil company executives, being highly educated and presumably intelligent people, surely know this... although they would have reason not to admit it publicly.

So, how have they chosen to respond? Well, how else? With a deceptive public relations campaign and by arm-twisting their lap-dog congress critters into removing the barriers that prevent oil companies from grabbing that last little bit of profit before the whole house of cards falls down.

According to the Washington Post:
The American Petroleum Institute, the industry's main lobby, has embarked on a multiyear, multimedia, multimillion-dollar campaign, which includes advertising in the nation's largest newspapers, news conferences in many state capitals and trips for bloggers out to drilling platforms at sea.
The intended audience is elected officials and the public, with an emphasis on the latter. The industry is trying to convince voters -- who, in turn, will make the case to their members of Congress -- that rising energy prices are not the producers' fault and that government efforts to punish the industry, especially with higher taxes, would only make pricing problems worse. --Washington Post, May 9, 2008. Read the entire article here.
The money quote from the article is this: "We decided that if we didn't do something to help people understand the basics of our industry, we'd be on the losing end as far as the eye could see," said Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute.

Gee, Red...ya think? But maybe the problem is that people do understand the basics of your industry. According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll, 62% of respondents blamed the price of gas on "unethical behavior" by players in the gasoline supply chain. Knock me over with a feather!

Of course, market manipulation is only one aspect of the thoroughly corrupt modus operandi of Big Oil. It has instigated wars, oppressed and robbed local populations, destroyed and poisoned fragile ecosystems, and corrupted too many public officials to even tally. But, apparently, oil company executives believe that if they just spend a few millions of the billions that they've been raking in over the last few years (Exxon made 40.61 billion in profits in 2007) they can smooth everything out with the public.

These new ads are aimed at putting a human face on these corporate monstrosities. I've seen a few of the ads, and they feature attractive oil company employees talking about research for alternative energy and Big Oil's commitment to finding clean, safe, sources, blah, blah, blah.

But the ads are just one part of the campaign. The other element is the "lobbying" (read: bribing) of public officials.

"It's for the best....honest."
On Monday, John McCain, previously a supporter of the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling, changed his position and called for the moratorium to be lifted. McCain sited rising gas prices as justification. I suppose his campaign figures that gas prices provide an opportunity for him to finally connect with middle class America. In the past, such demagogic appeals have worked spectacularly. Junior Bush's campaign was masterful at it.

But this time things might be different. As I stated at the top of this post, the public is quite aware that an economy based on petroleum will soon be a thing of the past. Although drilling for oil off the coast of Florida or California or (God forbid!) Oregon might prolong the life of this heinous, blood-soaked industry, the end is still nigh.

Big Oil, however, must remain true to its avaricious self, must reach for the last of those profits that are hidden under the waters that make our coasts beautiful. It cannot do otherwise. Big Oil is the monstrous invention of a system that values only profit and growth.

I have hope that people will avoid the chimera of potentially lower gas prices and reject this last bid by Big Oil. We have an amazing capacity to see the truth, and maybe this time we'll use it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The dispelling of the American Dream

Buh-bye, baby.

The new world reality is asserting itself. Look around. Gas prices going through the roof, massive floods along the Mississippi river destroying millions of acres of grain, local businesses suddenly boarding up. The American dream of a secure, wealthy existence, secluded from the troubles of the world, is toast. Kaput. Over and done.

Yet another indication of the looming end of the old paradigm came yesterday, when a press release announced that my employer is the target of a hostile takeover attempt by a leading competitor. The initial bid was rejected, but the issue remains in doubt and will be resolved in the coming months.

Whenever something like this happens, of course, people start to worry about the prospect of discontinued employment. It was pitiful to listen to some of the panicky whispers that breezed through the hallways as worried employees speculated about the future of their jobs. Many of these people have been employed at this company for 10, 15, 20, or 25 years. And, although they might protest otherwise, their identities, their measures of self-worth, their security, and their lifestyles are inextricably tied to their employer. Suddenly, all those obscene, gas-guzzling SUVs and extravagant resort vacations, all those massive pseudo-manses built on the graves of harvested Douglas fir trees, all those material goods bought on credit, all are at risk.

Foolish extravagance...

There is a certain smug satisfaction, a smidgen of schadenfreude, that I experience when I listen to the whining of certain among my coworkers who, only a few years previous, were touting the "genius of capitalism" and the unerring justice of Adam Smith's invisible hand. Now, these same people are hoping and praying that Federal anti-trust regulations will help stave off the acquisition attempt. I suppose for these people, laissez-faire is great so long as they're on the handle end of the economic ax.

The connection between this event and the larger global economic picture is not, perhaps, readily apparent. But among people right here at my place of employment, the dawning realization that their insulated lifestyles are coming to an end marks a turning point.

The sooner one realizes that the old life of live-for-today consumption is over, the more likely one is to minimize the agony that one experiences in the current transition. But, like it or not, the transition is underway. No one can know what the world will look like in 10 years, but there is no evidence or reason to believe that the compounded and continuing catastrophes humanity is currently enduring are merely symptoms of a short-term crisis. There can be no return to the "good ol' days."

We can still make something better for them...

The world our children inherit from us will be very different from the world into which we were born. That is not to say that it won't be a better world. If we can collectively act, if we can forge a new civic consciousness that prioritizes social responsibility, that emphasizes our common humanity, that recognizes the need for economic justice, we can come through this alright. Not just alright, we can come out of it better.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hope and despair

Hope and Despair
Today, and for the past several days, I've been struggling with depression. I hate to admit to it, because depression is something with which I have struggled off and on for many years. To openly admit that, once again, I'm fighting it, is to accept the reality that I haven't made much (if any) progress.

Many people I know have first hand knowledge of depression: its symptoms, its causes, the way it affects all aspects of one's life. When one is depressed, even moments of levity and happiness are pervaded by gloom and hopelessness. It is as if a heavy anchor is chained to one's soul, weighing it down, preventing it from soaring.

The causes for depression are many. There are the external, tangible causes like sorrowful events or the failures and defeats that one experiences in life. Everyone knows about those. But clinical depression is also caused by a chemical imbalance in one's brain: insufficient production of serotonin and norepinephrine.

I've also heard depression defined as being "anger that one does not believe one has a right to feel."

This definition has the ring of truth to me. I know that I have been angry for many long years now. I'm angry at the state of the world; in particular, with the short-sightedness and ignorance that led to the Iraq war and the current food and fuel crises. I'm angry and resentful toward authority in general, and in particular toward people who imagine they have authority over me. I'm angry at myself.

One friend of mine recently commented that he, too, was experiencing depression. He said that he was angry and that he felt helpless to address the issues that made him angry and that that helplessness led to his depression. That made sense, too.

I'm also anxious about the future. When I imagine life in the not-too-distant future I'm filled with dread. Gasoline shortages, sky-rocketing food prices, unemployment, war; all of these specters loom large in my mind.

Hope, I'm afraid, is a rare commodity, especially in the face of the ignorance and apathy of so many people.

I know this is a downer of a post. I'm writing it off the top of my head and from the heart...from my sad, burdened heart. But be assured, dear reader, whoever you are, that, although at this moment I'm having trouble finding hope, despair is never an option. It's my duty to keep searching for hope...even as the house burns down around all of us.


Friday, June 13, 2008

No more free ride for smear merchants

In the devastating aftermath of the disastrous 2004 national election, as part of my emotional recovery, I vowed to never again underestimate the stupidity of the American people. After all, if there were millions of people all across this nation that could not see what, to me, was blatantly obvious about an inferior human being like Junior Bush...well, Einstein had a good summary quote:
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. -Albert Einstein
As that horrendous day faded, however, I was able to gain a little more perspective, and to perceive how, in many ways, the Kerry campaign had failed as much as Junior's filthy campaign had succeeded.

Hearken back to that hot July of 2004, as John Kerry became the nominee for the Democratic party, touting his record as a combat veteran. His comrades-in-arms from the days of patrolling the Bo De River came onto the stage with him to show their support. One veteran from Oregon, Jim Rassman, a Republican, came forward to announce his support for Kerry, recounting how Kerry had saved his life during a combat operation. Things were looking good for Kerry: the gamble of the rank-and-file Democrats, who chose Kerry largely because of his veteran status, looked like it would pay off.

Sleaze merchant John O'Neil, founder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth

Well, that's when the Karl Rove smear machine went to work. Without rehashing the ugliness, a shadowy group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth started calling into question the valor of John Kerry who was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts, while Junior was getting drunk and not showing up for duty in the Air National Guard.

When these dubious ads started appearing on television, the Kerry campaign was caught flat-footed. Apparently, a debate raged within the campaign about how to respond to them. In the end, the campaign chose to ignore them rather than be drawn into an ugly and specious argument that would only serve the interests of Junior Bush.

It was the wrong decision, as Kerry would later admit. His lack of response allowed the scurrilous attacks to lower his image in the eyes of enough voters that Junior could sway them. The success of the smear tactics proved the truth of my friend Carl Page's assertion that the Republican party is a coalition of the rich and the stupid.

Well, these same people that came up with the sleazy smear campaign they waged so successfully back then, have returned. Now, of course, their target is Barack Obama and, predictably his wife, Michelle. But the Obama campaign is responding. They've created a web site, called Fight the Smears that addresses each of the filthy lies put forth by the sleaze merchants.

That is how you deal with cowards and filth-peddlers: call them out on it. Confront them. Tell the truth. Do not ignore them.

I encourage anyone who has heard rumors, perhaps through email or dubious websites, to go here and learn the truth.

Be assured that the sleaze merchants are just getting started. Who knows what they'll come up with next? But this time there will be no free pass. In the end, filthy liars like Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh, and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth always get what's coming to them.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hispanos, John McCain no es su amigo

Esto es la realidad: para hispanos los quienes que tienen interés en los derechos de inmigrantes en los EEUU, la candidatura de John McCain no ofrece nada.

Aunque John McCain no es el republicano peor en el asunto de inmigración, ya hemos visto como el adaptará sus posiciones acomodar los elementos extremos del partido republicano si se lo ayudará. Advierta sus cambios en los asuntos de las reducciones de impuestos de Junior, o la prohiba en el tormento.

Una visita rápida a su sitio web de la campaña revela que el camaleón enojado ha abandonado cualquier retórica quizás sea interpretado como clemente a favor de la línea dura que les gusta a los xenófobos.

La primer cosa que él dice en su sitio web es una frase se quejando sobre el fracaso del gobierno federal asegurar la frontera. Esto es comida de los cielos para los racistas que crean la base del partido republicano.

Además, su declaración continua vilipendiar tales ogros imaginarios como Hugo Chavez. ¡Cuán pesado!

Claro, también hay retórica obligatoria que satisface el concierne de los titanes corporativos: obra barata, políticas que favorece las corporaciones sobre las personas. No hay mención del hecho que empleadores con éticos pocos han explotado los indocumentados.

La verdad es que su declaración esta dirigido a fanáticos norteamericanos asustados. Una vota por McCain es una vota para más del mismo.

Por contraste, Barack Obama, por lo menos, acentúa los elementos humanos, desalentando las correrías inmigración, y indicando los problemas se asociaron con tener a una población grande de indocumentados en los EEUU.

Parece obvio que McCain es el candidato para los ignorantes y fanáticos. Espero que los hispanos mirarán el mismo y me unirán a votando para Barack Obama.

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pluggin' away in Corporate America

It's a grand ol' flag...

In a previous post, entitled Recession, war and the need for an open dialog, I mentioned that there had been lay-offs at my place of employ. Well, since that time, things at the office have become increasingly unsatisfactory. We have been informed that there will be no pay increases this year. And with gas prices going through the roof, of course, this amounts to a pay cut. There has been much grumbling and complaining. Rumors of further lay-offs and changes to corporate structure and policy abound. Morale is low.

A while back, I participated in a conversation with several coworkers regarding the state of our company. One of them complained about the behavior of our management, which was even then congregating at a relatively lavish resort for an off-site planning meeting. My coworker felt it was "unfair," in light of the stringent financial situation, that management was away "enjoying themselves."

I found my coworker's aggrieved feelings to be puzzling. I was baffled by the notion that my coworker expected the corporation for which we work to be bound by some kind of unwritten ethos about "fairness."

(I also couldn't understand why she resented management's little off-site extravaganza. Did she feel she was missing out on a good time? I couldn't think of anything lower on my "Fun Things To Do" list than to hang out with management no matter where the event took place, but that's beside the point.)

A corporation is not a democratic institution. Corporate America is the epitome of Ayn Rand's Objectivist vision for human social structure. One's value as a human being is directly proportional to one's ability to produce "profit." In spite of the claptrap that often fills pages in an employee handbook regarding "valuing employees," it all comes down to nothing more than the bottom line. There is no obligation to deal "fairly." Nor is there any real obligation even to treat employees with respect. All that matters is that the employee can facilitate the accrual of profit. As Silvio Dante told Paulie "Walnuts" in the Sopranos: "You're only as good as your last envelope."

"You're only as good as your last envelope, Paulie. You know that."

The dishonesty comes in the insincere platitudes that so often are used to assuage worker's feelings. "We value our employees." "We have an open-door policy." "Employees should feel free to bring their concerns to management." It's all just chaff in the wind, used to evoke misguided (and unreciprocated) feelings of loyalty from the workers.

In its own way, I suppose, this system is "fair." At least, theoretically. Ostensibly, the corporation-employee relationship is a mutual contract. So, affronted employees like my coworker have the option to terminate the contract and move on if they feel they are being disrespected or treated unfairly. Certainly, the corporation would have little or no hesitation about ending one's employment if it deemed such an action beneficial to itself. In fact, the actions taken by my company (the lay-offs and the pay-freezes) demonstrate exactly that.

In practice, of course, the system is stilted in favor of the corporations, which have their resources concentrated and can therefore influence governmental policies more readily than can workers, whose resources are spread amongst the masses.

It is the height of naivete to expect "fairness" or "justice" within the confines of a system that values the accrual of material wealth above all else. In the end, it is our own responsibility to demand that we be treated fairly; each of us must make his own justice. That's life, in Corporate America.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lost in Time

Lacking inspiration today, I delve into the ol' Mahatma Candy archives. Here's a song I wrote about...well, whatever.... It's a 1-4-5 in the key of D.

We walked on a wind-swept beach and watched the seagulls ride the waves
The sun lit a golden path to the end of the day
The water was cold on my face, but it felt good anyway,
And I found myself wishing for a way to make it all stay

Was a moment lost in time,
Just a moment lost in time;

A tired, old man knelt in his garden, his face was lined with care
There was a fading light in his eyes, but his smile was still there,
His body was falling away, his mind was a cloudy sky
But he lived as a youth in remembrance of the days gone by

Was a moment lost in time,
Just a moment lost in time;

Now my life's filled with sunshine and I've got time to sing my song,
But I try to keep in mind that it won't be too long
Before today fades to a memory lost in the mists of time
And I find myself looking back on the day I called mine

It's a moment lost in time,
Just a moment lost in time

Monday, June 09, 2008

Democratic Convention, 3rd Congressional District Oregon

On Saturday, I attended the Democratic Convention for the 3rd Congressional District of Oregon. This is the convention that elects the delegates that will represent my congressional district at the national convention in Denver this August. I had never before been involved in the process, and it was interesting to see how it works.

Mac Prichard at my neighborhood block party in 2004

I was invited into the process by my neighbor, Mac Prichard, who was running to be one of the delegates. To participate in the convention, one need only be a registered Democrat with a residence that falls within the congressional district. One registers for the convention online (specifying which of the presidential candidates one is supporting) then merely shows up at the appointed time and place. This year, the convention was held in the lunch room of a middle school. There were several hundred attendees, which, I learned, was a huge turnout. Among the attendees were some "big name" Democrats, including former Governor Barbara Roberts, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, and candidate for US Senate Jeff Merkley.

Prior to the event, after I had registered (as an Obama supporter), I was inundated with emails, snail mail, and phone calls by the various candidates, each making his or her case. I really didn't pay much attention. I'm still not clear on how much difference any one delegate makes: they are elected to vote for the presidential candidate to whom they have pledged their support, so what difference does it make as to who actually casts the vote?

Be that as it may, I went into the event with an open mind. Mac was the only candidate to whom I was committed when I arrived, but I was soon mobbed by any number of hopefuls. The schmoozing was relentless and, truth be told, made me a little squeamish.

Eventually, the convention was called to order and the rules were explained. Since delegates are awarded proportionally in the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton supporters were there to elect their delegates, too. But, since Obama won the primary, his delegates were more numerous.

The Clinton supporters adjourned to another room, while Obama supporters were informed that we were to elect seven delegates, four males and three females. Priority was to be given to candidates that represented racial minorities and members of the GLBT community.

The candidates were called up on stage and introduced, then voting commenced. Mac and another candidate, Jefferson Smith, attained a majority of votes on the first ballot and were therefore awarded seats at the convention.

In order to fill out the remaining seats, another ballot was required, but the field was winnowed down to the top vote-getters from the first ballot. This time, each of the candidates was given a minute to speak. There were some very eloquent speeches. In particular, Carla "KC" Hanson, representing the GLBT community, gave an excellent speech, invoking the memory of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and calling out the need for all Americans to come together. And John Bradach spoke movingly about the loss of a loved one in the Iraq war, and about how he was determined to hold the Bush administration accountable. Alas, neither of these two excellent candidates made it into the final delegation.

I also got a chance to speak with Jeff Merkley. I asked him if he felt it was important to investigate possible misdeeds of the Bush administration, and if he would pursue such investigations were he to be elected to the Senate. His response [paraphrasing]: "Absolutely. If we don't it gives the green light to any future administrations to disregard the law." I was quite satisfied with this answer.

All in all, the experience was fun, believe it or not. It was good to see all these different people rallying at this important time. Most of the participants were first-timers like me, which points up how much people are paying attention. And that's bad news for Republicans.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Republican punching bag!

Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling from Texas was on CSPAN's Washington Journal, where he took calls from viewers. This video is a sampling of the abuse he took. I'm afraid I couldn't restrain my laughter as I watched this hapless idiot sit there and blink as caller after caller (Democrats and Republicans) laid into him. (I saw this on Crooks and Liars.)

If these Republican hypocrites weren't so loathsome one might be tempted to feel sorry for them. But for me, it was high hilarity to listen to Hensarling get his face pushed in, rhetorically.

I'll say this much though: as much as Hensarling disgusts me, ya gotta dig that hair piece!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

All in the AIPAC family

On Wednesday, the day after Barack Obama secured enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee for President of the United States, both he and his vanquished opponent, Hillary Clinton, spoke at a conference hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The organization bills itself as "America's Pro-Israel Lobby," and "A Voice for the U.S.-Israel Relationship." It claims to be a "100,000-member national grassroots movement" that has "worked to help make Israel more secure by ensuring that American support remains strong."

All in the AIPAC family
AIPAC's web site features photographs of powerful political leaders of both parties (Nancy Pelosi, John (hic) Boehner, Junior Bush, Condi Rice, et alia) yucking it up with AIPAC mucky-mucks.

I'm puzzled. This is, ostensibly, an American organization and one would think that AIPAC would advocate positions that further American interests. But, just breezing through the web site, one detects a pronounced Israel-first bent.

For example,in the About AIPAC section of the web site, a list of AIPAC Achievements brags about how AIPAC secured $2.42 billion dollars in "military aid and refugee assistance" for Israel, "[s]trongly urging the [Bush] administration to take its decision to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group," "[p]rohibiting U.S. aid and contacts with the Hamas-led P[alestinian] A[uthority]." In short, AIPAC seems to write US policy toward Israel and Palestine.

There is no deference toward American interests; judging from the web site, AIPAC is completely unapologetic in its assertion that Israeli interests are paramount and non-negotiable. I find it incredibly offensive.

And, apparently, I'm not the only one. AIPAC is surrounded by controversy. In 2006, a report written by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt for the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, argued:
"The overall thrust of US policy in the region is due almost entirely to US domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the 'Israel lobby has managed to divert US foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US and Israeli interests are essentially identical."
Awareness is growing...
Whenever AIPAC is criticized, it seems to respond with shrieks about "anti-Semitism." And the plight of the Palestinians, who have, for 60 years, been systematically humiliated and abused, goes on unrestrained.

This enigmatic, blind and total support for Israel by the highest officials of both major parties, and by every American president since Harry Truman is outrageous. Barack Obama and John McCain have both already kow-towed.

I don't understand it. I resent it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Barack's big night

Last night, Barack Obama went "over the top," securing the support of more than 2,118 delegates to become the presumptive presidential nominee for the Democratic party. In doing so, he has overcome obstacles that many have said were insurmountable.

For one thing, he overcame the vaunted Clinton political machine that has been running the Democratic party for the last 16 years. You know this gang; if not by name, at least by association with the triangulation policies of the (Bill) Clinton administration: Terry McAuliffe, Lanny Davis, Harold Ickes, Rahm Emmanuel, et alia. This is the old gang that arose to wrest political control from George Bush the Elder, largely by co-opting slightly more palatable versions of his policies. This gang was well entrenched, with massive funds and formidable corporate and political connections. In spite of their failures in the 2000 and 2004 national elections, they still clung to the levers of power within the Democratic party. To defeat them, as the Obama campaign has now done, is no small feat.

Secondly, and most importantly, Obama has overcome the ugly, invisible barrier of racial bigotry. He is a black man and he is the Democrats nominee for President of the United States...let that thought sink in.

As recently as four years ago, I would never have believed a development like this was possible. His victory is resounding, positive reassurance to the world that this country is not the backwards, redneck hotbed of violence and hatred that it has seemed for the last seven and a half years. Granted, in Appalachia, ignorance and racial fears are still prevalent, but...well, you know what Dick Cheney has to say about Appalachia, don't you?

"I hate having to pretend like I'm happy."
John McCain came on to deliver a befuddled and befuddling speech last night, as election returns came in. He spoke to a very small crowd (I estimate it was less than a thousand people) in Kenner, Louisiana. Apparently aware that he is perceived as being angry, he did his best to smile during the speech, appearing more like a grinning death's head than as a human being. The anemic response his somnambulent audience gave his whiny pronunciations only pointed up the trouble he is facing.

Especially when you compare McCain's pity party to the rousing, fired up event that Obama gave in St. Paul, Minnesota, before some 18,000 people. And the speech itself was mesmerizing. The man can cast a spell. But judge for yourself...

This is our moment.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A smile for Maty

My wife, Maty, works as a nursing assistant at a home for Alzheimer's patients. Yesterday, she called me from work, in tears. "My tenant passed," she said. "The woman, she passed."

Maty has been working there long enough (some 3 or 4 months now) to have known tenants that have died. She has become accustomed to coming to work of a morning and finding that certain of the people for whom she has been caring have passed away. So, I was a little taken aback by the strength of Maty's emotions for this particular tenant.

That afternoon, as we drove home, Maty related the story. This woman, whom I shall refer to as Mrs. Cedar, had recently received a visit from her daughter. The daughter had been out of touch with Mrs. Cedar for many years. In fact, she had been unaware that Mrs. Cedar's husband, the woman's father, had passed away several years earlier. The daughter had had to call several nursing homes in the area before finally locating her mother.

The story, as Maty related it to me, was sad and bittersweet. The daughter was glad to see her mother, and Mrs. Cedar was happy to have a visitor, but it is unclear if she was able to grasp that the woman coming to visit her was her own child.

The daughter, seeing that Mrs. Cedar was well-cared-for was effusive in her expressions of gratitude toward Maty and the other staff. "Thank you so much for taking care of my mother," she told them as she left.

Mrs. Cedar began having problems breathing later that same week. When Maty left work on Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Cedar had been diagnosed with pneumonia. The general consensus among the staff was that she would not survive the night. But when Maty returned to work on Monday morning, Mrs. Cedar was still alive, and seemed to have recovered despite all expectations.

Maty went about the routine of caring for her: changing her bedclothes, feeding her, and then showering her. But during the shower, Mrs. Cedar's breathing became labored and rasping. Maty and the other attendant became concerned and they called for the facility nurse to come at once.

At that point, Mrs. Cedar seemed to relax a bit, looked at Maty and her coworker, and smiled. When the nurse arrived, moments later, Mrs. Cedar had passed.

Maty had not had the experience of one of her tenants dying in her arms, and she was profoundly saddened by the experience. Yesterday night, she was not at all her usual cheerful self, and she went to bed very early.

I've been musing on the incident myself, and although I didn't witness the event firsthand, I have applied my own belief to it in such a way as to make it work for me. See what you think:

I believe that sometimes human beings are given the gift of awareness as they stand on that final threshold. And I believe that this is what happened for Mrs. Cedar.

When my own grandfather passed in 1999, also from pneumonia, I believe that he made the conscious decision that his time had come. He had recently been moved into an assisted care home, which he disliked even as he realized that it was necessary. His older sister, toward whom he felt some responsibility, had passed earlier in the year, and the rest of his family was doing relatively well. I believe he decided that he had done all he could do for the people around him and took the opportunity of his pneumonia to exit the stage.

I think Mrs. Cedar had a similar experience. Her long-lost daughter had come back into her life after many years, and at some level, Mrs. Cedar must have known this, despite her Alzheimer's affliction. A loose end in her life had been tied up. Perhaps, in those final moments, as she was being bathed and fed by these kindly women, she saw her opportunity to go. But, perhaps, she didn't want to seem ungrateful; perhaps she wanted to convey her thankfulness to the people that had cared for her in the last stages of her life.

And so, she smiled. A parting smile. A smile for Maty.