Thursday, July 31, 2008

For once, I was proud to be an American

I heard ya, sister.
On February 18, 2008, Michelle Obama made the following remark at a campaign rally in Wisconsin:
For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country.--Michelle Obama
Of course, right-wing blow-hards jumped on the remark with trumped up outrage and indignant chest-thumping. But all the whining rang hollow, apparently, as Barack Obama went on to become the presumptive nominee for the Democrats, and now seems to have a clear advantage over uber-"patriot" John McCain going into the general election.

Well, never mind all the fake conservative outrage; I'll state flat out that most of the time, I'm ashamed of my country. And that I'm afraid is the truth. I was ashamed when the right-wing hypocrites made fools of us all by hounding Bill Clinton over the trivial matter of an extramarital relationship. I was ashamed when Junior reneged on a campaign promise to abide by the Kyoto Accords. I was ashamed when a bare majority of Americans were browbeaten into going along with the Iraq fiasco. And I was shamed to the absolute core when enough voters in this country cast votes for a pig like Junior sufficient for him to steal the election in 2004.

Makes ya proud, don't it?
And, of course, delving further into our national history gives us plenty of reasons to feel ashamed. US policy toward Palestinians? Persecution of Native Americans? Wars of aggression in the Phillipines? In Nicaragua? In Hawaii? How about institutionalized slavery? Manifest destiny? I could go on all day. (Read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States if you've got the stomach for it.)

But, rather than continue in that sad but true vein, I thought I'd write about an incident that gave me reason to be proud that I was an American.

One of the high Muslim holidays is Eid Al-Adhha which commemorates the beginning of the Hajj (the pilgrimage all Muslims must take to Mecca at some point in their lives). This holiday supposedly coincides with the day that Abraham tried to sacrifice his son Ishmael (or Isaac). It occurs in December or early January, based on the Muslim lunar calendar.

Maty has established a tradition among her Muslim friends (and you might be surprised at how many there are in the Portland area) wherein we celebrate Eid Al-Adhha at the Cariaga house. It's a party. The tradition requires that Maty cook lots of food, including Halal lamb.

So, on the occassion of Eid Al-Adhha, Maty sent me to the Halal grocery in Tigard to purchase lamb. Each lamb is pre-ordered so that it can be slaughtered in the traditional Halal method by the family that owns the Halal grocery. They are a great bunch of people from Lebanon. They're amiable, funny, and out-going.

As I was waiting for our lamb to be butchered, two young Muslim men who were also at the grocery approached me. They were unsmiling, but not unfriendly. They introduced themselves and told me they were from Saudi Arabia. "Are you Muslim?" one of them asked.

"No," I replied. "But my wife is."

This produced a look of consternation from one of them. "I don't believe this is allowed," he said.

"Excuse me?" I said.

"A Muslim cannot marry a non-Muslim," he said. His friend looked embarrassed.

I shrugged and said, "This is America."

He shook his head in disgust.

Well, he may have been disgusted, but at that moment I was proud... proud to be an American. Because, here in America, we are not bound by law to conform to the dictates of any tradition. Granted, this freedom has been slow in coming, and is even now incomplete, but here in America many Old World anachronisms are fading away.

To be sure, there is still a large segment of our population that maintains an attitude of ignorance and racism, who tut-tut at people living lives outside the confines of their narrow worldview. But the melding of cultures and philosophies that has generated the zeitgeist of modern America is slowly rendering such bigots toothless. We're a long way from being perfect, but if you compare the tolerance of our culture today with that of as recently as 40 years ago, we've come a long way.

If Maty and I lived in Saudi Arabia, perhaps we would be ostracized and scorned (at the very least). But here in America, things are different.

And, in that moment, on the Muslim high holiday of Eid Al-Adhha, in a Halal grocery in Tigard, Oregon, I was proud of what we have accomplished. I was proud that my country has at least started to outgrow antiquated notions of religious and racial purity. For once, I was proud to be an American.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What do you have to say now, Ann Coulter?

Demented conservative murderer Jim D. Adkisson
Like a snarling, wounded beast that feels the first tinges of death gnawing at its organs, a demented minion of the "conservative" movement lashed out in mindless, panicked rage on July 27, 2008 in Powell, Tennessee.

On that day, "conservative" Jim D. Adkisson burst into a Unitarian Universalist Church, during a children's performance of "Annie", and opened fire with a shotgun, killing two people, and wounding five more. Parishioners managed to wrestle Adkisson to the ground after he had fired three times, killing a woman identified as Linda Kraeger, and a church usher, Greg McKendry who witnesses say died shielding others from the gunfire.

Police found a 4 page signed letter in Adkisson's automobile that listed his apparent motives. "It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that and his stated hatred of the liberal movement," said Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen IV.

The Unitarian Church certainly fits into most definitions of the "liberal movement." The church emphasizes social justice, tolerance for the GLBT community, civil liberties, and charity. And, perhaps its most egregious sin, from a conservative viewpoint, is that dogma takes a backseat to charity. (Please see a previous post that I wrote about this contrast, Christians vs. "Christians".)

Somehow, in Adkisson's feverish ethos, murder became virtuous in the cause of preventing people from loving gays, helping the poor, and seeking justice. Apparently, as the conservative zeitgeist that has dominated our society for the last eight years rots away, Adkisson's despair became overwhelming and he lashed out at the "liberals" that are poised for ascendancy. (Like so many conservatives, Adkisson is unwilling or unable to ascribe responsibility to the real villains responsible for his misery.)

And, while it is true that a crazed lunatic like Adkisson clearly does not epitomize a typical conservative, an examination of statements made by conservative icons shows that the rhetoric has been edging toward something like this for a long time. Consider these remarks:
There is a group that's sending letters to our troops in Iraq ... claiming 9/11 was an inside job -- oh, yeah, yeah -- and that they should rethink why they're fighting. Who -- we ought to -- excuse me, folks, I'm going to say this: We ought to find the people who are doing this, take them out and shoot them.
Really. Just find the people who are sending those letters to our troops to demoralize our troops and do what they are doing, you take them out, they are traitors to our country, and shoot them. You have a problem with that, deal with it. But anyone who would do that doesn't deserve to live. You shoot them. You call them traitors -- that's what they are -- and you shoot them dead. I'll pay for the bullet. --Michael Reagan, radio talk show host, June, 2008
When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that John Walker is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors. --Ann Coulter, columnist, February 26, 2002
My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building. --Ann Coulter, columnist, August 20, 2002
A quick Google search using the keywords "conservative hate speech" will produce a myriad of other, equally offensive and violence-inciting remarks. Well, when you consider the mentality of people who even now defend Junior Bush as a "visionary," and a "man of principle," that's some pretty fertile ground for this kind of asinine spew.

Demented conservative hag Ann Coulter
So, let's see if Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh or Michael Reagan or Michael Savage come out and condemn the actions of Adkisson.

What do you have to say, now, Ann Coulter?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Karma spares no one?

Every once in a while, I'll see a bumper sticker or a graffiti scrawl or a comic that really strikes a chord within me; that sets my mind to wandering and really gets me scratching my chin.

The other day, while I was out walking around the labyrinthine suburban streets of Wilsonville, Oregon, I came across an automobile with a bumper sticker that read: "Karma spares no one." Well, this was one of those.

The phrase struck me as somehow incongruent. It seemed to assert that karma is something that is to be dreaded and feared. Turning to Miriam Webster, we see that the verb "spare" is defined thusly:
spare: to forbear to destroy, punish, or harm

So the verb "spare" implies that karma is the visitation of retribution on a person for his or her transgressions. Well, this doesn't seem quite right, does it? This doesn't fit my understanding of the word "karma."

Miriam Webster defines karma thusly:

karma: the force generated by a person's actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person's next existence.
Far be it from me to dispute the definition of a word with Miriam Webster. Nonetheless, I find this definition overly clinical. In particular, constraining the word to its original context, within the milieu of eastern philosophies, ignores how it has evolved and melded into the modern American lexicon. Today in the layman's tongue of a post-'60s America, could we not add a second definition?
karma (2): the rewards or punishments visited upon an individual as a result of the virtue (or lack thereof) of his/her behaviors.
This definition, I think, comes closer to the meaning of the word. At least, in the way that it is used today.

So, returning to our phrase, karma may indeed spare no one, but does it not also reward everyone?

Occasionally, on this blog, I've mused about faith and the existence of a divine being. But, karma, as I have defined it above, is something that is beyond doubt.

We have all known people who are unethical or needlessly aggressive or dishonest. But, if you think about it, how many of those people would you also describe as being happy? Those persons may have money or power; they may have tangible symbols of success around them. But have you known any such people who you can say are at peace? Well, I certainly haven't.

Conversely, we've all known people who are honest and kind and sincere. And, in my experience, these people tend to be happy (or, if not happy, at least at peace), regardless of the amount of money they might earn, or the house in which they live, or their rank in the social ladder.

Is this not evidence of karma? And, if it is, rather than "Karma spares no one," would it not be more accurate to alter the statement as follows?

Karma never fails

Thursday, July 24, 2008

McCain campaign whining: It sure sounds like a death rattle

Looking presidential
Barack Obama cruises along on his international rock star tour, having been through Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel. Today, he appears in Berlin to speak before a throng of, if not adoring, at least positively-inclined Germans. (And, who can blame the Germans, or anyone else for that matter, for their enthusiasm? Especially given the contrast between Obama and Junior?)

According to all the media punditry here in the United States, the trip has been a smashing success. Obama has succeeded in appearing "presidential" and was warmly greeted by American service personnel and State Department employees while he was in the war zones.

"It's not fair! I deserve to be the Prez."

Meanwhile, John McCain's campaign has been whining about all the media attention Obama has been getting. And the sniping has been nasty. There was the preposterous claim by a McCain surrogate that Obama lacked consistency in his opposition to genocide. And then, there was mad Johnny himself, saying "It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign." Good grief!

(Don't get me wrong: from my (progressive) perspective, Obama leaves a lot to be desired as a presidential candidate. But he's in the enviable position of having a potential predecessor who set the bar so low that a trained monkey could do no worse.)

Overall, the McCain gang conveys a certain shrillness of tone that hints at desperation. We could be looking at a blowout, and they seem to know it.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again: after the fiasco of the 2004 presidential election it would be foolhardy to underestimate the stupidity of the voting public.

Still, hope springs eternal. It just might be that people are finally awake, that they are no longer susceptible to Republican lies and hatred.

Judging from the way McCain and company are whining, it sure seems like they think so.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Floatin' on down Anxiety River

I'm back into the working world today, and bravely trying not to spend all my time wistfully looking back on a week of vacation where I did a lot of bike-riding, hanging out with family, home improvement projects, and just plain relaxing. Yep, it's time to climb back into the ol' canoe, shove off from the bank, and take a ride down Anxiety River.

This rushing current I'm riding is filled with hazards and pitfalls. Ol' Anxiety River has my nerves a-janglin' when I consider the precarious nature of my employment. There are small worries, like when the boss looks askance at me as I pack up to go home for the evening. There are big worries, like the uncertain fate of my corporate overlord, as it attempts to fend off a hostile takeover from a major competitor.

There are also major changes pending in my life, personally, that, for various reasons I am not at liberty to discuss at this time. Perhaps at a later date...

But the biggest worries that weigh on my soul and cause me to pray for the water-worthiness of my river craft are those roaring rapids up ahead that we can all see, and that we're all going to have to get through. I'm talking about the confluence of crises that are pouring like swollen tributaries into the flow of our lives: national financial crisis, war, environmental degradation, sky-rocketing costs for basic necessities, global warming.

Well, life is a river, after all, and we're all just floatin' down the stream. We have some small ability to steer our boats one way or another to try and avoid the biggest rapids, but truth be told, we're pretty much at the mercy of the current.

A quick once-over of my own little watercraft satisfies me that I've done nearly everything I can do to make it through the turbulent waters ahead, even as I know full well that it may not be enough. But there is wisdom and grace in practicing not to worry about those things over which one has no control. So, I'll just continue to dip my paddle in the water, trying to keep my little boat off the rocks and ignoring the flotsam of other's boats that haven't been so lucky. The current is strong and fast and growing stronger and faster by the minute.

Hang on, everybody. At the very least, we're probably all gonna get wet.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oregon Country Fair 2008

This week, posting will be sporadic as, for the most part, I will be away from my computer. Family visits, house renovations, and leisurely vacation activities are taking up most of my time. However, I thought I'd post a few pictures from the Oregon Country Fair, which took place last weekend. The OCF is the premiere hippie event in Oregon and takes place every second weekend in July.

Here are some images from this fantastic event.

Monarch Man
I've been attending the OCF for 20 years now. It has changed over the years, but I still come away from it feeling rejuvenated and hopeful about the future. There is a general good vibe, a sultry summer haze of hopefulness and optimism, that you can't help but absorb as you wander through the famous magic "8," past the drum tower and the Two-Bit Advice, and the fantastic food and crafts; as you listen to the great music that floats in the air, mingling with the dust.

Three-headed alien
The OCF is one of the highlights of my summer. If you ever get the chance, and you're willing to keep an open mind, you should take the opportunity to attend this event. You'll see things you won't see anywhere else. The OCF is chock full of freaks, hippies, and tree-hugging environmentalists. Not many Republicans.

Great music
While I was wandering around this year, I saw a tee-shirt that said "The hippies were right!" Made me laugh. And I believe it, too. If more people could see the virtue in the vision that the Fair offers, it would be a better world.

Junior would not enjoy this event
So, here's to the Fair! As long as it runs there is still hope for a better future.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Al-Maliki calls Junior's bluff

"I'm all in..."

Back in April, 2007, Junior was babbling away with Charlie Rose about, among other things, the Iraq war and occupation. At one point in the interview, Junior implied that US forces were in Iraq with the consent of the Iraqi government and that, if that consent were withdrawn, Junior himself would begin the pullout of American military personnel. Here's the exchange:
ROSE: But if he said get out now, we don’t want you anymore–
BUSH: I don’t see how we could stay. It is his country.
ROSE: But if he said that, it would lead to the catastrophe that you have suggested.
BUSH: That’s why he’s not going to say it.
ROSE: You don’t think he’ll say it?
BUSH: I don’t. No, I don’t.

Perhaps this was an effort to lend credence to the al-Maliki regime, which was installed after several previous failed attempts at establishing a puppet regime. I remember laughing off these remarks as malarkey at the time. Yeah, sure,'ll just pack up and go, won't you?

Well, apparently al-Maliki watches the Charlie Rose show. On July 7th, two days ago, while visiting the United Arab Emirates, he spoke to a group of Arab ambassadors, saying
"Today, we are looking at the necessity of terminating the foreign presence on Iraqi lands and restoring full sovereignty."
And also,

"One of the two basic topics is either to have a memorandum of understanding for the departure of forces or a memorandum of understanding to set a timetable for the presence of the forces, so that we know (their presence) will end in a specific time."
These remarks come as the Iraqi government is engaged in "security negotiations" with the United States, which one can only assume hinge around the continuing presence of a US occupation force.

The White House seemed to be caught flat-footed by the remarks. It took a full news-cycle to formulate a response. The delay is surprising, given that when they finally responded, said response was entirely predictable: they rejected the idea of a timetable for withdrawal. Said State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos:
"The US government and the government of Iraq are in agreement that we, the US government, we want to withdraw, we will withdraw. However, that decision will be conditions-based."
In other words: Not until we're damned well good and ready. The White House rejection of al-Maliki's remarks lend the lie to Junior's year-old verbal spew, but at this point no one expects any truth from the Bush administration.

The real news here is that Al-Maliki is revealing himself to be a cagey player. He doesn't seem willing to play the part that Junior and company have cast for him. And who can blame him? Anybody that would take that job had better have superb survival instincts, not just politically, but physically. His life is on the line.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A note of support to two good friends

I write today in sad homage to the innocent love of two dear friends that have recently decided they must end their long campaign to stay married. After a sad and desperate struggle, they have determined that they must each pursue peace and fulfillment without the other.

My heart aches for them, for each of them. But not because they have failed (they haven't) or because they will never again be happy. I feel for them because they must endure the emotional trauma that is inherently part of any divorce.

Feelings of failure are hard to avoid when one is going through a divorce. It is a bitter pill, indeed, when the Herculean effort of trying to save a marriage comes to naught. But it is a mistake to view divorce as failure. The reality is that the dissolution of a marriage is a crucible: the painful transition forges a newer, wiser soul; one that is less susceptible to the chimera of fairy-tales, less vulnerable to the inevitable disillusionment.

I know that both of my friends are wracked with sadness and loneliness and fear. Divorce is a dark and lonely endeavor. But, just as divorce is not failure, neither is it despair. Inherent in divorce is a kernel of hope...hope that one's future holds promise: the promise of a life that is not laden with a tragic sense of failure, the promise of happiness and emotional relief, the promise of validation, and, yes, the promise of redemption.

Some day, they will each look back on the story of their love and the brave little struggle they made to forge a life together and they'll acknowledge to themselves that it was not meant to be.

And they'll be proud that they fought so hard to keep it together for so long. They'll be proud that they loved each other enough to sacrifice and suffer and try mightily to make it work.

And they'll have fond remembrance of those happy times when the future was laid out at their feet like a clear pool of water under a blazing summer sun.

And they'll be grateful, each to the other, for the gifts of wisdom and experience that they exchanged.

And maybe they'll even find that they still have a kernel of love for each other, even though they know that it is best that they are apart.

Knowing them both as I do, that's my bet.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Anxious prairie

Empty prairie, green grass floor, lonely wind a-sighing;
Bleak horizon stretched before, hopeful sun belying;

Scot's broom blooming by the path, catching blissful gaze;
Peer no farther than right now; let God reveal the days;

Blue void sky doth merge with earth at yonder point ahead;
We'll come there in our own good time, no need to tug the thread;

Just now, let's hear the meadowlark, singing for today;
Thy hand in mine, we walk the road... together, come what may;

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Obama tilts to the right

Et tu, Barack?

We should expect no more, progressives.

Barack Obama, having all but secured the Democratic nomination by appealing to the zealous base of the party, now tacks right in the run up to the general election. A tried and true strategy that has the undeniable virtue of past success. (Remember how Junior ran in 2000 as a centrist?) But for progressives and liberals that are seeing red after seven and a half years of Bush lies and incompetence, the sops that Obama is throwing to the ignorant masses expose him as just another politician.

On Tuesday, Obama spoke in Zanesville, Ohio, about his plan to expand the efforts of the current administration to steer social service dollars to religious groups. You remember? Junior's "faith-based initiative." Obama went on about needing an "all-hands-on-deck approach" to fighting poverty, and dropped a few comments about doing "the Lord's work." This stuff is all aimed at those ignorant evangelicals who were taken in so badly by Junior in the 2004 election; the people who thought Junior was guided by God. Pure, unadulterated schlock.

Also, recently, Obama said he supports the new FISA bill before the Senate that would rewrite surveillance laws and grant immunity to telecommunications companies that helped Bush spy on American citizens without court approval. This is another sop, but it is unclear who it is intended to appease. There does not seem to be widespread public support for telecom immunity. Libertarians are up in arms about this. In fact the candidacy of Bob Barr is in large part a rejection of this very issue.

I resent Obama's recent right-leaning rhetoric. Progressives are enthusiastically behind him, or at least they have been up to now. And, while conservatives are not exactly thrilled about McCain, it is highly doubtful they will ever vote for any Democrat. The only result that Obama is likely to get from this wishy-washy rhetoric is a dampening of liberal enthusiasm toward his own candidacy.

The left is howling for blood now that the larger public has finally realized that Junior is nothing but a half-assed conman that has been facilitating corporate plunder of the commonwealth. It is this anger that Obama should be using to bludgeon McCain into smithereens; it is this wrath that he should ride like a cresting wave into the Oval Office.

Instead, he takes the "conciliatory" approach of compromise and surrender. But there is no compromising with Fascists like Bush and Cheney and the corporate monsters behind them.

Of course, in November, I will cast my vote for Obama. I'm a progressive, and Obama knows that progressives have no other choice. (Please....spare me the Ralph Nader crap!)

So, Obama blows a kiss to the cretins that got us into this huge mess, and lends them a sheen of validity. It might win him a mandate, but to me, it casts doubt on the idea that he could be a transitional leader. It dispels some of the hope I had that he might have the courage to demand sacrifice from the American people.

All is not lost, however. The real test will come after he takes the Oath of Office.