Friday, May 29, 2009

Sotomayor nomination escalates GOP Civil War

Keep talkin', boys!
If President Obama planned it this way, and I think he probably did, one must imagine that those highly-paid GOP political operatives can only clench their fists in rueful admiration at how well his plan has unfolded. The nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court has laid bare a nasty rift in the Republican party.

Earlier this month I predicted that this would happen. (See my post from May 6, High stakes fight for Justice Souter's replacement.) It was an easy call, actually. Anybody who pays any attention to politics could see this one coming. And that surely includes Republican mucky-mucks. Nonetheless, I am gleefully suprised that, even though they knew beforehand that they were falling into a trap, the Republicans, driven by their narrow-minded political base, could not prevent it from happening.

Yet, here we are, with loud-mouthed right-wing agitators like Rush Limbaugh, Tom Tancredo, and no less a figure than Newt Gingrich (still twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom) referring to Judge Sotomayor as a "racist" on par with the "Ku Klux Klan."

Check this video of Tom Tancredo stepping right up to the brink of an on-air breakdown on Rick Sanchez's CNN show.

That's red meat for the cretinous core of the Republican party.

But Republican senators are not exactly jumping on board the "Sotomayor is a racist" bandwagon. Today, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) condemned the harsh rhetoric, saying "I think it's terrible... This is not the kind of tone any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advise and consent."

They're in a tough spot, those GOP senators. They need to find some grounds on which to object to Sotomayor; some basis for opposition that voters will find legitimate. The racist label doesn't fit the bill. Nut-job political base aside, that kind of stridency certainly won't endear the GOP to the larger pool of voters, let alone the fastest growing component thereof. Namely, Hispanics.

On the other hand, if they don't fight her nomination, they will pay a price with their wavering base.

And so, here they are, with the rabid neo-Confederates holding the whip hand --the very demographic they so carefully cultivated ever since LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Here's the irony: if the Republicans had had a little message discipline, they might have been able to mount an effective opposition to Judge Sotomayor's nomination by using the old "judicial activist" line. You know, that tired old line about judges who "legislate from the bench." But Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich and Tom Tancredo preempted that argument by shrilly bleating about "reverse racism."

And by raising the rhetoric to such volatile levels, they alienate most of the voting public and make it all the more likely that Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Siena (Pt. XIII)

Note to readers: This is the thirteenth part of a recounting of my Grand European Tour, taken in the fall of 1999. You can read Part XII here.

Siena: nestled in the Tuscan hills
On the advice of Rick Steves I went to Siena, a quaint, somewhat preserved hill town in Tuscany. The Etruscans established Siena in the endless centuries before even ageless Rome had emerged. It was named for Senius, the son of Remus, who was the brother of Romulus, founder of the Eternal City.

I stepped off the train and was unsettled by the peace and quiet. It was quite a contrast from noisy Florence with its fleet of yammering scooters, its hustle and bustle, its cacophony of exotic languages, its dazzling displays of human artistic achievement. Oh, yes . . . I had almost forgotten . . . there is peace; there is quiet contemplation and uncelebrated beauty. Siena.

Author beneath a depiction of Remus and Romulus with their adoptive mother
With the calm of the town came solitude. This was a lonely time in my journey. I had no travel companions, no one with whom to share the experience. Just me, wandering around the narrow streets, exploring the labyrinthine pathways, listening to the words of people dining at outdoor cafés; words spoken in a language I could not understand.

At the center of the city is the Torre del Mangia, "the Tower of the Eater," twenty-some years in the building, from 1325 to 1348, at the height of Siena's power. At that time, Siena and Florence were rival cities vying for cultural and financial primacy. But no sooner had the tower been completed than came the Black Death. Merciless as she was, her malice fell especially on Siena where four out of five Sienese fell victim to her.

The Piazza del Campo viewed from atop the Torre del Mangia
I climbed to the top of the tower and looked out on the Tuscan landscape as the sun began its descent. It was a long climb up a crooked stone stairwell where I often had to stoop to avoid bumping my head. Men were shorter in those days.

As dusk deepened, the singing of young people in the Piazza del Campo below drifted up. I was stricken by the magic inherent in the Tuscan hills.

Labyrinthine Siena
Eventually I descended to wander about some more in the warm night.  Alone and thousands of miles from home, still wrestling with questions about identity, about my future, about my past, and about my relationships with those whom I loved.

But that was a gentle night in Tuscany. The hazards posed by such introspection were softened by the singing of Italian youngsters and the magic of dusk. Dusk in Siena.

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor: Por fin, reconocimiento

Por fin.
Por fin, habrá una jueza hispana en la Corte Suprema de los EEUU. Todos de los hispanos en esta país puedan sentir orgulloso con esta desarrollo.

Esta semana, Presidente Obama denominó Jueza Sonia Sotomayor, una mujer de herencia Puerto Ricana, a reemplazar Juez David Souter, lo quien que se jubilará al fin del término actual de la Corte Suprema. En una señal de respeto a hispanos, el DNC publicó una declaración en español, diciendo:
"De todas las maneras posibles de imaginar, Sonia Sotomayor ha vivido el sueño americano. Será la primera latina en la Corte Suprema de Justicia, la tercera mujer y la única jueza en la corte actual que tiene experiencia en las cortes judiciales."
Bien. Se necesita reconocer que los Democratos saben la realidad: El poder político de los hispanos continuará crecer. Es mejor a ofrecerlos amistad y bienvenida. Ellos son el futuro.

Los Republicanos, claro, consistiendo, por la mayor parte, en racistas y Confederates, no pueden hacer el mismo. El base de ellos no lo tolerarán. Pero, el dilema para los Republicanos es esta: si ellos no luchan contra Jueza Sotomayor, su base quizás pierdan la fe en ellos. Pero, si luchan con ardor, los hispanos continuará favorecer los Democratos en las elecciones.

No conozco mucho de la filosofía judicial de Jueza Sotomayor, pero estoy dispuesto a fiarme del presidente.

Ya, un moreno es el presidente. Muy pronto, nosotros tendremos una jueza hispana en la Corte Suprema.

¡Días extraños, verdaderamente!

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama = Bush Lite?

I dont' wanna overstate the resemblence, but...
Inevitably (I suppose), President Obama is succumbing to the gravitational pull of political reality.

On Friday, the president stated that some detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Junior Bush's off-shore torture chamber, may be detained without trial indefinitely. So much for respecting the Constitution.

In fairness, President Obama is in a tight fix with regard to these detainees due to all the f**k-ups made by the previous administration. Junior's failure to adhere to Constitutional dictates has made it very likely that, were any of these detainees to succeed in getting a trial or even a military tribunal, much of the evidence against them would be ruled inadmissible because it was attained through torture. (If you haven't yet seen it, go here and check out the video of right-wing shock jock Mancow getting a lesson in the true nature of "enhanced interrogation techniques.") Therefore, if the new administration were to now try to change the policy to be in line with habeas corpus and the right to trial inherent in the Constitution, it would face the very real possibility of being legally compelled to release some potentially extremely-dangerous individuals.

Nonetheless, maintaining the status quo seems just a bit too convenient. I didn't vote for a sunny, smiling, intelligent version of Junior Bush. I voted for change. Change is painful and difficult.

Dick Cheney has been out on all the television news outlets, trying to hem in the Obama administration by raising the stakes. "If there is another terrorist attack, it will be because the new administration didn't follow to the letter, the policies I, Big Dick, put forth," goes his argument.

Most in the media are reluctant to speculate about Cheney's motives, but I have no such compunction. I've said it before and I'll say it now: Big Dick is afraid that he may face prosecution for his crimes, and is trying to protect himself.

Republican neanderthals will, of course, continue to shriek about the dangers of President Obama's "socialism." But they can't very well complain about him continuing policies that they so vociferously defended when their toy president formulated them.

Well, they can't unless they give up all pretense of integrity. Whether or not they will is a fifty-fifty bet.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

GOP clowns

Just a quick post to finish out the week. God bless those Republicans, doing all they can to keep us laughing through the long weekend.

Everybody loves Dick!

Big Dick Cheney, that is. (Now, now...what did you think I meant?)

"I'm not out to win any popularity contests."
Big Dick's popularity is soaring right now. A new CNN poll shows that his favorability rating is sitting at 37%!

Well, okay. So maybe that's not going to land him on the cover of People magazine. But for Dick, that is sky-high.

Congratulations, Dick.

GOP shrieks "Socialism"

The Republican National Committee approved a resolution yesterday, stating that the Democrats are "pushing our country towards socialism and government control." A little wordy, don't you think? The GOP base generally has trouble processing anything that doesn't fit on a bumper sticker.

The original proposal was to call on Democrats to "rename themselves the Democrat Socialist Party."

"What up, dawg?"
Personally, I think the original was funnier. But, then again, I'm all for raising the level of dialog (snarky comments herein notwithstanding).

Watch out, Democrats! This is a brand new Republican party. Under Michael Steele's brilliant leadership, who knows what they'll come up with next?

Rush passes the baton

In an apparent fit of pique, Rush Limbaugh yesterday announced that he was retiring as the "titular head of the Republican Party," and tried to hand off the booby prize to Colin Powell.

What do you want to bet that Colin won't be sending Rush a thank you card?

My Memorial Day mini-vacation starts tomorrow, so I'll see you all next week. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Venice - Florence (Pt. XII)

Note to readers: This is the twelfth part of a recounting of my Grand European Tour, taken in the fall of 1999. You can read Part XI here.

Bella Venezia!
It was a rough trip from Innsbruck to Venice. I boarded the train at oh-dark-thirty in the morning carrying a pack full of wet laundry because the dryers at the Innsbruck hostel didn't work. The sleep I had on the train ride down was fitful, restless. I was vaguely aware of another passenger in the compartment with me, vaguely aware of a latent, silent hostility. I must have been snoring something awful.

The beauty of the city, a city with canals instead of streets overwhelmed. I took the water taxi from the train station to the city proper and immediately set out to find accommodations and a place to dry clothes.

Bella Venezia!

The laundromat was easy.  The proprietor let me stow my guitar there as well. But there was nary a room to be had anywhere. Wandering around the maze of sidewalks it became apparent that most of the people were tourists from America and Europe. Not so many Venetians. The beauty was awesome, but it began to take on a Disneyland-like surrealism. This is not a city so much as a tourist's amusement park.

After several attempts to find a room, disillusionment growing, I arrived at a decision:  spend a few hours enjoying the sights, snapping some photos, then catch the late afternoon train for Florence. Venice is beautiful, yes. But tourist trappings endow a falsity that is mildly offensive.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, they say. If so, green-veined Venice is a woman.

Shot before disaster
A statue of an equestrian Italian warrior might make a good photo. So, I angled for position. Aim . . . no, not quite right. Back up a little further. Stand right here on the steps, at the very brink of the canal. Aim, shoot. Uh-oh, stairs are slippery.

Whoa! Splash! Into the canal. Ugh!

Very well, pull yourself out, Dade. Maintain your dignity. Resist the temptation to beat the sh*t out of smirking on-lookers. Drag your sorry, sopping ass to Piazza San Marco. Sit in the sun at an open-air café. Ignore the dirty looks from the waiter. Take off socks and hang them to dry on the chair next.

Flying rats in feeding frenzy
Piazza San Marco is famous for its pigeons that to me were neither charming nor endearing. I found them threatening and predatory. Greedily, they perched nearby, eying my every move as I munched a salami sandwich. Other tourists threw crumbs, instigating feeding frenzies that horrified.

Arrivederci, Venezia!
Enough, Venice! Enough! Mi arrendo! Perhaps another time. I donned my socks and shoes, shouldered my pack and returned to the train station.


The train ride to Florence was beautiful. Gentle, fertile countryside, for some reason, evoked memories of the Sacramento Valley in far-away California. The clime was warm, sunny. But I was exhausted. The clack-clack of train wheels lulled me to sleep.

Florence train station bustled like an anthill. There were lots of people running back and forth, lots of trains pulling in and pulling out. I booked a room in a fancy hotel, mostly because it was the first room available. It was certainly the most luxurious accommodation to date: a queen-sized bed and a real bathroom. Luxury! But Florence beckoned. I dropped off the pack and the guitar and headed out.

Sidewalks were very crowded. I weaved and bobbed past tourists proceeding at a more leisurely, less purpose-driven pace. Two-cycle scooter engines rattled the narrow streets. Haughty Italians zipped along, heedless of anything beyond their forward momentum.

Entrance to El Duomo
At the center of it all, the Duomo shone, with its dazzling colors. A crowd of people stood in line, waiting to enter. But I would admire only the exterior on my way to the art museums; after all, I came to Florence to see the works of Renaissance men in the birthplace of the Renaissance.

The Renaissance: that Catholic movement that endeavored to offer some dim vision of what surely must be the Glory of God. And, well, God's Glory must surely be great indeed. Because these earthly imitations on display in the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze, and Galleria degli Uffizi cannot fail to awe even the darkest cynic.

One of Michelangelo's more obscure works: "The David"
Here are the works of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the painter, sculptor, architect and engineer who worked feverishly at the behest of the Church. Michelangelo's works surely served to depict that Reward that the Holy Father promised to the Faithful.

In 1504, Michelangelo completed the David, before he had yet reached his 30th birthday. A life such as his . . . immortality is not for the children of God. But the longevity of one's works is surely a measure of one's service to Him. Well done, Michelangelo.

Rape of the Sabine, near Uffizi
 Or the other Renaissance man... Michelangelo's rival, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci.  Leonardo got his start here in Florence, working as an understudy for Verrocchio in 1466. Some say Leonardo was the most versatile of geniuses that humanity has yet produced.

The Renaissance may prove to be the era in which humanity attained the pinnacle of its artistic vision. I felt it; felt that I was standing at the source of the prime fount of human creation. The works of these men and their contemporaries, and the great works of the Muslims in their rival empires . . . these approached His Glory.

It surely must be so.

Gloria, Firenze!
Florence was a dream as much as an experience. I was dazed by beauty. After two days, it was time to go on to the Tuscan countryside . . . to Siena.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rummy's War: Gimme that ol' time religion

The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords. ~Psalms 55:21

News broke yesterday that all through the "Rumsfeld era" of the illegal invasion of Iraq, Pentagon-issued military briefs were pumping Junior full of that old time religion to keep the man-child from losing his nerve when things started to go south.

According to GQ magazine, daily intelligence briefings, called "Worldwide Intelligence Updates," produced by the Pentagon for presentation to President Junior were adorned with colorful photos and captioned with warlike Biblical quotes.

Keepin' the boy-king bucked up

Rumsfeld, himself, is not a religious man, but he's smart. Certainly, he's smart enough to know how to play Junior like a fiddle. And what better way to manipulate an insecure dry drunk of limited intellect than by quoting from the one source that the poor sap feels he can trust? One can imagine that, public displays of resolution aside, in the dark days when Iraq was burning, Junior spent a lot of time curled up in some corner of the Oval office, sucking his thumb and hugging his pillow. These briefs, with their faith-over-fact assurances, might have been just the ticket to get him to pull himself together.

There is some question as to whether the religious quotations were actually dreamed up by Rummy or some demented Pentagon underling, but Rummy certainly saw the briefs before they showed up on the president's desk. Rummy, like his partner in crime, Big Dick, would likely recognize a useful tool when he saw one.

And so, everyday for a period of time, Junior's quaking heart was reassured with inspiring photos of soldiers praying, captioned with resolute Old Testament quotations. (Interesting, isn't it, how evangelicals like Junior seem to draw more from the Old Testament than from the words of Christ, Himself?)

Never mind that, were these briefs to ever be leaked, they would only serve to reinforce Muslim suspicions that the war was part of a larger inter-faith war, a modern-day Crusade, between Christianity and Islam. Never mind that Muslim-Americans working in the Pentagon took offense and began to question the virtues of their own government. Just like those poor civilians that got in the way of Rummy's "smart bombs" it was just collateral damage.

Rummy and Dick had a war to get rich off of. That's what was important.

Well, Rummy may have achieved his goal, but there is a price to pay. Check this video of Rummy's reception at a recent Washington, DC, function by members of Code Pink.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Proof of worth

Thirty years have passed since that, your nascent day,
When your papa prayed,
Half a world away;

And now this rain-cooled valley's where we make our stand,
Hand in hand,
Woman and her foolish man;

And at those times when I can't see
How to be who I want to be
The light inside you comes a-shinin' through;
'Cause any fool can plainly see
With a woman like you beside me
Surely something in me must be true;

The gift of love you've given me you can't conceive,
C'est la joie, je vis,
Tu es mon meilleur ami;

And now the far horizon doesn't threaten doom;
See the springtime bloom;
Tapestry upon the loom;

And at those times when I can't see
How to be who I want to be
The light inside you comes a-shinin' through;
'Cause any fool can plainly see
With a woman like you beside me
Surely something in me must be true;

Happy 30th birthday, Maty!

Friday, May 15, 2009

GOP versus conservatives

Bad dog or bad owner?

A couple of interesting developments in the imbroglio to determine the future of the Republican party.

It appears that certain among the Republicans recognize the dire straits in which the party finds itself by adhering to rigid "conservative" ideology:
  • The National Republican Senate Committee quickly endorsed Florida Governor Charlie Crist's bid for the Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez in spite of Crist being a so-called "moderate" (by GOP standards, anyway). This is especially offensive to zealous right-wingers because another Republican, former Florida House speaker Marco Rubio has announced his intention to run for the seat. Rubio is more appealing to the strict hardline "conservatism" of Junior Bush and, hence, more appealing to the base of the Republican party.

  • The Republican congressman charged with recruiting candidates for the 2010 election, California Representative Kevin McCarthy, said recently that he wants the GOP to choose candidates based more on their ability to win races than their adherence to a conservative ideology. Specifically, McCarthy said he would seek out candidates who are "ethnically diverse, female, less partisan and even supportive of abortion rights." My goodness! Might he mean blacks? Hispanics? Even women who support the right to choose? Could it be that McCarthy and others in the party have determined that the old GOP stand-bys of hating Mexicans and demonizing women who choose to control their own reproductive lives doesn't work anymore?
These two items taken together, would seem to indicate a recognition on the part of some in the GOP. Perhaps they believe that the message they have been transmitting for the last 8 years, the message formulated by Karl Rove, is played out.

But regardless of this new-found ability of GOP mucky-mucks to recognize the obvious, it remains to be seen how the blood-thirsty base will react to any ideological equivocation. After all, for the last 8 years, these people have become accustomed to having it all, to ramrodding their ugly, reactionary policies down the throats of anyone and everyone who stood in their way.

The GOP base are like dogs, raised by their owners to be vicious and fierce. Well, GOP dog-handlers now find that poorly behaved dogs aren't good for much beyond siccing on one's enemies. And, in fact, these dogs are so nasty that they just might bite the hands that used to feed them all that red meat.

What a pity!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Torture controversy: It's not business. It's personal.

Many of those who are defending the Bush administration's use of torture (or, as they call it, "enhanced interrogation") have said that, since certain Democrats were briefed on the tactics to be used on detainees, those Democrats are culpable for any crimes that may have been committed. Nancy Pelosi or Jay Rockefeller or Harry Reid could be held accountable if they were briefed on techniques that constitute torture and raised no objections at the time, say the Bush apologists. Such arguments are intended to threaten the Democrats with "mutually assured destruction" should there be investigations and prosecutions of any Bush administration officials. "Be careful, Democrats," they say. "If there are prosecutions, it might get very, very messy."

Those who raise that contention are, of course, missing the point. By making this argument, they reveal that they view the entire torture controversy as just another partisan issue to be used to sway the fickle American public one way or the other. In short, business as usual.

But for those of us whom the media refer to as "the far left," those of us who demand a full investigation and accountability, it's not business. It's personal. For us, it isn't some partisan game to be played out on the talk radio and cable television shows. Nor is it, as Beast Cheney's hideous daughter, Liz, asserted recently on television, an effort to be "fashionable" by "taking the side of terrorists." This is about who we are as people.

The Beast knows this. He long ago made his decision for himself. I believe that when he authorized the torture memos, he knew full well that water-boarding and the other monstrous practices would not yield information about terrorist plots. I believe he knew exactly what torture was good for: extracting false confessions, getting people to say what he wanted them to say. Hence, we hear rumor that the CIA used torture to try to get detainees to admit to a non-existent link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Cheney, with his lies and exaggerations, had succeeded in getting his war. Next he needed to establish it as justified. Time to break out the water-board.

That's why he and his repulsive daughter are out there now. Big Dick fears he might be in real trouble. Spare me the "It's because he cares deeply about this country" bullsh*t. Dick Cheney cares about Dick Cheney.

Investigate! Prosecute! If there are convictions, imprison! And if Nancy Pelosi gets swept up in the net, so be it. It's not about Democrats or Republicans. And it certainly is not an expression of solidarity with murderers or terrorists.It is about revering the Constitution of the United States. It is about refusing to relent to the beast inside all of us that William Golding wrote about in Lord of the Flies.

It's not business. It's personal.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Salzberg - Innsbruck (Pt. XI)

Note to readers: This is the eleventh part of a recounting of my Grand European Tour, taken in the fall of 1999. You can read Part X here.

Salzberg took me by surprise. After so much time spent in big cities, the sight of Austrian Alps jutting straight up, stark and mammoth in all their glory, served to remind that even Central Europe was once a wild, unsettled land. First came the Neanderthals, then the many tribes of Cro-Magnon.

In the Alps, near Salzberg
The Celts were first to settle here, 7000 years ago. They came because of the nearby salt mines that give the city its name. In the long eons of human memory, salt has been more precious than gold.

Gardens in Salzberg
Now, Salzberg is an enchanting tourist town, a base camp for Alpine hikers and skiers. I spent the first day walking around the town, through the picturesque gardens and in the castle on the top of the hill.

Festung Hohensalzburg
Salzberg castle, Festung Hohensalzburg, once the mightiest fortress in Central Europe, commanding the town below. In 1535 angry Protestant miners and farmers besieged her, but she held out for some 14 weeks before a runner got through with a message to the Catholics who came and routed the besiegers. Somehow the rich guys always win.

I stayed at a hostel and met Michelle (frank, dour) from Australia while I played guitar in the common room. She told me about a tour the next day that would take us into the Alps to visit the ancient salt mines and to see the various sights. She was suffering from bedbug bites. She had nothing good to say about the hostel.

Alps as Hitler may have seen them
Next day we went on the tour. The bus took us to the Eagle's Nest, Hitler's alpine hideaway resort. Stunning beauty, tainted with the ghost of evil. We met a father-son team from California, Frank (jocular, crass) and Carl (easy-going, open-faced).

Frank, myself, Carl, and Michelle at the Eagle's Nest
On to the salt mines where we donned white coveralls to protect our clothes from the salt. Mining techniques changed over the years, but that's all in the past. Now the mines are for tourists.

Sliding to salt
 We slid down the rails that the miners used to descend into the depths. We navigated a subterranean lake. We saw the place where, in recent times, miners discovered the salt-preserved bodies of unfortunate Celts who had fallen to their deaths thousands of years before.

And eventually we came back out into the sun.

Alpine view
A long day. A rewarding day. From the high slopes overlooking Salzberg, the shadows of clouds ran across the valley floor far below. Frank and Carl were on their way back to America. But Michelle was going to the Tyrol, to Innsbruck.

She invited me along. Why not? I've no set agenda. Yes, let's go.

Inns river
And so, I rode the train to Innsbruck along a track that wound through stunning mountainous beauty, eventually to arrive at Innsbruck, straddling the Inns River, high in the mountains.

Another hostel, but this time there were no bedbugs. But there were lots of young people from all over the world, talking and laughing. We learned about the cable car that would take you to the top of a nearby peak from whence you could hike down: an outdoor activity for the morrow! Then, dinner and sleep. I was very tired.
Innsbruck, top view
Next day, Michelle and I rode the cable car up to see the grand and glorious view of the shimmering valley far below us; a golden river snaking through. Crows alit near us, hoping to beg a few crumbs as we munched sandwiches.
Up on top
Then, we made the hike down. It was an extremely treacherous descent, with many opportunities for us to make a fatal mistake, to replicate the horrific plummet made by Carey (smiling saint) and Tena (soft-hearted troublemaker) on far-away Mount Hood. Michelle sang tunes from the Sound of Music all the way down.

Treacherous trail
We met Tyroleans ascending. They were used to the altitude apparently. They huffed up the steep trails like nothing. My knees ached by the time we made the valley floor.

On the way down
That night, we went with a Korean girl to see the Tyrolean folk show. Yodeling, dancing, music. Tyrol is to Vienna as Munich is to Berlin. Don't take it all so seriously, you Germanic nuts. Have some fondue, drink a beer. No need to get all uptight. Lots of fun.

Tyrolean dancing
I did some laundry back at the hostel, but the dryers didn't work. I had to put the wet clothes in my pack, because it was time to say goodbye to Michelle. Goodbye, Michelle. Thanks much for the companionship and I hope those bedbug bites heal up alright.

Korean friend and Michelle
I had a train to catch. I was at the exact halfway point of my trip and it was time to penetrate the Roman Empire. On to Italy!

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Piling on the GOP: New "outing" documentary

Good news, everybody! Republican hypocrisy is about to get some clean, healthy sunlight with Kirby Dick's new documentary, "Outrage."

The phrase "Republican hypocrisy" is so general and examples are so ubiquitous, however, that I should be a little more specific. I'm talking about a particular strain of it: the self-loathing strain. This is a well-established phenomenon wherein some of the most rabid conservative stalwarts are, in fact, guilty of the very behaviors against which they piously hold forth. The film allegedly names names, outing closeted homosexuals from among members of the US Congress and their staff who adhere to the anti-gay agenda.

I'll refrain from saying anything more about the film until I have seen it. (And, yes, I will see it.) But, if it delivers as billed, it could be another slam on Republican street cred.

The Republicans are absolutely reeling right now. A Supreme Court battle is on the horizon and the right-wing base fully expects the GOP to go to the mattresses. The base drove Arlen Specter out and forced him to debase himself publicly to try and salvage his senate seat from its wrath. Rush Limbaugh, himself a self-loathing blowhard, is wielding the whip hand, preventing even the most minute deviation from the accepted party line. In short, the Republicans are being driven relentlessly by their monolithic, neo-confederate supporters in much the same way that Red Army cannon fodder were pushed into German artillery barages by Soviet political commissars. Too bad for them.

Some among those who are allegedly named in the film are still politically viable. How will their being outed play with the base? How much sh*t will "grass-roots" conservatives swallow before they forsake the whole political scene and retire to their revival tents to roll their eyes and froth and babble in Tongues?

The release of this film is another potential body blow to Republican credibility which one must imagine is very close to its nadir... or is it?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Video warriors

Anybody catch Lara Logan's report on 60 Minutes last night? The report was a titillating hint at what we, as US taxpayers, are buying with our untold billions of dollars in defense expenditures.

In an all-too-brief, and in my opinion, terrifying exposé, Ms. Logan reported on the new fighter/surveillance drone technology being employed by the US Air Force. In brief summary, these drones are the unmanned aircraft that we occasionally hear about striking targets in Iraq or Afghanistan (or even Pakistan). They are operated by US pilots from Creech Air Force base near Las Vegas, some 7500 miles away from the battlefield, using satellite technology. They can remain airborne for up to 24 hours at a time, all the while tracking potential targets. The report showed declassified video of these drones striking targets (not only convoys and vehicles, but individuals) with bone-chilling accuracy from altitudes of 50,000 feet.

I don't doubt that the prevailing emotional response to the report by many Americans was triumph. But at the risk of calling into question my patriotic blood-lust, I found the report to be troubling.

First of all, I find the concept of killing people in a manner which very much resembles the action in any "first-person shooter" video game to be disturbing. These pilots are in absolutely no danger of being killed or maimed themselves, sitting at their glorified game consoles, dealing death and destruction on people thousands of miles away. Even though the airmen that Ms. Logan interviewed insisted that they were fully engaged, that their safety afforded them clearer judgment and allowed them to call upon mental facilities that are unavailable in more immediate combat, it occurs to me that there is a danger of detachment; an avoidance of consequence. Is it easier to kill a man when he appears only as an animated image on a computer screen? Are the dangers of mistaken attack heightened when the attacker is relying solely on imagery projected from thousands of miles away?

Secondly, are we sure that we want this kind of technology, this awesome military power in the hands of our government? So far as we know, these drones are in use only in the "problem" regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. So far as we know... but, of course, everything that was in Ms. Logan's report was cleared by military officials. What if we were to learn that these drones were being used to watch, for example, the US-Mexican border? Or what if they had been used to watch post-Katrina New Orleans? Or what if, in some restive American future, they were used to watch unruly gatherings of American citizens?

In Ms. Logan's report, we see footage of drones striking trucks, armored vehicles, even two men running in the dead of night, all allegedly legitimate targets on the battlefield. But here's the rub, people: If they can do it to Afghanis or Pakistanis or Iraqis, they can do it to you.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Harry Reid gets tough with Arlen Specter

"You f**ked up, Arlen. You trusted us!"
Earlier this week, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter got a rough welcome from his new Democratic teammates in the Senate. Arlen had only just switched parties, infuriating Republicans, casting them into despair, than the Democrats voted to strip him of his seniority thereby effectively demoting him in the Senate hierarchy.

Not exactly a warm welcome. But then again...

In the wake of Arlen's announcement about the switch, he had gone out of his way to make clear that he would not be "an automatic 60th vote" for the Obama agenda. He made great mention of his independence and stressed that he never told President Obama that he would be a loyal Democrat.

Arlen then went on to defy his new party by voting against President Obama's proposed budget, and against a bill sponsored by Majority Whip Dick Durban (D-IL) that would have rewritten bankruptcy laws.

For a senator in Specter's precarious position, that's getting to be a little big for the britches.

The straw that may have broken the camel's back came when Arlen took the extraordinary step of calling on the Minnesota courts to "do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."

(Remember that Norm Coleman, the incumbent Republican senator from Minnesota is in a court battle with Al Franken to determine who will occupy the seat after an extremely close election. Currently, Franken is ahead in the vote count, and represents the magic 60th Democratic senator.)

I'm not a big fan of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); he's generally kind of wimpy. But I'm frankly astonished at his moxie in this instance. Very soon after Senator Specter's ill-advised comment, he was forced to publicly backpedal, saying something about misspeaking in the "swirl" of changing caucuses. One can only imagine the conversation that must have occurred between Specter and Reid in the interim.

Although Reid had assured Specter that he would keep his seniority should he choose to join the Democrats, the Majority Leader apparently had second thoughts. Even though Specter had been on Meet the Press talking about his Senate seniority as an "entitlement" the Democrats in the Senate voted to strip him.

Senator Reid then showed admirable (and ruthless) political deftness by remarking later that the matter would be revisited in the new congress. That is, in the congress that is elected in 2010.

That puts Arlen Specter in a very tight spot.

If he continues to buck the Democrats' agenda, he could face a primary challenge from another Pennsylvania Democrat, US Representative Joe Sestak, a former 3-star admiral in the US Navy, and a popular congressman. And then, should he fend off that challenge, he'll have to face the Republican nominee, likely to be Pat Toomey, the arch-conservative meathead whom Specter barely defeated in the primary the last time he was up for reelection. Should Specter manage to win in the general election, he will still need his new Democratic colleagues to vote him back into his seniority in the next Congress.

Now Specter's best move would seem to be to fall into line with whatever the Democratic leadership proposes and hope for the best. It's his only real chance at getting back what he has lost.

Just yesterday, apparently satisfied that Specter had received the message, the Democratic leadership relented, just a bit. Senator Durban agreed to step aside as the chairmen of the Crime and Drug Subcommittee Chairman and give the gavel to Specter.

First the stick, then the carrot.

Reid and the Democrats have Specter right where they want him. And, when you are a US Senator, whenever you are right where someone wants you, that is never a good place to be.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Ev'rything we do

Orca's mid-air flex
Caps watery Roman arch
Within which sits she;

Framing perfectly
Machiavellian smile
Lonesome, hopeful mask;

Ev'rything we do
Leaves some mark on the landscape
That might fade with time

Yet evoke our ghosts
In some far-away future;
Or so we dare hope...

Orca crashes down,
Splash erases heretofore;
Is my mark still there?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

High stakes fight for Justice Souter's replacement

Help wanted

Last week, Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced that he plans to retire from the Court at the end of this term. The announcement came as something of a surprise. Justice Souter, at 69, is far from the oldest member of the court, and seems in good health. But he has always been unpredictable, as evidenced by his general alignment with the "liberal" wing of the court in spite of his having been nominated by George Bush the Elder.

And so, our country will once again enter the fray over the future we envision. Because, of the three branches of the federal government, there is none that has as much long term influence on our society and our values than the Supreme Court. And everyone knows it.

The stakes are high, obviously. For President Obama and for the Republicans. But more so for the Republicans. Here's why: they are reeling and in disarray. Their base is discouraged to the point of near-apathy. The Republican leadership (such as it is) has not managed to articulate a message other than a shrill "No!" to anything that the president proposes. And they keep losing: on the stimulus package, on the budget, on everything. If they can't find some way to create a perception of a victory, if it seems that the president mows them down without a fight, their base will lose the last of its diminishing faith in them.

But the GOP goes into this battle with some real problems.

Now that Arlen Specter has jumped ship, the senior Republican senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee is Jeff Sessions from Alabama. Sessions was, himself, rejected as a nominee for the federal bench during Reagan's presidency. And given his past remarks about the Ku Klux Klan (he thought they weren't so bad until he found out some of them were pot-smokers) and about the NAACP and the ACLU (he thought they were "Communist-inspired" and "un-American") we can probably imagine that he has ideas about "judicial temperament" that diverge from those of the president. But we can also surmise that any strategy he might concoct for fighting will be forumlated through the prism of a neo-Confederate mindset... not exactly working from a position of strength.

President Obama surely knows all of this. He must know that the GOP will fight tooth-and-nail to defeat whomsoever he may nominate. On the other hand, the president has a lot of political capital and a lot of power over Congress. So, how will he choose to play it?

Judge Sonia Sotomayor

One name that I've heard mentioned as a potential nominee is Judge Sonia Sotomayor from the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. She has the political advantages of being a woman and an hispanic. (Say what you will about qualifications, when it comes to the Supreme Court, gender and race are the all-important considerations. It's true for Democrats and Republicans.) If the president nominates Sotomayor, Republicans will be put in the position of having to fight against an hispanic woman which is sure to deepen their already huge problems with two very important demographics.

And, in the end, President Obama is going to get his nominee. He's holding all the cards. But the Republicans can't roll over. They have to fight, knowing that they'll lose. Sucks to be them.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

¡Victoria en Puebla!

Hoy es el Cinco de Mayo. Pero contra de la creencia general en los EEUU, el día no conmemora la indepencencía de Mexico, sino el día cuando, en 1862, un ejército mexicano derrotaron las fuerzas de Francia en una batalla que se llama "La Batalla de Puebla."

Los francés habían venido a Mexico para forzar pago de la deuda nacional debida a Francia. Bajo el pretexto de defender sus intereses financieros, el emperador Maximillian decidió invadir. Quizás él imaginó que, por fin, Francia tendría una posición dura en el Mundo Nuevo.

Puebla era el primero compromiso de la guerra, y los mexicanos dieron cuenta a sí mismo bien. Ellos derrotaron un ejército más grande que su mismo y mostraron mucho valor. El general del ejército mexicano era un joven de edad 32, que se llama Ignacio Zaragoza. Cuando la victoria pareció cierta, Zaragoza mandó una carta a su superior, Persidente Benito Juárez, diciendo "Las armas nacionales se han cubierto de gloria."

Sin embargo, un año después, un ejército francés entró la capital mexicana. Finalmente, algunos tres años después, Francia retiró de Mexico, bajo presión de EEUU y otras naciones.

Pero el Cinco de Mayo se queda como un homenaje al valor del ejército mexicano que lucharon esforzadamente hace ciento cuarenta y siete años. ¡Gloria!

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Munich (Pt. X)

Note to readers: This is the tenth part of a recounting of my Grand European Tour, taken in the fall of 1999. You can read Part IX here.

Der Rathaus-Glockenspiel
Train rolled into Munich at six in the morning. It was cold and nothing was open. I found a sunny spot near the Tourist Information office and played guitar, waiting. A smiling policeman who spoke no English let me know that it was okay to play, but not to try to solicit money. No busking. Ja, ja, mein Herr. Just killing time.

At the Tourist Information Office, I learned of a walking tour of Munich to occur later in the morning and booked a room; a private room, a room of my very own in a pensione. The pensione was an old, converted inn within walking distance of the train station, somewhat shabby, poorly lighted, no frills. Nonetheless, it was blissful luxury after all these weeks of dormitory sleeping. I dropped off the pack and set out to join the walking tour.

I joined a group of maybe 2 score people consisting of tourists from all over. We started in the Marienplatz, right in the heart of the city. There stands the tower with the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in the New Town Hall. At 11am every day, the glockenspiel chimes and mechanical puppets emerge from within the tower to perform their cuckoo-clock dance. The display was amusing and playful in a uniquely Bavarian way.

Munich sights
Our guide was a lean, young German, a serious intellect, with dark curly hair and wire-rimmed spectacles, dressed in black. In spite of his somber appearance, he had a positive, realistic outlook. He told us how sometime around 1158, Henry the Lion, the Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, built a bridge over the Isar River near a settlement of Benedictine monks, then got rich by exacting a toll from merchants carrying salt from Salzberg, along the Salt Road to points west. A town grew out of the profits. Thus was Baaden-München (By-the-Monks, Munich) born.

Our group made a leisurely stroll through the heart of the city. There were many sights to see. Among them, the Frauenkirche, "Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady," consecrated in 1494. Munich was a Catholic stronghold, a papal island in a sea of Lutherans during the Thirty Years War.

Walking the streets, listening to the stories, watching the locals go by, I learned. Bavarians are very different from their Prussian brethren. They are happier, more prone to laughter, less insistent on order. All the more curious then, that this was the place where Hitler staged his Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, the birthplace of National Socialism. But, by 1945 the Bavarians had had enough of it. Allied armies rolled into Munich without a fight. Not like Berlin, where Wehrmacht soldiers made their last stands against the triumphant Red Army.

More Munich
When the tour ended I had a long distance to cover in a short amount of time. I had another event scheduled, another tour. German trains leave on time, so I made a headlong rush through crowded squares, over crowded sidewalks. Yes, I would make it. I would make the train. Happy-go-lucky Bavarians made way for me. It was time for me to see another example of German efficiency. An efficiency of an altogether different nature . . .
Dachau prison yard
On the outskirts of town lies Dachau, one of the places where they brought them: the gypsies, the Jews, the homosexuals, the political dissenters. Dachau was a prison camp, the first of its kind. Two hundred thousand prisoners were taken there. Twenty-five thousand of them died: neglect, malnutrition, suicide, incineration.  SS storm troopers (evil, best avoided) and their dogs patrolled the grounds.  There was torture and neglect; there were beatings.
Fence and guard tower
We toured the grounds. Few words were spoken throughout. There was a somberness, akin to the stark emptiness of a morning-after hangover, but much deeper;  profound.

Even then, in October 1999, back home in America, Republicans argued about the validity of US involvement in World War II: George W. Bush and Pat Buchanan. Bush could never have seen the incinerators. Bush could not have understood the feeling that comes over you, when you stand in the middle of that yard.

The Dachau tour concluded. A residual horror clung . . . a hollowed-out queasiness. I returned to Munich and went to a biergarten for brats and German beer. No, Dachau would not change the perception of these happy Bavarians. They weren't the only ones who looked away. Nazi cruelty occurred on a different scale, using a different implementation, perhaps. But there were also the Killing Fields in Cambodia.  There was also the ethnic cleansing in Serbia.

That night, alone in Munich, the questions came percolating to the fore. I am here, living the life. I’m traveling through foreign lands. To learn. To learn about people, about truth and the nature of things. I stood amid a flood of stimuli and data, but no answers were taking shape. Surely, there must be some answers. Somewhere. Drift away . . . shabby room in shabby pensione, let darkness descend . . ..

The next morning, I drifted from sleep to a dream-laced moment. I had been on the road, changing bases for a while; and it took a full awakening to remember that I was in Germany, in Munich, in a shabby pensione in a shabby room. Then, I was proud. A proud international traveler.

The imperative for the morning was to find a laundry facility. As I wandered about, laundry sack in hand, Germans did their best to guide. But instructions were invariably delivered in German. So, I just had to keep looking. Walking through the Banhopf, I came upon an elderly couple, holding hands. They walked in front of me, through the crowded station. Then, the woman suddenly fell back, still clutching her husband's hand.  Her head cracked against the concrete floor. She stared, mouth agape, her eyes rolled, a pool of blood formed beneath her head. "Scheisse!" gasped her husband. Then I was tearing through the station, a sack of dirty laundry in hand, shouting, "Doctor! Doctor!" Paramedics came and took her in an ambulance. No conclusion to this story; the actual outcome, unknown. Choose a happy ending.

Musical instruments in the Staat Museum
Eventually I found the laundry and washed sweat-soaked travel clothes for the remainder of the morning.  Next I was on to the Staadt Museum where they have ancient and varied musical instruments from all over the world. Very interesting. The museum staff was friendly, eager to explain exhibits. But they spoke little English.

And then, another night in my shabby room. On the morrow, I would hop on the train for the quick ride back into Austria, to Salzberg.

To be continued...