Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hikin' the Silver Falls Trail

Silver Creek
The light feels stale this time of year. Summer's memory is fading fast. Always a sad time. For me, anyway.

Brother Eric and I went hiking with our friend Mike a couple weeks ago, down at Silver Falls.

Ants or termites?
There is a colony of ants on the south side of the creek just above the South Falls. They've been there for more than 20 years. They live in huge mounds of collected fir needles and earth. In the late summer you can see their highways running through the grass in the picnic area.

Lower of the two falls that comprise "Double Falls"
This park is the result of the work of FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps, which, during the Great Depression, developed the park facilities. I've been coming here all my life. My Grandpa and Grandma Metzger took us here often to picnic. The last time my grandfather came here was when Eric and Calee and I brought him up with us. But he didn't hike down to the bottom of the falls. That was just a few years before his death, and the feat was beyond him, physically.

Old growth
There are 10 falls at different points along different branches of the trail. The trail we followed runs about eight and a half miles.

Eric, Mike, and I had a great time. We covered the trail in about 3 hours, and we were moving pretty quickly. But I still took the time to get some good photos. I'll be hanging onto these memories through the winter.

Then, next summer, I'll go get some more.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Separating art from artist: the lesson of Roman Polanski

On September 26, 2009, Roman Polanski, the acclaimed film director who's work includes cinematic jewels Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, and the Pianist, was arrested in Zurich, Switzerland, stemming from his conviction in 1977 for the rape of a 13-year-old girl. He is now facing extradition to the state of California.

Despite Polanski's tragic personal history (his mother died in a Nazi concentration camp; his wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family), it is hard to work up any sympathy for a rapist who victimized a child.

Nor would I advocate doing so.

But here's my rhetorical question: Should the fallibility of the artist taint the art? That is, can or should we separate an artist's work from the artist himself?

Not so much...
There are countless examples of artists with unsavory behavior who nonetheless create magnificent works of art. Ernest Hemingway was an alcoholic and quite possibly a misogynist, but who can deny the brilliance of For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Old Man and the Sea?

Vincent Van Gogh's work pioneered the Expressionist movement among painters. But the man himself was a mental basket-case, his brain ravaged by untreated syphilis.

Or, on a more contemporary level, consider some of today's popular musicians and songwriters. My ex-brother-in-law is something of an autograph hound, and he often recounted stories of his encounters with today's musical celebrities. He found Bob Dylan and Paul Simon to be imperious and haughty; Ian Anderson, cold and distant; Stephen Stills, surly. But he remains a fan of all of them.

Van Gogh, who died childless, is said to have referred to his paintings as his progeny. And I think he was on to something. When an artist creates a work, in a sense, he gives it a life of its own, an identity in and of itself. The work is birthed, sent forth into the world to be interpreted and admired and, yes, owned by all of humanity.

So, I contend that it is completely consistent to admire an artist's work without endorsing or condemning the artist's person. In fact, I propose that it is essential to do so.

If the taint of our sins bereaves us --we, imperfect humans --of our right to imagine perfection... well, then we're left with nothing. What do you think?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tea-baggers and Dear Leader

Remember the uproar from freaked-out and freaky tea-baggers a couple weeks ago when President Obama scheduled a televised speech to schoolkids? The tea-baggers nearly lost it, fearing that their children would leave home in the morning, happy and carefree, full of the Fear of God, only to return in the afternoon as mindless Obama zombies, hell-bent on imposing socio-fascism on the nation.

Then, after the President delivered the speech, urging kids to pay attention in class, to be responsible for their own education, to stay in school, the tea-baggers were once again revealed as hysterical fools. Even Drum Major Newt Gingrich admitted that the President made a good speech.

Well, last week, tea-baggers attained new heights of apoplexy over this video footage of school kids in south New Jersey singing a song to welcome President Obama, who visited their school.

Well, I watched the vid, and the whole thing seems pretty harmless. But, given that I'm inclined to support President Obama, I'll allow that my opinion might be a tad colored. As I have said before, I think it is important that we do not indulge in a cult of personality, that we not be lured into the "Dear Leader" mentality. So, perhaps tea-bagger concerns about "indoctrination" deserve some consideration.

But tea-baggers, apparently, are selective in their objections. Check this vid of some nutty Christians and a cardboard cut-out of Junior Bush.

Talk about creepy! This video twists at my guts. Watching it, I experienced emotions similar to those I felt at a Christian rock concert I attended while I was in high school. The band of musicians (using that term loosely) had a lengthy proselytizing session, mid-concert, during which they did their "cry-pray-testify" thing. Traumatic!

Mockery and ridicule are generally good tools for dealing with people like this. But be wary. History has demonstrated it time and again: there are very few entities so dangerous as a bunch of "Christians" hopped-up on the Holy Spook. A crowd of nuts like this is right at the point where it starts picking up stones and casting them at "sinners."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Living in the patriarchy

Bucking the patriarchy

Say what you will about the many great and undeniable strides we have taken over the last 200 years, ours is still a largely patriarchal society.

For women, in spite of pioneers like Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, and Margaret Thatcher, the patriarchy affords more value to their sex appeal, their physical appearance, than to their intellectual, entrepreneurial, or political accomplishments.

F**king the patriarchy

Examples abound. Consider how the cameras and microphones flock around such vacuous personalities as Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. And what else can possibly explain the phenomenon of a feather brain like Sarah Palin being seriously considered as a potential presidential candidate other than the mystique of a physically attractive woman? She can scarcely articulate a coherent thought, much less formulate a vision of governance.

(And hats off to those women who use the patriarchy to their advantage. Take, for example, Madonna who, back in the 80's, recognized the premium placed on female sexuality and skillfully used her own to build a financial empire of enormous proportions.)

"Get back in the game, Marino!"

The patriarchy takes a toll on the male psyche as well. So often, sexual potency is deemed to be the true measure of a man. Consider all the ads on television for Viagra and similar products. Or the weight-loss advertisements featuring has-been athletes like Dan Marino who are being urged by a nubile female to "get back in the game." Or take a gander through the junk folder of your email to see all the advertisements for "male enhancement" snake oil.

Traditional courtship

Some of this is inherent in our DNA, it seems to me. Human procreation has not evolved with the success of the species. During our hunter-gatherer phase of existence, perpetuation of the species followed the general rule of nature: males were driven to spread their seed far and wide, increasing the probability that some of their progeny would survive to sexual maturity. Conversely, sexually well-endowed women attracted and retained men to help them care for children. Hence, today a promiscuous male is tacitly admired and respected, while his female counterpart is deemed a "slut." A responsible and conscientious mother is a paragon of virtue, while males who are faithful to their families, despite loud and pious public acclamations to the contrary, are often held in a certain dismissive contempt.

As much as I like to imagine myself to be a relatively progressive, forward-thinking individual here in the 21st century,  not beholden to anachronistic modes of behavior, I find that it is nearly impossible to escape the patriarchal tradition of modern culture. Or, to put it more plainly: I'm afraid I'm more of a sexist than I might like.

I had a conversation with a female coworker once, a dear friend. We were having a bit of a spat, over some work matter. She accused me of being patronizing toward women.

Said she, "You treat women like precious flowers!"

To which I replied, "Honey, don't you worry your pretty little head about such things."

Livin' in the patriarchy, people. Just livin' in the patriarchy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What happened in Daniel Boone National Forest?

Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky
This morning I heard a story on the news that ought to raise alarm bells all over this country. It certainly startled and disturbed me. A federal census bureau worker, Bill Sparkman, 51, was found hanged with the word "fed" scrawled across his chest in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. The body was discovered on September 12th, but the story is only now becoming public.

The FBI is investigating the case in coordination with Kentucky State Police to determine if the death is the result of foul play and, if so, whether it was related to Sparkman's status as a federal employee.

I'm not jumping to any conclusions. Let the investigation run its course. If the death is the result of foul play, there are any number of possibilities. For example, considering the remoteness of the (potential) crime scene, perhaps Sparkman stumbled onto a moonshine operation or a ganja cultivation plot and was silenced by its operators.

That's a dark thought, but another possibility is even darker.

Imagine some backwoods Kentucky hick, half-crazed on corn-squeezings and Glenn Beck, sitting in his tar paper shack with his AM radio blaring, storing up ammo for when the Feds come to put him in a FEMA concentration camp and force him to bow down to the n**ger. Along comes the unsuspecting and harmless Sparkman, with his clipboard and his questionnaire...

Not a pleasant subject for contemplation.

This could very well be another example of the right-wing domestic terrorism that has been plaguing this nation ever since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. In just the last 15 months, there were the June arrests in Pima County, AZ. There was the incident at the Holocaust Museum, also in June. There was the murder of Dr. George Tiller in May. There was the July, 2008, incident where a terrorist opened fire with a shotgun in a church in Powell, Tennessee.

William E. Sparkman Junior: substitute teacher, Boy Scout volunteer, single father, and cancer survivor
If it turns out that this is a politically-motivated homicide, I wonder, will the media and government finally start using the term "terrorism" to describe this type of activity?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Something will come

Wring not thy hands before my tearful eyes,
Though table be barren and we unseen
By those who's parlors are full of laughter
And light, reveling in hilltop manor;

Something will come,
Our Lord hath proclaimed it,
Something will come;

Raise not thy fist in angry defiance,
Though need hath sacrificed thy dignity,
Though lords and ladies behold piously
Our plight: idle fancy, cause celebré;

Something will come,
We only need name it,
Something will come;

Shine Thy mercy upon humble daughter;
As my faith in Thee never hath faltered,
Let not my words prove false to those I love,
That they might see that which Thou hath promised;

Let something come,
That we may acclaim it,
Let something come

Monday, September 21, 2009

Amsterdam at last (Pt. XXV)

Note to readers: This is the twenty-fifth and final part of a recounting of my Grand European Tour, taken in the fall of 1999. You can read Part XXIV here.

A journey completed
Amsterdam was very different when last I had walked along her filthy canals. Then, the streets had been alive with merry-makers, laughter, summer bustle, happy, carefree nights. Lights! Music! Action!

Now it was mid-November: dark, cold November.

Sixty-some days ab ovo, I returned to faces that were drawn and long and grim. These Dutchmen know the North Atlantic winter. Life was less easy now. Tourists were gone . . . mostly. Though not all.

I found a lonely room with a broken bed not far from Dam Square: dingy and dirty and cold, but good enough. The time had come to face some things. Let Amsterdam reveal what it will.

Assured now of my European savoir faire, I sat cross-legged under stone sculpture in Dam Square, smoking a cigarette, watching with mild disdain a countryman . . . certainly an American . . . swinging his shoulders like a New World rube . . . the workout sweat-suit . . . the baseball cap . . . I was like that when I first came here. Now I am European to all eyes, with my stone cold stare and my inability to be impressed.

He was Ernest (forthright but wary), a 6'7" black man from Providence, Rhode Island, ex-military, in his middle thirties, built like an NBA power forward. He picked me out of the hundreds of gray people in the Square, walked straight up to me, nary a moment's hesitation, and said "Hey, man? You're American, aren't you?"

Smile I must, and smile I did. How easily shattered, that preposterous delusion. "Yeah," says I, still American to the bone. Another travel friendship was forged on the spot.

We started with Indonesian food for lunch. Ernest had three weeks in Europe and no agenda. "Where should I go?" he inquired. My immediate reply, "Budapest," was uttered with a certainty I can never explain. At that instant, sitting in an Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam, I knew that Ernest (forthright but wary) must go to Budapest. He nodded, recognizing the inexplicable conviction of my pronouncement.

From there, we descended together into seedy, lascivious Amsterdam: smokey coffee shops, labyrinthine alleyways, cold, damp stonework, and the stark, mercenary honesty of the sirens behind their plate glass windows. We were two Americans, reveling in the squalor and nobility of humanity.

Then, Ernest was off to Budapest, three-week Eurail pass in hand. We bid a mutual bon voyage.

Wilma (warm, smiling), whom I'd befriended in Rome, lived not far away in some small Dutch hamlet. I called her and we spoke, but could not muster the effort to reunite. No hard feelings, dear Wilma. Winter loomed apace. No need to venture beyond shelter.

And so, I was alone again in cold Amsterdam. I wandered wintry streets to return at night to my freezing room with broken bed, just off Dam Square.

I had completed a journey of almost 6000 miles, gathered in Viking fjord solitude, Prussian efficiency, and emerging Slavic dignity. I skirted through Alpine majesty, tracing the river's golden path across the valley floor from deific vantage. I descended, like ancient Hannibal into the realm of the Romans, saw their ruined cities, their broken pride scattered across Gaul. I experienced chic-humble duality of Spanish life by the Mediterranean. I endured insufferable arrogance, received astonishing kindness from the children of Vercingetorix. I sang for Belgians.

And yet, no succinct moral lesson could I discern; no distilled observation on humanity's condition. Just these generalities: people are basically good; sooner friend than foe; and a hand offered in friendship is most often the surest and best approach.

On November 16th, I took the train from Central Station to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol:  a journey completed, a lifelong goal attained. Now, should I die, I could have no reason to complain.

At the end of it all, I knew two truths. I knew who I was. And I knew who I wanted to be. And best of all, those truths were not far apart.

Note to readers: Thanks for taking this journey with me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Trippin' through Hawthorne

"Lemme show ya around..."
Last Saturday of summer 2009. Livin' the dream, in the neighborhood. Check it out.

Officially, this little section of southeast Portland is part of several neighborhoods (Hosford-Abernethy, Buckman, Sunnyside, and Richmond). But everyone in the Portland metro area (all ~2.2 million of us) know it as "Hawthorne." I'm talking about the area that starts on Hawthorne Boulevard at the intersection of 20th (or so) running eastward to about 50th. Some might argue that the Hawthorne area extends westward all the way to the river, but that would necessarily include Ladd's Addition, where the people are different, with strange customs and beliefs.

Ever-popular Waffle Window, corner of Hawthorne and 36th
Eastward, beyond 50th, Hawthorne transforms to a 2 lane residential street, with the Seminary up on 55th terminating the vector.  At that intersection, the street takes a quick jog southward, before continuing east and letting out on 60th on the knees of Mount Tabor. Hawthorne Boulevard is named for Dr. JC Hawthorne, who in 1858 established the first nut house in the region, a year before Oregon became a state. Originally, Hawthorne Blvd. was named Asylum Boulevard. But there's a plaque up on the corner of 50th that'll tell you all that.

Bread and Ink Café on the corner of my street, 36th
The area is becoming more and more gentrified and I suppose that's inevitable. Most of the people who live here are professionals. Lots of childless couples, including not a few lesbians. Friendly people. Highly educated. Almost universally progressive, or "liberal," if you will. You should have seen the long faces around this neighborhood on November 3rd, 2004. You'd have sworn we were under foreign occupation.

A little action to keep things spicy
And I suppose we were. After all, judging by the way we live, I don't see that we denizens of "inner Southeast" have much in common at all with those ridiculous hicks that turned up at Town Hall meetings in Oklahoma or South Carolina. Even less with the would-be aristocracy of the Bush family or pseudo-Illuminati string-pullers.

My favorite breakfast joint, Cup & Saucer. Proprietor is my across-the-street neighbor, Karen
Great place to hang out, this neighborhood. In the summer, there are buskers. Some good, some bad, but all courageous as far as I'm concerned. Lots of petitioners, too. That part can be a bit tiresome. Smiling faces, with the natural appeal of youth, asking politely "Do you have time to talk about name-an-issue?" I'm getting better at brushing them off, also politely.

Cup & Saucer staff, friendly and hip
You live in a place like this, you just get to know everybody over time. I've been here since late 1999, and I suppose I'm known around the area. At least, by sight. If you ever wander down, you'll probably see me: sandal-wearing, long strides, disheveled hair, tee-shirt. On the other hand, that description doesn't really single me out in this area.

Our local landmark, the Bagdad Theater, prominently featured in the 2004 flick, What the Bleep do we Know?
Conversation is spontaneous in this neighborhood. Just today, some younger fellows were listening to a boom box on the corner of 33rd. I asked "What's that music?" None of them knew, but another passer-by said, "That's from the new Brian Eno-David Byrne album." Turns out this guy, Brad, lives north of Hawthorne on 36th. I live south of Hawthorne on 36th.

Naked City clothing store always has edgy and creative window displays.
We walked the four blocks east together, found that we agreed not only on the uselessness of recording companies who interpose themselves between artist and audience (after all this is the age of the Internet), but on the equal lack of value of health insurance companies: unnecessary middle men trying to preserve their slice of the pie. Not bad for a conversation that lasted for four blocks.

Peet's Coffee, 37th and Hawthorne... part of my weekend morning ritual is to come down here and get two large daily brews first thing
It's been great living here over the years. As soon as I got here, I knew I'd found home. I've now lived in my house in Hawthorne longer than I have ever lived at any other place of residence. I love it.

37th and Hawthorne... Gotta love this city
Anyway, that's a quick overview of the neighborhood. It's a great place. Come on down sometime and check it out. If you flag me down on my way to Fred Meyer or the credit union, I'll sit down and have a cup of coffee with ya.

(Happy birthday, Eric!)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

La guerra en la frontera continua: la política como de costumbre

Chico con sus juguetes
En una táctica cínica, calculada sin duda a apelar a los extremistas, gobernador de Tejas, neo-confederado Rick Perry, envia equipos especiales de Texas Rangers a la frontera de su estado, supuestamente para combatir la violencia que crece en el área.

Bien, es verdad que la situación en la región no está óptima: Pandillas bien-armadas que negocian en droges están haciendo muchas problemas para la gente alla, en ambos lados: los EEUU y Mexico.

Pero, pide disculpa por favor, si yo tengo dudas sobre la sinceridad del gobernador. Recuerde que Perry está compitiendo para la nominación del partido republicano contra la senadora Kay Bailey Hutchison. Ya, él ha revelado su estrategia en ésta campaña: agitar los locos con retórica incendiaria.

Los equipos de Texas Rangers, que se llaman "Ranger Recon teams," llenarán el vacío creado por el gobierno federal que no asegura el frontera con Mexico, dijo el gobernador. Estas palabras son como carne viva a los fanáticos en Tejas, quienes recientemente recomendaron secesión.

Bien, a mi parecer, es obvio que el gobernador juega, en esa manera extraordinariamente republicana, con las vidas de otros. Es un gran logro hacer Kay Bailey Hutchison parezca una moderada. ¿Quién, otro de Rick Perry puede hacerlo?

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo. Y gracias a mi amigo, Mike Ferris, por las correciónes.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

President Carter names the beast

"There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."--President Jimmy Carter, September 16, 2009
Thank you, President Carter.

We've been tip-toeing all around this ever since the media made note of the vitriol that was being expressed at some of the Republican campaign rallies last year. And, let's face it, Republicans have become experts at soft-peddling their racism in such a way as to make it palatable for Middle America. Now, watch how they howl in the wake of President Carter's truth-speaking.

Charming, eh?
President Carter's remark was offered as commentary about the breech of decorum exhibited by US Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) at President Obama's speech before a joint session of Congress. In effect, President Carter contends that Wilson's outburst was a sop to the racist element of the Republican party.

Representative Wilson's past behavior does little to dispel such assertions. He's an admirer of the wretched segregationist and original Dixiecrat, Strom Thurmond. The same Strom Thurmond who once said: "I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches." After Thurmond's death, when it became public knowledge that the late Senator had an illegitimate half-black daughter, Wilson denounced the story as a smear, even though Thurmond's own family acknowledged the woman's story as true. Wilson vehemently defended flying the seditious Confederate battle flag over South Carolina's state capitol. Wilson is a member of "The Sons of Confederate Veterans," which according to the Southern Poverty Law Center is a racist group.

As further evidence of the racism inherent in right-wing protests, consider also that, according to Ronald Kessler, author of In the President's Secret Service, the number of death threats against President Obama is four times the number of such threats against previous presidents. Are we to imagine that this is a result of President Obama's policies?

Although almost universally ignorant, not all tea-baggers are overt racists. But there is no denying the ugly, racist tone that permeates the tea-bagger protests.

President Carter has lived in the South, in Dixie, for his entire life. He is in a position to know the underlying sentiments of that region.

Regardless of the rhetoric that comes from hapless clown Michael Steele, or from drunken, lugubrious John Boehner, the fact is that there is a significant number of racists in the GOP; that the GOP is afraid to alienate these racists; that all of this is the result of Nixon's infamous Southern Strategy which came in the wake of the Civil Rights Act.

The White House, for its part, is trying to downplay the former President's remarks. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said "The president does not think [political opposition] is based on the color of his skin."

I suppose that President Obama might believe that. But he's a smart guy. A lot smarter than me. So, I doubt it. Politically, it makes sense for him to want to avoid this discussion. It's not a comfortable topic. But President Carter, showing true courage, has dragged the beast out into the middle of the room.

Here it is, people. What are we going to do about it?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

American Debtor's Revolution!

A reference made on Huffington Post written by Arthur Delaney alerted me to this video:

Ann Minch, a northern California, middle class woman*, has decided to take a stand. She makes a very eloquent, truthful statement about usurious corporate robber barons. Her anger is directed at the real villains in our perilous national economic condition.

I urge anyone interested in possibly effecting real reform, the kind that President Obama spoke about during the campaign, to view the video and see if there is something you can do to help.

With nearly 100,000 views on YouTube as of this writing, I believe that the vid is approaching "viral" status. If any corporate bankers and insurance company executives are among the viewers, I have to imagine that Ann's message makes them a bit uneasy.

I hope others will have the courage to follow in Ann's footsteps. I almost wish I had an outstanding balance on a credit card so I could join her protest. (But, no, I won't purposely go out and wrack one up.) And besides, she's from Red Bluff, CA, just down the road a piece from my old stomping grounds of Klamath Falls, OR. A man feels obliged to help a neighbor, you know?

If Ann Minch's protest takes root and spreads, the political repercussions could be enormous. President Obama might feel compelled to start ramming real legislation through Congress. How about aggressive regulation of the finance industry, real criminal punishments in real penitentiaries for corporate criminals, and caps on outrageous executive salaries? How about a repeal of the Bush tax cuts? Not that Congress would have much enthusiasm for fighting, if the outcry is loud enough.

And wouldn't it be nice if this video caught the eye of a tea-bagger or two? All that anger and fear that they have been directing at President Obama, at liberals, at gays, at Mexicans and Muslims and African-Americans, might find a more deserving target: the very people that, even now, are hood-winking them in to demonstrating against their own best interests.

Taken together with other similar demonstrations, Ann's statement could begin a revolution in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi. (I don't think Gandhi used bad language, but otherwise...)

This could make a difference.

*I am trusting the sourcing and verification of Ms. Minch's identity to the Huffington Post. I leave it you, dear reader, to read up on it there.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Defeat in Afghanistan: Another colossal Bush failure

Buried under the tragicomic inanity of the health care debate, there is yet another colossal f**k up endowed upon us by President Junior. Careful examination of the political maneuvering this last week reveals one fact, rather starkly: the war in Afghanistan is lost.

The politics

According to the White House, President Obama is considering an increase in troop levels there. But he is meeting resistance from a corner that casual political observers might find surprising: Congressional Democrats.

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Defense Committee, sounded a little less than enthusiastic about a "surge."
"We should increase and accelerate our efforts to support the Afghan security forces in their efforts to become self-sufficient in delivering security to their nation -- before we consider whether to increase US combat forces above the levels already planned for the next few months," said Levin, who returned last week from a trip to Afghanistan.
And this, from Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House:
"I don't think there's a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in the Congress."
This, I believe, is what might be called "retreat under cover."

The Democrats (both Congress and the White House) are handling this with amazing and uncharacteristic skill. Congressional leaders call for a lessening commitment (leading, ultimately, to complete withdrawal), while the President appears to support a renewed commitment. No one can then accuse the President of lacking the moxie to continue the fight, and the burden of selling an escalation falls to Republicans. The end result is that the GOP must either continue to carry Bush's dismal failure into the mid-term elections, or tacitly admit that the whole thing was a criminal (and I do mean "criminal") mistake. (Let's see if Big Dick shoots his mouth off this time.)

The Republicans, for their part, seem to recognize that Dick and Junior's Most Excellent Adventure is a bad political investment. They're treating the idea of increased commitment like the hot potato it is. Angry Senator John McCain (R-AZ) seemed none-too-eager to grab it. From Bloomberg:
Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services panel who also met McChrystal in Afghanistan, said he would support an appeal for additional U.S. forces. McCain, an Arizona Republican, said in an interview he expects the request to be “substantial” and “controversial.”
That's not exactly a quote made for prime time television.

"I'll get you back for this, Boehner. Some day..."
And here's what House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) had to say:
"I also applaud the President for his continued support for the War in Afghanistan and for his commitment to provide the men and women in uniform, and the generals on the battlefields, the necessary resources to achieve victory." (Read the whole thing here.)
Cantor's position is amusing. With the GOP base all whipped into a frothing fit of histrionics over the health care debate, he must still extend praise to the man whom the Scream Machine has all but labeled the Enemy of Mankind, President Obama. (What do you want to bet Minority Leader John Boehner pulled rank on ol' Eric? Can't you just see it? Boehner well into his 5th apple martini of the evening, slouches over on the bar stool and slurs, "Well, Eric, old boy, that's the Whip's job... looking like an assh**e, so I don't have to.")

Where we are today

In any case, after 7 years of war in Afghanistan, our presence there has produced neither political stability (there are wide-spread reports that the recent elections there were rigged in favor of Bush lackey, Hamid Karzai), nor military success (casualties are on the rise, and military leadership are raising alarms).

You'd think we would have learned
A renewed commitment expects too much of the war weary American public, not to mention enormously burdened US military personnel, many of whom have been summoned for three and four tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Further, all indications are that any further requests made of our NATO allies, who after all, have already done what might reasonably be expected, would get "lost in translation."

Thank you, Junior

Junior Bush in his cavalier, aristocratic way, started this war the way he did everything in his life: half-assed, and with no personal, emotional, or financial risk of repercussions. And, just as with Harken Energy, the Texas Rangers, and the State of Texas, the Idiot Prince f**ked it up, royally.

Million laughs, eh, Junior?
Remember early in the war, when the Taliban was in retreat, and the news wires were full of speculation that the US military had al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden holed up in Tora Bora? That may well have been the decisive moment of the war. A full scale offensive at that moment might have actually bagged bin Laden and much, if not all, of the al Qaeda leadership.

But, of course, there would have been significant US military casualties. And Junior and Cheney didn't want to spend that kind of political capital on this Afghanistan sideshow. They had something much bigger in the works and they didn't want to dull the American public's appetite for war with reports and images of American service personnel killed in action. So they bid the job out to rival Afghan tribesmen, who, truth be told, had probably cut their own deal with bin Laden. Net result? Al Qaeda survives, but more importantly (from Junior's perspective) so does the "war mentality" of the American public which Junior needed for his Iraq adventure.

Now, 7 years later, President Obama and all of us are left holding the bag. We've got a daunting mess to pay for. And we will pay in treasure and blood long after we withdraw. Suicide rates are exploding in the US military. Countless thousand of lives, American, Afghan, and others, have ended. Families are breaking apart. Between the myriad demographic and social factions of this country, vitriol and bitter recrimination are the stock-in-trade.

And that, for all you teabag monkeys out there, is what becomes of your "Support the Troops" bumper stickers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Three Faces

Faces three, have I:

The first of these: the man you meet,
A smile, a nod, a hand to greet;
We pass each other on the street;
Conform to tailored comport;

Perchance we then become as friends,
My second face I will extend;
A child who trusts, who apprehends,
Who laughing's lost in transport;

But ask me not to know the other,
Nor friend, nor wife, nor dearest mother;
All inward glimpse I strive to smother;
Let darkness hide grim contort;

Know that every mask
Hides a mask
Which hides a demon;

Faces three, have I...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama's health care reform speech

Last night, President Obama delivered his speech on health care reform before a joint session of Congress. Finally, a much-needed articulation of his goals for legislation. Here are the key points, as described by the Kansas City Star blog, prime buzz:
  • Individuals would be required to carry basic health insurance. Those who can’t afford it would get a hardship waiver.

  • Businesses would be required to offer their workers health care or chip in to help cover the cost. Ninety-five percent of small businesses would be exempt because of their size and narrow profit margin.

  • Medical malpractice reform is not a “silver bullet,” but practicing “defensive medicine” can lead to unnecessary costs; demonstration projects will be reviewed to see what changes to medical malpractice insurance would work best.

  • It would be against the law for insurance companies to deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

  • Promised to protect Medicare and reassured the elderly that Medicare funds would not be used to overhaul health care.

  • A public option, or alternative to private insurance, needs to be available to the uninsured to “keep insurance companies honest.”

  • The public option would not be subsidized by taxpayers, but would be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects; the Congressional Budget Office estimates that fewer than 5 percent of Americans would sign up.
As a liberal/progressive who had recently begun to suspect that I was (yet again) being ignored or disregarded by a Democratic president, I can say that this speech did much to reassure. President Obama's support for a public option came across as reasonable, not strident. But he offered an out for those who are dead set against it: come up with an alternative. They can't and won't, of course. So, to me, that means the final bill that is presented to Congress will include a public option.

The President made yet another pitch for bipartisan support, even invoking the name of his opponent in the general election and advocating McCain's plan for low-cost insurance that protects those with "pre-existing conditions" from financial ruin. I doubt that this appeal for bipartisanship will win any Republican votes, though. As I'm sure the President suspects, the Republicans have already made the political calculation that they benefit more by opposing reform than by cooperating. The point of his appeal, I imagine, is to portray the Republicans as intransigent and uncooperative.

Well, something is going to pass Congress, and it will probably be passed with, at most 2 Republican votes (Maine's senators: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins). The Democrats are a wobbly, cobbled-together coalition --that's just who they are --but they know that they must pass something unless they want to be slaughtered at the polls in 2010.

Hidden behind it all, however, is the more fundamental question: is this really a government for, by, and of the people? Or is it just a tool for corporate titans and robber barons? The bill that the President signs will hold the answer.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Brugge (Pt. XXIV)

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

The Venice of the North
Autumn deepened toward winter. Days were dark and dreary; nights, freezing cold. I had one last stop before returning to Amsterdam to await the flight home: Brugge, in the west of Belgium, the "Venice of the North."

Wandering through that medieval maze of cobble-stoned streets I was amazed at Belgian resolution. Not the prospect of long dark winter nights, neither the dying of the year, nor icy winds from the English Channel could transform their steely grimaces to either smiles or long faces. They are a stalwart folk.

There were also many Brits from across the Channel taking holiday, drinking, carousing loudly, in this dreamlike setting: dreamlike, but not pleasant . . . eerie. As the sun sank, ghostly mists arose from the many canals that meander through the township, creating a surreal world. Only the discordant laughter of partying Brits prevented a complete trans-temporal reverie.

I got drunk again that night. Yes, drunk, after having shared beers with partying Brits in an outdoor cafe under a space heater. We talked politics, led by a Labor Party activist who sang the praises of Tony Blair. Later, in my room (a lonely enclave in an out-of-the-way alley), the hazards of introspection loomed. I looked in the mirror long and hard. I liked what I saw. Braving the reflection cast back at me from the bathroom mirror, I thought I glimpsed those things that others, those who like and admire me, might see. Dade: open-minded intellectual, world-traveler, generous, compassionate.

Then suddenly, at long last, I experienced some pangs of homesickness. I had a longing for my green, rainy home in the upper left-hand corner of civilization.

Medieval township in the autumn light
The next day consisted of solitary wandering through the streets and a boat tour of Brugge's many canals. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Brugge was a thriving and important seaport emitting Normandy grain, Gascony wine;  admitting goods from Genoa and Venice. Eventually, silt from the Zwin channel bottled up the harbor; Brugge was eclipsed by Antwerp as the premiere port of the north. Alas, Brugge! But just as every pleasure has an edge in pain, so too does every misfortune have its left-handed benefit. In the turbulent times to come, no armies would roll over Brugge; no Luftwaffe bombs would rain death on her denizens.

Memorial for fallen Canadians
Next day was my final day in Flanders. I climbed aboard a bus to tour those fields where Germans and Canadians and Brits died in their millions, sprinting from trench to trench, drowning in mud, dissipating in ghastly explosions, choking and dying in clouds of poisonous gas. It was here, in Flanders, that occurred the most vicious and senseless slaughters of the Great War.

Decrepit bunker crumbling amid the dead
My guide was Philippe Uyttenhove (passionate, knowledgeable) of Quasimodo tours. Eloquent and understated, he spoke with emotion of the butchery that had occurred on these fields some 85 years before. His own mother had fled her home, leading her children with those belongings she could pile onto her wheelbarrow, before advancing Germans could occupy her town. Even today, passions run deep in these parts. Philippe admitted to a hatred of Germans. "When I hear their language, I go berserk," said he. "They do not ride on my bus."

My face must have revealed my sad shock, my despair. "I won't pass it on to my children," he said, almost apologetically. "That wouldn't be right."

The unnumbered fallen
Many millions of artillery shells tore up these fields. An unknown number were buried in the mud, undetonated. Every year, Belgian farmers are killed when plows strike live shells buried in the ground. The residue of war continues to collect its tragic tax.

Somber, solemn graveyards give testament to the flower of a generation, plucked from humanity's bouquet before it could bear fruit.

That evening, I boarded the train for Amsterdam. The end of my journey was at hand.

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The return of John Kitzhaber

Who says there are no second acts in politics?

Last week, John Kitzhaber, Oregon's governor from 1995 through 2003, announced that he will run for a record-setting third term in 2010.

John Kitzhaber is certainly an impressive individual: a surgeon, a capable politician, and a rugged outdoorsman in that uniquely Oregonian way. During his two terms in office, Kitzhaber faced a state legislature controlled by Republicans, but still managed to accomplish much, including the expansion of the Oregon Health Plan and the institution of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. Kitzhaber showed particular courage in his championing of the latter by advocating the breach of dams to help salmon restoration.

Ever since he left the State House, speculation about his political career has peaked from time to time. Many Oregon Democrats were hoping that he would run for the US Senate seat held by Gordon Smith, but Kitzhaber wouldn't play ball on that score. There was also a brief buzz that he might be the Obama administration's choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services after Tom Daschle's flame-out late last year. Kitzhaber shot that one down, too.

But, at last, the former governor has revealed his hand.

A visit to his new web site reveals that Governor Kitzhaber is preparing a campaign that echoes the message that President Obama successfully employed last year: post-partisanship, a need to work together, a willingness to address tough issues. But unlike the President, Kitzhaber has got the resumé to back up the rhetoric. And one must imagine that, given that the Oregon state legislature is currently (albeit tenuously) controlled by the Democrats, Governor Kitzhaber is looking forward to an ambitious third term.

Oregon's constitution prohibits anyone from seeking a third consecutive term as governor, but places no restrictions beyond that. Oregon's revered Governor Tom McCall sought a third term in 1978, but lost the Republican primary to Vic Atiyeh. This time around, Governor Kitzhaber must surely be considered the early favorite. He has huge name recognition, obviously, and he was very popular at the conclusion of his second term.

I always liked Governor Kitzhaber. He is smart, capable, and tough. So, for the time being, he has my support. But, of course, I reserve the right to change my mind as the race develops further.

Let's see what happens.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What's it gonna be, Barack?

Here we are, 8 months into Barack Obama's presidency, and the time has come. The administration is at the crux of a weighty decision that will determine its historic success or failure. Of course, I'm talking about the health care issue.

As I see it, there are only two options available to the President:
  1. Fulfill the promise of his campaign, and insist on health care reform that includes universal coverage and, at the minimum, a public option that gives people an alternative to the vampiric health insurance companies;

  2. Submit to the shrieking and fear-mongering whipped up by Republicans and their health insurance company masters and forgo the public option, thus rendering any "reform" meaningless.
The administration is no doubt alarmed at the precipitous drop in the President's approval numbers. It has fallen from about 76% in February to 53% today. Big drop. Right-wingers point to this as evidence that people object to his supposedly "socialist/fascist" policies. I'm not so sure.

I think part of Obama's drop in approval has been due to the perception that he is too accommodating to ignorant, stupid people.

From my perspective, as a proud and unapologetic liberal/progressive, Barack Obama has done nothing but appease the right-wing freaks and their asinine, delusioned fears. He has soft-peddled and constrained any efforts to investigate the filthy Bush administration for its war crimes. He relented on the repeal of the disastrous Bush tax cuts that have brought this country to the brink of financial disaster. He has pulled back on his timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, while doubling down on our gamble in Afghanistan. He even watered down his address to the nation's school children this Tuesday in response to tea-bagger shrieking about "brain-washing," for Christ's sake!

The administration has been sending out mixed signals regarding the inclusion of a so-called "public option" in any health care reform bill. Right-wingers, including conservative Democrats, are quick to pronounce such an initiative dead. Meanwhile, progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives, led by the uncharacteristically courageous Nancy Pelosi, have said that, without a public option, a bill will not pass their chamber. But no one knows, for sure, where the administration stands.

President Obama has scheduled an appearance before a joint session of Congress this Wednesday to address the issue. So, here's where the rubber meets the road. Is President Obama going to be the president that he promised during the campaign? Or is he just another appeaser; is he going to be intimidated by ignorant, stupid people?

I've had it with trying to becalm the hysterics of these fools! My support for the President hinges on his willingness to stand up to them and tell them they are stupid. The Democrats have dominant majorities in both houses of Congress; if we can't get it done now, we might as well submit the public to the tender mercies of corporate pirates.

It is a rare moment, indeed, when the turbulent forces of national politics become so focused, provide such a clear view of how the future will unfold. Barack Obama's decision regarding a public option in the health care reform debate provides just such a moment.

So...what's it gonna be, Barack?