Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Don't look now, but things might just be looking up


Is it just me?  Or does it seem that we just might be pulling out of this national nosedive that started way back in November 2000?  Quite suddenly, I think I might just detect a glimmer of hope for these United States.

President Obama is on a roll, right now.  If national politics could be likened to an NBA game, the President has suddenly found his "zone" the same way that Magic Johnson used to do back in the 80s.  You know?  Like when Magic would thread the needle with a no-look pass to find a streaking James Worthy for the throw-down, or Byron Scott all alone beyond the arc, feet planted and square to the basket.


Big wins at home and on the road

The President won big, politically, with health care reform.  Polls show that the public is rapidly moving toward solid approval of the new law.  But apart from that huge victory, the President this week also rolled out a "Mortgage Modification Assistance" plan aimed at addressing the national foreclosure problem.  Also, Congress overcame an "intense" lobbying effort by Big Banks to pass legislation that forces the banks out of the student loan business.  Now students can borrow for college tuition directly from the government without having to give a cut to private bankers (the very same who nearly destroyed our financial system in 2008).  I got through college with my Guaranteed Student Loan and I'm glad students today will have that same opportunity.

These accomplishments in and of themselves would comprise an ambitious presidential agenda for an entire term, and this president has been in office for just over one year!

The partnership between the President and his former rival, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working very well, apparently.  On the foreign policy front, the President announced a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia, continuing the START program that Ronnie Raygun initiated back in the 80s.  Also, the President let Bibi Netanyahu know that the United States does not approve of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, winning the praise of none other than Bush consiglierie, James Baker.  Then, the President flew to Afghanistan to rally the troops and put some pressure on Junior's favorite marionette, Hamid Karzai.

It seems apparent that President Obama is proving himself worthy of the respect that the rest of the world hungers to give him.  (Of course, Junior set the bar pretty low.  Heh.) 

 Left to right:  Ensign, DeMint, Coburn, Richard Shelby (AL) and Vitter (sans diaper)
GOP disasters

Meanwhile, the Republicans are in disarray.  Although one would think they might have become accustomed to defeat, they are reeling after their humiliation in the health care debate.

Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC), Coburn (R-OK) and Brownback (R-KS) are now drawing attention for having lived in a posh Washington DC boarding house while paying subsidized rent by unidentified parties.  (But no quid pro quo, eh?  Yeah, right!)  And, of course, Senator John Ensign's shenanigans smell worse by the day.  (But, hey?  How 'bout that Senator Vitter?)

The long simmering feud between the various oh-so-noxious factions of the GOP is erupting into full scale war, with tea-baggers challenging and threatening to destroy such GOP paragons as Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, and even Mad Johnny McCain himself!

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele just got into the stew (again) with reports that the RNC comp'ed a visit by donors to a fetish nightclub in Los Angeles.  (It's called "Voyeur.")  Add this to the long list of gaffes the chairman has compiled during his term and one begins to wonder if he's not a Fifth Column Democrat.


Americans waking up

Although the spike in militia and racist group memberships is undeniable, it is not surprising.  This is the traditional nativist/Know-Nothing strain of American politics that has always existed.  As President Carter said last year, there is a deep current of racism in this country, and there are those who can never accept the idea of an African-American as their president. As long as that particular faction holds the levers of power within the GOP, the party will remain in the political wilderness.  If there are moderate elements in the GOP, those elements must purge party ranks of the racists and reactionaries.  But, considering how deeply entrenched are the bigots within that party, it will be some time before they have their house in order.

I'm confident that the "vast middle" of this country, to the extent that such exists, will recognize the real accomplishments of this president, will distinguish the differences his policies have made in their lives.  All the Glen Beck hysteria and frothing vitriol will disgust them and they'll turn away. 

So, let me urge fellow progressives to take a moment to smell the roses.  Our president is on a roll, our political opponents are bewildered and lost, and this economy is starting to show signs of life.

Don't look now, but...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hutaree: Playing army in the woods?

Hillbilly hoedown
Last weekend, the FBI and the BATF raided several homes in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, arresting nine individuals associated with an organization called "Hutaree."  According to media reports and the group's web site, Hutaree is a Christian extremist organization, arming and training itself for an eventual war with "the Antichrist, evil Jews, and Muslims."

Federal authorities arrested nine individuals and charged them with  seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence. All felonies.  If convicted, sentences could extend well beyond the expected lifespan of even the youngest of the accused.  The defendants are David Brian Stone, 45, his wife, Tina Stone, 44, his son, Joshua Matthew Stone, 21, of Clayton, Michigan, and his other son, David Brian Stone, Jr., 19, of Adrian, Michigan, Joshua Clough, 28, of Blissfield, Michigan, Michael Meeks, 40 of Manchester, Michigan, Thomas Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Indiana, Kristopher Sickles, 27, of Sandusky, Ohio, and Jacob Ward, 33, of Huron, Ohio.

Hutaree had allegedly been planning to kill an unspecified law enforcement officer and then ambush the funeral procession for that officer in the hopes of killing more officers.  The group apparently views law enforcement officers as the "foot soldiers" for the "enemy."  According to the US Attorney's office, Hutaree hoped that the attack would spark a full scale war between Christians and the "enemy." 

When I saw the video produced by Hutaree, my initial response was to laugh.  Ignoring the fact that they were carrying some serious weaponry, I found it hard to take seriously a bunch of yahoos in fatigues running around in the woods.  They gave each other cool-sounding names like "Pale Horse" and "Captain Hutaree."  They had an elaborate ranking system.  Just like a bunch of boys playing army in the backyard.  But, then I hearkened back to the Homeland Security Report that drew so much criticism last year which warned against the threat of right-wing militia groups.

Enjoy your 15 minutes, y'all.
So, if the allegations in the indictments are true, that report seems to have been right on the money.  And, although this group seems to be laughably incompetent, it nonetheless adds to the list of incidents involving right-wing terrorists

I applaud the federal government's preemptive raid.

Although Hutaree and its ilk are fringe elements, I think they represent the cutting edge of the rage that is being expressed by tea-baggers and disaffected Republicans.  As Frank Rich pointed out in his column this week, and despite protestations to the contrary,  the conservative white minority in this country is vaguely aware that changes in demographics, religion, and social mores have stripped it of its dominant position in the political hierarchy of this country.  Irrevocably and forever.  I believe that as this recognition becomes more prevalent, those who identify themselves with the conservative white minority will succumb to their fears and drift toward these fringe elements.

This raid will at least give them pause.  And note that other "militias" in the Great Lakes area not only distanced themselves from Hutaree but are cooperating with the authorities.

The path back to power for conservatives will require that they build coalitions with other demographics, many of whom they detest. I predict that it will take them a while to gag down that bitter pill.  So, until then, enjoy watching them flounder.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What did you mean, Judas Iscariot?

Judas and the Magdalene
Holy Week, as the Christian's term it.  And once again my thoughts turn to the last week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, recognized by over a billion souls as the Messiah, humanity's Redeemer.

In all my queries and investigations into the Christian faith, one character continues to fascinate and befuddle.  And that is Judas Iscariot.

Judas, of course, is mostly remembered as one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus.  According to the gospel of Mark, Judas was the group's money man, keeping track of finances, controlling the purse strings. When the call came down to have Jesus arrested, Judas betrayed Him to the Roman authorities, identifying Jesus with a kiss (the Judas Kiss).  For this service, Judas was allegedly paid the tidy sum of 30 pieces of silver.  Jesus was subsequently crucified.

My fascination with Judas goes to motive.  What did he hope to gain with his betrayal? 

Scholars have postulated several theories:  One is that Judas had a weakness for money and was motivated by the bounty paid out by the Pharisees.  But surely Judas must have been driven by something more than a paltry 30 silver pieces, no?  Such a sum seems pretty insignificant when weighed against an eternity of torment.  Or is it possible that Judas acted out of ignorance?  That he did not, in fact, believe that Jesus was the Messiah? And, if that is the case, is Judas less culpable?

Another possible motive is that Judas felt betrayed by Jesus, whom he expected to overthrow Roman rule of Israel. In this view, Judas is a disillusioned disciple betraying Jesus not because he loved money, but because he loved his country.  Some people might construe this as a noble motive.

Or there is the supernatural theory:  According to Luke 22:3-6 and John 13:27, Satan entered into Judas and called him to do it.  In that case, it seems grossly unfair to hold Judas guilty of anything.  He was compelled to betray Jesus, perhaps against his will.
 
"Come 'ere, gimme kiss."
But, taking the larger view for a moment, regardless of his motive, did Judas not act according to God's will?  After all, in order for the prophesy to be complete, someone had to betray Jesus.  So, was Judas not merely fulfilling the role that God had written for him?  (Martin Scorcese's difficult but rewarding film "The Last Temptation of Christ" espouses this particular theory.)  This theory strikes at the age old and never-ending debate around Free Will and Predestination.  That debate has been going on since long before Jesus of Nazareth ever got dunked in the Jordan River.  It'll still be going a thousand years hence.

The gospels are somewhat contradictory regarding Judas' fate after the betrayal.  According to Matthew, Judas repented and hanged himself.  But according to Acts, he fell down in a field and burst asunder.  Dante wrote in Inferno that Judas was exiled to the very lowest pit of Hell, there to be chewed on for all eternity by Satan, the Devil.

But that, it seems to me, flies in the face of the concept of an all-forgiving God.  And did not Christ Himself (purportedly) exclaim as He died on the cross:  "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"?  (Whatever happened to "Not perfect, just forgiven?")

Well, after all these centuries of theory and counter-theory I have faith (heh) that the questions around Judas Iscariot will never be answered to my satisfaction.  And besides, as I've stated many times before, it is futile to look for literal meanings from scripture.  Rather, scripture is presented to us so that we can ponder it, ruminate on it, theorize about it.  I don't believe that it offers the concrete, black-and-white answers that fundamentalists (of any stripe) favor. And, it's Holy Week, so what the hell?  (No pun intended.)

Carl Anderson (aided by lyricist Timothy Rice) did a brilliant interpretation of Judas Iscariot in Jesus Christ Superstar. Here's the opening tune of that flick, Heaven on Their Minds.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

ASL: Bustin' the Barrikady yet again (Pt. VI)

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system.
 

My old friend and ASL nemesis, Dave Hauth, is back!  Fresh off our recent Red Barricades game, in which I finally seem to have found an effective counter for his "fortify the riverbank" strategy, Dave is ready to give it another go.  This time the game is RBCGIII:  the Barrikady, with yours truly in the role of General Von Paulus and Dave doing his best impression of grandfatherly Marshal Zhukov.  

For your vicarious ASL enjoyment, both players will once again maintain a blog correspondence as the game progresses with the agreement that neither will read his opponent's blog until given express permission to do so.  Dave and I have faced off in so many ASL campaigns and scenarios that a Gentleman's Game is both assumed and assured.

Readers are encouraged to comment!  Got a problem with where I placed my AT gun?  Speak your piece!  Just be sure not to inadvertently reveal any information about Dave's plan to me or vice-versa.  You can read Dave's blog here.  You can read my previous entry here.

Aftermath of Day 6

God! I hate to lose. But lose, I have; outfoxed by the wily Comrade Hauth. The end-of-game perimeter appeared thusly.

End of game perimeter; German player concedes.
Here's how it went down, from my perspective.

Keep in mind that my objective for the day, as I discussed in my previous post, was to seize all stone building locations west of hexrow N and north of the gully.  An admittedly ambitious goal.  But I was coming off an Idle day and so was as strong as I was likely to get.

My purchased heavy artillery module was, in retrospect, a big mistake.  Dave had set up to concede the Power Station, having manned it with only conscripts.  That meant that my heavy artillery with its pre-registered hex of K24 would fall on terrain that Dave wasn't going to fight for anyway.  Further, if I dropped it, I risked rubbling the Power Station and denying myself high ground.  My decision was made easier when I drew a red chit to start the game.  At that point, I decided that I would save the artillery for the day, and would merely use a spotting round as a means of intimidating Dave's kill stacks.

But that meant that I was fighting the day without 8 CPP of my forces.  That's a mighty big handicap to hand to the Russians.

So, I attacked the Power Station, and took it easily.  The force of my attack carried me into Building M24, which I seized quickly as well.  Meanwhile in the south, I occupied the (apparently) empty L32 and G33 buildings and set up to hold them.  My PzIVF1 tanks came on in support of the main attack and I wracked up a whole bunch of Russian CVP.  Up at the river and in the factories, Dave was creeping forward, but I felt I could contain him.  Things were looking good.

Then, his defense stiffened up.  Dave sprang an ambush in the L32 and G33 that caught me completely flat-footed.  Alas, I can only blame myself for not checking out the cellars of those buildings.  Rookie mistake.  A platoon of SMG troops advanced out and ambushed my elite rifle company.  Losses were bad.

He had some tough elite troops holding Factory M27 who withstood an armor-infantry assault.  His troops south of the gully, which included a 9-2 kill stack, counterattacked the L32 and G33 buildings, and drove me out in rout.  It was almost a replay of the Day 2 disaster.

At the end of the scenario, I still had some bright spots, though.  I had seized the Power Station intact, and had even grabbed Building M24.  I had retained my heavy artillery which I could assign a new pre-registered hex and I had all 3 of my PzIVF1 tanks.  The casualty tally was better than 2 to 1 in my favor, with the Russians suffering 71 CVP; the Germans 31 CVP. 

The most worrisome aspect of the game, at that point, as we were calculating retained forces, was the number of squads that Dave still had.  Some 69!  Steve Pleva once told me that once the Russians have more than about 70 squads on the board, the task for the Germans becomes almost impossibly high.  And my own experience conforms to that assessment as well.  Dave would be fielding over 80 squads for the next day.

Still, I'm one of those players that will not concede if there is even a remote path to victory.  Two events in the Refit Phase caused me to roll boxcars on my continuation task check:
  • My PzIVF1 platoon was recalled, imposing a huge loss of firepower on my retained forces.
  • My CPP replenishment roll scored me only 15 CPP for the third day in a row.  At the same time, Dave showed me his replenishment roll:  snake-eyes!  So, he received 18 CVP for the third day in a row.
At that point, my morale failed.  Dave played a great game, really surprising me on Day 2 and again on Day 6. 

The last scenario took 15 hours to complete and we were both exhausted when we finally finished at 2am.  Getting too old for this.  Nonetheless, I love this game.

Grapes, anyone?

So, this could just be post-loss pique, but I'm fairly convinced that CGIII:  The Barrikady is very difficult for the Germans.  CGI:  Into the Factory, I think, is a more balanced game.  As a balancing factor for CGIII, I believe that removing the Balance modifier for CPP replenishment and Full-Depleted rolls would help.  But, honestly I don't know if it would be enough.

The Germans are as strong as they will get on CG Day 1.  The Russians only get stronger over time. Rob Wolkey pointed out, in the last game Dave and I played that if the Germans don't win early, they are doomed.  I agree.

To boil it down to a probably-too-simple tenet, I'd say that the campaign is over if the Germans take an Idle Day.  Or, to put it another way, if the Germans do not win with their initial 4 or 5 day thrust, they lose.

Thanks, all

Anyway, thanks to all of you who followed our game.  It was great fun.  I've really enjoyed blogging about it.  I may write up blog posts for future scenarios as I play them.  And I hope to see some of you at Enfilade this May.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday night at the GOP watering hole

SceneA dark, smokey bar in the basement of a DC office building.  House Minority Leader John Boehner slouches on a bar stool, elbows propped on the dark wood of the bar surface, chin in his hands.  A martini glass is at his right elbow.  Half a finger of vermouth-tinged gin remains.

Bartender:  How's that drink coming?

Boehner:  When it gets to here... [he indicates a point partway up the side of his glass] ...start mixing.

Bartender:  Tough week, Congressman?

Boehner:  You have no idea.

[Enter House Minority Whip Eric Cantor]

Boehner:  Oh, Christ!  Hurry up with that refill!

[Cantor seats himself on the stool next to Boehner.  He ignores the bartender's inquiring glance, turns on his stool, pointing his knees at Boehner.  The bartender collects the empty glass and wanders away.]

Cantor:  Did you see my presser?  How about that, huh?  The Architect himself couldn't have done it any better.

Boehner [sourly]:  The Architect?  Not exactly shooting for the moon, are ya?

Cantor:  Think about it.  I make the Democrats seem wimpy when they complain about death threats from the Glenn Beck crowd.  Blame the victim!  Just like Karl used to do it.

Boehner:  Yeah, brilliant.

Cantor:  Thanks!

Boehner:  Christ, don't you know sarcasm when you hear it?

Cantor:  Hey, come on!  I'm Jewish.  Anyway, one of the redneck yokels in my district fires a gun into the air and the bullet lands in my office!  How's that for luck?  Just plain dumb luck!

Boehner:  You can say that again.

[The bartender returns.  Boehner snatches the martini out of his hand and slams it back, then returns the empty glass.]

Boehner:  'Nother!

[The bartender turns away, shaking his head.  Enter Sarah Palin.]

Cantor:  Oh, Jesus!

Boehner:  Hey, come on!  You're Jewish.

Palin:  Hi, guys!

Boehner:  ...

Palin:  Eric, saw you on teevee today.  Way to go!

Cantor:  Thanks, sweetheart.

Palin:  Hey, I'm glad I ran into you both.  I have something for you.

[She digs into her handbag and produces two copies of Going Rogue:  An American Life.]

Palin:  Just my way of saying thanks for, you know, lookin' out for America's values.

[She hands one to Cantor, then extends another toward Boehner.]

Boehner [nodding toward the bar in front of him]:  Just put it there.

[The bartender returns with another martini.  Boehner takes a pull, then sets the glass down on the book.  A water ring forms on the jacket.]

Cantor [reading from the flyleaf of his copy]:  "Keep on tea-bagging, America!  It's the Christian thing to do."  Thank you, Sarah, but, uh, did you know I'm Jewish?

Palin:  Oh, Eric.  Don't be so literal.  After you've signed a thousand, your hand just starts writing.  You don't think about it.

Boehner:  Works that way with mouths, too.

Palin:  Anyway, did you hear the news?  I'm getting my own teevee show!

Cantor:  You don't say?

Palin:  It's going to be great!  I'm calling it "Sarah Palin's Alaska." 

Cantor:  Great news!  This calls for a celebration.  Bartender, Coors Light!

Palin:  And I'll take a strawberry daiquiri.  Oh, and can you put a maraschino cherry on it?

Bartender [to Boehner]:  How 'bout you?

[Boehner glares.  The bartender nods, turns away.]

Cantor:  They think they won a big victory with their health care reform!  We'll show 'em, eh, Sarah?

Palin:  And how!

BoehnerDesi and Lucy's got nothin' on the two of you.

Palin:  Thanks, John.  You know, you're one of the old Republicans that I can really respect.

Boehner [sobbing]:  Where's that g*d-d*mn drink?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tea-baggers lose it

These folks are nuts!
Look, everybody!  The tea-baggers are losing it!

Two days after the Democrats passed their much-ballyhooed health care reform bill, tea-baggers all across the nation are blowing their collective stack.  In true patriotic style, they're responding with death threats and vandalism aimed at Democrats who voted "aye."

One tea-bag leader, Mike Troxel, posted what he believed to be the address of Virginia Representative Tom Perriello and encouraged other tea-baggers to visit the congressman at his home to tell him how they felt about the health care bill.  The address actually belonged to the Congressman's brother and family.  That evening, the Congressman's brother smelled gas and found that someone had slashed the line connecting a propane tank to a gas-power grill.  The FBI is now investigating the matter.

At least ten congresspersons, all of them Democrats, have received death threats.  One of them is Representative Bart Stupak, author of the "Stupak Amendment."  For a time, Congressman Stupak's ammendment threatened to kill the delicate negotiations upon which passage of the bill depended.  But, in the end, Stupak cut a deal with the White House.  It involved an executive order explicitly stating that the new legislation should not be interpreted as changing the restriction on federal funding of abortion.  In other words, maintain the status quo vis-a-vis abortion.  For this great sin, Stupak has received death threats at his home.

The offices of Congressional Democrats across the country, from Arizona to New Hampshire, have been vandalized.

Comments I've seen on conservative blogs are hyperbolic and hilarious.  "We cannot wait until November, we cannot wait for the courts to take action, and we cannot wait for others to do the right thing.  We must do the right thing now.  We must know we are at war, and be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good of our country," raves American Thinker.  That's full on delusional thinking, people.

Although I am tempted to laugh, there really is nothing funny about death threats and political intimidation.  These are brown-shirt tactics. 

Congressional Republicans, for their part, are jabbering nonsensically.  House Minority Leader John Boehner condemned the vandalism and threats.  But the behavior of some of his own caucus has done much to instigate the vehemence.  GOP Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) shouted "baby-killer" during a speech by Congressman Stupak on the floor of the House. Several unidentified Republican congressman egged on protesters in the House gallery during debate, encouraging them to disrupt the proceedings.

Nor have Republicans determined what is to be their political line now that they've lost.  Senator John Kyl could only stammer and stutter when asked on national television if he wanted to repeal the new bill and thereby allow insurance companies to return to denying coverage based on "pre-existing conditions."  Ghoulish Senator Mitch McConnell now says that the Republican rallying cry for November will be "Repeal and replace!"  Get it?  They're going to run on health care reform!  (I guess plain old "Repeal" isn't likely to work very well, is it, Senator?)

Well, I predict that this vituperation and hysteria is going to boomerang back onto the Republicans.  The vast "middle" of the country will be repulsed by this behavior.  And to the extent that Republicans seem to comply with it, or indeed encourage it with their antics, they will be seen as pariahs.

Once people get a taste of the protections afforded them by the bill, it will gain popularity. And that can only redound to the benefit of Democrats.  All of a sudden, the mid-term elections don't look quite as bleak for Democrats as they did just last week.

It's amazing how things have turned in the two days since the health care bill passed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My diverse family

Cousins
Following up on my earlier post, Ancestry and racial identity, I got to thinking about my own family, and how diverse we are, racially and otherwise.  In a word:  very.

You wanna talk about an American Melting Pot?  Even if I limit my considerations to my immediate family, aunts, uncles, and first cousins, we are Germans, Dutchmen, Englishmen, Scots, Filipinos, Mexicans, Indians (both Asian and American), Japanese, Senegalese, African-Americans, native Hawaiians, Irishmen, and Italians. 

Further, when it comes to faiths, my clan includes Catholics, Protestants, various other Christian derivatives, Muslims, Buddhists and agnostics.  No Mormons or Hindus yet, but who knows what the future holds?

We speak many different languages:  English and Spanish, of course.  But also German, French, Wolof, Tagalog, Ilocano, Móoré and Italian.

Keep in mind that I am only considering a small slice of my family.

If, in reciting my litany I sound a tad prideful --well, it's because I am proud.  I've got a great family that represents the best that humanity has to offer.  I say that without reservation.  Diversity breeds open-mindedness and tolerance.  And, unlike for example, the various Royal Families of Europe, with all their inbreeding, my family's gene pool is far more likely to produce some positive genetic mutations.

But, I wonder, is my family all that unique?  How many other families out there have as much or more diversity within them?

More cousins
I suspect that this kind of diversity occurs more in American than anywhere else on earth.  After all, this continent has become the destination for immigrants from every corner of the globe.

So, anybody else out there have families they want to brag on?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health care bill passes

Impressive, Madam Speaker.  Impressive.

As a liberal/progressive, there are many aspects of the health care legislation that was passed yesterday by the US House of Representatives that I find less than optimal.

Mostly, I am fuming that the least expensive and most obvious health care solution, Medicare for all, was never even debated, was in fact, taken "off the table" before the debate had even begun.  In this corporate-enslaved nation, though, I suppose it was idle fantasy to imagine that our government would have the courage to destroy the leeching, parasitic health insurance industry.  In fact, the new legislation might very well make that parasite even stronger.

Secondly,  I find it difficult to avoid the feeling that the leaders of the Democratic party continue to discount my concerns and desires regarding public policy.  We (liberals/progressives) are being taken for granted, yet again.  (But, let's see if Representative Kucinich was able to win anything in exchange for his vote.)

Regardless, passage of the health care bill clearly illuminates some heretofore opaque political realities.
  • President Obama and (most especially) Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, and Majority Whip Clyburn showed extraordinary poise and acumen in their whipping operation.  This is power house politics.  When the vote came down, not only had the leadership pushed the progressive wing of the party (exemplified by Representative Dennis Kucinich) into line, but they corralled the so-called "pro-life" Democrats, led by Representative Bart Stupak.  An impressive political achievement.

  • The Republicans, as evidenced by their hangdog expressions, and their frantic, shrill protestations, have again been defeated.  They did what they could last summer to rally their redneck base against health care reform.  And now, they vow that they will hang this vote around the necks of vulnerable Democrats in the mid-term election.  That tactic will probably work in some "swing" districts, where Democrats were elected in 2008, not so much out of support for Democratic values, but more out of sheer loathing for the Republican era of Junior Bush.  But the Republicans are today, suffering the humiliation of being exposed as largely impotent. 

  • Tea-bag pseudo-patriots have exposed themselves as radical, often racist, and most certainly cruel.  Their antics (shouting "N*gger!" at Representative John Lewis outside the Capital building, mocking a man with Parkinson's Disease, using big words that they obviously don't understand) have served only to steel support for the bill within Congress. 
Polls taken just before the vote indicate that the American public was more or less evenly divided about the bill.  It seems that the President and Speaker Pelosi are confident that, as the bill is implemented, the electorate will become more enamored of it.  Certainly, most people will have no complaint about these provisions in the legislation*:
  • Prohibit dropping people from coverage when they get sick in all individual plans;
  • Lower seniors' prescription drug prices by beginning to close the donut hole;
  • Offer tax credits to small businesses to purchase coverage;
  • Eliminate lifetime limits and restrictive annual limits on benefits in all plans;
  • Require plans to cover an enrollee's dependent children until age 26;
  • Require new plans to cover preventive services and immunizations without cost-sharing;
  • Ensure consumers have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal new insurance plan decisions;
  • Require premium rebates to enrollees from insurers with high administrative expenditures and require public disclosure of the percent of premiums applied to overhead costs.
*[As enumerated by Representative John B. Larson.]

Republicans, I predict, will attack the legislation as achieving nothing on cost control.  But, if the legislation actually does contain costs, as the Democrats say it will, the public will come around.  If not --well, then the Democrats deserve to lose.

This debate has gone on for just over a year, and it has been ugly and rancorous.  And the resulting legislation leaves a lot to be desired.  But there is one aspect of this process that I find deliciously and completely satisfactory:  The hysterical right-wing loses.  The racists lose.  The tea-baggers lose.

There is virtue in that, if nothing else. 

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Onus of the empty page

It has been hard, lately, to fill a page.  Many ideas present themselves as I'm walking around the neighborhood, taking in the the infancy of spring.  I never doubt that one will prove worthy of a few paltry paragraphs. But as I pursue them, first one, then another, I discover that none is quite as rich as its promise.  And yet, my compulsion to write remains.

And so, here I am.

Each year, when the winter passes, human hearts tend to lift a bit.  Certainly, that is true for me.  But the winter through which we have just passed was not so dreary as winter's often can be, here in our temperate rainforest.  Or perhaps it just seems so.

It probably has to do with the so far unfulfilled expectations of disaster.  Accurate or no, one can only brace one's self for the worst for a short while.  Then comes the fatalistic shrug.

Blossoms are out now.  Nature's own Paxil.  And I just never get tired of this...

View from west slope of Mt. Tabor, just above the low reservoir

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ASL: Bustin' the Barrikady yet again (Pt. V)

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system.
 

My old friend and ASL nemesis, Dave Hauth, is back!  Fresh off our recent Red Barricades game, in which I finally seem to have found an effective counter for his "fortify the riverbank" strategy, Dave is ready to give it another go.  This time the game is RBCGIII:  the Barrikady, with yours truly in the role of General Von Paulus and Dave doing his best impression of grandfatherly Marshal Zhukov.  

For your vicarious ASL enjoyment, both players will once again maintain a blog correspondence as the game progresses with the agreement that neither will read his opponent's blog until given express permission to do so.  Dave and I have faced off in so many ASL campaigns and scenarios that a Gentleman's Game is both assumed and assured.

Readers are encouraged to comment!  Got a problem with where I placed my AT gun?  Speak your piece!  Just be sure not to inadvertently reveal any information about Dave's plan to me or vice-versa.  You can read Dave's blog here.  You can read my previous entry here.

Aftermath of Day 4

Day 4 was hard-fought, with both sides suffering a few disasters and achieving a few triumphs.  Heavy winds were blowing and the flames were spreading all over.  I did accomplish my goal of stretching the perimeter, and the casualty ratio was acceptable, so that's good enough.  Here's the perimeter.

Perimeter, end of Day 4
Dave had purchased two Medium Artillery modules which he deployed on either flank, like two big fists to hammer me as I attacked.  And, although he might complain otherwise, I think they were largely effective.  The module in the west disrupted my attack south toward the B23 Building which knocked my timetable off by a turn or two.  But then the module crapped out when the phone line went dead and he wasn't able to hammer home a follow up barrage to inflict casualties.  Once I broke through, it was off to the races, grabbing as much western map edge as time allowed.

In the east, along the riverbank, his artillery fell on my rifle squads defending the area and softened them up enough for Dave to launch a small counterattack with a platoon of 628 squads that succeeded in recapturing his AT Ditch and the pillbox in Y7.

My rocket barrage drifted to the south, where it destroyed some of his reserve 527s and set a fire which ultimately claimed his dug-in T-34 in hex I25.  I got 2 Stukas as reinforcements and each of them claimed one of his two remaining non-dug-in T-34s, which means that I have now accounted for all the T-34s he has available to him for the entire campaign.  That's good news.

The bad news is that my ELR dropped at the end of the day to 3.  That more or less necessitates an Idle day for Day 5.  I think (fingers-crossed) that Dave is unlikely to choose an Attack chit for Day 5, since his forces are pretty beat up.  I really don't want to face a Russian night assault at this point.  

The Russians suffered 54 CVP, the Germans, 32 CVP. That's still an acceptable ratio.  I think I destroyed close to 1.5 companies of infantry, plus a platoon of his best tanks.

I choose the Idle chit for Day 5.  My retained forces for the day:
  • 9-2, 9-1 x 4, 8-0 x 2, 7-0 x 2
  • 127
  • 468 x 12
  • 548 x 7.5
  • 467 x 13
  • 447 x 3.5
  • HMG x 3, MMG x 5, LMG x 6, Lt. Mtr. x 2, Atr x 2
  • PzIIIH
  • PzIVF1
I am allotted 15 CPP for the day. My purchases:
  • Rifle Coy (reserve) 6 CPP
    467 x 12
    8-1, 8-0, 7-0
    HMG, MMG, LMG, Atr, Lt. Mtr.
  • Sturm Coy (reserve) 8 CPP
    548 x 12
    9-1, 8-0
    MMG, LMG x 2, DC x 2
I have 1 extra CPP which I will save for Day 6.  I bought two companies in reserve, hoping that Dave will choose the Idle chit.  That will save me 2 CPP and allow me to spend my entire CPP allotment for Day 6 on support groups (artillery, armor, or maybe a heavy-weapons platoon). 

Day 5:  Idle day

Rest up for the next big push.  Dave did, in fact, take an Idle chit which means my gamble of buying two infantry companies in reserve paid off.  During the refit phase, I rolled a snake-eyes for my ELR roll, which brings my ELR back up to 4!  That's the good news.  The bad news is that Dave rolled a 3, and his ELR went up to 4 as well. And then, to make up for my snake-eyes roll, I rolled boxcars for my two depleted tank platoon witdrawal rolls!  So, both of my retained tanks are gone.

Alas, that's the problem for the Germans:  as the campaign wears on, the Russians get stronger, while the Germans struggle to keep up.  But, c'est le guerre, as say those guys over on the other side of Europe.  (You know?  Those guys over whom we ran roughshod a mere two years previous?)  My retained forces for Day 6 are these:
  • 9-2, 9-1 x 5, 8-1, 8-0 x 4, 7-0 x 3
  • 127
  • 468 x 12
  • 548 x 19.5
  • 467 x 25
  • 447 x 3.5
  • HMG x 4, MMG x 7, LMG x 9, Lt. Mtr. x 3, Atr x 3, DC x 2
I am again allotted 15 CPP for the coming day.  Plus I have 1 CPP left from Day 5, giving me a total of 16 CPP. My purchases:
  • Heavy Artillery module  8 CPP
    Offboard Observer: A27
    Pre-registered hex:  K24
  • PzIVF1 Pltn 5 CPP
    PzIVF1 x 3
  • 80mm Mtr Battery with pre-registered hex  3 CPP
    Pre-registered hex: P21
Pre-registered hexes

The objective for the day is to capture or clear the area to the west of  the N hexrow, south of Arbalovskaya Boulevard.  An ambitious goal, to be sure.  But I've had an Idle Day so I'm coiled up for another big strike.  In support of my objective, I've pre-registered the heavy artillery to hammer the Power Station and Building L24.  It would be nice to capture the Power Station intact, so I might use it as an over-watch position in future scenarios, but if it is rubbled so be it.  I've already captured some high ground with the G22 and F21 buildings that will afford me a nice view down the equator.  I pre-registered the 80mm to smoke up the T34 in O22 and hinder the line of sight for any Russian artillery observers back in the Commissar's House.  Now, I await Dave's setup to see how I will make my approach.

Day 6 setup

And here it is...

Day 6:  Big Picture
My first observation, upon seeing Dave's setup, is that the number of Russian counters on board seems rather paltry, given that we're coming off on Idle day.  There are a few new fortifications in the northeast sector near the river, but no reserve counters and none too many small concealment counters.  So, either he spent a lot on artillery or he has an inordinate number of hidden units or both.  Probably both.

Be that as it may, my objectives remain the same.  I'm going to push hard and expect that I'll encounter some nasty surprises.  To quote General Buck Turgidson from Kubrik's classic, Dr. Strangelove, "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed."

Northeast sector
In this sector, I'm not looking to gain ground, but will content myself with containing any Russian aggression.  And, I do expect that Dave will mount some kind of attack in this area.  He's made a few initiatives over here in the last couple campaign days.  Well, let him come, I say.  I'm willing to give ground here.  But not too much.  I've got a depleted Sturm company guarding the O10 factory, and a rifle company guarding the cliffs above the river.  That'll have to be enough.

 Southwest sector
In this sector, I've deployed an elite rifle company.  They're charged with capturing buildings F32 and G33, primarily.  But, if they can get as far as building J38, so much the better.  I won't push too hard down here though.  F32 and G33 will suffice, since they can provide high ground across the debris field.

Central sector
This is where the action will be.  My 80mm mortar, directed by the phone in C20, will drop smoke on its pre-registered hex P21, which will hopefully neutralize any artillery observers in the Commissar's House.  Meanwhile, the heavy artillery will start doing its crazy thing on the units defending the Power Station and Building L24.  In addition, the rifle company in the K15 factory will provide flanking pressure from the north.

I've got a full company of Sturm troops, supported by a kill stack in F21, that will charge in behind the artillery barrage.  And my reinforcing Panzers will come in as support. 

Big day coming up.  Big day, indeed!

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dennis Kucinich: the Man of the Hour


Well, well, well...

Ain't it funny how things change?  With the fate of President Obama's health care reform efforts (and, in fact, the fate of his presidency) hanging in the balance, guess who is all of a sudden back on the political radar.  That's right:  the champion of progressives nationwide, a man of integrity, and my first choice for president in the 2008 election, Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich.

Yesterday, the President graciously invited Representative Kucinich aboard Air Force One for a short hop up to Cleveland where the President held a rally in support of the health care reform package now before the House of Representatives.  One must imagine that there was some rather vigorous arm-twisting during that flight.  After all, President Obama and Speaker Pelosi need every single vote they can get if they're going to pass the bill through the House and onto the President's desk.  And Representative Kucinich voted against a version of the bill that passed the House late last year, protesting that it didn't go far enough. 

But whatever carrot-and-stick combination President Obama employed, it didn't work.  Representative Kucinich who, in addition to representing Ohio's 10th Congressional District, is the nominal head of the progressive (or liberal, if you prefer) wing of the Democratic Party has announced that he will vote "nay" on the legislation.

As a progressive, I find this moment delicious.  After getting the back-of-the-hand treatment from the President and from Stinky Joe and Ben and from the Democratic leadership in both houses of Congress, progressives find them all creeping back, hats in hands, because they need something.  All of a sudden, progressives matter again.

So, Mr. President, Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid, as you flounder around and try to salvage your political careers, I'd just like to remind you about how flippant and dismissive you were when progressives raised their concerns early on in the debate.  Remember how you took a single-payer solution off the table right at the start?  Remember how Rahm Emanuel referred to us as "f*cking retarded?"  Remember how you, Mr. President, couldn't even muster lukewarm support for the public option, which you claimed to support during the 2008 presidential campaign?

I can't say I hope you fail.  I hate the Grand Old Party so much that anything that is perceived as a victory for them is bad, by definition.  So, go ahead and continue your arm-twisting and groveling.  But, maybe you should go suck up to all those Blue Dogs and conservative Democrats that you treated so royally.  Get them to do your bidding.

Representative Kucinich is doing an admirable job of representing me in this debate.  If he says "nay," well, I say "nay" as well.

Good luck, Mr. President.  If you get through this, maybe you'll remember next time.

Update:  Apparently, President Obama is a better arm-twister than I imagined.  Representative Kucinich announced on Wednesday morning that he will, in fact, vote "yea" on the health care bill.  Well, since I do trust Representative Kucinich, I am willing to extend my support as well.  So, let's get this health care bill passed, and then improve it with reconciliation.  If the Senate betrays us... well, at least the masks will be removed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ancestry and racial identity


By now, it is common knowledge in this country that one of our "revered" Founding Fathers, the author of the Declaration of Independence, original "state's rights" confederate, plantation slave-owner and third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, fathered children with Sally Hemings, one of his housekeeping slaves.  To me, the controversy that continues to surround this matter, despite DNA testing indicating the veracity of the claim, is an indication of the deep-seated racism in this country.  People are uncomfortable with the idea that their cherished Thomas Jefferson (about whom most of them know next to nothing) would participate in the taboo of interracial relations, even less with the revelation that Jefferson was a rapist.  (What was Sally going to do?  Tell him "no?")  But, let's leave aside the issue of tax-evading power-grabbers deified as "patriots" and "lovers of liberty,"  shall we?  Just for now.

Thomas Jefferson:  Slave-owning "lover of liberty," or just a plain ol' schmuck?
The reason I mention this historical item at all is because the descendants of the union between Jefferson and Hemings, are caught in a racial identity void.  Are they black?  Are they white? 

When one starts to think about one's own racial identity, one tends to go back only three or four (or maybe five) generations to identify with the people from whom one is descended.  I would venture that even avid genealogists can do little more than that.  Why?  Because the number of people involved, the number of people from whom one can claim direct ancestry, grows exponentially with each generation.

Consider:  we all have two parents, each of whom had two parents, each of whom had two parents.  So, going back 10 generations (approximately 200 years) we could have as many as 210, or 1024 direct ancestors.  Suffice it to say that one does not have to go back very far in the human chronicle to become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people involved.  Of course, this does not take into account duplicate ancestors who may appear more than once in the family tree.  (Cousins marrying cousins and the like.  You know how people are...) 

Some of my cousins (on the English-German side) have made a real effort in studying my family's genealogy.  When we had our family reunion a couple years ago, they had constructed a fabulously complex family tree which was a monument to dedication.  The diagram featured hundreds of names, along with dates of birth and death.  This tree dealt only with a single thread of my own ancestry:  the thread from which the name "Metzger" is derived.  The majority of the names on the diagram were, at this point in Time's March, just that:  names.  We know nothing of the people.  One can easily imagine that among them were Irish immigrants, African slaves, Cherokees, Hurons, Frenchmen, British Tories, and God knows who else.

So, were I to say (as I often do) that I am English-German on Mom's side, and Filipino-Mexican on Dad's side, I would be basing that statement on the people in my ancestry of whom I am aware.  But that extends back only to my great-grandparents.  And, of those eight people, I know only a scarce minimum about seven of them, and nothing at all about the eighth.

Let us suppose then, that ten generations back, I have some 800 direct ancestors.  It seems rather unlikely that they were all German or English or Filipino or Mexican.  (And, what is a "Mexican," anyway, other than an amalgamation of Spanish conquistadors, American Mayans or Aztecs, imported African slaves, and German or French emigrants?) 

When viewed in this light, racial identity becomes a very tricky topic, does it not?  I don't believe that anyone can claim to be purely German or Senegalese or Chinese or Brazilian or anything else.  And besides, whether you subscribe to the Adam and Eve fable, or to Darwinian rationality, we all come from the same people anyway.

If you are interested in learning more about racial identity, I refer you to my friend fatima and ahmed's son ridwan laher, where he examines racial identity in the contexts of politics and social justice.  Also my friend Stewart King has written a book, Blue Coat or Powdered Wig, which is an examination of racial identity specific to people of color in the 18th century French Caribbean.  Both of these men are highly-educated academicians.

Metzgers
When I was young, one of my cousins told me that genealogically, I could make a claim for the throne of England.  Indeed, that I was descended from the same people as the Royal Family!  So, I suppose if some catastrophe were to befall the 50 or 100 million persons with more direct claims, I might one day be coronated in West Minster Abbey.

And, let me tell ya, when that day comes, there's gonna be some changes!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Health care debate epitomizes American identity


Well, here we are.

I'd say the health care debate is now entering its endgame, but that term, "endgame," has been used so many times over the last 10 months as to be meaningless.  Be that as it may, there is a possibility that a deal is being struck that would involve the House of Representatives voting to pass the health care bill that the Senate passed late last year, to be followed up with another bill passed through reconciliation that would amend the bill to make it better conform with the desires of Democrats in the lower body.  Convoluted and complex and agonizing.

Public option still alive?

The most surprising development as I see it is that , according to the Huffington Post, the "public option" still has a fighting chance to survive.  Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate Majority Whip, has stated that he will "aggressively whip" any bill that comes to the Senate for reconciliation, even if that bill includes a "public option!"  Did you hear that, Nancy Pelosi?

This is big news given that Oregon's own freshman senator, Jeff Merkley, and Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio, have circulated a letter expressing support for the public option.  The effort started way back in the fall of 2009 with a mere 6 senators expressing support.  Now that letter has garnered the signatures of 41 senators.  (Time to get on board, Senator Wyden!) 

At this point, anyone who might try to predict how things will turn out risks looking like a jackass when all is said and done, and that includes Senator Harry Reid and President Barack Obama.  But the thought of a health care reform bill that includes a public option being passed into law is incredible.

Apart from it being good, sound public policy that would mortally wound the blood-sucking corporate vampires that are for-profit health care insurance providers, such a bill would be priceless for the humiliation and repudiation it would afford petulant brats like Stinky Joe Lieberman, and pasty white bigots like Mitch McConnell.

Lord, for that alone, please let it be so!

Health care debate:  This is America

Regardless of how it all comes down, the health care debate has provided me with an abject lesson on the nature of these United States.

For all the squalor and ugliness, the bigoted reasoning, the impassioned, irrational screaming and shouting, the ignorance, the futility, the frustration and the corruption, this debate is an authentic illustration of America.  We are a diverse nation, populated with countless interests, governed as much or more by prejudice and mistrust than virtue or idealism.  I've said it before, and I'll say it now:  There is no contempt like self-contempt.  And I point to the health care debate as prima facie evidence.

Americans have very little sense of civic duty or the Common Good.  On the political right, narrowly-defined self-interest as put forth by conservative patron saint Ronnie Raygun is the only pure motive, the only real virtue.  On the political left, condescension and contempt are the only responses to ignorance and stupidity. 

Given the degree of antipathy we have toward one another, that we refer to ourselves as the "United States" is an hypocrisy of the highest order.  (I am not united with creatures like Texas Governor Rick Perry or troglodyte Senator James Inhofe or demented clown Glenn Beck.  Perish the thought!)

I applaud President Obama's stubborn insistence to see this health care debate through to the end.  It takes an uncommon degree of wisdom to understand that it is needed, even if it leads to the political destruction of his party or even his presidency.

But it sure has made me realize just how little regard I have for some of my fellow citizens.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

P*ssed off Democrat

Phone rings.

Dade:  Hello.

DCCC rep:  Dade?

Dade:  This is he.

DCCC rep:  Hi, Dade.  My name is [name withheld] and I'm calling on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  May I continue?

Dade:  Sure.

DCCC rep:  Well, Dade, as you know, this is an election year and we've got a fight on our hands.  The Republicans are hoping to make substantial gains in their caucuses this year and with the recent Supreme Court decision that will open the floodgates to private funding of elections they'll have a lot of resources at their disposal.  And, as you also know, if the Republicans do succeed in winning a majority in either house of Congress, President Obama will become a lame duck president.  And that will put him at a disadvantage for the 2012 national election.

Dade:  Yes, I'm aware of all that.

DCCC rep:  Well, here at the DCCC we're trying to educate people about the stakes of this year's election through the use of the internet, phone banking, and grass-roots organizing.  We know these methods are effective, but they're costly.  So we're asking supporters to help us, if they can.  Right now, we're suggesting a donation of $100.  Your money would be used to...

Dade:  My turn to talk.

DCCC rep:  Alright, go ahead.

Dade:  First off, I'm not holding this against you, personally.  But you can tell your office organizer that I'm pissed off.  (Pardon my language.)  I'm pissed off that the Democrats took the single-payer health care plan off the table before the debate even started.  I'm pissed off that there have been no investigations into the crimes of the Bush administration.  I'm pissed off that Dick Cheney is not facing a special prosecutor.  I gave money to the DCCC in 2008 and we won huge majorities in both houses.  And I got nothing for it.  These guys do nothing but make excuses about why they can't do anything, and yet they rolled over for every piece of garbage that the Republicans rammed down our throats when Junior was in charge.

DCCC rep:  Hey, listen, I'm pissed off, too.  In fact, I'm not even a Democrat.  I'm an independent.

Dade:  Then you know where I'm coming from.  Listen, you can tell Mr. Van Hollen that he is free to call me between now and the election, 'cause I sure as hell don't want the Republicans taking over.  But I'm going to need to see some results before I send any money.

DCCC rep (chuckling): Well, I can't say I disagree.  Alright, Dade.  Thanks for your time, anyway.

Dade:  Take care, my friend.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Broken home boys

Daryl, Edward, Dade
Yes, we got into trouble.  Not to use it as an excuse, but we came from broken homes.  All three of us lived with our siblings and our recently-divorced mothers.  Our mothers had their hands full taking care of their kids and keeping them clothed and fed, and (God knows) dealing with those various crises that descend on women who find themselves suddenly single in a frightening world.

We weren't bad boys.

We came to that little corner of South Salem at approximately the same time.  Daryl got there in 1970; I arrived the next year and Edward the year after that.  We all went to Candalaria Elementary School on Hansen Street at the top of the hill.  Daryl was the oldest and the most self-assured and since he was the best at talking to girls, he was our leader.  Edward was loyal and boyishly good-looking and sensitive.  And I suppose I provided the temperance, the moderation for our little trio.  I was the one who voiced caution when we went to Fred Meyer on Commercial Street to shoplift toy guns and candy.  I was the last of we three to smoke dope.  I was the one who always worried about getting in trouble.

We were going to be rock stars, singing nothing but Beatles' cover tunes.  We were going to play football for the Los Angeles Rams. We took pride in our ethnic identities (Italian, Mexican) even though none of us knew anything about the world beyond white bread Salem, Oregon.

Passions ran high for three good-hearted, confused boys who had manhood thrust at them like sharpened stakes. We were brothers and rivals and best friends; we alternately loved and hated each other. 

On warm summer evenings, we'd hide ourselves among the trees at the top of the embankment that overlooked Crestview Drive and pelt passing cars with fir cones and dirt clods.  Or we'd climb on the roof of Candalaria School, scaling up the hedge that grew outside Mrs. Yoshikai's office.  We would go up there and smoke a joint and covertly watch other kids walk by below us.  Kids who came from homes with both parents.  Kids whom we knew we made uneasy with our rebellious behavior, our seeming devil-may-care contempt of authority.

It was mostly a facade.  We were scared and lonely.  We were pulled by the riptides of puberty just as strongly as any of the other kids.  But we had to do it alone.  Our fathers lived far away, and our mothers were struggling just to keep up.  There were none but each other to see us through.

Although I still have trouble believing it, that golden era of our lives lasted just a few years.  Each of us eventually became too much for his mother to handle and was sent to live with his father in Klamath Falls, and Richland, Washington, and Las Vegas.  But the friendships that we forged in those days have lasted to this day, nearly forty years later.

Daryl and Edward and I are all very, very different people.  Life's currents took us each in vastly disparate directions.  But for that brief time, we were three boys who found themselves standing at the same crossroads at the same time.  We knew no future; we had no pasts.  What we had was then and there.  And that's all we had.

What a time.  What a time.