Sunday, September 30, 2012

Movie review: End of Watch

Wow! Even considering the thousand-and-some cop flicks that have come before, David Ayer's End of Watch, is smart, fresh, and original.  I was more than a little surprised to find myself held rapt from the moment I sat down at the late showing on Saturday night.  (We were late to the theater and missed the opening 5 minutes or so.)

End of Watch is the story of two LAPD street cops, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhall) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) who bump into a lethal Mexican drug cartel while patrolling the streets of one of Los Angeles' toughest barrios.  In the face of lethal threats, terrifying firepower and omens of disaster, they perform their duty.  The film conveys a pervasive dread, punctuated by violence.

Much of the film's success has to do with the acting.  How many cop movies have examined the fraternity existing between patrol car partners?  Many.  But Gyllenhall and Peña make it fresh through the strength of their performances. Their dialog is natural and sharp.  They offer a hopeful portrayal of two young men who bridge cultural and moral differences to create a partnership of love, deep trust, and respect.  Tight performances, too, from the entire supporting cast. 

Camera perspective throughout the film is jostling, and frantic, as if events are captured by cell phones, surveillance cameras, video-cams.  I've seen this technique used successfully and not-so-successfully, but in End of Watch it works. 

I attribute most of the film's success to the writing and direction of Ayer.  End of the Watch is my introduction to his work, but I'm sold.  The script is gritty and compelling.  Ayer's employs a convincing lexicon.  The dialog keeps you on your toes.  There aren't many empty lines. 

There are few things as delightful as going to see a film and have it exceed your expectations.  End of Watch succeeded on that score, let me tell you.  I'm tempted to go again just to take in those first five minutes I missed.  The film warrants a second viewing.  It's that good.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Pondering numbers from the Edgar Francis Conant bench

Effluvia from the Hood River wildfire painted a heart-rending sunset yesterday evening.  I watched it from the Edgar Francis Conant bench situated between Tabor-crowning Douglas-firs.  Perplexed.

The yin of the day was delivered in a string of health-screening acronyms and numbers.  TC/HDL, HDL CHOL, BMI, Glu, TRIG.   All of them adding up to a single glaring fact:  Dade, you're too damn fat.  I'm abashed and ashamed.

The yang, on the other hand, comes from a different string of acronyms and numbers.  Ipsos/Reuters, Rasmussen, FOX, Gallup, UPI/CVOTER, DailyKos/SEIU/PPP, JZ Analytics.  Prognostication:  Tea Party defeat and a national rejection of so-called conservative ideology

Facing up to reality hurts.  But I'm not afraid to do it.  I won't lie to myself about the numbers.

Right-wing pundits, on the other hand, are whining and whinging and insisting that the polls that spell disaster for them are somehow not valid.  Michael Tomasky has a great piece on it here.

I've got a lot of work to do to make things right for myself and for my wife.

What about you, Republicans?  Can you face the truth?  You've got a lot of work to do to make things right for all of us. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Quarterly assessment: Fall 2012

The Summer of 2012 lived like a modest, gentle beauty that never believed in herself enough to ripen.  A mild tragedy.  A sweet unbirthed hope.  She wisped away when I turned my mind elsewhere.  Not a week out from the solstice and already I miss her.   Hell yes, I'd take her back.

We were visited by trials this summer.  Maty, in particular.  They've drawn us closer together.  They've composted the garden where we grow our story.

Our story.  The story of Dade and Maty.  The story of la familia Cariaga.  The story of Portland and Oregon and America and humanity.  Stories, stories.  All of them stories.  Fiction.

The enigmatic sentence fragment on the ancient papyrus upends 20 centuries of dogma.  Potentially.

If it becomes True. 

It doesn't matter to me, anyway. 

Quid est veritas?  

Someone said that.  Who was it that said that?

Oh.  Oh, yeah.  That's right.  Huh.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book review: Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Bifurcation.  Infinite division.

In the end, that is the key to Haruki Murakami's 1991 novel Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

The novel is the story of an unnamed narrator who has been specially-trained to sort and encrypt data using his subconscious mind.  But, at the same time, it is the story of the same unnamed narrator transported to a strange other-world governed by laws he cannot understand and from which he cannot escape. In Hard-boiled Wonderland, the narrator must contend with Japanese gangsters, enigmatic lovers, and a certain mad scientist.  In the End of the World, he must fight to save his dying shadow and adapt to a universe where time and identity are meaningless.

Murakami maintains these two running narratives throughout the novel.  The two story lines approach but never converge.  Murakami writes with sarcastic humor and a pervading fatalism.

Reviewers point out that the Hard-boiled Wonderland narrative recalls the work of Raymond Chandler, an American detective-story writer, while The End of the World has a Kafka-esque flavor to it.  I haven't read any Chandler so I can't comment on the former comparison, but I'm familiar with some of Kafka's work (In the Penal Colony, The Metamorphosis).  And, indeed, the pessimism and recognition of futility in The End of the World narrative did recall Kafka's hopeless self-loathing.

The novel is a translation, and as with all translations, there is much that is unfathomable to readers not fluent in Japanese. Translating words and sentences is possible.  Translating culture, zeitgeist, or morality, less so.  Nonetheless, my book club was unanimous in declaring the novel "good."

In a key passage, the mad scientist reveals how the narrator's mind has been altered to divide time into infinitely shorter units, creating the perception of infinity.  As the narrator arrives at the dual climaxes of the novel, he realizes how this alteration has affected his life, his universe.  Think of a trigonometric function:  an equation in which a curve approaches but does not equal 0. 

If you like neatly-wrapped endings, this might not be your book.

Infinity doesn't work that way.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

Was Jesus married? And does it even matter?

Unwelcome message
Big news!

A newly-identified papyrus dated from the fourth-century, roughly 150 years after Jesus (whoever or whatever he was) died, suggests that the Christian Messiah may have been married. Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King translates a phrase on the ancient document as "Jesus said to them, 'My wife...'" (The papyrus is torn and the phrase is incomplete.)

For most of the Christian world, the idea that Jesus was married (and therefore presumably engaged in sexual relations) is a shocker.  As April DeConick, a biblical scholar at Rice University says "We have so many hundreds of years of an understanding of sexuality that in some way sex is not divine, it’s not sacred."

Forgive my cynicism, but it makes sense.  Much of Christian orthodoxy requires that the Flock be convinced of its own culpability in its Fallen state.  By teaching that human sexuality is dangerous and somehow unholy, believers are given proof of their inherent sinfulness, of their need for salvation (which, of course, only the church can provide). 

Although Peter, the first pope, was a married man, the Catholic Church eventually dictated that its priests remain celibate. The Church's reasoning is not entirely clear, but theologian Glenn Weiser has this to say about it:
With the advent of the Dark Ages around 500, the upheavals in society saw a decline in clerical discipline and with it, a return to marriage and even the keeping of concubines by priests. During this time, the wealth of the church was also increasing, a development not lost on Rome. Many priests were leaving church lands to their heirs, and others handed down land of their own through primogeniture. The Holy See saw that a return to the celibacy rule would result in a real-estate bonanza, and in about 1018 Pope Benedict VIII put teeth in the Elvira decree by forbidding descendents of priests to inherit property. Later, in the 11th century, Pope Gregory VII, who had assumed vast power by declaring himself the supreme authority over all souls, went even further by proscribing married priests from saying mass; he also forbid parishioners from attending masses said by them. Scholars believe that the first written law forbidding the clergy to marry was finally handed down at the Second Lateran Council in 1139.  --Read more here.
No surprise, I suppose, that money played a part in the decision.  That's the way the world works.  But I digress.

What are the implications of this new revelation about Jesus and his wife?  Hard to say for sure.  Theologists will probably spend years pondering the matter.

But get ready for shrill accusations of blasphemy from the snake-charmers. Even today, in this (supposedly) Enlightened Age, suggesting something this radical in the wrong environment could get you tied to a fence post atop half a cord of firewood.

To my way of thinking, regardless of the accuracy and veracity of the translation, the discovery doesn't change anything.  Christians, just like everybody else, adhere to a belief that is independent of factual events. 

Humans create stories to provide structure and make sense of the Universe; to justify their deeply-held beliefs, regardless of the stories' provenance.

Remember how evangelical Protestants in the United States changed the 6th commandment to say "Thou shalt not murder?"  The old commandment "Thou shalt not kill" didn't jibe with their war-lust.

My prediction is that most organized Christian churches will attempt to discredit the discovery. Failing that, they'll ignore it. There's just too much invested in the idea of a celibate Jesus. Entire belief structures hinge on it.

That's not all there is to say about the controversial papyrus.  Another translated phrase throws a monkey wrench into the established orthodoxy.  It's this:  "[my wife] will be able to be my disciple."

But that's another ball of wax entirely!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Racist murderer on the loose

Have a good look.  If you see this guy, get away from him and call the cops immediately!
Clackamas County Sheriff's Office issued an arrest warrant for Erik John Meiser, an alleged white supremacist with a history of violent crime.  Meiser is suspected in the murder of Frederick "Fritz" Wheeler Hayes, 57, of Lake Oswego.  Hayes was murdered at his home in Lake Oswego on Monday morning.

Meisner stands 6'5", weighing 170-190lbs.  He is wanted in a half-dozen states for a whole slate of violent crimes.  Police consider him dangerous.  He likes knives.  If you see him, don't engage.  Call the cops immediately.

The murder took place at the Lake Oswego location indicated on this map.

I'm sure the police are way ahead of me on this, but folks living near Tryon Creek State Park might want to be particularly cautious.  If Meisner is still in the Portland Metro area, he could well be hiding out somewhere in those woodsy slopes.

Apparently, Meisner uses public transportation and travels by foot.  The thought of a murderous racist using public transport makes me fret for my TriMet riding, black wife. But if he's managed to elude authorities across California, Nevada, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Meisner probably knows he can't just hop on the old #47 and ride in to Tualatin.

What a sad and horrific time for Fritz Wheeler's family and for all of Portland Metro.

Odds are Meisner's long gone, but keep alert.  And let's hope authorities catch up with him soon.

Update:   Authorities arrested Erik John Meiser outside a Super 8 motel in Corvallis on Saturday.  Meiser was arrested at gunpoint, without incident.  Good news!  I know I'll be breathing easier. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Romney lamenta el voto hispano

Ayer, candidato republicano Mitt Romney visitó la Universidad de Miami para hablar en un foro organizada por Univision. Según las últimas encuestas, Romney falta el apoyo de hispanos por una relación de 26% versus 63% por Presidente Obama.  Se dice que Romney debe ganar el 38% de ese voto para tener alguna esperanza de victoria en noviembre.

Esos numeros son desastres para Romney y para todo el partido republicano.  Él necesita ganar los votes hispanos. Pero, probablemente llega demasiado tarde.

Romney y los republicanos tienen un problema.  Es el mismo problema que John McCain tuvo en 2008.  Es esto:  conservadores del partido, los quienes que él necesitó convencer que él era una alternativa aceptable para Rick Santorum o Newt Gingrich, son xenófobos en la mayoría.  Con el fin de ganar su apoyo, Romney dijo muchas cosas ofensivas durante las elecciónes primarias.

Por ejemplo, en deciembre del año pasado, Romney dijo que iba a vetar el "Dream Act," lo cual concedería inmunidad de deportación a los jóvenes hispanos los quienes fueran llevados a los EEUU ilegalmente durante infancia.  Además, la campaña de Romney incluye Kansas secretario de Estado Kris Kobach como asesor informal. Kobach es el arquitecto de la legislación de inmigración duras (e infame) que está llevando a cabo hoy en Arizona.  (Romney, dicho sea de paso, proclamó la legislación ofensiva para ser un "modelo para la nación" durante la primaria.)

En todo, es un otro ejemplo de la ideología corrupta del partido republicano especificamente, y el movimiento conservador, generalmente.

Pués, por lo menos, Romney entiende el hecho hispanos representa el demográfico que crece más rapido en los EEUU.  Pero, el conocimiento no es la acción. Romney ya se ha expuesto como una herramienta que está dispuesto a decir cualquier cosa para ser elegido. Él no tiene la fuerza de carácter para enfrentarse a los xenófobos en su partido. Hasta que alguien encuentra que la fuerza, el Partido Republicano está en una marcha de la muerte.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Romney gives voice to plutocratic contempt

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.... These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. So he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." --Mitt Romney

That, friends, is called "Telling it like it is."

Those words, uttered by Mitt Romney at a silver spoon fund-raiser earlier this year, express perfectly the sentiments he and the people he deems to be in his social stratum have toward the rest of us.  All of us.  Not just liberals or black people or immigrants, but also senior citizens, laborers, and small business owners.

We're parasites.  Leeches.  Mooches.  We can never be convinced to take responsibility for our own lives.  By insisting on a social safety net, public education, safe working conditions, living wages, and other such frivolities, we're muting the light of humanity's flame.

You see, Mitt and the people at his fund-raiser (multimillionaires all) are the very best of humanity.  They mustn't be constrained by worrying about the plight of lesser men.

Leave aside the reality that it is people like him --like Mitt and his plutocrat buddies --who rely on government to protect their plunder and maintain the corrupt structure that ensures they continue to wield inordinate power regardless of their ineptitude or criminality.  (Take Dick Cheney, for instance...)

We're the problem.  It's not their job to worry about us.  Mitt said it himself.  He knows he can never convince us that we're responsible for the disasters and mischances and corporate malfeasance that have brought nearly 50 million Americans into poverty.  We spend our lives whining and complaining and trying to dick people like him out of their car elevators and dressage horses.

The sad part of it all is this:  there are people out there --people who are not filthy rich, people who belong to the 47% that Romney disparages --that will vote for him anyway.

Why?  Because they, too, believe that those of us who are not filthy rich are somehow less worthy than are Romney and his ilk.

There's no contempt like self-contempt.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Not a bad day to be homeless

Xavier, Annabelle, Jefferson, and dog
Fine summer weather, here in Portland on Saturday.  The sun was proud, but not tyrannical.  Young Abraham King and I took a stroll down to the river.

Quite a bustle in Waterfront Park as vendors and charity organizations prepared for the Race for the Cure which would occur on Sunday. The homeless folks were camped out all along the way.  Bedrolls on the grass under the ornamental fruit trees. Dilapidated shopping carts in the shady spots under the traffic ramps. Overfull with blankets, camping gear, sentimental curios

Homeless folks camped out in the planter above the restrooms near Hawthorne Bridge
Xavier played guitar while Annabelle and Jefferson sat with their backs to the safety rail that runs along the river-wall. Master King (a kind young man, he) tossed some change in the open guitar case while Xavier strummed.

Life looked easy and fine for them in their casual, loose-fitted summer clothes. A yellow-white dog, tethered by leash to Jefferson, stood patiently by.  The three were passing through Portland, thumbing rides to satisfy curiosities piqued by names on maps.

Xavier came from Michigan. Jefferson, Colorado. Annabelle, Missouri. The randomness of the road threw them together in San Francisco six weeks previous.

Concrete tanning bed
Annabelle was pretty and young and her summer-dark skin was clear. She wore a loose hippie dress: white daisies on a midnight blue sea. Pink vestiges of an outlandish red dye streaked through her blonde hair.

She'd left a bad home:  living in St. Louis with her boyfriend, her boyfriend's sister, and her boyfriend's sister's three children. The sister had a drug problem. The boyfriend had a drug problem. It got to be too much. One day, Annabelle just set out on her own.  Thumbin' it the whole way.

How did they find the vagabond life?

"Free and easy" Jefferson said.

Danger?  Violence?

"Not so far," Jefferson said.  Shadows flickered on their faces.

Not too difficult living without a home?

"I've got a friend up here."  Jefferson again.  "He let us stay in the dorm."


Annabelle nodded.  "So nice.  We slept on beds!"

Snoozin' on the sidewalk
Life on the Vagabond Trail might not be so nice in the coming months.

"We're going to hole up in Michigan for the winter," said Jefferson.

Xavier finished his song.  "Thanks for stopping to chat."  Smiles and handshakes all around. 

Marker on the riverbank
Abraham and I recrossed the river at Steel Bridge.  An enigmatic marker on the eastern riverbank bespoke some dim tragedy forever beyond our ken.  I wished I'd thought to give our three vagrant friends some money.

But at this point, hopeful wishes will have to do.  Good luck, friends.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Shadow chess in the Middle-east

Scene in Benghazi
Jasmine Revolution, Arab Spring --whatever you choose to call it --big things are afoot in the Middle East.  Riots in Cairo and Benghazi.  U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans murdered.  

There is more going on here than meets the eye. 

Ostensibly, this latest outburst of rioting and violence is the result of a film produced by a shadowy figure known as "Nakoula."  The film depicts Mohammed in a slanderous light and seems intended to deliberately offend Muslims.  

Very little is known about Nakoula.  There are conflicting reports about "his" identity.  You can read about it here.

The attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens and the others, seems to have been planned and coordinated.  Not the result of spontaneous, outraged street demonstrations.  Today, Libyan officials arrested 4 persons in connection with the attack.  

We'll have to see what comes of that, but as of this moment everything points to some shadowy chess game being played behind the scenes.  The outraged Muslims demonstrating in the street, that stooge pastor at Dove World Outreach Center, Mitt Romney, narrow-minded Islamophobes, and the general news-consuming public the world over are being played as pawns. 

Someone --a terrorist organization, a cabal of right-wing plutocrats, a band of Doomsday zealots --someone is stoking global flames toward a nefarious end.  This is straight out of a David Mitchell novel.  

We'd do well to keep our cools, but I'm no dreamer

The bones fall as they must, I don't care what René Descartes said.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven years since 911

Each of us, the citizens of the United States alive and aware on September 11, 2001, has his own intimacy with that day.  I know I do.

An early morning phone call.  That is how the day began.  I was still abed.  Awake, but abed.  It was a reckless time in life.  Mahatma Candy daze.

The call was my roommate's mother.  Calling from Texas to speak to her son.  "They've flown a plane into the Trade Towers!" 

I flicked on the tube and watched while I got dressed for work.  Two horrific smudge towers, belching Void-black smoke.  My first thought:  "My God!  There are people in there!"  Then, realizing this was not a bizarre chance event but an act of savagery, this brain-freezer:  "The people who did this really hate us."

At work, people watched the television in the weight room.  'Twas a day of Fate.  I watched for a bit. 

Human memory is a malleable substance; we do the best we can with Truth.  But I believe even as I watched the towers burn, I knew what to expect from my people --the people of the United States --and I dreaded it.

Strike up the band and people will dance.  Not all, but many.  There are always dancers, waiting for someone to call the tune.

Not me.  I won't dance.

I'll sing, though.

Eleven years have delivered fear to reality.  Eleven years of war.  Eleven years of jingo-hooliganism.  Eleven years of Islamophobia.

I wonder:  what did bin Laden hope to achieve?

Nothing good has come of 911.  There is no silver lining to it. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

1962 Liberty Bowl Champion OSU Beavers honored

Liberty Bowl Champs
Last weekend, Oregon State University inducted its 1962 football team into the school's Hall of Fame.  The 1962 Beavers were 9-2 on the season and culminated their year with a 6-0 win over Villanova in the Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia. 

The team included Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker, former University of Oregon head coach Rich Brooks, long-time Roseburg Indian head coach Thurman Bell, and my father, Ross Cariaga, who played offensive guard and served as co-captain.  The team was led by head coach Tommy Prothro, arguably the greatest football coach in OSU history.

Ross Cariaga, back in the Day.  Caption reads: "STRONGSIDE GUARD, ROSS CARIAGA will be out to flatten some Ducks tomorrow as the Beavers meet the Webfoots on Parker Stadium turf. Cariaga, a sophomore from Fresno, will be seen springing Orange backs for long gainers with vicious blocks in tomorrow's Civil War."  Oregon State won that game 20-17.
OSU rolled out the red carpet for the surviving players and their families, with a tour of the athletic facility and an honoring ceremony and banquet on Friday night.  The Cariaga family was well-represented by all seven of Dad's kids, his widow, and his brother, along with their respective families.  (My Uncle Don is the only Oregon State alumnus in the group.)

Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker and Dad, 1962
More than once that evening, Dad's teammates mistook me for my father, which put me in the somewhat awkward position of having to explain that Dad passed in 2001 from complications due to Lupus.  

Terry Baker and my Uncle Don  (Old family friend, John Farrell in the background)
The guys shared quite a few stories about Dad over the weekend, including this one from Ken Haack:  "Your dad and I were two of the few married men on the team.  Back in those days, toward the end of the month, when everyone's money ran short, the married couples would gather for potluck meals.  One time, we went to your dad and mom's apartment.  We knocked on the door and your dad hollered at us to come on in.  When we entered we saw Ross and another teammate standing at the kitchen table, blood all over them and all over the kitchen.  For a minute we were wondering what we'd gotten into, but it turned out that the two of them had poached a deer and were cleaning it.  For weeks after that we ate venison steaks, venison spaghetti, venison anything-you-can-think-of."

Ken Haack

A good story, but I wonder how it must have been for my poor mother.  A bloody kitchen!

("Was there a baby in the apartment?" I asked.

Ken thought for a moment.  "Yes, I think there was," he said.

"That was me," I said.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again:  anyone who knew Dad has a story about him.

OSU cheerleading squad fires up the crowd pre-game
Next day, the inductees and their entourages attended the game. OSU was pitted against the 13th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. 

I hadn't been to a big college game in probably 15 years.  Games today are Big EventsTM.  A full staff runs a complex but highly-organized affair.  It baffles to think how they pull it off.

Before the game, the '62 Beavers and their representatives were honored on the field.  Being his oldest son, my family afforded me the privilege of standing in for Dad.

Legendary Roseburg Indian football coach, Thurman Bell
As we stood on the field, I met and shook hands with Coach Thurman Bell who led the Roseburg Indians to 4 state championships and is the second winning-est coach in Oregon high school football history.  I said, "Coach Bell, it's an honor to meet you.  I played against you for many years and never did manage to beat you."  He laughed and shrugged it off. 
Wisconsin Badgers
While I was down there I got a good look at the players as they came off the field from their warm-ups.  Where do they grow these kids?  The thunder they made rivaled that of any herd of rhinoceroses.

Heat of battle
The Beavers were decided underdogs for the game.  Wisconsin's roster includes star running back Montee Ball, a Heisman candidate. And while the Badgers were fresh off a win over Northern Iowa, the Beavers had yet to play a game this season. The previous week, their scheduled opener with Nicholls State was postponed.

But all that added up to nothing.  OSU's defense smothered Wisconsin, holding Ball to a mere 30 yards rushing.  The Beavers sacked Wisconsin quarterback Danny O'Brien three times for big losses.

On the other side of the ball, the Beaver's offense outgained the Badger's, 354-207.  Quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 247 yards, including the Beaver's only teedee, which went to Brandin Cooks from twenty yards out in the third quarter.

In short, the Beavers dominated the game.The final score: OSU 10, Wisconsin 7.

After it was over, the Cariaga clan departed for Albany to "gather 'round" as my sister Paige puts it.  There were a lot of tired happy faces.

Cariagas after the game
None of us is fool enough to argue with Fate. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but think of Dad and how much he would've enjoyed it all: laughing and swapping stories with his old friends and teammates, having his family around him.
Liberty Bowl trophy
On the other hand, it stands as testimony to the man that we're here now, remembering him all these years later.

Here's to the Oregon State Beavers of 1962! Liberty Bowl Champions!

Friday, September 07, 2012

DNC 2012 Day 3: President Obama looks ahead

The 2012 Democratic Convention wrapped up last night, with President Obama providing a tough, forward-looking speech as capstone.  The orations delivered by Michelle Obama and President Clinton on the previous two nights set a high bar for the President.  But the man is nothing, if not a gifted orator.  And he came through. 
...when all is said and done— when you pick up that ballot to vote— you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation. Over the next few years, big decisions will be made in Washington, on jobs and the economy; taxes and deficits; energy and education; war and peace— decisions that will have a huge impact on our lives and our children’s lives for decades to come.
On every issue, the choice you face won’t be just between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice between two different paths for America.

A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.
In this statement, the President outlines the rationale I employ in continuing to support him.  I'm under no illusions that the Obama administration or the Democrats offer a panacea.  But they are night-and-day better than Republicans.

As President Clinton said on the previous night:  "If you want a winner-take-all, you’re-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket. But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility, a we’re-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden."  
In a world of new threats and new challenges, you can choose leadership that has been tested and proven. Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq. We did. I promised to refocus on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11. We have. We’ve blunted the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and in 2014, our longest war will be over. A new tower rises above the New York skyline, al-Qaida is on the path to defeat, and Osama bin Laden is dead.
You know this statement had war-mongers like John McCain crunching down on their antacid tabs.  All that Republican tough talk about bringing in bin Laden "dead or alive" added up to cotton candy.  Enjoy your heartburn, Republicans!
Tonight, we pay tribute to the Americans who still serve in harm’s way. We are forever in debt to a generation whose sacrifice has made this country safer and more respected. We will never forget you. And so long as I’m commander in chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known. When you take off the uniform, we will serve you as well as you’ve served us— because no one who fights for this country should have to fight for a job, or a roof over their head, or the care that they need when they come home.
When one contrasts the President's speech with that delivered by Mitt Romney in Tampa the week before, it is obvious that the President and his speech writers took pains to identify and attack the omissions in the Romney speech.  As nearly every political observer has noted, Romney said nary a word about Afghanistan.  A glaring omission that, had it been a Democrat who had committed it, would have had the Republicans howling their outrage all over Fox News.  This exposes them as the panderers and jingoes that they are.  
So now we face a choice. My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.
This remark reminded that Mitt Romney thoroughly bombed on his overseas tour a few weeks back.  And it's a damning indictment of the saber-rattling emptiness that served as foreign policy under the guidance of Junior Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Condi Rice. 
America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder— but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer— but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on earth.
No placation, no excuses.  An articulation of guiding principles as we trundle down history's path. Romney offered nothing like this. 

Respected friends refuse to vote for President Obama.  Not because he's a "socialist" or a "Muslim" as the Tea Party folks shrilly proclaim.  Rather, my friends object to the erosion of constitutional rights and the expansion of executive authority under the President's watch.  The criticisms are valid and I'm in agreement with them.  But Republicans will not curtail executive branch abuses.  Indeed, they will only accelerate their implementation.

We're a republic, and republic is a one-way street to empire.  The question is this:  how are we going to travel down that road?  As a free-for-all Ayn Rand Objectivist state?  Or as a nation that, for all its faults, carries on in the human tradition?  A nation that forges ahead while caring for the weak and vulnerable in its midst?

Easy choice for me.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

DNC 2012 Day 2: The Big Dog speaks

Last night, Democrats and the nation at large were treated to a virtuoso performance by one of the world's most admired and adored leaders. President Bill Clinton brilliantly made the case for re-electing President Barack Obama.

The speech ran 48 minutes.  Everyone in my living room (all three of us) was glued to the television.  Even when President Clinton delved into the intricacies of national health care and budgetary policy, he managed to distill his words such that they conveyed the essence of the issues without overwhelming his audience.  That's one of his great strengths as an orator.

There were a couple parts of the speech in particular that resonated:
Though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President Obama and the Democrats. After all, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to my home state to integrate Little Rock Central High and built the interstate highway system. And as governor, I worked with President Reagan on welfare reform and with President George H.W. Bush on national education goals. I am grateful to President George W. Bush for PEPFAR, which is saving the lives of millions of people in poor countries and to both Presidents Bush for the work we’ve done together after the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake.
Here, President Clinton addresses the ugliness roiling within the Republican party.  He used the word "hate."  I've found that this is the best way to deal with bigots:  cast aside the euphemisms and snide comments and call them out.  They never know how to respond when you do that and it exposes them as the fearful nothings they are.

By invoking the names of Republican presidents, President Clinton reminded his audience that the GOP was once a proud and noble party, but that now it is something else.

They hated Bill Clinton, too.  But they hated Clinton because of his policies and because he bested them in everything.  They hate Obama not only for his policies, but because Obama is an affront to their tribal sensibilities.  How else might we interpret the constant questioning of Obama's legitimacy, of his citizenship, of his faith?  As President Clinton points out, there is something fundamentally wrong with the Republican Party.

(I'll admit, when he invoked Junior's name, I felt my gorge rising.  Junior is beyond redemption.)
In order to look like an acceptable alternative to President Obama, they couldn’t say much about the ideas they have offered over the last two years. You see they want to go back to the same old policies that got us into trouble in the first place: to cut taxes for high income Americans even more than President Bush did; to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts; to increase defense spending two trillion dollars more than the Pentagon has requested without saying what they’ll spend the money on; to make enormous cuts in the rest of the budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor kids. As another President once said – there they go again.
Here, President Clinton channels Ronald Reagan to point up the vacuousness of the policies advocated by the GOP.  That's gotta sting.

At the end of the speech, President Clinton summed it all up with this advocation.
If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. But if you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility – a we’re-all-in-this-together society – you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.‬
It's now apparent why Mitt Romney baffled everyone by dropping out of sight in the interval immediately after his "night of triumph" in Tampa last week. That warmed over hash he offered up looks pretty darn unappetizing after the steak dinner President Clinton served last night.

There are some things that non-delusional humans know never to do.  Never argue the meaning of a word with Gabriel García Márquez.  Never challenge the wisdom of Oprah Winfrey.  And never engage in a political debate with Bill Clinton.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

DNC 2012 Day 1: Michelle Obama says it nicely

Michelle Obama takes the stage*
The Democrats opened their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina last night.  First Lady Michelle Obama had the prime time speaking slot.

Mrs. Obama's speech was effective.  It contrasted her own life and the life of her family with that of the Romney's without resorting to vitriol and without ever once mentioning the Romneys by name.  Two excerpts by way of example:
My father was a pump operator at the city water plant, and he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when my brother and I were young. 
Ann Romney also suffers from multiple sclerosis. But Mrs. Romney is blessed to have access to top-rate health care and enough resources that she can avoid physical labor.
When it comes to giving our kids the education they deserve, Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, he never could’ve attended college without financial aid.
Remember Mitt Romney's suggestion for young people who couldn't afford college tuition? "Borrow money from your parents if you have to." Out of touch, don't cover the half of it.

The Romneys are a wealthy family. Wealthy beyond the means of any previous president. That doesn't make them evil, but it does suggest that they have no conception of the worries that plague most Americans.  Mrs. Obama drew a stark contrast, not just between the Romneys and the Obamas, but between the Romneys and 95% of the American public.

Maty was inspired by Mrs. Obama's speech.  She said it gave her goosebumps.  But for me, it didn't hit hard enough.  I preferred the fired up speech delivered by Ohio's former governor, Ted Strickland.

Here's the takeaway from Governor Strickland's speech.
Now, Mitt Romney, he lives by a different code. To him, American workers are just numbers on a spreadsheet.
To him, all profits are created equal, whether made on our shores or off. That's why companies Romney invested in were dubbed "outsourcing pioneers." Our nation was built by pioneers—pioneers who accepted untold risks in pursuit of freedom, not by pioneers seeking offshore profits at the expense of American workers here at home.
Mitt Romney proudly wrote an op-ed entitled, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." If he had had his way, devastation would have cascaded from Michigan to Ohio and across the nation. Mitt Romney never saw the point of building something when he could profit from tearing it down. If Mitt was Santa Claus, he'd fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.
Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps. In Matthew, chapter 6, verse 21, the scriptures teach us that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. My friends, any man who aspires to be our president should keep both his treasure and his heart in the United States of America. And it's well past time for Mitt Romney to come clean with the American people.
On what he's saying about the president's policy for welfare to work, he's lying. Simple as that. On his tax returns, he's hiding. You have to wonder, just what is so embarrassing that he's gone to such great lengths to bury the truth? Whatever he's doing to avoid taxes, can it possibly be worse than the Romney-Ryan tax plan that would have sliced Mitt's total tax rate to less than one percent?
Take it to 'em, Governor.  There is no profit in euphemisms.

On another topic, evidence of the demographic divide between the two parties is evident each time the television cameras pan over the raucous crowd. 
Notice the difference?  The future of the Republican party is bleak, indeed, if they can't turn this around.

Occupy protesters outside the convention hall*
The Occupy folks were making a ruckus outside the convention hall.  Good for them.  The Democrats are a thousand times better than the Republicans, but they're far from perfect.  I'm glad the Occupy folks are calling them out.

*Photos courtesy of The Eye.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Holder lets it go

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department intends to wrap up its investigation into the CIA’s past interrogation, rendition, and detention activities.  Federal prosecutor John Durham determined that no further law enforcement action is appropriate.

Here's what CIA Director Leon Panetta had to say about the Justice Department decision:  "After extensive examination of more than 100 instances in which CIA had contact or was alleged to have had contact with terrorist detainees, [Durham] has determined that no further law enforcement action is appropriate in all but two discrete cases."

Isn't that reassuring?

There is still the possibility of criminal charges being filed in two specific cases.  They are:  1) the case of Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who, in 2005, died of "asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression", and that his body showed "evidence of blunt force trauma to the chest and legs"; 2) the case of Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi who, in 2003 was murdered while in the custody of US military personnel.

But, of course, what this means is that the CIA is looking for scapegoats.  At most, we'll see prosecution of a few low-level soldiers or private contractors, some public tut-tutting, and a quick wrap-up.  No "moving up the chain;" no accountability for Bush administration officials who authorized torture.

Holder's statement indicates that the Obama administration is on board with all of it.  Small wonder.  Between the ever-increasing drone attacks conducted in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, and the summary assassination of an American citizen last year, the Obama administration has plenty of dirt under its own fingernails.  One thing on which Democrats and Republicans agree is that no one wants any messy examinations of constitutional abuses by the executive branch.  The 911 attacks provided the opportunity to expand authoritarian power.  Neither side wants to mess that up.

Not-so-conincidentally, on the very day that the Justice Department made its announcement, the Senate voted to confirm General David Petraeus as the CIA's new director, to replace Panetta, who is stepping down.  Petraeus, at his confirmation hearings, had this to say about the matter:

“We do not any longer truly, I think, appreciate the context of the post-9/11 period and some actions that were taking place under direction.  And I, for one, again, as the potential leader of the agency, would like to see us focus forward and indeed put some of these actions behind us once and for all and put our workforce at rest with respect to that.”


Republic to Empire is a one-way street and we're more than halfway down the block.