Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas 2005

Stacks of steam rise over the cityscape, lost angels hovering over the urban landscape. Lights in windows far away twinkle at me, watching behind my window. I wonder who is in there at this hour. Industry never sleeps. Someone is in there, creating, cleaning, or closing. Are they looking out their window back at me? Are they wondering who is behind that window? Who lives in a third floor flat near Lafayette Square?

If they could dive right into my space, what would they think? Off to the left I have my Christmas tree. I only turned it on three times; all three times when my daughter wanted to see it. Since she has returned home the tree has stood there, quietly, patiently, waiting to be illuminated. I moved it from one corner to the other, a little more out of eye sight. Now it is after Christmas and the tree knows its fate. It will not be illuminated again until next year. It will be stripped of its decorations, folded up neatly, and pressed into a box, and buried with other items that no longer serve their purpose.

In the space between our windows cold air settles gently over everything. It sits on tree branches, it glides past windows, and it binds the dark corners together, and whistles where no one can hear it. I press my face to the window and seep through and glide upward into that void. The stars come into clearer focus and draw me to them with their magnetism.

I wondered how it would feel, to be in the middle of that darkness that joins everything between it. Would your senses stretch out like a tendril into all things? Would you expand to fill the space and then know everything? Would it fill you with sorrow or exuberance or both? For a moment I am whipped between windows of people creating, cleaning, and closing.

The light in the window is switched off and the circuit is broken. I am back in my flat. I find the box for the tree, and lay it down. I take the decorations off and place them into their own boxes. This tree’s purpose was to entertain my daughter and now she has gone home. So I lay it down in the box, and shut the top, and place it behind old coats in my closet.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Please Hammer Do Harm Me

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful--and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people--and neither do we." - George W. Bush, 43rd president.

Ahh, good ol Dubya. We laughed when he said this, another Bushism, during his campaign in 2004. We turned out and re-elected the dumb bastard and sent that weenie Kerry packing. But who really would have thought Bush was so serious about making good on that campaign promise? I thought campaign promises were just for sound bites and votes, not pledges to be followed up on. But I was wrong.

Making good on his campaign promise, Bush has managed to continuously harm Americans. Of course his first term was full unimaginable ways, starting with ignoring terrorism until four airliners were hijacked and used to kill 3000 Americans, to directing that terrible flop, Vietnam the Remake. His second term has been no less harmful: from nominating Michael “Brownie” Brown to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to nominating Harriet Meirs to the Supreme Court.

We know how the Brown selection turned out: just as planned. Hurricane Katrina showed up and flooded New Orleans. Brown checked his tie while thousands of Americans—mostly black—waited for help. And waited. And died. A big victory for harm.
Brown’s nomination, which stank of cronyism, was so disastrously harmful that the Harriet Meir’s was forced to withdraw her nomination for similar reasons, under the “unqualified lackey” clause. Had Brown not done his job so well, she may have been confirmed. Ah well, you can’t inflict harm every time.

But now your president is engaged in far more shadowy and secretive ways to harm you: by spying on you. No, it’s not legal for someone to bug your phone without a warrant, but the president will do so anyway. The constitution? Civil liberties? These are the very things that may get you killed by terrorists, and must be circumvented for your own safety, right? How is the president supposed to properly harm you if he has to discuss his methods before-hand and get the approved by a judge? Are you crazy? This is what you asked for—a determined and unrelenting president who will use even powers he does not have to harm you--and now you’re going to flip-flop?

Luckily, the NSA has been illegally spying on hundreds of people since the days after 9/11. Thankfully, this represents a dramatic shift in policy. Up until this time we had limited spying on American soil only to foreign embassies and ambassadors’ hotel rooms. What’s the point of that if you can’t harm real Americans?

Thankfully, what you may not know can get you spied on. What most Americans don’t know is that we have a special court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which gives its permission before intelligence officers can conduct surveillance on US soil. This is because of the whole checks and balances nonsense to keep the executive branch—the branch you rousingly re-elected--from just doing what ever it wants. Basically the courts keep you from doing what ever you want. Can you believe that? In America?

But since the administration’s motives are pure, the judicial branch need not be involved. The judicial branch is only for impure motives. Administration officials have issued a robust defense of the spying, saying they have prevented several terrorist attacks. The alleged bugging program is reminiscent of the widespread abuse of power by the security services during the Vietnam War. If it was important to illegally monitor peace-loving hippies during that time, how much more important is it to illegally monitor you, as possible American with terrorist ties?
Thankfully, due to this reasoning, the special court has been completely circumvented so your president can get on with what he does best: harming.

Sometimes I just can't believe it, this man is our President. I have to Google it just to be sure. And my concerns are subsided when I type in "43rd president" and this comes up.

And some day your kids will open up their history books, the ones with all the previous presidents on the inside cover, and George W. Bush will be there among the others: Washington, Lincoln, Nixon, and Reagan. He'll be couched between Clinton and Clinton and your kids will ask about him. "Was he a good president?" And you'll remember whistfully, "Yes, he was a true American. He harmed us."

All that flack about the President’s un-Christian Christmas card would have been nothing compared with the fallout that would have occurred if he had not been harming us diligently, if he had actually gone to the courts who probably would have denied such an outrageously harmful request. Thank goodness we have a crafty and clever guy in place to find every loop hole to harm you, and a president who will do what ever the vice president says.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

And Suddenly Another Arises

Let me introduce your next motivational speaker

My Take on Baby Boomers Turning 60 (from a bitter Gen-Xr)

The baby boomers are turning 60!

The baby boomers are turning 60!

Wow, this one is all over the news. How exciting! What does it mean for you and me?

10. Every show you watch will be surrounded by commercials for prostate medicine, erectile dysfunction, and balding.

9. If you are the child of a baby boomer Social Security will not be around when you turn 60.

8. I predict older people will become hideously more grotesque due to increased plastic surgery. Have you seen Joan Rivers? Her face is tighter than a snare drum. It looks like one of those Planet of the Apes masks where only the lips move. Wait until they start using cybergenic implants.

7. Cybergenic implants will become available, leagal, and fashionable. Many boomers slowly become more machine than man.

6. Stem cell research will become legalized. As the benefits of stem cell research will be able to curb the very things that strike old people, Baby Boomers will make this one legal.

5. Abortion will become illegal. In an attempt to shore up relations with the Almighty before departing this world Boomers will strike down Roe v Wade.

4. Boomers will invade and annex Canada. There are 75 million Boomers and 32 million Canadians, and the Boomers want that free health care, the pharmaceuticals, and vaccines baaaad.

3. After consuming Canada the Boomers will move south and invade Mexico. Since there are 105 million Mexicans the Boomers will have to settle for only Northern Mexico, creating a giant entitlement and retirement wasteland from Miami to Guadalajara.

2. Boomers will become self aware. It's difficult to tell whether they will consume the captive human race or merely enslave them.

1. Boomers will sow their genetic seed into the stardust of supernovas the wonderous process begins all over again. (We are stardust. We are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.)

What I have seen speaks for itself. The world will be taken over, conqured if you will, by a master race of highly intelligent, and immortally robotic Baby Boomers. One thing is for certain, there is no stopping them. And I for one welcome our future Boomer overlords. I would like to remind them that as a trusted internet correspondent I could be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

Monday, November 28, 2005

What Did You Buy On-Line Today?

They’re already calling it “Cyber Monday”. What the hell is this I wonder? I didn’t get the memo. I didn’t get the newsletter. I didn’t get any indication in the mail that Cyber Monday was upon us. Yet, here it is. And I knew, I just knew, I could feel a charge in the air when I woke up this morning. It wasn’t an ordinary Monday after all; my senses were correct. It was only later that this was affirmed by my reading that it was indeed a special Monday: Cyber Monday.

But…what is it? Well, turn on any major news channel or read any on-line news source, or pick up a goddamn newspaper you old curmudgeon! What am I going to do with you? Fine, I’ll tell you what it is.

Cyber Monday is the first Monday after Thanksgiving during which an apparent boom of on-line shopping that occurs. Not the Friday, Saturday, or Sunday after Thanksgiving. Not the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Apparently on-line shoppers wait until Monday and then log on en mass and cyber shop for Christmas.

This is the year, I believe, that Cyber Monday will gain mass acceptance and take it’s place proudly among other fabled shopping days like Black Friday or Green Friday or Red Wednesday or the ill-fated You Easily Manipulated Schlep Thursday.

After reading about Cyber Monday, I bounded into the kitchen to whip up some coffee. Well, if it’s Cyber Monday I’d better get on-board and start ordering crap off the internets. Everybody is doing it. I don’t want to show up at work on Grey Tuesday and have someone ask me “How was your Cyber Monday” and I’ll have no stories to tell. No. Better yet, I could be the guy introducing the term “Cyber Monday” to the office. Yes, me, casually getting my morning coffee and dropping wonderful bombs like, “How was your Cyber Monday? What? You haven’t heard?? You missed it, you ass?”

But my delight was quickly banished back where it belongs: my youth. For, as I read further I learned, like Santa Claus, that Cyber Monday, Black Friday, Green Friday, and Stupid Idiot Wednesday were all simply neologism invented by the popular media. You know what a neologism is, don’t you? Goddamn you, how could you live in a media saturated society and not know this term?

A neologism is a word, term, or phrase which has been recently coined to apply to new concepts or reshape older terms in a newer language form. They often become popular by way of mass media or the Internet.

Perhaps “Cyber Monday” will be accepted into the public pantheon of neologisms, taking its place in the sacred vernacular with terms like: “blog”, “tipping point”, “jumping the shark” and “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome”. Regardless, the media is already reporting record-breaking Cyber Monday sales, up 35% from typical Monday morning internet traffic on key sites according to the Akamai Net Usage Index. However, I have decided I will not become a statistic.
Personally, I’m tired of being herded around by the media telling me that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year. Or that now—just in case I forgot about Black Friday—I can make up for it on Cyber Monday. I’m starting to feel like a little child at the beckon call of the pied piper, or a lemming rushing off the side of a cliff. Madison Avenue, Corporate America, the mass media, they’re all the same person, you know. And that crusty old white guy wants your money any way he can fool you into spending it. He’s already got so much of your Monday that when he sneezes he sends gold dust flying into the air.

When I actually ventured out on Black Friday and found it no busier than any other day. I feared traffic jams, angry shoppers, packed parking lots, and weary clerks. But I’ve seen more shoppers out on an Ordinary Saturday than on a Black Friday. I told my friends that I went out and they gasped in horror. “Were you knocked to the ground by the mad rush of people?” they asked. “Could you find a parking spot?” “Were there any deals?”

But the only reason why people riot to get inside a Wal-Mart at 6:00 am is because the media has whipped them into an unreal frenzy. You probably saw the clips of shoppers, absolutely giddy for the cameras, as they rushed into a Wal-Mart during the pre-dawn hours. In fact, I saw the same clip over and over. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole event was staged, and shown thousands of times all-day long, burning an image of capitalism onto your soft, turkey stuffed brains. These are the truly sad, empty people who clamor for a day where their skills at purchasing will be pitted against others. They sit outside all night waiting for the doors to open, like Dead Heads, or Star Wars fanatics. They wait for their capitalistic messiah to usher meaning into their neglected and empty souls. Shopping is now the new opiate for the masses. Thank God for the neologism Black Friday! And riding high on its success, they will now give you Cyber Monday.

I suspect Cyber Monday is just like any other Monday, with a little help in sales because Christmas is around the corner. I’ll bet if I could pull the curtain back I’d find a weak old man pulling levers, urging everyone to shop. It’s a buzzword crafted by wizards looking to line their pockets with your money. Did you buy anything on-line today? Did it make you feel good to be a part of a huge cyber revolution of on-line shopping? I will wait until the day after Cyber Monday: Post Cyber Monday Tuesday get mine, if for any other reason, because today is the day I’m supposed to shop and I don’t want anyone telling me when to spend my money. And when that day gets taken over by Madison Avenue, I’ll hold out for Dark Wednesday or Procrastinating Thursday.

Stop the neologisms. Stop the monikers. Stop the madness.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Didn't Your Mom Ever Teach You Urinal Manners?

To put in the “Things I Never Want to See You Do Again” file…

I never want to see you use the urinal next to me again if there is an open one further down the line.

Why do people do this? Let’s take a quiz. Let’s say the bathroom you use at the office has a line of five urinals. You walk in and see me using urinal #1 on the far left. Which urinal do you use?

From left to right:
2. #2
3. #3
4. #4
5 #5

If you said #2, you may have been the guy I just peed next to.

#5 is the best choice, isn’t it? After all, you’re relieving yourself. So, do it as far away from me as possible. I think that’s logical, considerate and normal.

Use #3 if you must, but #4 is also a bad choice because it keeps the next guy walking in from using #3 or #5 for the reason I am posting this blog. I hate it when that happens.

You should never find yourself peeing next to anyone, unless there is no other choice. Unless it’s the 7th inning of a baseball game or boot camp. I’ve done both, and I’d rather not pee next to you ever again.

Best Blog Ever

I am humbled. I have wasted my blog compared to this genius.

The Plot Thickens

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ode To A Billboard Worker

Billboard worker, when do you sleep?
For I see your handiwork as I drive
But it’s crafter is always elusive

When did that billboard change? I wonder to myself
I plumb that mystery once
I plumb it two times
But my curiosity is not quenched
Yet there is a new advertisement for all the drivers to see
Do your dark masters appreciate this feat of magic?

Under the cover of darkness do you incant?
Like the spider toiling in the silence
Under the stars and the moonlight
Their art greeted by the first dew
Resting quietly, waiting
Perhaps laughing at those who do not appreciate

If only others would consider your example
A more perfect display of seamless workmanship I have never not seen
You receive your orders and carry them out
And no driver is the wiser
In fact they will take the next exit
To get that 44 ounce soda for $.89

Magic I say

They are happy
Your master is happy
When you sleep do you sleep well?

To those who work but do not seek recognition
To those who do their job so well that to be noticed would be failure
To those who put this together
A salute
I guzzle this soda for you

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Hire Me! I Know How to Pray.

Back in June 20, 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney made this statement: “The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they are in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.” And now we have the Harriet Miers’ nomination in which President Bush says her religious background was a factor in her selection. What do these two issues have in common?

The Republicans are known as the party of values, and Bush was elected, and re-elected largely because of his affiliation with the Almighty. And the results have been enlightening, but less than holy. I wont go into the sordid details of the war, the economy, disaster preparedness, and independent investigations surrounding the White House, but keeping Bush buoyant during this storm has been his religions affiliation.

There’s an idea in America that if a person believes in God, follows the Bible, attends church, then that person has their priorities straight and that person will do good work. The fruit of that labor may not be clear, but there is faith that the positive results will happen….eventually. Much of Bush’s success has relied upon this belief. Fundamentalists may concede that the President’s work looks bad short-term, but have faith that the long term effects of such a strong Christian in the White House will be positive.

Of course this is strange to reasonable people, the 72% of the people who now think the country is headed in the wrong direction, and it should be strange. If I went to my job interview and said “I will do a good job because I have my priorities straight. I’m a Christian!” I would probably, rightly so, knock myself out of contention for that job. I say rightly so because it would show that I have some kind of fundamental reasoning problem. Let’s say I got the job, did poorly, and the boss called me into his office to fire me. If I said, “You can’t fire me. I’m a Christian. The things I’ve done here are of God…don’t be so short sighted” the boss would probably call security to escort me out.

But isn’t this more or less what the president has said to us during his job interview and during the time when we should have fired him? It is hopeful, yes, but also foolish and illogical to think that just because someone is religious they are also necessarily competent for any given job—except, maybe, minister. (I put the “maybe” in there because I’ve known plenty of devout Christians who made terrible ministers.) Aren’t such leaders who use their divine affiliations praying—pun?—on the hopes and fears of their constituents? Don’t Christians want Bush to be a good Christian president so badly that they will give him much more leeway than a religiously neutral president?

Having said all of this, shouldn’t we be kind of insulted when the President touts Mrs. Miers’ religious faith as a qualifying attribute for the Supreme Court? Does her faith have anything to do with her job qualifications as a judge? And if it does, shouldn’t that fact on the face of it disqualify her?

Perhaps the worst thing the President could have done was to tie Mrs. Miers’ nomination to religion. The President has already used all of the religious capital this country was willing to give out. I think many people have come to the sobering conclusion that just because someone is religious does not mean they are capable. Hardly a week goes by where we do not see a Priest involved in a scandal. Here are people who devote their whole lives to religion and there is no guarantee that they are capable or even moral.

I think we have all learned a hard lesson. I would even predict that religion tied into politics is in its last throes. It may be in greater danger of dying out before the Iraqi insurgency—perhaps before the century is out. I just can’t imagine that politicians in more progressive countries use religion for political leverage. How often does the Prime Minister of France talk about being a devout Catholic? Is he even a Catholic? Does anyone in France care? But can you imagine an atheist trying to run for President in America? He or she would never even get out of the gate.

We would like to think that someone’s fear of God will drive them to be good, responsible, moral and ethical. But there is no direct correlation to this. I’m not saying that Christians cant be good at a certain job, it’s just that it is a not even a variable in the formula. You get a job based on your qualifications and you keep the job based on your performance. It’s pretty simple. To enter religion into that formula would be crazy. If a person wants to be a Christian that’s wonderful, but it should be a non-issue when it comes to a person’s job. Overlooking or excusing mistakes because someone believes in God would not be acceptable where you work, and it shouldn’t be accepted for our political leaders.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bono Talks Poverty While Bush Eyes Last Fried Chicken Leg

Thoughtalarm has obtained an exclusive copy of the meeting's transcripts.

Bono: We need wealthy nations to donate more. We need to relieve the debt of poor countries.

Bush: Are you going to eat that last piece of chicken?

Bono: It's crucial to not only the health and lifestyle of millions, but to security as well.

Bush: 13 original spices never tasted so good.

Bono: Because millions are starving.

Bush: Finger-licking good.

Bono: That's why, personally, Mr. President, I have made this my cause. We live in luxury, you and I, but millions suffer. Outside, it's America. Outside, it's America.

Bush: I know exactly what you're saying, Bono. I loved your album "The Joshua Tree". "Bullet the Blue Sky" that's what I always say!

Bono: Mr. President...

Bush: (singing) Wooo oooo ooo ooooo, bullet the blue sky!

Bono: What I meant was...

Bush: And that video, with you and that fella on the guitar, walking through Las Vegas....I loved that!

Bono: The Edge?

Bush: Yes, it was.

Bono: No, his name is The Edge. The guitar player.

Bush: The Edge huh? I like nicknames too. Looky here, we got Scooter, Rummy, Condi, Brownie....

Bono: Mr. President, about poverty...

Bush: Poverty is a terrible thing. A terrible thing. We're going to do all we can, Bono. We're going to do the hard work. It's hard. It's hard work! But we're going to roll up our sleeves and do it. And do you know why? Because this is America. Give us your poor, Bono. Give us your tired, your poor and your huddled masses. Such ideals have made America great and we're going to lead the fight against poverty. Now, pass them mashed taters will ya? I love them taters.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Why I Love Baseball

Two improbable things happened in baseball on back-to-back nights. Sunday the Chicago White Sox beat the California Angels to win the American League Pennant and enter the World Series. Monday Albert Pujols became the second player in baseball history to hit a post-season home run that reversed a deficit and save a team from elimination.

Anyone who is from Chicago (as I am) knows why #1 is so amazing. Growing up there I did not just play baseball, I inherited a family tradition. Mine was the cross to bear as Chicago teams failed to win the pennant for 46 years, not to mention a solid 78 years since a World Series title.

Baseball was probably the only thing my father and I had in common, and it was a big part of our lives. I remember taking a family vacation to Maryland, but on the way we stopped in Cincinnati to watch Pete Rose as he closed in on Ty Cobb’s career hit record. We then drove to Cooperstown New York to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame. On the way my dad and I talked about Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and Reggie Jackson.

There is no crying in baseball and there is also no parity in baseball. And that latter way it is like life. There are the Haves and the Have Nots. One team, the Yankees, has been to the World Series 39 times, including 15 since the last time either Chicago team made it. Some people are born into that type of perennial dynasty, others live to see it once.

Another team, the Houston Astros, has never been to the World Series in their entire 43 year history; this despite nine post-season appearances since 1980. Houston was within one game last year, until the Cardinals took two and won the NLCS. In fact Houston is 0-5 in NLCS clinching games. Last night they were one strike away from winning the NLCS and realizing that 43 year-old dream. The announcers had all but given them the title as their un-hittable closer, Brad Lidge, took the hill in the 9th inning with the Astros winning 4-2 against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Hitting a relief pitcher is probably the hardest thing to do in sports. Unlike a starting pitcher that you see three or four at bats against per game, you only get one chance to hit against a relief pitcher. They are paid to simply come in and get three outs and end the game. Lidge is nearly un-touchable due to a 98 mph fast ball and a devastating slider.

So, after two outs (strikeouts) I don’t think anyone in Houston was too concerned when Cardinal David Eckstein squeaked a two-strike hit between third-base and shortstop. The next batter, Jim Edmonds drew a walk, which set the stage for a classic match up: Lidge vs the great slugger Albert Pujols. On the 0-1 pitch Pujols connected with that devastating slider. The ball went sailing up into the electric light, up over left field. It traveled at a fantastic speed over the left field wall, up over the stands, and caromed off the back of the dome. Pujols, holding his bat parallel to the ground like a club watched his handiwork, then jogged around the bases.

43,000 Houston fans were instantly silenced. The Cardinals suddenly were up 5-4. The Astros came up in the bottom of the ninth and went three up and three down. The dream was dramatically dashed, at least for a day, by one magic swing. The Cardinals suddenly had new life.

This is baseball.

Why are sports so popular? I can think of three reasons. First, In our mostly scripted and automated life, we live vicariously through our athletes who represent us in competition. Most of us go to jobs which we know deep down have no meaning. If I don’t do my job someone else will do it. Nothing will be missed. I don’t have to rely on my skills for my next meal. All I have to do is go to the grocery store. There is not much competition in life anymore, but we can get it in sports.

Second, in sports there is a winner and a loser. Period. It is rare to find something so quantifiable in our vague and confusing lives. We can break games down by stats, we can analyze and question why certain things happen and extrapolate accurately the answer and not make the same mistake twice. The winning team or the winning player is the one who does this the best. And, unfortunately, real life is rarely so obvious.

And third, sports provide a community. I’ve sat in bars and celebrated with people I didn’t even know over a special victory. I’ve made friends through playing sports. It provides commonality among a wide group of people. Everyone in St. Louis knows what Pujols did Monday night, and if they don’t I don’t trust them!

The highs and lows are great in sports because when it’s over, it’s over. Everyone knows what happens if Lidge strikes out Pujols. I know how I felt when the Cubs collapsed in 2003. I know where I was when Kirk Gibson hit the game winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. I cried when the Cardinals lost game 6 of the 1985 World Series. Sometimes it is not fair, sometimes it is great and sometimes it burns, but it is always eternal.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Stop the Mrazness

There's an ominous evil hanging over this country and he must be stopped. Of course I'm talking about Jason Mraz. The Curbside Prophet whose rocket, unfortunately, has not come has released his new single "The Geek in the Pink". Here's a sample of his handiwork.

I'm the geek in the pink pink pink
I'm the geek in the pink
I'm the geek in the pink
All y'all geek is the new color for fall

All I want to know is where have you gone, Simon and Garfunkel?

I may be skinny at times but I'm fat fulla rhymes
Isn't it delicious crazy way that I'm kissin'
Cause baby listen to this don't wanna miss it while I'm hittin'

I once met a girl in Milwaukee. She was a lovely, intelligent woman full of laughter. I took her to see Jason Mraz and she loved it. She sang all the lyrics, and I liked it too. But after hearing "Wordplay" and now this I'm glad she never called me again. All I've got to say to her is:

If we never get down it wouldn't be the let down
But sugar don't forget what you already know
I could be the one to turn you on
You could be the talk across the town
Don't judge it by the color, confuse it with another
You might regret what you let slip away

Something like that

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Lupus Chili-fest

An old store is given new life by an assembly of people. The menu over the counter calls back to a time when you could buy a bag of chips for 40 cents, and a soda for 55. A 1950s gas pump stands in a corner, white Christmas lights run across the ceiling, and an opening near a wood burning stove serves as the stage. People file in and find their seats in rows of chairs while an old hippie explains how everyone has love. It made sense. We loved every second of it.

The room seemed to glow, not so much from those Christmas lights, but from the energy radiating from the bards at the front of the room, and the people joining them in song, bluegrass stories of days gone bye, knew every word. I observed the scene from my vantage point somewhere behind the stage and I could imagine it not being much different than the way people have communed for thousands of years. Outside the night air carried a September chill, but inside people warmed themselves in the ancient art of song.

The group gladly referred to themselves as "old hippies", and seeing their assembly I held them in awe. Many of them shared a bond created during a tumultuous time of questioning, now simply referred to as “the 60s”. But they did not seem stuck in the 60s. They seemed very much aware of current circumstances. They spoke with one another about fellow friends. They live in the same world as everyone else, with aging, and disease, but they approached it with a rational pragmatism, buoyed by a love for music, and poetry, and history and ideals. This was a world I was unaccustomed to yet they were all were friendly and welcoming.

“What do you think of the chili?” they asked. "Did you get enough?"

Chili was the food that brought them all together, once a year, into the small town of Lupus, Missouri, on the banks of the river of the same name. Drive west from Columbia and you would be hard pressed to find it. The town is probably more accessible by canoe, which is how many of the musicians arrived. And the numbers slowly swelled. So many of them were so obviously talented--one was a poetry professor, one was an author--that they also shared, in concerts inside or behind the General Store, what they had learned over the years. And people keep coming back every year to listen, and it is not hard to see why.

Someone opened a book by Herman Hesse and read a poem, or was it a holy Psalm? Who could tell or what was the difference? It was about transcendence and change and growing older and phasing into new things. Its timeless message resonated with every person in the room and when the words were concluded everyone applauded their amens. They were, after all, like everyone else: moving through life. But they employed the timeless use of friendship, and writing, and music to help them on their way.

The experience was very humbling to me. There are so many facets to life; no one can experience them all. And had I never traveled to Lupus that one September day I would have missed something. But now it stands as a reminder of how things should be. We all have this cross to bare: life. It is both something feared and embraced all at the same time. But with simple tools, like we have done since time ageless, we come alive. We were an assembly transforming a room into a hearth of burning coals, stoked with Gnostic fervor. And I would like to think that such communion will continue to transform our own society one person at a time, turning us all into a living stones.

The event touched on things universal, and even though these sages age, they live in the vein of eternity, doing what humans have always done. One would lead in song, and then another with poem, but all were, for a time, a type of high priest, and the connection between us all was undeniable. For a short time no one was an individual. Technology is said have made the world smaller, but I feel positively alienated compared to this experience with people I'd never met before. To me the most telling event was what didn't happen. No one’s cell phone rudely interrupted the celebration, and it allowed me to appreciate this one all the more.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

28% of Americans Clearly Insane How long does it take for a popular president to lose his political capital? About five years. Five years not without a budget surplus-wasted, one major terrorist attack, 2000 men and women killed for an ill-conceived war. Five years of grammar shredding, smirking, strutting, back-stepping religious arrogance leading this country down a hole and one president who has led it all is finally seeing his support dwindling. A latest MSNBC / WSJ poll shows Bush's approval ratings down below 40%, and only 28% of the people believing that the country is headed in the right direction. It appears that the middle is finally turning on their beloved president.

And oh you can feel the desperation from the White House. Bush made a media appearance the other day, not just in the Blue Shirt of Compassion, but the Hard Hat of Strength, the Working Gloves of Labor, and the Tool Belt of Capability. They are pulling out all the stops, and they should. On top of every other failure in leadership and vision the president’s right-hand man, Karl Rove is under investigation for conspiracy.After all this, who are those 28% that are holding out? Can Morgan Spurlock infiltrate their cloister and figure out what they're thinking? Because, while the rest of us are weary of this nonsense, they believe we're headed in the right direction. They must be the mud-flap, bare-crack, six-pack, flag-waiving, fun-loving crowd who believe Bush really can raise a house in New Orleans with one hand and fight terrorism with the other. The other 72% deal in reality: that the man can't even walk and chew gum at the same time. Faith runs deep in the heartland. The 28% are the remnant of a once proud clan of NASCAR Dads and Church ladies. Others have forsaken their great leader, but they will not. Every week they return to the alter to give thanks and take communion in the idea of small government, tough defense, and conservative Christianity...regardless of how pragmatic those ideals are.

Bush has been inept the entire time but what has changed recently that has removed the scales from so many people’s eyes?

It's an interesting thing, where on the timeline people turn on a president. With Bush for some it was his pre-election smirking and terrible English. For others it was the look on his face when answering a challenging question. For some it was the loss of liberties after 9/11. For others it was the lack of WMDs in Iraq. (That was my personal tipping point.... all of these events, for the heartland of the country, were vague academic concerns, debatable on news shows. And then there was Hurricane Katrina which ushered in the unveiling of the new and improved Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. The country witnessed where all their tax dollars had gone when Michael Brown, a crony, led a man-made disaster that killed more people than the natural one the preceded it. This is our powerful defense mechanism designed to save us from unseen enemies? This is what we've gotten for five years of macho cowboy talk, a 66% increase in defense spending, and the Patriot Act? Wasn't that what got Bush re-elected? The perception that he would be tougher on defense than a war hero like John Kerry? And now as the economy is going badly, so NASCAR dads in their giant trucks have to spend a small fortune to fill up their tanks and go muddin'. This has brought about what the administration has tried so hard to shield voters from: accountability. A war in Iraq and runaway spending were all kept safely out of people's consciousness because there were no taxes or rationing to go along with them. But Katrina changed all of that. Now we're all being asked to pay more, and conserve more, because of lack of leadership and foresight.

Yesterday, Bush, trying to salvage his image, held a televised “conversation” with troops in Iraq. I say “conversation” because it was actually a tightly choreographed event where every soldier knew the questions in advance and who would answer them. This is certainly nothing new but it illustrates the weakness of this administration: an inability to think dynamically and in real-time. Even events that are supposed to be casual are tightly rehearsed. We are led by people dealing in fantasy, surrounding itself with zealots. The real losers: You and me. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, these people have a nice retirement to look forward to. And unlike them: the rest of us have to live in the real world. The only people still buying into this are the 28% of Americans who are clearly insane.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bush Uses Mandate to...Anger Christians?

Christians, usually the first to get used, and the last to know. They represent a goldmine of unending faith and energy which leaders have tapped in to for 2000 years. Need a war? Make it a crusade. Need followership? Threaten with hell. Need money? Play on their fears. Lately Republicans have schrewdly tapped into this jet stream of zealousness to deny but with President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers a storm is brewing from the Christian right.
What are they so upset about?

Before I get into that--full disclosure--I am sympathetic to those Christians who voted for Bush and hoping for some radical religious change in this country. Five years later they have Vietnam Part 2 (Iraq), a huge deficit, high gas prices, inept government agencies, and now a blown opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court bench. These Christians are fodder for their inept ministers--of which Bush is the head--trying desperately to be taken seriously in a world that left them behind 100 years ago.

Bush will never be accused of being logical, and this time he has managed to both anger conservatives and baffle Democrats by picking Harriet Miers to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. In the process the president also officially ruined the life of Alberto Gonzalez, whom he joked about nominating, and did not. Meirs' defining characteristics are that she is from Texas and that she worked for Bush.

Liberals are complaining of cronyism.

Conservatives have much more to be angry about.

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and long-time Bush supporter, wrote that he is "disappointed, depressed, and demoralized."

David Frum had this to say in National Review--a conservative stronghold: "There is no reason at all to believe that she is a legal conservative."

This is the president who ran on a platform that he would nominate judges in the mold of Thomas and Scalia, known as the two most conservative justices on the bench. One justice, O'Connor, retired. Another, Rehnquist, passed away shortly after that. This was answered prayers to Christians. O'Connor was a moderate, Rehnquist was a moderate conservative. Their vacancies left two openings, Christians eagerly awaited the Thomas or Scilia-like nominations from the White House.

First came Roberts, probably a moderate. He was happily confirmed by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Now Meirs, a woman Democrat Harry Reid actually recommended to the president! Many are already comparing her to the moderate O'Connor.

So, for all the effort, Christians who elected Bush for this very reason have gained....nothing. Probably less than nothing. There is also the tendency for judges, once they are on the bench to move to the left. This is probably because--unlike politicians like President Bush or Tom DeLay, Justices are appointed for life. There is no motivation to work off the fears of the masses for re-election. So, if history is any guide, these already moderate choices will probably drift left.

Of course, this pattern of using Christians is hardly anything new. The Catholic Chuch kept the Bible in Latin for hundreds of years while Christians toiled in fields. Christianity fought against science for hundreds of years until it rendered itself ineffectual while science cured diseases and improved quality of life. And today many Christians are still in the dark, with the help from ministers, televangelists, and politicians. They are busy toiling the fields while those they keep in leadership keep them in the dark.

Bush asks conservatives to trust him and his nominees. Is there any reason to think that this isn't business as usual? Tom DeLay can barely go a few months without being censured or--now--indicted. Pat Robertson and other televangelists have collected millions of dollars from people in the name of irrational fears. Millions of Christians happily piled into their Church’s busses, drove to the voting booths, and elected a guy who promised to change the Supreme Court bench if given the chance. He has broken every other promise he has given. It is time to stop having faith, and start looking at the facts.

If I were a Christian who had voted for Bush, I'd feel pretty stupid. In fact, that is how I felt about two years ago, before any of this. How much will Bush's Christians supporters put up with? Republicans have made fools out of them and abused their trust. Probably not unlike other Christian leaders they're involved with.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Your Personal Trainer is Obese

It was quite a month for Republicans, capped off by an exciting week of indictments and racist remarks. I will not make any assumptions about the Republicans though. That wacky band of political survival experts may well come out of this last month with unscathed. In the area of defense and disaster preparedness, the veil was lifted after hurricane Katrina--a bureaucratic disaster. Iraq was a quagmire that never should have been started. The party of small government has blown a budget surplus while the president has failed to veto a single spending bill. And now in the realm closest to supporters’ hearts--conservative values--true colors seem to be flying.

Enter Tom DeLay, the bulldoggish House Majority Leader credited with increasing the Republican majority in congress. DeLay is no stranger to morals and ethics and not shy to weigh in on contemporary issues. On Teri Schiavo he predicted that "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today." He assessed the Supreme Court as "an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary." If this sounds a lot like Pat Robertson, I suspect it is because they are receiving the same talking points. But the bell tolled for Mr. DeLay this week when he was indicted on a charge of conspiring to violate Texas campaign finance laws.

Not to be out-done, Bill Bennett, former education czar and author of the "Book of Virtues", claimed--in a hypothetical--that "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could--if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country." Bennett was not getting many "amens" for that one, a statement so imbued with racism it was made flippantly, and can almost be dismissed.

There will be a certain percentage of devout followers who will write-off both of these examples. Mr. DeLay is already calling the charges against him "partisan". He should know when something is “partisan” since he used that tactic to wrest control of the House. There's nothing we can do about the percentage of zealots who will follow Pat Robertson, Tom DeLay, and Bill Bennett down. But maybe the reasonable middle of the country will realize they are following people who themselves can not even run their own lives.

I am under no illusions that leaders, or those in the public spotlight, will be perfect people. But I think those who attempt to tell other people how to run their lives, what to be afraid of, and who to listen to, should be judged with a certain amount of extra scrutiny. What does it say about someone who is elected under the guise of being ethical, when that person is indicted for being unethical? If someone writes a book of virtues, is it worth reading or following if that person has trouble with virtues?

The Republicans are in power because they are the party of small government, strong defense, and traditional values. They are a resounding zero for three in these areas. We have a government that spends out-of-control, refuses to keep itself in check, spends the lives of its soldiers rashly, and wants to tell you who you can sleep with while those very leaders are burdened by moral and ethical problems. What have we gotten for ourselves?

Wouldn't it be better to just leave every one alone if they are not hurting anyone? If I'm terminally ill and I want the right to die, why isn't that acceptable? Who is going to tell me I can't do that? People like Bill Bennett? Who is going to tell you who to be afraid of? Who is going to protect the sanctity of your marriage? Someone like Tom DeLay? I'm not saying Democrats are any better. But at least they do not want to get involved in peoples' personal lives.

I'm not against "values" or even, necessarily, conservative Christian values, but I don't need elected officials to enact my beliefs for me. I don't need to vote for these people or send them money. I don't need to read the "Book of Virtues" to know what is right or wrong; even less now that the author has a well-known gambling problem. But we all have our problems so why believe people who claim to have all the answers? Isn't that an immediate red flag? Where did all this subversive followership come from in what is supposed to be a staunchly independent country? Canada, maybe! But they are making us look like lemmings when it comes to religion and civil rights. I can't figure it out. (that was a joke about Canada. Thank you Canada for your smooth beer, beautiful women, and edgy comedians.)

As I write this the football stadium down the street is filling up with thousands of women for Joyce Meyer's convention. Apparently people are still more than happy to pay good money and gather en-masse to have a complete stranger tell them how to live their lives. It is this same odd energy that Republicans happily tap into for votes, while they themselves--their lack of humility and ethical foundation--run wild. Are we better off because of any of this? Have the ends justified the means? If you are one of the 40% who say "yes" please place you’re offering in my bucket as it is passed down the isle. I'd tap into this but quicker politicians and preachers have already beat me to it.

Here's my answer. I say we ask our leaders to be responsible for less. Let's cut down on unnecessary reach in government. Mr. DeLay, you no longer have to worry about saving someone who has requested the right to die. Please just concentrate on building levees, disaster recovery, national security, health care, and education--areas your fellow Republcains in control have so far failed at miserably. Don't worry about personal issues. Worry about the public ones the average citizen can not fund or control. The next time a politician or author gets up and wants to tell you how to live your life--let's laugh him or her off the stage.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Overturning The Money Changers

Sorry I haven't had time to blog the fall of Tom DeLay. You don't need me to say the obvious anyway. Do you? DO YOU!?

Re-capping the week: the ice caps are melting faster than expected, the Red Cross is holding onto donations too tightly, and Head Pharisee Tom DeLay was indited in a campaign finance probe. Please have a good weekend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bush to Hurricane Rita: Bring It On.

You can fool President Bush once, but try it again and there will be trouble.

Chesney: I'll Be OK

In case you were worried about Kenny Chesney, he says he'll be fine, in reference to his recent split with Rene Zellwegger.

Zellweger listed "fraud" as the reason for the breakup after only four months of marriage. I can't help but speculate about what was fraudulent.

"I hit everything so hard this year," Chesney said. "I had the biggest tour I've ever done, I had a record to finish that was real important to me, and, of course, I had something new in my personal life and I was trying to do that too. It really ended up being too much."

The reason for the breakup may be that his wife came in 3rd place on his list of things to work on during 2005.

Poll of the Week

People are again refusing to evacuate New Orleans. Why?

5% No car.
5% Anxious to loot
15% Minister told me to sit and pray
17% Have Saints tickets
23% Dart league finals
35% Hurricane schmurricane

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

How I Learned to Start Caring and Love the Left

A disaster finally hit home on President Bush’s watch. Oh wait, that’s the second disaster on his watch. Let’s also include the disaster in Iraq, but who is counting?
Anyhow, it seems like Americans have finally come to realize what many of us, and much of the world, have been trying to say: Bush is not a very good president.

Joe Republican writes:

“Globex CEO, how did you get to be such a bleeding-heart liberal?”

Well, I will tell you.

The year was 2000. Microsoft was ruled a monopoly, the bubble was busy imploding upon itself like a dying star, and the son of former president Bush was running against Al “Lockbox” Gore. I voted for Bush under the logic that he seemed like an every man: the kind of person who might understand my concerns. That man went on to “win” the election after Supreme Court decision. Gore went on to grow a beard and work on a pier in New Jersey.

I am somewhat sympathetic to people who view many of Bush’s “plans” and “policies” as academic and detached from everyday American life, and thus much slower to realize that Bush has no "plan" or decent "policy". But to me, one who was in the Air Force in 2003 when we invaded Iraq, his actions hit close to home. I knew people deployed, or who may be deployed, for the cause. When no WMDs were found in Iraq I began to get suspicious.

Maybe the president knew there were no WMDs, but went in anyway. Then, the president lied to the American people.
Or, maybe the president thought there were WMDs. Then, the president has a terrible intelligence, or should have listened to the UN, France, and everyone else.
Or, maybe, The president was pushed into going by the media and/or Dick Cheney. Then the president is no leader.

We’ll never know what the real answers are, but I can’t see any positive way to view the decision given hindsight. At the very worst, the president is a liar. At the very best he is just an inept leader making bad decisions. And it kind of seems after reading "Plan of Attack", "The 9/11 Report", and watching the news over the last three years, that maybe this president would indeed be a better drinking buddy than the most powerful man in the world. Specifically, as things went from bad to worse in Iraq I began to wonder about the whole idea of spending billions in defense when we don’t even know which countries not to invade, while people here at home go without health care and basic needs. Those seemed incongruous to me.

Hurricane Katrina did something all of the president’s mistakes could not do, it brought the folly home. We can have a war in Iraq, and no one can really be made to comprehend it because there are tax cuts. This allow sthe the average American to reason: how bad can thinks be if my taxes are getting cut? In the past, during a war, people were asked to ration vital items. Drafts were put in place to conscript your children and send them off to fight and die. In the face of such steps, politicians had to be extremely sure that the wars they were fighting were worth the cause because every American was asked to give something in some way.

But this administration has circumvented all of that by not just asking people for no sacrifice, but cutting taxes. They want things to seem as normal as possible, while they enect their plans. If things are normal, no one will pay much attention to the plan and how it's going. There has been a total disconnect between the war and the average American. It has been largely an academic exercise--a media saturated, yet low domestic impact ass-kicking extravaganza to rectify 9/11. And, convienently, Bush can use to be a war president.

So Iraq has no WMDs. We were not greeted like liberators. We have too few troops there, asked to stay too long because of stop-loss, supplied with inadequate armor. There are terrorists where there were none before; a vital threat, a quagmire, where none existed before. Thousands have been killed and more wounded physically and mentally for, at best, a bad judgment call. But all of that remains on the news and not in the lives of average Americans because the administration has fashioned it this way.

But Katrina blew into town and exposed what really has been going on in the White House for the last five years: little to nothing positive; horse show directors, and smirking, and lack fo planning. Four years after 9/11 and our disaster recovery is a disaster, and who knew? Hundreds of billions of dollars spent to remake Iraq and our own people can not afford insurance or the means to escape an incoming killer hurricane. And who cared?

I’m not a smart guy, but I knew long before Katrina that we were going in the wrong direction. But let’s learn from this. Let’s expect more from our leaders than just who would make a good drinking buddy. Let’s expect them to make the right decisions on vital issues, and let’s demand that the impact of those decisions be made known as widely as possible. Don't let this get swept under the rug. You want to help hurricane victims? Put leaders in office who care about domestic issues like poverty, health care, education, and retirement.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I Survived Katrina and All I Got Was This Lousy Makeover

Last night was the Emmys. I can’t believe I forgot all about it! Though the three-hour spectacle was meaningless, exit polls showed that the magnolia ribbon, worn by host and presenters, to remember Katrina, boosted the spirits impoverished victims—many of whom have no access to TV anyway—by as much as zero percent.

The poverty that endangered thousands in New Orleans was starkly off-set by glimpses thousand dollar earrings, diamond necklaces, stretch limos, and the screams of adoring fans. Apparently, by people’s approval, these are our heroes. I even heard that two lucky hurricane survivors were going to be given an Emmy makeover, so—at least for a little while--they could be more like our glittering examples of the good life. Just as well, maybe after a disaster we should stick to what we do best: making things over, rather than honestly dealing with the issues.

After hurricane Katrina, poverty is on everyone’s lips, especially celebrities. People are pointing fingers at filthy rich businessmen like Paul Allen, but no one seems to mind if Oprah or Madonna lives in opulent luxury…because they give us warm fuzzies. Paul Allen does nothing to fill the space in my empty life. But did you see Felicity Huffman’s dress?

Personally, I think it’s even more offensive when these celebrities get out of their stretch limos and then try to talk about hurricane victims. The women are stick figures models--draped in thousand dollar dresses, and diamonds. The men are no better. They perpetuate a level of superficiality unattainable by the average American. But we’ll try because we’re told to try. In a society with winners and losers, they are among the champions. I don’t blame them for getting rich or being rich. I guess I do find fault with so many millions of Americans who want to talk about poverty and emulate people whose hardest decision in a given day is which joke to tell or what shoes to wear to another award show.

If any filthy rich people are going to be singled out I hope it will be these. At least a business man provides jobs. Say what ever else you will. People like Ellen…help us laugh? I want to meet the person who was distraught on the couch until Ellen came on to give that person reason to live.

The problem is not rich people. They are simply the victors in a society whose rules allow for winners and losers. You can own a $5000 dress, live in the Hollywood hills, and command the ear of millions of Americans. Or, you can go without health care, live on food stamps, and have everything you own washed away in a hurricane because you could not afford insurance. That is the problem.

The Emmys tried to help us laugh. But probably what they really did was help America get back on-track to the things it loves best: entertainment and luxury. It bothers me that those people are idolized—and thus rich--for no good reason. And it bothers me that they come out in force to try to talk about poverty when the person working the night shift in a factory, making $10 an hour provides more of a service to society than their attempts at humor.

The multimillion dollar companies our favorite celebrities work for will also be similar to the companies moving into New Orleans, buying flooded property at low prices and renovating it to sell at higher prices… because the people who lived there before can not afford to do that. This happened after the Civil War too by Carpetbaggers.

While everyone else tries to take advantage or leverage their conscience with Katrina, you should too. Put on a magnolia pin and remember Katrina. And make sure you run down to the mall and buy those $100 jeans because your favorite actress wears them too.

The last thing that should happen is that those who were neglected before this disaster end up losing even more. Because, you know somewhere someone is thinking of a way to turn this disaster into financial gain. That is one thing. But I hope we keep poverty on our hearts and minds, after the celebrities have gone back to their gated homes. Until it becomes a national agenda, like defense, the rich will stay healthy and the sick will stay poor.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Monday, September 12, 2005

Man With Nice Moustace To Head FEMA

In the wake of Mike Brown's resignation, many are applauding the choice of R. David Paulison as the new head of FEMA, citing his strong credentials.

"We finally got someone in here with a good, solid moustache," an anonymous FEMA employee commented. "He sure does have a nice moustache." Yes. Yes he does.

Critics questioned his lack of horse show experience.

Clearing Brush

You know it’s photo op time when the president dons his “everyman” attire. Bush could be seen striding around Louisiana in his familiar dark jeans and blue button down with sleeves rolled up, ready to work. Thanks to others, the situation is largely under-control., but our leader has that look in his eye again asking, “Got any brush I can clear? I’ll back my truck up and we’ll throw that brush right in the bed. See these fore-arms of compassion? I love clearing up brush.”

Brush, as everyone knows, is a metaphor for problems. When Bush puts on that blue shirt, and rolls up those sleeves, he’s telling everyone it’s time to clear some brush.

Bush, visiting hurricane recovery sites for the third time, stayed right on script surrounding himself with a choir of fire fighters, police officers (fellow brush clearers) and victims (people who have a lot of brush to clear). The White House, eager to show the president displaying hands-on, empathetic leadership in the storm effort, decided to go with the photo tested blue shirt—again.

“This blue shirt has been a huge hit for us,” said Stephen Smith, White House fashion advisor. “Once we decided to roll up those sleeves, wow! We had a real working man on our hands. A real doer! Look out! We’ve dubbed it: The Blue Shirt of Compassion. We break it out any time the President has to go fix a major national disaster. And it’s a good thing we have it on-hand, because it’s been used a lot.”

The Blue Shirt of Compassion was made famous in the photograph of President Bush hugging Ashley Faulkner, who lost her mom in the Sept. 11 attacks. “That photo really put Blue on the map, as far as we were concerned.” Smith explained. “After that, every disaster we had the president in that shirt at least for one photo-op.”

The Blue Shirt of Compassion has also been used in photo-ops ranging from brush clearing to golf outings. “It’s a real team player,” Smith continued. “And, it’s an iron man. It goes in disaster after disaster. We wash it and it comes out looking good as new.”

The history and science of Presidential, business casual attire can be traced back to Teddy Roosevelt. The rough-ridding president appealed to the aggressive, rugged, everyman carving out this country’s manifest destiny.

“Before Roosevelt, presidents were seen as boorish stuffed-shirts, suits,” said Dr. Henry McCormick, who teaches a class in political fashion at Columbia University. “Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. He put on a stove-pipe hat and that was the look for presidents for the next forty years. Then Roosevelt came along, and we’re still feeling the effects. Being studious and serious might have been cool during Reconstruction, but these days people want a Brush Clearer, a cowboy, a drinking buddy as president.”

This effect was capitalized on nicely by the Republicans when another man road a horse into the White House—Ronald Reagan. Reagan, in an attempt to win the Cold War, was widely photographed in western garb—slacks, denim shirts, cowboy hat—to show that he was a western everyman, a cowboy who was not above shooting Russians first, and asking questions later.

“Reagan was perfect, “McCormick noted. “First of all, he was a cowboy in movies, which gave him instant celebrity credibility. Any questions about his cowboyishness were neutralized. Secondly, he was from the west. You’ll notice that for the last 30 years every president has either been from the South or from the West. People love the brush-clearing, sheriff type.”

Although from Texas, George Bush Sr. proved to be no brush-clearer. He was widely portrayed as a nasally wimp, rather than anyone who could or wanted to clear brush. He was rarely ever seen in blue shirts of compassion. His son George has since picked up this fumble and ran back a touchdown for the Republicans. He is seen at least once a week in rolled up sleeves, doing everything from kissing babies to sawing down trees.

McCormick noted, “The Republicans knew they needed another president who could clear brush. People know what that means. What they’re asking of any candidate is: ‘can this man clear my brush?’ Could Gore? Could Kerry? Can Hillary?”

The Republican strategy has paid off. After numerous disasters, the brush clearing president can emerge with sleeves rolled up, ready to begin doing some work. He can make short, declarative statements of a brush-clearing nature, and settle everyone’s mind. Indeed, after Katrina it looks like The Blue Shirt of Compassion is back, and paying dividends. Everyone on the beltway knows what this means: it’s time to clear some brush.

Katrina Timeline

Kinda interesting.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Flowers on Fire

Life is indiscriminate. Natural disasters do not target certain people, they can not be controlled. They strike, often suddenly, at will. In the aftermath of such a disaster like Hurricane Katrina humans do some soul searching. They try to link it to the supernatural so life does not appear to be so random and chaotic. Some will say it is the work of God. Others will say it was Satan. That will always be debatable, but there are lessons we can all learn from this event.

Katrina did us all a favor in one sense: it removed the veil that covered the plight of the poor, many of whom also live in our inner-cities. This is a pervasive and systemic problem that has been over-looked for far too long. The disconnect between those who make our laws and levy our taxes and those who struggle to live from day to day was also noticed.

Many, many people live in an America where they can climb into their SUV, pay $80 for a tank of gas, and drive off into the sunset. But just as many, far too many, can not even afford to escape the path of a natural disaster. The little they do own, they cling to even in the face of death.

And we can see, from the generous and sympathetic outpouring to charity, Americans realize that we can do better. That the slow, and—at least from TV interviews—apathetic response of our federal agencies is shameful and embarrassing. What our government could not do at first, the average American badly wanted to do. And that gives me hope.

My fear is that after people have reacted to the tragedy and given their money, they will once again turn a blind-eye onto the problem of poverty. I know that for the average person there is not much that they can do, but it can be a concern. It can be an important issue on the scale of nation building and homeland security.

We are pumping billions of dollars into military, defense, security, and where has it gotten us? A quagmire in Iraq that has paralyzed leaders and polarized voters? A slow and inept disaster recovery? Poverty on the rise?

People are not going to stand for this. Four years ago we all watched the events of 9/11 unfold. A few weeks ago we watched our own government, bloated by monies and support and power in a post 9/11 world unable to rescue stranded and starving people it was directly responsible for.

Currently we have the worst of all worlds. We have a government that wants money and power and to strip civil liberties in the name of protection. That would be one thing if that government knew what it was doing. Can it keep us save? Can it rescue us? Can it nation-build? Maybe we should error on the side of education and health care. We’re going to have to re-train many of those who lost their jobs in New Orleans. We probably should have been doing that all along. We should be outraged when so many of us are ill-equipped to survive in our society.

As one hurricane survivor said, “We had nothing before this. Now we have even less.” Politicians from New Orleans and Louisiana are trying to tell me that their great city is such a vital center of productivity. How can that be true and it also be true that New Orleans had a 30% unemployment rate, one of the worst school systems in the country, and 40% of its children in poverty? How can that city be so vital, and so neglected at the same time? Those kids are our kids. What we neglect in childhood we had to deal with ten-fold as adults. Plant a demon seed, and you raise a flower on fire.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Qualified Guy Replaces Guy With Connections

Millions Demand Recall of Defective Bush 2.0

After years of not operating as advertised, the public has had enough of the defect Bush model 2.0. It was billed as a model president--one who would shoot straight, bring integrity back to the White House, unite people from across parties, and stop nation-building. But, after five years, thousands of lives, and billions of dollars, it is obvious that the model bought in 2000, and again in 2004 is simply not working. Top leaders in government are considering an unprecedented recall.

“The Bush 2.0 model was never intended to improve education, health-care, or continue budget surpluses,” Newt Gingrich explained. “But it is now painfully obvious that none of what it was supposed to it has done or can do. The only thing it can to is quip, smirk, exercise, and pander to religious nuts.”

After election, and a 9 month battery charge, Bush 2.0 was unveiled on Sept. 12, 2004. He moved swiftly to action by invading Afghanistan, attempting to block the formation of what would become the 9/11 Commission, installing the Patriot Act, and then starting a faux war in Iraq.

“Once Bush 2.0 got a little taste of power, I think we lost control of him,” a top White House engineer admitted. “Invading Iraq on such shady evidence was a real stretch. We all kind of looked at each other for a moment. But, luckily, the people bought it. However, installing unqualified men to run FEMA has proven to be a deathblow.”

This is referring to five of the eight top FEMA officials having virtually no experience in handling disasters. And, in the wake of the destruction of New Orleans after a major hurricane, and the slow-moving disaster response from said FEMA officials, this may be the levee breaking on Bush 2.0’s support.

“Putting campaign cronies into top government positions is a time honored tradition dating back to Andrew Jackson.” Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas said. “But there seems to be some bad logic in 2.0, putting those lackeys into such important positions. Everyone was nervous about a major urban disaster. We were thinking terrorists, but the hurricane showed that we are worse off than we were four years ago. I think people are fed up.”

Indeed. The public seems to be demanding a recall, a change to vote again. "We've learned our lesson" a Republican from Kansas said. "If the elections were this year I'd vote for Kerry. Hell, I'd even vote for Dean." Bush 2.0’s approval ratings are down into the 30s. The only people not distancing themselves from it are his long-standing advisors, and religious nuts.

“He’s totally out of control.” A former cabinet member confided to me. “He only accepts input from four or five people. And when those people are Rove, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Rice, you know you’ve got a problem. But the most amazing thing is not that it is out of control—it’s been that way for years—but that it was re-elected.”

Knowing that Bush 2.0 can not be re-elected again, top Republican wizards are currently working on the next generation of Republican president. “This one will work as advertised because I think we’ve used up most of the people’s patience for lies. The next model will be the real compassionate conservative.”

Democrats are furiously working on Clinton 2.0 dubbed “The Hillary”, to counter anything the Republicans can put together. “The Hillary, like Clinton 1.0, will be designed to augment health care, stimulate the economy, give peaceful resolution to problems, and work on budget surpluses. Happily, I think we’ve weeded out the infidelity bug.”

Despite high hopes by Democrats, Republicans remain confident. “People don’t want that kind of thing,” Karl Rove stated. “Our model will be a patriarch who will brutalize criminals, lower taxes, and run interference in countries around the world. We also have the backing of big business and you’d better believe they won’t give up power easily. Besides, the masses bought Bush 2.0 wholesale. They never knew he was defective, and we couldn’t believe it. It was so obvious by the way he walked and talked!”

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Horse Whisperer

At the rate he’s going, Michael Brown will have a hard time getting arrested in Washington DC. Of course, he may be fired. As the head of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) he botched the Katrina relief operation. Then he was banned from television appearances after saying people were getting “all the help they need” and calling New Orleans’ security “pretty darn good”!

On a side note, President George W. Bush refers to him affectionately as “Brownie”. And says he is doing a “heck of a job!”

Democrats, unable to stop his confirmation, were wary when he was nominated. And now even stalwart conservatives like Bill Kristol are disavowing him. “The more one learns about him one is surprised that he’s in that job in the first place” he said. Yes, one is surprised.

Brown, replaced Joe Allbaugh, an old college buddy. Allbaugh resigned in 2002 so he could start a company that makes money from rebuilding Iraq. That one speaks for itself as far as I’m concerned. Brown’s qualifications for the job are as follows: he ran unsuccessfully for congress in 1988, then practiced law, then managed a horse show for 10 years. After Allbaugh became director of FEMA in 2001, Brown was hired as general counsel. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Remember that.

While others want to play the blame game, I’m a little sympathetic to Brown, from Oklahoma. I mean come on, who knew a major hurricane was going to hit New Orleans, the levees would break, and the city would flood, causing the biggest natural disaster in American history? Well, I guess a lot of people sort of predicted that was going to happen. But…but who expects that something terrible will happen in one of our urban centers this day and age? Hmm, I guess a lot of people are afraid of that. Who really expects an agency like Federal Emergency Management Agency to aide and rescue helpless people after a natural disaster? Who really expects bureaucrats who are in position because of their connections, family, or money, to also be effective at their jobs? Or to care? Or to take the time to at least come up with some kind of thoughtful planning? What planet are you guys living on? Where have you guys been lately?

And, do I need to mention again, that the man loves horses? No one who loves horses can be that bad.

Someday, when all of this controversy as blown-over, Mr. Brown will be back on his ranch in Oklahoma, with his horses. He’ll think back with a gleam in his eye, to the time he was a powerful man in Washington. What a great country, where the director of a horse show can rise to become the head of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency!

It’s not easy being a horse. One minute you’re as popular as a rock star, racing around the pasture, being put out to stud, and flicking flies off your back with your tail… the next minute you’re being put down for a broken leg. Things change that fast in politics too.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Poll of the Week

President Bush is quickly losing support among voters and people who are willing to work for him. Who do you think he will appoint as Secretary of Homeland Security after Micahel Chertoff is exiled to Elba?

15% - Sideshow Bob
23% - Steve from Accounting
40% - The ashes of Roy Rogers
12% - A Republican Hollywood celebrity
10% - Some other inept guy no one has ever heard of, but probably with adequate facial hair.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Physician Heal Thyself

Hurricane Katrina did more than break levees and flood a city. It exposed the deep problems this country has; problems that no one seems to want to admit or talk about. Obviously, if we can fly troops to Iraq in 24 hours we could have helped those stranded in New Orleans in less than three days. We describe the scene in New Orleans as a "refugee camp" or as a "third world country" and that is exactly how we view blacks, as refugees in their own country. We witnessed the events like we witnessed a Rwandan or Sudanese tragedy unfolding: unfortunate, but not urgent. The media even dispatched its foreign correspondents to heighten the feel that this was something other-worldly going on. But it was right here in America. Had this disaster occurred in New York, or San Francisco, had it occurred among a majority of whites, it would have been taken much more seriously.

There are so many levels in which we can examine this drama. The secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, is already trying to deflect blame and questions. The argument: we have a disaster here, let's not place blame. That's the same rhetoric that got Bush around serious questions in Iraq. But we should look at how this disaster happened. This was an example of a major urban disaster: infrastructure destroyed, power lost, people stranded, no food, no water, no sanitation. This is an example of the very thing we fear terrorists may do to our cities if given the chance. And where was our Department of Homeland security? Confused? Where was our National Guard? Iraq? What was the plan to evacuate people after such a disaster? Ill conceived?

People can say that we did not see this coming, but we had about as much prior warning as we will ever have for a major urban disaster. This was not a surprise attack like 9/11. This was a hurricane that everyone knew was coming. The Army Corps of Engineers knew the levees may not hold versus a category three or four hurricane. People knew the city was below sea level and may flood. People knew the hurricane was a category four and it landed almost exactly where we thought it would. And yet no plan was in place? I find this discouraging to say the least. I have to go to work every day and do my job. How much more seriously should leaders take their jobs when people's lives rely on their planning? I'll give my money to the Red Cross, but what are we paying taxes for?

And that was just the natural disaster. The next five days were man-made disasters. The hurricane exposed not just flaws in preparation, planning, and prevention, but also our problem of poverty and race. 40% of children in New Orleans live below the poverty line? Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the country? How can we attempt to tell the rest of the world how to live when so many in our own country live hand to mouth, struggling for their basic needs every day?

We are like that obnoxious parent, telling other people how to raise their children, when our own are dysfunctional from example. We want to go break, and rebuild Iraq in a better way and we can't even feed, and provide basic services to many in our own country. We can't even rescue them from a flooded city, after a disaster with a week's warning. It has to make you wonder what would happen if another terrorist attack occurs. After the billions we have spent in Homeland Security, this was a nice test of the results. And the results are shameful, but they also expose the flaws that will need to be dealt with.

I do not say this because I hate America. Of course I believe in the good things this country does, and the ideals which it stands for. But why do we deny the obvious? Kanye West speaks about race being an issue in the slow relief effort, and NBC disavows that statement. It is obviously true. Some politicians try to talk about poverty, and health care, and education, and they are trumped by tough talk about war, brutalizing criminals, and privatizing our social plans. The real war is right here at home, and we have abandoned it.

People seem to hate to use hindsight as a guide. No one wants to learn from Vietnam. No one wants to criticize how we've handled Iraq. No one wants to accept the dark answers that lurk behind what made Hurricane Katrina a human tragedy. Like Rome we are off on far-flung adventures while the problems with the Empire decay it from within. And I guess my point, and the point of many of my posts, is that we can learn from history. An ounce of prevention is worth a proud of cure. Yes, we'll rebuild New Orleans. That goes without question. But will we ever answer the question of race, poverty, urban disaster readiness? Or are those too complex, and too ugly to delve into? Are we made content to take out our problems on other countries, and sweep the real problems at home back under the rug?

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Quote of the Week

"The average person is pretty stupid. And 50% of the people are dumber than that." - George Carlin

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina Fools Everyone

Hurricanes are the Super Bowls of the weather world. When a tropical storm is spotted there is a week-long build-up of suspense: how powerful will it become? Where will it land? How many boats will it toss onto dry land? Everyone from expert meteorologists to budding media lackeys are deployed into the storms gaping maw to give you moment-by-moment coverage.

Last night I watched a gripping piece on CNN, where a reporter from New Orleans was literally phoning in his observations on hurricane Katrina, via video phone. The video and sound were terrible. You couldn't see anything behind him because all the power was out. Nothing was happening because the storm was long-gone. He might as well have been reporting from his darkened basement. But that was news. It sure looked good: a guy standing in his rain coat, the grainy video, the frantic tone in his voice. Until I realized: nothing was happening. He had no purpose to be on his video phone right that second. He wasn't giving us any news other than "it's sure dark out here, and a mess." Wow.

Of course he was competing with Headline News' report: Day 89 of the Natalie Holloway Mystery. They were busy talking about her, while showing her flag corps performance from high-school. What relevance the flag corps performance has is also part of this convoluted mystery.

However, back to Katrina, I think it's amazing that after all the media coverage preceding this hurricane, as many as 80 people may be dead. Surely they knew it was coming. This was not a tsunami without warning. This was a hurricane that hit Florida, rolled into the Gulf of Mexico, gained strength, turned north, and struck almost exactly where experts said it was going to. All of this unfolded on 24-hour news, over the course of the last week. Not to mention that hurricanes are hardly rare to this region.

I'm going to speculate that a lot of this was due to Katrina being a monster storm, and there will always be those crazy few who refuse to leave their homes come hell, high-water, or both. But, I can't help but also think that our current environment of media and news saturation seems to render the average person paralyzed to decipher what is actually meaningful. When "Hurricane Katrina" is covered like a championship football game rather than a life-threatening, property destroying force of nature, how is the average TV junkie supposed to be alarmed? It seems like more and more of life is becoming abstract rather than real.

In the Midwest, I've heard similar discussions about tornado warnings. We're no strangers to thunderstorms and during some months tornado watches or warnings seem to occur almost every day. But, first of all, how many people even know the difference between a watch and a warning? And secondly, when these alerts are flashed on our screen every day, and we live to tell the tale the next morning, how seriously do we begin to take them? There are so many other forces vying for our attention at every turn, our brain has to try to make sense of all this input. What do we take seriously and what is just hype?

We obviously have a hard time discerning the truth when a total failure is re-elected to the highest office in the world. Yes, he has been a perfect storm at home and abroad, a venerable hurricane of bad judgment. This was after he took the media by the hand and told them he was a uniter and not a divider; that he was not interested in nation-building; that a certain Arab leader my have WMDs in his remorseless hands; that we would be greeted as liberators in his country once we took him out. Where was the media over the last five years of this nonsense?

The problem is not that the media can't alert us. It's alerting us all the time. We can get worked up over non-existent WMDs in Iraq, anthrax scares, hurricanes, and Super Bowls, but we're not very good at concluding what is really true and what isn't. We have access to all this news and we seem to be further away from what is real than ever before.

Does the media have an obligation to cut through its own constant hyperbole and try itself to figure out what is newsworthy? I suppose yes and no. In a large sense, they are just delivering a product. People, for some reason, seem to like watching John Kruk on ESPN complain that the squeeze bunt is a lost art. People will make time to watch all kinds of nonsense, but not to try to figure out what is a real threat and when they are being lied to.

In the case of a hurricane, it should be pretty obvious. In a more intellectual exercise like should we have blindly accepted the word of the President? The media should probably have stopped phoning its reports in and actually discovered that Hans Blix, France, and even Saddam were in fact right when they claimed Iraq had no WMDs. Maybe that's expecting too much from the media, who are simply delivering a product like McDonald's or Coke. Maybe people should stop relying on CNN for truth, Disney to raise their kids, McDonald's to turn them into healthy adults, and tough politicians to save them from evil. Maybe people better start thinking for themselves.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Average Wal Mart Shopper Kills Two

As a former cart collector, I find this act extra appalling.

By the way, have you seen Wal Mart shoppers? This guy looks pretty normal. The last time I was there, while I was waiting in line, two "handicapped" individuals were playing bumper cars with their motorized carts. And they seemed to be the only ones in the whole place who knew what the hell they were doing, including employees. This guy, Ed Lui, 53, could have been store manager.

Hurricane Robertson Downgrades to Kidnapping

Taking a break from leading a seminar on how to be more judgmental, "Rev." Pat Robertson backed off his recent assassination talk.

"I said our special forces could take him out. 'Take him out' could be a number of things including kidnapping. There are a number of ways of taking out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted"

Just as there are many ways to interpret the Bible, I suppose it's only fair to admit there are many ways to interpret Pat Robertson's comments. This is the kind of hair-splitting left to a Robert Blake trial.

"When I said 'take him out ' I meant 'convert him to Christ'. This is just another attack on God's people perpetuated by those who hate the light" Robertson later clarified

Of course, Robertson was talking about assassination. What he said about Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was actually, "I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we should go ahead and do it." That's a lot of "ass" being thrown around. And one guy looking like a total ass. Did I just call him an ass? No I didn't.

That seems pretty clear to me. That's almost as crystal clear as Jesus quoting Leviticus 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself." And when Jesus was pressed for clarification, I don't remember him once saying "Oh, I was misquoted. Love? What I meant was, 'quietly put up with'." No, actually when Jesus was asked "Who is my neighbor?" he told a nice little story we know today as 'The Good Samaritan'". Robertson may want to dust off this story (Luke 10:25-37) but what it says is that your neighbor includes even people you loathe and hate-- even modern godless communists!

None of this would really matter if people like Robertson weren't vying for control of our country. People like him, James Dobson, Jerry Farwell, routinely spout this kind of nonsense while attempting to tell us how to live our lives, who should be on the supreme court, and what a person should believe. Howard Stern correctly pointed out that Robertson is a bigger shock jock than he is. Who represents the greater evil? Stern is not trying to tell anyone how to live or how to get into heaven. Robertson does both while being, at his core, no different than any zealous member of the Taliban.

This brand of aggression and ignorance has produced violence and hatred for thousands of years. It is at the core of what we are fighting now. It is at the core of what we declared independence from over 200 years ago. Is this so-called Christian who calls for assassinations any less "indecent" than something the FCC would fine? I would think you do more harm listening to someone like this--someone who attempts to keep you in fear and ignorance by distorting the Bible while claiming to speak for God-- than someone like Howard Stern.

But people believe this guy. After all, no one who professes to know Christ could be an evil man.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Tiger Snaps, Mauls Spectator

The pressure finally got to Tiger Woods as he snapped on the 4th hole of the WGC-NEC International, bounded into the crowd and began to maul a spectator. He was quickly traquilized by handlers, caged, and removed from the course. The spectator, who was startled but not seriously hurt, could later be seen saying, "I was mauled by Tiger. Wait until the guys hear about this one!"

This scene is eerily reminiscent of the time Craig "The Walrus" Stadler got lose in the PGA tent at Augusta National and gored a vendor. How this will effect Tiger's chances remains unclear. He was tied with Vijay Sing for the lead at four under par.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Person of the YTear?

She’s been called everything from an anti-Semite to a traitor by right-wing bloggers. She has been accused of dishonoring her fallen son. She has ignited a national dialogue about the Iraq war. She is my prediction for 2005 Person of the Year.

Cindy Sheehan has started something big. She has given a harsh and callous thing the face of a lost mother in her attempts to get President Bush to describe what “noble cause” her son died for. She has stood up to the political machine.

We know the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The Emperor, obsessed with surface appearance, sent his two servants to inspect a fine, light cloth that was invisible to the unworthy. The servants could not see the cloth, but did not want to admit themselves unworthy, and thus both praised the cloth. The emperor was dressed and showed off his new “garment” in a parade.

All the citizens praised the color, the design of the cloth. All were afraid to admit that they could not see it. Finally a small child noted: “But he has no clothes on at all.”

Sometimes the obvious can be overlooked because no one wants to look stupid. No one wants to be unpatriotic. No one wants to be a pessimist about something as important as Democracy in the Middle East. However, this does not mean the substance claimed to exist exists. Facts are facts.

The war in Iraq, for too long, has been the elephant in the room. It is a conspicuous and remarkable event that has been simply an academic exercise for most Americans who have been asked to give nothing. It has been mired in failures, from it’s first moments of conception—from faux WMD evidence, to lack of planning for post-war stability, to lack of troop armor protection, to Abu Grave. Every day “experts” who should have protected this country’s best interests are giving reports that this war is a total mess and unwinable and a shadow of Vietnam.

Cindy Sheehan has given all of this a face. She is the mother in your neighborhood who has given the ultimate sacrifice and simply wants answers. She, before this week, has had no political agenda, she did not go to Crawford, TX for media attention, and all of that has given her credibility. She is not a stuffed-shirt politician, all of whom who sponsored this war should be ashamed for not having the nerve of this woman to question the Emperor.

But how does the story end? The people soon realized the Emperor was indeed naked.

“The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought that the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater care than ever to appear holding up a train, when in reality there was no train to hold.”

No doubt the President will attempt to continue the procession. But the procession has gone on long enough. It is time to talk about the administration and the war in truth.