January 31, 2009

Facebook Follies

Yeah, I am on the Facebook. Have been, oddly enough, since Carlos (from Jesus Politics) asked me to join an Obama group in February of 2007. For the longest time, I had a few work friends on, and used it so rarely that I always forgot my login. Then my nieces and nephews "friended" me and it became more useful. Over the last year, my friends list has grown to over a hundred people. Some are former students. Others are grad school friends, or just people I have met over the last 15 or so years. Some of my blog friends are on there (though you could blow dust off Leighton's profile--:) ). All of those friendships are fine. Some don't post much, some don't comment on mine. Some are rather vague connections and just acquaintances, really. And yet others are people with whom I communicate regularly through email, chat or in person.

But then I started friending people from the past. I graduated from high school 26 years ago this coming May, and it is connecting to people from that time that makes Facebook just a bit of weirdness. I always think of George Costanza's "worlds colliding" idea when I look at some of these people. I don't know the math, but it seems that for everyone I connect to from the 25 years ago period, there are three or four that are simply "there" and neither evoke good thoughts or memories any more than they do bad. And for every one person that makes me happy to have friended from that time, there are 2 or 3 that just bug the shit out of me.

Here is an example. I was in choir in high school, as I do have some musical and singing ability. As I have told several people recently, I was on the fringes of all the major groups in high school. I was an athlete, but not a jock--a good student, but not an AP nerd--and in band and choir, but not a band nerd. (Apologies to all the nerds reading this. Remember, I spent my adult life reading and teaching history. Nerd-dom is mine.)

Anyway, at the end of my junior year, I decided I was going to quit choir. The director had added some mega-choir combined from all the others, and that mega choir rehearsed over lunch for a half hour every day. As I looked to my relatively easy senior year, I did not want to spend valuable lunch time in that room. I could drive to lunch, and fully intended to do so. So I told my choir director that I was out. He responded in a way that surprised me greatly. He offered me a deal I could not turn down by letting me out of the mega-choir practice and letting me into the elite choir without an audition. I took the deal, and enjoyed that choir experience--and of course, the free lunches while my friends had to attend rehearsal.

Why does this matter? It really doesn't, except one of the high school "friends" that found me through Facebook was in that choir. He was (and is) a serious musician and, and was in band, symphony, and several choirs. As far as I know, he majored in music and tried to do it professionally before becoming a music teacher.

So, I saw his invite, and wrote him a note saying how nice it was to hear from him, and how fun it was in "Singers" that senior year.

He wrote back to say that it must have been a different year, because I wasn't in his annual for that choir.

Sigh.

Facebook weirdness.

January 28, 2009

Snow day frustrations

Yeah, I have a snow day. Technically, yesterday was a snow day too, but I didn't have any classes scheduled yesterday, so that doesn't count. And I know, those of you in northern climes are wondering why Oklahoma shuts down with a hint of slick roads. Remember, we have like 2 snow plows, and one of them is a converted pickup truck (not true, but you get my point) and it doesn't take much to shut down traffic around here. The University has a pretty high number of commuter students, so I am sure that is driving this decision.

Anyway, that gives me time to get some stuff done on the class and maybe do some reading. And blogging.

****

During the campaign, I noted several times my frustration about how conservatives approached Obama, and when Obama failed to fulfill their stereotype, Michelle Obama. She became the "angry black woman" that we were all to fear. Her one statement about being proud of America became more justification to question her patriotism. Sarah Palin's husband joined a separatist movement, but no one questioned her patriotism. Cindy McCain's wealth came purely from the cozy relationship with government regulations, yet her contradictory political stances didn't cause anyone to question her patriotism. We don't question the patriotism of conservatives (I know this is a broken record here) even when they out our CIA agents and endanger our country.

But Michelle is supposed to be scary. Even Juan Williams, who choked up at the sight of Michelle and Barack and their family at the DNC Convention, echoes that stereotype, calling Michelle a "Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress." As Ta-Nehisi says, "are you serious?" You want to invoke the most basic stereotype of black men and women with our new First Lady?

Every time they open their mouths, I lose more respect for our conservative class.

****

Speaking of conservatives, everyone here knows that "abstinence only" sex-ed programs make me furious. Every reputable study shows that they don't work nearly as well as comprehensive sex-ed courses. No problem including abstinence in those other programs, but making it THE program is irresponsible, and dangerous to kids. Hell, as the NYT is reporting, teenagers are not having more sex after all, but those who do are less likely to use contraceptives. So, we are seeing a rise in teen pregnancy. No word on STDS, but that is certainly a logical thing to be worried about as well.

Here is my real frustration. I suspect, and with good reason, that those advocating abstinence-only programs will just ignore this report, as they have any that questioned the actual effectiveness of their programs. Facts just don't matter when you can substitute "belief" or "faith" in their place.

Fine, if you want to believe that way, but please keep your "beliefs" out of my public policy.

****

Sully notes this quote from Kathryn-Jean Lopez, of the NRO:

"We’re a nation not just where you are free to believe or not to believe; we’re a nation founded for Him — so we could praise Him, so we could do His will," - Kathryn-Jean Lopez.
Sigh.

*****

The right wing is in full throat calling any talk about war crimes or investigations partisan hackery. I have been accused of that myself, and told that any desire to hold Bush and Cheney accountable was just political retribution. Sullivan had this to say about Israel's possible war crimes in Gaza
War crimes happen, even when political leaders send the right signals. What distinguishes civilization is a capacity to investigate them and hold the war criminals accountable. Israel, unlike Hamas, is part of that civilization.
We are supposed to be part of that civilization too.

*****

Speaking of crimes. As Bush and Cheney's are dismissed as "policy differences," and Bernie Madoff is living high on house arrest after defrauding millions and ruining countless lives, this story of a homeless man who has been sentenced to 15 years for robbing a bank. At first blush, that sounds ok, but then you read that the guy went in to the bank, told the teller it was a robbery, and then only took one $100 bill off the top. He then surrendered to the police the next day, and pleaded guilty to the crime before being sentenced. No doubt he committed a serious crime, but look at our differing responses. Madoff is negotiated with, and he has done more damage than we can possible imagine for one person. I will be very interested to see if he does as much time as this homeless man. Bush has overseen the deaths of countless people around the world, and his irresponsible policies have endangered Americans here and abroad. He has admitted to authorizing torture and has defended that decision.

He will never be punished for those crimes.

****

More on Torture and Bush and Gitmo. Also from Sully, word that Obama's team met with the security experts in the CIA who were adamant and unanimous that not torturing would not change their ability to gather intelligence. What is more, we learn from the WaPo that the original commander of Gitmo ran it with dignity and under the Army regs. That is, until he was over-ruled by Rumsfeld.

January 27, 2009

Ice storm, 2009--and a reflection on faith and government

And thankfully, at least for those of us in this area, it has been a much less destructive and painful storm. We have electricity and heat--which is pretty damn valuable right now as the temp is right around 22 degrees. The ice turned to sleet (perhaps because it is so much colder) and that has been a welcome change.

****

To clarify my previous rant on Republicans and the economy, let me suggest that my true anger is at policies intended to gut regulation and the inclination to privatize everything. As I have argued here, government can do some good things to make our lives a little better. For me, the true cause of this recent economic collapse is the very destructive ideology of the far right that encourages hatred of government. Governments and government policies should always be questioned, and always watched, but they are not always bad, and Republicans (and many Democrats) would be wise to learn that.

***

Reading through the blogs this morning, I found this nice round-table discussion on faith and politics. Fans of former President Bush may find some thoughts here they agree with, but there are also some very thoughtful critiques. First and foremost is Bush's insistence that "certainty" is somehow a virtue. Perhaps it is, but that certainty has to be combined with serious introspection and thoughtfulness, and our former President lacked those skills.

But here are a few quotes that I liked
"but this demonstrates a failure of Bush's purported faith. The Bush administration's version of truth did not have the gumption to stand on its own merits, but required the endless proliferation of violence to make its cause known. Hence its sad legacy will not be a certitude of truth but in the insecurity of violence."

and
"President Obama is not afraid of doubt. Doubt deepens his faith, echoing poet Robert Browning's sentiment: "I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists." Doubt is the darkness that allows light to be.

Doubt is good. When someone is certain of something, they no longer listen. Without doubt, knowledge slides into inflexible dogma, static and set in time, with no potential of conceptual evolution or growth, even though the world is one of constant change. Mr. Bush sadly exemplified that flaw."
Stay warm and dry. Peace

January 25, 2009

Sunday night--and feeling a little feisty

Perhaps it is the intense congestion from today, congestion that has me hearing through only one ear for most of the day.

Or perhaps it is SOF and I watching West Wing on DVD, and reminding ourselves of the last 8 years of insanity. I think of that when I opened my blog roll this morning to read that John McCain will oppose the stimulus bill as it is written. That is all fine and good. Hell, most of us are unsure how this is supposed to work. The monumental f*$king up of the economy will not be fixed overnight, especially as the Republicans who did the damage continue to offer their suggestions. McCain is doing just that demanding more tax cuts and that Bush's irresponsible tax cuts be made permanent.

Seriously, what in the hell is up with Republicans? Do they all have a carbon monoxide leak? One that tells them that no matter the situation, you must cut taxes? Especially for the wealthiest of Americans?

Perhaps I have a carbon monoxide leak, because just looking at some of these asshats who orchestrated our economic downfall makes me nauseous. I still heard from a conservative friend this week who swore that "supply side" economics was true conservatism, and Bush hadn't done that enough.

The wealthiest among us got richer, and the poorest got poorer, and these people want more of the same. All the while telling us that their moral values are the strongest.

Sigh.

****

Speaking of moral values, one of the more odious parts of the last 8 years was that constant refrain that conservative Republicans were more moral. Their arrogance was understandable in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky story, but the lack of interest in anything beyond the vapid, and supposed faith and family of the Bush's pretty much undermined that belief. Well, not that you could tell from conservatives these days. Over the last few months, we were told that Michelle was not "American" enough and not "Patriotic" enough. They demanded that she prove her loyalty. And our now President was also questionable. His middle name was the same as the former King of Jordan (oh wait, we loved that Hussein), and was suspicious for those who didn't want to admit the racism in their hearts. They persisted even after the election, sending to SOF and myself emails about Obama's supposed invalid citizenship.

Not American enough. Not loyal enough. Not Godly enough. God, I am tired of that nonsense.

I was struck by how many Republicans (and certainly many Democrats) are so quick to speak of their family values. Governor Palin could hardly speak (at one of her canned events) without talking about her great family values. In between stoking the crowds into racist anger, she would remind us all that she had 5 kids and was all about family.

Yeah, right. Whatever.

But one thing that more than a few commenters noticed, was that the more we saw of the Obama family, the more we saw of a normal little family unit. The supposed defenders of family values seem to miss that. Anyone who watched the first couple dance at one of the 10,000 inaugural balls the other night, could not quite miss that these two people genuinely (as far as anyone of us could ever tell from a distance) care about each other. This photo (h/t to SOF) is yet another, that seems incredibly hard to fake.



Make no mistake about it. Even if Michelle and the President loathed each other, I voted for him to actually govern. Their personal life is their personal life, and since they now live in this little fishbowl, we will all observe and take notes. I didn't give a rat's ass that Bill and Hillary had a marriage different from mine, and I also could not care less if George and Laura genuinely care for each other. What mattered was their ability to get things done. But I just want the religious right, who loves to brag about their superior approach to family--I would just love for them to watch this couple and tell me that liberals and Democrats don't care about family.

**

Now, I will go take some decongestants and see if I can get some sleep.

Peace

January 23, 2009

Not even a week

And the Rush Limbaugh's, Sean Hannity's and some wingnut Christian right person from the World Nut Daily are all openly hoping that Obama will fail.

Funny thing really. When people on the left criticized Bush's policies, they were accused of wanting the country to fail and being un-American.

But people on the right can jump straight to hoping Obama will fail, and no one questions their patriotism.

January 22, 2009

Elections matter

And we are seeing that with every executive order from this administration. As I have noted, each smart utterance and each smart appointment makes me that angrier at the stupidity we tolerated for the last 8 years.

Take our approach to terror. As hilzoy notes:
"it's also worth noting Obama's claim that he wants to win the war on terror "on our terms". One of the maddening aspects of the Bush administration's policies in this area was that they so consistently accepted al Qaeda's terms instead of creating their own. This was not just morally repellent, but stupid: in addition to sacrificing a whole lot of good will throughout the world, it made our actions a lot more predictable, and a lot easier to take advantage of.

Al Qaeda could never have destroyed our commitment to liberty, human rights, and the rule of law by itself. It could only hope that we would respond unthinkingly and do the dirty work ourselves. We obliged them, and in so doing did a lot more damage to ourselves than al Qaeda could ever have dreamed of doing. "

We have talked about this before. Under Bush, it is as if we were doing al Qaeda's bidding rather than fighting them. Taking out their hated enemy in Saddam; torturing detainees at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib; ratcheting up fear among the populace; and of course, encouraging that same populace to dispense with historic values because of that fear.

Time we chose differently.

That stupidity isn't going away, of course. I also saw yesterday that Republicans are questioning CIA chief nominee Leon Panetta for his role in extraordinary rendition under the Clinton administration. I have no problem with the questions even if they embarrass the Clintons. We should talk about this. But what is amazingly hypocritical, even for Republicans is that the practice of extraordinary rendition not only went from a smaller program (still wrong) where we sought some assurances that the suspects would not be tortured (certainly a "wink wink" from countries like Egypt) to Bush doing this on a massive scale and including sending suspects (including the innocent Maher Arar to Syria, even though the Bushies considered that country part of the "axis of Evil." Oh, and of course, those same Republicans didn't raise a stink when Bush defended rendition.

By all means, lets talk about it. But the Republicans who tolerated and enabled torture under Bush have no credibility. None.

Elections matter. Voting for stupid people leads to stupid policies. Never forget that.

Few things this morning

Pardon my bit of self-pity yesterday about blog awards. Good Grief. As I noted in the comments, I never wrote this thing to make money or earn praise from people I don't even know. I wrote it for my own sanity, and then was gratified that it grew into a little community of people talking about ideas and making connections. I will take that any day.

****

I was stunned that Fox News' Chris Wallace was out there suggesting that Obama's flubbed oath meant that he wasn't actually President. I can't stand Fox, but am not completely dismissive of all the individual people on there. Cavuto is an idiot, as far as I can tell, and so are all of their morning crew (as are all the morning crews). But Shep Smith (who I don't like particularly) has shown himself to be a rather credible voice. He was very much so during Katrina and also expressed the appropriate amount of exasperation with Joe the Plumber. Wallace, on the other hand, I couldn't quite figure out. On one hand, he would do a good interview, and then act like a right wing shill. This last bit puts him more in the right wing shill, I am afraid.

****

On another note, read a blog this morning that suggested that our old way of seeing the economy didn't fit Obama. Historically, liberals trumpeted regulation and conservatives trumpeted markets. But Obama praises both, and suggests that the market has to be respected as the most powerful force in creating economic wealth and opportunity, but then noting that we have to have a watchful eye on that market. This economic collapse sure suggests that we need to be watchful. Good god, on NPR this morning, economists were suggesting that we were going to have to spend several trillion dollars to keep our banks solvent. As bad as that sounds, the alternative is far worse, and conservatives suggesting that deregulation had nothing to do with the collapse are, I think, losing credibility with each bad economic news item. The market cannot be trusted to just magically do the right thing, as former Fed Chair Greenspan admitted. Government can, and should be the watchdog. Not decide market decisions, but certainly to keep an eye on institutions and corporations who often prioritize their own profits over either economic prudence or the good of the country.

****

Colbert had the Inaugural poet on last night. Her poem has been the least discussed (it seems to me) portion of the inauguration, and when mentioned, mentioned in a negative light. Jon Stewart made fun of it as a way to clear out the millions on the mall, and others have criticized it on content. Sullivan called the poem "pedestrian." I generally like Sullivan, but think he completely missed the boat on Elizabeth Alexander's contribution. In fact, it was "pedestrian" but was intended to be so. I think people like Sullivan wanted her poem to be some kind of classic and soaring ode to the new President. But it was a praise for the ordinary and "pedestrian" things that we all do, and we all participate in. And if you listen to Obama's speech, that is what he emphasized too. For all the talk about him as "pop icon" and "celebrity," (as my friend Ubub pointed out, btw) Obama has emphasized the role of the grassroots and the everyday people in both his campaign, and his answer to the economic and environmental problems. Her poem was great and right on point.

****

And finally, a story from the LA times discussing how Patriot Act laws intended to fight terrorism have been used to prosecute airline travelers who clearly were not terrorists. Perhaps they should have been punished in some way, but one woman was actually jailed after a confrontation with a flight attendant over spanking her own kids. Doesn't sound like she abused the kids, though it does suggest that she lost her cool and was at least partially in the wrong. But the response is scary. It is this kind of stuff that critics warned about, only to be told to stop coddling terrorists and hating America.

Sigh.

In better news, the President's first full day included him encouraging FOIA requests and emphasizing transparency. What a difference an election makes.

January 21, 2009

It is official, I am not as good this year as last

Last year I was nominated for a 2007 Weblog Award and an Okie Blog Award. This year, no Weblog, and now it is official, no Okie Blog Award.

Oh well.

January 20, 2009

Wow, what a day

Couple of last thoughts about the inauguration. The entire day made me tear up more than once (and SOF was often in tears). Seeing Michelle Obama as our First Lady did it. Seeing Barack sworn in (even with Chief Justice Roberts blowing the oath) did it. Hearing the Benediction with the nods to the Civil Rights movement did it. Seeing Barack and Michelle walk outside the limo in the parade did it. Watching this couple dance with such obvious affection for each other did it.

The work starts tomorrow, as they say, but having smart and competent in office makes me happy. Smart is good. Competent is good. We won't fix everything, but today was a start.

A damn good start.

President Obama

Inauguration Day

And it has already been surreal. The comment on my blog, then listening to Tom Brokaw blather on about "Bush holding his head high," "keeping us safe" and then about "Obama moving steadily to the middle" after Republicans had "labeled him the most liberal Senator." Just one picture into the dysfunction of our media--where what the Republicans say is duly noted as the truth, as if that is how media works.

Sigh.

As I have noted, watching competence and intelligence has made me more rather than less angry about the last 8 years. The loss of moral standing and actual political competence is just so stark.

Wolf Blitzer just reminded us that the theme is "Renewing America's Promise" and I can't think of a better way to look at this. From a torturing regime to one dedicated to human rights. From one dedicated to gutting government regulation and environmental protection, to one that sees all of those issues as important and valued. Sullivan notes a wonderful contrast between Bush who dismissed Middle East peace as an area that would produce no Nobel prize, to our new President:
But, as Obama told his listeners at AIPAC last June, there remains the Talmudic imperative of tikkun olam, “the obligation to repair the world.”
Obama hosted a dinner last night for John McCain, and as much as I personally don't like McCain, I am so impressed with the class Obama is showing to reach out to adversaries.

I truly do believe in what Herbert Croly called "The Promise of American Life." I had lost faith in that optimism over the last 8 years. I will watch this inauguration with a renewed sense of hope.

January 19, 2009

I am trying

To write a post on the other stuff that happened to me during the last 8 years--the good, the bad and the painful. But I am really struggling to look past this disastrous ass of a President. Perhaps listening to the list of smart people preparing to take over makes the last 8 years even more painful. Watching Bush in his last few public speeches didn't help either, as I really think the man is an idiot who is in, way, WAY, over his head, but doesn't seem to realize that.

I have noted to a few friends in emails that we will continue to talk about the grinning idiot because his legacy will be with us for generations. If Obama is able to fix just one aspect of Bush's disasters, he will be a success.

Sigh.

Some music for the morning

I am working on a post exploring what this last 8 years has meant to me, but in the meantime, some music from SNL. I don't know how long these YouTube videos will be available, but the Fleet Foxes really sounded great to me, and I enjoyed both songs. I can't quite remember when I have heard such marvelous harmonies from a group like this. And the mando in the second song is also a treat.



and Blue Ridge Mountains

January 16, 2009

More on Bush and his last days in office (Thank God!)

Yesterday, during lunch with my friend Anglican, I brought up the President's farewell address. Anglican just groaned and said that the only reason he even cared about the address, was if it interrupted 30 Rock. I wonder how many turned in to hear him, and wonder just how many people give a damn what he has to say at this point?

I can't remember a President this bad. Don't get me wrong, I remember the last days of the Clinton admin and it was grim then too. We were tired of his antics, and his pardons were really troublesome.

But I just can't wait to see Bush and Cheney out of office. The argument about where he fits in the "worst President" category will consume people for years, but the important part for Bush should be that he is in that discussion. Many noted the word choice from his speech last night, defending his insistence on seeing the world in good v. evil terms, and suggesting that while some might disagree with his hard decisions, they had to give him credit for being willing to make hard decisions. As if the fact that he consistently made the wrong decisions escapes him.

And that was my take-away from last night's address. He simply doesn't get it. His "grinning like an idiot" account of his perceived accomplishes was just sad.

Speaking of his accomplishments, The Economist takes aim at the Frat Boy presidency and the summation is grim.
"The fruit of all this can be seen in the three most notable characteristics of the Bush presidency: partisanship, politicisation and incompetence. Mr Bush was the most partisan president in living memory. He was content to be president of half the country—a leader who fused his roles of head of state and leader of his party. He devoted his presidency to feeding the Republican coalition that elected him."

and this:
The Iraq war was a case study of what happens when politicisation is mixed with incompetence. A long-standing convention holds that politics stops at the ocean’s edge. But Mr Bush and his inner circle labelled the Democrats “Defeaticrats” whenever they were reluctant to support extending the war from Afghanistan to Iraq. They manipulated intelligence to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and had close relations with al-Qaeda. This not only divided a country that had been brought together by September 11th; it also undermined popular support for what Mr Bush regarded as the central theme of his presidency, the war on terror.
They give him credit for trying to be reasonable on immigration, and his efforts in Africa, but the overall score card is not good for this President. The fact that Bush clings to the idea that future people will somehow see him as a misunderstood genius is just more of the sad. More of the sad from a man completely unwilling to look at himself with any honesty.

Sad.

January 15, 2009

Grinning like an Idiot

I am sorry, but that was all I could think of as I watched Bush give his last address.

That man is seriously deluded.

Yikes

January 14, 2009

Daily Show on Bush's last presser

And Jon did a great job last night dissecting the ridiculous Bush Press conference. And every time I see footage, I am reminded of just how ridiculous he has been for 8 years. Jon notes the use of the word "disappointed" which, of course, means that other people let Bush down. He never seems to screw up, but those around him do.

Watch Bush speak and tell me if you don't think he has developed another facial tic with his mouth. Whenever he says something "resolute" or "stupid" his lips purse severely. I don't know if that is an outward expression of inner rage, or if it is just, perhaps him getting more rigid as he has aged in this fishbowl, but it doesn't look good. In fact, during his press conference, it as if every speaking mannerism has been elevated to a caricature. His shoulder's shake all the time. He grins maniacally when saying something not funny.

Anyway. Watch. Oh, and if you are interested, Stewart's next segment was on a "documentary" on how badly the press treated Sarah Palin. I said the other day that Joe the Plumber made Sarah Palin look like an intellectual. Watching her in the brief clips makes me want to apologize to Joe.

January 12, 2009

Abu Ghraib was a "disappointment"

Scanning through the blogs, the reaction to Bush's last presser has focused on a lot of things, including his admission that he should not have pushed Social Security reform right after winning reelection in 2004. Ok, whatever. What struck me was his next "mistake."
"There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way."
Wow. It is almost as if Abu Ghraib and Gitmo just happened, and were not driven by policy from the top. That level of disconnect describes this man's incompetence more than any other.

January 11, 2009

Random Sunday stuff

Feeling oddly disjointed tonight, though have no real explanation. Perhaps I didn't listen to enough music today. I watched the playoff football games yesterday and today. Watched the Pittsburgh/San Diego game this afternoon while bottling my latest home-brewed Porter. (It might be ready to drink in time for the inauguration, so I am calling this one an Obama Porter, or perhaps, The End of an Error Porter. Since I don't print out labels, I am free to change the name whenever I want.)

During the bottling session, I had to listen to the stupid ads during the game, and I don't think I had realized just how stupid so many of them are. The worst, by my count--at least if you are just counting pure stupidity--are the Coors Light ads featuring ex NFL coaches at a fake press conference. Their statements are from actual press conferences, but Coors has thoughtfully given us a gaggle of stupid frat-boys saying stupid stuff to the coaches. Each time I watch it, I am reminded just how bad Coors beer is, and how much their advertisements make me want to not buy their product or be associated with them in any way.

Worst ad of late, however, has to be the Dodge truck ads heavily featured during all the games. Doesn't anyone else find it rather appalling that the domestic car companies are receiving our tax money for a modified bailout, and then flooding the airwaves with ads for the worst environmental vehicles produced by Detroit? I understand the reality, as SOF noted, this is what they have in their inventory, and they are doing what they can to move them. But the sight of the gas guzzling macho trucks being sold by, well, me, makes, well, me a little ill.

Not only the disconnect between the gas guzzler bailout bothered me, but also the macho posturing of the ads. Men yelling and hi-fiving about tool boxes and raw "hemi power." Surely we are beyond some of that macho posturing?

No, of course not.

*****

Speaking of the playoff games, it is always rather fun to watch when you don't have a favorite team. You can just watch to enjoy the game. But after the Eagles defeated the Giants, the interviewer caught Donovan McNabb on the field and asked him how they won. Of course, Donovan said, "well, first, God was with us."

Sigh.

I shouldn't be surprised. Bull Durham is one of my favorite movies and the scene where Crash teaches Nuke the important cliches is one of my favorite scenes. They have all learned that they have to credit God for their win. I should not be surprised by any of this.

*****

And finally, a great post from Jon Swift on President Bush's Legacy that made me chuckle.




Thinking about Gaza

And thinking about this particular narrative. I suspect that most Americans watch this war through a particular narrative of Israel-as-good-or even Godly. For some, of course, this is because of the ties (however tenuous) to the ancient state through which we understand the Bible. For others, it is simply because whatever they might think of Israel, they identify with a common enemy of Islamic fundamentalism. For others, it might be the narrative of the "under dog" which so many Americans identify with.

Those narratives, at least as we witness in our political dialogue, has created an oppositional struggle between good and evil, and with our history and support of Israel, it is clear who is good and who is evil.

That exceptionalism, I think, has created a certain blinder when it comes to seeing Israel as broker in the region. Turn on any talk show, with any politician from any side, and you will hear that particular narrative echoed. Harry Reid said that if Canada or Mexico was sending rockets into civilian areas, we would respond just as Israel has. A former Marine wrote into the Times to respond to that particular claim, and suggested that American soldiers and civilians face just such attacks from far better trained and armed insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But, he notes, American servicemen and women do not respond as the Israelis have, and have studiously avoided firing into civilian areas even when they know that the insurgents are hiding there.
In particular, I am stunned at the Israeli explanation for the 30+ civilians killed at the UN school. The Israelis say they were responding to mortar fire from the school. Mortars are insidious because their high trajectory and lack of primary flash make it very difficult to trace the source of the fire; you have to have a spotter locate the crew. The Israelis claim that they traced the source of the fire precisely to the school; if so, they must have directly spotted the crew. Thus it is inconceivable that the Israelis did not know that the target was a crowded UN school, yet they chose to fire on the school anyhow. I say without hesitation that this is a criminal act. If the Israelis had said, “sorry, it was an accident”, that could indicate a targeting problem, confusion, or inferior training. But to openly admit that they responded reflexively to the Hamas fire without consideration for the inevitable civilian casualties is beyond the pale. The Israelis blame Hamas for firing from the school (although UN personnel on the ground dispute this), but choosing to fire directly at civilians is far worse; it is tantamount to murder. US servicemen do not behave that way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we face much deadlier adversaries (Hamas mortar crews are apparently not very effective: I believe that all but one of the total Israeli combat fatalities have been from friendly fire). In the rare and unfortunate cases where US personnel have willingly targeted civilians, they have been court-martialed and punished.
Israel should be seen as any other nation state trying to defend itself, and should be held accountable for when they, like other nation states, over-react and cause more harm then they have to in war. In other words, the counter narrative here is not to see Hamas as some kind of "freedom fighter" going against an evil colonial regime, but to see Israel as over-reacting--perhaps understandably, but still over-reacting to terrorism. As one writer noted (lost the link) Israel has fallen into a rather dysfunctional way of responding to their enemies, and seem to have decided to respond with hatred to hate, and with killing to loss. One TMP writer compared this conflict to the Spanish Civil War where many Americans and Brits imagined (correctly) that Franco was a terrible enemy, but missed that those fighting for the Communists were hardly better. When George Orwell tried to point that out, he was shunned by those who wanted to see those battling Franco as good.

Not comparing Israel to either side, actually, but merely noting that in this particular war, good versus evil is not a useful narrative, and, I believe, stops us from getting to any kind of genuine solution. Bush didn't invent this approach, but he seemed to canonize it into American policy. Perhaps if this were a conflict in Africa or South America, Americans would be able to see both sides with some degree of clarity--clarity that they lack when they see Israel.

January 9, 2009

More on superficial spirituality in our culture

Thinking about people misusing faith, I am struck by a couple of links today.

James Fallows notes a disturbing trend of President's ending every speech with "May God Bless America" and comments that it was not always so.
"But then Ronald Reagan began using the phrase to mean 'The speech is over now,' and ever since then politicians have seemed afraid not to tack it on, perhaps out of fear that we'll have the aural equivalent of phantom-limb pain if we don't hear the familiar words."
It still strikes me as odd that conservative Christians claim to be persecuted when the powerful all go out of their way to be the most Christian.

*****

Then, we find that Joe the Plumber simply will not give up the stage. I will say this for the man. He makes Sarah Palin look positively intellectual. Good old Joe is going to Israel to report on the war, because, as he put it, we "aren't getting the real story," or something to that effect. As Jon Stewart noted last night, Joe is hard at work trying to prepare, you know, learning "how to pronounciate some of the names." No, that is not a typo.

But this was my favorite part:
Wurzelbacher said he was not concerned about heading into a warzone for a 10 days.

'Being a Christian I'm pretty well protected by God I believe. That's not saying he's going to stop a mortar for me, but you gotta take the chance,” he told WNWO."

See, that is the problem with all the people suffering in the world. They aren't Christian so God doesn't protect them.

I am with Jon Stewart. Can't Joe just GO AWAY? Now.

Sigh.

January 8, 2009

Football and God

Just watched the NCAA national football game and it was a heartbreaker for OU. Florida played a very good game, and I think OU left some points on the field. But overall, a good game and one that national observers would have to agree was worthy of the 1 v. 2 matchup.

Hard to watch. Tough for me, but only because I am a fan, and it is fun cheering for your team. This isn't life, and I know that very well. Many around me take this game, and every sporting event at OU very seriously. For some, it is a distraction from life. For others, an obsession. For many, just fun. This was a very good game, however, and I am glad I watched it. It was not an embarrassment as so many have been, but a well-played (for the most part) and well strategized game.

But in the middle of this, I have to note an issue I have with athletes and Christianity. I ignored the post-game conferences, because I don't want to hear Tebow credit Jesus for his win. It isn't just Tebow. It bothered me, frankly, when Sam Bradford made a point of connecting his Heisman Trophy win to God. If God chooses the Heisman Trophy winner, then I have to ask what the hell he is thinking. I remember Ben Roethlisberger saying that God made him a starter on his college squad. The guy who was benched, of course, wasn't worthy of God's favor. Or the time a mike caught David Carr thanking Jesus for a downfield completion. (Considering Carr's career, perhaps I should be more kind. Perhaps he was thanking God for any completion.) God reduced to the puppet master for the rich and powerful, and throughout the land, churchgoers who should know better nod their head, or say "amen," because they have been taught to do that. And since they believe they are "under siege," they see these vapid displays of "faith" as something far more meaningful than they are.

Tim Tebow does that kind of stuff on a daily basis. He grew up in a missionary household, and for all I know, doesn't know any better. I know he thinks that is ministry and "witness," but it makes me a little ill. I have to imagine that God finds it pretty demeaning that he evidently prefers one Christian athlete over another in a game with no intrinsic meaning. Or prefers one Christian over a non-Christian in points scored and yardage gained. Or prefers one Christian over a "lesser" Christian. Or prefers one pretty-boy athlete for fame and fortune over another one.

Many have noted that success is often a horrible teacher. Tebow and Roethlisberger learn the absolutely wrong lessons from success. They look like the body builder troops who attribute their muscle mass to God, without even considering what that means to the weaklings and handicapped. The look like the John Rockefeller types who believe that God wanted them to become wealthy, while ignoring the poor workers who built his empire. Failure, as many far wiser than me know, is often the best teacher. Not because it leads to some ultimate football or political success. But because it teaches you who you are.

Jesus didn't hang with the pretty people in South Beach, nor the star athletes in Norman. He didn't go to soirees in the gated communities, nor wear the Italian suits of the wealthy and the powerful. He didn't ride in limos. He didn't attribute arbitrary points to God's favor, nor affluence and wealth. Those are American creations, and American creations that have become some kind of perversion of faith.

To quote from Holden Caufield, "Jesus would have puked."

January 7, 2009

Wednesday news

Lot going on, and unfortunately, not much of it is good. I am still wondering where the endgame for Israel is in Gaza. It seems to me that they have made the Bush error in assuming that what they can do militarily is what they should do, and that that military action will solve their problem. What is more, as Sullivan notes in this thoughtful post, there are serious questions about the justness of this war. I am wondering if the idea of the Just War Doctrine has gone the way of the Geneva Accords. I hope not.

*****

We have just spent a year debating the state of our race relations. Not sure what conclusion we came to, except that we had made some progress--enough to allow the country to push past historic prejudice and elect Barack Obama. Oddly enough, following his historic election, we saw a return to old-school racial politics when Rep Bobby Rush of Illinois claimed that the Senate's hesitation to seat Ronald Burris was a replay of George Wallace's segregationist tactics. No, when Sarah Palin was urging her fans to exhibit racial hatred, that was racist. Rejecting Burris was stupid on legal and political grounds. Blogojavech is an idiot and a criminal, but he is still Governor and this appointment, absent any evidence to the contrary, is legal. Change the law for the future. Run an African American candidate. Whatever. But this appointment controversy is not about George Wallace. It is about a corrupt Governor and a weak and ham-handed Senate Majority leader.

But racism is not over, and we all know that. One of the facts of racism in this country is the racial profiling and disproportionate response to people of color by some in our law enforcement community. In a very disturbing story from the Bay Area, a BART cop evidently pulled a gun and shot a black suspect in the back--even as the man lay on his stomach on the ground beneath him.

Perhaps this is not about race. Perhaps this is a continuation of what seems to be an encouragement of more brutal police tactics. Just recall both political conventions and the blanket arrests of anyone even appearing to protest, or even cover the protests. Or what seemed like a trend of cops tasering suspects needlessly. Perhaps this is about that. Over-reaction in the post-9-11 world. I don't know. But the story makes me a little ill.

*****

I saw a bumper sticker at yoga yesterday with a W on it, and the phrase "still the president" underneath. Not completely sure what side, but I think it is about Bush fatigue, not an endorsement. I thought of that this morning when I read this story about Obama and the Blair house. I had heard about it for a month or so, but had dismissed it as probably not what it appeared. Still not earth shattering, but it appears that the Bush people just denied the Obama family the Blair house out of spite. They told the Obama people back in December that the guest quarters were already booked with foreign dignitaries. But no dignitaries were actually booked, and after that, the Bush people evidently asked former Australia PM John Howard to stay at the Blair House (for one night, mind you) so they had a plausible example. Nevermind that the Obama's are staying in a very nice hotel, but that also requires extensive, and expensive security at that hotel--security that was already available at Blair.

*****

Part of me will miss the man Garrison Keillor called the "cheerful idiot," but most of me will just be glad he is gone. Greenwald notes the very important change in policy Obama signaled with the appointment to the OLC of Dawn Johnson. Not only is she well qualified, but she is, as some have noted, the "un-John Yoo."

In other words, we are seeing evidence that Obama's people will actually reverse the horror of Bush's torture regime. As Keillor suggested, that won't sway Bush. One thing we learned of this man over 8 years is that he is incapable of self-inquiry or question. What he does is right, and is what God wants him to do, and naysayers are simply proof he is right.

****

But just as we are seeing the end of this disaster, we are seeing conservatives suddenly recover their fear of a powerful President. Unbelievable. They defended every excess of Bush either under the idea that he was inherently good and trustworthy, or because the conditions of wartime meant that he had to have more power and only traitorous gay terrorist flag burning abortionists would disagree. For a better example of this insanity, witness the unbelievable specter of the aforementioned torture enabler John Yoo and the man who still wants us to invade, well, everyone, John Bolton writing in the NYT that we need to be wary of a strong President Obama and that Congress should assert oversight. Kos diarist Hunter attempts to explain just how funny this is:
Let me attempt to describe this. Suppose a dozen clowns die in a circus fire. Not funny. Now, if a dozen clowns burst into flames while attempting in unison to program their VCR: funnier. Now suppose a dozen clowns beat each other to death with whole, unfrozen bluefin tuna: goddamn hilarious. (Let it be said, for the record, that I am indifferent to clowns, except that I have it on good authority that circus clowns have no souls.) Watching the legal wranglers of torture, "preemptive" military action and Unitary Executive-ism pen an ode to the proper encumbrance of executive power? It is at least clown-and-tuna funny.


Sigh.


Of course, we won't be rid of the wingnut idiots even after that. I fully expect Republicans to suddenly rediscover all sorts of conservative adages about the "rule of law" and "problems of unchecked executive power." They will rediscover their love of oversight and even the quaint "checks and balances."

Sigh.

January 6, 2009

One of those weeks.

This has been a weird week. On a sad note, my father's older brother passed away over the weekend. He was in his late 80s and had been in ill-health for sometime, but I will miss him. My Uncle Jack was a good guy. He served as a civilian in World War 2 and was a very smart and funny man. I will remember just how well he always treated me whenever I saw him.

This is, as my father noted on the phone, just one of those things. But ...

****

I am also trying to get ready for the upcoming semester and also trying to unkink my muscles from the last month of inactivity/driving/sitting. SOF and I did yoga this morning for the first time in nearly a month and it really felt good. I am a little sore, but so much better than I was over the weekend.

Anyway. I am hoping to blog some this week on the political news of the week, but just have been distracted with other stuff.

January 4, 2009

Conservatives unhinged on Gaza?

As I noted the other day, I understand that few areas are more complicated than the chasm between Israel and the Palestinians. This conflict has the weight of ancient history and the weight of modern global politics all viewed through the lens of a particular Biblical view of the region. That last part, it seems to me, particularly muddles our ability to see this region and this conflict clearly.

Certainly smarter people than me know more about this conflict, but the recent Israeli attack on Gaza followed by their ground invasion makes me very, very uncomfortable. I certainly understand the problem of what Hamas is doing with the rocket attacks and those are clearly wrong. But punishing the entire Gaza community to get to those bad actors seems disproportionate.

What is worse is how many conservative Americans seem to be stoking this fire. Greenwald notes the response from former McCain/Palin spokesman and current Weekly Standard editor to a particular Israeli attack on a Gazan home that killed a top Hamas leader along with numerous family members.
The fight against Islamic radicals always seems to come around to whether or not they can, in fact, be deterred, because it's not clear that they are rational, at least not like us. But to wipe out a man's entire family, it's hard to imagine that doesn't give his colleagues at least a moment's pause. Perhaps it will make the leadership of Hamas rethink the wisdom of sparking an open confrontation with Israel under the current conditions.
As Yglesias noted, this is the ethics of terrorism:
This kind of moral posture is not unheard of, of course. But it’s strange to see the ethics of Osama bin Laden being explicitly adopted by the organs of mainstream conservatism.
What else do you call the sentiment that killing a person's family will force someone else to change their politics? The fact that this comes from a leading conservatives suggests that the neo-con approach to the world--whatever we do is justified because we are us--is still very much alive and well. That sentiment, of course, justified the recent invasion of Iraq, torture and rendition, and the warrant-less wiretapping of American citizens--all justified because those making the decisions believe themselves to be morally justified to do immoral acts for you and I. From a moral perspective, it is shocking and horrifying. Made even more horrifying to see the conservative moral community endorse such actions.

15 days left in this disastrous administration, and hopefully only 15 days left in a world where neo-cons like Goldfarb's justification of terrorism and war crimes turns into policy.

January 3, 2009

Best of 2008

I have already listed most of the albums that I found most interesting for this year. Kathleen Edwards, Alejandro Escovedo, Centro-Matic, the Raconteurs and, of course, The Hold Steady. There are others. My Morning Jacket and Vampire Weekend both proved to be far more interesting than I had anticipated. I just downloaded the Fleet Foxes album, and as Ubub told me, I do like it a lot. All of these are worth listening to multiple times. I have others in the sidebar, but these are truly my favorites.

But what else was a favorite of 2008?

  • Goes without saying that one of my favorite moments was that Tuesday evening in early November when America voted against the Republican policy of the last 8 years, looked past prejudice, and actually voted for someone smart. That certainly made the list, because I was pretty nearly convinced that McCain would still win, despite all the problems. I was reminded of that the other night, when I remembered the RNC convention. My back was hurting so very badly, and Sarah Palin scared me very much--at least, as SOF pointed out, until she started speaking. That was a low moment for the year.

  • Best live music. We didn't do as much live music this year as in the past, but saw a few good shows. Top of that list, I think, would have to be Slaid Cleaves here in Norman. Tremendous show and he demonstrated, again, why he is one of the best artists that most have never heard of. Also loved the Greencards, and another contender was seeing my friend Terry Ware's Shambles play at the Norman Music Festival.

  • Best book. I read quite a lot, but yet struggle to come up with good books to pass on. For this year, however, the best book was Tony Horowitz' Blue Latitudes--which was the reading I chose for our trip to Hawaii. I could not possibly have chosen a better book for this particular trip, and my only regret was that it wasn't just a little longer. I finished it in Hawaii and had to scrounge to find something to read on the way home. This book centered me on this cruise and gave me a historical and cultural context to understand the Pacific.

  • Best Vacation. We skied in Taos in March and had a great time, but it is very hard to match the trip to Hawaii. Thanks to SOF's parents, we had the vacation that we would never do on our own--truly a one-in-a-lifetime type trip.

  • Best Family moment. And we had a lot this year. The aforementioned Hawaii trip included several such great moments with the family. But beyond Hawaii, we had a lot of great family connections. We began 2008 with our nieces K and M, and my parents, in Oklahoma City freezing in the New Year. We met my folks in San Antonio for K's graduation, and then, of course, had a snowy Christmas in Colorado just last week. It was a good year for family, and I hope 2009 is another.

    ----

    I am sure there is more that I would like to add to this list, and I probably will as I think about the past year, but this will suffice for now. I know this is the 3rd of January, but I am still in New Year's mode and wishing you all a great New Year.
  • January 1, 2009

    Recent Comments still not working

    But I checked on Blogger and it appears to be a known issue. Sorry, and hope we can get it working again.

    Happy 2009

    And hoping that you and yours are well.