Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday Music Blogging

Goodbye, you nasty son of a bitch. I'll miss you.

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
My father always expected better from us. I recall one report card in junior high, two year SP, I was taking high school algebra and biology, where I averaged...averaged...98 out of 100, and was questioned relentlessly about those last two points.

He expected no less from himself. I remember visiting his mechanical drafting class as he tried to move from carpentry to contracting. I remember studying his library, and amongst the Len Deighton and Edgar Rice Burroughs books, being shocked to find a calculus self-study book.

A more determined, tenacious man I would never imagine existing.

Horribly injured fighting in a war to protect his homeland, shrapnel lodged within millimeters of his heart, he found the courage and determination to keep going when a lesser man would have succumbed to the pain and fear.

Not content with having stared death in the face and overcoming it, he and his young bride came to a foreign country thousands of miles away to start a new life with no guarantee beyond the promise of America looming in his ears.

Started a family.

Suffered the deaths of two infant children to raise three others.

Many in his position would have taken to a sybaritic lifestyle, surrendering to the forces of chance and nature, believing themselves to be pre-destined to failure, wallowing in short, Republicans!

One cultural trope that my father embodied and promoted here was “sisu”, a word that is not easily translated into English, because it means more than determination or tenacity, more than mule-headed stubbornness.

George Washington’s troops at the Delaware had “sisu”. “Sisu” is the guiding principle of the Finnish people, a people who needed that tenacity, ferocious determination, and courage, guided by the dreams of a better life, more than any other people on the planet.

My father was sisu incorporate. A more determined, tenacious man I would never imagine existing.

My father taught me the importance of strength, perserverance, persistance. The importance of resilience.

And for me, more than my siblings, the importance of being faster than the guy swinging the belt.

He taught me courage and determination. He taught me sisu

My father grew up in a world where horses were how you went from point to point, where planes didn’t exist and cars were for the filthy rich. Telephones were rare. Photographs cost enormous amounts of money. Computers would have been the figment of some science fiction writer’s dreams, if science fiction even existed. People lived into their 40s, 50s if they were lucky. A man who made a thousand dollars a year was well-off.

He leaves behind a world where man touches immortality on the Internet, and in bio-technology. Where I can see someone in China as easily as the person across the street in the window and e-mail him a picture of myself in the blink of an eye.

Where our children dare dream of conquering God himself, if only to prove His existence.

So, Death, be not proud. Our best man doth with thee now go, and after his short sleep, is awake eternally. And watch out for his sisu. He might end up taking your job.


My dad died this morning, so I will likely not be blogging very much for the next few days.

Thanks to those of you who have filled my mailbox with your wishes. I will post my thoughts at some point, once the initial shock passes.

It's odd, because this was not unexpected. In fact, I came up only a month short of my prediction as to the date. And yet, here I am, stunned.

Today, my parents would have been married some 60-odd years. I should have figured he'd pick the most drama-queen day to die.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

More Double Plus Ungood News...

We need this like we need a hole in our collective head:
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkey has sent large contingents of soldiers, tanks, guns and armored personnel carriers to reinforce its border with Iraq -- amid heated debate over whether to stage a cross-border offensive to hit Kurdish rebel bases.

The military has said the border reinforcement is routine in summer, to prevent guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, from infiltrating from bases in northern Iraq.

For weeks, television stations have broadcast images of military trucks rumbling along the remote border with Iraq's Kurdish zone, and trains transferring tanks and guns to reinforce an already formidable force in the area.

"The PKK must be eliminated as a problem between Iraq and Turkey," Turkey's special envoy to Iraq, Oguz Celikkol, told CNN-Turk television on Wednesday after visiting Baghdad this week.

Asked whether Turkey could take unilateral action, Celikkol said: "Our expectation is that this issue is resolved before it comes to that point."
The Middle East is beginning to look like Central Europe just before World War I: too many uncertainties and exposures, and not enough cooler heads to prevail.

Your history books taught you that World War I was precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. While there can be no doubt that this was the match that lit the fuse, the powder keg was put in place long before that, making a random event like the assassination of a minor duke the flashpoint for global conflict.

Among the real causes of the war are the following:

1) An arms race between Britain and Germany (see Russia and US re-armament)

2) Precipitously reactionary battle plans, specifically Germany's quick thrust battle plan against France, freeing it to fight Russia in the east. (see: American fleet off the Iranian coast)

3) Militarism and autocracy had too much power in the nations that made up the combatants. (Errrrr, I think these parallels are obvious to today's situation)

4) The balance of power favored keeping all nations making alliances and deals behind other nations' backs, thus insuring a balance of power on a very unsteady fulcrum.

5) Economic imperialism, in the form of grabbing developing markets (in today's case, supply markets that are collapsing)

6) Trade barriers, which unfairly imposed hig tariffs on poorer nations. (ahem)

7) Ethnic and political rivalries, such as the Balkan wars, and the Ottoman Empire decline (Sunni, Shi'ite, Kurds)

Not a pretty sight, these past few days on the foreign front, but damned if you read about any of this in your morning newspapers...

Pas De Deus Ex Machina

Whoa boy!
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's test firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday was in response to U.S. steps that have sparked an arms race and undermined world security, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.

"Our American partners have left the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty. We have warned them then that we will come out with a response to maintain the strategic balance in the world," Putin told a news conference.

"We conducted a test of a new strategic ballistic missile with multiple warheads, and of a new cruise missile, and will continue to improve our resources."

"We are not the initiators of this new round of the arms race," said Putin. "(Our partners) are stuffing eastern Europe with new weapons. A new base in Bulgaria, another in Romania, a site in Poland, radar in the Czech Republic . . . what are we supposed to do? We cannot just observe all this."

Russia test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday featuring multiple warheads that senior officials said could pierce any missile defense system, including the planned U.S. shield in Europe.
I'm sorry....the world's not scary enough????

Not that we didn't see this coming. Even regular readers of this blog had to know:
“The Cold War left us ‘unexploded bombs’ – double standards and templates of bloc-centered thinking,” Putin said at a security conference in Munich on Saturday.

“A single-polar world has never come around. No latter(sic) how much this term is adorned, it means only one thing – one centre of power, one centre of force, the world of one master, one sovereign. This is pernicious for the system itself and for the sovereign, too, because destroys it from within,” the president said.
Remarkable in this short excerpt from the speech (deliberately posted by the Russian government on the Tass website) is the veiled threat that Putin makes in the guise of a prediction: that the US will destroy itself. This hearkens back to Kruschev's "We will bury you" 1960 speech at the United Nations, which is often deliberately misquoted to mean that the Soviet Union, through its aggression and actions, would overtly destroy the US, when what he said could also be construed as "we will outlast you and see you at your funeral."
So it's not really fair to call today's story a deus ex machina, although it certainly comes as a surprise...and a shock to the storm troopers of the right who probably believed Putin was as cowed by Bush as Bush was by Putin.

You heard me..."cowed". Despite the braggadoccio of this administration, the clear pattern of Bush's dealings with Putin have always been an attempt to impress upon Vladi his strength and his seriousness.

The problem for Bush is, Putin reads the newspaper. And his intelligence reports. Hell, he probably watches CNN International!

Bush has become the laughingstock of the world, and the US is paying a dear price for his idiocy. An immature, spoiled little brat, who clowns around at the drop of a hat with people who have earned the respect of being treated with dignity.

One can understand that the buffoon himself is uncomfortable with the trappings of office: since he never really had to work hard at anything, having "people" handle things for him (like getting him out of the draft, like bailing his businesses out, like paying for a new stadium for his team, like stealing elections for him), he never felt he deserved the majesty of office.

Fine. But people like Angela Merkel deserve better than to be molested in a G8 meeting. She worked hard for her money.

And Vladimir Putin rose up through the ranks of a notoriously vicious and shark-infested agency, the KGB. To think that he's going to take Bush seriously at all was a joke, and that's before you take into account his clowning.

It's hard to imagine this comparison, but the poor kid from Hope, Arkansas, who had a hardscrabble existence, born of a poor family, who sweated and worked hard to make something of himself, had more polish and class and elegance than the guy born with the silver tea set in his mouth, third generation scion of a political dynasty, who attended Exeter and Andover and Yale and Harvard, all on his family's name.

God help us if we ever elect another Bush.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hump Day Comedy Blogging

Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner - The 2000 Year Old Man

As funny today as it was forty years ago.

One day, I'll have to relate my many Mel Brooks stories, including how stuff me and his kids did ended up on Get Smart!.

What? You didn't think the shoe phone was his idea, did you??? ;-)

The Unvarnished Truth

Events of the past few months have made one thing pretty evident to me. I'm not sure what to do about it, other than either co-opt, or work from the inside out.

Or perhaps foment revolt.

None of those is a particularly palatable choice, in my opinion.

I don't consider myself an idealist, by any stretch of the imagination. I find some of the idealists I read on blogs and in comments...quaint. Naifs who mutter dramatic change is in the wind, forgetting the simplest truths about politics.

We have what we wanted, but our deepest suspicions are being realized: the Democrats are only slightly more interested in our welfare and opinions as the Republicans. This was, of course, not unexpected. Power corrupts, and money is power, so in order to keep one's addiction to power intact, one must keep the money flow intact.

Benign tyranny is tyranny nonetheless, and while I might make a wonderful benevolent dictator, the simple fact is, unless the people are involved and engaged in the decisions of their government, unless they can believe that their voice is heard and making a difference, then the social contract with government is lost.

Third party politics may be ripe for taking serious bites out of the mandate of the current two parties, but analyses of history show that third parties, with one exception, fall woefully short of the mark.

The sole exception? The current Republican party, which arose to oppose the expansion of slavery into the Kansas territories, but who never really united as a unified party until 1896, despite electing President after President (Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, McKinley, interrupted only by Grover Cleveland...does that scenario sound familiar?). Republicans absorbed the Whigs, who were deeply divided over the slavery question, thus morphing a fractious coalition of people whose only common ground was a hatred of Andrew Jackson's imperialist treatment during his tenure in the White House (again, sounds familiar), said fervor dying on the vine.

All this swirls in the background like a dust devil at a duel. The matter at hand is, what to do about the Democrats?

I'm angry. I'm angry at the war vote. I see no good excuse for not forcing Bush's hand, at least a little bit. I see no good excuse for not at least trying to staunch the flow of the blood of young Americans as quickly as politically possible, if not humanly possible.

I see no good excuse why there's not at least the serious hint of impeachment talk floating around DC. I see a lot of posing about accountability. I see a path to the 2008 election, and that path can go one of two ways: either reveal the true depths of the corruption of this administration, and win the Presidency (but lose the facility to indulge yourself in the same spoils of victory), or ignore it except as a de facto totem of Republican cronyism to tar the next candidate with, and win the Presidency.

But lose on principle.

I'm angry that not a peep about investigating the 2004 election (nevermind the 2000 election), aside from the occasional press release from Congressman Conyers office, has been raised. This is a lot more important than even the US attorney scandal, which at best is a warping of questionable Constitutional authority: this strikes deep at the very heart of our democracy. One man or woman, one vote.

I'm angry that oil executives from across the country aren't being hauled in front of a Congressional committee to explain why gas prices are so high. Are we conducting legislative business on the Today Show?

Mostly, I'm angry that the Democrats aren't baring teeth, and my suspicions grow daily, the more and more they gum their prey.

I've been a lifelong (literally. I worked on the Humphrey/Muskie campaign in sixth grade) Democrat, and while my opinions have changed, and my take on reality has matured, and I've gained an appreciation regarding compromise and realpolitiks, I've never held anything less than regard for the ideals of the party: that people matter, that business is a dangerous wolf at the door most of the time and that we need to be protected from that, as well as other insidious creations of the Republican right, like blurred church-state separations.

I want to believe, despite the fact that it gets harder and harder to believe. The evidence in front of my eyes grows daily. I want to believe that there's some soopersekrit plan to take back America by the Democrats, that they'll resist the Siren call of campaign money, of power, and rule wisely. I want to believe that all of us can do well again, as we did under Bill Clinton.

Mostly, I want my country back.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

File This Under "Just Weird"...

I'm not sure I understand the fascination with beauty pageants (aside from the, you know, swimsuit contest). Apparently, I'm not alone, as the Miss America pageant has hit upon hard times, and ratings spiral downwards for others.

Now, tho, it seems they've become political commentary:
This year's contest was marked by controversy, with a handful of Mexicans booing (Miss USA, Rachel) Smith in the run-up to the finals because of what they saw as U.S. unfriendliness toward illegal immigrants.

Miss Sweden, Isabel Lestapier Winqvist, unexpectedly pulled out of the event because of complaints in her country that it degrades women. Sweden has won the Miss Universe crown three times in the past.

In another hitch, Miss Mexico was made to change her outfit for the regional dress contest after her original dress, decorated with brutal images of rebels in a 1920s religious uprising being hanged or shot, drew accusations of poor taste.[...]

[Also, this year's pageant] attracted protesters wearing white dresses splashed with fake blood and sashes proclaiming "Miss Juarez", "Miss Atenco" and "Miss Michoacan" in reference to places in Mexico made infamous by killings or sexual abuse of women.
The contest is run by Donald Trump, so undoubtedly, the cynic in me sees "ratings ploy" blaring overhead like a casino sign.

Still, that a reasonably placid event like a beauty pageant should have not one but four distinct political protests is unheard of in the annals of controversial events. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, or in fact, nothing at all.

I tend to lean towards the latter, but that's how I feel about beauty pageants in general.

Should the pageant continue to reflect politics, however, history may look to this as it's most appropriate political statement:
USA falls on her ass.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Thought On Memorial Day

I know, we're all supposed to post these paeans to the fallen who have fought and died for our nation, or else be slammed as being anti-American.

OK, so here's mine:
I honor the sacrifices men, women, and families have made in the conflicts that have shaped and created this great nation. I just wonder if they're rolling in their graves, realizing that Bush has made those struggles amount to naught?

The Anti-Bush?

Or the leftist Antichrist?:
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela shut down an opposition television channel on Monday and replaced it with one promoting President Hugo Chavez's self-proclaimed socialist revolution in a move widely criticized as a threat to democracy.

Chavez has long sparred with opposition channels, which he calls "horsemen of the apocalypse" for backing a botched coup against him in 2002.

His opponents say the internationally condemned closure of RCTV will damage freedom of expression in the OPEC nation.

"This has exposed the abusive, arbitrary and autocratic nature of Chavez's government, a government that fears free thought, that fears opinion and fears criticism," said Marcel Granier, chief of RCTV, the country's oldest broadcaster.
He sounds practically Republican in this action.

Hugo Chavez is an intriguing political figure, at once attractive to the left in this nation for standing up to the hegemonic regime of Bush and his junta, and repulsive to those of us who fear repression by a centralized authority.

His favor-currying feats are the stuff of legend: selling cheap heating oil to the urban poor this past winter through his (nationalized) Citgo oil company leaps to mind, as well as his jumping on any bandwagon that makes him appear to be anti-Bush.

His repression of his own people should be a great concern to those who feel Chavez is a model of a modern leader in the 21st century. This move comes on the heels of his wresting control of all the oil facilities in Venezuela, no matter who owned them.

Not that the RCTV was angelic in this matter. After all, as the voice of the opposition, they could hardly be counted on to fairly represent the news out of Caracas if it ran counter to their beliefs, such as in 2002 when in the middle of a coup, Chavez's forces began to turn the tide, and suddenly the network, which had been running political programming 24/7, switched to old movies and cartoons.

He has politicized the judiciary system of Venezuela (sounds familiar, doesn't it?), he seized power (admittedly for only one year) away from the legislature, which gave him broad powers to rule by decree, ignoring anything the National Assembly did in 2001 (again, sound familiar?), and essentially wrested control of the military by firing generals who disagreed with him (ditto?).

Granted, many of the reforms he has implemented have been to the benefit of the poorest Venezuelans, giving free education to the college level, for example. The price of these giveaways to the average working Venezuelan cannot be ignored, however.

Where Bush might be a sheep in wolf's clothing, Chavez is distinctly a wolf in a sheep suit.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What Is It About Texas Politicians....

...that makes them a) so hated and b) dictatorial?:
AUSTIN, Texas -- Hours after lawmakers who tried to overtake the speaker's podium seeking to oust him were physically restrained, House Speaker Tom Craddick charged through a rowdy floor session Saturday without ceding his coveted post.

The House parliamentarian resigned on the verge of tears earlier as Craddick beat back a rebellion from opponents seeking a vote on his leadership.

Democrats and Republicans alike complain that Craddick has ruled with an iron fist. They say his win-at-all-cost style often forces them to vote against the interests of their own districts.
Craddick is a Republican, which in Texas is equivalent to being a Stalinist. Democrats in Texas are generally equivalent to moderate-to-right-leaning Republicans elsewhere.

The story gets even more intriguing:
Craddick's third two-year term does not expire until the next legislative session convenes in January 2009, but discontent in the chamber is fueling a plot to force him out before the session ends Monday. In the last week, four Republicans, including Rep. Fred Hill, have filed their candidacies to be speaker if Craddick is ousted.

Capping a week of simmering discord, Hill made a request Friday night that would allow the 150-member chamber to vote to oust Craddick. Craddick, often called the most powerful man in state government, refused to recognize Hill to make the motion, then hustled back to his office suite amid a cacophony of boos.
First off, you read that correctly: the Texas legislature, by constitutional mandate, only meets every other year, usually for just a couple of weeks. We get a glimpse as to why George Bush thinks Presidenting is hard work. Congress meets every year for months at a time!

Second, doesn't this all sound like something from the Taiwan Yuan?

Next, the image of Craddick dashing onto the floor of the chamber, grabbing the gavel, declaring Hill out of order, then sprinting back out of the chamber with boos raining down on him is pretty hilarious. It raises a larger question, though: what possible good can this man do as a legislator if the consensus to support him is about as thin as Bush's approval rating?

Mind you, even the Parliamentarian of the legislature, Denise Davis (appointed by Craddick), pointed out that the Speaker could not refuse to allow this motion. To Davis' credit, she immediately resigned when Craddick poo-pooed her.

Apart from being investigated by Ronny Earle (who you may remember as being the man who brought down Tom DeLay) for illegal campaign contributions as part of the DeLay cabal, nevermind more direct corruptions, what does Tom Craddick point to as his singular accomplishment for the people of Texas?


Oh. Wait. private life, Tom Craddick sells mud.

That's not a joke.

Neither are these, but they're funny as hell:And you thought Jerry Springer was entertaining!