Friday, January 23, 2009

A Short Prayer For The Mac

Oh lord, we are not worthy of this technology, so we give thank to Your beneficence in providing us with a visionary who saw the PC and said "Let's fix that for the rest of us," ignoring the beseechers who said "No no! Make it for businesses!"
We see today the fruit of that early labor, as the Great Satan, Microsoft, lays off thousands, while Apple chugs along increasing its share price and profits. We thank you, Lord, for the great Jobs that you have given us and with the patience of Jobs, we eagerly await our reward in tech heaven.
In this we spray, Amen.

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1)  I thought Kirsten Gillibrand was a better choice for the Clinton Senate seat than Caroline Kennedy, even if I feel Kennedy would have made a fine Senator and felt compelled to defend her to the exclusion of mentioning (except in passing) Gillibrand. Too, KG's name had rarely come up in conversation in the news, with Kennedy, Cuomo and Carolyn Maloney (my Congresscritter, who ought to keep an eye on her flank, because I'm thinking about challenging her). Gillibrand is a liberal Democrat. Yes, as the link points out, she's not liberal in a NYC sense, but given her district, which demographically hews towards redneck, she's very liberal.
The article is misleading in one sense: it paints Gillibrand as a fiscal conservative for voting against the bailout bill. In hindsight, the bailout bill rewarded Bush's banking cronies (they are cronies of most Congresscritters as well, to be fair). That "No" vote was quite liberal, in my opinion.
2)  Speaking of progressives, the Obama administration really is wasting no time moving the country into the 21st Century. Those creepy commercials with Christopher Reeve walking may come true, too late, sadly. Thank you, George W Bush.
3)  I hate to admit this: after eight years of great sport with the Bush twins and their wholly inappropriate behavior in the White House, this made me soften my opinion of them. Perhaps they will turn out alright after all.
4)  If you are under the stock markets today, you might want to consider a hard hat.
5)  Thanks for pointing that out, Captain Obvious!
6)  There's been this minor kerfuffle regarding Obama's Blackberry. I was not aware that Presidents had such strict e-mail regulations imposed on them. But Mr. President. Please. Why use a foreign company's product??? Buy American!
7)  Speaking of Apple, do you realize that for the first time in 34 years, Microsoft is actually laying people off?
8)  Let me know if Ratzo ever Numanumas.
9)  Yes, but seven weeks later, you get this really nasty zombie virus.
10) Thirty six years ago, Roe v. Wade was handed down. 35 years, 364 days ago, Laura Bush had an "appendicitis attack". Just kidding. She became a librarian.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth

It strikes me odd how much better, how much more hopeful, I feel right now than I did even three days ago. I wonder why... Oh. Yea. That might do it.
See, for thirty years, I've felt like an outcast in my own nation. A liberal. A stranger in a strange land and I couldn't grok society. I'd rail as the antithesis of culture, of the political spectrum. I felt a little like Cassandra, destined to have foresight yet doomed to be taken quite unseriously until events had passed that showed I was right.
Such was the power of the right wing hate machine that even I, a liberal even in this most blue of cities, felt a frisson of that hate.
Oh, there were moments, of course, like when Bill "Greatest. President. Ever." Clinton was elected twice. That comforted me, made me feel like part of the universe again.
Until the right wing hate machine, presented by Rupert Murdoch and funded by Richard Mellon "Family Values Cost $750,000 A Month" Scaife decided he was too much a threat to the good of the nation, and started dismantling him, brick by brick.
The year 2000 held hope, as my real hero, the man I voted for twice in primaries, Al Gore succeeded in capturing the nomination. It looked, to coin a phrase, like a slam-dunk, until Karl Rove got his precious little mitts on the election, and managed to squeeze a faux cowboy into the flight suit he had abandoned 25 years earlier.
Now there's a diet I probably should try, altho being around Karl Rove seven days a week probably would make me quit eating and start drinking more, so who knows?
After four years, I figured we had the bastard: approval ratings in the 40% range, half the country truly hating the man, an abortion of a war, an economy that took three years to jump start from the most mild of recessions in 2000 and 2001, and a man who failed to protect us from a terrorist attack, not because he was caught by surprise, but because he really just didn't give a damn about some feller named "Al Kaydah."
And then the Democrats, rather than choosing the most obvious candidate, a former general with bona fides out the wazoo in Muslim-West relations in Wesley Clark, or even the most antipodal candidate to Bush's elitism and out-of-touchness, a man who worked with the poor and could speak earnestly about the plight of the children left behind in John Edwards, picked a former war hero who had for thirty years ducked the charges smearing him from a nutcase former soldier who probably never even fired a gun, much less saved his men on a Swift Boat.
All this, again, funded and encouraged by the Wonder Twerps of Truthiness, Murdoch and Scaife.
That was a bitter defeat, to be sure. Even as horrid a candidate as John Kerry battled this machine down to the last minute, and almost, ALMOST, pulled it out. It shouldn't have been close enough that voting discrepancies in Ohio made a difference, just as 2000 should not have been close enough to let Florida's egregious backwoods voting systems and antiquated laws decide that election.
It should have Dems in a walk in both years.
A side note: Recent history gives us coalescing images of moments in time. Photography and videography have given us totems of events that sum up and define not only the historical significance of the instant, but the context and emotional content. Think of the Kennedy assassination, and the photo of Caroline and John-John with Jackie on the cortege route, or the flag at Iwo Jima, or this one from 9/11.  My suspicion is that history's pictorial judgement of the elections of 2000 will be this photo:
So we are left at the end of the 2004 election, defeated, dispirited, but not dormant. The anger that welled up inside progressives and liberals nationwide, and spread worldwide by the old saw "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice...can't get fooled again". Other nations woke up and realized that Bush was not going away easily, and decided to leverage their political strength against him. We here on the left took comfort in that, that the rest of the world would shun, as best as they could, this poseur President.
As time passed, and our anger solidified into action, the 2006 election loomed as a pivotal point in American history. It would set the stage for a revolution unlike any we had known previously, even our own Civil War, even our own birth, because this one would forge a future for our country without bloodshed. This one could unite a nation in the pursuit of true American values, of fair play and equal opportunity. It would prove the adage that, yes, ANYONE could be President.
It sure didn't hurt any that the Republicans had shot themselves in the collective face (in Dick Cheney's case, quite literally) by accomplishing nothing in over ten years of Congressional control. The politics of division revealed themselves to be the politics of do-nothingism, and America wondered why we even have a Congress.
It also didn't hurt that, hand in hand with this, and likely this bit was orchestrated by some on the left, the hypocrisies of the "family values" party were slowly uncovered, like a good stripping. The GOP missed the lessons of the early 90s Democrats: never EVER let yourself be caught on tape or in a sex scandal. By Nov. 8, 2006, it was almost safe to be a liberal.
But there was still Dum-Dum to deal with. Were Pelosi and Reid correct not to pursue criminal charges against Bush? History will judge, but in my opinion, yes. Two years of haggling over documents would have frozen the nation worse than it already was, and would have made the bailouts and other economic stimuli passed and that still need to be passed, impossible. For the greater good, we let the guilty get off.
This is how our nation has always operated. This is how it must operate now. If you want to file cases in the Hague against the Bushies, I'll do what I can to see them brought to justice, but not here. Not now.
And now, we have a President who reflects in his very being the country: cool under pressure, able to laugh at himself, and diverse.
In other words, a liberal. He may, from practicality sake, be forced to dumb down his progressive credentials. I'm OK with that. He's not the Liberal President. He is President of the United States and that means respecting the thoughts and feelings of people in Nebraska as much as New Jersey.
I'm OK with that. It guarantees him an eight year term, and I kinda like "That One".

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Quiet Moment

The day itself passed uneventfully, 1.75 million people gathered to witness history live as it happened. No one was arrested. No one was killed.


Ah, but the event!


Every Tuesday, I go to a local Irish watering hole. They don't serve food, so I pick up a salad along the way. On a good day, a day when there's a soccer game or baseball game, there might be a dozen, maybe 20 people. I figured it was the safest place to watch the inauguration.


When I got there, there were 150 people crammed into the bar. The proprietor, a tall balding man, had taken a moment to reserve me a table. I prefer sitting at the bar, but there was no way I'd get that close. I understood how those folks at the back of the Mall felt.


I took my seat in front of a 50" screen LCD TV. CBS was on. I arrived about 11:45, because I had figured the suckers would wait until noon, not realizing there was a whole pageant ahead of that.


I sat through Rick Warren's prayer, a wholly unctuous event, to be sure, but not too bad considering how the liberals around me had portrayed this hate-monger. Was it me, or did his invocation take longer than Obama's speech? I'm not sure.


A brief musical performance later, Biden takes his oath. The bar is suddenly silent. History has that kind of draw for people. You want to focus someone's attention on something, make it truly historic. In his own way, Biden made history, being the first Catholic (remember, this is an Irish bar) to become Vice President.


"So help me God…"


The bar erupts in sustained applause. If Biden had been able to do that on the stump, I have no doubt he would have been taking the last oath of the proceedings.


I'm munching on a leaf of Romaine as Yo-Yo Ma and Itzahk Perlman trade riffs during a Quaker hymn. Marvelous. The quartet practically fulfills Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt's vision of "a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple".


Finally, the big moment: Obama's swearing in. Not a movement in the bar, not even a mouse. The flub by Roberts, egged on in part by Obama's initial confusion, gets a bit of a chuckle, and a mulligan. Both men oathed for the first time. I guess that was to be expected. It was humanizing for both.


"So help me God…"


A thunderclap of applause, followed by literally ten minutes of hand-clapping. The bar exploded. By now I've finished my first adult beverage and the barkeep wanders over across forty feet of floor space to offer another.


I tip well, what can I say?


As Obama begins his address, the barkeep whispers in my ear as he delivers my second pint, "I could never imagine this place being this crowded and this quiet," followed by a snarky reference to all the soda drinkers. The rookies who come in only to watch big events and feel obligated to buy a Coke.


It's true. It was silent. I mean, dead silent. September 11, that was quiet. Even the streets of New York took on an almost Sunday morning quality to them.


Today made that day look noisy. Cab drivers pulled over outside. People stopped in the street to watch thru the window.


The speech.


Rumour has it that when Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, perhaps the single greatest piece of oration in American history, no one applauded. Lincoln himself told a bodyguard that the speech, like a bad plow, "won't scour".


Historians tend to think that this speech so stunned and captivated audiences that the dignified silence that came after Lincoln was finished was more an acknowledgement that they wanted more, so impressed were they.


Obama's speech, in many ways, was like that. I found it interesting that some of the applause lines fell sharply flat of applause ("What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply," leaps to mind). You could see in Obama's eyes the expectation that people would leap on that, but they did not.


The speech was that impressive. I clapped at that line, but I may have been the only person in the world to have done that.


The theme of his speech was clear: maturity. Often, I'm reminded of the fact that when the Clinton's cleared out in 2001, the Bushies warned the planet that "the adults were in charge now."


A boast from a fraternity house full of boastful adolescents. Sigma Fucka Duck.


Obama didn't boast about wresting the country from immaturity and leading them to maturity. He spoke honestly to us. If you wonder why there were so few applause breaks, this may be the linchpin: we had never been talked to this honestly and openly since Harry Truman. Even Jimmy Carter couldn't pull it off this well.


He spoke of service and duty to our nation, much as JFK did a generation before. He spoke of sacrifice for the good of others. He spoke at length about the troubles facing us, not in a tragic, dramatic way, but in a realistic and honest way. He spoke to us, not down to us. He treated us like adults. He presumed there was a basic comprehension not of what has happened, but that the future is uncertain.


He led, in short. Contrast that with the speech Bush gave after 9/11:


And I pray they [ed. note: the children] will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23:


Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.


All fine and dandy to invoke the Deity. To be sure, Obama did it often enough in his speech yesterday, but to leave the fate of the nation into the hands of a God whose ultimate goal is by definition unknowable is not leading.


It's taking the easy way out. Compare Obama's passage on terrorists:


"And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, 'Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.' "


…with Bush's:


"The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge -- huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong."


If you had given these passages to me blind, I would have guessed Obama's was Bush, the strong, single-minded obsessed steely eyed defender of America and Bush's was Obama's, the supposedly weak-kneed liberal pansy, all touchy-feely. Obama simply said that when the dust clears, Al Qaeda will not exist, but we will. He didn't need to scare anyone, or make them feel more uncertain than they already were.


Indeed, his entire speech yesterday sounded to me like a point by point repudiation of the Bush administration: the "patchwork heritage" of our diverse society, open hand not closed fist, chiding the indifference to suffering (an indirect reference to the poor trapped by Katrina, I thought, but very carefully couched), but especially piercing was the "return to the values" passage. Fair play, courage, honesty.


During the primary, one criticism I had of Obama was that actions speak louder than words, and I still hold to that.


But I gotta tell you, these were some loud words!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One Thought On Obama's Inauguration


So The Days Float Thru My Eyes

 I find myself in agreement with Christopher Hitchens of Thank you, President George W Bush. Thank you for your eight years of service to this great and proud nation.
Now, before you choke on your cornflakes, let's take a look back at the past eight years and understand, truly, the great thing this man did for our nation.
Having his father's cronies steal an election in 2000 by manipulating first the Florida vote count and then the Supreme Court of the United States, he took office as the first President in nearly 150 years to lose the plurality of votes in an election, but win the electoral college. This reminded us how fragile our freedoms are, and how short-sighted the Founding Fathers could be, by making a wholly unpopulated state like Wyoming or North Dakota have an outsized voice in the direction of this nation.
He made education a centerpiece of his first term, proving that even Republicans who have tried to dismantle any Federal education policy recognize the importance of education. However, the gaming of the system, teaching to the test, has rigidified the educational process and stifled ambition, creativity and thinking, skills that will be desperately needed in the years ahead with the challenges facing us. In effect, George Bush managed to outsource intelligence.
With approval ratings in his first year tanking into the 40% range, an unprecedented collapse in popularity, 9/11 happened on his watch, despite his best efforts to ignore the warnings. Bush proved that confronting your problems and facing them are far more valuable than praying them away. his recovery advice, to shop, probably pushed back this economic meltdown until, well, the end of his administration, proving that no good deed goes unpunished, and that people don't have unlimited credit like many faux Texans who own a ranch with one head of cattle do.
After 9/11, Bush fought hard to establish the Patriot Act, which created the single largest bureaucracy in American history after the US military, proving that Republicans could be as profligate with tax payer money as a drunken sailor in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Which brings me to...
Katrina. Sure, the Coast Guard got there quickly and was effective in rescuing hundreds of stranded people. That's what they are trained to do, and they train constantly to do it. No, the knee jerk, reflexive immediate response of the federal government was good.
It's the stuff they actually had to plan and carry out that got all screwy. In this instance, Bush proved the truth about cronyism: it's OK to pick cronies, just make sure the cronies you pick know what the hell they are doing (see also Hank Paulson in 2008). Hundreds if not thousands died while Bush circled overhead in Air Force One like a vulture, heading out to Arizona to help destroy John McCain's candidacy.
The war in Iraq proved that sending US troops willy nilly into harm's way, without an effective battle plan, and more important, and effective peace plan, should never, EVER, happen again. We had no business being there, and have no business remaining behind except to clean up our mess.
Too, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay made us stop and realize that even the freest of nations can lose that freedom if the nation acts in any way, shape or form tyrannically. These were silly incidents that should never have been allowed to happen.
Many might legitimately disagree with the outcome, but no one can deny that wars of aggression never ever work out well in the end for the aggressor. We'll spend many years cleaning up and making amends and apologies to the world community in the hopes that our rightful place in leadership of that community may be graciously restored to us.
People forgive mistakes. They'll have a hard time forgiving us for 2004.
Finally, the economy is in the tank and if we're lucky, if we're extremely lucky, Barack Obama will find a keystone to set straight that will have us well into recovery after his first term. We'll see on that score.
But if anything, this depression has finally proved the old saw that Harry S Truman used to say regularly when campaigning: "If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democratic."
Right now, we've voted twice for Republicans, and are facing a diminished, depleted life. Tax cuts can only do so much. The Bush legacy will be one of reckless abandon to reward the plutocracy of this nation for raping our resources and then turning their backs on the people of America. This must not stand.
So, in an attempt to be conciliatory, I've tried to find the one thing that Bush has done to make this a better nation, a better world. A couple of things cropped up in my research.
1) He increased funding to Africa to combat AIDS and malaria. OK, true, this is a positive thing, to be sure, but how positive? Bush raised funding from about $2 billion to $3 billion, adding 50%, in 2006. And that was with strings attached, like abstinence-only sex education. And the program could only use American branded drugs, not generic drugs. He's further expanded this with a $48 billion dollar bill over 5 years, about $40 billion for AIDS ($8 billion a year). This would represent about 0.006% of annual gross domestic product, however. Japan contributes 0.7% of it's GDP. There's a lot more to be done there.
2) He's kept us safe from terror attacks since 2001. Sort of. I mean, there were the still-unsolved anthrax attacks, the series of sniper shootings in Virginia, any number of abortion clinic bombings, the attack in Washington state where that man shot up the offices of a Jewish organization...and of course, the attacks overseas, like London and Mumbai.
It should also be pointed out that there were no terror attacks in the seven years leading up to 9/11. I'm sure the Bushbots will credit him with those, too.
So, no. It would be hard to credit Bush with purely positive results even in these miniscule eddies of the flow of his administration.
And then it hit me. There is one undeniable positive that President George W Bush, the 43rd and soon-to-be former President, has done for America.
Thank you, President Bush, for making it safe to be a liberal again.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On Sale Now!

Just $2 each!

For a donation of only $2.00, you can receive one of these lovely "Bush's Last Day" Bands, custom made for me by my good friends at...well, whatever the hell that company was...

Come celebrate America's NEW Independence Day!


Today, we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King. Today, soon-to-be President Barack Obama has asked us to volunteer to serve our country, for this one day, for just a few hours.

Many will serve because Obama has asked. Many will serve because it is in their nature, Christian or otherwise. Many will not serve, and it is to them I address this post.

My countrymen are hurting. Many have or will lose their jobs. Many have or will lose their homes. Many are hungry. Many more will become hungry. Many have suffered, and many more will suffer before we see better days. Brother, don't you walk away.

My countrymen are hurting. We've sent them to a war that dishonors their final dedication to their nation, to have struggled, fought, died and consecrated the ground they fought on to preserve the American union. They have come back in pine boxes, but also in wheelchairs and on crutches, with injuries both visible and known only to their own hearts. Sister, don't you walk away.

My countrymen are hurting. They look back over these past years and worry what the future will hold. They've seen their life savings wiped out for the greed of men who would not last five minutes on a city street without a chauffeur. They are scared and angry, and need my hand and yours. Brother, don't you walk away.

For in these men and women and children, we see reflected our own faces. They are about our size and about our age, and down a different road might have been our friends and neighbors. But you never know how the road will bend. Sister, don't you walk away.

My brothers and sisters in Africa, in the Middle East, in Asia, all across this globe, are hurting. They suffer from famine and disease, and worse, war and government-sponsored murders. They wake up each morning not knowing if they will go to sleep that night. They wander the day not knowing whether they will have a home to go to, even if they do manage to slip past the daylight and into that good night. Brother, don't you walk away.

My country is hurting. She needs new ideas and new hopes and new dreams to sustain her after eight years of rapacious greed and cynical vampirism. She needs her people to rally around her, to lift her up on her shoulders as she has done countless times in the past for you and me and our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers. Sister, don't you walk away.

My country is hurting. She inspires us in good times and comforts us in bad and right now, she needs to be comforted and then inspired once more to the promise and goodness that resides in all of us, the gift of freedom that she has given us that we must now wear more proudly than ever. Brother, don't you walk away.

My country is hurting, and in hurting, I hear the cries of the mother for her children, to help make one more life that much better. She sees the pain and suffering of her people, and the very land under our feet cries out for help. And we can give her that help. Sister, don't you walk away.

My world is hurting. She's scared and angry and rages at the folly of men who would wrest her might for their own selfish purposes. Her body is bruised by bombs and scarred by war, and she aches for her children, this Gaia.

Brother, don't you walk away.

How much difference can one man make? In the grand scheme of things, not much. In just one other life, a lot.

Please, don't walk away.