Thursday, July 23, 2015

In Praise Of E.L. Doctorow, The Man Who Looked Into GWB's Eyes And Saw Nothing.

I heard the sad news yesterday that E.L. Doctorow has died.   I've read and loved several of his books, so of course I feel as if I know him personally.  I loved Ragtime and The Book of Daniel and Billy Bathgate.  I couldn't get into Loon Lake, but I'll accept that as my problem and not his.  World's Fair  and Homer and Langley are both sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.

His writing is what I would call "luscious with an edge".  It's stylistic and mesmerizing but you know there is something dark lurking nearby.  There is no relaxing with a Doctorow novel, even in the midst of the quiet, beautiful parts.  He will grab you and hold you and take you to places unexpected and thrilling.  He will force you by sheer wordsmithing to accompany him.  He will make you stop and read over and over again the same brilliant, awesomely brilliant, passage.

He was, as everybody knows, quite a writer.

But, of everything I've read of his, one essay stands out from the rest.  It is the piece he wrote in 2004 called "The Unfeeling President".  It references George W. Bush but never mentions him by name.  In it he says:
I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D-Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.
But this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man. 
He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country 
But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be.
This was near the beginning of the Iraq war, when, as noted, the death toll was still around a thousand--less than a quarter of the final toll.  When I read this essay, right around the time it was first published, I was new to fighting online for passionate causes.  I was feeling emotionally battered, never before having experienced the kind of ruthless, hateful vitriol that comes of arguments where attackers can hide behind a safe cloak of anonymity.

I was against that war and I was at a loss: How could so many people back a war that had been built on lies, a war that had put America in a position where, for the first time, we had invaded a country that had done nothing to us, a war that was bankrupting us, both morally and monetarily?

And then I read Doctorow's assessment of George W. Bush and I knew when I woke up in the morning I would put on my battle gear (no nametags, of course) and go at it again.  And again.  and again.

It wasn't the first time he had managed to annoy the Republican establishment by outing the real George Bush.  Earlier that year Peggy Noonan went after him in the Wall Street Journal after Doctorow railed against Bush and the Iraq war at his May commencement address to the graduates at Hofstra.
Fast Eddy Doctorow told a story at the commencement all right, and it is a story about the boorishness of the aging liberal. An old '60s radical who feels he is entitled to impose his views on this audience on this day because he's so gifted, so smart, so insightful, so very above the normal rules, agreements and traditions. And for this he will get to call himself besieged and heroic--a hero about whom stories are told!--when in fact all he did was guarantee positive personal press in the elite media, at the cost of the long suffering patience of normal people who wanted to move the tassel and throw the hat in the air.
Okay, she's no Doctorow but the gal does have a way with words, right?

I'm only guessing, of course, but I'll bet E.L. Doctorow got a huge kick out of her piece.  Probably even used it as a jumping-off point for another go at trying to stop that dishonest, unnecessary, murderous war.  We know now that it couldn't be stopped.  We didn't have the power.  But writers like Doctorow used words to energize us and gave us reason to keep trying.  We understood from them that in the right hands words can be formidable weapons.

Doctorow may no longer be with us but he left a legacy that can't be ignored.  To some of us that's more than just comforting.

Rest in peace, Edgar Lawrence Doctorow.  You are a true American.

(Cross-posted at Liberaland and Dagblog)


Friday, July 10, 2015

"Onward, Christian Soldiers". Not just a hymn anymore.

I guess you've heard that the Rightward so-called Christians have a flag, yes, a flag, and some of them think it would be cool to fly it above the American flag on the same pole, even though flag etiquette has said forever that no flag should fly above Old Glory.  Their reasoning?  Something about God coming first, which they assume any good American should obviously recognize.


As a citizen of these United States of America, were you as floored as I was by this?  Oddly, or maybe strangely, I didn't even know Christians had a flag.  (Apparently, it's been around since 1897.  I must have missed that part. I know for a fact, though, that it has never before been used as a protest flag to be flown, Heaven forfend, above the American flag.)

Something is happening. These people who claim to be operating as Christians are scaring the hell out of me.  Somehow our inexorable move into the 21st Century changed everything and the Christian Right is not satisfied with being nice and kind and following the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule or following the words of their Lord Jesus Christ, who said, and I quote:
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 
 Or, as the King James version sayeth it:
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
No, these new "Christians" see the quest for their version of morality as the war to end all wars.  My idea of morality may differ from theirs, but theirs is Right and mine is wrong.  If it were only a difference of interpretation, that would be one thing, but because I don't go along with their version of Playing Well Together (Or Else) I am now the enemy.

I admit I've never thought of myself as the enemy of a Christian.  This is new for me.  Some of my best friends are Christians and I love them madly. For that reason, I've underplayed my anger at those who operate as haters under the guise of Christian love.

No more. So here goes:

The people who proudly call themselves "the Christian Right" may say they're Christians but I've known Christians and they're no Christians.  They are the worst kind of hypocrites.  The bible is a book of stories, some inspiring, some fascinating, some downright ugly.  The Christian Right uses the ugly parts as proof that God wants them to discriminate.  They argue that women have no rights, that minorities are inferior, that different kinds of love are sins worse than murder, and that liberal education is the work of the devil.  They claim religious persecution while they themselves revel in their roles as righteous persecutors.

They've scared our political leaders into kowtowing to their sick and sorry excuses for societal morality to the point now that bills must pass the Christian test before they can move on.  Their greatest triumph is that no matter what they offer up, if they offer it up as an edict from God, thy will be done.

Their proudest achievement is the almost total allegiance of the entire American political body to an idea that in order to govern one must be religious--preferably to the Right, but any claim to religion will do.

They will tell you with great confidence that atheists will never win a public office.  They have finally eradicated secularism from government.

In their minds, it's a done deal.  I would hate to think they're right.

_______________________

Breaking News!  OMG, didn't I tell you? This just in:
Many ministers do their best to stay away from politics when they preach, but hundreds of conservative pastors around the country are so upset about what they see as a moral crisis in government that they are preparing to run for public office themselves, with the goal of bringing "biblical values" to the political arena.

The initiative is led by David Lane, a born-again Christian and self-described "political operative" who has organized four large-scale training sessions in which evangelical pastors are tutored in the practical aspects of running a political campaign.
All righty, then.  Break time is over.  Back to work.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland. Featured at Crooks and Liars MBRU)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Women, Gays and Barack Obama's Ear -- A Repeat

Yesterday the Supreme Court shot down state bans on same-sex marriage, effectively making marriage a federal affair, free from the capricious natures of the various legislatures or the rigid mandates of those who want to ignore the fact that legal marriage isn't of the bible, but is a civil, official, yes, secular matter.

The fuss against the ruling is about what you would expect, and it's all out there, of course, but here I want to revisit the evolution of the president; how he came to see that when two adults who love each other want to commit to marriage it's not a sin or a crime, it's a reason for celebration.

This piece was first published on May 10, 2012:


The big news yesterday -- no, the HUGE news -- was President Obama's interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, set up specifically so that he could air his own personal views about gay people being able to marry their same-sex partners:  After much soul-searching and a couple of decades of "evolving", he was finally ready to say out loud that he's all for it.

He did go on to say that it should be left to the states to decide their own policies concerning the legalities of such unions, but the die was cast; the mold was formed:  A sitting president took a positive, personal, public stand on the issue of gay marriage.

As might have been expected, the fundie leaders in the Right Wing Religiousphere took it hard.  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was all over the airwaves protesting the president's comments.   (Kudos to CNN's Soledad O'Brien, the product of mixed-race parents who married when most states outlawed such marriages, for turning an interview into a real debate, thus punching bloody holes in Perkins' many lame arguments.)

Small-government advocate and current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came forward like the good soldier he is and said, no ifs, ands, or buts (for now) -- no, no, no to gay marriage, or even civil unions, or anything else that might require Big Government (that would be him if he wins) to step in and make more rules disregarding civil rights.

 Leaders of states that probably weren't going to go Obama's way in November anyway jumped in to remind him that he was committing political suicide over this.

Some Black church leaders voiced their opposition to Obama's views, sending a message that might possibly still resonate in November.

So, yes, even though his comments to Robin Roberts won't amount to a hill of beans in the legal world and won't change a thing in the states that are rabid about banning gay marriage (Two days ago, North Carolina became the 30th state to ban same-sex unions), Obama's admission of his own personal feelings is the stuff dreams are made of.   Both sides will see it as a world class political haymaker.

But what made the president's comments so memorable was the fact that, while he would have preferred to sidestep this particular bombshell of an issue forever if need be, it appears it was his wife and his daughters who ultimately convinced him that, while he might be president of these United States -- an all-powerful position requiring the wisdom of Solomon and the unbiased judgment of, say, the theoretical Supreme Court, his earlier published views on the subject were about as wrongheaded as it gets.

They talked to him about love and how it works in mysterious ways, and his daughters let him know how much it hurt them that, by his own admission, the best he could come up with was that he was still 'evolving' on that particular issue.

There were many juicy quote-bites one could pull out of that interview, but this one got me right where my heart beats loudest:
"You know, Malia and Sasha, they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples. And I-- you know, there have been times where Michelle and I have been sittin' around the dinner table. And we've been talkin' and-- about their friends and their parents. And Malia and Sasha would-- it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently. It doesn't make sense to them. And-- and frankly-- that's the kind of thing that prompts-- a change of perspective. You know, not wanting to somehow explain to your child why somebody should be treated-- differently, when it comes to-- the eyes of the law." 
 Okay, I'm a sucker for a good dad, no matter what kind of house he lives in, so it's understandable why I might latch onto that one particular part of the conversation.  But I watched the entire interview; I watched the body language and listened to the tone of voice.  I saw an everyman wrestling with his ethos, not a politician striving to convince, and I rejoiced.

 But--I'll grant you--it didn't hurt that Joe Biden, our beloved, wacky veep, got to gushing about his own feelings on gay marriage on Sunday's "Meet the Press".  The next day the Washington Post's Dana Milbank called it a "gaffe" (a word that seems to cling to Biden as tightly as his own shadow) and the press took off running.  (Note to Joe:  It's far better to be gaffe-prone than to be mean-prone.  So far, you're okay, man.)
The vice president said he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage, committing the classic Washington gaffe of accidentally speaking the truth. This bit of straight talk made Obama’s position — neither for nor against such unions but in an evolutionary state, not unlike the Galapagos finch — all the more untenable. On Monday, Biden took off for a campaign event in Tennessee, leaving Carney on cleanup duty. But the more Carney swabbed the mess, the more it spread. 
I frankly don't get it.  How exactly did Joe Biden's own personal views on gay marriage conflict with anything the president might have said about that same issue?  There is no actual blending of the pair, simply because they're Leaders One and Two.  They aren't contractually obligated to agree personally on all issues.  I didn't see it as "one-upping" the president, I saw it as Biden being Biden.  Especially when he got to the part about "Will and Grace".  (Debra Messing ("Grace") says it's right up there in the top five moments of her life, so you see, it's striking chords everywhere. )

Well, apparently even the president felt that Joe had overstepped "his skis" or some such.  But publicly he's okay with it, and I get the feeling that he, like me, loves old Joe, gaffes and all.  (And who wouldn't?)

Immediately after the Sunday news hours, it was out there, people were talking, and the entire White House had to grind to a halt and address the elephant in the room.  Does the president support gay marriage or doesn't he?  So on Wednesday, President Obama sat down with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts and talked at length about the issue he had so studiously worked to avoid.

Yes, it was calculated and ultimately political, but the essence of it, the way the president chose to address it, was as much heaven to me as it had to be hellish for his political opponents, those so intent on ousting Barack Obama they have no problem casting him as evil incarnate--the devil himself

I saw a man who might finally understand that there are times when it's not only essential but soul-satisfying to separate the thoughts of the person from the decisions of the presidency.  And that "evolution" doesn't work as a handy substitute for equivocation.  And that sometimes political expedience isn't all it's cracked up to be.

My mother was Finnish-Lutheran and my father was Italian-Catholic.  They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary just nine months before my mom died, and they loved each other to the end.  What if the powers-that-be had arbitrarily decided that Finns and Italians couldn't marry?  Or that Lutherans and Catholics couldn't marry?  How different is that from deciding that blacks and whites couldn't marry or that same-sex partners couldn't marry?  They're all consenting adults with the capacity to love one another, and if marriage is the desired tie that binds, it's a sad and sorry law that seeks to outlaw fidelity instead of celebrating it.

I think the president always got that.  He only just now, thanks in part to the women in his life, found the cojones to say it out loud.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Goodness and Mercy and The Charleston Massacre

On Wednesday evening, June 17, a 21-year-old White Supremacist sat for an hour in a prayer meeting with the good people of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and, when the hour was up, opened fire with his .45 caliber Glock.  He slaughtered nine innocent church members for no other reason than that he held such a deep, abiding hatred for blacks he wanted to be the one to kill them.  His goal was to start a race war.

Later, after he was caught, he admitted to the police that the parishioners were so nice to him he almost didn't do it.  It was the twist of the knife for those of us already grieving over his murder victims.  One single second of conscience, one deviant drop of human kindness, and the people who welcomed him into their fold might have been saved.

He deliberately targeted the "Mother Emanuel" African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, a revered historic black church, in service both publicly and secretly since 1822--the oldest of its kind in the south. A landmark. A haven. But if he thought his actions would destroy the church, he was as delusional as he is evil.

After Roof was caught, surviving family members were given the chance to talk to him about their losses, about what he did to them when he took the lives of their loved ones.  Roof stood silently, barely moving, as each one took the microphone.  He must have been expecting the screaming rage I would have felt had he killed one of mine.  He no doubt could have identified with that. But what he got instead was forgiveness.  Merciful forgiveness.

One by one, the mourners, still in shock at what he had done, described to him how they felt, and then, one by one, they offered their forgiveness. Their goodness and mercy finally broke through.  This morning Roof is on suicide watch.  There are reports that he is remorseful.

The pity of it is, it doesn't matter now.  He can't bring back the nine people he murdered, no matter how much he may wish it.  And he'll never be anything but what he is: a vicious racist murderer.  He planned it, lived for the chance to do it, bragged about doing something hurtful to blacks, because he is a white supremacist and white supremacists are honor-bound to act on their hatred toward people of color.

The black community in Charleston is in mourning.  In this country where racism keeps rearing its ugly head, we are grieving, too. We show it in our anger, in our determination to avenge these deaths, in our renewed resolve to do something about guns in this country, in our attempts to force our leaders to call this massacre what it was: a racist hate crime.  But the people closest to the attack are honoring their dead by singing freedom songs, by celebrating the lives of the dead, and by calling for forgiveness. They are the reason this one event, horrific and tragic as it is, will be a catalyst for change.

Just as the September, 1963 bombing of the 16th Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, causing the tragic deaths of four young girls attending a Sunday school class, gave the Rev. Martin Luther King a more authoritative voice and moved the Civil Rights Movement forward, so will this latest attack on innocents bring about the kind of dialogue that demands change.

We can't be distracted by calls for better gun control or more attention to mental illness.  We'll get to them.  For now, the conversation has to stay on racism.  We need to work on eliminating it.  Not just diminishing it or hiding it under the carpet, but eliminating it.

It'll take all of us who care  We have to do it in a way that honors those who have died, and in a way that is satisfactory to the mourners left behind.  We have to do it in such numbers there is no question that those who oppose racism are in the majority.  We have to do it now.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland)

Friday, June 12, 2015

No More Making Fun of the Iowa Straw Poll. Except This One Last Time

Just got the news that Iowa has decided to dump their traditional GOP fundraiser, their presidential-hopeful-quasi-indicator-of-nothing, their old-fashioned, hilariously awful Iowa Barbecue and Straw Poll .  I thought I would be happy when they finally took my advice and got rid of that thing, but now I feel sad.  I've laughed so much over their shenanigans, I feel the way I do whenever a favorite comedy show bites the dust. Sad, but so glad for the memories.

Here, then, is my memory of the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll festivities, first published the day after the Party's big party. 

There will always be Iowa. . .


Political Tiddly-Winks in Iowa.  The Corn Dog Won

Good God and Lordy, people, is there anything more ludicrous on the political scene than what happens in Iowa whenever the Republicans don't have a Grand Poobah candidate for President?  This year it was a big barbecue in Ames where just under 17,000 people 16 1/2 years old and over got to pay their $30 to "vote" for a candidate and then party afterward.  Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul were the "winners".  And, not surprisingly, the emperor wore no clothes.

The main function of the Iowa Straw Poll is to draw in money for the Republican Party and for the towns in Iowa that hold the straw polls.  That should be enough for those folks, but even given proof of the historical insignificance of the poll and it's non-role in the winning of presidencies, the press falls all over itself to turn it into something it's not now and never will be.  As a political forecaster, it's record is pitiful.  Rarely if ever does the Straw Poll winner win the Iowa Caucus, much less the presidency.  So let's just get over the "importance" of yesterday's vote in Ames, Iowa and have a little fun with it, okay?

Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker:
Calling the results of today’s Iowa straw poll “alarming,” Standard and Poor’s took the unprecedented action of downgrading Iowa’s IQ.

While the effects of such an extraordinary measure are hard to predict, experts say the IQ downgrade could result in Iowans having difficulty completing sentences or operating a television remote.
“This downgrade would be very upsetting to Republicans in Iowa,” said an S & P spokesman.  “Fortunately, there’s no way they’ll understand it.”
 At the Fairgrounds, where the Big Barbecue was going on, Ron Paul had something called the "Prosperity Playground", where you could slide down the "Sliding Dollar" slide and just be a kid again.



Ujala Sehgal writes about it and more in this piece in the Atlantic.  Man, those kids had fun!

The Ames Patch took to judging the candidates' tent sizes. (Link no longer available.)  Thaddeus McCotter's may have been the smallest, at an embarrassing 30x30 feet,  but Tim Pawlenty's took the prize as the largest, at 200 sq. ft. over Michele Bachmann's 10,000 foot air-conditioned whopper.


I'm hearing rumors this morning that Pawlenty is already thinking of dropping out of the race, so I hope he had a great time there in Ames.  Something should come out of all that effort, at least. (News flash:  It's true.  Pawlenty has dropped out.  Of the entire presidential race! All because of the Iowa Straw Poll!  Am I going to have to rethink this whole thing?  Am I just not getting it??)

Okay, I started this out absolutely refusing to even consider including that truly awful, truly obscene un-Photo-Shopped photo of Michele Bachmann deliriously munching a very long corn dog, but I changed my mind.  Here it is:

(NoteChanged my mind again.  I couldn't stand the picture any longer so I took it down.  It's here.  If you're interested.

And here's a bonus.  Marcus Bachmann with that same corn dog.  I WILL NOT comment.  No.  I mustn't.

(NoteDitto the shot of her husband.  It's here.  Go for it.


But I will say this:  What happens in Iowa should have the decency to stay in Iowa.  Really.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland)

Friday, June 5, 2015

What's Next For Caitlyn Jenner?

Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Jenner, known more recently as the beleaguered stepfather to the Kardashian clan on the reality show, "Keeping up with the Kardashians", has begun the transition to become a woman, choosing "Caitlyn" as her female name.

News of the transition was, let's be honest, mind-boggling.  Some saw it as nothing more than a weird cry for attention.  Jenner was, after all, the odd man out on a reality show based almost solely on sheer vanity.  Female vanity.

I know almost nothing about Bruce Jenner's past history and I've never watched more than 10 minutes of the reality show, but if Jenner says she never felt comfortable as Bruce, I have no reason to doubt it.  It could be that, now, at age 65, the need to be the person she really is became all the more compelling.  As we age we look forward, not back.  We get it that time is running out.  If we're ever going to do the things we've always wanted to do, we should have started yesterday.


It takes guts to open up to the need for a gender change. It means a complete and total make-over, the likes of which most of us can't even imagine. Intensive psychological testing is required, often for years, before the last radical change--genital surgery--takes place. But the transition begins the moment the candidate accepts that their birth gender is not and never has been who they are.

Hormone therapy begins the transition and the results can be startling.  The voice changes, the body begins to transform, the mind gets comfortable with this new person.  But, because they live among other people, and because what's happening will require some explanation, it's the beginning--the coming out--that requires the most courage.  Not everyone will understand.  Some will laugh at such a thought.  Some will be sickened by the whole idea.  Knowing this, many of the mis-gendered will take the steps to change, anyway.  It's hard enough for folks who aren't famous, but, for someone like Jenner, the public transition requires skin as tough as hide.

Caitlyn Jenner is on the cover of this month's Vanity FairBuzz Bissinger wrote the story.  Annie Leibovitz took the photos in a session kept secret until the photos were released just days ago. Jenner has breasts and a sculpted waist.  She has long hair and feminine cheek bones.  She looks like, and is, a beautiful woman.

So why am I troubled by the Vanity Fair feature?  Maybe because I had hoped for a piece that might have celebrated Jenner as a whole woman and not just a sex symbol.  I understand wanting to feel feminine and sexy--even or especially after having to hide that part of you for over six decades.  I'm not suggesting a modest cover-up until the world gets used to the idea.  The part of the world that isn't used to the idea will never get used to the idea.  But am I the only one who saw the cover and immediately thought "Ack! Kardashian"?

I read that Annie Leibovitz was in tears at the end of the photo session.  She wanted to get this most important unveiling right and in the end she felt she nailed it.  Leibovitz is a brilliant photographer and the photos are beautiful.  But there is still, for me, an uneasy feeling that unless Caitlyn moves in another direction her appearance will be all there is.  And it won't be enough.

I was in high school in 1952, when George Jorgensen went public with the news that he had undergone multiple sex-change surgeries in Denmark and was now a woman.  Her new name was Christine.  The New York Daily News cover story was headlined, "Ex-GI Becomes Blond Bombshell". The circus that followed was unrelenting, and the poor woman became the subject of ridicule and outright hatred far beyond what should happen to a person whose life had caused nary a single hurt to another living soul.

It dogged her for the rest of her life.  She wondered at one point if the doctors had made her a woman or a freak, and that line became the headline on a poster advertising the dreadful 1970 movie about her life.  She opted for glamour and was always photographed perfectly dressed, perfectly coiffed, perfectly made up.  Being a woman was her full time job.

But it turned out she was much more than that.  She was a pioneer in transgender awareness and acceptance.  There have always been gender identity issues, but Christine Jorgensen allowed every aspect of her transgenderization to go public, not for titillation but for science.  She wanted people to understand both the need and the process, and there is no doubt that her honest approach opened the doors and made it easier for others to follow.

I began working at the University of Michigan Hospital soon after they opened their first gender clinic in the mid-1970s.  We shared offices for a few months while ours were being renovated and there I met many of the men and women seeking to find their gender fit.  The doctors were heroic mavericks, constantly fighting against both personal and funding threats in order to establish that gender identity is not fixed in stone; that God and/or Mother Nature can get it wrong.  I never saw such longing, such determination, such bravery.

What Caitlyn Jenner needs to understand is that there is more to being a woman than the sum of her outward parts.  True womanhood isn't what is shown on a reality show featuring beautiful creatures obsessed with how they project themselves to a sector obsessed with outward beauty and not much else.

For all intents, and because she says so, Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, but what will she do now?  How will her womanhood manifest itself?  Who will she become now that she knows who she is? 

A reality show is already in the works.  On the trailer, Caitlyn says, "Isn't it great that maybe someday [I'll] be normal?  Just blend into society. . ."  A voice off camera:  "You are normal."  Caitlyn:  "Put it this way:  I'm the new normal."

It's all up to you, Caitlyn.  Now it's up to you.

(Cross-posted at The Broad Side.)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Beau Biden: What Might Have Been

I awoke yesterday to the news that Beau Biden has lost his battle with brain cancer.  The pain I felt, even though I didn't know Beau Biden personally, was a visceral as if I had lost a dear friend.  It's no secret that I adore his father, Joe, and much of what I'm feeling, I'm feeling for him.  (I wrote about him here.)  The grief, the sorrow, must be awful.  He lost his first wife and his small daughter in a tragic car-truck accident, and nearly lost Beau and his brother, Hunter. He should not have to endure another loss of a beloved child.
 

I grieve for Beau's family--his wife, his two daughters. A good man, loved by many, is dead at age 46.   But I've been thinking about this:  I grieve for all of us. We've lost a man who, under the right circumstances, might well have risen through the political ranks and helped to bring goodness and mercy to our besieged land.

He saw combat in Iraq.  He was a JAG lawyer.  He played it fair in every aspect of his life, and, as far as I know, never sought to harm anyone.

In 2011 he gave a speech to the law school graduating class at his alma mater, Syracuse University.  He titled it,  "The Means Matter".  In it, he said this:
Nearly ten years ago, an assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice wrote a now famous memo that defended his client’s desire to use ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ as the means to achieve an end that was indisputably important.

At [the] same time, military lawyers (jags)—those who not only know our interrogators but also know the American troops who could one day be interrogated by the enemy—disagreed with their client’s desired means and wrote a strong repudiation of these techniques.

Together, these two legal opinions, from very smart and patriotic lawyers, form an excellent lesson: it is exactly when the stakes are the highest that the means matter most.

Or, as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, himself a military lawyer said at the time, ‘That there are certain corners you cannot afford to cut because you will wind up meeting yourself.’

The question of ends versus means is presented all the time in the practice of law. When the world thinks of lawyers, not everyone thinks of Atticus Finch, but they should. We want counselors who fight for what’s ‘right,’ but we live in a culture where lawyers too often fight for what the client demands, and the more powerful the client the more compelling the demand. Our ability to rationalize cannot be underestimated.

As Senator Graham, and the military lawyers know, if the rules are not clear, a slope has been oiled. And when slopes are oiled, you can only ride them in one direction. Do not rationalize.

He was on his way and he was on our side, and now he's gone. My hope is that we'll remember him as a true public servant--a hero for the working class, for the disadvantaged, for the misunderstood, for the people he spent his short life working to protect--and keep his legacy alive.
"That was the most striking thing about him. He was just innately kind. He had a complete aversion to ever hurting anyone's feelings," said Terry Wright, who worked for Joe Biden as a special assistant and has known Beau since 1982. "Politics is a rough business and Beau just never wanted to hurt people's feelings.
Rest in peace, dear man.  May your goodness shine on.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Breaking (Old) News: Bush and Cheney Lied us into Iraq.

In a startling conversation on Tuesday--three days ago by my calendar, not that you would know it by the mainstream media coverage--Chris Matthews, bless his passionate, irritating bulldoggedness, pulled the truth out of Michael Morell, George Bush's CIA intelligence briefer during the lead-up to the Iraq war: the Bush White House lied about WMDs in order to get us into a war with Iraq.

It was not bad intelligence, as every Republican alive in Washington--and some Democrats--still keep repeating. The intelligence that there were no WMDs was, in fact, presented to the decision-makers, and the decision-makers--Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld,Wolfowitz, Rice, and so on--lied and said their experts were telling them otherwise. That was in 2003.  This is 2015.  For 12 years most of the people in the loop who know the truth have kept it hidden.  They've said nothing.

There are exceptions:  Richard Clarke, GWB's former counterterrorism coordinator, appeared on PBS' Frontline in 2006 and, in an interview riddled with bombshells, dropped this one, which, along with the others, sadly but predictably didn't detonate:
"Yes, the intelligence community made mistakes in erring in the direction of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. But the president, the vice president, the national security adviser, they went a lot further in their public remarks than the intelligence analysis had gone.
There's nowhere in the intelligence analysis that says there's imminent threat and that we have to do something right away. Yet the president, the vice president, the national security adviser all tell the public, tell the Congress: 'Got to act right away! Something's about to happen!'"
In that same interview he said this:
"I remember vividly, in the driveway outside of the West Wing, Scooter Libby, from the vice president's office, grabbing me and saying, 'I hear you don't believe this report that Mohamed Atta was talking to Iraqi people in Prague.' I said, 'I don't believe it because it's not true.' And he said: 'You're wrong. You know you're wrong. Go back and find out; look at the rest of the reports, and find out that you're wrong.' I understood what he was saying, which was: 'This is a report that we want to believe, and stop saying it's not true. It's a real problem for the vice president's office that you, the counterterrorism coordinator, are walking around saying that this isn't a true report. Shut up!' That's what I was being told."
Immediately afterward, the White House attack machines went after Richard Clarke, trying to make him out to be the liar and not the other way around.  Poor Richard. He's still trying to tell the truth about what he and others knew then, but preaching to the choir has its limitations.  A whole lot of tsk-tsking goes on but nothing really gets done. The Bush/Cheney gang still runs free.  Cheney, the man we'll always believe was the oily kingpin behind the whole operation, is so unafraid of consequences he still rambles on publicly about the benefits of torture against our supposed enemies.

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's right-hand-man during his tenure as Secretary of State, rails against the Iraq warmongers every chance he gets, admitting that both he and Powell got sucked in by them, but he stops just short of calling the misinformation falsehoods.
"It's a mess, to be sure," Wilkerson says, "a mess we largely created -- 'we' being George Bush and Dick Cheney and all their minions, myself and Powell included, however reluctantly. I'm fairly certain that no one knows now how to extricate us from that mess. So, most do not want to have that ignorance exposed."

They were lies, Larry.  Lies.

Why Michael Morell decided to play Hardball with Matthews (besides hawking his new book) is something only Morell knows, but once he got there it was Katie bar the door! Matthews was gunning for him.  From David Corn in Mother Jones:
MATTHEWS: So you're briefing the president on the reasons for war, they're selling the war, using your stuff, saying you made that case when you didn't. So they're using your credibility to make the case for war dishonestly, as you just admitted.
MORELL: Look, I'm just telling you—
MATTHEWS: You just admitted it.
MORELL: I'm just telling you what we said—
MATTHEWS: They gave a false presentation of what you said to them.
MORELL: On some aspects. On some aspects.
"That's a big deal," Matthews exclaimed. Morell replied, "It's a big deal."

Soon after the attack on 9/11 the White House began diverting our attention from Afghanistan to Iraq.  It was such a crazy idea nobody believed anything would ever come of it.  The craziest part was that the press--the guardians of truth, the defenders of liberty--walked away from their duties and went AWOL. 

It wasn't because the hawks were itching to get into battle--the war against Al Qaeda was legitimate; it was justified. We as a nation knew who the enemy was.  We understood the need.  We never intended to send our sons and daughters to a battleground that didn't involve a real enemy, yet we did just that, and nearly 4500 of them didn't come home.  Another 32,000 suffered injuries; lost their limbs, their eyes, and, too often, the part of them that allows them peace.

As Andy Borowitz said yesterday on his Facebook page, "No one could have known that invading Iraq would be a disaster, unless you count the millions of people who protested against it."  Our protests were ignored.  That war was an unnecessary disaster and we know who to blame, but the time for inquiries is apparently over.  There are no planned hearings on the responsibility for the Iraq War, even though we're faced every day with the consequences of a murderous, trillion-dollar war built on lies.

Contrast that with the Republicans' need to know what happened in Benghazi, when our embassy was attacked and four Americans were killed under then-Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton's watch. So far the Republicans have held 13 hearings, 50 briefings, and have produced 25,000 document pages on the events surrounding the attack.  The blame rests on Clinton's shoulders and to their minds she has much to answer for.  She'll be required to answer to them at least until November, 2016, when the next presidential election is held.  If she wins that election, she'll be required to answer for Benghazi until 2020, assuming she'll decide to run again.  If she wins that election, Benghazi will be her ball and chain until Hell freezes over.

But Dick Cheney and George W. Bush have nothing to fear, nothing to answer for.  Dick Cheney can appear on dozens of political programs and slake his thirst for war and profit, his hatred for our current president, his disdain for Democrats in general, without a care in the world about the misery his own recklessness has caused.

A furious Chris Matthews left Michael Morell with this thought:
Let me explain to you my position as an American. and why this infuriates me.  I knew people in this business who were very objective people who finally went for the war--and we were arguing about it here--because they believed Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons. And you couldn't argue with that once you believed that this final piece of the sales pitch is what did it.  And to know, and now hear it from you, that that wasn't based on fact or any evidence or any intel--that it was just made up--that's the case for why I'm so angry about that war. . . I think we got talked into a war by people who weren't being honest.
We didn't get talked into that war, Chris  We knew all along it was a dishonest pitch made by dishonest people. Those who could have done something at the time didn't fight hard enough to stop them. Without the press, without members of congress, without the movers and shakers, the millions of us who protested were whispering in the wind.  There is plenty of blame to go around but the blame lies squarely on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The least we can do for the Iraq war casualties, both foreign and domestic, is to keep this alive:  We went into a war based on deliberate lies. The perpetrators walk among us without fear, but we know.  We can't forget.  We won't forget.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland. Featured on Crooks and Liars MBRU)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

William Zinsser: Writing Well Is The Best Legacy

I came to what I call professional writing fairly late.  I didn't take it seriously until real life eased enough for me to give some attention to what I might want to do with the rest of my days.
After dabbling in every artistic expression of my day--needlework, crochet, macrame, pottery, ceramics, drawing in charcoal and pastels, painting in oils, acrylics, and watercolor--none of which I did well--I finally realized that my early love, writing, was the creative outlet I had been looking for all along.
I joined a local writing group and there I found William Zinsser, their anointed guru.  They couldn't stop talking about his book, On Writing Well.  It was their bible and I, more interested in hamper-free, no-rules writing, was having none of it.  I didn't want to be told how to write, I wanted to be told I wrote well, even when I didn't.  That was the whole point of joining a writing group.  Or so I thought at the time.
 
Zinsser, when I finally opened up to him, taught me otherwise.  Good writing takes skill.  There is no easy way to acquire it and the sooner the novice realizes it, the easier it is to look at the beginnings as school--lessons, grades, apprenticeships.  And then you go to work, where you find that you don't know everything after all, and that, as in any other profession, the learning never stops.
I'm still a dummy when it comes to grammar and sentence structure.  I'm always imagining the "Oh, God, no" reactions from the more knowledgeable people who take on the task of reading what I write.  I don't always get it--what can I say?  But William Zinsser gave me the reasons to write. Yes, he was a stickler for grammar and sentence structure, but his main focus was not so much on doing it right as on doing it well.
In honor of his life and skills, in sadness at his passing, here are a few passages from "On Writing Well" (Fifth Edition):
Trust your material if it's taking you into unknown terrain you didn't intend to enter but the vibrations are good.  Adjust your style and your mood accordingly and proceed to whatever destination you reach.  Don't ever become the prisoner of a preconceived plan.  Writing is no respecter of blueprints--it's too subjective a process, too full of surprises.
Writing is hard work.  A clear sentence is no accident.  Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time.  Remember this in moments of despair.  If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard.  It's one of the hardest things people do.
The good writer of prose must be part poet, always listening to what he writes.  E.B White continues to be my favorite stylist because I'm conscious of being with a man who cares about the cadences and sonorities of the language.  I relish (in my ear) the pattern his words make as they fall into a sentence.  I try to surmise how in rewriting the sentence he reassembled it to the end with a phrase that will momentarily linger, or how he chose one word over another because he was after a certain emotional weight.  It's the difference between say, "serene" and "tranquil"--one so soft, the other strangely disturbing because of the unusual n and q
Writing is not a contest.  Every writer is starting from a different point and is bound for a different destination. Yet many writers are paralyzed by the thought that they are competing with everyone else who is trying to write and presumably doing it better.
Decide what you want to do.  Then decide to do it.  Then do it.
Mr. Zinsser, I wish I had said this before, but you'll understand if I feel the need to say it now.
Thank you. It didn't always take (living proof), but you gave it your best.  You never stopped trying.  And that's what counts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sarah Palin: Out. Carly Fiorina: In

In 2007, the story goes, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and a few GOP movers and shakers went on a cruise to Alaska  and met a certain Sarah Palin, then-governor of that great state.  It's safe to say she knocked Kristol's socks off (and his head cockeyed, though he didn't know it at the time).

The word is that Kristol fell head over heels--as much as a Republican operative can--for the sassy, smart-assy former cheerleader and did a little cheer-leading of his own.  This woman, he told anyone who would listen, will be the next Vice President of the United States!  It seemed a simple matter (maybe not to you and me. . .) and somehow they convinced John McCain, the then-presidential candidate, that if a woman would be a good choice, this woman would be spectacular!

And so it went.  McCain didn't become president and Palin didn't become vice-president, but that didn't mean Sarah Palin would just fade away.  No, indeedy.  She's still around, still giving rah-rah speeches, still going for the anti-liberal, anti-Obama laughs.  But nobody is looking to her to be the first female to sit behind the Oval Office desk.  Not anymore.  She has a semi-permanent role as the gal who dishes the diss and keeps 'em rolling in the aisles.  She never wanted to be a politician anyway.  No big bucks in it and besides that, it's work!  (For further discussion, see Game Change.)

For several years post-Palin, there were no other GOP women who showed even the slightest interest in running the country. Then along comes Carly Fiorina, with no political experience save for a couple of CPAC appearances, and it's look out, Hillary!

Carly's best CPAC line about the former U.S Secretary of State:
"Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe, but unlike her, I have actually accomplished something. Mrs. Clinton, flying is not an accomplishment, it’s an activity. I have met Vladimir Putin and know that it will take more to halt his ambitions than a gimmicky red ‘Reset’ button."

I love watching Carly Fiorina put on her haughty face, purse her lemony lips and smile her regal smile.  I love the "air quotes" thing.  I love it when she uses her I-mean-business voice to tell us why she would make the best president of the United States of Corporate America.

 Carly has given a lot of thought to what works best when a woman goes after the highest job in the land.  First of all, forget she's a woman.  Well, not totally.  It would be cool to be the first woman president!  If you must, think tough hard-knocks broad who can slam-bang with the best of them.Take no prisoners!  Get it done!  Enough with those liberals!  They'll be the ruination of us all! (Carly to her cohorts:  Honestly, don't they want us to own this country?)

Consider her thoughts on the California drought crisis:
Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard CEO, failed 2010 GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, and friend of the fossil fuel industry. . .who is considering a presidential bid, told Glenn Beck that the California drought is a “man-made disaster.” And by man-made she means it has been caused by “liberal environmentalists” who have prevented the state from building the appropriate reservoirs and other water infrastructure.
“In California, fish and frogs and flies are really important,” she said. ” … California is a classic case of liberals being willing to sacrifice other people’s lives and livelihoods at the altar of their ideology.
Says the same presidential candidate who called off-shoring "right-shoring"; the same candidate who bragged about moving parts of Hewlett-Packard out of the country in order to avoid having to pay high taxes here; the same candidate who micromanaged the lay-offs of some 30,000 workers, sending most of their jobs overseas, labeling the move "streamlining".  The same candidate who was fired from said job for questionable practices and for losing the company, and thus the stockholders, tons of money.  ("Not so," says Carly.  But who you gonna trust?)

Carly is all business.  She sees that as a good thing.  Our political system is too full of politicians, she says.  What we need is a female president who understands management, who understands technology.  Carly says she does. (She's against net neutrality--something 80% of Americans are for.) What we need, she says, is a female president who isn't Hillary Clinton.  Don't get Carly wrong; Hillary has given her life to her work. She's just. . .

Ready?
  "Hillary Clinton must not be president of the United States, but not because she's a woman. Hillary Clinton must not be president of the United States because she is not trustworthy."

Benghazi!

Oh.

But, aside from building businesses by quashing government interference, what does Carly have in mind for her presidency, should she, um, win?  I think she's probably pretty smart.  (That's a plus when you want to be president, but it's not a qualification written in stone.) I'm pretty sure she knows she won't just be the CEO of a company, she'll be the CEO of the whole damn United States.  Of America.  That's--count 'em--50 states.  Big ones.  Lots of people. 

She must have thought beyond just being the anti-Hillary, as she's depicted (and as she no doubt relishes), but has she thought beyond being the CEO? There is a whole contingency (almost everybody) who think Carly made a lousy CEO while at HP, but Carly isn't one of them.

In her announcement video, she makes no mention of her qualifications (showing she has a sweet side), and to her credit she left out the Demon Sheep. (She lost to California Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010--by 10 points--thereby giving rise to the notion that it might take more than a phony red-eyed sheep to pull the wool over some peoples' eyes.)  But Carly thought the sheep ad was a good one.  "Some people thought it was funny," she said.

Well,  yeah, we all thought it was funny.  But was it wise?

But never mind. Carly says it might have looked like she lost big time but, in fact, she only slightly lost because in the primaries she outshone every other GOP hopeful.  She won the primary.  She WON.  The primary.)

Despite the high marks she gives herself, Carly Fiorina will not be the next president of the United States.  Carly knows that as well as I do, but what I'm seeing from Carly is a much bigger ambition:  She really, truly wants to knock that ditzy Sarah Palin off her high horse, climb onto that bejeweled saddle, and be The Witty Smart Spokeswoman for The New GOP.

Good luck with that, Carly.  But hang around for awhile, won't you, honey?  Strictly for laughs, of course.  You make it hard for us to take you seriously.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog, Liberaland, and FreakOutNation. Featured at Crooks and Liars MBRU)