Saturday, October 30, 2010

1st Daily Show after 9/11

Came across this today and couldn't not share it.  It renders me speechless.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
September 11, 2001
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen: sharpen your Palin pencils!

It's nigh time to see how the old girl does with her many endorsements this coming Tuesday.  It promises to be a mixed bag, with some high-profile wins and some equally-high-profile losses, all with big implications for her brand and political future. How will she do??

After much (frankly, a surprising amount of) searching, I finally located a handy-dandy (and hopefully up-to-date) list of Palin endorsees on the "Organize4Palin" website -- some 80 of them across the country.  The great majority of them are House races, but the national media -- "lamestream" or otherwise -- will no doubt focus on the bigger-ticket races in the Senate and, to a lesser degree, some of the gubernatorial contests.

For U.S. Senate, she has endorsed:

Miller (AK)
Fiorina (CA)
McCain (AZ)
Paul (KY)
Angle (NV)
Ayotte (NH)
O'Donnell (DE)
Rubio (FL)
Raese (WV)
Toomey (PA)
Boozman (AR)

For Governor, she has endorsed:

Haley (SC)
Branstad (IA)
Emmer (MN)
Perry (TX)
Martinez (NM)
Scott (FL)
Otter (ID)

According to polling data from The New York Times, Palin seems to be well-placed with her picks for Governor.  Five of her seven choices look like they will win easily.  Only Emmer in Minnesota and Scott in Florida are considered toss-ups.  Emmer is in a three-way race and is only given about a 1-in-10 chance of prevailing. Scott, on the other hand, is neck-and-neck with his rival, Sink, who is given the slightest of edges at the moment.  All in all, not so bad for Team Sarah.

A very different and much more complicated picture emerges from the Senate races.  Of her eleven endorsements, only four -- McCain, Paul, Ayotte and Boozman -- are either leaning or solidly Republican right now.  There are those who might shift the race in Kentucky from leaning Republican to "toss-up", but Paul seems to have survived some recent negative campaign ads.  Only one endorsee -- O'Donnell -- appears destined to lose (and lose big). All the other six campaigns are considered toss-ups.  The NYT site still shows Alaska leaning Republican, but, given Miller's plunging poll numbers, the Republican in question will likely be standing Sen. Lisa Murkowski -- much to Palin's chagrin.  Given the home-state turf and her well-publicized rivalry with Murkowski, a Miller loss will hurt.  Another likely loss that is still officially in the toss-up column is Fiorina in California.  She has managed to stay within striking distance but has consistently trailed Boxer and the NYT site gives her only a 7% chance of victory.  Rubio in Florida is almost assured victory as long as Meek resists rising pressure to drop out and throw his support to Crist.  If that happens, Sarah can probably kiss that race goodbye, too.  Another potential loss could be West Virgina where the Democrat, Manchin is given a 75% chance of winning.

The remaining two races in Pennsylvania and Nevada promise to be real barn-burners.  Toomey is currently given the edge in PA, which is good news for Palin, but Sestak is a proven fighter, having confounded the pundits and party establishment by defeating Republican-turned-Democrat Specter in the primary.  Angle is also given the edge in her race against Harry Reid in Nevada.  An Angle victory would be huge for Palin given the symbolism of knocking out the current Senate Majority Leader...but it will be this very same symbolism that will ensure the Democrats throw everything but the kitchen sink at her in these last remaining days. They don't want to lose this battle -- especially to a Tea Partier.

So...lots to watch.  If the toss-up races in the Senate break Republican, Sarah Palin is poised to have a very good night indeed.  Much, however, remains uncertain.  What is certain is that it's time to break out the popcorn, sharpen your pencils and play along at home.

[Image source.]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

In retrospect, perhaps showing up on The Daily Show wasn't the best idea.  No doubt the White House saw it as a great opportunity to sit down with a friendly crowd -- largely young, liberal, politically-aware and -motivated -- especially given next week's election and Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's dual rallies this weekend.

What could go wrong?

Well, it's not so much that anything went wrong, but it could be argued that nothing went particularly right.  Not only did the President "step in it" by resurrecting a heckuva painful Bushism, he continued to display a shocking inability to connect with the frustration so many of his supporters feel with him and his administration.  In his defensiveness, he's telling us that we're not paying attention, when, in fact, it's quite the reverse.

Lost in the flood of articles about the straits Obama and his White House are in is the fact that none of this started on Inauguration Day, 2009.  The election cycle before Obama was elected President, the country delivered huge wins to the Democrats. Electing Obama (and even more Democrats) was the culmination of a wholesale rejection not only of W. but of the Republicans in general.  The voters had cleared a political path for the new President; all he had to do was follow it.  But he did us one better: not only was he going to follow it, he was going to widen it, straighten it, put in some nice benches and lighting, etc.  He told us that we were the ones we had been waiting for, but -- let's face it -- we all knew he was the one we had been waiting for.

So what happened?  To the detriment of his -- our -- agenda, he made good on the one campaign promise no one really cared about:  changing the political climate in Washington.  Instead of getting in there and kicking some Republican butt, he decided to make nice.  Wasting precious time and political capital, he let them water down everything and then watched them still not vote for anything.  And this is when they were not filibustering everything else!  Suddenly 60 votes were required in the Senate to move anything forward.  Happily, the Democrats actually had 60 votes...thank God, right?  Not with this herd of cats.  The only person who lived up to the agenda the Democrats campaigned on was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; but, thanks to the lackluster performance of the rest of her party, she's about to be demoted. Ironic, no?

It is against this backdrop that Obama is trying to defend the last two years.  To be sure, the administration has made some herculean efforts to patch up the sinking ship of state they inherited; and, to be fair, Obama has always said the road would be long and the climb steep; but they cannot run away from the fact that they have squandered opportunities and have been completely inept at communicating what they've done and what they've been kept from doing.  On last night's The Daily Show, Obama said "we've done some stuff that folks don't even know about."  Really?  And whose fault is that!?

Jon Stewart should have asked why, despite poll after poll showing the majority of Americans trust the Democrats more than the Republicans and given all the President has said his administration has achieved...why are the voters about to leave him and his party in droves to support the GOP?  The answer is that no one wants a bunch of kumbaya in Washington; they want results and they want action.  Starting in 2006 and followed-up in 2008, the electorate gave the Democrats all the tools they needed to affect change.  They were told to expect more, and they did.  And now they're underwhelmed...and don't want to be told:  it's not us; it's you.  You're being unrealistic; you're making the good the enemy of the perfect; you're not paying attention; you need to stop whining and buck up.  Etc., etc., etc.

Bottom line: our dream team got played by the tattered remains of a party completely bereft of vision other than lower taxes.  They got away with pulling pigtails and shooting spitballs and succeeded in completely gumming up the works.  Obama should have been calling them on it every single day.  Harry Reid should have been calling them on it every single day.  Every Democrat on Capitol Hill should have been calling them on it every single day!

Hopefully, in the long-term, the President and his administration and party will learn a lesson following next Tuesday's predicted drubbing:  people want results and they want leaders who lead. Perhaps, if Harry Reid loses as currently expected, we'll get a new leader in the Senate...maybe someone like Chuck Schumer who isn't afraid to poke some eyes out and call spades the dirty, nasty shovels that they are.  One thing's for certain:  Obama will no longer have the "luxury" of commanding majorities that allow him to continue to take the high road; he's going to have to get down and dirty and fight for every single thing.

It'll be good for him.

[Shepard Fairey's Hope poster via Wikipedia.]

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The French Think We Are Nuts

The French!!

And the Germans, the Chinese, the Spanish and even the Pakistanis.

Well, ok...not so much nuts as reactionary, oafish, threatened, extreme and bigoted, respectively.  Kinda makes you wish they actually thought we were just nuts, right?

Foreign Policy brings us this analysis of how foreign media view our "tea partiers", and it is certainly but the merest representative sampling of what the international community must collectively regard as us catapulting ourselves clear over the rabbit-proof fence.  Even in this small selection, we come face-to-face with reactions from three rather important areas of the world:  Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The Europeans, for their part, have been there, done that.  Theirs is one big rolling of the eyes.  They are no strangers to revolutions or extremists -- except their agitators always showed up in their big-boy pants, wreaking real havoc and horrible destruction.  We Americans, by contrast, look more like a Disney-esque pack of Goofies in our tricorne hats with teabags a-dangling.  This, of course, is a good thing -- I'll take silly over fascist any day -- but it does tend to provoke ridicule.  They know socialism; socialism is a good friend of theirs, and Obama is no socialist.  Der Spiegel writes tea partiers off as "blue-collar workers with posters of pin-up girls in their lockers" worried about losing their manhood ("privileged position") to some wussy "European social model".  Ouch.  Le Monde predictably gets in a dig at the Brits by dismissing our loonies as "Anglo-Saxon, conspiracy-theor[ists]" threatened by the loss of American prestige and power.  Fair enough.  The Spanish seem to be a little more alarmed with El Pais writing "We don't know if we feel more profound horror or more profound pity."  Join the club, bub.

As for the Middle Kingdom, well, it's all about them.  Trumpeting its view of being the last remaining economy capable of driving a global recovery, it sees tea partiers as emblematic of American embarrassment and lingering we're-number-one-ism.  China Daily writes "China's greatest danger is that US policymakers face economic and national security crises they cannot solve."  True that, especially considering they own a great deal of our debt.  If we don't get our act together, China's portfolio suffers.

And, finally, Pakistan.  You know things are dicey when a country you routinely fly predator drones over is worried about your welfare.  As one might imagine, they take the more bigoted, anti-Islam strains of the movement to heart, lamenting "right wing zealots" with their "venomous discourse".  Pakistani newspaper Dawn has taken note of this summer's dramatics surrounding a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan and a Florida pastor threatening to burn a Quran and concludes that American Muslims are the latest in a long line of targets to receive "the treatment meted out to...scapegoats in American history" -- a line that includes such American low-points as our treatment of Native Americans and the stain of slavery.  Pretty damning stuff.

In an election cycle where most Americans can be forgiven for a certain amount of navel-gazing, it's important and instructive to remember that others are watching -- many, with concern and even alarm.  What some Americans may write off as buffoonery, others see as the rumblings of something more odious.  (And they should know.)  In the end, what happens here -- to one degree or another -- affects them too, so it shouldn't surprise us that they're paying attention or have opinions on the matter.

Here's hoping we're just a little nutty at the moment...for all our sakes.

[Image via Foreign Policy.]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What a swell party this is.

The "Tea Party", that is.  What a bunch of sweethearts!  Check out a list of their top six "unconstitutional" laws, as reported by TPM:

No. 1:  Social Security
No. 2:  Medicare
No. 3:  Minimum Wage
No. 4:  United Nations
No. 5:  Unemployment Benefits
No. 6:  Civil Rights Act

So, to review:  if you're healthy, young, moneyed, an isolationist, employed and white, you have nothing to fear.

The rest of you poor suckers are screwed.  The end.

[Hat-tip:  TPM; image source here.]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Did you know William Shatner is Jewish...?

...and Canadian??  Leonard Nimoy too -- Jewish, that is, not Canadian (so we're told).


Not so long ago, in my childhood (no snickering, please), I remember school-yard conversations where kids would, conspiratorially, share such information.  Adam Sandler would later join in with a song on the subject...remember?  A generation before, a Jewish kid risked being called a kyke or a "Christ killer". Hell, in my mother's childhood Maine, it was perfectly acceptable (if you were Anglo-Protestant) to discriminate against Franco-American Catholics -- and they were white and Christian.

Later, as an adult, I remember the first time, while reading the newspaper on the subway in New York, that The Times used "gay" instead of "homosexual" in an article.  It was about 1990 or 1991.

I also remember Presidents -- was it George H. W. or Clinton? -- who started including "synagogues" when referring to places where Americans worshiped -- as in "churches and synagogues".  Even W., much to his credit, tried (in vain apparently) to separate Islamic fundamentalists from other Muslims even while beating the war drums to fight the former.  (The fact that Saddam Hussein, while no nice guy, wasn't an Islamic fundamentalist didn't seem to bother him...but that's another story.)

My point is:  over our history, groups facing discrimination and even outright hatred are eventually folded into our society; and, while some of this happens naturally -- painfully -- over time, it is often consciously helped along by those with powerful bully pulpits, like the President or other politicians or influential media outlets.  Together, they facilitate such societal quantum leaps as a Catholic becoming President, or an African-American becoming President, or even my mother re-marrying a Catholic.

And now this has to happen with the next group waiting in line: Muslims.

It's a uphill battle, let's face it.  Through no fault of virtually all of the world's 1.5+ billion Muslims, their faith -- or at least a radical, fundamentalist hijacking of their faith -- is now associated with two ongoing wars following the deadliest attack on American shores (one of only a handful) since Pearl Harbor.  Some Americans, who know Muslims personally or have traveled in Muslim countries or have a more embracing worldview, know this is deeply unfair. Others do not, and the reasons for this run the gamut from odious bigotry to simple lack of experience to knee-jerk, irrational prejudices that immediately produce guilt and shame.  And, just as there is a recognized difference between aggravated assault and a misdemeanor, I believe there is a difference between real bigotry and a subconscious (or even conscious) fear.

It's on the battleground of the latter that we can most effectively wage and win the war against prejudice.  The most recent volley -- Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things -- reminds people that Muslims are our neighbors, colleagues, Nobel Peace laureates, writers, scientists, etc.  It's a fundamental point.  My only quibble with the site is that it a) preaches to the choir and b) shies away (so far) from addressing the actual fear-based and fear-producing prejudice of what Juan Williams called "Muslim garb" -- i.e., Muslims wearing religiously-inspired or -prescribed clothing.  In doing so, I think it does itself, as well as the Muslim objects of irrational prejudice, a disservice.  And that's a shame.  It can and should go farther by showing similar, everyday people in similar, everyday situations wearing the kind of "things" that actually provoke the particular fear that Williams admitted to and that got him, rightly or wrongly, fired.

We may have killed the messenger, but sadly the message lives on.

So what do we do?  For starters, we can ask -- demand? -- that our most famous person of partially Muslim descent (I'm talking to you, President Obama) start educating from the unique position(s) he holds.  Instead of ill-advisedly running from some misconceived "taint" of his heritage, he should embrace it, leading by example.  He should talk about his time in Indonesia; he should celebrate his quintessential American-ness.  He once said he was a mut.  Aren't virtually all of us muts, too!?  Cannot we coalesce and come together as a nation and society around our shared muttiness?  To give credit where credit is due, Obama has added "mosques" to "churches and synagogues" in his speeches...other religions and those of no religion, too.  But he needs to do more.

And not just him.  We all need to do more.  And what better way to confront and combat the Palins and Huckabees who run around telling the "heartland" that the "barbarians are at the gate"? Instead of congratulating ourselves on our open minds and inclusive hearts, and shaming and vilifying those who admit to irrationally pre-judging, we need to acknowledge the fear and say:  look, I understand where you're coming from, but here's how you're wrong.

Tut-tut-ing and mocking may feel good, but ultimately it's counterproductive.  At some point, we're going to have to get serious enough to do the hard work of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

[Image via BBC.]

Friday, October 22, 2010

Our newest bogeyman isn't so new.

American is an island of sorts...certainly psychologically so.  It's no doubt due to the vast ocean the first European adventurers and then settlers crossed to get here, but that notion of separateness has served to support a strong strain of isolationism right up to the modern era -- just ask Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and the two Bushes.  For a country so willing to spend its treasure on its military, we're a country that loathes foreign entanglements.  Sure, there are plenty of hawks in government and business who may be all-too-ready to assert American power, but the majority of the people distrust this notion and only begrudgingly acquiesce to the role of reluctant policemen (inevitably turning sour and demanding disengagement -- e.g. Afghanistan and Iraq).

We also distrust "fer'ners" [foreigners].  This is the highest irony, of course, considering the vast majority of our ancestral backgrounds; but, nonetheless, every wave of ethnic immigration has been met with disdain or even outright hatred.  And yet they keep coming, and, eventually, they are folded into the society.  It's a painful and on-going process, and virtually every family here has experienced this to one degree or another, at one time or another.  Add to this our national shame in the slave trade and you get a nation that, in the kindest terms, remains conflicted, still not completely comfortable in its own skin.

It is onto this canvas that the current picture of anti-Muslim feeling must be painted.  Only, the canvas isn't new and there's plenty of paint already on it.  Some of the paint we inherited from our crusading European ancestors, some from our very first foreign entanglement with the Barbary States.  In the modern era, we have witnessed the nationalization of the Suez Canal, successive wars against Israel, oil embargoes, the Iranian hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the First Gulf War, the destruction of the World Trade Center, the war in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Second Gulf War.  It ain't pretty, and it's certainly not rational, but one can begin to understand why many Americans are not completely comfortable with the Muslim world.

It's not fair, of course.  It's not fair to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims who peacefully live their lives and practice their faith, and it's certainly not fair to American Muslims who are supposed to enjoy constitutionally-protected lives free from discrimination and prejudice.  Here's a poignant Venn Diagram that gives a little context:

This is a freedom that, by the way, extends to wearing religiously-prescribed clothing onto airplanes without harassment.  Our laws and our ethics demand that we not discriminate or act prejudicially against an individual or a group for exercising their rights.

And yet we do.

It's wrong, but is it understandable?  I would argue that it is understandable.  It is also unjustifiable and desperately needs to be countered with education, experience and appeals to the values and common decency we purport to hold dear.

Juan Williams famously lost his contract with NPR yesterday for publicly admitting to a prejudicial nervousness upon seeing Muslim dress on fellow airplane passengers.  Some believe he was attempting to justify such a reaction; others feel he was explaining and exposing a reaction many others feel but would be rightly ashamed to mention.  Myself, I tend to side with the latter, and I think it was a shame and missed opportunity to fire him...not least of which because he was immediately -- and thoroughly predictably -- welcomed with open arms at Fox.  But I don't know Williams' head for certain, and my concern is not with him, specifically.  My concern is with the rest of population, who, despite a desire to treat people equally and a knowledge that discrimination is wrong, still nevertheless feel twinges of Williams' nervousness in a similar situation.  Are we to lump them in with people -- pastors no less -- who put up signs like this?

Some out there in Commentland would obviously have no problem doing just that.  They seem perfectly comfortable writing off prejudicial fear as nothing less than racism and bigotry.

I do not.

We're human beings and we mess up all the time.  Our goal is to recognize this and try to make things right, and this one-strike-and-you're-out philosophy when it comes to knee-jerk reactions to irrational fear is wasteful and counterproductive.  It doesn't help solve the problem; it's more concerned with meting out punishment.

Let us all recognize that our bogeyman du jour is Islam.  Whether it's the community center proposed in Lower Manhattan or Juan Williams or the popular misconception that our President is somehow, secretly, a Muslim, our country (but not just our country) is wrapped up in a certain degree of hysteria, causing many to overreact and retreat into camps of defensiveness.  If we cannot admit that there's a problem and look it squarely in the face without fear of recrimination, we will never be able to counter and correct it.

We'll still just be Us and Them.

[Image sources:  Venn Diagram here,and Islam sign here; see Dr. Suess' Sneeches here.  For further reading on the history of Islam, I re-recommend Reza Aslan's brilliant and engaging No god but God:  The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, available here.]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How pure are you?

To read the comments out there today in the liberal blogosphere reacting to NPR's firing of Juan Williams, you'd think half the population was pure as the white, driven snow.  No prejudice in this crowd, no sir!

Call me crazy, but, you know, I think some of them most of them virtually all of them were being disingenuous.  Shocking, right?

Anyway, I'm about to hang up my mouse on the subject (for the moment), but I thought I'd share a comment I just posted over at Talking Points Memo, one of my favorite haunts, lamenting the illiberality of some liberals I've encountered today.  Here 'tis:

I'm amazed at how much self-righteousness there is on the left out there in Commentland today. All these people in glass houses ready to start chucking stones at folks who try to point out the difference between admissions of wrong-headed prejudice and out-and-out racism. Is everyone out there professing prejudical purity really so pure? Have they really never pre-judged someone...or is admitting so too inconvenient rhetorically? I can understand -- given what I've read (I never really followed the guy, despite being a frequent NPR listener) -- how the knives are out for Williams. Fine. But what about all the people -- otherwise decent people -- out there who nodded their heads (hopefully ashamedly) and thought, yeah, I get what he's talking about? When NPR showed Williams the door, didn't they risk showing them the door, too? Are our numbers so great that we can alienate people, who, when presented with the facts and rational discourse, cannot be persuaded to understand that this kind of prejudice is something we need to acknowledge and fight? Are they all to be written off as villains?

This is one of those teachable moments we always talk about. There are plenty of good people who sadly share this fear of Islam. Acknowledging it shouldn't be condemned; persisting in it after it has been shown to be irrational and harmful and unAmerican is what should be condemned. And, frankly, I don't think we've done enough teaching on the subject. I'm not willing to write off those who can and should, with a little effort, be allies. To do so would be counterproductive and downright illiberal. Aren't we supposed to be better than that?

Good night, nurse!

We Are All Bigots

Welllll, maybe not bigots per se, but I would definitely like to meet the person who truly is without prejudice of one sort or another. We all have it and we all do it on a daily basis; we are animals, after all.  Survival requires constantly taking the measure of any single situation and being prepared.  The difference between us and the rest of the Earth's beasts is that we get to be conscious of it, if we so choose and make a real effort.  We get to use our lovely brains and ability to reason to counteract our atavistic animal instinct.  And we can use our loving hearts to help us see the humanity in all people.

Today we learned of Juan Williams' firing from NPR.  I think this was an overreaction, and that's a shame, because the tut-tut-terati have encouraged the scapegoating of a man -- an "elite", no less -- who, unwisely but honestly, admitted to a knee-jerk fear and prejudice.  We can call it wrong until the cows come home, but in the final analysis, he was merely giving voice to the fears of many out there.  Does that make it right or ok?  NO!  Is it yet another one of those teachable moments that keep popping up?  YES.

So what does NPR do?  Instead of shining a light on this issue, bringing Williams on to explain further what he meant -- perhaps giving him a chance to remind us all that such feelings are wrong and we have to be ever-vigilant against allowing fear to pre-judge individuals or groups? -- they bum rush him out the back door naively hoping to maintain some sort of editorial purity.  So, now, instead of making the news, they will have to report on the aftermath.  I suppose that's safer, but it also seems very unNPR.

This brouhaha comes on the heels of another story this week about President Obama taking a pass on visiting a Sikh temple in India.  Why?  He would have to cover his head, as is customary and required; and, considering most Americans cannot distinguish between a Muslim headdress and a Sikh one...well, you know the rest.  So, once again, instead of tackling a tricky issue head-on -- and exposing a little ignorance in the process -- we steer clear and miss a golden opportunity.

Bigotry and prejudice should have no place in our world; but, guess what:  it does.  Our choice, in our constant effort to identify it, recognize it and fight it, should not be between ignoring it or passively (or actively) opting to avoid it to keep our hands clean; it should be to call it out whenever we see it and address the fear that creates it.  Neither NPR or Obama did that this week.  NPR chose to vilify, and the White House handlers caved to ignorance.


[Image source.]

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vote early, and vote often!

That's our motto, here in Chicago.  And, as you'll note, it has worked out just fine for us.


Anyway, considering there is a vexing level of voter apathy -- especially on the we're-about-to-get-clobbered-so-why-bother left -- I thought I'd share another gem from fellow Episcopalian and home-state funnyman, Daily Kos' own Bill in Portland Maine.  In today's episode, he votes early...and it's so damn charming and rib-tickling that perhaps it will (re-)inspire you to get out and vote yourself.  So, without further ado, please give a big DraneSpout welcome to Bill in Portland Maine:

I Voted...and ALMOST DIED!!!
It was a cold, sunny Tuesday afternoon when I Sylvester Stallone'd up the fourteen granite steps to the lobby of City Hall, Gene Kelly'd up the thirty-four marble steps to the second floor, and Lady Gaga'd my way down the hall and into the Great State of Maine stateroom. There I came eyeball-to-eyeball with a middle-aged election worker with middle-aged blonde hair. I also noticed she was wearing the Forbidden Pearls of the Magic Palace of Madagascar that I'd spent my life and fortune seeking at great human cost. I would deal with them later. For now I was just here to vote.
I presented my valid photo ID to the election lady. She scrutinized it with eagle eyes, gazing up at my mug, then down at the driver's license photo. Then up...then down. Then updownupdownupdown. No imposters were gonna slip by on her watch, bub. I prayed to god that I was who my ID says I was, and it turns out...I am.
She returned my ID, gathered a set of three cafeteria-tray-size ballot sheets, and sent me off to a makeshift voting booth with a warning: "Use the black marker and only the black marker provided, or you'll leave here through that yonder winder. I shuffled to my cube, inserted a jeweler's loupe into my eye socket and got down to the business of participatory democracy.
The first oval I filled in was for Libby Mitchell for governor.  The second nod I gave was to Chellie Pingree for a second term as my congressbuttkicker. All those admonitions from my elementary school teachers to "Color inside the lines! Color inside the lines!" were paying off. My ovals were perfect---model ovals, in fact, that other voters would be proud to emulate.
I voted to make Portland's mayor an actual elected official, overturning the centuries-old process of dumping the Sacred Lobster Shells of Casco Bay onto the city council chamber floor and letting our seer choose. I voted for a bond to improve dental care in the state. I voted to approve various charter recommendations that made my eyes glaze over. And I voted to legalize the recreational use of pot, even though it wasn't "officially" on the ballot.
And that was that. I hastily sealed my ballots inside my envelope so that the voter in the cube next to me wouldn’t copy my answers (God I hate that!) and slipped it in the box marked "Stick It Here, Stupid." Then I Fred Astaire'd my way down the steps and almost got hit by a bus as I was putting my "I VOTED!"sticker on my butt while crossing the street.
Now it's your turn. If your state allows it, VOTE NOW. Kos has the handy links here if you need 'em.

Should you be wondering, Bill's hyperlinks are still active, so feel free to click away!

To enjoy the rest of Bill's post -- and those of his fellow Kossacks -- at Daily Kos, please click here.

P.S.  Fear not, I haven't forgotten about the Trans-Siberian post.  (I knew you were wondering.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reunion Regrets

I hate small talk.

I can do times I even initiate it, but, druthers given, I'm usually happiest to remain unengaged.  If I "go in" at all, I prefer to go in deep -- not because I consider myself, the other person or the topic deep, necessarily, but because I want to give the interaction its full due.  They call it "being in the moment" these days.  Any exchange -- whether it's about fuel mileage or someone's mastectomy -- has a proper duration, and this then depends on context:  a chance meeting in the supermarket, a social gathering, a symposium on the subject, etc.  It feels equally wrong to either cut something short or run it into the ground. Balance is the sought-after goal.

At the end of the day, people seek out the shared and quotidian. Can you believe this weather!?   Oh, really, where in Florida?  Even how about them Mets??  gets problematic because you may be talking to a Red Sox fan.  And forget about politics, religion and money...unless you're with a like-minded crowd, preferably someone whom you know won't slug, denounce or rob you (and, even then, it can get dicey).

So, what do you do when the shared topic is what I've described recently here as that great societal birth-canal, high school, and the social situation is your class reunion?

Well, if you are me, you don't go.  And, if you are my boyfriend Jay, you're perfectly happy with this arrangement because you are also gay, childless, rabidly political, uncomfortable with small talk and ran screaming from your hometown.  It would be easy, perhaps even enjoyable, to go through the litany of reasons why, for me, high school was a horror (which it was)...something to be survived (which I obviously did), but the truth is there were also bright spots during those four years and a number of good people (classmates -- older and younger -- and faculty) who helped me through them.  There are, in fact, plenty of people from my class I'd enjoy seeing again, but it won't be in a reunion setting (which unfortunately means it may never happen).

Before I'm written off as a crank, let me be clear:  I have no desire to pillory the time-honored tradition of reunions, even high school reunions.  They serve a wonderful purpose and are clearly enjoyed by many.  But I think you have to be a certain kind of person.  First and foremost, you had to have, on balance, enjoyed your time in high school.  Few get through secondary education completely unscathed, but I'd be willing to bet most look back on their pre-adulthood fondly:  no workaday lives, no kids, no mortgages, first loves, first cars, football games, dances, etc.  For those of us who didn't and/or couldn't enjoy this period in their lives, high school qua "high school" [that's for you, Reg!] is not a memory worth revisiting -- people, yes, but the experience or the institution, no.  Secondly, you have to like a party -- especially one populated with a cast of characters that run the gamut from people with whom you are still in touch to people you don't remember at all and everybody in between.  Some relish this idea; it fills others with apprehension or even dread.

As much as I might like to be a member of that former group, there's no getting around the fact that I'm simply not.  And I don't think I'm alone in this.  Despite my aversion to small talk, I'm actually a very pleasant and friendly kind of guy. (Ask anybody!) What I lack -- and I think is necessary for the full class-reunion experience -- is the ability to work a room.  I've noticed this at weddings, funerals and other events that involve disparate groups of people.  I tend to engage just a few to the exclusion of the many, and, at the end of the evening, I realize I've failed to speak with others, on occasion the person(s) I came expressly to see.  For this reason, I much prefer small gatherings, where a conversation can extend to the whole dinner table, for instance, and/or just the person next to you.  The fact that reunions are not and cannot be like this, means I'm letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.  I recognize this, and I accept it.

Ultimately, this is the real reason I declined invitations to three class reunions in the last 12 months:  college (20th), graduate school (10th), and now high school (25th).  I was around many more like-minded people in college and graduate school, but it was my same social requirements that resulted in my taking a pass.  I know I'm potentially missing out, and though this may cause me regret, I also know myself well enough to acknowledge this is my truth and be ok with it.  In a more humorous vein, I think this quote from Audrey Hepburn's character Regina Lampert in Charade (a favorite of Jay's) sums the feeling up nicely:  "I already know an awful lot of people and, until one of them dies, I couldn't possibly meet anyone else."  For me, I guess this includes re-meeting people.

[Image via Universal Pictures' 1963 movie Charade.]

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'd like to be graphic if I could for a moment.... this:  it's a DraneSpout word cloud.  Neat!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Up next: my trip on the Trans-Siberian Express....

[Image via here.]

It Gets Better

This is Joel Burns, a Fort Worth City Councilman:

[Hat-tip: Daily Dish.]

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Remembrances of an Ex-Pat Transplant New Yorker

New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx is up, but the Battery's down.
The people ride in a hole in the groun'.
New York, New York, it's a helluva town!

New York City is a helluva town.  When I moved there in 1989, it was an answer to my prayer.  When I finally left in 2005, it had become a nightmare.  Looking back now (thanks to an article in The New York Observer and a comment I made which really deserves to be a post here), I don't miss it at all.  But I loved it once, and I'll certainly never forget it.

Erika and I drove onto West 106th Street in the (Upper) Upper West Side the day after my graduation from college in my home-state of Maine.  She was a new best friend from our shared junior year abroad, and I had cajoled her into making this leap with me. Fortunately, she had graduated from college the week before in her home-state of Ohio, so she came East to help me wrap things up and then off we went.  We were both kindred spirits, who, having lived in Munich for a year and experienced a goodly chunk of Europe and even points farther afield, couldn't conceive of any other place to go next.

NYC also seemed like an appropriate place to strap on my newly-purchased gay training wheels and roll around a bit.  I had come out to myself while on my year abroad -- in China of all places, 'cause, you know, life is strange -- but, until the day before the day before graduation, a romantic life had all been depressingly theoretical.  Not any more....

The tiny sublet at the back of the 2nd floor with a lovely view of an airshaft was soon traded in at the end of that summer for a funky, rooftop playhouse kind of a place in the West Village.  As the years and relationships passed, this would be followed by stints in the East Village, back to the West, down to the Financial District (with one foot in New Haven for graduate school), across the East River to Park Slope, then finally back across the river to Chelsea.  During that time, the subways went from red to silver and the MetroCard replaced the token; the mayoralty passed from Koch to Dinkins to Giuliani to Bloomberg; Chuck Schumer bounced Al D'Amato out of the Senate; some baseball was apparently played; the fourth Gay Games were hosted; the Christopher Street piers were rehabilitated; the Gays migrated just north to Chelsea;  Alphabet City and Times Square got hosed down; the hipsters started wearing trucker hats and moved to Williamsburg; Battery Park City grew up and the World Trade Center fell down.

For me, it was that last experience that triggered the beginning of the end of my time in New York.  Like so many others, particularly New Yorkers, I'll never forget that day which started so gorgeously and ended with my neighborhood covered in debris and death and still on fire.  My first job in the city had been at a white-shoe law firm in the north tower.  I had even evacuated down those fire stairs once during my time there when a transformer fire had broken out in the neighborhood.  We legal assistants often used the fire stairs as a faster way than the elevators of getting between floors.  The WTC was one of my favorite places to bring out-of-town visitors, culminating in a trip to the rooftop for a spectacular view of the harbor and the rest of the city and beyond.  When my then boyfriend and I moved a short four blocks away, following a wave of commercial-to-residential conversions in the neighborhood, the fact that The Twins were there helped soften the blow of having to leave the West Village.

The seismic shift that day and in the days that followed irrecoverably cracked the lens through which I experienced the only place I had really lived as an adult.  Suddenly, it was dirtier, noisier, more expensive, more exhausting and anxiety-producing. It certainly didn't help that the fires at Ground Zero smoldered until Thanksgiving or that, thereafter, one had to walk next to the wrecking ball and recovery workers on the way to and from the subway, the gym, the park...anywhere.  Xanax helped smooth the more jagged parts of my mental state, but nothing could prepare me for the changes that would come.  The period that followed -- just over four years -- was bookended by my ending a twelve-year relationship and my next boyfriend ending what was then a three-and-a-half-year relationship for me.  I lived in three separate neighborhoods; had three separate jobs; and many panic attacks in a subway car stuck in a tunnel or a crowded bus or elevator.  At the end, perhaps most emblematic of what was wrong with this picture was the studio apartment (my nicest yet) my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend and I shared that, had it been for sale, would have cost us well over $400,000 -- all 600 square feet of it.

For years, I wore it as a badge of honor that my family thought me quite insane for living in New York City.  In sixteen years, my mother visited me once.  People forget (or simply don't know) that NYC is actually an archipelago; only the Bronx is attached to the mainland.  In Manhattan, non-residents are labeled B&Ts -- the bridge and tunnel folks who come to visit but could never take living there.  There's an esprit-de-corps that comes with living on an island that so many either fight to avoid or fight to get to.  Being separate is fun until you feel trapped.  By 2005, I was taking a good, long look at the graph in my head that showed my current and future salary, my current and future debt, and what it would take to live the kind of life I hoped one day I would live.  Nothing added up, and it never would.  Finally, within six months, my father died and the boyfriend called it quits.

It was time to go.

I actually feel a huge gratitude to that last New York boyfriend for providing the catalyst I needed to knock me out of orbit.  Leaving New York has turned out to be as important an act as coming to New York had been more than a decade-and-a-half earlier.  If nothing else, the last five years have taught me that you really never know.  Relocating to suburban South Florida wasn't such a stretch for me as it was a frequent destination for family and fun. But, if anyone had told me I'd find myself in Chicago less than two years later with the man I've waited my entire life to meet -- let alone have -- with an apartment and car we own (and this despite the fact that I've been involuntarily retired as an architect for coming up on two years), know.

New York is a great place, and life is always a fight; but my particular fight there finally wore me out.  Others fight on, and I wish them the best.  Who knows, NYC may yet have a place in my future; but, for now, I'm happy to cease playing the part of refugee and take on the mantle of ex-pat.

[Image and quoted lyrics from MGM's 1949 musical On The Town.]

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

DOMA, DADT and walking the walk: two cases in point

Busy week!  Let's review, shall we?

Setting:  Mid-term election campaigning in full swing with the Democrats on the defensive, most notably with their own base.  A significant part of the disappointment many progressives feel relates specifically to the Administration's failure to follow through with unequivocal campaign promises regarding equality for gay people.  This failure has recently become more poignant and pronounced due to a small flood of young gay suicides that have found their way into the mainstream media.

Act One:  HRC dinner on Saturday where Valerie Jarrett says all the right things to an A-list crowd.

Act Two:  Dan Savage of the It Gets Better Project reacts on Monday, calling FAIL/FOUL.

Act Three, Scene One:  The Obama DOJ files notices of appeal in two separate federal cases where DOMA was ruled unconstitutional back in July.  This was yesterday.

Act Three, Scene Two:  A federal court in California issued an injunction yesterday (over the DOJ's objection), ordering the military to immediately cease enforcing DADT, a practice the court had found unconstitutional last month in a case brought by the Log Cabin Republicans.  The DOJ is reviewing its options on how, if at all, to proceed.

Act Four:  TBD.

So, essentially, we have a President and an Administration who say one thing and do quite the opposite.  The Great Oz says pay no attention to those lawyerly minions behind the curtain!!  The problem is:  the curtain's open and we see what's going on.  And it would all be amusing if it were not so serious; it's hard to be anything but appalled when people's lives are on the line.  Whether it's currently-closeted servicemen and -women risking their lives in the military (and risking their careers if they come out) or young gay people discovering they are second-class citizens (at best to be tolerated, at worst to be actively targeted, by the laws and lawmakers of the country of their birth), we should realize real lives of real people are damaged by these policies...with real consequences.

And what of the consequences if the policies were reversed?  There are none, if ignorance and fear were also thrown out.  The straight serviceman would have to serve with the same gay guy he's been serving with, except now both can be open (if they choose) about their lives and loves.  And the straight married couple will realize that their marriage remains undiminished in the eyes of God and the State but that our laws, which separate Church and State, do not allow them to define what constitutes a civil union/marriage based on a religiously-founded notion of morality or tradition.  If they, as individuals or as groups of individuals, refuse to recognize the civil equality of such relationships, that is their choice; regardless, they cannot dictate that position to a government that promises equal opportunity.

As my mother used to say:  they'll have to go pound sand.

I don't think there are many who, no matter what their personal conviction, believe DOMA and DADT are tenable at this point.  This realization may gladden or sadden, but it's now a matter of time.  Surely the Obama Administration knows this...indeed we've been told this is what they want.  So why do they continue to fight against the tide?  To make nice with the Right?  We know how that plays out.  To appear moderate to all those important Independents out there whose help they'll require for a second term in 2012?  Perhaps, but they risk misreading political independents as unwilling to respect and reward firmly-held values (even when they run counter to their own) -- or punish perceived political cowardice.

The President who prefers not to get his hands dirty is being handed a campaign promise fulfilled (DADT) on a silver platter by a nice, clean judge in that other branch of government -- the one where the political referees live.  He knows them.  He went to school with them.  He no doubt agrees with them.

Act Four:  President Obama [takes/hands back] the tray.

[Image source here.]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Political Operative and an Activist walk into a bar...

...except it wasn't a bar; it was a gala dinner aaaannnnnddd the Activist wasn't there in person but his words were, co-opted by the Political Operative.

As you might expect, the P.O.'s words rang hollow, everyone has noticed and proffered a big Bronx cheer, and the quoted activist is p.o.'d.

Welcome to the aftermath of the 2010 Human Rights Campaign's 14th Annual National Dinner!

As written about on this very page -- and countless others, thank god -- Dan Savage, activist and writer-extraordinaire, and his partner Terry have been busy reacting to the very real tragedy of young gay suicides with more than just words; they actually went into action by starting the It Gets Better Project (brand new website here).  It's a place where people, famous and un-, can upload short movies of themselves where they share their personal and inspirational survival stories for an audience who needs some encouragement and hope that things will eventually get better.

Dan and Terry -- and all who have supported and participated in this literally life-saving and -ennobling project -- didn't just talk about it or make promises to be later unkept; they acted.

Cue Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett's speech to the A-list crowd at the Washington dinner, entitled (wait for it...) "It Gets Better".  Towards the latter part of her speech, she said:

We have to keep fighting together.  We must not lose hope.  We cannot allow people to sow division among us – not when the stakes are so high for our country.
After all, as President Obama said when he spoke here last year, the people in this room are a testament to the progress we have already made as a nation.  You are a testament to the capacity of our American ideals to help us overcome old prejudices.  To allow us to see in each other, our common humanity.  In short, you are living proof of what has become a powerful message in recent days.  Simply put: “It gets better.”

At least she/they put quotes around the phrase in the printed text. Maybe she used air-quotes at the dinner...?

I think under normal circumstances, if this President and his White House had been the kind of "fierce advocate" he promised he and his would be on the campaign trail, Dan Savage would be only too happy to take the free publicity (though would mentioning the website's address have killed them?)  However, considering they have not lived up to their promises...not even come close...not even broken a sweat, Dan was a tad annoyed yesterday:

Confidential to the White House

Fuck you, you pack of co-opting cowards.
Seriously. You can do a more than offer hope. You have the power to make it better. Right now. Suspend enforcement of DADT. Don't appeal the decision by a federal judge that declared DADT unconstitutional. Stop defending DOMA in court. Keep your promises. Make it better. And if you're not going to keep your promises or do what you can to make it better, White House, then you could at least have the simple human decency to shut the fuck up.
State-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people legitimizes the kind of anti-gay attitudes and beliefs that lead directly to anti-gay bullying at the ballot box and anti-gay bullying in schools. You can do more. Enough with the speeches. Enough with the pretty words—particularly lifted ones.
Fuck you.

[Bold text and hyperlink, Mr. Savage's.]

The It Gets Better Project doesn't just promise that, given enough time, things will get better; it helps make things better now.

The proof's in the pudding, Ms. Jarrett et al.:  if you're going to borrow the talk, you should be willing to adopt the walk.

[Big tip o' the hat:  Daily Dish; image via Queerty.]

Monday, October 11, 2010


I suppose some kids have it easy, effortlessly and unself-consciously growing up, absorbing the rules of the game like fluoride through their drinking-water.  There have to be some who experience their childhood this way...but I cannot imagine many.

No one gets an owner's manual when they show up in this life. Kids, at home and in school, get peppered with rules and regulations like "don't hit your sister" and "keep your eyes on your own paper" and "no running in the hall" -- things that are easily generalized and enforceable.  Like the card game "Mao", however, the many remaining blanks are filled only by participating, observing and imitating.  Failure to do so leaves you holding cards you learn you shouldn't want.

There are plenty of ways to be different and they are never more painful than during the great societal birth-canal of high school. Not only does just about everyone get to experience it, you get to experience it in a group setting of child-to-adult morphlings zooming around unsteadily on newly-minted sexual driver permits.

What fun!

Did I mention the locker-rooms?

Like I said before, few have it easy.  HOWEVER, the advantage straight kids have in navigating their own individual love boats is inestimable.  From the moment we all are born, we are bombarded by messages from all sides that Joanie Love Chachi and that "love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage" and that dental hygiene facilitates making out.  There are dolls and dollhouses to play with, dances and proms to go to, Valentines to give and receive, bridal showers and bachelor parties to attend, and babies to have to start the cycle all over again.

Assuming your inclination is to do this anyway, the road happily rises up to meet you and the wind is ever at your back.  Your road might be bumpy and the wind variable, but the path is provided ...along with "a sail."

But what if your inclination orients you elsewhere?  Intuitive at first, then becoming more plain and finally downright insistent, it may or not be apparent to those otherwise-engaged that you're not keeping up with the herd.  Being reassured that you're a "late bloomer" helps for a time...until you realize that your bloom isn't late; it's been stunted, and not by you.

If you're lucky, you see through the messages -- realizing they are valid for many but not for you -- and are ok with this fact and strong enough to bide your time, if necessary, until you have more control over your life as an adult who is free to move and associate.  It's a lot to ask of teenager, especially one as young as 13.  But some do it.  Others aren't so lucky and internalize all the implicit then explicit (sometimes violently explicit) negativity that comes from not following along, even if you're trying so hard to do so.  Some of these kids ultimately respond with the seemingly logical conclusion that they are better off dead.

People paying attention have long understood that gay kids are more likely to be bullied and have higher suicide rates. Thankfully, our ever-increasing ability to communicate and connect is bringing this problem to a larger audience.  In the days and weeks preceding this year's National Coming Out Day, it seems like there has been an increase in the number of gay suicides.  Towleroad reports that it's actually our awareness that has increased. Speaking with The Trevor Project -- a suicide hotline -- Senior Public Policy and Research Manager Dave Reynolds had this to say:

From what we know and can tell, there has not been an increase in suicide completions among lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth over the past few weeks.  Sadly, there are likely this many deaths every week, but the media and the general populace are just starting to realize the depth of this public health and social justice issue.

Assuming this is true -- and he ought to know -- the sadness and outrage many have felt this last few weeks is long overdue.  Every kid deserves nurturing, protection and encouragement, and caring people obviously need to do more because the need is not being met.  Gay adults have a special role to play and can no longer sit on the sidelines, allowing fear-based accusations of recruitment and pedophilia from a vocal minority keep them quiet and sitting on their hands.  To do nothing means we've internalized the lies and the fear-mongers still exercise the power to control us.  Happily, Dan Savage has most recently advanced the baton by creating the It Gets Better Project, a You Tube channel devoted to people sharing their stories of how it got better for them, post-high school...all because, as Dan reminds us, it was Harvey Milk who said: You gotta give 'em hope.

Hopefully, one day soon, we'll all make way for gaylings.

[Image source:  here.]

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Leif Erikson Day!

Well, actually it's tomorrow, but I thought I'd get a jump on the celebration before everyone is doing it!

(It's like this every year.)

In honor of America's true discoverer, I thought it would be nice to honor my own Vikings:  Frideborg Maria Persson and Johan Vilhelm Olsson.

This picture was taken about 1921, judging by the age of my grandmother (I'm guessing she's about 3 here).  I'm pretty sure my great-grandmother is seated because she towered over her rather diminutive husband.

Who said all Swedes are tall?  Well, she was anyway (that's her in the dark coat).

The two arrived in the U.S. a year apart (he, 1903; her, 1904), very young (both were 17), and from opposite sides of Sweden (he, from the east coast; her, from the west not far from the Norwegian border).  I don't know how much English Frideborg knew before arriving but I do know William (he switched his first and middle names, anglicizing them as "William John") had no English at all and used his time working to pay off his passage to acquire the language.  This would be impressive all by itself (if basically the norm), but what is even more impressive is that, having apprenticed to a jeweler and clockmaker back in Sweden, he worked off his indenture at a lumber yard in rural Pennsylvania.  His height couldn't have helped, but thinking about his hands, highly trained for delicate work, tossing around logs would seem a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately for all concerned, no such disaster happened.  His debt paid, William returned to his true profession and embarked on quite the pilgrimage.  Between 1907 and 1910 he traveled and worked in such far-flung places as Chicago and Butte, Montana.  At some point along the way, he met his future wife -- probably in Chicago, where she had cousins and might have been visiting from Minneapolis.  They were married in Buffalo in 1910 and settled back in PA in a town called Smethport.  Very quickly, William would buy out his employer and set up shop under his own name. Not bad for a relatively recent immigrant at the age of 24!

Their first child, a son, was born in Smethport in 1912; but, by the time my grandmother Helen came along, the family had relocated to Jamestown, New York, a town known for having a large Swedish colony.

Like many, the 1910s and 1920s were good to the Olsons. William's business was well-established and they enjoyed the pleasures of solid middle-classdom.

(Honestly, who mows the lawn in such a get-up?  I guess he did remove his coat and hat....)

And, like many, the Great Depression was their undoing.  The details are murky, but we do know that the business failed, the house they owned was replaced by a house they rented, and at some point in the early 1930s, they left Jamestown altogether and relocated to Chicago to be closer, presumably, to Frideborg's relatives.  Before long, the marriage failed as well; and while they never divorced, the pair became estranged. At William's death in 1949, he was living in Gary, Indiana.  While William was no doubt able to find some work (doing what exactly and where is unclear), Frideborg was forced to make ends meet by offering her services as a live-in cook to wealthy families -- even traveling with one (according to her Social Security application) to Darien, Connecticut.  One can only imagine this was not the life she imagined for herself during the halcyon days in Jamestown.

Here she is with her son Paul.  This picture always makes me sad. My mother, who got to meet her before she died, recalls that she wasn't the happiest of people.

I often wonder why she didn't return to Sweden.  The oldest of six, she had at least three other siblings come to the U.S., with two later returning.  (No one ever talks about some of the "reverse immigration" that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries.)  The family house was still there, still occupied by Perssons...and we know that she visited when times were better.  Of course, her children and grandchildren were here, so that probably decided it. William could have gone back, too, for that matter.  He had one surviving brother there, but he chose to remain as well.  I guess their lives were "American" by then; Sweden was a child's place.

Despite their somewhat sad ends, I take great pride in them and their lives.  I cannot imagine conceiving of and then following through with the decision to leave the lives and places they knew at such a young age.  The fact that they didn't come out on top at the end is irrelevant to me.  They rolled the dice and gave it their best shot.  There's no dishonor in that.  I hope -- somewhere -- they know that their descendant feels this way and seeks to honor them.

Just like with Leif, it's never too late to recognize too-long forgotten accomplishments.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Haha...stoopid lamestream media!

Wonkette has its usual take on our favorite grifter snowbillies here.

The Pending Palin Implosion

Sarah's about to go supernova.

According to Wikipedia:

Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months.

Some thought this would happen during or shortly after the 2008 campaign, but the McCain folks still had a modicum of control over their vice-presidential nominee.  Since then, however, Team Sarah has been running itself and running around the country endorsing approved candidates...with some very mixed results. WaPo has been tracking her endorsements and has her 26 for 44 so far, including taking out some Washington establishment types like Lisa Murkowski in her own state of Alaska and Mike Castle in Delaware.  No one doubts her current power to shake up a race.

What is in doubt is her ability to sustain her brand in a climate of unforgiving scrutiny that the 24-hour news cycle provides.  For her endorsements to matter, candidates have to want them...and, it would appear, be willing to pay the price.  This is a lesson Alaskan GOP nominee for U.S. Senate Joe Miller learned last month and the rest of us are learning (or having confirmed) today.

Late yesterday, the Alaskan politics blog (and all-around bane of Sarah's existence) "The Mudflats" broke* the story that a) she and Todd were none-too-pleased that Joe very publicly demurred on Sarah's qualifications to be President and b) this disappointment (communicated in formerly private e-mails) probably spills the beans on Sarah's plans for 2012.


The cosmic irony of the Queen of Biting The-Hand-That-Feeds-Her having her own hand bitten appears to be lost on Sarah and her husband.  What should not be lost on Joe Miller or the rest of us is that there is a price to be paid when La Dona offers her patronage. And what I believe will soon not be lost on the Palins is that exacting a price from their minions ends up costing them dearly, too, when the transaction is made public. Perhaps there will always be those who are willing to sell their soul for a nod from even a dimmed star, but I imagine most will chase after the light that has been thrown off.

It also means she'll never, ever be President.

Perhaps the Florida citrus growers need a new spokesperson...?

[* As of this posting, "The Mudflats" site is down due to heavy traffic.  At some point the above link to the site will work; for the time being, however, here is Mudflats editor Jeanne Devon via HuffPo.]

[Image source:  Wikipedia.]

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Here's to Fred Phelps!

Why?  Because, he may be a monster, but he's an honest one and publicly stands by his the point that he horrifies even his close neighbors on the political spectrum.  These are the people I'd like to write about today.

They may be regulars at church and proudly display a cross on their chests, but were Christ Jesus alive today he would rightly call them Pharisees.  For the uninitiated, a "Pharisee" was someone who strictly followed the religious rites and laws of the day without interpretation or an understanding of any deeper meaning.  Jesus called them self-righteous and hypocrites.  These people wore their ossified and insular faith on the sleeve and did not take kindly to being lectured by some hippie preaching about loving your neighbor and forgiving your enemy.  Theirs was an Old Testament crowd; they saw no Love in Leviticus.

Sound familiar?

Today's version doesn't worry so much about dining with prostitutes (David Vitter notwithstanding), they like to "focus on the family" which sounds friendly enough until you realize that one of the focuses is stamping out homosexuality.  This is easy enough if you happen not to be gay, still doable if you are but are willing to tow the line, but torture if you're some trapped teenager. Even with all the various media out there, a kid's world is very small; and knowing that who you are would be condemned by those around you -- even your parents -- is horribly crippling. The other kids get to flirt, have crushes, gossip, even fall in love (in fact, it's encouraged...up to a point), but not you.  And you rail at God for making you this way.  Every gay kid's middle name should be Job.

You don't have to be a Fred Phelps to create this environment.  In fact, it's better that you're not.  Openly-rude or hateful homophobia is unpleasant, easily-spotted and countered, and frankly too much work.  It's much more efficient to have a gay person come to hate themselves rather than constantly running around to remind them that God hates them.  Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving; all one has to do is plant the seed.  And encourage it...

...up to a point.

I think even some of the most hardened hearts would recognize that a kid killing himself is a plan gone a step too far.  And all the attempts to mitigate the blame are like wrestling with a tar baby; you just get dirtier.  All the messages continually sent out -- gays can't marry, gays can't serve in the armed forces, gays shouldn't teach in schools, gays recruit, etc., etc. -- are just a slightly-less virulent way of saying "God hates fags".  "Nice" people can turn their noses up at Fred Phelps, but, ultimately, they are Fred Phelps and their "nicer" message is equally culpable when a kid comes to the natural conclusion that his life is worthless and the world is better off without him.

Think for a moment about that cross you see so many people wearing...have you ever noticed how few of them have a crucified or even resurrected Christ depicted?  It's not surprising, really, when you consider being a "Christian" is so much easier when you don't have to be reminded of Christ and what He might say about how you live your life and how you treat others.

Infinitely easier.

[Image via this source.]

Monday, October 4, 2010

Glenn Beck is ducked up.

This is brilliant!

[Hat-tip:  Daily Dish.]

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Or, rather the men behind the skirt.

Today's must read is Frank Rich's The Very Useful Idiocy of Christine O'Donnell.

[Image, by Barry Blitt, accompanies the opinion piece.  (Check out his cool website by clicking his name.)]

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why, yes, I WOULD like a receipt!

Ezra Klein had a post yesterday over at WaPo offering praise for an idea from an organization called Third Way, which is advocating the idea of a taxpayer receipt.  I wholeheartedly agree!  Take a look:

Third Way's proposal is here.  It's an idea that makes tremendous sense.  Sure, there will always be people who will quibble over amounts and proportions, but at least everyone will have a new-found (for most) perspective.  And, for those who fear giving the nitpicking masses something to focus on:  it's clear that horse has already left the stable.

[Hat-tip:  Ezra Klein via Daily Dish.]