Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday, October 24, 2014

Happy United Nations Day

Flag of the United Nations

By Wilfried Huss / Anonymous [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, October 03, 2014

Fifty-one years on

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Balé Folclórico da Bahia

I saw this troupe at NJPAC last week. It was a good performance. If you are a dance fan who hasn't seen them perform, I recommend that you catch them the next time they come to your town.

Some of their pieces are described here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

File under: Times have changed

I was watching the 1952 film Viva Zapata! over the weekend and afterward I wanted to compare some of the details of the film to the facts of Zapata's life, so I did what one does in this Brave Digital Age: I looked-up Emiliano Zapata on Wikipedia. The film took some liberties with the truth (but no more than most such films of its time), but the piece of information on the Wikipedia page for Zapata that struck me the most was this item in the "Legacy" section of the page:

In 1969 students from the Black Student Council and Mexican-American Youth Association of the University of California San Diego proposed the name Lumumba-Zapata College for what is now known as Thurgood Marshall College.

Can one imagine American college students today making such a demand? If they knew who Patrice Lumumba and Emiliano Zapata were, would they wish to commemorate them thus? What strikes me more than anything else is the level of political engagement their demand evinced. Times have indeed changed.

Super Bowl

The Super Bowl seems more like the Nuremberg Rally each year.
Unlikely fact of the day

Lee Marvin was awarded a Gold Record for his recording of "Wandering Star" from the soundtrack of Paint Your Wagon. I would not have guessed that a recording of him singing could sell one million copies.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Vicissitudes of New York

I went into the Food Depot deli on 5th Avenue near 19th Street two days ago and REM's "Losing My Religion" was playing. I went in again today and the same song was playing. Kismet or someone just setting the same playlist to repeat all day, everyday?

Along with the MTA's stealth service cuts (the cleanliness [or lack thereof] of the subways are starting to remind me of the 1970s), the Postal Service has obviously cut back not only on the number of mailboxes, but on the number of pickups at mailboxes. Several times over the past few months I have attempted to mail a letter here in the Flatiron District only to find that the mailbox (once I could find one) was stuffed so full that one couldn't even open the door.

Scaffolding has multiplied in the Flatiron District over the past few weeks. Many building owners are apparently investing some money in repairing their buildings. This is, perhaps, a sign of some confidence that the economy is headed in the right direction?

I am contemplating the prospect of carrying around a picture of the child I sponsor in Chile through Children International. The reason to do so would be to ward off the sidewalk fundraisers for the organization who have taken-up their positions around Union Square and other neighborhood locations. They have tough jobs (I used to be a door-to-door canvasser for a few different organizations in the early 1980s), but it is tiresome to have to put them off a few times each day. This sidewalk fundraising has become more and more common over the past few years. I suppose it raises public awareness of the work of the organizations engaged in this type of fundraising, but it has also added to the already large sum of things competing for one's attention as one walks down the street in New York.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The absent fathers

I was thinking earlier this evening about the men I knew while I was a child. I was wondering if any of them was or could have made a decent role model or father figure. Alas, most of them were pretty sorry excuses for men. Let us examine the list of suspects:

  • My stepfather: He was a sorry excuse for a human being, letter alone a father. I am forty-six years old now and I am still trying to undo the damage he did. Shortly before my mother died, she told me that my stepfather was a virgin when they were married. This might not be remarkable if it were not for the fact that he was forty-nine years old when he married her. He must have been the only solider on either side to make it through the Second World War with his virginity intact. At any rate, this information helped me to understand him better.

    My stepfather hated himself. It was my bad fortune to provide him with an additional target for his hatred. Perhaps I reminded him of the boy he had been. Whatever the case, he made my life hell for the entire time I lived under the same roof as him. He was an emotional infant who couldn't grasp anyone's needs but his own. My mother went to her grave earlier than she might otherwise have because she nursed him for the last years of his life and neglected her own health. If there is an afterlife, I hope he is suffering some torment there for the pain he caused.

    My theme here is absent fathers, and each person I examine was absent in their own way. My stepfather's empathy for other humans was largely absent. He was kind to animals, however, so he did have some compassion inside him. It's too bad that compassion couldn't manifest itself more readily with humans, particularly little boys.

  • My legal father: I bear the last name of a man I barely know. What I do know of him, however, is that he was a coward. He and my mother separated when I was two years old. He stopped his weekly visits when I was three. He did so because he was afraid of my mother's wrath. I guess his children weren't worth the trouble of facing his angry, estranged wife.

    I looked my legal father up twenty-five years later. One of the first things he told me was that he paid his child support consistently. I believe he expected me to thank him for merely fulfilling his legal duty to provide that child support. When I asked him why my sisters and I had never heard from him in all those years, he noted that he hadn't heard from us. Apparently it was up to the child who was rejected to look-up the father who walked out.

    Although I found his explanations for his behavior to be lame, I did subsequently visit my legal father and meet his wife, daughter, and stepsons. They were reasonably friendly, but I never got the feeling that I was ever going to matter much to them.

    When I was getting married a few years later, I invited my legal father to the wedding. I had discussed this with my mother beforehand to ensure that she would not be put off by his presence, and she told me she would be polite to him. He, however, declined my invitation because he did not want to have to face my mother. He had missed both his daughters' weddings during his years of silence, and now he was actively rejecting the chance to see his only son get married because it would be uncomfortable to see his ex-wife. This is why I describe him as a coward. I haven't been in touch with him since he declined my wedding invitation.

    My legal father was absent, quite literally, for most of my upbringing. And aside from the child support he paid my mother, all I got from him was a last name.

I intend to write about some of the other men I knew while growing up in some subsequent posts.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wind chill

According to the U.S. National Weather Service, the winds in New York are from the west; they are blowing at 17 MPH, with gusts of 30 MPH. The wind chill factor is 7 degrees Fahrenheit. All this is to say that I thought my face (the only exposed flesh on my body while I was outside) was going to freeze during the five blocks I walked from the train to my office.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Children aren't illegitimate, but some parents should be

Today's edition of the "Motherlode" blog (sic; I don't believe columns on the web sites of major media companies count as true blogs) on The New York Times site features an essay by a woman about her husband's "illegitimate" child. I found the attitude she and her husband take towards this poor boy to be selfish and insensitive. They both need to offer this child compassion, or perhaps they are looking forward to him burning their house down someday (an act that would be understandable, in my opinion, as an attack on the "happy home" from which he was excluded by their selfishness).

Here is the column.

Here is my comment on it:

I am the son of a man whose family name I bear but whom I did not know. He and my mother were married, but they split-up when I was two years old. His weekly time with my sisters and I ended (by his choice) when I was three. He paid child support without fail, but I never knew the man. The child support was hardly enough to actually feed and clothe my sisters and me, but my mother was fortunate enough to have parents who helped support us until she remarried.

My stepfather was not fit to parent anyone, and his abuse is one major reason why I have spent most of my adult life in psychotherapy. Would my life have been better had my legal father been more than a child support payment? That is impossible to say with any certainty. What is certain is that he didn't try very hard to be a father to me. I looked him up when I was in my late twenties and discovered a pleasant enough man, but he was not the father I missed having. Like the author's husband, he had started a new family. We spoke occasionally, and when I was engaged a few years later, I invited him to my wedding. He refused to attend the wedding, however, because he did not want to see my mother, despite my assurances that he would meet with no hostility. The message I received was that I was not worth the trouble it would be to him to feel awkward for a few hours. Just as my sisters and I were not worth the awkwardness of those weekly visits all those years before. There is a word for persons who make the choices my legal father did. That word is "coward."

So, the author’s unacknowledged stepson will, I suspect, have low self-esteem. Maybe he will struggle with anger that he cannot consciously trace to its source. And just maybe, if he has a father whom he knew cared about him and regarded him as something more than a "gambling debt," he will have an easier time making his way through life than he is likely to have if the current situation remains unchanged. The author's stepson probably won't have an easy time in life, but it is within the power of this boy's father to make his son's life at least somewhat easier. The way to do that is not just by sending a child support payment. The way to do is to let the boy know he is loved, despite the obstacles of distance and estrangement from the boy's mother.

Or, you could just keep doing what you have been doing and express wonderment if your stepson’s life goes off the rails.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Across North America, Sept. 2009, Part IV

View Across N. America, Sept. 2009, Part III in a larger map

Across North America, Sept. 2009, Part III

View Across N. America, Sept. 2009, Part III in a larger map

Road trip across North America, 5-19 September 2009, Part II

View Across North America, Sept. 2009, Part II in a larger map

Road trip across North America, 5-19 September 2009, Part I

View Across North America, Sept. 2009 in a larger map

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The most badly written sentence I read today (a new feature)

Today’s choice is from a corporate bio I encountered on a publisher’s web site:

Commissioned as a pilot officer for the Royal Air Force, Bower has a deep understanding in content development and marketing in developed and emerging markets.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Purity and Innocence

This column by Mark Morford, is a bit of sanity in our often insane society.

My view is that we are all sinners, and I don't believe that is a bad thing. It is perhaps the only thing. Purity (outside of milk and a few other substances) is one of the most pernicious ideas humans have ever wielded against each other. We are all impure, in both mind and body. We should try to keep that in mind when we criticize others. As a mongrel whose origins are murky at best, and as someone who thinks impure thoughts every day, I take heart in the fact that all this makes me human. I don't want to be an angel, and I don't expect to spend eternity in the presence of the Deity; I just want to live this life, as frustrating as it can be.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Senator Arlen "Craven" Specter joins the Democratic Party

This is good news for the Democrats, but do not, for a minute, believe that the decision had anything to do with principle. Senator Craven faced a tough challenge from the right in the Republican primary in 2010 and he did what he always does when faced with a tough fight: He ran.

This man rivals "Joe-mentum" Lieberman in his cravenness. The Democrats would have been better off with running a real Democrat in 2010, but perhaps Senator Craven can come in handy in preventing a few filibusters over the next several months. I'll be impressed if he does vote to cut-off any debates, but if he does, good for him.

Lest we forget, Senator Craven's illustrious record, here is something I wrote about him three years ago.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Paul Tibbets

I watched a movie entitled Above and Beyond the other day. It was a old-style studio biopic, in this case made by MGM in 1952. It was apparently one the last movies overseen by Louis B. Mayer before the control of MGM was wrested from him.

The subject of the film was Paul Tibbets, the man who commanded the mission that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. Colonel Tibbets piloted the Enola Gay himself on that mission to Hiroshima. The film is a well-made example of its type: The subject has a problem to solve, they face conflicts, and eventually overcome them. A film such as The Life of Emile Zola or Sergeant York isn't much different from Above and Beyond when you come right down to it.

What made this film compelling was how it depicted Col. Tibbets's internal conflicts about the atomic bomb. He was depicted as having misgivings about how it could kill so many civilians. He comes across as an honorable man, a person who struggled with his conscience and ultimately decided to do his duty. Say what you like about the morality of using the atomic bomb, the decision to use it was a defensible position. I would like to think that in President Truman's shoes, that I would have decided to drop the bomb into the sea, within sight of the Japanese coast, as an example, rather than dropping it on a city. The fact is, however, that U.S. bombers had killed tens of thousands of civilians already by using incendiary bombs on Tokyo and other Japanese cities. So, if killing thousands of civilians by using conventional weapons was defensible (and I don't think it really was, but that is easy for me to say after the fact, isn't it?), then how was killing thousands using a single bomb any less defensible?

The Japanese had killed thousands of civilians themselves during the war (e.g., the Rape of Nanking, the occupation of the Philippines) and there was little sympathy for them among Americans. The Allied commanders were facing the serious prospect of a land invasion of Japan which would have cost millions of lives on both sides. Perhaps continued conventional bombing of Japan, combined with a blockade of their ports, could have forced a surrender, but it was the responsibility of Allied commanders to end the war as soon as possible, with a minimum of Allied casualties, wasn't it?

The real Col. Tibbets, to my disappointment, seems to have felt none of the misgivings depicted in the film of his life, as is evidenced in this interview he did with Studs Terkel. One can believe one did the right thing and still feel regret over the pain one caused, but that is not the case with Col. Tibbets. It is too bad.

One last observation about the film is that Robert Taylor, an actor not known for the emotional depths of his performances gave a very good performance in the role. I am no fan of Taylor, as he was a Red-baiter and an arch-conservative who ruined the career of Howard Da Silva, among others, by his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, but he did a good job on this film.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The autumn leaves

Now that the snows of December and January have melted, the winds of
February are stirring the leaves that have been left uncovered. In my
mind, I hear Yves Montand singing. It is all too sad.

Richard Stark

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Shorten your stay in Purgatory

The New York Times
reports that the Church of Rome is once again promoting indulgences to its members. Martin Luther, were he alive, would be relieved that one cannot buy them outright anymore, although charitable donations are one way to earn indulgences.

The Tridentine Mass gains in popularity. Indulgences on the rise. A former Hitler Youth member is the Pope. Did the Reformation really occur?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What makes a good love story?

The comments below are adapted from a response to a posting by a friend on another blog asking what made for great film romances.

There are some great choices in these comments. I particularly concur with The Shop Around the Corner (although I prefer the Lubitsch version with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan). The mismatched pair is often a good device in love stories, as we see in this film as well as in many great romantic novels (e.g., Pride and Prejudice).

I also like the suggestion of
The Lion in Winter as an especially bitchy (but nevertheless heartfelt) love story. I would contrast it with Becket, featuring the same actor, in the same role, as a much younger man who is very much in love with his friend Thomas Becket. Another great bitchy but heartfelt romance is Two for the Road, with Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn.

One thing I haven't seen anyone mention is sacrifice. Great love stories often include great sacrifice on the part of one or both of the lovers. In this vein, I consider
Wings of Desire to be a great love story because Bruno Ganz gives up immortality to be with the woman with whom he falls in love, and he does so with no guarantee that she will even like him once she gets to know him.

Roman Holiday is another great love story that includes tremendous sacrifice (in this case Audrey Hepburn must sacrifice her love to duty) and also redemption, which is another important theme in many love stories. The character played by Gregory Peck is redeemed by his love for Audrey Hepburn.

Brief Encounter is, of course, another great story of sacrificing love to duty.

One other device often found in love stories that I'd like to note is devotion, often of the selfless variety. A great example of this is Charlie Chaplin's character in
City Lights. The Tramp has very little to recommend him to the flower girl other than his devotion. The expression on his face at the film's end has evoked tears from me more than once.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winter vomiting disease

I am grateful that my recent bout with norovirus has ended. Three solid days of nausea is a truly unpleasant experience, as my last post illustrates. I was amused (now that I am able to eat again) to discover that one of the first clinical articles on gastroenteritis caused by this virus dubbed the condition "winter vomiting disease". That is a much more appropriate name for this pox.

If there is anyone out there actually reading this erratically updated blog, I wish you a happy and prosperous new year.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nausea and despair

I have been bed-ridden for the past three days with terrible nausea. I made it to the doctor's office yesterday, where I was diagnosed with a gastrointestinal virus. The doctor prescribed anti-nausea medication, which has been somewhat effective. As I type this, I am not actually nauseated, which is really quite an improvement. What I am, however, is desperate.

I have not, to the best of my memory, every felt as truly desperate as I have during this illness. The aftermath of being struck by a car and nearly crippled in 2006 did not induce such feelings of despair as this persistent nausea has. I cannot imagine how I could tolerate the chronic nausea that accompanies chemotherapy.

Despite the fact that my nausea is now mitigated, I am left wondering just how one is supposed to survive this life we are given without being driven to madness. If nausea can induce such feelings of despair in me, I wonder if I can live with the ailments that will accompany my old age.

I can produce witnesses that would vouch for my resilience during the long period of recovery that followed my accident in 2006. I never felt as if I wouldn't walk normally again, despite the doubts of my doctor. Yet here I am, laid low by a virus and left wondering what the point of life is. I must admit that the disintegration of my marriage over the past year-and-a-half, and the illness and death of my mother that preceded the end of my marriage, and my accident and recovery prior to that are probably all contributing to my current despair.

I have been battered over the past few years and despite the fact that I am loved and valued by many people, I am at a loss to understand why I have suffered so. And I am cognizant of the fact that millions of people suffer much worse that I have.

I fear I will never recover from what the past few years have dealt me. What is the point of all this pain?

That is what three days of nausea has brought me to.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Assistance for right-wingers

During this time of celebration for liberals, I have not forgotten my conservative countrymen and women. For those of you on the right who are wondering if you can remain in the United States under an Obama administration, I'd like to help you by suggesting that you consider moving to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. It offers many advantages for conservatives:

  • McCain is popular there.

  • It has a Christian majority. I'm sure you'll be able to work-out any theological differences (hope you like incense).

  • You'll get real wine at church instead of grape juice in shot glasses.

  • You can join militias patrolling the borders, although in this case you'll be looking out for Russian invaders instead of illegal aliens.

  • Your guns could come in handy if the Russians do invade again.

  • You can dust-off your Cold War-era hatred of the Russians, as such an attitude is respectable there.

  • You might get a chance to fight against some Muslims too.

  • Property with a Black Sea view is much cheaper than waterfront property in the U.S.

  • Yogurt will help your chronic indigestion.

  • The name of the country can remind you of your old home back in Marietta.

  • Learning a new language (and alphabet!) will help keep your mind sharp in your old age (and if those old yogurt commercials are correct, you might live a long, long time).

Have fun over there, and remember the Russian for "I surrender!" is Я сдаться.
I am more proud of my country right now than I have ever been in my life.

This is bigger than the moon landings.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I have not written anything on this blog in several weeks. This has been due to the fact that over that period my marriage has been disintegrating. Over the past two years I have now experienced the following:

  • an automobile accident that nearly crippled me
  • four subsequent months in a wheelchair
  • six months of physical therapy
  • the final illness, slow decline, dementia, and death of my mother
  • and the long, slow, painful end of my marriage after fourteen years together

Each of these experiences was daunting, but despite the pain and trauma of both the injuries from the automobile accident and the very painful last few months of my mother's life, neither one of those experiences comes close to the pain and difficulty of my marriage ending slowly over the past year. This has been (and continues to be) the most painful thing I have ever experienced, especially over the past several weeks.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke

Human Smoke... is not a conscientious pacifist tract. It is not a clever contribution to today's debate on warfare, and it does not add anything to what we know about World War II. It is a cheerful contribution to the movement against scholarship —a movement which has advanced so far, in fact, that I fully expect these observations, too, to be condemned as "elitism." As one who does contribute (it's pathetic, I know) to the mainstream media on a regular basis, I know that any author who expresses a sliver of doubt about the wisdom of amateurs risks bringing down a torrent of recrimination and insult upon his head. But if we have arrived at the point where a solemn and excited individual can cobble together anecdotes from old newspapers and Nazi diaries, and write them up in the completely contextless manner of blog posts, and suggest that he has composed a serious critique of America's decision to enter World War II, and then receive praise from respected reviewers in distinguished publications, then maybe it is time to say: Stop.

—Anne Applebaum, in The New Republic

Read the entire review here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Land of the free

When I visited Bruges a few years ago, I toured a brewery (it was Belgium, after all). One part of the tour included a few rooms of inactive fermentation tanks. Back in the day, according to the tour guide, children were employed to climb inside the fermentation tanks in order to clean them (the small openings meant that adults could not fit into the tanks). The primary job hazard was that the fumes from the dregs of the beer in the tanks would get the small children drunk and they would pass out. So, the children were required to sing while they worked, and if the foreman did not hear singing coming from a given tank, other children were sent into that tank to pull out their comrade.

Today's New York Times features an Op-Ed piece about a man whose job required him to climb inside a cyanide tank in order to clean it. We'd like to think that here in twenty-first-century America, if we are injured on the job our employer would be held responsible. That, apparently, is not the case here in the land of the free, as the aforementioned essay makes clear.

The United States would at least be a more realistic society if we did not have all these myths about being "a city on a hill." Our laws are the result of negotiations that almost always include major concessions to lobbyists for vested business interests. Schoolhouse Rock it isn't.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Is this a sign of the early onset of senility?

I have been following the election campaign for mayor of London, and as a part of this effort I was reading the official website for Tory candidate Boris Johnson. Although I knew Johnson was an M.P., I had not thought of him in any role more challenging than that of guest host of Have I Got News For You. I found myself reading his positions on the issues and thinking that he didn't seem unreasonable. Then I realized that I was agreeing with a Tory candidate.

For the record, when I compare Ken Livingstone's policies to Boris Johnson's, I prefer Livingstone. But I frightened myself for a moment there.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Celebrity sightings

Yesterday: Actor Aaron Eckhart in City Bakery.

Today: Playwright and actor Sam Shepard, outside One Fifth Avenue.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On last night's riots in Montréal

Listen up, sports fans. Let's try to have a little decorum, shall we? No torching police cars until your team has won the championship.

—King Kaufman, in Salon

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bill Kristol, Chicken-hawk child of privilege

There are few more reprehensible traits in American political culture than the constant exploitation of the glories of "sacrifice for freedom" by war cheerleaders like Kristol who ensure that only others sacrifice and neither they nor their families ever do.

—Glenn Greenwald, in Salon

Read the rest of Greenwald's piece on the reprehensible Bill Kristol here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

So Many Books

Gabriel Zaid, a Mexican poet and essayist, wrote a wonderful book a few years ago entitled So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance. There are a number of books out there about the state of the book industry or the future of the printed word, but this one is more elegant and witty than any other I have read. And Zaid understands the realities of the business without succumbing to either pessimism or (thank goodness) business-speak.

Here are a few quotes from the book:

Today it is easier to acquire treasures that to give them the time they deserve.

Confronted with the choice between having time and having things, we've chosen to have things.

The desire to follow a conversation you don't understand is a healthy sign, not an indication of a lack of preparation. Discipline is good in service of desire, not in place of desire. Without desire, there is no living culture.

Reading is difficult, it takes time away from the pursuit of a career, and it doesn't gain anyone points except in lists of works cited.... Reading is useless: it is a vice, pure pleasure.

No experts in technological forecasting are predicting the end of fire or the wheel or the alphabet... yet there are prophets who proclaim the death of the book.... as a technological judgment, [this prophecy] doesn't withstand the slightest scrutiny.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

And Toto too?

From the schedule of the Pope's upcoming visit to the U.S., as found on a site hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Sunday, April 20, 8 p.m.
Shepherd One lifts off from John F. Kennedy airport in the Brooklyn Diocese, heading east to the Eternal City.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Is the U.S. Constitution going to be good for more than wallpaper?

Stories such as this one, wherein Congress tries to give away power to the rampant executive branch, make we wonder how much longer our Constitution will be anything more than words on paper. I keep hoping that the swing towards autocracy in this country is ending, but seven years into the worst presidency in U.S. history, we are still handing more and more power over to the evil and incompetent people in the White House.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Paul Scofield, R.I.P.

I never got to see Paul Scofield perform on the stage, so all I know of his work is from the films he made. He was an actor of unusual presence and grace. He gave an excellent performance as Mark Van Doren in Quiz Show. He brought gravity to his portrayal of Judge Danforth in The Crucible. He was an effective villain in The Train. He was a wily French king in Kenneth Branagh's film of Henry V. He was memorable in Mel Gibson's generally underrated film of Hamlet. And, of course, there was A Man for All Seasons. His work in that film (and play) was so highly praised that it is worth going back and watching the film again to see that he did indeed give a great performance.

There are many obituaries of him online. The BBC has an adequate one here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I am impressed by Obama's speech on race

This was an excellent speech. Read it here. He makes a good point about not disowning a friend or family member because of intemperate or inflammatory remarks they might make.

My recent post about the Obama/Clinton/NAFTA flap received a comment that I declined to post. The reason why I declined to post the comment is that it came from some Clinton supporter whom I don't know and who had nothing to say other than this: Apparently I did not mention that the Obama campaign released conflicting statements about what happened in this whole NAFTA renegotiation business. The comment did not seem worth saving, as I have no idea who this person was, and he seemed to be some Clinton supporter just looking for pro-Obama comments he could try to refute.

This is not a news site. I make no pretense of presenting both sides of any issue, or of being objective about any issues. If someone makes a comment on my blog that I believe is interesting, I will gladly post it, even if I don't agree with the writer's opinions. I am not here, however, to provide one more platform for the blogging armies of the Clinton campaign or any other campaign. There is no shortage of places for them to express their opinions.

The fact is that I don't hate Hillary Clinton. I merely believe that Obama will make a better president. If Hillary Clinton gives a few speeches like the one Obama gave today in Philadelphia, I might reconsider that position.

So, you among the teeming dozens who might actually read this blog can comment on whatever you like and if I like your comment, I'll post it. If you don't like that policy, then comment on someone else's blog. I don't have the time or the energy to waste on arguing politics with anonymous strangers on the Internet.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Who was hypocritical about NAFTA?

The Canadian government now admits that its officials solicited input from Obama's campaign on NAFTA and that the documentation of the Obama advisor's conversation with the Canadian officials that the Clinton campaign cited was, in fact, written five days after the meeting with the Obama advisor. The Canadian officials admit that the documentation misrepresented the advisor's remarks.

What is still hanging out there un-denied, incidentally, is the original assertion by the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff that the Clinton campaign had told the Prime Minister's office not to take her campaigning against NAFTA too seriously.

Looks like Obama and his people were not lying or being hypocritical about this particular issue. It must be so disappointing to the Clintonistas.

My take on the Spitzer scandal

may be found here.

And by the way, Leonard Cohen was very deserving of his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but John Mellencamp made it while Iggy Pop is still not a member? WTF?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Complete albums I have listened to recently:

  • 3 February: Back in the Circus by Jonatha Brooke: Jonatha Brooke gives Sarah McLachlan (see below) competition for the title of my favorite contemporary folk singer/songwriter. She writes great songs about love, desire, and anger. My wife and I saw her perform live back in November at an intimate venue in New York and it was a great show. The room had no amplification and she played unaccompanied. At one point in the show she asked if there were any questions and I asked her why the song she had just performed (Keep the River on Your Right) hadn't been covered by Nick Lachey (the liner notes on the album indicated that she had offered him the song). She actually took the time to answer my question before going on to perform the next song. Back in the Circus is my favorite album of hers. It includes an extraordinary cover of the Alan Parsons song Eye in the Sky.

  • 4 February: I'm Your Man and Songs from a Room by Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man is my favorite Leonard Cohen album. It took time to grow on me, but over the years it has become an album I return to again and again. Songs from a Room is good, but I believe Cohen's music improved over the years and I prefer the more orchestrated sound of I'm Your Man to Songs from a Room. The first track on I'm Your Man (First We Take Manhattan) opens with one my favorite Cohen verses:
    They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
    for trying to change the system from within.

  • 4 February: Giant Steps and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane: I will go against the critical wisdom and say that I prefer Giant Steps to A Love Supreme. Songs such as Syeeda's Song Flute and Spiral never get old for me. I can listen to them over and over again and still be surprised by something I hadn't noticed before. This is to take nothing away from A Love Supreme, which is the more difficult, less approachable album of these two. A Love Supreme continues to grow on me, but I confess that I still don't really understand all he was doing on this album. It will take me several more years of listening to begin to figure that out, but that will be a pleasant task.

  • 4 February: Afterglow by Sarah McLachlan: I will confess that I am a sucker for Sarah McLachlan. She is the best singer/songwriter of the past fifteen years, in my opinion. No one writes and performs songs of Gothic melancholy as well as she does.

  • 4 February: The Mask and the Mirror by Loreena McKennitt: McKennitt does a good job of using contemporary instrumentation on Celtic-inspired songs on this 1994 album. My favorite song on this album is Bonny Swans. The arrangement of this song is great and the use of the electric guitar is inspired.

  • 4 February: Autour d'un thé by Fabienne Achard: I bought this album in Paris from Ahmet Gülbay, the pianist whose trio accompanies Fabienne Achard on this 2004 album. Her vocals are good, but it is his piano playing that stands out. My wife and some friends and I saw Ahmet Gülbay live at a small club in Paris in 2005. It was an evening I remember fondly.

And of course I have listened to a number of other "shuffled" songs over the past few days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Complete albums I have listened to recently:

  • 20 January: Aja by Steely Dan: This album was my initiation to jazz. I was thirteen years old when this album came out and I was quite taken with it. My taste in music prior to that was limited to the usual suspects of a child of the 1970s: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, etc. Although I would not describe Steely Dan as jazz per se, this album is their most jazz-tinged effort and it got me interested in jazz. From there to Miles Davis was only a matter of time.

  • 21 January: Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell: This album is an old standby. I have listened to it hundreds of times over the years and it retains much of its appeal despite its familiarity. I even prefer it to Blue in many ways, although I would not want to do without either one.

  • 22 January: Late for the Sky by Jackson Browne: This is one of the great albums about relationships, memories, and regrets. I don't know of many better songs about the end of a relationship than the title track. And I don't know of many better songs about remembering a past love than Fountain of Sorrow.

  • 23 January: In Reverse by Matthew Sweet: Unlike the three albums listed above, this album is NOT from the mid-1970s. This is my favorite Matthew Sweet album. Girlfriend is generally regarded as his best work, and it is a fine album, but I prefer In Reverse.

I have listened to a number of other songs over the past fews days (that is what the shuffle feature on the iPod is good for, after all), but these are the only complete albums on my "Recently Played" list.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Calling all homeless veterans: Bill O'Reilly will shelter you!

Apparently Bill O'Reilly doesn't believe that there are over 200,000 homeless veterans in the United States, so he has asked that he be called when a homeless veteran is discovered sleeping in the streets and "we" (Bill and his staff? Do they all have pull-out beds?) will make sure that such a person is given alternative accommodations.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A vote for change?

But that assumes people really want change, as opposed to what looks like change. And there is a difference.

—Neil Macdonald, the CBC Washington correspondent.

Read Macdonald's entire essay here.

Macdonald has an outsider's insight into the appeal of Barack Obama. His thesis is that Obama offers the image of change more than the substance of change. There are candidates for president who would deliver real change if their programs were enacted (e.g., Kucinich, Paul [in this case it would change for the worse, e.g., a return to the gold standard], Gravel, Edwards). Obama, on the other hand, has a platform that is very similar to that of Hillary Clinton. He is a middle-of-the-road candidate on most issues.

This is not to say that the election of Obama would not be a watershed moment in U.S. history. A person of African ancestry in the White House would be, without exaggeration, amazing. One cannot underestimate the importance of such a historical precedent. And Obama would make a much better president than George W. Bush. But if one wishes to vote for a candidate who would attempt to enact significant changes in the policies of the U.S. government, Obama is not that candidate.

If Obama gets the Democratic nomination for president, I will certainly vote for him. I plan to vote for John Edwards, however, in the Democratic primary in New Jersey on February 5th. The only thing I can foresee that would cause me to change my vote is if Edwards withdraws from the race before February 5th. Even if that were to happen, I still might vote for him in order to give him a chance to control a strong block of delegates at the Democratic convention.

I don't want to vote for Hillary Clinton, although I would vote for her in the general election if she were the Democratic candidate. I understand the position of those who are voting for her because of all the misogynistic venom being directed at her. I also understand what a watershed moment it would be for the U.S. to elect a woman to the presidency. I really don't like the idea of another Clinton in the White House though. Our country should be free of dynastic power. It isn't, of course, but that doesn't mean we should simply acquiesce to the perpetuation of political dynasties.

Hillary Clinton has not been a terrible U.S. senator. She has also not been a particularly distinguished U.S. senator. She would make a much better president than George W. Bush. But we can do better than her, whether it is for the Democratic nomination in 2008 or for the first woman to serve as U.S. president.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Are we convinced yet that deregulation of business is a bad idea?

The magnitude of the disaster, from a free market apologist point of view, can hardly be overestimated. By abjectly failing to compensate or cushion the "losers" from globalization -- whether by boosting safety nets, improving healthcare, or investing significant resources in education and training -- the Bush administration guaranteed a growing groundswell of political opposition to global trade. And by failing to properly oversee financial markets, it provided an opportunity for foreign governments that may not share "American" values to become significant players in the heart of the global financial system. Talk about your legacies! The Bush administration not only may have crippled the Republican Party for a generation, but it also might have broken the free market! Whoops!

—from a piece by Andrew Leonard in Salon

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A reflection on 2007

When you see through loves illusions, there lies the danger
And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool
So you go running off in search of a perfect stranger
While the loneliness seems to spring from your life
Like a fountain from a pool

—Jackson Browne

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Jim Dwyer gets Kerik right in one sentence

Mr. Kerik has had one major role in the life of modern America: On behalf of President Bush, he used grief for the innocent dead of Sept. 11 as a justification for invading Iraq —a country whose people, and leaders, were innocent of involvement in the attacks.

From a column about Kerik's indictment that appeared in The New York Times two weeks ago. The only thing I would add to this assessment is that several other names could be substituted for that of Kerik (e.g., Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Bolton, Rove, Rice, etc.) without altering the truth of the statement.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What idiocy

A crew of firefighters from Quebec, following a longstanding custom of assisting firefighters in border towns, was delayed in entering New York on Sunday. As a result, a landmark building burned-down. Read the story here.

The U.S. and Canada need a common immigration policy. Crossing the border between our two countries should be as simple as crossing the border between France and Germany. Our countries' economies are so intertwined that this bureaucratic idiocy at the border must stop. Waving the fire trucks through the border crossing should be a matter of course, not a matter of homeland security.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reagan was not exactly progressive on civil rights issues

Throughout his career, Reagan was wrong, insensitive and mean-spirited on civil rights and other issues important to black people. There is no way for the scribes of today to clean up that dismal record.

—Bob Herbert in The New York Times

Despite the efforts of Reagan apologists such as David Brooks, it is impossible to whitewash the Gipper's record on civil rights. Read Bob Herbert's column on this here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

My fame grows

I am mentioned by name in this article. The story (from Publishers Weekly) describes a meeting where I gave a presentation.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Another person who thinks Mulroney is ignorant and mean-spirited

Larry Zolf, a news analyst at the CBC (and a reporter with decades of experience), has a good essay on about the ignorance of much of what Brian Mulroney has written in his recently-published memoirs. Mulroney demonstrates a lack of historical perspective that is remarkable. Mulroney's vindictiveness towards Trudeau is such that he cannot even accept the well-known realities of Quebec in the 1940s.

Trudeau was capable of astonishing arrogance and he could be a vicious political in-fighter, but he did have some principles from which he did not veer as an adult. Among these principles was an opposition to ethnic chauvinism, whether that chauvinism was Francophone, Anglophone, or allophone.

I'd still take Trudeau over Mulroney anyday.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ted Nugent's political statements are about as intelligent as his music

Why, exactly, is it wrong for MoveOn to refer to General Petraeus as "General Betray-us", but it is O.K. for Ted Nugent to threaten violence against Democratic candidates for president?

MoveOn took out a newspaper ad that criticized U.S. policy in Iraq and argued its case against the war in print. That resulted in a U.S. Senate resolution criticizing the organization. Ted Nugent, a proud Republican, can publicly threaten people and the Senate cannot be bothered to condemn him.

There are two standards for free speech in this country: If one is a right-winger, one can say things that would get a left-winger arrested (the Secret Service frowns on threats to the people whom it protects), but if one is a left-winger, one gets condemned as a traitor, or tasered.

Why doesn't Giuliani just enter the Likud Party primaries instead?

Rudolph Giuliani has outdone his opponents in the competition to mindlessly pander to hard-line supporters of Israeli foreign policy. He has come out in favor of Israel joining NATO. Let us be clear about this: If Israel were a member of NATO, ANY attack on Israel would, by law, be treated as an attack on the United States, and our country would be treaty-bound to defend Israel.

Is this a wise foreign policy for the United States or for any other member of NATO? I think not.

Of course, a Giuliani administration might prove to have the same respect for treaties that the current administration has had, although I suspect this would one treaty that they would honor.

Glenn Greenwald has a good essay on this in Salon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This is a great opening sentence

American politics has been hijacked by a tiny coterie of right-wing economic extremists, some of them ideological zealots, others merely greedy, a few of them possibly insane.

Jonathan Chait demolishes the concept of supply-side economics in the essay that begins with this sentence in current issue of The New Republic. Read the rest of it here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Senator Larry Craig

There is an interesting essay by Heather Mallick on the CBC site about the train wreck that is Senator Larry Craig. She actually ends-up comparing Craig to Heinrich Himmler's two brothers, and I believe she makes a good case that they are similar in kind (although certainly not in degree).

Friday, September 07, 2007


This essay by Mary-Ellen Lang of the CBC is a sobering read for those of us whose marriages have hit a rough patch.
Brian Mulroney is a small person

Given his comments about Pierre Trudeau, I guess Brian Mulroney is still rather jealous of his glamorous predecessor. There are many legitimate criticisms one can make of Trudeau, but chiding him for not opposing the Nazi Holocaust at a time when the vast majority of North Americans had no idea that the death camps even existed is disingenuous and slanderous.

Trudeau, like many young Roman Catholics of his generation, was too admiring of Catholic dictators such as Franco and Mussolini. He, like many Quebeckers (including, I am willing to bet, some of Mulroney's family), did oppose conscription during the Second World War. He did not, however, know about the Holocaust until the end of the war. Many North Americans did little or nothing to help stop the well-known persecution of Jews under the Nazis, but those people, despite their apathy, were not aware of the extent of the Nazis crimes until after the war.

Trudeau exhibited the anti-Semitism typical of his generation and his cultural milieu. Again, I daresay the Mulroney family was not immune to these same prejudices. Was Trudeau wrong about this? Of course he was. He managed, however, to overcome his prejudices as he matured. That is the mark of a responsible human being.

Trudeau's legacy is mixed, but I believe his accomplishments (e.g., the official languages act, the patriation of the constitution, the Charter of Rights, etc.) were substantial. He did not resolve the issue of Quebec separatism, but neither did Mulroney. What is Mulroney's legacy? NAFTA and the Bloc Québecois?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Perhaps it is finally time for Canada to become a republic

There is an interesting essay in The Globe & Mail on the topic of Canada cutting its last colonial ties to Britain. The author cites the fact that Princess Anne's son must renounce his right to the throne (he is tenth in line) in order to marry his fiancée because she is a Roman Catholic (and a Canadian, although marrying a Canadian doesn't disqualify one from becoming the British monarch). He argues that the law that prohibits a British monarch from marrying a Roman Catholic runs counter to Canadian values. He is right. The British should abolish this law, but the Canadians should consider if their ties to the U.K. need to be such that the Queen is still the Canadian head-of-state.

The U.S. hasn't seriously considered trying to conquer Canada since the War of 1812, so the threat from the lower 48 isn't what it used to be. I doubt that the Royal Army would be dispatched to repel a U.S. invasion of Canada anyway, although perhaps they might send a token force for old time's sake. At any rate, Canada's link to Britain is now purely symbolic, and perhaps it is time to consider what the British monarchy is a symbol of.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Quote of the day the past, many newcomers to the province voted Tory because the "one way to become Albertan was to become a Tory."

—David Taras of the University of Calgary

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The desire to be on sure ground is the relic of an authoritarian frame of mind. It's a relic of those times when people believed they would receive all that is essential through revelation from the Gods.

—Ernst Tugendhat, in Die Tageszeitung

Tomorrow I will turn forty-four years old. I have been referring to this occasion as the Hank Aaron Birthday in honor of one of my boyhood heroes.

On Sunday my wife and I had some friends and family over for a celebratory brunch. It was a very pleasant time. We had some laughs while we discussed the usual range of topics: Movies, embarrassing incidents from childhood (my wife's brother always evokes these stories, as he and his sister love to poke fun at each other and their mother), politics (there was a Republican in attendance, but we like him, and even he believes the present administration to be the worst in U.S. history), and books. People lingered for a few hours, which was nice; it doesn't inspire any confidence if they run out as soon as they are done eating.

I am blessed with many people who care about me. Between the family and friends I have here, the friends I have in Ontario, and my other friends around the world, I am a lucky man.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A word about Canada

I just spent a delightful week visiting some dear friends in Ontario, and I just want to note that I believe Canada is a wonderful country.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Marion V. Tracy (1936-2007)

My mother, Marion Victoria Tracy, died on June 28th, 2007. She was seventy-one years of age. She was born on June 25th, 1936 in Brooklyn. Her father, Harold J. Lohmuller, was a native of Maspeth, a neighborhood in the Borough of Queens in the City of New York, and her mother, the former Victoria Byrska, was from the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Two years after my mother was born, they had a son, whom they named Harold, but who was (and is) generally known as Harry or Butch.

My grandparents moved to an apartment on Flushing Avenue in Maspeth shortly after my mother was born. They lived in that building for the next thirty-five years.

My mother was graduated from P.S. 86 on 57th Street in Maspeth. She went on to attend Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Queens for two years, and she finished high school at St. Nicholas High School in Brooklyn, where she was graduated in 1954.

My mother married Albert Richard Stark, of Brooklyn, in November 1954. She gave birth to twin daughters, Patricia and Barbara, a year later. They lived for several years in an apartment in the building where my mother had grown-up; her parents continued to live in one of the other apartments in the same building, and the remainder of the units in the building were occupied by various other relatives of hers.

My mother focused on raising her children during the first few years of her marriage. My sister Patricia had a heart condition that necessitated a great deal of care and my mother spent much of her time caring for her.

In 1962, both my parents and my grandparents moved to a house my grandparents bought on 54th Street in Maspeth, two blocks from the house where they had lived. My mother decided to become a foster parent shortly thereafter. She had one foster child, a baby girl named Claire, for a few weeks in 1963, but despite her wish to adopt Claire, she was not allowed to do so because the baby was under the guardianship of a Presbyterian adoption agency and the agency insisted that the baby be raised in a Presbyterian family.

In October 1963, my mother took-in a six-week-old foster child whom the family named Richard. I was a foundling, and per the policy of the Bureau of Child Welfare, I was assigned to an adoption agency on their list of approved agencies. The agency to which I was assigned, The New York Foundling Hospital, was a Roman Catholic agency, so there was no religious reason to prevent my mother from adopting me, and I was subsequently adopted by the Starks.

My mother and father separated in 1965, and divorced in 1969. My father took my sisters and me for weekly visits for the first several months after he moved out, but the visits were not continued past that initial period of separation. He paid child support for my sisters and myself until each of us reached majority, but we had no direct contact with him.

In 1966, my mother went to work as a telephone operator at Kew Gardens Hospital. She moved to the New York Telephone Company in 1968, where she continued working as an operator at their office in Astoria, Queens.

It was while she was working at New York Telephone that she met the man who became her second husband, John Tracy. John worked as a telephone repairman and he was based out of the same office. He was from the Springfield Gardens neighborhood of Queens. Although John was fifteen years older than my mother, he had never married, and had, in fact, with the exception of his service during the Second World War, lived with his mother until her death in 1961.

My mother married John in June 1970. He moved into our house in Maspeth. My mother’s parents continued to live in the upstairs apartment of the house, while my parents lived downstairs. I spent time on both floors.

My mother left her job as an operator at the time of her marriage and once again focused on raising her children. She also spent time on crafts, and, for one semester in the early 1970s, she attended the City University’s York College in Jamaica, Queens.

My grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1975. She had smoked her entire adult life, and in addition, she had worked in a glass factory for several years. My mother cared for her at home until my grandmother’s death in April 1976.

In 1984, John retired after over thirty-eight years with the phone company. My mother and John, along with my mother’s father, moved to Flemington, New Jersey that year. They lived in a ranch house on a one-and-a-half-acre lot two miles outside of Flemington. Their large backyard enabled them to keep a sizable garden for several years. My mother also had more space for her crafts. Among the many crafts she pursued were sewing, stained glass, beading, ceramics, painting, needlework, and making Christmas ornaments. We decorate our Christmas tree each year with many of her handmade ornaments. She won a blue ribbon at the local agricultural fair for her stained glass.

My grandfather remained healthy until a few months before his death from emphysema at the age of eighty-eight in March 1998. He had smoked for over fifty years before quitting in his early seventies. By the time of my grandfather's death, John’s health was declining and my mother devoted herself to his care. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, and for his last years, Alzheimer’s disease. John died in February 2004.

In 2005, my mother moved to a retirement community, Cedar Crest Village, in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, where she was residing at the time of her death. She surprised me by making a large number of friends at Cedar Crest. She had always been friendly, but at the same time she has always kept strangers at arm's length. It was interesting to see her change. People remain themselves as they age, but they can also change in important ways.

My mother smoked for over fifty years. She made many unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking over the years, but she didn’t finally quit until she received a diagnosis of lung cancer in 2004. Her cancer was successfully treated by surgery, but unfortunately, by then she also had emphysema. Her health gradually declined after she moved to Cedar Crest, and by the beginning of 2007 she was completely bedridden from the effects of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and congestive heart failure. Her final three months were spent under hospice care. She remained conscious until two days before her death.

In addition to myself and my wife, my mother is survived by her daughter Patricia Hans and son-in-law Jack, of Maspeth; her granddaughter Jaclyn Hans of Maspeth; her daughter Barbara Stark of Bayside, New York; her brother Harold Lohmuller of Brooksville, Florida; five nephews and nieces; several great-nieces and great-nephews; and two great-great nieces.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Remarkable confidence (or it is hubris?)

If there were free and fair elections throughout the Arab world, Islamic forms of government would win everywhere. Islam is against the corruption, weakening, and materialism which have destroyed societies in Europe and America. Families are broken (in the West); there are AIDS and drugs. We don't have such things here.

—Mahmoud Zahar, one of the founders of Hamas,
in an interview with Der Spiegel

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Actually, that Sony camera ad campaign is incorrect. Both my father and my stepfather were, in fact, horse's behinds.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Rich boors

Judith Warner has a good piece on The New York Times site about the meeting between Bush and the Queen:

Bush talks with his mouth full because he can. He drinks mineral water straight from the bottle at a formal function because he doesn’t have to prove his good breeding to anyone.... The idea that being boorish, ill-mannered and uncouth somehow brands you as a “regular guy” holds water only if you ascribe to the view that the people, globally, are idiots. It works, I suppose, if your whole political reason for being is to dress up elitism in know-nothing populist garb.

Remember Bush's father campaigning in 1988 and how he espoused his love for country music and pork rinds? Bush II did grow-up in Texas, but he has many generations of bluebloods preceding him.
The Vatican is a foreign government with undue influence on U.S. policy

Frances Kissling, the founder of Catholics For Free Choice, has an essay in Salon about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood. Kissling, who is an unsung hero in the fight for civil rights and the fight for separation of church and state, describes this Supreme Court decision for what it is:

Like Bush's wholesale appropriation of John Paul "culture of life" rhetoric, the opinion is an indicator of the extent to which sectarian Catholic thought and teaching has become the framework of public policy.

I don't know why the average American willingly pays taxes to a government that apparently takes its orders on social policy from Rome. There was a Reformation about five hundred years ago that was supposed to have solved the problem of Rome dictating government policy, and then there was a revolution in North America about two hundred thirty years ago that was supposed to have prevented ANY denomination from having undue influence on government policy. Why is it O.K. for U.S. officials to follow Vatican policy, but it isn't O.K. for U.S. officials to follow the policies of the Iranian ayatollahs? What exactly is the difference between Rome and Tehran in this case?

I am in favor of all U.S. citizens being required to swear their allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, and to swear that when their religious obligations conflict with the just laws of their country that their allegiance to their country comes first. For this to work well, of course, we need some democratic reforms in this country, but in principle, what it means to be an American is that you are loyal to the values of the Enlightenment, not the values of the last surviving institution of the Roman Empire.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"If your insides are rotting your breath will stink"

Harvey Fierstein made some good points on the Imus affair in a column in yesterday's edition of The New York Times:

America, I tell you that it doesn’t matter how many times you brush your teeth. If your insides are rotting your breath will stink. So, how do you people choose which hate to embrace, which to forgive with a wink and a week in rehab, and which to protest? Where’s my copy of that rule book?

At the end of the column he says:

The real point is that you cannot harbor malice toward others and then cry foul when someone displays intolerance against you.

This is something we should all keep in mind.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Golf and oxygen tanks

My mother is dying. Her health has been steadily declining for years, but over the past few months that decline has accelerated. She has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder [i.e., emphysema, in her case]), congestive heart failure, and partial kidney failure. It is unlikely that she will live much more than a few more weeks at most.

The prospect of my mother’s death has been dominating my thoughts for several weeks now. The actual tasks of helping her have consumed much of time over that same period. Fortunately, my wife, one of my sisters, my mother’s friends, and the staff of the place where my mother lives have all been very generous with their time. It is comforting to know that my mother is getting a lot of company and assistance. I wish I could do more for her, but I am doing as much as she wants me to do.

She understands what is happening to her, and she insists that she is not afraid to die. Nevertheless, she experiences a great deal of anxiety. She does not like to be alone anymore, so despite the fact that she lives in an assisted living facility, we have a private home health aide spend each night with her. So she is never alone for very long, as there are people with her for most of each day.

We had a scare on Wednesday. She was incoherent and unable to express complete thoughts for several hours. The doctor who examined her told me that she wouldn’t live for more than another few days. My wife and I spent the afternoon with her, and surprisingly, she rebounded in the early evening and she was able to think straight and speak normally again. So she might have a few more weeks ahead of her, or she could have a recurrence of this disorientation again tomorrow. We don’t know what will happen and the medical professionals who work with her don’t know either. Whatever else happens, she will succumb to her respiratory and heart diseases soon.

Until she is gone, I will be spending as much time with her as I can. My employers are understanding about this, which is great. On this past Saturday and Sunday, my wife and I watched the Masters golf tournament with her. She became a golf fan late in life, so she was very interested in the tournament. It was not a typical way to pass the time for myself or for my wife, but I am glad we could be with her to watch golf.

We take one day at a time. It is a cliché, but it is what we do.

We are shocked to discover that gambling is going on here

King Kaufman of Salon echoes many of my feelings about the recent ruckus over radio entertainer Don Imus:

  • Don Imus has been an offensive ass for over thirty years

  • We are no closer to a better world as a result of Imus's firing

  • We still avoid substantive discussions on race and gender

  • Don Imus was offered up a sacrificial lamb so we can feel like we are taking a stand on racism and sexism

  • If advertisers were not afraid of being associated with Imus he would still have a job. It's not as if they suddenly realized they were supporting the dissemination of hateful ideas.

  • Women are still underpaid and underappreciated

  • African Americans still regularly face contempt and discrimination

So now that the nasty Imus dragon has been vanquished, we can all go back to sleep and once again pretend that we live in a just society where ideas such as his are not such an intrinsic part of our culture that we barely acknowledge them.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Voting on the issues

Despite the fact that we won't elect a president for another nineteen months or so, the campaign has begun. A constitutional amendment limiting the length of campaigns might not be such a bad thing, although reconciling such an amendment with the First Amendment might not be easy.

So one is compelled to think about who one wishes to become the next president. Hillary Clinton is running as the first woman with a decent chance to win the presidency. Barack Obama is running as the first African American with a decent chance to win the presidency. Yet, if the Democratic primary were held today, I would vote for John Edwards. I am disappointed by the fact that my choice is the straight white Southern male, but on the issues Edwards is stronger than Obama, and far stronger than Clinton.

I remember remarking in 2000 that Al Sharpton was the only candidate I heard addressing the concerns of poor people. I wouldn't vote for Sharpton for dog catcher, but I respect his dedication to the issues that matter to average people. This time around, Dennis Kucinich is solid on the issues, but he is not, in the current parlance, electable. John Edwards is electable, and his positions on the issues are solid.

So let's consider this an early endorsement. Maybe I'll even volunteer to work on the Edwards campaign. Let's hope he doesn't disappoint.

Monday, March 12, 2007

There is no corporate tax in Dubai

So now that Halliburton is moving its headquarters to Dubai, does that mean the United States government will review all its contracts with this now-foreign corporation?