Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good News, Bad News, Good News

1. Sonia Sotomayor

2. The California State Supreme Court (6-1).

3. We're still legally married--in the sort of way that queers in Iowa, Mass, Maine, Vermont, and Conn are married. Sigh.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Republican Insight

I found some very delectable quotes in a recent Politico.com article which discusses how enthusiastic Republicans feel about taking on President Obama's soon-to-be-announced Supreme Court nominee:

“We are very excited about waging an ideological debate,” says Richard Viguerie, the well-heeled conservative fundraiser and direct-mail guru. “We never lose battles. Even if we lose the vote we win, we build the movement.”

Oh, gee, Richard. You're so right. The Republican Party has never lost a battle. An election or two. The White House. And Congress. Nonetheless, we are all very excited to see just how much momentum the Republican Party has right now. You just keep on keepin’ on, man! Do not deviate one centimeter from your current course.

“Remember,” adds Princeton law professor Robert George, founder of the National Organization for Marriage, “that the base does not expect to win this. That’s the little secret. [Republicans] don’t have the filibuster, the Democrats have the votes. For [the conservative base], this is about the future of the Republican Party, not who is going to sit on the Supreme Court. . . . . That is why conservatives are going to be interested in it, and what they are going to hold people accountable for.”

Uh oh, Bobby, secret’s out. The Republican Party doesn’t care about anything except the Republican Party—which is after all widely recognized as a far more important institution than the Supreme Court.

Republicans, he [Sen. Jon Kyle, R AZ] added, “will distinguish between a liberal judge on one side and one who doesn’t decide cases on the merits and one rather who does on the basis of his or her preconceived ideas."

That makes sense. Everyone knows that Republicans never react to anything or anyone except with the highest degree of intellectual discernment. Indeed, impartial discernment is the first thing I think of when I hear the word “Republican.” And they are remarkable for their refusal to ever decide anything on the basis of preconceived ideas. I myself have never heard of a Republican who even considered waging an ideological battle. Except maybe Richard Viguerie. But what does he know?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Confusion

“When you become speaker of the House, you no longer have the luxury of being dishonest, demagogic and destructive,” Mr. Gingrich said in an interview.

I really really really really don’t get it. Is it the “fact” that she knew about the torture and didn’t report it to Congress that makes the Republicans go ape-shit and demand her ouster? Or is it the “fact” that she’s now claiming not to have known about it?

But if the Republicans are against torture and mad that Pelosi didn’t do anything to stop it, why aren’t they calling for criminal charges against the masterminds?

Or, if they’re simply sick and tired of politicians lying lying lying, why aren’t they denouncing GW, Cheney and the rest of those goons?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Compulsion

I was reading an article at Politico.com that analyzes the factuality of President Obama’s and ex-Vice President Cheney’s dueling speeches on national security. It doesn’t surprise me at all to learn that Cheney played fast and loose with the facts. But I did feel a little disappointed by Obama’s own verbal shape-shifting.

However, that’s not the point of today’s entry. I read the first twenty comments on the story and was extremely taken aback to find the following remarks made by someone calling himself “elbonian”

"The liberals / lefties must be confused by this article. It is riddled with logical thought, clear suppositions and an honest effort to base comments on fact. Worse, this article is void of name calling and demonizing public figures which is the foundation of liberal / lefty thought. Chances are that liberals / lefties will lose interest in this article by the time they get to the second paragraph and begin posting comments that will be based on name calling, demonizing and making up stuff as they go along."

For some reason, that’s more or less how I’d characterize most conservatives! Wondering if perhaps I had overlooked the liberal vitriol, I went back and re-read the first twenty comments.

Of the first nine (all those preceding elbonian’s and thus presumably those s/he was responding to), seven contained nothing I recognized as “name calling, demonizing, [or] making up stuff.” Two contained remarks that I thought were slightly beyond to pale of civilized discourse:

#3 Conbug calls the President “Hussein Obama" and compares him to a “na├»ve 12 year old boy.” This is actually a very toned down version of comments I have read all over the internet claiming that Obama is really a Muslim and hence an enemy of America. Conbug also writes that “Too [sic] even compare the two as anything of equal stature EXCEPT MAYBE FOR READING A TELEPROMPTER is demeaning to Dick Cheney and or our former President George W. Bush.” Well, everyone is entitled to an opinion! But my opinion is: he’s making up stuff as he goes along.

#9 WWJD writes “VP Cheney has the facts on his side and tells it the way it is. The only thing the obamalama teleprompter had would be just more inept and worn out liberal ramblings.” Again, it’s an opinion and s/he’s entitled to it. But this writer is responding to an article that points out Cheney’s unclear grasp on the facts, so I’m guessing that s/he “los[t] interest in this article by the time s/he got to the second paragraph and began posting comments based on name calling, demonizing and making up stuff." Worse, what WWJD writes is profoundly unfactual: Obama's speeches are never inept, nor does he ramble.

Things really heated up after that with four of the next ten comments engaging in some of the faults elbonian attributes to liberals. Problem is, two of them come from a single conservative (or at any rate, apologist for Cheney). #11 mvpeach10 wrote “you simpering, wimpy little leftists, grow up,” a pretty clear example of name-calling (unless you happen to agree and then I guess it's just stating the facts). And #15 writes that “Obama is seeking more and more adulation. Getting it from 52% of the American population and the media isn't enough for this very narcissistic neophyte. He wants worship from the world.” Where does this idea come from that Obama thinks of himself as the next Messiah? Could it possibly be a projection of how many conservatives felt about GW? Ya think? But I digress.

Two of the negative comments were written by liberals / Obama apologists. #12 edwcorey tells elbonian “You write like a retard. Cheney is a failure at everything except nepotism and cronyism. He's corrupt, a sadist and a liar.” And #16 jpromansic writes about “bush amin and his goons” and calls Cheney a criminal. Some of that is uncalled for (retard, bush amin, goons). Some of it is very strong language, but also, in my opinion, true: nepotism, cronyism, corrupt, sadist, liar, criminal. (Well, not just my opinion. I think there's plenty of evidence to support this point of view.)

The upshot here is that in this small sampling, thirteen out of nineteen respondents avoided any name-calling, demonizing, or story-telling. That's pretty good. Of the six who engaged in rhetorical temper tantrums, conservatives outnumbered liberals four to two. So I have to say that elbonian’s comment instantiates what he accuses liberals of doing (which makes the score five to two) and proves (to me at least) that conservatives / Republicans are compulsively projecting their own foibles onto the liberals.

I wasn’t even going to bother writing this up because there are far better bloggers than I keeping track of this sort of thing. But the story that just broke on Politco about the RNC’s video comparing Nancy Pelosi to “Pussy Galore” shows just how vital this issue is—and how brazenly the conservatives / Republicans engage in name-calling and demonizing.

I’ll let Ann Lewis, former advisor to Hilary Clinton, have the last word:

“It’s an attempt to demean your opponent, rather than debate them. If they’re serious that this is an issue of national security, then you’d think that one would want to debate it on the merits,” she says. “It’s almost as if they can’t help themselves.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wrong Again

Well, I really thought Adam Lambert would win American Idol. So I gather did Kris Allen!

I'm happy for them both. And who knows, maybe Kris Allen will turn out to be more than a cute boy with a nice voice and guitar--and I'll be wrong again.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Where Outrage and Compassion Meet

When Margaret and I proposed going to the Globe Indian Restaurant for lunch yesterday, our friend Rebecca got a funny look on her face. It seems that the owner, Lotti, has been arrested for his treatment of his employees who were virtual slaves. One employee died of pnemonia because, Rebecca said, Lotti refused to take him to the hospital. We were aghast. We eat there every chance we get, and like Rebecca, we don’t want to support inhumane business practices. I also got an uneasy feeling. Was the employee who died our favorite waiter, Sebastien, who suddenly stopped working at the Globe about a year ago? We never asked Lotti or his wife what happened to him. We simply assumed that he had been fired because he wasn’t a very good waiter, kind of chatty and slow.

Late last night I googled “globe indian topeka kansas arrest” and learned more. It seems that Sebastien died over a year ago, on April 28th 2008. I haven’t found any evidence that Lotti refused to take him to a hospital, but the news accounts I’ve read say that he was present when paramedics responded to the 911 call, initially denied employing Sebastian, then admitted to keeping all his personal identification at the restaurant, a common strategy of enslavement. In a subsequent investigation, Lotti told federal agents that a restaurant owner in Kansas City had transported Sebastien to Topeka when Lotti needed a new waiter. Lotti said that he could get illegal workers from any Indian restaurant as far away as Chicago.

Lotti was convicted on April 7, 2009 of three charges of “harboring illegal immigrants for commercial advantage or private financial gain ” “Harbor” is a very strange term for what he did to Sebastien, as to at least two other waiters: forced him to work up to 70 hours a week for what seems to be about $4-5 per hour. I gather he faces up to thirty years in prison and a fine of $750K. I doubt he’ll be punished that harshly.

Perhaps exhaustion is part of why Sebastien was such a slow and disorganized waiter. Or perhaps he was hoping that if he worked slowly enough, Lotti would let him return home to his wife and children in India. All of the news reports say that he had complained that he was being forced to work, but none of them say whom he complained to or there was any relationship between his complaints and his death.

The last time we saw Sebastien, he seemed to be in pretty bad shape. He had a huge bruise on the side of his face and his pallor was grey. He also seemed subdued, taking our order and bringing our food without any conversation. We made a lot of what now seem to be stupid assumptions: that he had gotten into a fight, that he was in pain. Now I’m guessing that he was close to death and had either fallen due to weakness or been struck by Lotti in anger. We didn’t say anything, out of fear of intruding. I don’t know if our concern would have made a difference. But I sure do wish we had reached out.

So today I am remembering Jacinta Sebastian Pereria who died in Topeka, Kansas at the age of 53, far from the people who loved him.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Conservatives and Corruption

Here's a letter to George Will I've drafted in response to a recent op-ed piece he published in the Washington Post. I haven't decided whether or not to send it to him.

Dear Mr Will,

You recent op-ed piece, “Tincture of Lawlessness,” published in the Washington Post, shows exactly why conservatism is an outdated, even corrupt ideology.

First, like many conservatives, you confuse rhetoric with argument. I find this in the unreasonable use of hyperbole involved in claiming that President Obama is acting unlawfully. You bring no evidence to bear on this point other than a brief quote from the Economist, whose author appears to share you ideological perspective. Your claim that the central goal of his presidency is simultaneously “maximizing the number of people and institutions dependent on the federal government” is similarly hyperbolic, highly inflammatory, and without any basis in fact.

I could similarly criticize the irresponsible rhetoric of your claim that “markets” succeed when “when freedom allows merit to manifest itself, and incompetence to fail,” because the personification of these ideas masques the very real agency of the people who wrought the current economic crisis. But I’d rather point out that like most conservative pundits these days you are simply ignoring the facts: the economic disaster that has befallen our nation, indeed our global community, is due largely to the unrestrained “freedom” (license is more like it) that allowed greedy and incompetent cohorts of well-placed individuals to help themselves to untold wealth. It seems to me to be highly unlikely that President Obama’s pursuit of “economic planning” and “social justice” could possibly wreak more havoc.

Unless of course—and this brings me to my third and final point—the primary purpose of your attack is to rally support for and ensure the survival of one of the most cherished tenets of conservatives everywhere: the idea that corporations and the small but disproportionately wealthy and influential class of people who own them are super-individuals with more rights and privilege than anyone else. What else could be behind the bleating complaint that Obama wants to give Chrysler’s workers more than the banks or the investors “whose contracts supposedly guaranteed them better standing than the union.” From my point of view it is only fair that the investor class accept a larger loss than the working class because investors have far more resources than the workers. But that’s exactly what you can’t stomach and that’s why conservatism is at best an unsustainable ideology: because it elevates the wealthy to positions beyond reproach, indeed, beyond the law, while devaluing and demeaning anyone who works for a wage.

President Obama is not corrupt, as you recklessly claim. He is trying to redress the multiple corruptions of an economic system that chiefly benefits the wealthy. The reforms he proposes are modest and way overdue.

I don’t expect that he or you adopt the socialist point-of-view that I myself have arrived at. But I do wish you’d get off your ideological hobby horse and accept two propositions: a) that the acquisition of wealth untempered by any internal or external force has corrupted our economic system and b) that it is in everyone’s best interest for our nation to find a way to a more equitable distribution of resources. And if that’s asking too much, how about sticking with the facts?

Sincerely,

Christina Hauck

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Maui Chronicles: Shopping

I didn’t go to Maui with the intention of shopping. After all, I can do that from the comfort of my own living room. But, of course, we did shop, mostly in Kihei and little in Paia, mostly in a desultory sort of way because mostly we weren’t buying. For the record, I bought one tee shirt, one Hawaiian print shirt, one rash guard, about a gallon of sunscreen, two silver chains, and a gift for Margaret. Margaret bought one tee shirt, one Hawaiian print shirt, one pair of white pants, one dress, and a gallon of aloe vera.

If you are ever in Maui, here are three stores we found to be exceptional.

The Rainbow Attic, 1881 S Kihei Rd, Kehei. “Maui’s largest consignment store.” We both loved this place. A great selection of used but wearable clothing (most of it costing $8), not to mention boogie boards, jewelry, art, furniture and other household stuff.

The Maui Farmers’ Market, 621 S Kihei Rd, Kihei. The produce guy at Safeway told us about this place. You have to drive several miles north of the main tourist drag in Kihei, and it’s only open M-F, but they’ve got a great selection of fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and coffee. The best papaya we ever tasted.

Maui Hands, Ka’anapali, Lahaina, Paia. We visited the Paia store. A slightly up-scale art gallery. I especially loved (but did not buy) the handmade furniture and the jewelry. Someday.

Since we’ve been back I’ve been industriously shopping for rashguard and an SUP (stand up paddle) board. Rashguard is a tightly fitting shirt that surfers wear to protect their nipples and inner arms from, well, rash. It’s also great protection from the sun. I bought this beautiful shirt from Essential Surf in Santa Cruz, Calfornia. Stand up paddling is a wonderful way to get out on the water. SurfingSports has a cool (if somewhat hard to navigate) site full of information and photos.

Well, shopping is fun, but it’s also a time-consuming distraction, at least for me (as I suspect for a bunch of other people). More about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life is So Unfair

Well, I’ve gotten caught up on American Idol, and I guess I was wrong: Allison Ireheta did not make it into the final three. But I gotta tell ya: she way out performed Chris and Danny on Tuesday night. There’s no WAY they deserved more votes. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles--or is that the way the fan base moves?

There’s no way I feel sorry for her, though. She’s seventeen years old. She’s got a great voice. American Idol has given her international exposure and a fan base. And she’s gonna have a great career.

Tonight we’ll see if talent wins out over cuteness. Stay turned.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Maui Chronicles: Fear and Fun

It seems counterintuitive that a little fear can enhance your fun, but my recent experiences in Maui tell me this is true.

While in Maui we paid for three “adventures”: horseback riding at the Mendes Ranch in Wailuku, surfing at Kalama Park in Kihei, and snorkeling at Olowalu. I did not expect to experience any fear during the horseback ride, but the first time my horse, Cowboy, started running, I found myself grabbing the saddle horn with my right hand and laughing out loud all the way uphill: a little fear, a lot of fun. The second run, on the other hand, wasn’t fun at all. First, Cowboy took off too early, and Gerard, one of the guides, yelled, “not yet, not yet.” I got the horse reined in (a feat of which I’m proud because that willful horse wanted to run), but as soon as Gerard took off, so did Cowboy. One of my feet had slipped from the stirrups and I was little off balance, so I grabbed the horn with both hands as we went charging up the hill. I was just too frightened to enjoy the ride. By the time I got my balance and composure back, it was over.

The fear I experienced surfing was of an entirely different order. As we walked toward the water carrying our boards I found myself wishing I had never signed up. I felt pretty sure I’d get dumped and tumbled and scraped and that I’d never manage to catch a wave let alone ride it. So I was afraid of pain and humiliation. That fear persisted through my first effort. I was surprised how fast the wave was pushing the board, and how easy it would have been to stay on my belly. I had to make myself kneel. It took all my will to try to stand up. I almost made it, and falling didn't hurt a bit. After that, I wasn’t afraid at all, just focused and determined. And when I finally did it, when I stood up and kept my balance and rode that wave, I felt only exhilaration. I suspect that if I ever try surfing bigger waves--and I want to, I want to--I’ll experience more fear and more exhilaration.

The fear that accompanied snorkeling was closer to what I experienced surfing. It started as we began swimming. Images of drowning flashed through my mind. I pushed them down: I’m a good swimmer, I’ve snorkeled before, and I was in good company. I had little flashes of fear throughout the snorkel. Once, surfacing from a dive, I started to inhale before I’d cleared my snorkel. I spit the mouth piece out before I’d taken any water into my throat and, as I gulped in air, told myself to be a little more careful. A bit later, after we had found some sea turtles and were following them, I found myself anthropomorphizing, wondering if they were leading us into some kind of trap. It was a passing fancy, quickly dispelled. I also felt a little afraid during the time we were following the manta rays: they have long barbed tails and I worried that if I got too close they might sting me or that if we followed them for too long we'd never get back to shore.

The verdict? A little fear increases vigilance. Heightened awareness increases pleasure. Too much fear paralyzes. Paralysis ain’t fun.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

Maui is such a beautiful place--the ocean, the mountains, the beaches, the breezes, the smiling people. I am so happy that we got to spend a week there. I'll try to write here about some of our experiences, though it may take me a while to gather my thoughts and impressions.

In the meantime I just want to say how happy I am to be home in Kansas, another beautiful place, especially in the spring when the Flint Hills are covered in tall green grass and the wildflowers are blooming and the trees are fully leaved and the birds sing loudly all day long under the biggest bluest sky.

We just got back from a walk. The tulips have all blown away and the irises have begun to bloom. Just on the edge of town, we sighted a fox trotting across the road. She disappeared behind some trees then reappeared, bounding through a field of tall grass. I imagine she's after our neighbors ducks. Poor ducks.

At the top of the hill, we faced the golden distant sunset. Turning around we saw a massive thunderhead riding the eastern horizon. The white, almost full moon was nearing the apex of the sky. Birds and crickets and frogs all were singing as we walked slowly home.

How wonderful it is to live on a planet so alive with beauty. How wonderful to be alive to it all.