Saturday, December 30, 2006

All Hail The Conquering Heroes and other news in review...

Dear Freak Politics,

Where the hell are you?

A Reader

Many have observed that I have not posted to this blog since the 2006 midterm elections. For this, I apologize. The stinging rebuke dealt to the Bush administration took a bit of the bite out of my usual vitriol. I have a feeling that the piss and vinegar displayed in the past in this blog will be lacking. For readers looking for that, I apologize.

For those living on the moon, with their heads in the sand or just not paying attention, lets review what has happened in the time since I last posted. In the 2006 midterm elections the Republican Party, suffering a serious case of voter Bush fatigue were handed a solid thwacking. Two days later Rummy was ceremonially shown the door. And no, the door did not smack him on the ass on the way out.

Out with Good Golly Don and in with the un-confirmable Robert Gates. Last time he was up for confirmation (as CIA Director under Papa Bush) he met the ire of the Democratic Intelligence Committee members who deemed that he was simply unsatisfactory, based on his connection to Iran-Contra. Though he was eventually confirmed, he was forced to endure many difficult questions. This time, all he had to do was say one word (in response to being asked if we were winning in Iraq): No! That coupled with the fact that he is, never was and never will be Don Rumsfeld make him a perfectly acceptable candidate.

The Democratic majority in Congress selected its leadership. Aww Shucks McGee (Harry Reid) and NancyIf you think I’m ugly now, you should see before my make-up” Pelosi. They have made many promises, and we will see if they can deliver. I am not confident in the Democratic leadership, but everyone deserves their fair shake.

The day after the election all the Midterm 2006 news banners were replaced with “all Obama all the time.” The 2008 election season is upon us. Hillzilla Clinton successfully scared all the other serious moderates out of the race (former Virginia Governor Mark Warner and Senator Evan Bayh) and Barack Obama has energized the Democratic Party in a manner not seen since 1992. He did this while drawing a measured amount of praise from Republicans. His voice is promising but your trusty rusty blogger will take a wait and see approach.

The Iraq Study Group released its report to President Bush. The report included 73 recommendations. You have to ask yourself, did this merry band of old timers forget who our President is? Dubya probably got through the first 25 before going to play fetch with Barney. I’m not saying he’s dumb, but he is a walking learning disorder case study.

The President is reported to be considering a “troop surge” as we move into the new year. Apparently the President wasn’t lying when he said that he never reads the news. I am no military expert, but I don’t see a “surge” in anyone’s future. Where are we going to get the troops from? Are Chelsea Clinton, and the Bush twins going to enlist? That would bring the fear of good into any Al Qaeda heart, no doubt about it.

Finally, as the year comes to a close, the world is down one evil-doer. Saddam Hussein was apparently executed; hung high like in some Western movie (Middle East style). Now we will just have to wait and see if Iraq explodes in increased sectarian violence. But honestly, you have to ask yourself; could it get any worse?

Here is to wishing you a Happy New Year and hoping for a 2007 that sees Americans dropping the partisan hate and increasing the peace. In the immortal words of Rodney King and Reginald Denny: “Can’t we all get along?

I'm not holding my breath!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Keith Olbermann hits the nail on the head...

Everyone should watch this before Tuesday. It is a bit long but I ask you to sit through it, because it is absolutely, 100% right on!!! And please forward it to everyone you know!

Once that ends, click on this to see the last two minutes!

Everything relies on our ability to turn out the vote! Call everyone you know. Make them vote!

Thomas Friedman's Column from last Friday...

This one needs no explanation!

November 3, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

Insulting Our Troops, and Our Intelligence

George Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld think you’re stupid. Yes, they do.
They think they can take a mangled quip about President Bush and Iraq by John Kerry — a man who is not even running for office but who, unlike Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, never ran away from combat service — and get you to vote against all Democrats in this election.
Every time you hear Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney lash out against Mr. Kerry, I hope you will say to yourself, “They must think I’m stupid.” Because they surely do.

They think that they can get you to overlook all of the Bush team’s real and deadly insults to the U.S. military over the past six years by hyping and exaggerating Mr. Kerry’s mangled gibe at the president.

What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to the U.S. military than to send it into combat in Iraq without enough men — to launch an invasion of a foreign country not by the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force, but by the Rumsfeld Doctrine of just enough troops to lose? What could be a bigger insult than that?

What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in uniform than sending them off to war without the proper equipment, so that some soldiers in the field were left to buy their own body armor and to retrofit their own jeeps with scrap metal so that roadside bombs in Iraq would only maim them for life and not kill them? And what could be more injurious and insulting than Don Rumsfeld’s response to criticism that he sent our troops off in haste and unprepared: Hey, you go to war with the army you’ve got — get over it.

What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in uniform than to send them off to war in Iraq without any coherent postwar plan for political reconstruction there, so that the U.S. military has had to assume not only security responsibilities for all of Iraq but the political rebuilding as well? The Bush team has created a veritable library of military histories — from “Cobra II” to “Fiasco” to “State of Denial” — all of which contain the same damning conclusion offered by the very soldiers and officers who fought this war: This administration never had a plan for the morning after, and we’ve been making it up — and paying the price — ever since.

And what could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in Iraq than to send them off to war and then go out and finance the very people they’re fighting against with our gluttonous consumption of oil? Sure, George Bush told us we’re addicted to oil, but he has not done one single significant thing — demanded higher mileage standards from Detroit, imposed a gasoline tax or even used the bully pulpit of the White House to drive conservation — to end that addiction. So we continue to finance the U.S. military with our tax dollars, while we finance Iran, Syria, Wahhabi mosques and Al Qaeda madrassas with our energy purchases.

Everyone says that Karl Rove is a genius. Yeah, right. So are cigarette companies. They get you to buy cigarettes even though we know they cause cancer. That is the kind of genius Karl Rove is. He is not a man who has designed a strategy to reunite our country around an agenda of renewal for the 21st century — to bring out the best in us. His “genius” is taking some irrelevant aside by John Kerry and twisting it to bring out the worst in us, so you will ignore the mess that the Bush team has visited on this country.

And Karl Rove has succeeded at that in the past because he was sure that he could sell just enough Bush cigarettes, even though people knew they caused cancer. Please, please, for our country’s health, prove him wrong this time.

Let Karl know that you’re not stupid. Let him know that you know that the most patriotic thing to do in this election is to vote against an administration that has — through sheer incompetence — brought us to a point in Iraq that was not inevitable but is now unwinnable.

Let Karl know that you think this is a critical election, because you know as a citizen that if the Bush team can behave with the level of deadly incompetence it has exhibited in Iraq — and then get away with it by holding on to the House and the Senate — it means our country has become a banana republic. It means our democracy is in tatters because it is so gerrymandered, so polluted by money, and so divided by professional political hacks that we can no longer hold the ruling party to account.

It means we’re as stupid as Karl thinks we are.

I, for one, don’t think we’re that stupid. Next Tuesday we’ll see.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

2006, the Year of the Macaca

One person who ran for President in 2004 was quote this week as saying:

“You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

The other said:

“If the Democrats win, the terrorists win.”

One of these statements was slander and the other was a guy who attempted funny when he really isn’t.

The big knock against Democrats and liberals in general is that we are smug and superior. We are, and we need to knock it off. John Kerry was right. He was talking about the importance of education. He was saying that it is important to learn and get a good well rounded education, because if you don’t, he asserts, you will be forced into the military.

Was he saying that the men and women that serve in the military are dumb? No, he wasn’t. He was trying to say that the President is dumb, and that has to be the lamest, most overused joke that there is. But the topic offers and opportunity for further insight and learning. There are really only two methods of achieving upward mobility in this country. The best option, in my opinion, is a good education. But the other option is serving in the military where you mature and learn important high tech skills that one can transition into upward mobility. I think that the Republicans that took offense were looking for a reason to say: “see, I told you they hate the military!” and the people in this country who were offended were looking for a reason to say: “see, I told you they are all northeastern elitists!” Neither is right.

Should John Kerry keep better control of his tongue? Yes. He has often proven unable to translate the complex thoughts in his head into clear and concise statements. He is a gifted, intelligent and conscientious man with the best interests of all Americans at heart. He is also a horse’s ass that should keep his mouth shut more often.

On the other hand, the desperation of George W. Bush is becoming readily apparent. I was glad to see that he retired the tired and, well, true “stay the course”. But he as replaced it with the equally un-insightful “Democrats win = terrorists win”. Nothing could be more ridiculous. The President says that he believes that all the members of Congress (Democrat and Republican) are patriotic, but still insists on using statements that tie the Democratic Party with weakness, failure, surrender and implicitly terrorist sympathy.

The good news is that his slanderous bilge is not sinking in.

My question for the mainstream media is this, is the John Kerry quote the “political story of the week” or should it be the George W. Bush quote, which has largely been ignored?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Freak Politics 2006 Midterm Election Predictions.

The United States House of Representatives will swing over into Democratic Control. I believe that Paul Krugman's analogy of a levee and a storm surge is quite good. If the storm surge is enough to breach the levee it will flow far inland. I believe that the surge will be very large indeed.

I am predicting that the House split after November 7th will be:
Democrats: 228
Republicans: 207

An advantage of 21 seats, letter the Speaker battle begin!

The United States Senate is a little more up in the air. As we know, the Democrats need a net 6 seats to recapture control of the Senate. News today reports that the Republican National Committee has pulled it’s money from 5 of the 7 key races. They have pulled money from Rhode Island, Ohio, Montana, Virginia, and Michigan. They are pouring all their resources into Missouri and Tennessee believing that this creates their best chance to hold onto the Senate. I believe that this is a mistake, perhaps the first mistake that the Rove political strategy team has made. Hal Ford in Tennessee is young, charismatic and pragmatic. He should be able to hold off Bill Corker in the battle for Bill Frist’s seat. Missouri will be close too, but I believe that Claire McCaskill has enough momentum.

I am predicting that the Senate split after November 7th will be:
Democrats: 52
Republicans: 48

An advantage of 4 seats, don’t mess it up Majority Leader Reid!

The Dems will win in Rhode Island, Connecticut (likely Lieberman), New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. The only question mark in this is Virginia. If the Democrats had a good candidate this would be a no brainer, but James Webb is a terrible campaigner and has been unable to build momentum to build on Macaca’s mistakes!

I don’t know much about all the Governors races, but I am predicting after November 7th the split will be:

Democrats: 30
Republicans: 20

The tidal wave of 1994 has finally rolled back!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What’s wrong with our mothers?

It has been quite some time since I posted. The problem is that I am rather burnt out on politics at the moment. I can’t begin commenting on politics until the election is over. Everything we hear is spin and spin has little or nothing to do with reality. The reality is that our country has made mistakes in the last 15 years regarding terrorism. Everyone of every political leaning has made mistakes. President Clinton made mistakes and President Bush has made and is making mistakes. What we see in the face of the November 7th election is a load of drivel about how if you vote Democratic you are emboldening the terrorists and hate your country. The other side says that if you vote Democratic all your problems will go away. I think most intelligent people, regardless of the ideological views knows that both assertions are utter BS! Enough about that…

Today, instead, I want to focus on an issue that has been of particular interest to me. That is gender and American culture. I recently read an article by Lonnae O’Neil Parker that appeared in the October 15th Washington Post. Ms. Parker, an African American mother explains why she does not allow her 12 year old daughter to listen to new hip-hop. The article is excellently written, and as the father of a new baby girl and a fan of hip-hop and rap, I took particular interest. I won’t waste too many words summarizing what Ms. Parker says (since she wrote it better then I ever could), but suffice it to say that she talks about growing up loving hip-hop and growing up with hip-hop and then one day coming to the realization that the love affair she had with this musical form of lyrical poetry had become unhealthy and abusive. It is something that I have felt for a long time but having a daughter really brought it to the forefront. I am struggling to know how to proceed.

Aside from the fact that 90% of hip-hop (or music in general) is total crap, hip-hop is actively contributing to our culture of misogyny. It has created a culture of acquisition and success = wealth, violence = cool that is seen as emulated by a vast majority of boys and men of all ethnic groups. 50 Cent is seen as cool because he was shot 9 times and lived, regardless of the fact that he was a drug dealer and was shot because he was a cancer on society. Is 50 Cent talented? Without a doubt! Is it sad that he uses his talent to demean women and glorify a sad lifestyle like dealing drugs and murderous mayhem?

Hip-hop and rap are not the only perpetrators of misogyny in our culture. All forms of music are to blame, as are video games, movies and fashion. Politics is an incredibly sexist line of work too. Look at women of note and influence of politics, women like Hilary Clinton, Condi Rice, and Nancy Pelosi. They are forced to subvert that about themselves that is feminine in order to appease men (and far too many women) that believe that women and the “feminine outlook” is too emotional and/or irrational to govern effectively. Does anyone think that our country and our world wouldn’t be a better place if our mothers were in charge?

In the world of business, the Hewlett Packard scandal is a perfect example. Carly Fiorina has been demonized for her “poor” leadership at the large IT company. Board Chairwoman Patricia Dunn is being crucified for a crime that men commit daily. Let’s not forget that she may not have to have resorted to spying on other board members if they hadn’t been hiding information from her to undermine her leadership. Martha Stewart’s trial for insider trading became a cable news frenzy. Why? Not because she broke the rules, but because she was a woman breaking the rules. Women make up a pawltry 16% of CEOs in this country, despite being 46% of the workforce! 90% of Fortune 500 companies had no female executive officers.

To some extent women must be responsible for their own empowerment. Maureen Dowd wrote a column a few months ago about women reclaiming derogatory words like slut, thus neutralizing them. I think that while it is ok for them to not see them as derogatory men still do. Porn stars and strippers believe that they are empowering themselves by using their body as a means to exert control over men. Even if I did accept that premise, which I don't, their use of their body in this endeavor only weakens women who want to exert control using their minds. The Gloria Steinem generation of feminists insisted that their should be no difference between men and women and that they are 100% equal in every way. I reject that too. Women and men are different in many ways. Should they be equal? Yes. Are they the same? No. Men and women, speaking in general, approach issues differently. That is a good thing. A well functioning family has a feminine and a masculine voice. This country's leadership should too. Our culture should be dictated equally by the feminine and the masculine. Men are never shy about weighing in with their point of view. Women should be allowed into the discussion as well. Their equal voice will strengthen our society.

What our country needs are more women (not women pretending to be men) in positions of influence. What do I tell my daughter about her future and about being a woman when our society tells her that being a woman is inferior to being a man? What do I tell her when our capitalist society tells her that in order to lead she must repress everything about her that is feminine? What do I tell her when popular culture says she has to look a certain way and dress in sexy clothes? I want to teach my daughter that she can be President of the United States or CEO of a major corporation. I want her to know that there are no limits to her potential or her future. Is that naïve?

What is it that intimidates our society about strong, proud, confident, feminine women? Are our mothers so scary?

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Dumb!

I have spent the last few weeks on the sidelines of the debate over torture of Al Qaeda detainees and the Bush administration ridiculous notion that we can simply choose to re-interpret Article III of the Geneva Convention regarding torture. This issue is so ridiculous that I am almost afraid to wade into it. Does anyone aside from our President, and his kiss-ass chorus, think this is a good idea? It sure doesn’t appear so. Former generals and diplomats, including Bush’s own former Secretary of State Colin Powell have said that re-interpreting the Geneva Convention is a terrible idea, and still they push forward.

The Rubber-stamp Congress, lead by the extraordinarily mediocre Bill Frist, has stepped forward to tout a “compromise” that was reached last week. What happened with the last compromise between Congress and the Bush administration? The President signed the bill and added a signing statement making it clear that he would only follow the law when it did not interfere with his powers as commander-in-chief (which when dealing with Al Qaeda is always). On This Week Frist was asked about specific torture techniques, he responded that he would not address hypothetical scenarios because then the terrorists would win. I kid you not, fair readers; Bill Frist can’t even answer a question about a potential hypothetical without the terrorists winning. I fear that we are in worse shape then I originally thought if Mr. Nobody, Bill Frist, answering a direct and clear question, for once in his life, would enable the terrorists to win.

So, let’s talk about these signing statements that the President attaches to bills that he signs. He, and his merry men, claim that this is a normal procedure followed by every President since Thomas Jefferson. Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked this question on September 17th: "But isn't it the Supreme Court that's supposed to decide whether laws are unconstitutional or not?"

Snow’s response? "No, as a matter of fact the president has an obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. That is an obligation that presidents have enacted through signing statements going back to Jefferson. So, while the Supreme Court can be an arbiter of the Constitution, the fact is the President is the one, the only person who, by the Constitution, is given the responsibility to preserve, protect, and defend that document, so it is perfectly consistent with presidential authority under the Constitution itself." OK, I am not a Constitutional scholar, but I have read the Federalist Papers, which clearly explains what the Framers intended when they drafted the Constitution. For those who have not read them, here are a few quotes to mull over.

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Papers No. 78:
"The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts ... It equally proves, that though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter; I mean so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the legislature and the Executive. For I agree, that there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers."

James Madison, in Federalist Papers No. 47:
"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

So, let’s review. Torturing Al Qaeda terrorists is OK and we can re-interpret the Geneva Convention any way we want until we find a way to make it OK. And the President of the United States doesn’t have to listen to Congress and is, in fact, the best judge of what is Constitutional or not, not the United States Judiciary. This is what happens when you put a single-mindedly idiotic person in the White House!

The President is trying very hard to make everyone focus on the War on Terror in the larger sense so we don't focus on the quagmire and civil war occurring in Iraq. Voters of the nation, DO NOT LOSE FOCUS!!! Voting against the Bush administration and the lap dog Congress is NOT un-patriotic. The terrorists will not win if we have dual party rule. You all know that I don't make endorsements. Vote for the Democrats, Greens, Natural Law, or Libertarians if you want, just get the neanderthals and troglodytes of the Grand Old Party out of Congress!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

You are a bad man, a very, very bad man!!!

All I ever hear about is what good men Joe Lieberman and Lincoln Chafee are. I have unloaded on Joe Lieberman already, so today I will set my sights on the honorable Senator from the state of Rhode Island. Lincoln Chafee was appointed to his seat after the death of his father, Senator John Chafee, died in office in 1999. He won re-election in 2000 and is up for re-election this year.

Lincoln Chafee is a member of the Grand Old Party, just like his father, representing the very blue state of Rhode Island. Like his father he is a fiscal conservative and a social moderate bordering on liberal. He is opposed to the death penalty. He favors a woman’s right to choose, funding for embryonic stem cell research. He is a deficit hawk who is not opposed at the outset to raising taxes. He takes these decisions on a case by case basis. He opposed President Dumb ass’ (I mean Dubya) fiscally foolish tax cuts for the richest 1% of Americans. On paper Chafee could almost be a candidate worth voting for. So why do I loath him? That is because he is a Republican.

It may be that he stands on the ethical and just side of most all issues, but he still votes for the Republican Party leadership in the United States Senate. That means that a vote for Lincoln Chafee is a vote for Trent Lott and Bill Frist. Trent Lott, a man that said the country would be a better place if more people had agreed with racist, anti-integration Presidential Candidate and Senator Strom Thurmond. Bill Frist, a surgeon who decided to diagnose Terry Shiavo based on a few minutes of videotape. A vote for Lincoln Chafee, in spite of his heroic resistance to his own Party’s foolhardy stance on the War in Iraq and the struggle against Terrorism, is a vote for continued George W. Bush and Dick “Shoot my friends in the face” Cheney. It is a vote for the continuation of an impotent legislative branch and the continued domination of the executive branch.

Lincoln Chafee is a man who votes his conscience on legislation in the United States Senate and when electing a President (he wrote in the name of Dubya’s papa), unfortunately he doesn’t vote his conscience when electing Senate leadership.

I don’t know much about Sheldon Whitehouse, but I do know one thing about him; he’s no Republican. Fresh blood is needed. We need a strong and oppositional legislative branch. There has never been a more important time to be a blatantly partisan liberal. Our ideas are better. But honestly, even if, like the GOP says, Democrats had no ideas; no ideas are better than BAD IDEAS and stubbornness.

We need a Congress that will ask hard questions and fight back when the President tries to re-write our Constitution. To quote a very wise man: Mr. President, I knew James Madison, James Madison was a friend of mine, you sir and Harriet Myers and Alberto Gonzalez are no James Madison.



Friday, September 01, 2006

The End of the World As We Know It and I Feel Fine…

Improving our educational system is a priority and focus in our society. Without a doubt the American people are the least educated and least intellectually interested people of any developed nation on the planet. What is the root of this problem? People blame politics and politicians for the state of affairs and to a certain extent they are to blame for bad policies. But the people of this country are to blame for the bad politicians. Even the 30% of the population that never shows up to vote is to blame. The problem is that no one likes the smartest kid in the class. Anyone who was every that kid knows this first hand. As a result we end up with dunces and class clowns like George W. Bush and George Allen as leaders.

A co-worker of mine made an interesting statement the other day. She said that those people who are not themselves educated not only do not see the value in education but they also actively scorn education. This seems like an accurate observation, and it is troubling. We think that the solution to all our problems is to simply better educate people. Conservatives advocate for laws like No Child Left Behind to hold schools, teachers and student accountable. Liberals want to just throw more and more money at the problem thinking if we pay teachers ever more money things will inevitably get better. The solution to this problem is very daunting indeed. This challenge is particularly difficult if you must first convince the students of the value of education. In many communities becoming educated in synonymous with “selling out” or losing some cultural credibility.

If we are serious about wanting smart government we ourselves need to smarten up. We need to stop voting for troglodytes and the extreme medicocity available in our society. America, it is your fault that your politicians are, as we say time and again, stupid, insipid, corrupt and uninspired.

Mao Zedong the former communist ruler of China had a phrase that he used when advocating for a constant struggle for making society better: continual revolution. I’m not advocating communism for this country, but a little revolutionary change might do us some good. Not a violent uprising but merely the striving to make America better. The problem with this plan is that Americans are led to believe that we live in the greatest nation in the world. We are fed a line about cultural superiority and how great we are.

Yes, America is a great country. Yes, this is a land of opportunity that has enabled people to create better lives for themselves. The problem is, if we force feed people that we are a perfect nation then people will not see the need for change, but look around, this country is screaming for change. Hurricane Katrina taught us that the developing world exists right here in the United States, in the Lower Ninth Ward and too many other communities just like it around the country. We have politicians who can place anonymous holds on bills in the Senate, like Ted Stevens of Alaska blocking a bill that would create a searchable database of government grants and appropriations, I guess he doesn’t want anyone to know about his bridge to nowhere.

So where do we begin? Do we need to start with education? Do we start by proactively pushing to hold elected officials accountable? I worry that if education is the place to start, this country will get a lot worse before it gets better. Education is absolutely vital, but how do we convince kids who have grown up in families where education is not a priority of that fact? How do we inspire kids to study math and science so they become the innovators of tomorrow? Who will be our Galileo? Our Louis Pasteur? Our Jonas Salk? How do we inspire kids to study literature, philosophy and the humanities so they become the great thinkers of tomorrow? Where is our Aristotle? Our Adam Smith? Our Thomas Jefferson? Who will be the great philosopher of this generation?

Yes, this country has been founded on the principles of liberty and opportunity. Yes, this country offers great opportunity to its people and to the immigrants that come to seek out our way of life. But we have people who do not have the appropriate level of knowledge and/or respect for our history running this country. As we have at periods throughout our history, we have strayed from the ideals of liberty, freedom from tyranny, and equality. At what point is it ok to close our borders to those in the world who seek to be American? Why was it OK for the Irish, Italians and Chinese to come and still maintain their cultural and national identities but it is not ok for those coming from Latin America? Many of our greatest inventors, scientists, thinkers and theologians were immigrants. Have we decided that this is not a tradition that we value? How can we expect to lead the world when we do not intend to serve as the great melting pot where ideas and discovery are encouraged and nurtured?

Our leaders tell us that we are at war. They compare Iraq and the struggle against Islamo-fascism (notice they still consider them one and the same) to the great struggles against Nazism and Communism. The Bush administration and its lapdog the U.S. Congress tells us that we are at war. Perhaps, instead of trying to fit everything that is happening into a historic paradigm we should be moving forward with our eyes ahead and realizing that old nomenclature doesn't fit the current context. War is obsolete. ideological fundamentalism without a nation state is absolutely nothing like Nazism or Communism. We can't kick off a new arms race and bankrupt Al Qaeda.

As a prerequisite for safety the government has told us that we must voluntarily surrender some of the civil liberties guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights. Do we have to allow the U.S. government to spy on us in an uncontrolled and unregulated fashion to protect us from some unseen and totally frightening danger? Is the threat of terrorism real? Yes! It is absolutely a reality of the new world that we live in. Are we safe? Yes, most of us are probably safe. Has the military helped us achieve safety? Not in the slightest. George W. Bush said that we fight the terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them in the United States. Senator Joe Biden made a great point this week; does anyone think that Al Qaeda can't fight both in Iraq and the United States?

Is the threat of terrorism real in the rural Midwest or Hana, Maui? No, it isn’t and to manipulate peoples fear by asserting that it is, is criminal. Fear is a powerful tool of control. Fear is the way the Bush administration has scared us away from regime change at home for the last four years. Most pundit, conservative and liberal think that scare tactics will fall flat this fall. We have been desensitized to the fear.

Here is one more question to ponder moving forward: if we win the struggle against ideological fundamentalism by surrendering the civil liberties that make this country great, can we really call ourselves that winners? Or have we lost that which scares our enemies the most?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The "V Speech" from V for Vendetta

V: Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.
[carves V into wall]
V: The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.
V: Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.
Evey Hammond: Are you like a crazy person?
V: I'm quite sure they will say so.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Droopy Dog gets fired

Every Connecticut Democrat’s worst fears were realized last night when primary loser Joseph Lieberman announced that he would buck the wishes of the majority of his Party and run for re-election as an independent. It doesn’t surprise me. My father, when speaking about Lieberman, pointed out that he stands on the Democratic side of most issues. This cannot be debated. On a woman’s right to choose, gun control, the environment, and education he has always been a leader in the Party. But, as the New York Times pointed out, on the defining issue of our time, the war in Iraq, Lieberman has made some in the Republican Party look downright progressive.

I do not question whether Lieberman is a good man, an intelligent lawmaker or an ideological Democrat, what I do question is his loyalty to the Democratic Party. He has no loyalty. He sells himself as a Democrat who can work with Republicans. This is no time to be working with Republicans. Working with Republicans has allowed the President to cuckold the legislative branch. It has allowed Bush to cherry pick laws and interpret them as he sees fit. It has allowed for the systematic role back of our civil liberties with no meaningful debate. It has allowed a culture of corruption to grip the nation’s capital. It has created a climate where no one is held accountable. Well, Lieberman was held to account for his actions last night.

The Senator will run as an independent and he will then likely line up with the Democratic Caucus, but the message is clear. The American people will be holding their elected officials accountable for their behavior in Washington. On the whole, this is a bad omen for Republicans. I know on the surface that it appears that the Democrats are running to the left. But they are not. Ned Lamont is not a left wing ideologue. He is a moderate that happens to oppose a very unpopular war. In that way, he is a progressive.

In 2000 life was looking good for Joe Lieberman. He was Al Gore’s choice for a running mate, a moderate Democrat with a lot of public policy credibility. Droopy Dog Lieberman has been a mainstay in Connecticut Democratic politics for 35 years. Connecticut is no borderline Democratic state. The Constitution state is very solidly blue. So, how did the wheels fall off the wagon in such a dramatic fashion?

Joe Lieberman has always felt morally superior to Democrats and Republicans. He holds himself up as a pious, holier-then-thou example. Joe Lieberman has always been far to judgmental for many on the left in the Democratic Party. His ability to work collaboratively with Republicans has sold well with independents but has never sat well with the left wing of the Party that, for hook or for crook, decides primaries. Somewhere along the way Joe Lieberman allowed vanity and pride to cloud his judgment. Yes, we send Senators to Washington to vote their conscience. Yes, it is a bad precedent when they start voting according to polls instead of following their own hearts and minds. That is why the Connecticut primary is an excellent re-affirmation of what is right with the American system. Lieberman stuck to what he believes. The Democrats in the state of Connecticut disagreed and they fired him. Democracy done right. Are you taking notes Iraq???

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Honestly, what is the alternative?

I would hope that by now I don’t need to point out that I abhor violence. It is absolutely the worst way to solve a conflict. Armed conflict to resolve that which cannot be negotiated to settlement should only be used as the absolute last resort. I believe we are getting there now. Unfortunately we have been fighting in Iraq for over three years and in Afghanistan for almost four years. That is what I would call and world class case of jumping the gun. Perhaps if we had engaged in the war on terror and our response to September 11th “correctly” we would not be where we are now. But that is not where we are. Neoconservative idealists, in all there wisdom, or lack thereof, decided that we could force American style democracy on the world. They believed naïvely that a people would appreciate and respect freedom and liberty even if they did not have to struggle for it. Well it hasn’t happened and it appears they are struggling now, but not for democracy. They are struggling for power and for money.

The problem in Iraq is that the Shia feel that they are owed for “time served”. The Kurds feel the same way. And the Sunni are petrified that part of what these two other groups feel they are owed is the lives of a bunch of Sunnis. That is not a totally irrational fear. If the situation deteriorates into a free for all, I would not trade places with the Sunnis for all the Humus in Lebanon.

As Thomas Friedman pointed out in the New York Times this week; it is time for Plan B. Our “plan” in the Middle East is not working. As the Big Lebowski would say: “The goddamn plan has flown into the goddamn mountain!!!” That can hardly be considered a surprise since there was no clear plan that anyone could point to, aside from the gut feeling of President Bush. The level of ineptitude is mind boggling. Can I just point out that Presidents have been impeached for less severe crimes (not that I am advocating that, yet).

The chaos in Iraq and the quagmire that we have found ourselves in has made it so that the United States is completely unable to adequately address other issues in the Middle East and elsewhere. The reason we can’t get serious about Iran and their threat is because we are bogged down. Likewise with Lebanon, Afghanistan and North Korea, we are stuck in reverse watching the situation in these volatile countries deteriorate. Then let us not forget genocide in Darfur and unrest in Somalia. Want to talk about two countries which are definitely harboring Al Qaeda… The Sudan and Somalia have to be right up near the top.

The problem is that we had no real friends in the Middle East before Israel started blowing Lebanon back into the stone ages (not a long journey in the Middle East). Critics cry out that this is weakening the U.S.’s standing in the region. Honestly, could it have gotten any weaker? I patently reject the notion that the violence is creating more anti-Israeli sentiment. Perhaps the governments in Egypt, Jordan and the Kingdom of Saud would be willing to tolerate a Jewish State in the region, but the people have not come around to that viewpoint. Nothing that Israel has done in the past four weeks has exacerbated that situation, the anti-Israeli and anti-Western sentiment has been there and it isn’t going away any time soon. If tomorrow we let the Islamic world wipe Israel off the map they would still hate us. That is because they don’t truly hate us. They just hate. They hate there lack of economic opportunity. They hate their lack of freedom. They hate their authoritarian governments. We are just the easiest target for that hate. Don’t think for a moment that before the west got to the Arabian Peninsula that the tribes loved each other. To disprove that you need only open the Quran to realize that the tribes have been warring over all manner of things for centuries. To declare that this is an age old religious conflict misses half the story. The best explanation is that this region of the world is very, very hot and there is very little water.

The Islamic Middle East hates Israel for many, many reasons and the “oppression” of the Palestinians isn’t any of them. They hate that Israel is a functional country with a healthy economy. They hate Israel because they have a functional agriculture industry. They hate Israel. Saudi Arabia gives between $80 and $100 million per year in economic aid to the Palestinians. In 2005 alone the United States pledged $274 million in aid to the Palestinians. That number went down and rightfully so, in 2006 after the Palestinian people elected Hamas into power. Even with that setback, the U.S. still pledged $150 million. If the Saudi’s care about the Palestinian people, why not give more? It’s not because they are not short on cash. No, the Saudi’s give money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers as well as funneling money to groups like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.

Now all these numbers don’t mean that much. The U.S. gives billions of dollars in aid to Israel, including selling them weapons on the cheap. There is no doubt that the United States has taken sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict. We’ve made our bed. Now we have to lie in it.

The Israeli response does appear to be an overreaction, but Hezbollah is spurred on by the Muslim “street”. The people of the Islamic world want this conflict. No Islamic government is willing to champion it. In steps Hezbollah to fill that void. David Brooks (and I truly hate to agree with him) said in a column last weekend: “Many of those calling for this immediate cease-fire are people of good will whose anguish over the wartime suffering overrides long-term considerations. Some are European leaders who want Hezbollah destroyed but who don’t want anybody to actually do it. Some are professional diplomats, acolytes of the first-class-cabin fundamentalism that holds that “talks” and “engagement” can iron out any problem, regardless of the interests and beliefs and fanaticisms that make up the underlying reality.

“The best of them have a serious case to make. It’s true, they say, that Israel may degrade Hezbollah if it keeps fighting, but it may also sow so much instability that it ends up toppling the same Lebanese government that it is trying to strengthen.

“They point to real risks, but if a cease-fire is imposed now, there won’t be only risks. There will be dead certainties. If Hezbollah emerges from this moment still strong, it will tower like a giant over the Lebanese government. Extremist groups around the world will be swamped with recruits. Iran’s prestige will surge. The defenders of nation states and the sponsors of Resolution 1559 will be humiliated. Israel’s deterrence power will be shattered.”

To the critics of Israeli policy regarding Hezbollah I ask simply: what is the alternative?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Chaos lies of the road leading to the unknown

Amazing, Hezbollah had not expected Israel to react so heavy-handedly to their illegal crossing of the Israeli border and seizure of two IDF personnel. My response to that is simple. Please tell me that the political arm of Hezbollah is not that stupid! The fighting rages on in southern Lebanon with no apparent end in sight. I am not sure what they expected, but as veterans in this game, Hezbollah should have had more clarity and expected that just about anything can happen when you are dealing with a new Israeli leader (particularly one that never served in the military).

According to the article Mahmoud Komati stated Hezbollah’s reaction by saying; “’the truth is — let me say this clearly — we didn't even expect (this) response ... that (Israel) would exploit this operation for this big war against us,’ said Komati. He said Hezbollah had expected ‘the usual, limited response’ from Israel.” This is the first indication from Hezbollah had, perhaps, misjudged the situation. Do you think??? There lack of understanding makes it clear the Hezbollah is not some idealistic movement but a bunch of power hungry amateurs.

All that aside, I believe that the Israeli response is heavy-handed and their comparisons between this event and September 11th are insulting. There is no parallel between September 11th and the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. The only similarity is that we both were attacked, but to ignore that there are shades of gray make it all the more clear that there will be no peace in this region as long as even the “moderates” lack the ability to determine degrees of severity. Commonsense is nonexistent in the Middle East, on all sides. The central premise of trying to carve up a safety zone in southern Lebanon would be a logical approach if these attacks from Hezbollah were a chronically recurring problem, but they are not. Peace has never been made through war, especially when warring against ignorant ideologues.

The smarter approach for Israel would have been to broker a ceasefire (if only temporary) with conditions to protect their sovereignty. Then the Israeli government could make goodwill gestures to the Lebanese people (of all faiths) in an effort to bolster the weak and pitiful democratically elected government. The U.S. should get their filthy, ugly noses out of this affair lest we provoke a fight that we are ill-equipped for.

The threat of a broader fight in the Middle East is very real and the United States needs to be very careful to not get caught in the middle of it. To be certain, aggression from extra-national forces like Hezbollah must never be tolerated and the goals of Israel are certainly supportable, in principle. Unfortunately, in practice it is not quite so easy to separate Hezbollah from the Lebanese people, who do not deserve such attacks. The effort to eliminate Hezbollah must be an internal struggle in Lebanon and the way to achieve that is through international pressure. That international pressure could have been leveraged in the aftermath of the attack and a limited response. Leverage could even have been found within the Arab world where nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia want to maintain good economic relations with the United States (despite their rhetoric) and simultaneously fear the growing Iranian influence in the Islamic world.

Now that moment is passed and as always we watch a chance disappear like a match flame in a strong wind. What we are left with, unsurprisingly, is uncertainty.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Peace or Pointlessness?

What in the world is Israel doing? Many very intelligent people are asking that very question this week. I am not one of them. Even if Hezbollah has decided to couch their real business in the guise of political respectability, their true nature is as clear as that of the Genco Olive Oil Company run fictionally by Vito Corleone. Make no mistakes whatsoever; Hezbollah is a terrorist organization as intent on the annihilation of Israel as Al Qaeda is on creating a pan-Islamic counterweight to western culture and political dominance.

Hezbollah was founded in 1982 to resist Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon. To call them an Islamist organization may be a bit generous in the usage of that term. They are an Islamic organization, but they are in partnership with other Lebanese parties, including Christians. They don’t appear to seek an Islamist state in Lebanon. It should be noted that Hezbollah is a Shia movement that receive extensive support, financial or otherwise, from the Syrian and particularly the Iranian governments. While not included in the UN Resolution which is being drafted to list all of the world’s terrorist organization, it ought to be pointed out that it was Hezbollah that was behind the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, which killed 230 U.S. Marines and scores of other American officials stationed in Lebanon.

So, why is Israel doing this? The answer is clear, to me. Israel is a nation surrounded tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people who not only hate them but want them wiped off the face of the Earth. Israel is the only country in the region with a leader that is both sane AND democratically elected. No neighbor can say that. Sure, King Abdullah of Jordan is a sane and well meaning man, but he does not trust his people enough to allow them to pick their leader. If you need evidence of Israel’s sanity I refer you to their current military strategy. They do not seek to destroy Lebanon. The Israeli strikes on their neighbor are incredibly surgical (the U.S. could learn a lesson or two about such precision). Instead of blowing up a suspension bridge, they punched a hole in it. Instead of blowing up the Beirut airport, they rendered the runway useless. Instead of blowing up power plants they blew up the fuel dumps adjacent to them. All these measure seek to cripple Lebanon, but not for the long term. These are not the acts of insane people or insane leaders.

Lebanon, of course may be the exception. They were finally on the road to being a stable democratic country. It is a long road and they have a long way to go, but they were undeniably making progress. So why would Israel punish its most promising neighbor? Because the Lebanese government is weak! They are weak and unable to control the southern portion of their own country.

It is quite telling that an Israeli official said this week that they want to be able to look north and see Lebanese flags, not Hezbollah flags! That is really the crux of the issue. If Israel could be assured of its peaceful existence in any meaningful way hostility against its neighbors would stop. The same cannot be said for some of the countries in the area. They refuse to acknowledge the reality that is Israel. They do not wish to peacefully coexist with the Jewish State.

Progress has been made. Twenty years ago in the pan-Arab summit convened to discuss such a situation, there would have been a declaration condemning the attacks. This time they were unable to come up with language that they all agree to. On one end Saudi Arabia would not support Hezbollah and on the other Syria would not condemn them. Deadlock in the Arab world on how to respond, who woulda thunk it?

In the final analysis, Israel is a nation of 7 million people and approximately the size of New Jersey. It is a sad story of struggle, faith, defensive animosity and occasional overreaction. To be truthful, Israel and her government are imperfect, as we all are. But in the face of such total and unequivocal hate their positions are not surprising.

In Israel's Proclamation of Independence, David Ben-Gurion stated on May 14, 1948 "We extend the hand of peace and good-neighborliness to all the States around us and to their people, and we call upon them to cooperate in mutual helpfulness with the independent Jewish nation in its Land. The State of Israel is prepared to make its contribution in a concerted effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East." That sentiment seems downright antiquated, but it is the proper sentiment.

In the interest of fair and equal access I will include a quote from Hassan Nasrallah the head of Hezbollah: "This [Zionist] entity, which has many strengths - I don't have time now to list them all - has weaknesses as well. One of its most important weaknesses is the fact that it is an extraneous entity. It is not deeply rooted. Another of its weaknesses is the fact that its society is not homogeneous. Some Falasha Ethiopians, some from Russia, and some from I don't know where... They are bound together by a baseless and unfounded myth. Another weakness of this entity is that its people came because they were promised security, peace, and a life in the land of milk and honey. But if they encounter something else, they will leave this land. Another weakness is that both as individuals and as a collective, they are described by Allah as 'the people who guard their lives most.' Their strong adherence to this world, with all its vanities and pleasures, constitutes a weakness. In contrast, our people and our nation's willingness to sacrifice their blood, souls, children, fathers, and families for the sake of the nation's honor, life, and happiness has always been one of our nation's strengths.”

One quote is from 1948 and one is from 2006, but which is obsolete? Hassan Nasrallah is in denial when he discusses the myth of Israel. There is a reason why Israel has never lost of war and it is not because of their lack of roots or the fact that they are founded on a myth. Nasrallah fervently believes in his cause. He is willing to lay down his life for it as he has said, and that is likely what he will have to do. War and violence are a sad and terrible reality but as a student of international relations I must acknowledge that they are not always pointless. Israel must walk the tightrope and not fall on the side of overreaction. For Israel there is no safety net.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The better angels of our nature

Perhaps the reason we find movie adaptations of comic books so bad is their corny reliance on the cliché of good versus evil. Certainly in our very complex times nothing can be boiled down to such simple terms. And anyone who tries to do this (i.e. George W. Bush) is an overly simplistic buffoon. Yet another comic book has been brought to the silver screen. Superman Returns opened to mixed reviews. One has to wonder why? On seeing this movie I was forced to acknowledge that Bryan Singer has done a thoroughly adequate job. In truth, this movie will not be winning any academy awards (except perhaps for best score, John Ottman does a marvelous job of paying tribute to the great John Williams) but these movies are never created with Oscar in mind. I found myself in my seat making a fist as Superman went about fighting for truth and justice. And that is the point, isn’t it!

You can make all the movies about the Daredevil and Elektra that you want, but they are truly pointless superheroes. Superman and Batman, truly point to something within all of us. Batman symbolizes our flawed desire to be good, but the dark nature that lies within us all. Superman symbolizes our desire to be genuine and purely good. Batman is what we settle for in our heroes when Superman is what we need. Selflessness is all too rare.

Look at the state of our world. Look at the mess that our country has gotten itself into since the September 11th terrorist attacks. We live in a time when fighting is our only recourse. We must actively and aggressively resist terrorists, but our failure is found in our methodology. In order to defeat our enemy, we have become what they wanted; raping, murdering, civil rights and civil liberties violating world bullies. It has, of course, destroyed any goodwill that we had earned in the aftermath of so blatantly evil an attack.

Had the war on terror been executed correctly, no one could have looked at the United States as the bad guys. Unfortunately our Batmanesque need for vengeance made us unable or unwilling to go the route of purity and good.

If movies about good and evil are indeed so corny, why are there so many of them? Look around and you see movies about the struggle of goodness against the forces of evil. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Superman, Batman. We want to draw all kinds of parallels between our fight against terrorists. But I think this misses the point. The theme of good versus evil isn’t as shortsighted as that. I think the theme speaks to an internal struggle going on within us all; the desire to be good and pure but our innate human frailty that makes that goal so difficult to achieve. That is after all the difference between Superman and Batman. Superman comes from another world, he is not human and thus not the victim of our weaknesses and shortcomings. Batman is human and is absolutely victim of such weaknesses. That is why he is so much more a dark and truly flawed character. We all see a little of ourselves in Batman. Superman remains elusive to us.

Superman is a term that is older then Kal-L from the planet Krypton. Taken from Friedrich Nietzsche’s term übermensch, the superman is a human who has battled modern values and overcome the flaws of humanity. This philosophy is open to a lot of controversy. Used to justify everything from fascism, to socialism, to the existence of Marilyn Manson, Nietzsche’s philosophies are often vague and poorly presented.

The struggle in our hearts to achieve the better nature of ourselves is evident in the movie Superman. He is sent to Earth to help our better angels defeat our demons. As Marlon Brando says in the first Superman movie; humans desire to do good and are capable of so much but lack to ability to find their way “For this reason, I have sent them you, my only son." Jesus Christ anyone?

Christianity isn’t appealing to over a billion people for no reason after all. It’s just that we comic book nerds find our symbolism elsewhere (in the fictional realm).

I made a promise long ago not to endorse anything on this blog and I will keep my word. See the movie, don’t see the movie, it is entirely up to you. I found this movie with its simple message of good versus evil and our internal struggle to be better important and timely in an age of pessimism and disunity. It touched the inner child.

Superman’s greatest strength is the ability to unite the people of this country (and perhaps this world) towards that which is moral and just. It is an incredibly wild and oversimplistic view, but one that, while so foreign and alien at this time, is so necessary. Only once before has our nation been more divided. Abraham Lincoln was elected into the maelstrom of a disintegrating union. It was in this situation that he stepped up to the lectern on the steps of an unfinished Capitol to give his first inaugural address. He closed it with perhaps the most beautiful passage ever written, and I will close with it too.

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The lie that keeps on lying

First, harboring those who mean us harm.
Then creating weapons that mean us harm.
Next, building a democracy that means us well.
Lastly, they are in their death-throws.
Spreading the truth to those oppressed.

But who is oppressed?

It is the lie that we are fed
that is poisonous.
The fruits of our servitude
to a class that does not care.

Let the poor ones die
so the rich can accumulate.

The Balancing Act

The Earth
Water, Land and Air
Gases and minerals
A delicate balance

A leading species
Hungry always hungry
More always more
Build more
Create more
Procreate more
Destroy and rebuild

Wasting water
Wasting land
Wasting air

Some subsist on nothing
They use, re-use and re-use again
Because they cannot get more
No money

Some subsist in slothful gluttony
They use, discard and use some more
Because the one resource that is not finite
Is money

The taste creates
An addiction
To that which the mother provides
Our lust for more
Will be our un-doing!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Global Warming

As quoted in the new film "An Inconvenient Truth"

"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequence."
-Winston Churchill, 1936

Well said!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bus Uncle and the masters of the universe!

This article appeared in today’s online Wall Street Journal. The Journal is not a place that I normally turn for stellar journalism, but this article is among the finer pieces that I have seen in a while. Technology is an international phenomenon. It isn’t everyday that you see an article that hits all the key points so perfectly. This article addresses: cell phone etiquette, confrontation, intermittent explosive disorder (i.e. road rage), the growing unrest in Hong Kong regarding the curtailing of democratic principles and a man living in a 350 square foot apartment with 5 cats. I am particularly fond of the scene of Mr. Chan’s press conference at the steakhouse!

It is standard procedure on this blog to put these articles into the blogger’s words, but I simply could not have written it any better then Mr. Fowler! Enjoy…

A Six-Minute Tirade On a Hong Kong Bus Rides Into Vernacular
Mr. Chan's Pressured Rant Turns Into Web Sensation; Ringtones and Remixes
By GEOFFREY A. FOWLERJune 7, 2006; Page A1

HONG KONG -- While riding public bus 68X on the night of April 29, Elvis Ho tapped the shoulder of a passenger sitting in front of him who was talking on a cellphone. The 23-year-old Mr. Ho asked the man to lower his voice. Mr. Ho called him "uncle," a familiar way of addressing an elder male in Cantonese.

Instead of complying, the man turned around and berated Mr. Ho for nearly six minutes, peppering his outburst with obscenities.

"I've got pressure, you've got pressure!" the older man exploded. "Why did you have to provoke me?" A nearby passenger who found the encounter interesting captured most of it on video with his own cellphone, and it was posted on the Web.

"Bus Uncle," as the older man is now known, has since become a Hong Kong sensation. The video, including subtitled versions, has been downloaded nearly five million times from, a popular Web site for video clips.

Teenagers and adults here sprinkle their conversations with phrases borrowed from Bus Uncle's rant, such as "I've got pressure!" and "It's not over!" (shouted when the young man tried to end the conversation several times by saying, "It's over"). Also, there are several insults involving mothers. Web sites peddle T-shirts with a cartoon of Bus Uncle and the famous phrases. They are also available as mobile-phone ringtones.

Fans have edited the footage into music-video versions of disco, rap and pop songs that have themselves become popular online. One video projects a slowed-down version of Bus Uncle's voice over an image of Darth Vader. Another sets Bus Uncle audio clips to Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," beginning with a title that says, "All he wanted to do...was to talk on his phone and relax from his stress...but someone HAD to tap him on the back."

Jon Fong, the 21-year-old accountant and night-school psychology student who captured the bus incident on his Sony Ericsson cellphone, has become famous, too. Mr. Fong has told reporters that he often takes videos as a hobby, and had just planned to share this one with friends. "Next time, I'll put myself in the frame," he told Hong Kong's Cable TV news.

The Internet has allowed the Bus Uncle video to join a slew of other instant amateur films in attracting a global audience. Here in Hong Kong, it has a special resonance. For many, Bus Uncle personifies the stresses of life in their city.

At a recent dinner with friends, Hillman Lam asked one to pass a drink. His friend jokingly declined, and Mr. Lam, a 24-year-old ad salesman at a newspaper, said, "Hey, I've got pressure." That got a laugh from his companions, he recalls.

"When I say it, everybody knows what I am referring to," says Mr. Lam. "The video focused on what Hong Kong people are always thinking: that we have lots of pressure. It's a fast-paced society."

For 42-year-old Sherry Lee, tending a small stationery shop next door to where Mr. Ho has his own real-estate agency, Bus Uncle struck a similar chord. The fast pace of Hong Kong is so ingrained in her, she says, that "any time I visit someplace else, like Japan or Korea, I notice people are slow. I just want to kick them."

Roger Chan (a.k.a. 'Bus Uncle') confronts Elvis Ho on a Hong Kong bus.
The government plans to use Bus Uncle as a "teaching example" for a Web site on moral and civic education where the incident can be discussed "from multiple perspectives," says Cheung Wing-hung, the chief curriculum-development officer for the city's Education and Manpower Bureau.

While the event was entirely nonviolent, many agree Bus Uncle wasn't exactly a model of public etiquette. Tang Ming-wah, a security guard who lives alone in a 70-square-foot room, says Bus Uncle didn't behave according to the accepted social rules of Hong Kong. "Hong Kong people are usually quite polite and won't shout on the phone," says the 48-year-old Mr. Tang, while riding recently on the same 68X bus route used by Bus Uncle. "But unlike the kid, I would have used peer pressure" by asking other passengers to help quiet him down, he says.

In fact, Mr. Ho has drawn no small amount of flak for how he handled himself on that fateful day, particularly for not defending himself -- and his mother -- more aggressively.

"My friends wonder how I could have the patience to take his abuse," Mr. Ho says. "Some of them would have fought back." Mr. Ho says he takes inspiration from tai chi, the Chinese martial art that emphasizes slow motion and meditation.

He adds: "I am under pressure now -- from reporters. I have seen over 40 so far."
Hong Kong boasts some of the densest urban residential areas on the planet and an intensity that many people find exhausting. On some of the small buses nicknamed "flying cars of death" that many people use as public transportation, there are giant speedometers that let passengers berate the driver when he goes too fast. In interviews with the Hong Kong press, one psychologist helped popularize the term "intermittent explosive disorder," in describing a kind of road rage among people taking public transportation.

Bus Uncle's identity remained a mystery for well over a month, even as the impact of his video spread. Local reporters staked out the neighborhood at the end of the 68X bus line in search of the man. A week and a half ago, reporters from Next magazine found him: Roger Chan, 51, who lives in a 350-square-foot apartment nearby with five cats. Mr. Chan said yesterday, "Somebody knocked on my door [and said] 'Hey, are you Mr. Chan? You know that you are very popular right now? We want to have an interview with you!' "

Mr. Chan tells some lively stories. He says he once won about $2.5 million in a lottery, and then lost it all to gambling. He says he was imprisoned three times in Europe, and ended up carving fruit for Belgian royalty.

Only one part of his story was immediately verifiable. A government spokesman confirms that Mr. Chan unsuccessfully sought office as Hong Kong's chief executive in 2005.

While subject to China's sovereignty, Hong Kong, a former British colony, enjoys a separate political system, but one that many people complain is only nominally democratic.

When newspaper columnist Chip Tsao watches the Bus Uncle video, he sees a commentary on Hong Kong's struggle for democracy. "Let's not forget what this uncle said: This crisis is not resolved," Mr. Tsao said on a public-radio talk show recently. "This Bus Uncle is a good social spokesman."

Mr. Chan says all his recent success has made him interested again in being a chief executive, but of a different sort. "I don't want to be a clown of politics," he says. "Now I want to be the chief executive of Steak Expert," he says, referring to his two-day-old job as a public-relations representative for a chain of about 40 Hong Kong steakhouses. Last night, Mr. Chan held court at a branch in Hong Kong's Wan Chai neighborhood, sitting before a half-dozen flashing cameras for an interview with the Miss Hong Kong runner-up turned TV personality Queenie Chu. At the end of their interview, he sang for her in French the song "Ça Va Pas Changer Le Monde" -- "That Will Not Change the World."

Bus Uncle's final wisdom: "I feel that this is a wave I am riding. I caught the chance to ride on it and look forward to my future....This had a kind of negative beginning. Hopefully it will have a positive ending."

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Kids Are Alright!

Bill O’Reilly’s weekly column touched a nerve. I am both interested in world affairs and love plugging into my iPod. I was forced to write a letter to this troglodyte in response to his poorly thought out column.

Dear Bill,

You are a tired old man! The reason people don't watch mainstream news isn't because they are not interested; it is because mainstream news like Fox and CNN are biased in favor of political allies and corporate sponsors. Not everyone is interested in politics and some of those that are simply aren't interested in your slanted version of events.

Just because we tune you out doesn’t mean that we don’t love our country or support our troops or want to win a “war” against terrorists. Some people shut out the war because it is too awful to comprehend and they simply do not want to hear about the details. Lets face it, the news is exactly the same every single day!

People don't ignore issues like illegal immigration; they simply don't buy into the fact that they are legitimate issues in the first place. These are issues created for political reasons and the “iPod generation,” as O’Reilly dubs them, have better BS-meters then older people. Illegal immigrants have come into our country for years and they both help and hurt our country. In the end, it is probably a wash. This is an issue, like gay marriage and an amendment prohibiting flag burning to try to rally those who are most rabid, fundamentalist and vitriolic on both sides of the equation. Most people tune out because we just don’t care and don’t think these are issues worth wasting time on.

Mainstream news is sensational and it is, by its nature, attracted to inflammatory issues that rev people up. Most Americans are very moderate and not particularly excitable when it comes to affairs of state. In order to attract what viewers they can they discuss decidedly unimportant issues like drunk blonde high school girls who go missing in Aruba or celebrities having children.

Pop culture icons like the Dixie Chicks get attention because they very astutely pointed out the obvious at a time when doing so was very unpopular. It just so happens that now the obvious is, well, obvious and irrefutable. That is why they get a Time Magazine cover. Why you get them is beyond me!

When the media starts focusing on something that really matters the iPodders will tune in. Until that time, Bill… you will have to live with the old ladies throwing their underpants at you when you do book signings and sexually harassing interns that think you are a creepy old pervert. Like The Who said: the kids are alright!

The Freak

Friday, June 02, 2006


Time is not endless.
Sure, it continues
after we are gone.
But we are finite,
and as selfish creatures
we see things
in terms of ourselves.

So much time is wasted
on things that are so trivial.
Our time is precious.
We should put more effort
into counting our time
and less into
counting our money.

Read a poem,
write a letter,
call a friend,
take a walk,
go surfing,
fly a kite.

Do not frivolous
with your time.
Do not waste it.
Time waits for no one.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The way things are

Stepping on rotting fruit on the sidewalk.
The smell is putrid in the overwhelming afternoon heat.

Decaying store fronts, cracked pavement,
bad graffiti (because not all is bad),
trash next to a cans, cigarette butts, animal crap,
disposed of furniture carted out to the curb
the day after bulk item pick-up.
It all assaults the eyes.
The look of poverty in an otherwise affluent place.

It is the ability to overlook that irks my ire.
Am I a snob to expect better, prettier, more enlightened?

The least effort possible regardless of the outcome is the norm.

It denotes a lack of pride, and a developing world mentality.
But perhaps not.
In poor countries they make the most with modest means.
Here, we make the least, waste money,
and have little to show for our efforts.

A sign of arrogance in the face of their modest standard.

Is this distinctive to this place?
No, certainly not.
We expect little and therefore we receive little in return.

American Pride?
I think not!
American Arrogance!
American Laziness!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The world/2006

Life in a time of chaos.
A period of turmoil.
An era of desperation,
sorrow, and

Lost souls,
seeking answers.
It is the question,
that they do not know.

Where are the answers?
What is the question?
I don’t have them,
but I know one thing,
for sure.

The answer,
the question,
are not found
in confusion,
sorrow, or

They are found
in clarity,
happiness, and

Are we not able
to rise to that level?
If not,
we are lost.

I fear the worst!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Where is the glory in taking life?

I watched The Patriot today. I think we should deport Mel Gibson, that Aussie SWINE!!! Back to the poisonous continent for you Mel! Really anyone who glorifies war and killing in movies should get chucked. We could replace each one with a Mexican who wants a shot at the American dream! Those economically disenfranchised will better value that which this country truly represents then self-centered cogs in the political propaganda machine.

I quote from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five...

"So I held up my hand and I made her a promise: 'Mary,' I said, 'I don't think think this book of mine is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there won't be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.

"'I tell you what,' I said, 'I will call it 'The Children's Crusade.'

"She was my friend after that."

There is no glory to be found in war and our need to portray glory in killing is, in part, the reason why wars self-perpetuate. That is not to say that the men and women who serve in the military should not be respected. They should. They do a job that I have absolutely no interest in doing. But they are not anymore special then anyone else. Honestly, do we need to celebrate war and destructive achievement with national holidays? Should we not instead glorify peace and constructive achievement?

Just something to think about…

Friday, May 26, 2006


Lucky Brand Jeans,
Steve Madden shoes,
Dragonfly shirt.
God, I’m such a cliché!

at least the jeans
are made in America.
Does that matter?

At least I look
like the man I want to be.
Now if I could just
act the role.

Expectation is
the surest way
to kill a dream.

The effort to expect
is difficult. Always
the shysters and politicos
standby to “educate”.

Oh how I despise them.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Meditating on music

Somewhere along the line
life became the quest of traveling
from free moment to free moment.

Those periods in my days
when I sit in quiet solitude
focusing on nothing but now.

Times when I can
put on my headphones,
twist the wheel on my iPod,
increase the volume,
and allow the auditory pleasure to
fall over me like a wave.

This sensation surrounds me,
inhabits me,
delivers me, to
the waiting hands of total liberation.

The electric crackle of the bass
beats steady as metronome
pulverizing my ears.

The clear and powerful melody
fills me with an alert awareness
of every part of my body.

The slippery and sultry vocal
snakes around in my mind
breaking through the crevices of my mind.

These are the parts of my mind
that are left idle in all but
the most precious moments of my day.

Moments of solitude,
they do not make me a clone of Moliere.
For I am no misanthrope.
I am me.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Poem #1

Speakers set to
the maximum acceptable level.
A level below which
my non-functional ears can
even begin to comprehend.

The old printer moans
and then it groans,
churning out page after page
of utter nonsensical blather.

The fluorescent lights hum
dimly ensuring that my paultry green
office tan is maintained for
another day.

Another day here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Rest In Peace Senator Lloyd Bentsen

This post is here to thank the late Senator for the greatest gift. a gift that one could wait a generation to receive. On that fateful day in 1988, in that debate with Dan Quayle, Senator Bentsen transformed, for just that day, Politics into a spectator sport.

“He was responsible for one of the most memorable moments of the 1988 presidential campaign, when during a televised debate with Republican Vice Presidential nominee Dan Quayle, he countered Quayle's self-comparison to John F. Kennedy with the famous rebuttal, ‘Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.’"

The next day, politics returned to its natural state as total and utter tomfoolery!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Eye of the Tiger!

You know, invariably this blog lends a voice to that which is wrong with this world. Today I would like to focus on what is right. I spent last weekend in Los Angeles visiting a friend who is recovering from a very serious motorcycle accident. It is the aftermath of accident that proves the strength and resilience of human beings as well as humanitarian arm of our public health establishment. This story isn’t perfect good news. Perfect good news is a myth. It is our ability to see the silver lining that assures our happiness. This story isn’t a harrowing tale of overcoming all odds to win the big one. This story is about the ability of humans to cope and cope well.

My friend’s name is Carl. Carl is best described as “perfectly non-traditional.” He has lived his life following his own compass. By and large, in this writer’s opinion, that compass has served him very well. Carl took what Robert Frost called “The Road Less Traveled.” For most people, the purpose of life is to get from point A (birth) to point B (death) by going in as straight a line as possible. We are all guilty of this, to a certain extent. Carl has deviated from the path more then anyone else I know. It is what I truly admire about him. Deviation from the set path is not easy. We are dissuaded from doing it by our society of “conspicuous consumption.” Their sales motto is: “don’t BE alternative, BUY alternative.” That way they can still control us. It is bullshit, and Carl taught me that!

Last fall while riding his motorcycle through the streets of Los Angeles (a chore which even drivers of automobiles will tell you is a pretty harrowing experience) Carl was involved in an accident whereby a car jammed on its brakes and he crashed into it from behind. It was this weekend, for the first time since the accident that Carl shared with me those first few moments following the accident. Laying on the cement doing an inventory of his body: neck, arms, legs. It was at this point that he realized that his right leg was severely injured.

At this point I should mention that one of the less positive bi-products of living an untraditional life in the United States is that often one lacks health insurance coverage. Such is the case with my friend Carl. He worked a job that did not provide him with benefits. He did not work full time and enjoyed the flexibility of his job, but was forced to sacrifice health care coverage to achieve the flexibility that he desired. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2004 there were 45 million Americans under the age of 65 that faced the challenges and hazards of everyday life without even basic health insurance. This figure doesn’t even include the many, many millions of Americans that have insufficient health insurance coverage that would not financially protect them in the case of catastrophic injury or illness.

Other key facts:
1. Eight out of ten uninsured Americans comes from a working families.
2. 59% of the uninsured have gone without coverage for over two years.
3. 30% of the uninsured are children

This piece is not meant to be a rant on our health care system. It is broke. There is no need to debate that fact. No reasonable or rational argument can be made to defend the status quo and no one does. Let me tell you about how social services (welfare, as it used to be called by Republicans) have helped my friend Carl.

Carl was very fortunate to have been taken to the Emergency Room at UCLA Medical Center, one of the finest hospitals in the western United States. It was in this ER, in the early moments after the accident that doctors saved his leg. Carl was subsequently transferred to Harbor UCLA in Carson, California to receive his care, also a very good hospital. In the early days after the accident it wasn’t quite clear whether he would be covered by the state MediCal system or the County of Los Angeles public health social services. It turns out that my friend Carl was eligible for both and the process of putting Carl back together again began.

Federal law mandates that enrollment in Medicaid funded services (of which MediCal is one) may take no more than 90 days. Shortly after completing his paperwork Carl received a letter from Governor Gröppenfuhrer informing him that it would take upwards of 10 months to process his paperwork and get him covered. This is, of course, the loophole in the Medicaid law. A letter from a state governor explaining the delay is all that is required. But let’s put aside the bureaucratic BS. Eventually the bills will be paid. That is the miracle! Of course, Carl will have to go back and repair his ravaged credit rating after the delays in paying his bills, but that is doable if one has the patience and legal support.

I won’t get into the many operations or the clinical aspects of this recovery. Suffice it to say that Carl went under the knife more times in a six month period then most people do in their entire lives. He is past all that now. Carl is at the point where he is re-growing leg bone with a gnarly looking contraption attached to his leg. To watch him, it amazes that he can move around as ably as he does. He has also begun physical therapy to regain flexibility and strength in his leg. He says that this is an exhausting process; just to have it explained leaves one panting for breath.

Carl has always been a utilitarian wunderkind, but the set up of his bedroom would impress even MacGyver! From his bed hoisted on cinderblocks, to his bed side computer table, to the fact that everything that he needs on a daily basis: medical supplies, books, his computer. Everything is within arms reach. He may as well be in the cockpit of an F-14 tomcat with all his implements of destruction at his near command.

The doctor says that the prognosis for Carl’s leg is still to be determined. At this point it seems promising that he will walk again with only a modest limp. I told Carl that he would make quite dapper gentleman dressed in a seersucker suit with a cane.

In our talks this weekend Carl talked about wishing that they had taken his leg. His word were: “you can climb Mount Everest with a prosthetic leg.” That may be the case, but if anyone could overcome this and climb Mount Everest it’d be Carl! In all likelihood Carl will never run the Boston Marathon, it is probably safe to say that he won’t climb K2 but I wouldn’t put money on it, if I were you. Carl is a pretty ornery guy sometimes and lives for proving you wrong! To my mind it is always better to have your own flesh and blood then have a piece of plastic and metal. Plus, Carl, save the prosthetics for the bullet sponges (as you call them) coming home from our foolish war.

So, that is the medical re-birth of my friend Carl, but to tell just that portion of the story is to ignore that which is most compelling. I have always known him to be a man of great personal strength and mental fortitude, but to see his confidence in the face of such challenges should leave even his oldest friends awed. As one of them I can say: it does!

Most people would be ready to quit. Depression is not uncommon when dealing with major health issues. Certainly, Carl isn’t happy about what has happened, but he has not allowed it to ruin his life. In talking with him, it is clear that Carl has plans, things that he wants to accomplish. The better of half of his life obviously lies ahead of him. The part where he takes his many obvious gifts and talents and focuses them onto that which is his natural calling and leaves the world stunned.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the old Carl was his clear belief that he was invincible. We all have that to a certain extent, but few people are as alive as Carl and thus few people were as invincible as he was. The illusion of invincibility is gone now. What is left is the clear understanding that everyday is a gift and the next one isn’t assured. We must make the most of each day. I think there are few people in the world that better understand that now then my friend Carl.

I look forward to watching Carl move through his life. The first 30 years seemed to have entertained everyone that knows Carl. I am sure that the many to follow will not disappoint!

Happy Birthday Carl!