Monday, June 25, 2007

News of the Week

* 102 American soldiers killed in Iraq in June 2007

* I work with a girl whose brother is in Iraq. He joined the Army right out of high school. As soon as basic training was over, he was sent to Iraq for a year, then came home for a year. When that year was over, he went back to Iraq for 15 months, then came home for nine months. Now he is in Iraq again for 15 months.
His family is distraught about his continued deployments. For one thing, they believe that every time he is is sent into a war zone, his odds of being killed or wounded go up. For another, it is obvious to them that each time he comes home he is quieter and angrier, less sociable and more depressed. They wonder who he will be by the time he comes home for good.
I told her that I thought her generation should do what mine did during the Vietnam War, which was to take to the streets. "Why," I asked her, "aren't families like yours shouting from the rooftops that what they are doing to your brother and the others is wrong?" She simply shrugged as if she thought it was impossible to fight the system.
I don't know. Maybe it is impossible in the environment we live in today. During Vietnam, there was a draft so millions of American families had a vested interest, through their sons, in what was happening there. Today, we have an all-volunteer military (although you have to question the definition of volunteer in light of a stop-loss program which says the military can retain soldiers beyond the time they'd been led to believe their commitment was over).
I've had people tell me, "well, they knew what they were getting into when they signed on the dotted line, so they've got no right to bitch". End of collective responsibility.
But, did they know what they were getting into? They may have been prepared to put their lives on the line to support their country's policies but did they read the fine print that said they could be sent back again and again, like my co-worker's brother? I doubt it. They probably assumed that at most, we would do as we'd done in Vietnam - if you made it through your deployment, you were home free. And did the National Guard volunteers realize that the entire non-military part of their lives would be disrupted again and again as they lost families and businesses and jobs due to multiple deployments? And were they aware that though we would find the money for everything else, including no-bid contracts for corporations like Halliburton, we would somehow run out of funds when it came time to buy the body armor or the armored vehicles that would save their lives....or the dollars needed to completely and fully fund the medical care that tens of thousands of them would need to be rehabilitated to the fullest possible extent? Somehow, I doubt it.
To me, how the country is treating this young man and others is the farthest thing I can imagine from "supporting the troops".

* As we all know from the wall-to-wall television coverage, both the London and Glasgow airports were hit last week by, luckily, rather unsuccessful attempted terrorist attacks by means of using vehicles containing gasoline and nails and a cellphone ignition system which didn't work very well.
An article in the New York Times stated that "the idea of multiple attacks using car bombers is a departure from the backpack suicide attacks of the London bombings of 2005 and raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to Al Qaida may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq".
In other words, what we did by invading Iraq was to create an enormous terrorist university where jihadists from all over the world go to learn and then take the lessons learned back to other countries. Are we safer now than we were before there were so many alumnus with degrees in Terrorism from the U of T-Iraq roaming the world in search of opportunity to cause us harm?
The weakness of the "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" theory was always that, of course, they are capable of maintaining their training programs in Iraq while still sending the graduates of those programs to other parts of the world at will. There is no way to keep them all "there" and we are teaching new classes of terrorists quicker than we can kill the old ones.

* In our "it all depends on whose ox is being gored" segment, it seems that principles once dear to the hearts of Republicans have become so much nonsense. For instance, 239 bills have passed the House of Representatives but have not passed the Senate. The Senate is, of course, the branch of government with arcane rules meant to slow down or bottle up legislation. The founding fathers planned it that way. The Senate is supposed to be less political and more considerate of larger issues than the House. (Since House members have to run for re-elections every two years, compared to a Senator's six years, they tend to be more sensitive to hot-button political issues). It is for this reason that the Senate is called "the world's greatest deliberative body".
If you remember, back during the the discussion about President Bush's Supreme Court nominees, the Republicans were livid about Democratic threats to filibuster and not allowing "up or down votes". In fact, they were so incensed by the very idea of the filibuster that they threatened a "nuclear option" to do away with it altogether. When a few Democrats and Republicans came together in a bipartisan way to come up with an alternative, the nuclear option was taken off the table. I bet the Republicans are really happy about that now, because it turns out that now they are the minority party, they flat out love the filibuster and use it at the drop of a hat to kill legislation they don't like, even though a majority may approve of it. And the up or down vote? The Republicans mantra is: "We doan need no steenkin' up or down vote."
Trent Lott, Senate Minority Leader is up front about the the Republicans use of obstructionism, "so far it's working for us." Don't you just love politics?

* And discussing filibustering and up and down votes and obstructionism, recalls those long ago fights about Supreme Court nominees. George Bush may have the lowest percentage of popularity of any president. With the defeat of the immigration reform bill and the number of people turning against the Iraq War, he may be the lamest of ducks. But he has had one huge success, as far as his base is concerned, and that is the way his nominees have been able to swing the court right.
In case after case, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito have sided with the other conservative justices, Alito and Thomas, with an assist from Justice Kennedy, in moving the court toward decisions beloved of the evangelicals. They have made it more difficult to get an abortion, more difficult for employees to prove job discrimination, more difficult for defendants to appeal injustice in their cases. They have made it harder for students to prove that their free speech rights have been violated but easier for organizations to to prove the same.
Do you notice something about all these decisions? In every instance in which a single citizen has gone up against an institution, the individual loses. Every abortion involves first of all a decision by a woman. It may later include support from a doctor but the initial decision is made by that single woman. That woman's choices are now fewer because of this Supreme Court.
The court ruled against Lilly Ledbetter although it did not deny that she had been systematically discriminated against in the pay which she received compared to the men in her company. It found against her because she did not file her claim within 180 days of the discriminatory act although she didn't know about the pay disparity that soon. "Too bad, so sad," said the five conservative members of the court. In other words, if your company can successfully hide it from you long enough, they can discriminate at will. Who is the power player in this kind of situation? Why I believe that would be the employers. (I have worked for more than one company that forbade discussion of salary among employees).
The Supreme found that the school that suspended a student who unfurled a banner saying, "Bong Hits for Jesus," at a school-sponsored outing, though not at the school itself, was proper in limiting the student's free speech rights, with Justice Thomas, in particular, arguing that students have no rights at all and that we should probably go back to the days when teachers could take a hickory stick to their impertinent pupils. (Well, no, he didn't actually say that in so many words but he may as well have).
On the other hand, the justices knocked down a part of Campaign Finance Reform that limited the contributions third parties, such as unions and groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, can make toward our political discourse. Upshot: get ready for the hordes of primarily negative ads you'll be subjected to as the presidential campaign gets closer.
These particular justices seem to have an obsession about a rigid adherence to time. As in Lilly Ledbetter's case, it was the all-important consideration. The death-row defendant filed his appeal one day too late, even though he'd been instructed about the timing by the lower court judge, the justices ruled that even though a man's life and/or freedom was at stake and even though he'd been given incorrect advice, such measly consideration were as nothing compared to that all-powerful 24-hour sweep of the clock. What the hell kind of thinking is that?
So, if you are a conservative who believes that when it comes to the lowly individual American versus any power organization, the organization should always win, then you're probably thrilled with George Bush's Supreme Court.

* Another decision made the by Court considered what remedies school systems may engage in while trying to maintain some level of diversity in their student body and actually involves individuals on both sides - blacks who may have an interest in attending a non-segregated school and whites with an equal interest in being able to attend a school of their choice without being denied that choice in the interest of greater diversity.
Scalia, Alito, Roberts and Thomas wanted to throw out Brown vs Board of Education altogether (so much for precedent, something all the justices promised to honor during their confirmation hearings). Justice Kennedy, however, insisted on a more nuanced ruling. He essentially said school boards should go back to the drawing board and try to find other ways to encourage diversity besides taking race into consideration, for instance, where they build schools or how they draw school borders.
There is little doubt that this ruling will result in more segregated schools and perhaps that is what whites, at least, desire. But it is difficult to tell if white parents resist integration in the 21st century because of an inherent opposition to their children going to school with black kids or more because, primarily black schools have tended to be inferior - in infrastructure, in school resources, in teacher pay.
I personally think the schools should be federalized and financed by a school tax instead of property taxes (which let renters completely off the hook for their children's education), with every school district given exactly the same amount of money per student. Instead of inner-city schools with crumbling buildings and not enough books and large class room sizes versus suburban high schools with huge new gyms and auditoriums and state of the art libraries and small, responsive classes, each school would have the same resources to give their pupils the same opportunities. That isn't likely to happen any time soon and even if it did, it wouldn't solve the segregation problem but it would be a big step in the right direction toward scholastic equality.
Furthermore, No Child Left Behind, would be a lot fairer if every school were compared based on the same criteria.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

*78 Americans killed in Iraq so far in June 2007 - updated a day later to 81 killed

Well, while I was gone to New York, we discovered that our vice-president truly is a law unto himself. He is neither quite part of the executive branch nor quite part of the legislative branch of government and, apparently, doesn't have to abide by the laws of either.
This all starts with an executive order issued by President Clinton in 1995, and revised by President Bush in 2003, establishing a uniform system of safeguarding classified information. As part of the order, each office in the executive branch is supposed to report on how it handles classified information to the National Archives and Record Administration's oversight office. Vice-President Cheney complied in 2001 and 2002, then simply began disregarding the directive. When the oversight office of the National Archives and Record Administration attempted to do an on-site inspection, Cheney got it stopped. This year, Cheney even made an effort to have the oversight office eliminated! (And can anyone doubt that if the Republicans were still in total control of Congress, they wouldn't have gone right along with rubber-stamping Cheney's egregious attempt at over-reach?)
In blowing off the regulations for the handling of classified material, Cheney's office has declared that because the vice-president is also the president of the Senate, his office is "not an entity within the executive branch". Of course, when Cheney is fighting any request by Congress to get information from the Veep's office, such as the names of the people who populated his Energy Task Force, Cheney based his refusal to comply on "executive privilege" so it seems he simply moves his office around wherever it needs to be in order to justify whatever it is he wants to do....or not to do.
Naturally, the White House agrees with the vice-president. Dana Perino, the president's spokeswoman, said, "This is a little bit of a non-issue because the president gets to decide whether or not he (Cheney) should be treated separately, and he's decided that he should."
Furthermore, the president has declared that he too is beyond the reach of his own executive order although the directive itself clearly includes both the president and the vice-president.
At various times in our nation's history we have debated the question: "is the president above the law?"
In this administration, it appears that both the president and the vice-president consider themselves above the law.

* Poor old Rudy Giuliani - his judgment about the people with whom he surrounds himself is beginning to look somewhat impaired. The most notorious case is, of course, Bernard Kerik. Beginning as the Mayor's driver, Kerik eventually became the New York Police Commissioner. Then, when Rudy left the Mayor's office, Kerik followed, going to work for Rudy's new business. Kerik was sent to Iraq to pull the Iraq police force together but left after two months, having accomplished absolutely nothing. Then Rudy pitched his name to the White House to be the first head of the new Homeland Security Department. The Bush administration bought it too and announced Kerik's name with great fanfare.....until his many ethical lapses started coming to light, whereupon, his name was withdrawn. (I still see him on television sometimes because it is a rule with the media that no matter how wrong you have ever been on every issue, once your name has been added to their rolodex as an "expert", you will remain there forever.)
After Kerik, came Thomas Ravenel. Ravenel was Giuliani's South Carolina campaign chairman. He was recently indicted for distributing cocaine.
Now there is the case of Monsignor Alan Placa, a consultant with Giuliani Partners. It seems that in a Suffolk County, New York grand jury report in 2003, Monsignor Placa was listed as "Priest F". In this guise, he was accused of sexually abusing minors as well as covering up for other priests as part of the team responsible for handling allegations of molestation within the diocese.
Giuliani says that the Monsignor was "unjustly" accused. Perhaps, but what amazes me is that as a former prosecutor himself, and one who was known for being a hard-ass in so far as defendants were concerned, when a grand jury actually finds evidence that his friends have committed crimes, such as in the case of Placa or Scooter Libby, he is ready to turn against the legal system he defended as a law officer.
Sorry, Rudy, but the rules should be the same for everyone. Either we believe in the rule of law and our jury system or we don't. You can't simply pick and choose based on whether the accused are your friends.

*Well, poor little Paris will be getting out of jail this week. Poor little Paris? Yes, the media has actually caused me to have some sympathy for this spoiled, self-centered, vapid-headed little rich girl. Because the media is responsible for Paris Hilton. If they had not covered her like a blanket, hanging on her every statement and movement, splashing her picture across every television screen and magazine cover, there would not have been a Paris Hilton phenomena. Even when there was serious news to cover, they chose to go with Paris. They made her their pet and, you know, she gloried in her fame. She pranced and preened and smiled, secure in their adoration.
Until, she fell... and then they went into a feeding frenzy of viciousness. They criticized her and made fun of her and embarrassed her and showed ugly pictures of her. Because it is what the media does. They worship at your alter when you are riding high and then fall on you like a pack of hyenas when you stumble, although you'd never have been riding so high in the first place if they hadn't boosted you up there.
Probably, Paris didn't understand this. She thought she would remain the media's fair-haired girl no matter what. But now she knows. The press is never your friend. They can make you but will happily break you without a morsel of conscience.
They do the same with presidents. I'm not a George Bush fan, as anyone who reads this blog knows, but George Bush was never as good as the media painted him when he was popular and neither is he quite as bad as they portray him now that he has an approval rate in the 20's.
George Bush and Paris Hilton are only two of the most recent media darlings to discover how quick they are to kick you when you're down.

Home from New York

I just got back from the International Women's Writing Guild Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York and I have jet lag. This will be my last hoorah for a while so far as traveling goes. I've been lucky this year to go to Charleston, South Carolina, Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Saratoga Springs, New York but now the funds and available time off work are gone so I'll be staying pretty close to home for the next year or so.
Saratoga Springs in upstate New York is one of my favorite places, a place that loves art and horses in equal measure - a great combination. Home of Saratoga Race Track, one of the most graceful of the old historic tracks, it also features blocks of huge and fabulously beautiful Victorian homes. In the past, on one grand weekend, the weekend before the racing season opened, the houses went from bare to flower-bedecked. Suddenly, millions of blossoms appeared along streets and sidewalks and in hanging baskets on verandahs. And when the lawn jockey appeared on the tree lawn in front of the house, that was notice that the owners of the mansions were in residence and ready to receive guests (most of them only living here during the short racing season).
During the season, the horse people could be seen traveling to the track in fancy carriages pulled by immaculate Hackney ponies, the women in fantastic picture book hats. A special visit during this time of year was breakfast at the track where you were served fresh strawberries and thick cream on linen tablecloths as the exercising horses pounded down the track in front of you.
The historic downtown features art galleries, some of which specialize in horse pictures and bronzes and jewelry. But Saratoga is also known for the ballet and the opera and writing and fine food and grand old hotels and the healthful waters of the spa.
For a writer, the IWWG Conference is a feast of inspiration and ideas. Workshop Directors are a mixed bag. They range from purely professional novelists and poets and children's book authors who offer practical advice about both writing and publishing to those who are more in tune with a writer's spiritual side whether that takes the form of expressing your innermost self through intensive journaling or casting your horoscope or learning to tell a story with fans.
The conferees too are a diverse bunch. They come from all over the country, even all over the world, although the most well-represented location is New York City. They are old and young; fat and thin; of all different races and complexions. They are straight and gay, worldly and spiritual. Their political opinions range to liberal to ultra-liberal. (It feels strange to me, who is usually accused of being a bleeding heart, to be on the conservative fringe here.)
All of Skidmore comes down to one woman, Hannelore Hahn, who conceived of and brought into being, the International Women's Writing Guild many years ago. The Guild has conferences all over the country but Skidmore is the biggest and her particular pride. Hannelore took me under her wing many years ago when I wrote my very first Newsweek article and I still consider her a mentor who encouraged and inspired my writing, as she has encouraged and inspired so many.
Skidmore College, where we stay, is a beautiful campus....but, it is a college campus, meant for youthful students who jog from student union to class halls to dorms with great sacks of books resting on their backs, not for older ladies with bum knees and arthritis hips.
I never noticed when I went to Skidmore last about 20 years ago that the narrow dorm beds were quite so lumpy, nor the distances between cafeteria and halls quite so far.
And this is what I learned about myself on this trip: I am spoiled. I was ashamed of myself for my weakness. There were women older than me who never complained, nor even seemed to notice the deprivations of uncomfortable beds and bathrooms down the hall and being coffee-less until the Student Union opened at 7. Meanwhile, I awoke each morning between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. with a belt of pain across my back that drove me out of bed. And there I would sit, reading, miserably waiting for time to pass. I could not smoke unless I got dressed to go down three floors to sit outside on a bench; I had nothing to drink except water out of the tap; I had no computer nor television to catch up on the news and the blogs which is an elemental part of my normal daily routine.
And so, as much as I enjoyed and appreciated the workshops and meeting new people with all kinds of writing experiences, I was not sorry when the conference was over. I stayed my night on the road on the way home in a Sleep Inn just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. When I opened the door with my keycard, I positively reveled in the great soft king-sized bed. I schlepped barefoot across the deep, colorful carpeting. I luxuriated in a long shower, knowing that no one else would walk into the room. I caught up on all the news that had happened in the world in the last week via the t.v. I got the coffee pot ready so all I had to do the next morning was turn it on and wait 3 minutes for a wonderful hot cup.
Would I go back again next year for more of the same. You bet I would!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Week in Review

*29 Americans soldiers killed in Iraq so far in June, 2007

- The powers that be are indicating that big decisions about Iraq will be made in September when General Petraus gives us his report. I don't believe it. We have been suckered along with - "as soon as this happens, as soon as that happens" statements for years now. Some of the blogs track these pronouncements by various government, military and media people. But it is always a moving target. They indicate a time by which we will need to see real improvement in Iraq When that times comes but the improvement in conditions haven't occurred, they simply move their timeline out anther six months or a year. In fact, the liberals blogs call a period of six months an "FU" or "Friedman Unit" after the number of times the famous columnist has extended the period in which he believes we will have to see progress in Iraq.

So what makes September any different? The Important People are already starting to waffle. First, they begged us to give the surge three months but when that three months was up, they explained that they didn't mean from the beginning of the surge as we'd first taken it but from the time the surge had all the new troops on the ground. That happened at the end of last month. That would mean August. Oh, okay, September then. September is the Magic Month. But now General Odierno says probably it will be more like December and General Petraus agrees.

I've read countless times by pundits "in the know" that congressional Republicans are giving the President until September and then if Petraus doesn't give a good account of what the surge is accomplishing, they will ready to force his hand in starting to wind down the war. But does anyone think that Petraus isn't going to put the best face on what he is achieving...at least a good enough account to give the Republicans cover to hang in there for at least another F.U.?

Meantime, American soldiers keep dying

- Over 11,000 gay military people have been kicked out of service including 78 Arabic linguists, a skill we desperately need. Other industrialized nations, among them Canada and Britain, have enlightened policies about gays in the military. They have had no problems integrating homosexuals into service. And yet all the Republican candidates stand firm in not allowing soldiers to be openly gay. Rudy Giuliani totally avoided the question about the Arabic linguists, instead going off on a schtick about how we couldn't make these drastic changes, during a time of war. Excuse me, Mayor, but isn't when we are at war with an Arab country exactly when we most need these people? Rudy lived with a friends, a gay couple, when he was getting a divorce so obviously, he is not personally homophobic. He just plays a homophobe on teevee for the sake of sucking up to the right wing of his party.

Meanwhile, back at the Democratic debate, Hillary quoted Barry Goldwater saying, "you don't have to be straight to shoot straight." Sounds about right to me.

- Scooter Libby sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying to the grand jury and obstructing justice. As someone who works in the judicial system, it seems good enough for him to me. The Republicans complain that Bill Clinton lied and didn't spend a day in jail. That's true - because our remedy for presidents who commit high crimes and misdemeanors is impeachment. The Republicans did impeach Clinton but couldn't make the case that his transgression was high enough to pitch him out of office so he wasn't convicted.

So, do we believe in the rule of law or not? If we do, then Scooter got what he deserved, although in the tradition of other Republicans who violated this concept (see Colonel Oliver North and Admirable Poindexter), I wouldn't be surprised if some judge doesn't find a hook to hang an appeal on.

- The Immigration Bill goes down and that's probably okay. It was such a complicated piece of legislation, it was hard to know if the good outweighed the bad. I think they should begin with one piece of immigration reform - securing the borders. After that, we can move on to what to do about the illegal immigrants who are already here. I'm pretty sure I'm opposed to a guest worker program unless it ensures decent pay and conditions for the workers and cracks down on employers who employs immigrants, not because they are offering jobs that "American's won't do" but because they can get those jobs done with cheap wages and no benefits. You can say what you want about today's Republican party being driven by the evangelicals but the fact is, this administration's biggest constituency is Big Business and it is Big Business that loves the idea of slave labor flooding our borders.

The Filly Wins!

Rags to Riches, the chestnut filly with the blaze face, was a last minute entry into the Belmont Stakes, the longest and most grueling race of the Triple Crown - 1 1/2 miles. The last time a filly won the Belmont was in 1905, 105 years ago. I mostly don't care much for sport competitions for the very reason that there are more losers than winners, and I feel sorrier for the losers than I feel happy for the winners. I know, I know, that's a disgustingly bleeding heart view of it but I can't help it.

Mom loves the Olympics but I rarely watch them with her. Olympics coverage always includes vast amounts of "up close and personal" information so that everyone there seems to be a hero and heroine who deserves to win. I always feel terrible for those who put in so much effort and come up short.

It's the same way with racing, the Triple Crown in particular. If you watch all the pre-race shows, you find out a lot about the trainers, the owners, the jockeys and the horses themselves. Many of them have extraordinary stories. I usually cheer for the underdog in any athletic event, like the Louisiana jockey who quit school in 8th grade to ride horses and finally won a Kentucky Derby with Streetsense this year and then got to go meet a President and a Queen. His joy was so unbounded that you couldn't help being thrilled for him.

On the other hand, once a horse has won the Kentucky Derby, then I want him to win the Triple Crown. To be a Triple Crown winner, a horse has to be better than good, he has to be great. It hasn't been done since Affirmed did it in 1978. These are three huge races in a five-week span that grind down the physical and mental stamina of the best of horses. Only the strongest, with heart to spare, can stand up to the punishing schedule. Streetsense couldn't do it this year and in the Preakness, he came in behind Curlin.

Then came the Belmont and the entry of the filly, Rags to Riches. The race was slow at the start, which was good for her, since she stumbled coming out of the starting gate. She righted herself and galloped along on the outside until the last half mile. When she and Curlin moved together, it was obvious that the race was going to be between these two. The rest of the pack fell behind as they battled it out, neck and neck. Curlin gave it his all but the crowd roared when Rags to Riches crossed the finish line a head in front. I think even those who'd bet on Curlin were rooting for the filly to beat the more-than-a-century record.

She was cool, calm and collected as they put the blanket of carnations across her neck. And this is why horseracing is my favorite sport. In all other athletic events, the desires and needs of humans are in the forefront. Whether the payoff is in glory or money or simply the driving ambition to be the best, humans push themselves for some reward. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, just that horseracing seems a purer competition between animals who strive to win only because it is built into their DNA. The only motivation that drives a Curlin and a Rags to Riches to be the first across the finish line is guts and heart.

In a time when so many of our sports figures have been sullied by one scandal or another - doping or betting or shaving points or drinking or fighting - there's something special about the integrity of the horses. Not that the humans involved with them aren't capable of corruption. Oh, no, they will do whatever they can get away with to win, just like baseball players, bicyclists or boxers. Horseracing has certainly had its share of dishonest members but this is the people, not the animals. The champions of the track give it their all simply because it is in their nature.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Things that Make You Hmmm

* 3475 of our military people have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war - 131 were killed in May 2007, the 3rd deadliest month of the war - 9 have been killed so far in June 2007.

- There will be a hearing by a military panel in Kansas City on Monday to determine if Marine Corporal Adam Kokesh should be discharged from the Marines and if so, what type of discharge it should be. Actually, Corporal Kokesh had already been honorably discharged from the Marines but he is still part of the Ready Reserve. Should his discharge be changed to one that is less than honorable, he would risk losing the benefits, such as pension and healthcare, that flow from being a veteran. Corporal Kokesh's crime was appearing in uniform at an anti-war rally. He wore fatigues from which the military insignia had been removed.

The government says this is unacceptable but the VFW, (not a left-wing organization, I presume), disagrees. Gary Karpius, the VFW National Commander, says, "trying to hush up and punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic rights we're trying to instill in Iraq is not what we're all about." He goes on to say that the military needs to "exercise a little commonsense before this turns into a circus."

Excuse me, but don't I see military people all the time in their uniforms serving as a backdrop for President Bush and his views? If they can be used as props for a pro-administration political campaign, then they surely have the right to to be visible as veterans on the opposite side. We are still a democracy. Aren't we?

- Our new Iraq embassy is due to be complete this month and guess what? It is the only building project in Iraq that is on schedule and on budget. The U.S. has spent $592 million so far to build the largest embassy in the world and the most expensive! It is 104 acres (which translates into 80 football fields - the average embassy is 10 acres) and will contain 21 buildings, including 2 enormous office buildings, a school, 6 apartment buildings, a gym, a pool and a food court. It will be completely self-sufficient with its own power generator system and water purification treatment plant. It will have 1000 employees, almost none of them Iraqis (because we can't trust them, don't you know). The primary contractor is a Kuwaiti company.

This doesn't sound much like we are going to be leaving Iraq any time soon, does it?

- Here we go again. I seem to remember that back during the Bush/Gore campaign, the media consistently characterized Al Gore as "wooden" and "inauthentic". Now they are doing it to Hillary. It seems that if the Liberal Media (ha!ha!) decides they are going to frame a candidate a certain way, they just beat that horse until its lying dead on the track. In the same way, Al Gore never said he invented the internet; he never said that Love Story was based on him and Tipper; he never said he discovered Love Canal, but the press reveled those stories and presented them as if they were gospel, labeling Gore a "serial exaggerator" at best and a "pathological liar" at worst but who was actually the serial liar here? In many cases, it was the media itself.

Meanwhile, that good old boy, cowboy hat-wearing, pick up truck-driving, chain-saw-wielding George Bush was portrayed as the candidate you'd most like to invite to your barbeque. I heard this over and over - "who would you most like to have a beer with?" And the answer, "why ole gen-u-ine George Bush, of course."

Competence? Intelligence? Intellectual curiosity? Those were qualities the media thought were boring. So they made Gore, the candidate who represented those things, boring and negative as well. They thought it was cute to have a presidential candidate who couldn't pronounce nuclear (and even all these years later, Bush persists in saying "nucular", as in "I'll damn well pronounce it the way I want to pronounce it because I'm the Decider!") They thought it was charming that, even though he was rich enough to travel anywhere he wanted to go, George Bush wanted to run the world even though he'd never been interested enough to want to actually see the world.

And so now we've come to the 2008 presidential campaign and once again, the media declares Hillary as wooden and inauthentic but who are they falling all over as the authentic candidate? That would be Fred Thompson, who drove a old red pick up truck around on the campaign trail in his candidacy for senator from Tennessee. Except that Fred was caught leaving the pick up behind with an aide, while he switched to a luxury sedan after the parade was over. Oh, yeah, that's authentic all right. We're talking the same Fred Thompson who was a Washington insider during Watergate, who left the senate to work as a lobbyist for eight years afterwards, Fred Thompson who is going to run as the outside-the-beltway candidate and will probably get away with it too (maybe its the southern accent that so enthralls the media).

And remember the last presidential campaign? Remember how Kerry was labeled a flip-flopper? Remember, "I voted for the $87 million before I voted against it?" Flip-flopping was the kiss of death in 2004 but does the media care about flip-flopping in 2008? Nah, not so's you'd notice because flip-flopping is an epidemic among this current group of candidates. Changing your position is old hat now and not anything the media takes seriously.

Hillary has also been accused of being "ambitious" and "calculating". Wow, imagine that - a presidential candidate who is ambitious and calculating. Don't you think anyone who is running to be President of the United States is, by definition, ambitious and calculating? Seems to me I detect some sexism here. Why is it only a woman who gets attacked for these particular qualities? And for being shrill and grating, which I've also heard it said about Hillary. Don't believe I ever remember a male candidate characterized as being shrill or grating.

- Doesn't sound like the latest terrorist plot to blow up JKF airport was very serious (as seems to be the case with most of our home-grown plotters). Not that the people involved might not have been serious but they seemed neither smart enough nor sophisticated enough to know what they were doing or how to go about getting the allies or resources they would have needed to try. Still, we should all be glad that our law enforcement people - NYPD and the F.B.I. - were on the ball as the next group might be both brighter and more well-connected. Oh, what did I just say? Our law enforcement people! Because, yes, discovering and stopping terrorists is primarily a law enforcement operation and not a military one, just like John Kerry said.

* Okay, Rick, here you go!

My New Favorite Place

I'm 60 years old and I've only just met my one true love - geographically-speaking, that is. I have traveled a great deal and covered most of the U.S. I've been to southern Atlantic beaches and Gulf Coast beaches and Pacific beaches but for various reasons, I had never been to the northeast coast until we went to Cape Cod over Mother's Day.
I have known or read about people who found their Perfect Place. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (who wrote "The Yearling" - do kids in high school still have to read The Yearling?) was from the cold of Michigan until she made a trip to inner Florida. She promptly made arrangements to cut all her ties up north and bought an orange grove in her chosen state. When Brenda and I went to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, we met the owner of a shop (she sold nothing but hearts - heart soap, heart jewelry, heart boxes, heart place mats and napkins, heart everything!) who told us she'd previously owned a similar store in Houston, Texas. She came to Arkansas with her husband on a fishing trip and fell in love . They returned to Houston long enough to put their house and her shop up for sale and have lived joyously in the Arkansas Ozarks ever since. My doctor, Regan Andrade, told me that when she and her husband, a local attorney, vacationed near Mobile, Alabama, they looked at each other and said, "this is it." Upon returning to North Manchester, they began taking the steps necessary to relocate.
In all my travels, I had never felt that "Eureka!" moment about a place until I went to Cape Cod. I would move there tomorrow if: a) you could find a good job (highly unlikely) and b) you could find an affordable place to live (nearly impossible).
Mom and I drove to Massachusetts where the kids are currently living in a small town close to Boston. We spent the night there then headed for the Cape when Lisa got off work the next day. Cape Cod is an island off the coast of Massachusetts, approximately 65 miles long and about 20 miles wide at its widest point. Small towns dot the coast - Hyannis and Harwich, Falmouth and Brewster, Wellfleet and Provincetown are only a few of them. There are so many Dennis', it is hard to keep track of them - East Dennis, West Dennis, North Dennis, South Dennis, Dennis and Dennisport (where our house was)! My favorite and the place I would live if I was a wealthy writer is Chatham.
One of the things I appreciated most about Cape Cod is that you have the best of two worlds, so to speak. I have always loved beaches but in the south especially, the land close to the water takes on a certain appearance. It tends to be bare ground sandy interspersed with palmettos and yuccas and tall pines. There's nothing wrong with this type of topography. It has its own kind of beauty but it it makes a midwesterner homesick for green grass and deciduous trees and the flowers associated with home. Of course, when you return to Indiana, then you miss the ocean and the sand and the seabirds. Until Cape Cod, it always seemed as if you have to choose one over the other.
But on the Cape, the villages could be midwestern small towns. They feature historic government buildings and comfortable cottages and tall-spired churches. They are characterized by deep green lawns and tall old trees, punctuated by beds of tulips and daffodils and brilliantly yellow forsythia and shocking pink Rhododendron. And this is so clear up until, suddenly, you reach sawgrass and deep sand and the ocean right in front of you.
The towns and their beaches each have their own unique personality. Our house was right on Nantucket Sound so our beach tended to be serene and calm, with water that sparkled in the sun and quiet waves that drifted soothingly into shore. Low tide there reveals a string of shells washed up on the sand. But we visited Brewster whose beach recedes a mile during low tide, leaving behind a vast expanse of sandy flats and tidal pools, so that you can walk far out to see what the water left behind. Then, heading toward the tip of Cape Code, the land gets wilder, with high sand cliffs and an Atlantic that becomes wild and woolly, with huge waves crashing into shore.
Lisa is our internet wizard and, only using the computer, she found the perfect house. Of course, on Cape Cod, everything is built to focus on the water. The upstairs had a bedroom, bath, sitting room and deck overlooking the ocean. The living room featured a fireplace on one end so you could feel snugly warm on chilly nights while still seeing the waves from the glass wall that faced the water. The dining room was also glass on the ocean side. There was a front porch with sofas, tables and chairs and a gas grill and then another patio at the side of the house with a table that had a built-in fire pit. So whether you are watching television, using the laptop in the dining room or eating, you have only to turn you head to see what brings people here, whether to visit or stay - the allure of the ocean.
Cape Cod probably wouldn't do for true beach afficionados. If what you want to do is lie on the sand in a swimsuit and play in the waves, then you'd probably have to stick to the Cape's main "season" which is July and August. When we were there in May, it was sweatshirt weather. We waded in the water but only the stoutest-hearted would have wanted to do a full-body dive. The island tends to be 10 degrees cooler than the mainland in the summer and 10 degrees warmer in the winter.
Of course, we shopped. Being a tourist mecca, Cape Cod has many, many shops of all kinds for the shop-a-holic. And we ate. There are food places everywhere. There are restaurants that feature full-Irish breakfasts and Portuguese bakeries and ice cream emporiums that specialize in mega-sundaes and of course, you can get fresh seafood of every type prepared in every conceivable way.
Provincetown is one of the most unique places on the Cape. Approximately two/thirds of its residents are gay and it shows in the funky creativity of the landscaping and architecture. The town itself is all up and downs hills, with a downtown that fronts the ocean, full of exotic little shops and of course, many restaurants.
We ate in a place (the best shrimp I've ever had) that had only the tiniest of stalls in the ladies' bathroom. Lisa, Mom and I all remarked about how you could barely fit into it. A short time later, a woman, probably 6'5, came out.
"I bet that gal had a hard time in that little stall," says Lisa.
"Yep," I said, "I bet 'she' did too."
"Oh," replied Lisa, catching on that the statuesquely beautiful woman was a transvestite.
A different and diverse and interesting place compared to the one at home where we all tend more toward boring conformity.
Just about every part of Cape Cod where there is no one living is wooded and the entire island is dotted by "kettle ponds" so that no one who lives there is far from water, either salt or fresh. There are nature walks of all kinds you can take - through white cedar woods or through bogs (cranberries are grown in the Cape Cog bogs) or along the seashores (there are over 43,000 acres of national seashore) or across marshes. You can take a water ferry to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard. You can take a boat to go seal-watching or whale-watching (sightings guaranteed). You can go deep sea fishing or freshwater pond fishing. If you are a lighthouse enthusiast, there are seven on Cape Cod. There are museums, natural and historic, and a Zooquarium.
The point is, you can be as active or as laid-back as you like. If you enjoy being on the go all the time, you will never run out of things to do on Cape Cod. On the other hand, if your preference is simply to zone out to the sounds of waves sushing into shore, you can do that too.
We did something a part of every day but my favorite time of our vacation was the early morning when no one was up but me. I'd take my coffee and cigarettes out to sit in one of the beach chairs on the water's edge. At that time of the morning, it was only me and the birds, watching the sun rise over Nantucket Sound. Seeing fluorescent swathes of pink and violet and blue across the sky and flotillas of ducks bobbing in the waves, hearing the water gently lapping onto the shore and the gulls crying out to one another. Smelling that slightly fishy, salt-infused aroma that comes with being near the ocean.
I think I would love Cape Cod in any season. I wish I could think of a way to live there. I wonder how a shop that sold only hearts would go over......?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Update

I haven't posted for quite a while. That started because Blogspot lost me for a while when they changed their format. I kept trying to get on to post but the blog was drifting out in cyberspace somewhere and couldn't be recalled. Maybe that was due to my own ineptitude regarding blogging protocol. However it happened, the blog eventually reappeared.
By that time though, I had lost some of my momentum. Ideally, I envisioned this blog as being interactive. Whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, this is supposed to give you a forum to express yourself, but not many of you do. I already know what I think so I don't need to write it down to remind myself. If the blog doesn't serve as a means of communication, then it is a waste of time. That's more or less what I decided when I quit posting regular comments.
Then I began to hear from people asking, "when are you going to update the blog?" They complained that they popped in from time to time but there was nothing new. I'm a writing addict. As long as there are readers, I will write. So I'm back in business starting today. I still think it would be more enjoyable for everyone concerned, if people would join in though.......