Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 Reading List (Initial Draft)

Every year I go through various Most Important Books of All Time lists and the dozens of unread or half-read books on my shelves to put together an annual reading list. After putting the list together, I start reading the first book on the list in January and then proceed to ignore the list for the rest of the year.

I'm hoping to avoid this pattern in 2009 and actually complete my reading list. So I've shortened my list a bit this year. It's 36 books. The idea is that I'll read three books a month off this list, and whatever else I come across throughout the year.

The list is still a work in progress, and I will probably make changes during the year. The main idea is to read 36 books that I haven't read (or finished) yet. Feel free to offer suggestions on books I should add to (or take off of) the list. (I do recognize that this list is a little heavy on Books One Should Read, a little phallocentric, and otherwise generally played out.)

I will try to post brief updates on my progress, and short reviews, as I make my way through the list.

Women in Love - Lawrence
The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money – Keynes
The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Joyce
Blue Mars – Robinson
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - Brown
The Wings of the Dove – James
Absalom, Absalom! – Faulkner
The Varieties of Religious Experience - James
Critique of Pure Reason - Kant
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – Gibbon
Herzog – Bellow
Swann's Way – Proust
Watership Down - Adams
The Making of the English Working Class – Thompson
The Making of the Atomic Bomb – Rhodes
Finnegans Wake – Joyce
The Order of Things – Foucault
The Savage Mind - Levi-Strauss
Wuthering Heights - Bronte
Phenomenology of Spirit - Hegel
A Bend in the River – Naipaul
Frankenstein - Shelley
The Autobiography of Malcolm X – Haley and X
A Room of One's Own - Woolf
Cadillac Desert – Reisner
Atlas Shrugged - Rand
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum
Nostromo – Conrad
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Hurston
Blood Meridian - McCarthy
Late Capitalism - Mandel
The Day of the Locust –West
Dune – Herbert
Native Son - Wright
2666 - Bolaño
Tender is the Night - Fitzgerald

[I'll note that I am tempted to copy Mrs. Octopus's 2009 plan to watch 52 Important Movies that she hasn't yet seen yet. I'll think about that. I don't know if our Netflix cue could handle the demands of two 52-movie lists.]

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The View from the Tank Multi-Pak: Man on Wire (2008) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Man on Wire (2008)

A serviceable documentary, with its most beautiful moments coming at the very end. The film tells the tale of Frenchman Phillipe Petit's 1974 tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers. The film uses a generous amount of archival footage; much of this footage struck me as bizarre, as Petit, who was 24 in 1974, and his crew, seemed to have spent a lot of time filming themselves back in 1974, in France and in New York. There is a lot of footage, and a lot of photographs, of Petit and his buddies sitting around discussing the details of their plan, drinking wine, smoking cigarettes, practicing on a tightrope in France, etc. Petit appears to have assembled a whole cast of characters around him back in the 70's (the scenes of his French training camp smack of a cult of personality) who followed him around and did his bidding to help him accomplish his artistic goals.

Speaking of Petit, who owns the lion's share of screentime in the film, 34 years later, he is still remarkably talkative and animated, but, listening to him go on and on about the 1974 event -- which was undoubtedly amazing -- you got a sense that the WTC tightrope walk was his greatest point, and he has spent the rest of his life reliving that youthful glory.

The film supplements its actual archival footage with many somewhat silly dramatic reenactments, which struck me as somewhat pointless and self-indulgent. Yes, it's sort of interesting that Petit got the idea to tightrope walk between the towers when he saw a picture of the yet-to-be-built towers in a magazine in a dentist's office -- but do we really care about the supposedly sleathy method by which he ripped out the picture from the magazine (by coughing as he ripped it out)? Yes, the planners had to wait for a long time in hiding in the WTC before they could get onto the roof -- but do we really need nearly an hour of detail about how Petit and his buddies had to wait in the dark for security guards to pass? All of these preliminaries feel a bit pointless and smug, and there's really little suspense in Petit's path to the top of the towers: we know they will make it, despite silly little run-ins with security guards, etc.

The film tries to portray the events leading up to the tightrope walk in the manner of a heist film, but that take on these events struck me as a little bit stupid and tedious. Yes, it was a big deal, but not that big a deal that we care about every single detail along the way. At a certain point, the film began to feel a bit like some kind of parody of the 9/11 Commission Report, with all of the excessive attention to how Petit and his crew got fake WTC id's, had a contact on the "inside", had scoped out the building ahead of time, etc.

None of this, however, can take away from the magnificence of the actual event itself, of Petit finally stepping out onto a wire strung between the Twin Towers and walking back and forth on that wire for 45 minutes. His performance, and the image he created through that performance, are revelatory and transcendent. So much so that it is easy to accept the answer Petit and his co-conspirators give after the police and the New York press ask them why they did it: "Why?," they answered, "There is no why." Two and a half tentacles.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Let me first say that I am very glad this movie was made. It will likely be an important historical artifact, giving the world a picture of India as it transitions from third world basket case to reclaim its position as an economic and cultural world power. The film also confronts Western viewers with shocking images of the staggering poverty that still exists -- in unimaginable scope -- in India, and that can only be an edifying and necessary thing.

However, I also have to say that I was not blown away by this movie -- and the overheated reviews had prepared me to be blown away. Boyle and his crew appear to have attempted to overwhelm the audience with sound and fury, with MTV/video-game cuts and editing, with hypersaturated colors, and a restless, roaming chronology. All of this in the service of a deeply traditional fairy tale story of love conquering all, and dreams coming true, etc.

Still, because of the stop-and-start nature of the narrative, the audience is not given any time to develop any interest in or feeling for the characters that are intended to play important emotional roles, mainly Jamel's (the main character) mother, and his life-long love, Latika. We never see much of an interaction between Jamel and Latika, only different chapters in their lives when Jamel meets her, tries to find her again, and later yet again. We never really see why he cares so much for her, besides the fact that she is beautiful. It's as if Boyle decided that we would in fact fill in the emotional gaps for the film, and supply the interest and sympathy, if he simply laid out the basic facts.

So ultimately, when Jamel does in fact win Latika back one final time, it feels a little flat, in addition to being wholly expected.

This film demands to be seen because it is so different in content, setting, characters, etc. than any other you will see this year. However, and a little sadly, it is not, to my mind, the life-changing epic that it has been made out to be. Gran Torino is still my pick for film of the year. Four tentacles.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Mary and Jesus in an undated Persian miniature painting

From Sura 19 of the Koran (Maryam), relating to the miraculous birth of Jesus:
16. Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East.

17. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.

18. She said: "I seek refuge from thee to ((Allah)) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear Allah."

19. He said: "Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.

20. She said: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?"

21. He said: "So (it will be): Thy Lord saith, 'that is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us':It is a matter (so) decreed."

22. So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place.

23. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): "Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!"

24. But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee;

25. "And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee.

26. "So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, 'I have vowed a fast to ((Allah)) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being'"

27. At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: "O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!

28. "O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!"

29. But she pointed to the babe. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?"

30. He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah. He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet;

31. "And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live;

32. "(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable;

33. "So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)"!

34. Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.

35. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, "Be", and it is.

36. Verily Allah is my Lord and your Lord: Him therefore serve ye: this is a Way that is straight.
Sura 19 translation.

It's interesting to compare this account to the three somewhat varying accounts of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels. Notably, Mark contains nothing describing the birth of Jesus. Matthew (1:1-2:23) contains an elaborate genealogical background of Jesus, establishing him as a descendant of David and Abraham. The passage from Luke (1:1-2:40) is most similar to the passage in the Koran, giving us a full picture of the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary. Finally, the brief passage in John (1:1-14) is the most cryptic and enigmatic. The passage states:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Mark 1:1-14.

It is also interesting to note that Mary is mentioned 34 times in the Koran (more than she is mentioned in the entirety of the New Testament), and is revered as a holy figure by Muslims.

The three Abrahamic faiths are, like the Gospels themselves, continuing and successive stories, offering differing perspectives and interpretations on the same original stories and ideas, which no doubt, in turn, built upon older stories and ideas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

So true

David Denby on the seasons of Hollywood:
It has become clearer than ever that the movie year is divided into two parts. There’s the first nine months, which are filled, it seems, with big-audience digital spectacles about men who fly, animated movies about indignant handheld devices and chatty rodents, and all-male comedies about virgins lost in a condom factory. And then there’s the Oscar-focussed final three months of the year, which are devoted to movies about failure, abjection, death, and the Holocaust, most of them starring Kate Winslet or Cate Blanchett.
The New Yorker.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Very Bottom of the Year

The sun goddess Amaterasu emerging from her cave

This is the fourth winter solstice that I've marked on this blog. The shortest day of the year is over, though we are in the middle of the longest night.

Now begins the long cycle of steadily lengthening days, more light each day until June 21, 2009, when we begin the descent back into the depths of late-December darkness.

The winter solstice was traditionally celebrated in Japan with festivities celebrating the emergence of the sun goddess Amaterasu: "Tricked by the other gods with a loud celebration, she peeks out to look and finds the image of herself in a mirror and is convinced by the other gods to return, bringing sunlight back to the universe.".

The View from the Tank Valu-Pak

Up the Yangtze (2008)

A masterful documentary. Quiet, intelligent, and thoughtful. Beautifully shot. Maintains an almost perfectly balanced point of view. Thoroughly Canadian in temperament (i.e., makes you feel smarter and more reasonable just watching this). Four tentacles (out of five).

Let the Right One In (2008)

The best Swedish, pre-teen, vampire love story you will ever see. Often tender and sweet, bizarrely moving, and ungross, despite the copious gore. More alive than 99% of the American movies I've seen in the past few years. Both young leads are excellent, especially the vampiress. Four tentacles.

Gran Torino (2008)

This is a great American movie and my current choice for movie of the year. Clint Eastwood is simply phenomenal here. I don't know that I've ever seen a better performance from him, in anything, which is incredible, given that he'll turn 79 on his next birthday. The Hmong cast, who are not professional actors but amateurs, are fantastic. The climax manages to surprise, and the final scene, with Eastwood singing, has burned itself into my mind. The final scene is Eastwood's bracing and generous vision of a new America, an image both fresh and timeless, showing how our country is changing in the way it always has. How much did I love this movie? I want to buy American again. Four and 1/2 tentacles [this is the highest rating I've ever given any movie here]

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Formulaic and unsurprising. [SPOILER ALERT] I wish I hadn't known that the screenwriter also wrote Forrest Gump, though the similarities likely would've beaten me over the head anyway. (E.g., childhood friendship with future love, walking on crutches as a boy, an all-loving perfect mother, girl goes away into her own world and goes "bad", going off to war, losing a role model in the war, coming back wiser and more worldly, becoming rich somehow, the love interest becoming injured/hurt in some way and needing the hero again, losing the love interest again, all set to the tunes of various historic events and phases (WW I, WW II, the Fifties, the Beatles, the space program, and finally, Katrina)). With a lot of useless and heavy-handed purported symbolism (e.g., the ridiculous hummingbirds that pop up at Meaningful Moments, the various ominous clocks, the unexplained and dubious connection between the opening story and the rest of the movie, and a ridiculous and foolish montage leading up to a Meaningful Accident). Worth seeing if you have a lot of time (2hrs and 50 min.), and a fine holiday film, but not one really worth remembering. Three and 1/2 stars Three stars(mostly for amount of movie time purchased for your movie dollar).

Quick Takes on Recent Events

Official O.G. talking points on various items in the news:

* The auto-bailout was a necessary thing that should've passed in the Senate. The GOP turned it into a bludgeon to beat down the auto unions. Detroit bears much of the responsibility for its current position, and the Big 3 have made terrible decisions over the last few decades, especially in gorging themselves on unsustainable SUV and truck sales, but these are crucial industries tied to thousands of jobs. Obama and the Dems should make sure Detroit survives, but with stringent conditions on the types of cars they should make (i.e., fuel-efficiency, hybrid and electric technologies, etc.)

* I am pro-gay marriage. I was vehemently opposed to Prop 8, which represents a horrific intrusion of religion into the realm of civil law. That said, I am not up in arms about Obama's choice of Rick Warren for the invocation at the inauguration. First, if you're going to have an invocation -- and as a non-Christian and a firm believer in the separation of church and state, I question whether we should have one, since this is supposed to be a secular, governmental ceremony, and not one that should have any religious component -- you could pick a very liberal religious leader (say from some left-leaning church in San Francisco or New York), but that wouldn't be very representative of Christian belief in this country (if that's what you're trying to achieve). The fact is, America is still a very religious country. Obama's pick is merely trying to acknowledge this significant demographic.

Second, Rick Warren is the undisputed leader of the new generation of evangelical Christian ministers: he is the new Billy Graham. He represents a huge demographic in this country -- one that cannot be ignored (though it certainly need not be appeased). He represents a new face of evangelical Christianity -- one that is more concerned with the health of the environment, with social justice, poverty issues, AIDS, etc. (And also note that he and his wife have given away 90% of their income to charitable causes.)

Don't get me wrong, Warren espouses views that I (and our President-elect) completely disagree with (e.g., on gay marriage, abortion, etc.). Obama is not signalling agreement with or acceptance of all of Warren's views with this selection. Rather, Obama's selection of Warren demonstrates once again Obama's willingness to work with those with whom he disagrees, while focusing on those things on which they agree. Warren's selection has zero effect on policy-making, he is not being appointed to anything, and his presence will be purely symbolic. (I suspect that a lot of the uproar around Warren's selection for the invocation has a lot to do with the relative ease with which the relevant Outrageous Issues are grasped, as opposed, say, to the tedious issues associated with the appointments to Treasury, Interior, etc.) Obama is showing evangelicals that while he does not agree with them on everything, he is giving them a place -- however meaningless -- in the inauguration.

Everything about Obama's approach suggests that he genuinely wants to be perceived as a president for all Americans. Shouldn't we embrace this approach after the militant partisan slant of the last eight years? And I may just be fatuous or still Obamatarded, but I do believe that while Obama's appointments and selection of Warren are intended to assure everyone that he's a moderate, and that he won't be too radical, all of this is helping to set the table for the genuinely left-leaning initiatives he will be launching in his first term: inter alia, a huge New Deal-style infrastructure spending plan, real health care reform, and a new engagement with the Muslim world, including an address in a Muslim capital.

I very definitely could be wrong, but Obama has not yet let me down. The one thing I've learned over the last four years of watching Obama is that most decisions of his that initially seem dubious turn out to make a lot of sense in the end. E.g., his decision to run for Senate in 2004, his decision in 2007 to run for President, his strategy to wage a long-term, 50-state campaign of attrition against Clinton, his reaction to Reverend Wright, his choice of running mate, his reaction to the economic crisis in September, etc. I know, just because he's been so successful in getting here does not mean he'll go in the direction his liberal base wants. We will see. But over the past four years, he has won my trust, and has yet to let me down. I believe that he is the most liberal and left-leaning president we have had since LBJ, and that time will bear this out.

So I am not throwing a fit and protesting Obama's choice of Warren. I am waiting to hear what they both will say.

[UPDATED: See also Bob Ostertag on Rick Warren. FURTHER UPDATED: But see Katha Pollitt in today's LAT on Warren.]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Waiting for the Solstice

The current deepening economic sickness is beginning to really hit close to home. A friend on Facebook, after several days of status updates announcing that she feared for her job, finally updated her status last week to read that she was “thanks to the economy, now gainfully unemployed.”

Two days ago, NPR announced that it, too, would be forced to make cuts in the current malaise: it announced that it would be cancelling the shows “Day to Day” and “News and Notes”, both of which are based out of Culver City here in L.A. What was particularly disturbing about the announcement for me was that I had met the hosts of both these shows a couple times through a friend. It’s generally hard to feel the pain of some faceless radio host or journalist whose show has been cancelled – but it strikes you a little differently when you’ve met and talked to these people about the neighborhoods they live in here in L.A., their interviews with Barack Obama, the inside baseball of NPR politics.

Things continue to get uglier, and the worry right now is that the general climate of fear is causing even people with relatively stable employment to fear that the Reaper is on his way for them, and that they must therefore start cutting back and saving everything they can for a potential span of unemployment in the near future. That fear and cutting back among people who actually have money right now leads to the excessive savings (among those with disposable income) that drives the economy further down the crapper.

It’s hard to know how best to handle this, but I am generally supportive of Obama’s announced Keynesian approach of large public works spending. That said, with the dollar currently in freefall, it’s worth a nod to Milton Friedman and the danger of stagflation, though perhaps with the costs of commodities like oil currently in freefall, a danger of a repeat of 70’s-style stagflation seems less likely. The public-works approach of Keynesian-style deficit-spending right now also appears acceptable given that interest rates are so low – the danger of crowding out driving up interest rates seems minimal for the near future.

But the real fear is that no one really knows what the f*ck is going on, and therefore, no one really knows how to fix the situation. I suspect that the complexity of the situation is at such a magnitude that it defies the ability of even our best economists to fully comprehend. That's why, in some way, the most powerful thing we can do right now -- though I debase these terms in using them in the context of the marketplace -- may be simply to have faith, and believe. We will escape from this downward spiral only if we are able to shake off our collective fear. Ironically enough, now is the time to heed the words of that great economic thinker, President George W. Bush: the best thing you can do right now to help fix the economy is to go shopping.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Very Brief Post

Another short post tonight.

It was 48 degrees out here in the Eagle Rock/Pasadena area, and Mrs. Octopus and I went swimming tonight, outdoors, at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center. The whole thing was insane. Luckily, the pool was heated -- super heated. It was kind of cool, with steam rising off the pool at night.

Two quick movie notes. Up the Yangtze has displaced Kung Fu Panda as the best movie I've seen this year. Movie review forthcoming. Five tentacles (out of five).

Let the Right One In, the Swedish pre-teen vampire movie, is also excellent. Review forthcoming. Four and a half tentacles.

I am almost done with Against the Day. I've been reading it on and off since the fall of 2006. That's just ridiculous. I'm excited to almost be done.

Still taking Vietnamese. Mrs. Octopus's parents now speak to me mostly in Vietnamese, as they vastly overestimate my comprehension. I do catch a lot of what they are saying, though. We are going to Vietnam in February.

A friend told me that since the election ended, this blog has lost its "mojo". That's probably true, and that's probably why you're getting posts like this. I will consider ways to reclaim my mojo.

I'm feeling better than I did on Friday, but am still not convinced this whole adulthood thing is worth it.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Baby Octopuses

Octopus hatchlings at the Dana Point Institute -- story

A grim thought on a Friday night

I have very little good to say about adulthood. What are the upsides? Sex, alcohol, driving -- none of that really seems to make up for the other miseries involved with adulthood and growing old.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Pink Thursday

People across the country are receiving lay-off notices today, especially at Viacom and AT&T.

Looking deeper into the media industry cuts is disturbing. Many of the cuts come about because advertising revenue is down. Advertising revenue is way down because companies don't have the cash to fully fund their marketing campaigns. They don't have that cash because people aren't buying their stuff. With a decrease in marketing, it stands to reason that even fewer people will be buying their stuff. Meanwhile, people in the media industries that rely on that advertising get laid off, resulting in even fewer people who can buy stuff, meaning companies will have even less cash to spend on marketing, etc.

That said, I do believe that the policies of the new admnistration are going to help, and that we will see the economy turn around after about six months or so. Check back with me next summer to see if I was totally wrong.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Victory in Defeat?

This will not be popular with the champagne-sipping Marxists that read this blog, but I want to admit that I am sort of glad about the result in Georgia in the Martin-Chambliss race.

I may come to regret saying this, but I do think, over the long run, it's probably better that the Democrats don't have a filibuster-proof majority. Having some constraint may help protect them against overreach, excess, and accelerated decline.

Of course, it would help if the opposition was sharp and intelligent. Sadly for the country, it is not.

God, I sound like such a Democrat right now -- we are such self-destructing ninnies. Except for Obama, of course.

UPDATE 12/6: Gail Collins agrees, for slightly different reasons. One her reasons is a good one: at least Joe Lieberman will no longer be the center of the universe. Our fate now lies in the hands of the good and generally reasonable senators from Maine.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Free Trade

The cover story of today's NYT magazine, about a rich woman paying another woman to serve as a surrogate and carry her baby to term, was horrific, but irresistible. I was compelled to read the entire thing, wanting to retch as I did.

The author, Alex Kucyzynski, is a 40-year old NYT staff writer (in, of course, the Style section). She and her husband decided to hire a surrogate for various reasons, as Kucyzynski portrays it -- she emphasizes health. However, Kucyzynski revels in the other benefits of paying someone else to have her baby:
AS THE MONTHS PASSED, something curious happened: The bigger Cathy was, the more I realized that I was glad — practically euphoric — I was not pregnant. I was in a daze of anticipation, but I was also secretly, curiously, perpetually relieved, unburdened from the sheer physicality of pregnancy. If I could have carried a child to term, I would have. But I carried my 10-pound dog in a BabyBjörn-like harness on hikes, and after an hour my back ached.

Cathy was getting bigger, and the constraints on her grew. I, on the other hand, was happy to exploit my last few months of nonmotherhood by white-water rafting down Level 10 rapids on the Colorado River, racing down a mountain at 60 miles per hour at ski-racing camp, drinking bourbon and going to the Super Bowl.

I had several friends around my age — 37 and up — who were pregnant with their first children at this time, and I was amazed at how their feet swelled like loaves of bread. They were haggard. They seemed sallow and tired, and they let their hair go gray. I decided to call all of us Gummies — grown-up mommies — with the implication that some of us were so old we could have dentures.

I would soon be a Gummy. I just didn’t have to do the hard part. I had the natal equivalent of a hall pass, a free ride, an automatic upgrade to first class. According to the expectations that govern modern womanhood, I should have been moaning to a shrink or to my girlfriends over cosmos about my inadequacies. But I tried hard not to see myself as a failure. I allowed myself the anguish of the moment when Cathy was playing my piano, and after that I vowed, not entirely successfully, to refuse more self-punishment. I had been through so much — so much death and sorrow — that the gift of Cathy carrying my baby, shouldering the burden of the pregnancy, transferring all the fear of failure to her shoulders, was liberating.

The important part of that excerpt, of course, is that the author admits to carrying around her "10-pound dog in a BabyBjörn-like harness on hikes".

Kucyzynski mentions the several homes she and her husband (who is twenty or so years older than her, who has had three previous wives and six previous children, and whom she describes as a "very successful investor") own in various places across the country, her regular trips to Bikram yoga (just plain "yoga" will not do -- it's Bikram yoga), and other aspects of her fancy life. She cares very much about who will carry her baby -- not just any womb will do:
When we came across Cathy’s application, we saw that she was by far the most coherent and intelligent of the group. She wrote that she was happily married with three children. Her answers were not handwritten in the tiny allotted spaces; she had downloaded the original questionnaire and typed her responses at thoughtful length. Her attention to detail was heartening. And her computer-generated essay indicated, among other things, a certain level of competence. This gleaned morsel of information made me glad: she must live in a house with a computer and know how to use it.

There is something interesting going on with the photography that accompanies the article. I am not convinced that Kuczynski is aware of it, but the photographer and the photo editor have conspired to throw Kuczynski under the bus with the photos. In the cover photo, Kuczynski appears in a fancy and expensive looking black dress, with high heels, with her hands on her stomach to emphasize her slim figure; next to her, her surrogate is in baggy slacks, a dumpy-looking sweater, and massively pregnant. Another photo inside shows Kuczynski standing in front one of her several homes (this one is in Southampton), with a lushly landscaped garden behind her, and with a shorter African-American "baby nurse" (why the "baby nurse"? is the baby sick?) standing at attention nearby -- in a nurse outfit. It's like something out of "Gone with the Wind".

The next photo is of Kuczynski's surrogate, Susan Hilling, a week before she "delivered", sitting on her stoop in Harleyville, PA. The paint on her white house is dirty, the foundation appears to be cracked, and there's a rack of dirty white sneakers on the porch behind her. She does not have a perfect lawn like Kuczynski; she's got some weeds and mud. Harleyville is not Southampton. Oh, to make sure the point is not lost, Hilling is barefoot in the picture.

Kuczynski tries hard to be "honest" about the situation in her piece, as if her purported "honesty" about the transaction obligates her reader not to judge her, excuses her condescension and obvious self-absorption, and erases any qualms about the role money plays in this market transaction. Kuczynski writes in such a way that makes clear that she wants, and indeed, expects, our sympathy and understanding. The accompanying photos, which steadily undermine her hermetically sealed poses of self-awareness, suggest that perhaps she deserves none of that.

In the end, Kuczynski has given us a long, poorly written essay about how hard it was for her to pay tens of thousands of dollars to someone else to have her baby. And no doubt, she has continued to add to her "healthy income as a writer" with this piece. The photos suggest that perhaps Hilling would have been able to give us a better perspective on the difficulties of this arrangement. But, then again, perhaps Hilling wouldn't have been able to discuss the "paradigms of motherhood" as Kuczynski does -- plainly admiring herself as she raids the dictionary to lard her prose with fifty-cent words. Because, in Kuczynski's world, isn't her very ability to not only own a computer but write about the "paradigms of motherhood" the thing that allows her -- to her mind, justly -- to pay Hilling to carry her baby as Kuczynski rafts down "level 10 rapids . . . drinks bourbon and [goes] to the Superbowl"?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From the Department of Truly Terrible Ideas

Neanderthal burial

Just a quick note that there are scientists out there struggling with whether the Neanderthal that they are working to create from preserved DNA should be brought to term in a human or a chimpanzee.

Really? We really want to bring back a sub-species of humans? I'm sure we'll know just what to do with the Neanderthals once we bring some back. Especially if they've been created by resequencing chimpanzee DNA and birthed by chimpanzee mothers.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Somali pirates seized a Saudi tanker today. The tanker was carrying two million barrels of oil -- approximately one quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily output. The hijacked ship, the Sirius Star, is the largest ship to ever to be hijacked.

A friend of mine currently living in Khartoum pointed out to me that last month, pirates operating off the coast of Somalia captured a Ukrainian ship apparently bound for South Sudan. The cargo? military weapons and tanks.

Unrelated note: I used to love the game Pirates! for the Apple IIGS. That game was the bomb.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The View from the Tank: Q-Tip at the House of Blues L.A. - Nov. 15, 2008

shirt available at

Thirteen years ago or so, when I was riding in the backseat of a friend's car, with the windows down, and Mobb Deep, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Nas, or the Wu Tang Clan blasting out into the green pastures surrounding our college town, I would wonder what it would be like to listen to that music years later. When I was fifty-five, would I be sitting around in a faded Phat Farm hoodie, playing my antique cassette tapes and CDs and snapping my arthritic fingers and tapping a vintage, yellowed Shell Toe along with "Shook Ones" or "Protect Ya Neck" as my kids shook their heads in embarrassment and pity?

I'm not quite there yet, but heading to the Q-Tip show in L.A. last night, I felt I was a bit closer to that imagined scene. Q-Tip had faded into relative obscurity in the years since the glorious heights of A Tribe Called Quest in the early 90's. Their peak was likely around 1992 or 1994 -- somewhere between The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Going to a Q-Tip show in 2008 felt a little like going to see Poison or Steely Dan reunited in Foxborough. And it wasn't a reunited ATCQ crew -- Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor) , in another sign of the time that had passsed, had developed diabetes, which has kept him off the road. (He's just received a kidney transplant after years of dialysis.) It was just Q-Tip, backed by DJ Scratch (of EPMD fame), and a full band.

Q-Tip was promoting his new album, The Renaissance, which had received surprisingly positive reviews and nearly universal acclaim. There were some intriguing decisions on the new album -- most notably for me, a collaboration with Norah Jones on the track "Life is Better".

Any doubts I had about this show or Q-Tip were erased as soon as Q-Tip took the stage. Q-Tip released The Renaissance on Election Day (he reminded the crowd of this several times). Before the curtain rose, the speakers pumped out the words of Barack Obama from his famous speech after the New Hampshire primary defeat. Q-Tip (born Jonathan Davis -- name changed to Kamaal Ibn John Fareed in the 90s after he converted to Islam) is clearly a massive fan of Obama, and he was plainly still soaring high on Obama's victory. The crowd roared with every mention of Obama. Mrs. Octopus was dressed exactly right for the occasion, wearing her t-shirt that features the name BARACK in the format of the Run-DMC logo (see above). (Many other fans at the show were sporting their own Obama shirts, and at least three people came over to tell Mrs. Octopus that they loved her shirt.)

Q-Tip, who is now 38, did look his age. He's gotten a little chubby. (Mrs. Octopus thought he had man-boobs.) But he was fired up from the get-go, dancing in his slightly dorky, jerky way, his voice still nasal, vaguely immature, and smooth, his delivery still crisp but relaxed. He bounced around quite a bit, encouraging his band to launch off on solos, and ceding the stage to DJ Scratch for a brilliant trip down a memory lane of hip hop golden oldies, including a riff on Black Sheep's early 90's hip hop anthem "The Choice is Yours" that sent the crowd into a stomping, leaping frenzy. (That song, by the way, was the official soundtrack to my college admissions process. I remember seeing the album for sale at the Haverford student union when I was there for a campus tour -- that nearly sealed the deal for me.) He played a bunch of stuff off his new album, and, of course, a good number of ATCQ classics, which was a little odd, and a little sad, because he had to deliver Phife's verses, which was as weird as it sounds. A large part of ATCQ's success came from the peanut butter and jelly combination of Q-Tip's mellow delivery and Phife's energetic, fired-up short-dude style; it's not quite the same when you have only one half of that combination.

I hadn't been to a hip hop show for a long time. This show was a look back, but it felt fresh and new. Everyone in the crowd seemed deliriously happy. Tip stoked this collective joy with repeated questions "How y'all feel about our new president!?" And his music -- hopeful, celebratory, joyful -- felt exactly right for this moment. There was an older white guy there, dancing near where we were standing. He must've been in his mid 70's, with white hair, and still-tanned, weather-beaten skin. He was in a suit, with a drink in one hand and something that looked a lot like an unlit blunt between his lips. It looked like he had escaped from a nursing home in his best clothes for this show. This guy was thoroughly enjoying himself, and all sorts of girls came over to dance with him and take pictures with him; guys came by to slap his hand and give him a pound -- attention he clearly ate up.

Watching the old dude, I knew exactly how he felt -- like it was a good time to be alive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lock and Load

Since Obama's election, gun sales around the country are way up. Apparently, the people stockpiling weaponry are worried about (1) Obama taking away their guns and/or (2) the coming race/food/water wars as the U.S. dollar becomes toilet paper, we slide into a Paleolithic barter system, and people are turned into Soylent Green.

Also, remember SNL has-been Victoria Jackson? Did you ever wonder what happened to her? Neither did I. Anyway, just for fun, check out her new, fundamentalist Christian view of the world, including her opinion that Obama is the Anti-Christ and a communist. (Does that mean he's not a Muslim? *Phew!*) Also, she's been appearing in TV spots against her former SNL buddy and MN Senate hopeful, Al Franken.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gov. Howard Dean, M.D.

Gov. Howard Dean is stepping down after a four-year term as head of the DNC. His accomplishments in those four years? Engineering a fifty-state strategy that brought the Democrats back into power in the House and Senate in 2006, further consolidated that advantage in Congress in 2008, and helped put Senator Barack Obama into the White House.

This blog began roughly four years ago, as I was trying to find a way to deal with the emotionally devastating re-election of George Bush. I supported Kerry once he was the nominee, but anyone who knew me back in 2003 and 2004 will remember that I was a certified Deaniac. In the early days of this blog, I spent a lot of time hoping that Dean would return. (Indeed, I even floated the idea of a Dean-Obama ticket for 2008.)

Dean was the candidate in 2004 who best captured the anger that so many of us felt at the horrors and depredations of the Bush administration and its wholly unjust war, its lies, its arrogant disregard for international law, its casual abuse of the Constitution. I was devastated when the media tore Dean down, exploiting the infamous Dean Scream to complete their media assassination.

As Dean steps down from his historically successful tenure as DNC chairman, we should recognize the power of his strategy, and the tremendous results Dean has helped realize. Many -- including the new White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel -- once mocked Dean's fifty-state strategy of building support for the Democratic party in "Red States". It's that strategy, adopted by Obama, that helped turn Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia blue for the first time in decades.

That beautiful map we saw lighting up on Election Night with blue from Virginia to Colorado, from Indiana to Nevada? Thank Howard Dean.

The Visit

This is simply an extraordinary image, and, honestly, one for which I was not really mentally prepared. The reality of last Tuesday's results continue to surprise me.

One wonders what is going on in Bush's mind today. I have had the sense, over the past few days, that Bush has tried to place himself on the right side of history with regards to the election results, and that he will go out of his way to appear to be helping Obama with a smooth transition. Of course, at the same time, Bush and Co. will likely be busy with eleventh-hour pardons, and other monkey business. I also wonder how Bush feels, giving Obama the tour and the briefing, knowing that Obama ran 100% against Bush's policies, and just yesterday announced that one of his first priorities will be to undo and reverse Bush's various executive orders.

Bush must know that his disastrous administration played a large role in Obama's rise. I wonder if he at all consoles himself with the thought "Hey, I may have f*cked things up pretty good, but at least we got something great as a result of it all."

Also, an interesting article on "Obama and the Dawn of the Fourth Republic" a friend of mine sent me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Road to Texas Runs through Latin America: South to the Future

The L.A. Times runs a story today echoing the idea I raised earlier this week: Texas can be turned blue in 2012.

Obama can help make this a reality by continuing to build goodwill with the Latino community in some of the following ways:

First, he should work to enact comprehensive and humane immigration reform that will recognize that millions of undocumented Latinos living and working in, and contributing to America deserve fair and just treatment.

Second, he could appoint Bill Richardson as Secretary of State, Antonio Villaraigosa to either Education, Transportation, or Commerce, and, when the time comes to make a Supreme Court appointment, Obama should consider a jurist such as Sonia Sotomayor, who currently sits on the Second Circuit in New York.

Third, Obama could do much to help repair our frayed relations within our hemisphere, with Central and South America. Too much of our policy -- especially over the past eight years -- has been driven by antiquated, Cold War anti-communist positions (with the bogeymen of Castro, Chavez, and Ortega) and a badly misguided "War on Drugs" in which we have found ourselves allied with right-wing ideologues (see Columbia). We need to get beyond this outdated mindset and reach out to the vibrant democracies in our hemisphere, in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, and elsewhere. Change is sweeping the Americas -- indeed, one could see Obama as just the latest in a string of progressive and left-of-center leaders to come to power in the Americas. The Obama Administration should make it a priority to partner and develop deeper ties with our neighbors to the South.

R.I.P. -- John Leonard (1939-2008)

Some sad news this week: the critic John Leonard, he of the famously purple prose, the marvelously extended paragraph, and the allusions to Looney Tunes and Wittgenstein in the same sentence, died earlier this week. He was 69. The world will feel a little too quiet in the absence of Leonard's playful, rambunctious voice.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Chris Murphy (D-CT) for Senate 2012

We Democrats have had enough of Joe Lieberman and his poisonous ways. Connecticut deserves a senator that represents the best values of the great Constitution State.

Join me in urging Representative Chris Murphy (D-CT) to run for United States Senator in 2012 so that we can replace Joe Lieberman with a true Democrat.

Murphy, who was elected to Congress in 2006, is a graduate of Williams College and the University of Connecticut Law School. He was an early and outspoken supporter of President-Elect Barack Obama. He is one of the younger members of the U.S. Congress, at 35 years old.

He just defeated a Republican opponent to win his second term in Congress:
Another freshman, Rep. Chris Murphy, defeated Republican state Sen. David Cappiello in the 5th District race. The election was Murphy's first since toppling 12-term Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson in 2006. He said the victory was sweet, especially with Obama winning the White House.

"We can say without fear of exaggeration that we have changed the world, my friends," Murphy told his supporters.


Spread the word.

From Rep. Murphy's website:
Congressman Christopher S. Murphy is currently serving his first term representing Connecticut’s Fifth District, which includes the towns of Danbury, Meriden, New Britain, and Waterbury. He serves on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as well as the Financial Services Committee.

On the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Congressman Murphy plays a role in investigating and proposing solutions to the nation’s most pressing issues, including the management of the war in Iraq, the implementation of Medicare Part D, and the need for open government. As a member of the Financial Services Committee, Congressman Murphy plays a role in overseeing all components of the nation's housing, insurance, banking, and securities industries, which are all vital to Connecticut’s economic success.

Prior to his service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Murphy served for eight years in the Connecticut General Assembly. He spent four years representing Southington and the 81st district in the House, and then spent four years representing the 16th Senatorial District, which includes the towns of Waterbury, Wolcott, Cheshire and Southington. While in the Senate, he served as the Chairman of the Public Health Committee.

As Chairman of the Public Health Committee, Congressman Murphy was the General Assembly’s leader on health care issues. In 2003, during his first year as Chairman, he led the passage of Connecticut’s landmark workplace smoking ban. That year, he also authored legislation that prohibits hospitals from engaging in overly aggressive collection practices against uninsured patients and a law establishing new government powers to be utilized during a bioterrorism attack.

In 2005, Congressman Murphy authored and passed Connecticut’s historic Stem Cell Investment Act, a bill that he had introduced in the previous year. The legislation, which invested $100 million over ten years into embryonic and adult stem cell research, became the nation’s first law directing state funding to life-saving stem cell research.

Congressman Murphy is also a leader on children’s rights issues. In the State Senate, he authored legislation establishing the new Office of Child Protection, and as Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Judicial and Corrections, he championed efforts to reform the state’s juvenile justice system.

America the Beautiful

Celebrations in the streets of New York City on Election Night. This is still sinking in.

Also, Obama has won North Carolina. He is the first Democrat in 32 years to win the state.

Finally, please check out my good friend the Tonic Blotter's moving post on his post-election thoughts.

OK, last thing: for 2012, Texas is a swing state. You heard it here first. Obama did not lose by that much there (compared to say, McCain's margin of loss in NY and CA), and changing demographics may put Texas in play for Democrats. Take a look at the way the districts in TX break down -- especially along the border. Over the next four years, that blue will continue to surge northwards in Texas. Some may be surprised to learn that Texas has more Electoral College votes than New York (34 to NY's 31). More on this later.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A New Beginning and a New Road Ahead

Today is a day to savor. America has done something incredible. As the New York Times described it:
From far away, this is how it looks: There is a country out there where tens of millions of white Christians, voting freely, select as their leader a black man of modest origin, the son of a Muslim. There is a place on Earth — call it America — where such a thing happens.

But this is also a day to shift our perspective: supporters of Obama can no longer be, as we have been for much of this campaign -- as I have been for much of this campaign -- uncritical fans and followers of President-Elect Obama. From this point on, we must continue to support the new administration in its efforts to deal with the wreckage left by the past eight disastrous years, but we must also work to keep a President Obama true to the principles that led so many of us to support him in the first place. We cannot let a President Obama forget that we, the people who put him where he is today -- and whom he will need again in four years -- demand
  • an end to the war in Iraq;

  • affordable health care for all Americans;

  • that our progressive perspective to be represented in the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court;

  • immediate action to combat global warming;

  • high-quality public education for all American children, and programs to make college affordable for all willing and deserving students;

  • a real effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fairly and justly, and

  • a renewed emphasis on negotiation first -- especially with those that we have called our enemies.
It is true that President-Elect Obama will be inheriting some of the most difficult conditions any new president has seen in decades. And it will take some time to get to most of these issues; we cannot expect that everything can be changed overnight. But we must not forget the point of this victory.

It was not simply to get the Republicans out of power. And as incredible and history-making as it is, it was not simply to elect an African-American to the Presidency. It was to put America back on the right track, and to make this a better, more just nation. It cannot be overstated: Obama's election is in itself one of the most powerful symbolic steps America has ever taken. However, in the overwhelming glory of this moment, we must keep our eyes fixed on what we must do with this opportunity. This could be the beginning of a fantastic period of, yes, change in America -- change that will live on long past an Obama administration.

Our work is not done -- now that our moment has arrived, let's actually make change happen.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Make Election Day a National Holiday

On this Election Day, with people around the country taking time out of their schedules to vote, it is time we realize that Election Day really should be a national holiday.

Voting is the most important civic act we engage in as citizens. We should make it as easy as possible for everyone to vote. As it stands now, federal Election Days are on Tuesdays, in the middle of the week. Many voters – especially working-class voters -- have jobs that they cannot easily leave for very long to go wait in line; younger voters often have classes they must attend. Voters shouldn’t have to juggle jobs or school and voting. Election Day should be a national holiday. An Obama administration, working with a Democratic Congress, should make this one of their first priorities.

In passing legislation to make Election Day a national holiday, an Obama administration and the Congress should encourage citizens to participate in the voting process, to get involved as poll workers, election workers, and to devote part of each Election Day holiday not only to voting, but in volunteering in the American democratic process.

I can’t think of a better legacy to leave for future generations of voters. And I can’t think of a better day to start this movement.

If you support this idea, please leave a comment to this post with your name and city. Let’s make this happen.

Please spread the word.

Make Ohio Blue

Monday, November 03, 2008

Barack Obama's Grandmother Dies

Barack Obama's maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, died early this morning in Hawaii.

It is so incredibly sad that she did not live to see her grandson demolish forever one of the greatest barriers on earth and win the presidency of the United States of America.

Rest in peace, grandma Dunham. You raised a kick-ass grandson. Tomorrow is for you.

Dick Cheney Wants You to Vote For John McCain

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Vote No on Prop. 8

This repulsive proposition is being funded by out-of-state money, by fundamentalist whack-jobs that want to make a big statement in favor of discrimination by messing with the California constitution.

Why in the world would we want to inject religion into our state constitution? Why in the world would we want to amend our state constitution to enshrine discrimination?

The campaign for Prop. 8 is built on lies, distortions, and distractions. We should not cave in to the demands of a band of ideological bigots.

Vote against discrimination. Vote against hate-mongering and fear. California is a place of tolerance and freedom: let's keep it that way.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

One Day When We Win the World Cup Together

In Disney Hall tonight tapping my bright white new sneakers to the Jobim Trio and Milton Nascimiento, the program in my hand featuring an ad on the back cover for flights from Los Angeles on Signapore Airlines, with a happy young couple being attended to by a Singapore Airlines stewardess in purple paisley, the background of the ad filled with dizzying layers of more purple paisley. Listening to Nascimiento singing Chega de Saudade from behind his sunglasses, I'm imagining we're all flying along in a fantastic paisley plane, to a soundtrack of bossa nova, slipping through pink and purple clouds, the sun forever about to set as we chase it over the Igauzu Falls, over Easter Island, and toward the Maldives. I'm learning Portuguese and making friends at the plane's snack bar and lounge. Obama is president, the leaders of the world are flying into Washington to say hello and play basketball, people across the country begin biking to work, the wars are over, children are no longer obese, libraries are open 24 hours a day, universities are free, everyone has health care, and animals are treated well.

I keep wanting to accept it, six days out, the possibility that it could really happen, that we will elect Obama, but I keep doubting, imagining what will go wrong. I keep reminding myself not to be foolish, to put such stupid fuzzy thoughts out of my mind.

But for tonight, I am allowing myself to believe, and to imagine. It won't be bossa nova over the Amazon, but it'll still be amazing, when it happens. I'll be in Las Vegas this weekend, trying to get out the vote, working toward my own foolish fantasy in the material of the real world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Make Indiana Blue

(per the Tonic Blotter's request -- brought to you by Mrs. Octopus and me)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Swinging States

The news is good today. All the pre-election excitement inspired to make more of these colored-in swing states. It helps relieve some of the tension and anticipation to color in these maps.

Make Florida Blue

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pennsylvania, the Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

Pennsylvania! I love you. You are the home of Sesame Place! And the Hershey Factory Tour! And ketchup!

Pennsylvania is the key to the fate of the world.

Pennsylvanians! Please vote for Barack Obama! You hold the future in your hands.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Who is Barack Obama?

He's someone who puts his dying grandmother above a race for the most powerful position in the world.

I never again want to hear any idiotic nonsense about he's a dangerous anti-American pal of terrorists.

RNC Spent $150K on Clothes and Accessories for Palin

While people are losing their homes and watching their life savings disappear, the RNC has spent the cost of a small home in the Heartland -- $150,000 -- on snazzy clothes, accessories, and makeup consultations for Caribou Barbie.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Behind the Powell Endorsement

There's no doubt that the ongoing battle between the neoconservative wing (e.g., Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz) and the pragmatist or realist wing (e.g., Powell-Scowcroft) of the Republican party -- along with Powell's deep sense of honor -- played a big part in Powell's decision:
Mr. Powell’s endorsement exposed a fundamental policy rift in the Republican party’s foreign-policy establishment between the so-called pragmatists, a number of whom have come to view the Iraq war or its execution as a mistake, and the neoconservatives , a competing camp whose thinking dominated President Bush’s first term and played a pivotal role in building the case for war.

Mr. Powell, who is of the pragmatist camp and has been critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war, was said by friends in recent months to be disturbed by some of the neoconservatives who have surrounded Mr. McCain as foreign-policy advisers in his presidential campaign. The McCain campaign’s top foreign-policy aide is Randy Scheunemann, who was a foreign-policy adviser to former Senators Trent Lott and Bob Dole and who has longtime ties to neoconservatives. In 2002, Mr. Scheunemann was a founder of the hawkish Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and was an enthusiastic supporter of Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile and Pentagon favorite who was viewed with suspicion and distaste at the State Department when Mr. Powell was its secretary.

Powell's endorsement should remind us all of the stakes in this election. A choice between tolerance or the promotion of division and fear, a choice between a continuation of the neocon's demented and cynical adventures, or a return to sanity in American foreign policy.

Colin Powell Endorses Obama

This is an incredibly moving and powerful endorsement from Colin Powell
And I've also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Senator McCain has taken recently, or his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. This Bill Ayers situation that's been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign. But Mr. McCain says that he's a washed-out terrorist. Well, then, why do we keep talking about him? And why do we have these robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that, because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow, Mr. Obama is tainted. What they're trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings. And I think that's inappropriate.

Now, I understand what politics is all about. I know how you can go after one another, and that's good. But I think this goes too far. And I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. It's not what the American people are looking for. And I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign and they trouble me. And the party has moved even further to the right, and Governor Palin has indicated a further rightward shift. I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that's what we'd be looking at in a McCain administration. I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

So, when I look at all of this and I think back to my Army career, we've got two individuals, either one of them could be a good president. But which is the president that we need now? Which is the individual that serves the needs of the nation for the next period of time? And I come to the conclusion that because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities--and we have to take that into account--as well as his substance--he has both style and substance--he has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president. I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the world--onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.

Powell has said what so many others have been afraid to say.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Marvin Gaye Sings the National Anthem - 1983

I am ready for the America we have been waiting for.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yes We Can

This is what hope sounds like. Can you feel it? America is back.

Quick Take on the Final Debate of 2008

Fox News Being fair and balanced despite itself.

This was the best of the four presidential and vice presidential debates. I immediately felt the tension between Obama and McCain -- probably because McCain from the very outset was on the attack. I thought McCain was pretty effective through about the first twenty-five minutes of the debate; Obama was defending, explaining, sort of on his heels. But even as McCain was going after Obama, perhaps effectively at points, I kept wondering how it was coming across. By this point, most people are probably sick of attacks and bickering. That's basically all McCain threw out there tonight. The Ayers stuff and the Acorn stuff is just DOA. No one gives a rat's ass. Just take a look at the 401(k) that just arrived in the mail, this week's retail sales numbers, or Ben Bernanke's outlook for the near future.

I admit that I had to chuckle with some admiration at McCain's downright Nixonian gambit of attempting to feel sorry for himself because Congressman John Lewis had supposedly gone over the line in condemning the McCain-Palin lynch-mob rallies and the racist and extremist venom being spewed at those rallies (e.g., calling out to "kill" Obama, calling Obama a "terrorist", etc.). Clasic Nixon: attack dirty, then pretend to be deeply hurt and offended when called on it. (And see if you can follow the string back and figure out why McCain was purportedly offended.) But there is no doubt, this was McCain's best performance yet. He knew how much this last debate counted, as his last chance to reach a massive national audience, and I can admit that, in many ways, especially at the outset, he rose to the occasion. One does not get as far as McCain has simply by accident.

I thought Obama was a little shaky at the outset, and got a little wordy at times. I do think, however, that he explained his health care plan well, gave a solid rationale for his support of Roe v. Wade, and made a pretty clear distinction between his tax policies and McCain's. I thought Obama really missed an opportunity on the Vice Presidential question: I was just dying for him to say something along the lines of, "In picking my Vice President, my primary concern was to choose someone who was absolutely qualified to take over as President should that ever be necessary." But he didn't, and instead wandered off about foreign policy and how Biden is from Scranton. Yes, Biden is a real person from Scranton. Palin is a real person from Wasilla, and I am a real person from Glastonbury. Whatever. He could have really hammered McCain on that question, in his velvet-glove Obama way.

I came out of this debate feeling a bit queasy. I mostly wanted it to be over, especially with McCain continually throwing everything at Obama in the hope that something would stick. Obama was mostly perfect in his composure in the face of this desperate barrage of garbage from McCain. And that's what I think we're all looking for right now: cool, calm, intelligence. A cool hand at the tiller, to borrow a phrase from Senator McCain.

As the flash polls started coming in from CNN and CBS and even Fox, showing that, yet again, independents and undecideds had concluded, by wide margins, that Obama had won, I began to realize that the America I am living in is a much different place than I had ever dared to hope. Part of me still cannot believe this is actually happening. Barack Obama can win. Barack Obama will win. Americans are ready. Americans have decided. We have had enough. We will not be fooled again. Across the country, from Indiana to Colorado, from Florida to New Mexico, we are ready to turn the page. We are ready for the future. We live in a great country. And we live in a great time.

God Bless America.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Something Rotten in L.A.

What kind of people would do this?
Los Angeles police are investigating the death of a homeless man who apparently was doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire.

Police responded to a call about 9:40 p.m. Thursday and found the man on 3rd Street between Berendo Street and New Hampshire Avenue in the Mid-Wilshire area, said Officer Ana Aguirre, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department. Firefighters also responded.

The victim was later pronounced dead, authorities said.

"This is one of cruelest crimes you can imagine," said Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz, who oversees LAPD's Rampart Division. "Pouring gasoline on a human being and setting them on fire. As an officer who has responded to many murders over the years, this is amongst the most horrific." . . . .

One resident, who did not want to be identified out of fear for his safety, said he spoke to someone who allegedly witnessed the crime. He said the witness told him several teenagers apparently got out of a Honda Civic carrying a bucket of gasoline and approached the homeless man, doused him and set him on fire.

The youths then chased the man into a parking lot and threw another bucket of gasoline on him, he said. Several residents came to the victim's aid and tried to put out the flames, he said.

This is a horrible and profoundly sad story. That these kids would do this -- and throw more gasoline on the man as he was burning -- seems to be a symptom of something very dark in L.A., and in our society.

In Our Time

A great leader -- and the movement that leader inspires -- can change the course of history. That's what this election is about.

The Dark Side: McCain Defends Threats Made at His Rallies

I'm not big on framing the world in stark terms of good and evil, but the McCain campaign just put out a statement defending the outbursts of "Traitor!" "Terrorist!" and "Kill him!" by crowds incited by McCain and Palin that seems to fall pretty clearly on one side of that divide:
McCain senior adviser Nicolle Wallace released this statement, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports. "Barack Obama's assault on our supporters is insulting and unsurprising. These are the same people obama called 'bitter' and attacked for 'clinging to guns' and faith. He fails to understand that people are angry at corrupt practices in Washington and Wall Street and he fails to understand that America's working families are not 'clinging' to anything other than the sincere hope that Washington will be reformed from top to bottom."

"Attacking our supporters is a new low for the campaign that's run more millions of dollars of negative ads than any other in history."

McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers adds in another statement: “Barack Obama’s attacks on Americans who support John McCain reveal far more about him than they do about John McCain. It is clear that Barack Obama just doesn’t understand regular people and the issues they care about. He dismisses hardworking middle class Americans as clinging to guns and religion, while at the same time attacking average Americans at McCain rallies who are angry at Washington, Wall Street and the status quo."
First Read

This is just mind-blowing cynical and evil. This shit has no place in American political discourse. This is the wise and thoughtful leadership that we need at this time, the "cool hand on the tiller"?

McCain is slumming below Nixon. It is now obvious that in his desperation, there is no depth to which he will not sink. And we know Palin is cheering him on to go even lower. This is plain horrific and unforgivable.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Palin's Investigates Self, Finds Nothing

In case you wanted a preview of what a McCain-Palin administration would look like:
In advance of tomorrow's release of the Alaska legislature's report on the troopergate investigation, the McCain-Palin campaign has released its own investigative report clearing Palin of any wrongdoing.

Again, this is not from The Onion or The Daily Show, this is the actual headline from the AP: "Palin pre-empts state report, clears self in probe."

So it's settled then. Sarah Palin has taken a long, hard, unstinting look at her actions, and she's concluded, after much deliberation, that she's done nothing wrong. (Anyone remember Cheney's Vice Presidential selection process?)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Wheel of Life: It's Crunch Time

Is this the America you want? Is this the future you want?

This is no time to coast or start measuring curtains for the Oval Office. Despite Obama's fantastic numbers across the country, I have no doubt that we have entered the most dangerous part of this campaign.

With uniformed police officers spitting out the name "Barack Hussein Obama" with disgust to fire up crowds before Sarah Palin comes out to really incite the mob, I think it's pretty clear things will only get nastier, dirtier, and more insanely evil from here.

I am deeply hopeful about this campaign, and I have kept that hope through the ups and downs in recent months. I do believe that we are going to win -- but only if we work for it. Think about what you can do in the next 25 days. Call your relatives in swing states. Get your friends and family registered. Donate to the campaign. Visit a local office and volunteer.

The most dangerous thing about the great poll numbers, in my view, is that it creates a false sense of complacency. Nothing has been won yet, and three weeks is an eternity in this campaign.

So let's put the champagne and the premature McCain campaign obits away, and let's get to work. Let's fight back against the fear-mongering and the hate. Let's fight for a country that is better than the past eight years. Let's show the world what America is about. We're not about fear and ignorance. We are about hope and the promise of a better tomorrow. From Manchester, New Hampshire, to Reno, Nevada, from Toledo, Ohio, to Gary, Indiana, from Asheville, North Carolina, to Tampa, Florida, from Fort Collins, Colorado to Charlottesville, Virginia, and from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania to Battle Creek, Michigan -- LET'S WIN THIS YEAR!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Obama-McCain Debate II: Quick Take

Mostly a boring affair featuring a lot of well-worn material we've heard before at the convention, and at previous debates.

The election is slipping away from McCain, and this was one of his last big chances to do something to change that trend. Nothing that happened tonight will alter that trend.

McCain looked nervous and awkward in this format, which was supposed to be one that he favored. The format highlighted Obama's height, and physical grace, in dramatic opposition to McCain's tortured waddling. (I was worried at times that McCain might just topple over mid-sentence.)

Obama was coherent and specific. McCain returned again and again to vague, misty platitudes about the goodness of America. Yes, we all agree America is good. At the same time, we can all agree that America's economy is going down the sh*tter. So, while it's nice to hear nice words about how much McCain loves his country, the people currently living in that country watching their retirement savings go down the tubes are looking for some specifics on how the candidates plan to help them.

I was surprised that McCain didn't go more negative than he did. I think the format did restrain him to a degree. But I do also think he couldn't quite bring himself to be the attack dog. It's not really his nature. My guess is that we'll see that role taken up by a gleeful Sarah Palin, who seems to really like riling up racist mobs.

Victory is in sight. Keep working for it.

Had Enough?