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Marriage is love.
(And thanks to The Mad Prophet for pointing me to this bit of code.)

31.7.04

A hit! A very palpable hit!
 

Our next president, on the campaign trail today:

"Yesterday, the president said to Americans that we were turning the corner, referring to the economy," Kerry said in Greensburg. "Well, let me ask you, if you're one of those 44 million Americans that don't have health insurance are you turning the corner? If you're one of those people who has a job ... that's been forced overseas, are we turning the corner for those folks?"

[edit]

"The last time we had a president who ran on a slogan of turning the corner was Herbert Hoover, and he ran on the prospect that prosperity was just around the corner," Kerry said. "I don't want to run talking about turning the corner. I'm running to climb the mountain and get to the top."

That's going to leave a mark or two, I suspect. Meanwhile, Commander Codpiece and his handler-minions are doing what they've always done and sticking precisely to their predetermined script, even when events have long since passed them by and made it--and them, hopefully--irrelevant:

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt accused Kerry of pessimism and talking down the U.S. economy which he said had created 1.5 million new jobs since August.

"He's trying to tell America that things aren't improving," Schmidt said. "But his disingenuous campaign cannot hide the fact that America is stronger and safer because of the president's leadership."

Emperor Chimpy conveniently forgot to mention (or forgot that one of his handlers told him) that 1.5 million new jobs is not even enough to keep pace with the growth of the U.S. population. It is also far less than the 300,000 new jobs he promised the nation would result each and every month (for a total of 3.6 million since last August) from his last round of tax cuts for his wealthy friends and campaign contributors.

It simply boggles the mind that Bush has the balls to stand up in public (or rather, send some flunky to do it for him) and claim that we are either stronger or safer after three and a half years with the lunatic fringe in charge of the madhouse. I'm sure the families and friends of the 912 dead American soldiers would have a different take on the matter. Certainly almost all of our quondam friends and allies on the international scene do. Our army is stretched to the limits of its capacity (if not beyond). Once the stop-loss orders expire, the Pentagon is going to have a hell of a time maintaining our troop strength even where it is today, much less what will be needed to cope with all the messes Bush will leave behind him for President Kerry to clean up. While there is no evidence of a linkage between Iraq and the terrorists of al Qaeda before the start of the war, there certainly is now: and the flames of anti-American hatred have been fanned into an even hotter brilliance by the idiotic policies and the still more idiotic rhetoric of the Bush régime.


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There he goes again
 

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Holy Inquisition, has written a letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church on the topic of the "collaboration of men and women in the Church and in the world." It will surprise no one who knows anything about politics in the Catholic Church these days to learn that it is in a conservative vein.

In fact, I would myself be inclined to say it is beyond conservative and into "reactionary" territory. I'd also have to say that it is self-referentially incoherent in places, which will (thankfully, in my estimation) limit its acceptance and its weight among critical Catholics (by which I mean those who think and reason, not those who automatically dismiss anything that the hierarchy says, simply because it is the hierarchy that says it).

There are a few good points in the document, including the following:

Recent years have seen new approaches to women's issues. A first tendency is to emphasize strongly conditions of subordination in order to give rise to antagonism: women, in order to be themselves, must make themselves the adversaries of men. Faced with the abuse of power, the answer for women is to seek power. This process leads to opposition between men and women... (no. 2)

There is a tendency to polarize and antagonize the discourse between men and women, and I agree with the cardinal that this is problematic. Men and women are not enemies, and anything that encourages them to think of themselves in those terms (or even in the less-fraught terms of "antagonists" or "adversaries") is ultimately not helpful and should be held up to criticism.

This is also the first of many internal inconsistencies in this document. I see no reason to believe that the desire of women to seek power automatically places them into opposition to men. I am certainly not inclined to see the desire of women to seek power for themselves in response to historical abuses of power, and especially those all-too-numerous abuses of power by men directed against women, as a bad thing.

Unfortunately, the rest of the document continues in a similarly negative vein. In the very next paragraph, Ratzinger continues:

A second tendency emerges in the wake of the first. In order to avoid the domination of one sex or the other, their differences tend to be denied, viewed as mere effects of historical and cultural conditioning. In this perspective, physical difference, termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary. The obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels. This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.

I know of no viable ideologies that call the family into question. I do know of many valid reasons, soundly grounded in historical fact, for questioning the validity of the "natural two-parent structure of mother and father" in the definition of a family, and I also know many reasons for thinking that homosexuality and heterosexuality are complementary forms of human sexuality--a sexuality that is polymorphous, as reams of data from all of human history make abundantly clear, despite the efforts of people like Cardinal Ratzinger to deny it.

There is a duality of the sexes, but it is far from clear to me (and to many others, including experts in anthropology, sociology, psychology, and physiology) that this inherent physical duality has broader implications for the capability of the individuals possessed of one of those physical sexes to perform tasks or take roles in the world (or in the Church, for that matter). Ratzinger would disagree, however, given that he seems determined to insist (see especially no. 13) that among the "fundamental values linked to women's actual lives" is a "capacity for the other," and that "motherhood is a key element of women's identity." Women's role "in all aspects of family and social life involving human relationships and caring for others" is termed "irreplaceable."

This is puzzling, given the fact that at the end of the same paragraph in which Ratzinger speaks of that "irreplaceable" role of women in nuturing the family, he says that "...women should be present in the world of work and in the organization of society, and that women should have access to positions of responsibility which allow them to inspire the policies of nations and to promote innovative solutions to economic and social problems." The cognitive dissonance grows even stronger in the next paragraph, when he asserts:

In this regard, it cannot be forgotten that the interrelationship between these two activities – family and work – has, for women, characteristics different from those in the case of men. The harmonization of the organization of work and laws governing work with the demands stemming from the mission of women within the family is a challenge. The question is not only legal, economic and organizational; it is above all a question of mentality, culture, and respect. Indeed, a just valuing of the work of women within the family is required.

In other words, it seems that women, and only women, have problems when it comes to the "interrelationship between ...family and work." It is problematic when women are stigmatized or penalized for wanting "to devote the totality of their time to the work of the household." But let a man want to stay home to spend time with his family or to help out when a child is sick or there is some other family crisis, and that is no problem. That doesn't offend the dignity or the essential role of a man in the world.

As I see it, the problem (or one of the problems) in the modern world is not that we do not allow women to be nurturers and caretakers. It is that we asume that it is supposed to be women--and only women--that are nurturing caregivers, and that men have no place in those roles. Our problem is that with all the talk of "family values" in politics, we really do not value families. This is not a problem just for women who want to work, this is a problem for everyone. If we value families, the solution is not to make sure that moms can stay home to bake cookies and tend the little ones. Rather, we should be looking for ways in which it might be possible for people to earn living wages without having to work two or three jobs, or putting in 70-hour weeks, so that both parents (or however many there happen to be) can spend time with their children--and with each other.

We can never make it possible for women, as a general rule, to be as physically strong as men. Nor are we ever likely to make it possible for men to give birth to a child. But those physical differences (and the others that assuredly exist) cannot be turned into the basis for treating men differently from women. It certainly cannot be used to argue, as Ratzinger implicitly tries to do when it comes to the role of women in the Church, that men are inherently superior to women.

We will not solve the problems between men and women by insisting that there are immutable "male" roles and "female" roles and that society must respect them. Because while sex is an important constitutive part of what makes a human person human, it is absolutely not the only such constitutive part, or even necessarily the most important one. Fundamentally, we will only advance when we recognize that men and women are equal to one another in human dignity and worth, and that they should not be treated differently in law or any other respect simply because of their physical differences.

This teaching is disappointing. But that disappointment is likely to have the happy result that it will not long outlast the present papacy, at which time Cardinal Ratzinger will submit his resignation as Grand Inquisitor Prefect--and will quite likely retire, never to be heard from again.


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30.7.04

Open mouth, insert both feet, chew vigorously
 

Commander Codpiece on the campaign trail today:

"My opponent has good intentions, but intentions do not always translate to results," Bush told thousands of supporters who repeatedly interrupted his remarks with standing ovations. Over and over, Bush repeated a new refrain: "Results matter."

They sure do, you lying sack of human excrement. Let's look at a few of yours, shall we?

Choke on your own record, you miserable failure. Just pretend it's a pretzel.


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Ridge to retire?
 

The Associated Press is reporting that Tom (No-Neck) Ridge is "considering stepping down after the November election." He is quoted as saying he's "worn out" from the massive reorganization of government and "needs to earn money in the private sector to put his teenage children through college."

I find that last statement amusing, considering that Ridge makes $175,700 a year as a Cabinet secretary. Even assuming he wanted to pay all of his kids' tuition and fees, they could get an outstanding education at my alma mater for around $30,000 a year each, or less than half of Ridge's annual salary. At the state school where I work, assuming that Ridge's kids are not Illinois residents for tuition purposes, that $30,000 would cover both of them.

Maybe when you're Tom Ridge you have a certain lifestyle that you have to keep, but I could live very comfortably indeed on $115,700 a year. Even more so on $145,700. The former is nearly four times what I made last year, and the latter nearly five times.

So let's just say that I'm not buying this excuse. Makes me wonder if CheneyBushCo have been treating Tom Ridge the way they treat Colin Powell. If so, then props to Ridge for having the cojones to get out.


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Bush isn't having a good day
 

(On the count of three, everybody say "Awwww.")

Bad enough that John Kerry accurately, painfully, and most effectively ripped him several new ones last night in his acceptance speech:

We have it in our power to change the world again. But only if we're true to our ideals – and that starts by telling the truth to the American people. That is my first pledge to you tonight. As President, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House.

[edit]

I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war. I will have a Vice President who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a Secretary of Defense who will listen to the best advice of our military leaders. And I will appoint an Attorney General who actually upholds the Constitution of the United States.

My fellow Americans, this is the most important election of our lifetime. The stakes are high. We are a nation at war – a global war on terror against an enemy unlike any we have ever known before. And here at home, wages are falling, health care costs are rising, and our great middle class is shrinking. People are working weekends; they're working two jobs, three jobs, and they're still not getting ahead.

We're told that outsourcing jobs is good for America. We're told that new jobs that pay $9,000 less than the jobs that have been lost is the best we can do. They say this is the best economy we've ever had. And they say that anyone who thinks otherwise is a pessimist. Well, here is our answer: There is nothing more pessimistic than saying America can't do better.

As if to underline the point Kerry made in the last two paragraphs quoted above, the Commerce Department just reported that the gross domestic product (GDP) for the second quarter increased by only 3 percent: considerably less than both the 3.6 to 3.8 percent most economists expected and the adjusted rate of 4.5 percent in the first quarter that CheneyBushCo were so excited about not that long ago. The main factor in the decline, according to Moody's Investors Service chief economist John Lonski, was a "shockingly small increase [in] consumer spending."

And while the Reuters report suggests that although the second quarter was bad for consumer spending, things are getting better in the third quarter, I'm not convinced--either that it's true, or that, if it is true, it will continue. Consumer spending has been the engine that has driven this economic "recovery" (scare quotes used advisedly), and it has been financed by what can only be described as an orgy of personal debt. But by now everyone who can refinance their mortgage and take out some equity cash to spend has done so, housing starts are way down, interest rates are on the rise, and both energy and food prices are sharply higher. Gas prices had been dropping pretty steadily here in my hometown for the last three weeks or so: we were down to $1.81/gal for regular unleaded last weekend. Then the YUKOS mess blew up in the world's face, oil shot to record levels, and the price at the pump went to $1.89, where it's stayed.

This is not what I would call the picture of a stable, healthy economy. Neither is it the kind of economy that I'd want to hang my hat on if I were president. That goes doubly or triply for my re-(s)election chances, if I were Bush.

And the hits just keep on comin'. CheneyBushCo tried (unsuccessfully) to bury it in the Friday trash, but word is out that this year's federal deficit is now projected at a record $450 billion. Half. A. Trillion. Dollars. In the hole. Delaying the announcement until today may have kept John Kerry from hammering that figure home in his speech last night, but it hasn't kept it out of the media, and I guarantee you that Kerry and Edwards will make a meal out of it on the campaign trail.

On the scandal front, all of CheneyBushCo's chicken(hawk)s are still coming home to roost. Indictments in the Plame case are expected any time now, Halliburton is under investigation at home and abroad, Commander Codpiece's gone-again-here-again military records (a) haven't cleared up exactly what he was doing for the last year of his "service," and (b) appear to indicate that some of his points were fraudulent. Today, it's being reported that the inspector general of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq has opened nearly 30 criminal investigations into "millions of dollars’ worth of fraud, waste and abuse."

Meanwhile, although it hasn't gotten much play in the major media yet, Eschaton reports, citing a piece in the Wall Street Journal, that former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger is off the hook for allegedly removing classified documents from the National Archives while he was preparing for his testimony to the 11 September Commission:

Officials looking into the removal of classified documents from the National Archives by former Clinton National Security Adviser Samuel Berger say no original materials are missing and nothing Mr. Berger reviewed was withheld from the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

CheneyBushCo had to be looking to use the allegations against Mr. Berger as a smoke screen behind which to hid their own malfeasances. Doesn't look like that's going to happen now.

Perhaps Mr. Bush and his people should take the advice one of their campaign staffers gave yesterday. Let 'em get real jobs, or go on Prozac. Because if things look like this for the next 100 days, I guarantee that Commander Codpiece and his handler-minions are going to (a) need some tranquilizers, and (b) will have to go job-hunting next January. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of losers.


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29.7.04

What Ezra said
 

Quoth Ezra about Kerry's acceptance:

Stunning. He did it. I didn't think he could, not after Obama and Clinton and Edwards and Cleland. But he did it. He gave the perfect speech for this moment, for this race, for this crowd. He couldn't rely on his charisma and so he instead told the country where it needed to go. He couldn't do flash so he did substance...and he did it. There's nothing I can say beyond that...I'm sorry...I just don't have the words for it.

Yeah. What he said.


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We have a nominee
 

My verdict on Kerry's acceptance speech: It did exactly what it needed to do. It won't make the cut for the best rhetoric (or even the best political rhetoric) of all time. This speech couldn't hold a candle to Churchill's "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" or Roosevelt's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

But the naysayers (and there were many of them) who predicted that Kerry would deliver a wooden, emotionless, policy-wonk address that would bore the convention to tears should all go slink off into a dark corner and stay there until the election is over. There were plenty of good applause lines here, a ton of stirring images, and many veiled and not-so-veiled criticisms of ChenyBushCo and their failed policies of the past three and a half years. I think it would be a good time for Newsweek and all the other "traditional" media outlets who have been running "who is John Kerry?" pieces to stop stovepiping the Republican National Committee's talking points and start highlighting the stories and the policy initiatives that Kerry himself used in his speech tonight. Anybody who watched this speech, or who reads it in the papers tomorrow (or online tonight, for that matter) and stays that s/he doesn't know who Kerry is or what he stands for hasn't been paying attention and should be disqualified for that reason from casting a vote in November.

What follows are what I consider to have been the high points of Kerry's speech. I worked from the text posted to the Kerry website and modified it in a few places to reflect what he actually spoke from the podium. (I was watching the speech live on C-SPAN while I cut-and-pasted the good bits.)

I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war. I will have a Vice President who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a Secretary of Defense who will listen to the best advice of our military leaders. And I will appoint an Attorney General who actually upholds the Constitution of the United States.

[edit]

So tonight, in the city where America's freedom began, only a few blocks from where the sons and daughters of liberty gave birth to our nation - here tonight, on behalf of a new birth of freedom - on behalf of the middle class who deserve a champion, and those struggling to join it who deserve a fair shot - for the brave men and women in uniform who risk their lives every day and the families who pray for their return - for all those who believe our best days are ahead of us - for all of you - with great faith in the American people, I accept your nomination for President of the United States.

[edit]

Now I know there are those who criticize me for seeing complexities - and I do - because some issues just aren't all that simple. Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so. And proclaiming mission accomplished certainly doesn't make it so.

As President, I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence. I will immediately reform the intelligence system - so policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics. And as President, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: the United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to.

[edit]

In these dangerous days there is a right way and a wrong way to be strong. Strength is more than tough words. After decades of experience in national security, I know the reach of our power and I know the power of our ideals.

[edit]

We need a strong military and we need to lead strong alliances. And then, with confidence and determination, we will be able to tell the terrorists: You will lose and we will win. The future doesn't belong to fear; it belongs to freedom.

[edit]

And tonight, we have an important message for those who question the patriotism of Americans who offer a better direction for our country. Before wrapping themselves in the flag and shutting their eyes and ears to the truth, they should remember what America is really all about. They should remember the great idea of freedom for which so many have given their lives. Our purpose now is to reclaim democracy itself. We are here to affirm that when Americans stand up and speak their minds and say America can do better, that is not a challenge to patriotism; it is the heart and soul of patriotism.

You see that flag up there. We call her Old Glory. The stars and stripes forever. I fought under that flag, as did so many of you here and all across our country. That flag flew from the gun turret right behind my head. It was shot through and through and tattered, but it never ceased to wave in the wind. It draped the caskets of men I served with and friends I grew up with. For us, that flag is the most powerful symbol of who we are and what we believe in. Our strength. Our diversity. Our love of country. All that makes America both great and good.

That flag doesn't belong to any president. It doesn't belong to any ideology and it doesn't belong to any political party. It belongs to all the American people.

My fellow citizens, elections are about choices. And choices are about values. In the end, it's not just policies and programs that matter; the president who sits at that desk must be guided by principle.

For four years, we've heard a lot of talk about values. But values spoken without actions taken are just slogans. Values are not just words. Values are what we live by. They're about the causes we champion and the people we fight for. And it's time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families.

You don't value families by kicking kids out of after school programs and taking cops off of streets, so that Enron can get another tax break.

We believe in the family value of caring for our children and protecting the neighborhoods where they walk and they play. And that is the choice in this election.

You don't value families by denying real prescription drug coverage to seniors, so big drug companies can get another windfall profit.

We believe in the family value expressed in one of the oldest Commandments: "Honor thy father and thy mother." As President, I will not privatize Social Security. I will not cut benefits. And together, we will make sure that senior citizens never have to cut their pills in half because they can't afford life-saving medicine.

And that is the choice in this election.

You don't value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter in the service, if you deny veterans health care, or if you tell middle class families to wait for a tax cut, so that the wealthiest among us can get even more. We believe in the value of doing what's right for everyone in the American family. And that's the choice in this election.

We believe that what matters most is not narrow appeals masquerading as values, but the shared values that show the true face of America. Not narrow values that divide us, but the shared values that unite us. Family, faith, hard work and responsibility. Opportunity for all - so that every child, every parent, every worker in America has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential. That is the American dream and the American value.

[edit]

America can do better. And help is on the way.

So tonight we come here to ask: Where is the conscience of our country?

I'll tell you where it is: it's in rural and small town America; it's in urban neighborhoods and suburban main streets; it's alive in the people I've met in every single part of this land. It's bursting in the hearts of Americans who are determined to give our values and our truth back to our country.

We value jobs that pay you more not less than you earned before. We value jobs where, when you put in a week's work, you can actually pay your bills, provide for your children, and lift up the quality of your life. We value an America where the middle class is not being squeezed, but doing better.

[edit]

My friends, the high road may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And that's why Republicans and Democrats must make this election a contest of big ideas, not small-minded attacks. This is our time to reject the kind of politics calculated to divide race from race, region from region, group from group. Maybe some just see us divided into those red states and blue states, but I see us as one America - red, white, and blue. And when I am President, the government I lead will enlist people of talent, Republicans as well as Democrats, to find the common ground - so that no one who has something to contribute to our nation will be left on the sidelines.

And let me say it plainly: in that cause, and in this campaign, we welcome people of faith. America is not us and them. I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don't wear my religion on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side. And whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all: The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country.

These aren't Democratic values. These aren't Republican values. They're American values. We believe in them. They're who we are. And if we honor them, if we believe in ourselves, we can build an America that is stronger at home and respected in the world.

[edit]

What if we do what adults should do - and make sure that all of our children are safe in the afternoons after school? And what if we have a leadership that's as good as the American dream - so that bigotry and hatred never again steal the hope and future of any American?

I learned a lot about these values on that gunboat patrolling the Mekong Delta with Americans--you saw them--who came from places as different as Iowa and Oregon, Arkansas, Florida and California. No one cared where we went to school. No one cared about our race or our backgrounds. We were literally all in the same boat. We looked out, one for the other - and we still do.

That is the kind of America that I will lead as President - an America where we are all in the same boat.

Never has there been a moment more urgent for Americans to step up and define ourselves. I will work my heart out. But, my fellow citizens, the outcome is in your hands more than mine.

It is time to reach for the next dream. It is time to reach for the next dream, it is time to look to the next horizon. For America, the hope is there. The sun is rising. Our best days are still to come.

Ladies and gentlemen, I say thee yea, John Kerry, the next president of the United States. And I say thee yea, John Edwards, the next vice president. God be good to both of them, and to this troubled nation. We must evict Bush and his handler-minions from power, or we may lose the bright promise that has been the United States of America these 228 years. We've got 100 days, people. Let's not drop the ball.


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I do not think that word means what you think it means
 

Logging on just now to check my Yahoo! mail, I was rather surprised to see the following caption spread across the top of my My Yahoo! page:

Live Video: John Kerry Accepts DNC Nomination (Live AP Video)

Unless the Associated Press have somehow perfected a time machine since last night (and nobody got the story), I'd love to know how they're featuring live video of an event that hasn't happened yet. As I type this, I'm listening to Max Cleland introducing John Kerry, but Kerry has yet to show up on the podium, much less open his mouth.


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Why don't you invoke the Cheney Doctrine?
 

Quoth a campaign worker for Dumb-ya today:

"Why don't they get new jobs if they're unhappy -- or go on Prozac?" said Susan Sheybani, an assistant to Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt.

In fairness, Reuters notes that the comment was probably not for attribution and wasn't intended for public consumption. Most likely it was a snappy aside to a coworker who was transferring a call to Ms. Sheybani. Just her bad luck that the reporter on the other end of the phone heard that incredibly thoughtless, but terribly revealing, soundbyte.

I'm not going to join in the rampant speculation that everyone in the White House from Dumb-ya on down is on drugs these days. I don't think there's enough evidence to support such a claim, and ultimately it isn't terribly helpful. But three and a half years of the Bush régime have taught me that everyone in it is the sort who looks for the "magic bullet"--a sudden infusion of cash, a quick prescription, a little whoop-ass--as the solution to every problem. So it is hardly surprising that someone working for the Bushoviks would think that a tranquilizer was a good idea for someone who can't afford to put food on the table.

What it clearly demonstrates, however, is the size of the great gulf fixed between them and us. Most of the people in the Bush White House have never known a day in their lives (or at least not in the last few decades of their lives) when there was even a remote chance that they'd have to skip a meal. They've never known what it's like to save for something you need, as opposed to something you want. Many of them have never had to work a day in their lives, and those that have, I suspect, haven't had to worry much about pounding the pavement trying to find someone who would hire them. If they're feeling a little down, they call up their personal physician and have him write out a script for something to make them feel better. Or they schedule another session with their therapist and deal with it that way.

They've never had to fight with a nameless, faceless insurance clerk (probably a high-school graduate in a call center a thousand miles from anywhere) to get the insurance company to approve the drugs (or the operation) that their doctor tells them they absolutely must have in order to live through the next six months. They don't have to worry about their mental-health coverage running out if they haven't gotten "cured" in six visits to a psychotherapist (or even fewer, if the diagnostic code from DSM-IV the therapist read out was from the back of the book, for something like grief over a job loss).

All the more reason, say I, to kick the Bushoviks out of office. They'll get over it quickly enough, and in the meantime we'll have some people in there who understand the experiences the rest of us cope with on a daily basis.


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28.7.04

Vacation Blogging, Part III: Hoodoos
 

After about an hour's drive through some lovely country, we arrived at our hotel near Bryce Canyon late on Saturday evening. The hotel was huge, sufficiently so that we had a little trouble finding our room. But we found it, and after we made a reservation for a shuttle tour of the southern part of the park for the following evening, we went to get some dinner. The menu in the hotel restaurant was a bit on the thin side, and the prices were considerably on the high side (the benefit of being virtually the only game in town, I guess). But the great thing about the dinner was the variety of the people in the restaurant. Considering we were tucked away in a remote corner of southern Utah, where the nearest town had a population of about 600 (considerably less, I suspect, than the number of guests the hotel was boarding at the time) it was a delight to hear so many different languages being spoken around the tables nearby. All the restaurant signs were in English, German, French, and Japanese. I'm pretty sure that I heard Dutch, Flemish, and Chinese as well in the course of our stay.

We made an early night of it and got up first thing the next morning--we were practically the first people in the park, in fact. We had to wait for the rangers to open the visitors center so I could buy a topographical map of the region (and a nice hiking map as well), and then we took the shuttle up to Bryce Point, the highest part of the Rim Trail, where this is what we saw:

Being older, at least somewhat wiser, and rather less in-shape than we were in our salad days, we thought it was a good idea to start out at the highest point and work our way mostly downward as we went around the canyon. So we started off onto the Rim Trail, which afforded some stunning views of the hoodoos in the amphitheatre, and also, from time to time, gave us a startling contrast between the canyon proper and the approaches to it. If one came on the canyon from the west, it looked just like almost any other mountain feature in the west: Ponderosa pine, outcroppings of rock, scrub oak--nothing terribly spectacular. But if one looked to one's right, to the east, the view was considerably different: multi-colored rock formations, whimsical shapes, narrow crevasses, sky windows eroded through the solid rock, and a constantly changing spectacle for the eyes.

A formation I took to calling the Holy Family Hoodoos in Bryce Amphitheatre

We hiked about three miles around the rim of the canyon to Sunrise Point, where I took this picture, looking back toward Bryce Point, where we'd started. Since it was around 11:30 a.m. and we were hungry, we decided to stop off at the lodge for a bite of lunch. The clouds that are looming over the canyon rim in the photograph let loose with some thunder and lightning while we were eating, and then some more while we were trying to find the camping store so I could buy a new pair of sunglasses. (One of the wings on my Oakleys broke when I was trying to get them out of their protective bag after lunch.) We headed for what we thought was the store, only to discover it was apparently a staff dormitory. But since it started bucketing down rain, we figured they wouldn't mind if we hung out under the eaves until it let up, which it did after maybe five minutes.

We found the store, and walked past a 1948 service station that is no longer in service, but used as a small museum of the way the park used to be. There's a 1956 Cadillac parked in the garage portion, or at least that's what I think I remember them saying the model in question was. Business concluded, we started out on the first leg of the very difficult Fairyland Loop trail. We never intended to hike it all--that's a five-hour strenuous hike of 8 miles and a bit. We just wanted to get down to Tower Bridge (1.5 miles), and then figured we'd hike back, catch a shuttle back to the visitor's center, and go crash at the hotel for a bit before our evening sightseeing tour. Dave kept cracking wise about how we were going to be sorry about making this hike when we had to climb back up the steep slope we were picking our way down with relative ease. I finally had to tell him to cut it out, or I was turning around that very moment. I knew it was going to be a long, hard slog to get back up the hill and I didn't want to think about it.

The weather had a couple of surprises in store for us as well. July is monsoon season in the Southwest, and there are almost always clouds in the sky of an afternoon. We'd heard thunder rumbling, and seen a couple of lightning flashes in the distance, just about every day we'd been in Utah. Even saw a few rain showers obscuring some of the further details of the landscape, but it hadn't yet rained on us. That changed that Sunday afternoon. The storm you can see approaching in the following picture caught up with us and gave us a cool drench until we found a slight rock overhang under which to shelter.

A little way down the trail after the rain stopped, we stopped again--but this time for a "photo opportunity." The going was slightly treacherous, what Dave called caliche, which is about as fine as sand, but more like powdered clay in that it gets very slippery and very sticky when it gets wet. At one point, I think I had about a pound of pinkish muck sticking in the cleats of each of my hiking boots. But when we saw a small sky window in a rock face that was a little ways off the trail, we had to try to get up there and look through it. This is what we saw on the other side, a feature shown on the maps as the Chinese Wall, for pretty obvious reasons. But to appreciate this photograph, you should imagine me taking it while bracing one foot on a slippery, wet sandstone rock face, at the top of a small, slippery, clayey, wet slope, and my other foot trying to find something resembling sure footing in that mucky marl--all the while trying to hold the camera steady, keep it level, and pull back far enough to show both the view through the sky window and the window itself. I think I'm justified in patting myself on the back a little that this picture came out so well!

To get to Tower Bridge, we had to ford an unnamed creek running through the canyon--three times. It is ordinarily dry (and is shown on the topographical maps of the area as an "intermittent" feature), but not this day. As "raging torrents" go, this one made more noise than anything else, but the width of its flood plain suggests that there are times of the year when it would be absolutely impassable. In fact, under ordinary circumstances we'd only have had to ford the creek twice, if that--except that at some time before our visit, the creek's waters or the runoff from the canyon face that fed into it had washed out a portion of the regular trail. I should mention that the color of the water is accurate--and not at all uncommon in that part of the west. I saw water that same color running through the cuts beside the road last year as we drove through a driving thunderstorm from Cedar City up to the Zion Tunnel, and on the high plains through which we'd driven to Bryce on this trip. It's a factor of the dry climate and the color of the soil--though it's really rather startling to drive past a waterfall and see coral-colored water foaming over the rocks, instead of the clear blue water and white foam that one usually associates with waterfalls and rapids.

It took some work, a fair amount of huffing and puffing on our parts, and most of the two liters of water we'd packed in with us for this trip, but we got back to the rim of the canyon. To our surprise, even given that we made frequent stops for water and for rest, it took us roughly the same amount of time to get back up the trail as it took us to get down it--when I'd been betting it would take at least half again as long. Of course, the rain delay on the way down might have had something to do with that. By then we were both sore. Our legs were leaden, and both of us had lower-back pains that were crying out for a comfy chair or a soft bed and a couple of ibuprofen. So we hoofed it back to the shuttle stop, got back to the truck, and headed for the hotel and a bit of rest. And we were very glad that most of our evening sightseeing would be done sitting down in a comfortable, air-conditioned touring bus.

But that's a story for the next installment.


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27.7.04

Obama RULES!
 

Update II: You can find a transcript and both audio and video links for Obama's Tuesday keynote speech at the convention site. There's also a Real Player link on Obama's blog. Here's my favorite bit of the address:

E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America – there's the United States of America. There's not a Black America and White America and Latino America and Asian America – there's the United States of America.

The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too.

We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?

I have little doubt that the man who spoke those words will be the next junior senator from the great state of Illinois. But I suspect, now that the rest of the world has gotten a look at him and a listen to him, he will not be left to us for long. He'll get snatched up for higher office, and probably before he has the chance to run for a second term, or shortly thereafter.

If you get a chance and have some change to spare (and if his blog has recovered from what I'm sure must be hordes of people trying to find out more about him), you should consider giving Obama some turkee.

A few more bits of juicy goodness from Illinois' next junior senator:

Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation – not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That is the true genius of America – a faith in the simple dreams of its people. The insistence on small miracles. That we can tuck in our children at night and know they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hiring somebody's son. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted – or at least, most of the time.

This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations. And fellow Americans – Democrats; Republicans; Independents – I say to you tonight: we have more work to do.

[Edit]

No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice.

In this election, we offer that choice.

[Edit]

Awhile back, I met a young man named Shamus at the VFW Hall in East Moline, Illinois. He was a good-looking kid, six two or six three, clear eyed, with an easy smile. He told me he'd joined the Marines, and was heading to Iraq the following week.

As I listened to him explain why he'd enlisted, his absolute faith in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all any of us might hope for in a child. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as well as he was serving us?

[Edit]

When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they're going, to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never– ever– go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.

[Edit]

For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga: A belief that we are connected as one people.

If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

It's that fundamental belief – I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper – that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family.


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This should be good
 

One of the sneak peek paragraphs from Barack Obama's keynote address to the Democratic National Convention tonight (courtesy of the campaign blog):

A common dream, born of two continents. My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or “blessed,” believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential.

Now let's get back to an America where one's name, one's race, one's religion, one's gender, one's sexual orientation, truly isn't a barrier to success. Throw the Bush out!


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26.7.04

We are SO going to kick Duh-bya's ass!
 

This is just the first night of the convention, and despite the fact that this year's was supposed to be the "kinder, gentler, no-nastiness" version, the speakers tonight have, by my count, ripped Dumb-ya at least a dozen new ones. No Khrushchev-style banging on the podium, no red faces, not even all that many raised voices. But they have without exception been thoroughly, devastatingly critical of the Bushoviks and their policies.

In case you missed it, here's a transcript of Al Gore's speech from earlier tonight.

Even more devastating, check out Nobel Prize winner and former President Jimmy Carter (with video and audio links on the linked page, if you want to watch or listen as well as read it):

[Truman and Eisenhower] knew the horrors of war, and later, as commanders-in-chief, they exercised restraint and judgment and had a clear sense of mission. We had confidence that our leaders, military and civilian, would not put our soldiers and sailors in harm’s way by initiating "wars of choice" unless America’s vital interests were endangered.

We also were sure that these presidents would not mislead us when it came to issues involving our nation’s security. Today, our Democratic party is led by another former naval officer—one who volunteered for military service. He showed up when assigned to duty, and he served with honor and distinction.

He also knows the horrors of war and the responsibilities of leadership, and I am confident that next January he will restore the judgment and maturity to our government that is sorely lacking today. I am proud to call Lieutenant John Kerry my shipmate, and I am ready to follow him to victory in November.

[Edit]

Today, our dominant international challenge is to restore the greatness of America—based on telling the truth, a commitment to peace, and respect for civil liberties at home and basic human rights around the world. Truth is the foundation of our global leadership, but our credibility has been shattered and we are left increasingly isolated and vulnerable in a hostile world. Without truth—without trust—America cannot flourish. Trust is at the very heart of our democracy, the sacred covenant between the president and the people.

When that trust is violated, the bonds that hold our republic together begin to weaken. After 9/11, America stood proud, wounded but determined and united. A cowardly attack on innocent civilians brought us an unprecedented level of cooperation and understanding around the world. But in just 34 months, we have watched with deep concern as all this goodwill has been squandered by a virtually unbroken series of mistakes and miscalculations. Unilateral acts and demands have isolated the United States from the very nations we need to join us in combating terrorism.

[Edit]

The United States has alienated its allies, dismayed its friends, and inadvertently gratified its enemies by proclaiming a confused and disturbing strategy of "preemptive" war. With our allies disunited, the world resenting us, and the Middle East ablaze, we need John Kerry to restore life to the global war against terrorism.

In the meantime, the Middle East peace process has come to a screeching halt for the first time since Israel became a nation. All former presidents, Democratic and Republican, have attempted to secure a comprehensive peace for Israel with hope and justice for the Palestinians. The achievements of Camp David a quarter century ago and the more recent progress made by President Bill Clinton are now in peril.

Instead, violence has gripped the Holy Land, with the region increasingly swept by anti-American passions. Elsewhere, North Korea’s nuclear menace—a threat far more real and immediate than any posed by Saddam Hussein—has been allowed to advance unheeded, with potentially ominous consequences for peace and stability in Northeast Asia. These are some of the prices of our government’s radical departure from the basic American principles and values espoused by John Kerry!

[Edit]

You can’t be a war president one day and claim to be a peace president the next, depending on the latest political polls. When our national security requires military action, John Kerry has already proven in Vietnam that he will not hesitate to act. And as a proven defender of our national security, John Kerry will strengthen the global alliance against terrorism while avoiding unnecessary wars.

Ultimately, the issue is whether America will provide global leadership that springs from the unity and integrity of the American people or whether extremist doctrines and the manipulation of truth will define America’s role in the world.

At stake is nothing less than our nation’s soul. In a few months, I will, God willing, enter my 81st year of my life, and in many ways the last few months have been some of the most disturbing of all. But I am not discouraged. I do not despair for our country. I believe tonight, as I always have, that the essential decency, compassion and common sense of the American people will prevail.

And so I say to you and to others around the world, whether they wish us well or ill: do not underestimate us Americans. We lack neither strength nor wisdom. There is a road that leads to a bright and hopeful future. What America needs is leadership. Our job, my fellow Americans, is to ensure that the leaders of this great country will be John Kerry and John Edwards. Thank you and God bless America!

Damn! I'm getting goosebumps just reading it again. Keep on kicking Commander Codpiece where it hurts, my fellow Democrats!


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This just in? Senator Barney?
 

In a PlanetOut story about the LGBT caucus at the Democratic National Convention, I found the following interesting tidbit:

Many of the caucus members gathered Sunday afternoon at a harbor side "Boston Tea Party" hosted by the Stonewall Democrats to honor Massachusetts state legislators who fought against an anti-gay marriage amendment to the state Constitution earlier this year. As helicopters and water patrol boats buzzed the area, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., welcomed the gathering and reminded them of "how far we've come." At the 1984 convention, he recalled, he was a gay delegate but not particularly open about it.

"We didn't pick this fight … to have same-sex marriage transcend all other issues" in the presidential election, said Frank. But if Kerry wins in November, he said, gay-bashing as a political strategy will have backfired. If Kerry wins, Frank also plans to run for his Senate seat. (Emphasis added.)

Was this something announced while I was on vacation last week, or is this a new bit of information? Either way, go Barney! And go John & John!


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25.7.04

So much for the idea we're all elite snobs
 

Via Terry Teachout of ArtsJournal.com (via Kevin, via Naked Furniture), the Teachout Cultural Concurrence Index:

  1. Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly? Neither, thanks.
  2. The Great Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises? Never read either one, so no preference
  3. Count Basie or Duke Ellington? If I have to express a preference, it would be Duke Ellington, but I don't much care for big band music
  4. Cats or dogs? Dogs
  5. Matisse or Picasso? Neither one really does much for me, but I'd probably pick Matisse over Picasso
  6. Yeats or Eliot? Neither
  7. Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin? Chaplin
  8. Flannery O’Connor or John Updike? O'Connor
  9. To Have and Have Not or Casablanca? The Longest Day
  10. Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning? Neither. Modern art sucks
  11. The Who or the Stones? Erasure
  12. Philip Larkin or Sylvia Plath? Neither, though at least I've heard of Plath
  13. Trollope or Dickens? Trollope
  14. Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald? Could go either way
  15. Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy? Tolstoy
  16. The Moviegoer or The End of the Affair? No idea about either one
  17. George Balanchine or Martha Graham? Don't care about either one
  18. Hot dogs or hamburgers? Hamburgers
  19. Letterman or Leno? Can't stand either one
  20. Wilco or Cat Power? No idea what either one is
  21. Verdi or Wagner? Yes, please!
  22. Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe? Marilyn Monroe
  23. Bill Monroe or Johnny Cash? Neither
  24. Kingsley or Martin Amis? Don't care about either one
  25. Robert Mitchum or Marlon Brando? Robert Mitchum
  26. Mark Morris or Twyla Tharp? Don't care about either one
  27. Vermeer or Rembrandt? Yes, please!
  28. Tchaikovsky or Chopin? Yes, please!
  29. Red wine or white? Yes, please, though I do tend to prefer reds
  30. Noël Coward or Oscar Wilde? Oscar Wilde, of course
  31. Grosse Pointe Blank or High Fidelity? Don't like either one
  32. Shostakovich or Prokofiev? Prokofiev
  33. Mikhail Baryshnikov or Rudolf Nureyev? Baryshnikov
  34. Constable or Turner? Probably Constable
  35. The Searchers or Rio Bravo? Neither. I don't like Westerns
  36. Comedy or tragedy? Yes
  37. Fall or spring? Yes, but I like fall better
  38. Manet or Monet? Yes, please!
  39. The Sopranos or The Simpsons? Neither
  40. Rodgers and Hart or Gershwin and Gershwin? Neither
  41. Joseph Conrad or Henry James? Don't really like either one
  42. Sunset or sunrise? Sunset
  43. Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter? Johnny Mercer
  44. Mac or PC? PC
  45. New York or Los Angeles? Chicago
  46. Partisan Review or Horizon? Never read either one
  47. Stax or Motown? Couldn't tell you a thing about either one
  48. Van Gogh or Gauguin? Van Gogh, hands down
  49. Steely Dan or Elvis Costello? Steely Dan
  50. Reading a blog or reading a magazine? Blog
  51. John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier? Sir John Gielgud
  52. Only the Lonely or Songs for Swingin’ Lovers? No idea of the reference
  53. Chinatown or Bonnie and Clyde? Never saw either one
  54. Ghost World or Election? Never saw the first, hated the second
  55. Minimalism or conceptual art? Don't care about either one
  56. Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny? Bugs Bunny
  57. Modernism or postmodernism? Don't really care
  58. Batman or Spider-Man? Never much cared for either
  59. Emmylou Harris or Lucinda Williams? Edith Piaf
  60. Johnson or Boswell? Don't care either way
  61. Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf? Jane Austen ROCKS!
  62. The Honeymooners or The Dick Van Dyke Show? The Honeymooners
  63. An Eames chair or a Noguchi table? Don't care
  64. Out of the Past or Double Indemnity? Double Indemnity
  65. The Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni? Figaro
  66. Blue or green? Yes
  67. A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It? MND
  68. Ballet or opera? Opera
  69. Film or live theater? Live theatre
  70. Acoustic or electric? Don't care either way
  71. North by Northwest or Vertigo? Don't care
  72. Sargent or Whistler? Whistler
  73. V.S. Naipaul or Milan Kundera? Don't like either one
  74. The Music Man or Oklahoma? Music Man
  75. Sushi, yes or no? Not for all the tea in China!
  76. The New Yorker under Ross or Shawn? Don't care either way
  77. Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee? Albee
  78. The Portrait of a Lady or The Wings of the Dove? Both were unbearably pretentious and equally boring, though Linus Roache is better-looking
  79. Paul Taylor or Merce Cunningham? Don't know who either one is
  80. Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies van der Rohe? Don't care for either one
  81. Diana Krall or Norah Jones? Don't know either one
  82. Watercolor or pastel? Watercolor
  83. Bus or subway? Subway
  84. Stravinsky or Schoenberg? Stravinsky, but only because Schoenberg is unbearable
  85. Crunchy or smooth peanut butter? Smooth
  86. Willa Cather or Theodore Dreiser? Willa Cather
  87. Schubert or Mozart? Yes, please!
  88. The Fifties or the Twenties? The Eighties
  89. Huckleberry Finn or Moby-Dick? Huckleberry, though I don't much care for the book. It's just that Melville bores the crap out of me
  90. Thomas Mann or James Joyce? Don't like either one
  91. Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins? Don't know either one
  92. Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman? Walt Whitman
  93. Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill? Both
  94. Liz Phair or Aimee Mann? Don't know who either one is
  95. Italian or French cooking? Yes, please!
  96. Bach on piano or harpsichord? Harpsichord
  97. Anchovies, yes or no? Not on your life!
  98. Short novels or long ones? Yes, please!
  99. Swing or bebop? Don't care for either one
  100. The Last Judgment or The Last Supper? Last Judgment

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24.7.04

Vacation Blogging, Part II: Shakespeare in Utah
 

I want to reassure my legions of faithful readers (OK, those of you who have left comments) that yes, I had a thoroughly enjoyable time, all travel hassles notwithstanding. For one thing, I was going to visit an old and dear friend. We've literally known each other half of our lives, and we could have plenty of fun if we were forced to spend the entire week cooped up inside, just talking and watching movies, reading, and sharing meals. That wasn't the case this time, however.

The day after arriving in Las Vegas, we were up and on the road to Utah reasonably early. The desert around Las Vegas isn't much to look at, but it does have its interesting features, as this picture demonstrates. We also passed through a corner of Arizona on our way to Cedar City, specifically the Virgin River gorge, which is quite dramatic. The problem for a photographer is that when you're driving at highway speeds, it's hard to get a good picture: there are so many possibilities at every turn, but unless you know what you want to shoot and are perfectly ready when it's in the viewfinder, the moment is gone before you get yourself set up. Still, I hope the following photograph will give you an idea of what it looks like. (Both of these photos are from my trip last August, by the way.)

We got to Cedar City around midafternoon (allowing for the hour's time difference between Nevada and Utah), checked into our hotel, and grabbed a bite to eat. We were all set to head over to Zion for an afternoon's hiking and sightseeing when I discovered I'd had a mid-life moment and left the 8-pack of spare batteries for my digital camera tucked securely in my suitcase back at Dave's house, so we stopped at a convenient Radio Shack to get some more.

And as it happened, that stop turned out to be fortuitous for our trip. While I was inside buying batteries, Dave was looking at his atlas and discovered a mostly unimproved road that went into the northern and western parts of Zion National Park, across the Lower Kolob Plateau:

The trip reminded me a lot of rides along the logging trails and fire roads in northern Wisconsin in my youth: lots of aspens, poplars, and birch trees, dirt roads, blue skies (at least part of the time), and fresh air. It also involved a large flock of sheep that was being moved from one pasture range to another. Dave and I were perfectly happy to let them move along at their own pace, but one of the herders motioned us up close to him and waved us on ahead. We drove slowly through a parting crowd of silly sheep, including a lamb tremendously more interested in getting mama to give him a drink than in getting out of our way.

We went by a couple of reservoirs that had visibly less water in them than normal, the consequence of a drought that has continued for several years. We came to a parking spot between Pine Valley Peak (7428 ft.) and Pocket Mesa, from which a hiking trail led down to the Northgate Peaks and a view of the North Guardian Angel. A couple of seconds after I snapped this picture of Pine Valley Peak, there was a lovely lightning strike just to the left of the mountain, but it never rained on us. We hiked to the end of the trail and made our weary way back to the truck, planning to drive down the rest of the Kolob Road and head back to Cedar City for a shower and some dinner before our first play at the Utah Shakespearean Festival.

Unfortunately, we'd lingered longer than we'd planned, admiring the views, taking pictures, and hiking through the wild. As it happened, we stopped at the hotel just long enough for me to grab the tickets that I hadn't brought with me, then dashed over to the Festival. We got to what we thought was the correct theater just minutes before the curtain was to go up, only to discover that it wasn't the right theater after all: Henry IV, Part I was being performed in an outdoor arena somewhat reminiscent of what Shakespeare's Globe must have looked like.

I will note in passing that I do not recommend taking in a Shakespeare play (or any serious work) after spending the day tramping through the wild: it tends to make it difficult to concentrate. The fact that the seats were unyielding plastic (which they had to be, to survive the rain and snow that falls on them in the course of a year) didn't help, either--and we'd arrived too late to rent a seat cushion or a blanket to make ourselves more comfortable.

I found the production uneven. There were some truly outstanding actors in the company (I was particularly taken with the work of Raymond L. Chapman as the Earl of Douglas, Mikell Pinkney as the Earl of Westmoreland, and Brian Vaughn as Hotspur), but the main characters were less well-cast in my impression. Jonathan Brathwaite as Prince Hal played very well in the tavern and carousing scenes, but I found him less believable in the second half of the play when Hal turns serious. Kieran Connolly as Falstaff was also uneven. He blustered agreeably enough, but I thought he glossed over some of the weightier, darker scenes--going for the cheap laugh instead of taking them seriously, as I think Shakespeare intended. The swordplay was more or less hokey throughout--which was appropriate to Falstaff's robbery, but not in the later battle scenes.

After a good night's sleep and a bite of breakfast, we checked out of our hotel and headed back up to Zion for a quick visit before our 2 p.m. "matinée" performance of The Taming of the Shrew. We didn't get in much hiking, but it was enough to tucker us out (even after a spot of lunch to fortify us). We've already decided that next time we decide to combine Shakespeare (or any serious theatre) with nature and national parks, we're going to do the plays before or after the parks, and not try to combine the two.

Shrew was a nice romp, but it also suffered from an uneven cast. Kieran Connelly did double duty as Christopher Sly/Petruchio (and that must have been a rough job, considering he'd been on stage until 11 the previous night, playing Falstaff). I thought he did a better job in Shrew than as Falstaff, though. Michael David Edwards rocked as Tranio, though his uncanny resemblance to Ryan Stiles proved a bit of a distraction for me--especially as I couldn't remember the name of the person he remembered until we were walking out of the theater after the end of the show, when another audience member provided me with it. Megan Noble was solid as Bianca, the younger daughter, but I thought Leslie Brott overplayed Katherina for most of the show--although I absolutely loved her performance at the very end of the play. Kudos to the wigmaker as well: I hardly recognized her when she came out without the red tresses she'd worn throughout the entire play to that point, and hadn't ever suspected that wasn't her own hair.

Shakespeare at an end, we headed eastward toward Bryce Canyon, where we planned on a couple of days of hiking and sightseeing before heading back to Las Vegas. I'll have more about that, with pictures, tomorrow.


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23.7.04

Vacation Blogging, Part I: Travel is a Bitch
 

In one of the commentaries on the DVD of Gosford Park, Julian Fellowes comments (quoting one of his great aunts, if I remember correctly) that our generation will never know the joy of travel. She was referring to that long-lost age when one's servants took care of all the fiddlin' details and smoothed over any and all difficulties, leaving one merely to enjoy a leisurely journey to one's final destination. After the experiences of the last week, I think Mr. Fellowes' aunt had the right of it.

My trip started last Thursday. I had a late-afternoon flight out of Chicago to Las Vegas, and I left home in what I thought was plenty of time to get to the airport, find a parking space, haul my luggage to the terminal, check in, and then settle back and enjoy the ride. Ordinarily, I probably would have. But there was some kind of unknown traffic problem on I-90 heading for O'Hare (I never did find out what, as it was apparently past the airport exit) that resulted in my taking around 45 minutes to cover 11 miles. I eventually found a parking spot in the long-term lot, hauled my suitcase and carry-on to the tram station, and eventually arrived at the proper terminal.

If O'Hare is any indication, the new check-in and baggage screening procedures that the TSA wants to implement nationwide are going to be a disaster. They now have miniature mass spectrometers right in front of the check-in counters, and before you can speak to a clerk, you have to let the TSA rub your suitcase (and its contents) with a little disk of filter paper, which they put into the machine and see if it picked up any traces of explosives or any other verboten substances. (Note to self: In future, pack underwear on the bottom of the suitcase!)

Then, when I did get to the counter, I found that my suitcase was six pounds overweight (probably a combination of a pair of hiking boots, clothes appropriate to both wilderness and semi-formal occasions, and the range in between, and some of the weightier reading material I brought along--and some of which, in my defense, I actually read). Rather than haul out my underwear in public again, I opted to pay the $25 surcharge for the extra weight, and privately resolved to carry my books in my carry-on for the trip home, even if it meant the thing was going to be extremely heavy, which it was. The clerk couldn't get my credit card to process correctly, so I stood there in a mostly un-air-conditioned terminal, late on a July day, melting into a pool of sweat. She finally got my bag checked in and issued me a new boarding pass to replace the one I'd printed earlier in the day, and then I got to go hunt for the security checkpoint that would allow me to find my departure gate.

I remembered to pack my pocketknife in my checked bag this time, and put my keys inside my carry-on. I pulled my laptop and my digital camera out and put them in a bin, sent them both onto the conveyor belt, trying to keep an eye on them both as I stepped through the metal detector--having completely forgotten to take off my heavy metal wristwatch. So I had to go back again (at least they didn't wand or strip-search me) and start over. They passed me through and I reassembled myself and my belongings, and then went in search of a bite to eat, considering I had a bit more than an hour to kill before my flight was scheduled to depart.

That task accomplished, I found what the check-in clerk had assured me was my departure gate, but the screen there was showing a different flight. I consulted a departures monitor and found that my flight was four gates down, at the very end of the terminal (of course). But the monitor there was still showing a flight, apparently much-postponed, for Vancouver, and a no-name carrier for Columbia, SC--neither place being on my itinerary. Still, I resolved to sit down and eat my sandwich, which I did, while carrying on a nice conversation with a gentleman in the seat next to me, also munching on a sandwich, and waiting for the Vancouver flight to leave. I'm not sure it ever did; they moved it to another gate, and I don't recall hearing a boarding call for it by the time I got onto my plane.

I was flying Ted, United's new-ish discount-rate service. (I would normally fly Southwest to Vegas, but all of their good rates were unavailable at the time I booked my trip, and I don't much care for Midway Airport anyway, even after they renovated it--it's too doggone hard to get to.) The plane was new, the crew were friendly and attentive--but my seatmates (a young-ish, apparently single mother, and her young daughter) were anything but congenial. The daughter was in the window seat, the mom was in the middle, and I was on the aisle. Mom sat down without bothering to take off her backpack, which kept poking me in the side as she tried to get comfortable and get her daughter situated. The daughter wasn't taking any crap from anybody, including her mother. (I note in passing that if, at that child's age, anyway, I had said to my mother even half or a quarter of what she said to hers, my mom would have smacked me into next week.) They eventually got settled to their contentment, and mom eventually took off her backpack, but then the daughter brought out some kind of Wheel of Fortune game which made the most obnoxious noises, and over which she and her mother quarreled and quibbled at least half of the way to Las Vegas. Not the most conducive environment in which to be reading a journal article on Nazi prostitution policies, but I bravely soldiered on.

I napped for a bit after dinner (and a vodka tonic I took for my sanity and the continued health of my seatmates), so I may have missed a few bits of the mother-daughter show. But when we were on our approach to McCarran Airport, I was rather astounded to hear the daughter naming off the casinos along the Strip to her mother, along with pertinent trivia. When she mentioned Mandalay Bay, the mother chimed in brightly with the fact that they were the ones with the shark tank (which is true; I saw it last year). The daughter apparently doesn't much care for sharks, and wanted to give Mandalay Bay a wide berth. I nobly refrained from mentioning (completely in jest, mind) that the best part of the shark exhibit was when they fed wicked little children to the sharks: I figured the screaming fit that would ensue would (a) not be pretty, (b) seriously annoy the rest of my fellow passengers, and (c) likely provoke me to mayhem at best and murder at the worst.

We landed, and I made my way past the banks of slot machines (and more banks of slot machines, and still more banks of slot machines, a couple of restaurants and shops, some more slot machines...) to the baggage claim area, where I encountered my friend Dave, who was hosting me for the week. We chatted amiably while waiting for my (heavy) bag to arrive on the belt, slot machines beeping and chiming behind us, and headed for his house when it did so. A couple of hours of conversation later, I hit the air mattress on the floor of the second bedroom, and drifted off into blissful slumber.

The trip back, yesterday, was even worse. I blame George W. Bush. Of course he is the Worst. President. Ever. But he also loused up my travel plans by stopping over in Chicago on a campaign swing. (Given that he lost the state by more than half a million votes in 2000, and given that the Illinois GOP is pretty toxic these days, I can't imagine why he thought this was a good idea--but I can hope that some of the Illinois Goopers' bad mojo rubs off on the preznit.)

We had seen on the morning news in Vegas that there were storms forecast for much of the Midwest, including both Denver (where I was scheduled to make a connection for my flight back to Chicago) and Chicago itself. But when I checked with United online just before we left for the airport, they assured me everything was fine and the flight was scheduled to depart on time. So we left for McCarran, said our goodbyes at the curb, and I checked my suitcase (sans books this time) at the curb--no TSA screen at McCarran yet, apparently.

On making my way to the departures terminal, I found that not only had the street-side baggage checker given me the wrong departure gate, but that my flight was estimated to be at least an hour late in departing. Since I only had 90 minutes to make my connecting flight in Denver, I headed straight for the ticket agent at the gate, to see what I could find out. After a half-hour's wait (while the previous flight to Chicago, a non-stop, was postponed twice further due to weather), I got to the counter and explained my concerns. The young woman was very helpful, and got me what can only have been one of the last few seats on the aforementioned direct flight to Chicago, now scheduled to depart at 4:30 p.m. local time, or a minute after my original hop to Denver (which was also delayed). The good news was that, with the layover deleted and allowing for good tail winds, that should put me in Chicago at around 9:30 p.m. Central--considerably earlier than the 12:01 a.m. arrival I was scheduled for originally.

Since I had a good two hours to kill, I went in search of sustenance, which I found (and which I got to eat while admiring a young crew member at the next table: something about a shaved head just really intrigues me!). I called home to let my family know about the change in plans, and decided to waste a few bucks on slot-machine poker. Had they either called my flight for boarding about half an hour earlier than they did, or a little bit later, I might actually have gone home with more money in my pocket than I'd had when I left. As it was, I went down $13.75.

The plane boarded without incident, and we backed away from the gate on time. But we were around 25th in the takeoff queue, since everything heading eastward was backed up from the weather, and Chicago flights also had the p(R)esident to consider: Air Force One makes for air traffic nightmares. So the crew started us in on a movie, and passed around some water to those who wanted it. We made our way to the head of the takeoff queue, only to have a failure in one of the hydraulic systems that controlled the plane's navigational systems. So back to the gate we went, while a mechanic on board and the ground crew tried to diagnose the problem and, hopefully, fix it. Meanwhile, my two Oriental seatmates and several others departed the plane, in hopes of getting another flight out, apparently, so at least there was a little more room. An hour and a bit passed while the ground crew ran diagnostics (and the plane made odd barking noises), and they eventually located the offending bit and swapped it out for a good one. Our takeoff was now scheduled for around 6:30 Vegas time, or 8:30 Central--which would put us on the ground in Chicago at around 11:30 p.m.

Instead of moving us to the head of the line, we still had to wait our turn, though several of the passengers took advantage of the departure of their seatmates to spread out a little more comfortably, myself included. We actually took off around 8:55 p.m. Central, with an estimated landing time of 11:55 p.m., meaning, of course, that all the time I'd "saved" by eliminating the Denver stopover was now lost again. The flight was uneventful, and I must say that the crew (including the flight crew, who came back and helped hand out snacks as the flight attendant crew had to be changed for legal reasons--probably because they'd been waiting so long for takeoff that they'd have put in more hours than allowed for a given day if they'd made the flight) did everything they possibly could to make us comfortable and get us to Chicago as quickly as possible.

After a long walk through a nearly deserted O'Hare (not many flights leaving or coming in at midnight or later), I got to the baggage claim area assigned to us. After about 20 minutes, the luggage from our flight started coming out. My bag was not on it, despite the fact that the ticket agent in Vegas had assured me there was enough time to get it off of the plane it was originally checked onto, and to put it onto the plane I was actually going to take. So I filled out the lost luggage report, and wended my weary way to the airport tram, to get out to the remote parking lot. Only to discover that only one train was running, and it only stopped at my position once every 20 minutes or so. After cursing the various recorded announcements that interrupted the nice jazz music that was playing (it takes a lot of patience not to want to smash the speaker when it tells you, for the fourth time, not to board the train as the doors are closing--when there is no bloody train in sight to board, except for the one stopped on the other side of the platform that isn't running), I got on the tram and found my way back to my car.

Had I known it was going to take that long, I'd probably have waited for the arrival of the flight from Denver that I was originally supposed to take, which was due in at 1:30 a.m., Chicago time, when I could have picked up my bag. It took me nearly that long to get to the parking lot, find my car, and pay the $100 parking fee for a week. At least the various delays took long enough to allow the enormous traffic jam on the interstate spur from the airport back toward the city, which we had observed from the plane windows as we landed, to disperse. My guess is that there was some concert or other event at the nearby Rosemont Arena, and that was why traffic was so gridlocked at midnight--ordinarily one of the few times when driving in Chicago is reasonably hassle-free.

I arrived home, exhausted, at around 2:20 a.m. And no, I most certainly did not obey the posted speed limits coming home: otherwise, it would have been even later. By the time I got into my apartment, opened the windows to let it cool off, got something to quench my parched throat (and, in retrospect, I should've picked the last beer in my refrigerator for that purpose), and crawled into bed, it was nearly three. I didn't sleep terribly well, since I was expecting a messenger from United at almost any moment after dawn, bearing my missing luggage.

The last straw in this nightmare travelogue came at around 8 a.m. today, when a polite young woman from United called to let me know that they won't deliver luggage this far out from the airport. The good news was that they'd found my bag. The bad news was that they were going to have to "try" to FedEx it to me--sometime tomorrow. Fortunately for me I have clothes and shoes that I can use. But for the moment, I'm going to have to scrounge for shampoo, toothpaste, and a toothbrush, and I won't be shaving anytime soon.

Still, the trip was well worth all the hassles. Just consider that the picture below was shot from under the canopy of a gas station in Cedar City, Utah, and that should give you a idea of what I was looking at for most of the last week. I'll have more pictures, and more stories of my many adventures, in future postings. Posted by Hello
Morning clouds over the mountains, seen from a gas station in Cedar City, UT.


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14.7.04

Pre-vacation blogging
 

Blogging will be light to non-existent (and probably the latter) for the next week or so. I'm winging westward to Las Vegas to visit a dear college friend, but we aren't going to stay there long. Come Friday morning, we're piling into the truck and heading north to Zion National Park for some hiking and sightseeing:


(A snap I took on our second visit to Zion last summer.)Posted by Hello

Then we're catching Henry IV, Part I and Taming of the Shrew at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City. After the matinée performance of Shrew on Saturday, we're going to slide down the road a little to Bryce Canyon National Park for a couple of days to ooh and aah at the sights there. Afterwards, we'll head back to Vegas and see what, if anything, we have the energy left to do.

In the meantime, stop by my fellow members of the Liberal Coalition, or any of Musing's Muses in the blogrolls at left. I'll be back soon, I promise. Maybe I'll get a chance to post some pictures from the trip before I get home, but I guarantee there will be some once I get back home.


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Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated
 

A colleague at work snapped this photograph at Kew Gardens in London and brought me a copy. I wonder if I've got a distant family connection in Britain that I wasn't aware of? God be good to him.


Posted by Hello

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Vive la France, à bas Bush!
 

Happy Bastille Day!

(If you want the appropriate background music, suivez ce lien/follow this link. A slightly different arrangement--and smaller file--is here but requires Real Audio.)


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13.7.04

Reclaiming what is rightfully ours
 

Jim Wallis, the executive director of Sojourners, has a bitchin' op-ed in today's Boston Globe, entitled "Recovering a hijacked faith." This is how it starts:

Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it's time to take it back. A misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place. Many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American? What has happened? How do we get back to a historic, biblical, and genuinely evangelical faith rescued from its contemporary distortions?

That rescue operation is crucial today in the face of a social crisis that cries out for prophetic religion. The problem is clear in the political arena, where strident voices claim to represent Christians when they clearly don't speak for most of us. We hear politicians who love to say how religious they are but fail to apply the values of faith to their leadership and policies.

When we take back our faith, we will discover that faith challenges the powers that be to do justice for the poor instead of preaching a "prosperity gospel" and supporting politicians who further enrich the wealthy. We will remember that faith hates violence and tries to reduce it and exerts a fundamental presumption against war instead of justifying it in God's name. We will see that faith creates community from racial, class, and gender divisions, prefers international community over nationalist religion and that "God bless America" is found nowhere in the Bible. And we will be reminded that faith regards matters such as the sacredness of life and family bonds as so important that they should never be used as ideological symbols or mere political pawns in partisan warfare.

The media like to say, "Oh, then you must be the religious left." No, and the very question is the problem. Just because a religious right has fashioned itself for political power in one predictable ideological guise does not mean those who question this political seduction must be their opposite political counterpart.

I particularly want to highlight that last sentence: "Just because a religious [Reich] has fashioned itself for political power in one predictable ideological guise does not mean those who question this political seduction must be their opposite political counterpart." In other words, it's not a matter of the religious left versus the religious right, but more fundamentally a question of true religion as opposed to a cheap cosmetic rip-off of religion.

What the (ir)Religious Reich pass off as authentic Christianity is nothing of the kind as far as I'm concerned. We are literally not praying to the same God. The God in whom I believe, and the Christ whom I follow would not be caught dead or alive with the likes of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, people who have grown fat off of pretending to preach selected (and selective) bits of the Gospel.

The biblical Jesus condemned sin, but never in any way that belittled the sinner(s) in question. Nor did he ever forget that they were human beings, good creations of a loving God, and as such eminently worthy of being treated with dignity and respect even if they had strayed from the path of righteousness. The biblical Jesus had nothing very good to say about either the religious or the political authorities of his day. His agenda was radical, his concern was with human freedom and liberation from anything that oppressed them--including poverty, slavery, or second-class citizenship. He repeatedly insisted that the only way to exercise authority in his world was through service to others: the first would be last and the last, first. And of course, the biblical Jesus very clearly stated that God belonged to no one people, no one race, and no one country.

I may laugh or shrug off attempts by the Repuglicans and the (ir)Religious Reich to pass off the United States as a "Christian" country that is specially favored by God. But underneath that laughter, if you listen carefully enough, is a frisson of worry. I remember the classic progression in Greek myth (and drama) from koros (insolence) to hubris (wanton violence or outrage; pride) to atē (blindness, delusion; bane, ruin), and it worries me to see people presuming to tell the Deity whom to love and whom to hate, daring to decide on God's behalf who merits heaven and who is destined for hell, and the like. People like Fred Phelps and Terry Randall and Rick Santorum would have us believe that if we do not bring our lives and our laws into conformity with God's will, God will turn away from our nation and no longer favor and protect it.

To which I say, you have questionable grounds for thinking God favors the United States and its people above any other people in the world whom God also created, and you may well, by your arrogance and your pride, bring about the very evil you say you seek to avoid. I can't help but remember the words of the prophet Ezekiel (16:49): "This was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."

And to my errant brothers and sisters of the (ir)Religious Reich, let me recommend to you a Scripture passage for your meditation: the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. A few highlights for your consideration (my translation from the original Greek):

13Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, for you close the Realm of Heaven in people's faces: for you will not yourselves go in, but neither will you allow to enter those who are trying to go in.

15Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you travel land and sea to make a single convert and when you do, you make of him or her a child of hell twice as bad as yourselves.

23Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you pay tithes on mint and dill and cumin, but you leave behind the weightier matters of the Law, [right] judgement, mercy, and faith: you ought to attend to these, while not forgetting the former. 24Blind guides, who strain the gnat but swallow the camel!

Update: Hey, I just noticed that this was my 500th post! Congratulations to me :-9


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