Sunday, November 29, 2009

the end of a troubled life

Mike Penner, the LA Times sportswriter who in 2007 made headlines with a column revealing that he was "a transsexual sportswriter," has died, an apparent suicide.

The article in the Huffington Post is poignant and sad and respectful, as befits the story of the tragic end of a difficult life, and its use of the masculine name in headline and text derives from Penner's own reversion to that name in the past year. Penner never explained why the public persona of "Christine Daniels" vanished, and perhaps we will never know. But after writing

It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words.

and so publicly transitioning with such apparent support, this kind of an ending simply underscores the hardship that this emotional baggage carries with it. I write from experience. As many of you already are aware, I am a transsexual woman myself.

The report of his death reminds us, of course, of how he lived his life.

"Mike was one of the most talented writers I've ever worked with, capable of reporting on any number of topics with great wit and style. He was a very gentle man who will be greatly missed. This is a tragic ending and a difficult time for all of us who knew him," said Times Sports Editor Mike James.

By all accounts he was an absolutely fabulous sportswriter. But sportswriters live in a rarefied world of undiluted testosterone; it must have been especially difficult for Penner to carry this secret so long, and even more difficult to reveal it.

Making public the transition, he once said, was the hardest thing he had ever done.

"How do you go about sharing your most important truth, one you spent a lifetime trying to keep deeply buried, to a world that has grown familiar and comfortable with your facade?" he asked

I found it fascinating to read the comments thread following this article. (In fact--full disclosure--this diary originated as a very, very long comment for that thread.) Many of them noted that the comments were all respectful. I can guarantee that, if this were not a "fully moderated" thread, that would most definitely not be the case. Sadly, there are many, many people out there who seem to thrive on taking the opportunity to make fun of terrible events like this when they connect to people such as Mike/Christine Penner. And me. I transitioned in a pretty public place too: on the job as a high school teacher in a high-profile conservative district eleven years ago, the first such event to happen in the US.

I can't pretend to know why Christine went back to using the name Mike. It is possible that this was one of the many cases in which the required "real life test"--spending a year living in the gender you were not born into--proves too difficult and the subject reverts because it really was never "right" in the first place. Or perhaps the difficulties were external and specific to the career that Penner was working in, the afore-mentioned hyper-masculine world of professional athletes. We'll never know.

What I do know is that, though I was accepted--officially--as Penner was, the fight did not end there. Prejudice and bigotry do not disappear by executive fiat. Even now, eleven years later, I have to deal with bigoted parents pulling their children from my classes not because of my teaching reputation--I'm known as one of the best in the school--but for my past. The love of my own children, the joy I feel in reaching new kids each year, my church, and my 2.5-year marriage to my husband have helped me through many difficulties. If Penner did not have supports such as these, the internal struggle could easily have led to the result we have so sadly seen.

To those who cannot imagine what that struggle is like, I suggest this:

You know that you are a male or a female simply because you know it. You don't need to look down at your body to verify the fact. That is how I have always known it too. But each time I looked down at my body all of my younger life, I saw the wrong thing. I tried--so hard--to make it all work, but it fell apart. Ask yourself: if you woke up tomorrow and, for some inexplicable reason, you were suddenly in the body of the opposite gender, but still absolutely yourself, and there existed some way you could rectify the situation, wouldn't you take it? I woke up this way every day of my younger life. And there was a way. And I finally did take it.

Penner, when she called herself Christine, was heading there too. It was something--I know--that she had been feeling all of her life. It was a deep, unresolvable pain, an emptiness that never stopped, that could never stop because it was renewed each time she, in that male body, interacted with anyone at all. And then, as it was finally coming to fruition, after she had done the hardest thing imaginable and taken the very public step of becoming herself, something went irretrievably wrong.

That the editors at HuffPost had to moderate the thread to prevent it from becoming overwhelmed by the haters is a sad comment on our society. I can't help wondering, though, if that fact is somehow connected to Penner's suicide. You cannot stop the ugliness of the world, and for some people it is just too much to take.

RIP Mike/Christine.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

on the nature of memory: 11/22/1963

We write. It's what we do, right? Reflect? On page after page, day after day, we reflect through our words our emotions, our experiences, our lives, and our memories. Through the things we write, we discover ourselves and we share ourselves. This is the quality that makes us all writers. We take our memories, examine them, pore over them, play with them, re-invent them, and they come out as fictionalized fragments of ourselves.

Let me take you back to the memory that is the earliest of my life, the one that happened on this date in 1963, the one that changed the world and somehow managed to change a small child in New Hampshire as well.

I've never been able to understand memory. There are, of course, certain things that happen to you that are always at the forefront of your mind, events you discuss or think about often, (although probably never in the same way twice). Then there are others, more secretive, that float in and out of your mind unbidden, tantalizing, but hazy and never fully visualized.

This is where most of my childhood memories lie, in that vague, unrealized category. Sometimes it will seem as if a file has suddenly slipped open in my mind, spilling its contents momentarily for me to glimpse. But I never get a clear look at what is inside. Other memories from those earlier times never seep out, but I feel certain that these memories never really disappear; they just get misfiled somewhere. Sometimes, searching through the vast catalogue of unmarked files that make up memory, you come across one that seems strange, almost dreamlike--childhood dreams and nightmares that have somehow, over the passage of time, been placed in the wrong folder.

There are others, though, that are shockingly crisp and clear, memories which, at the slightest provocation, can be dredged up in vivid detail, even if, sometimes, you wish they would simply go away.

A few years ago, I asked my junior classes to do a journal entry on the earliest memory that they had which was complete, which had the kind of detail that makes it stick with you. At the same time, I wrote, over several days, my own entry on that topic, an entry which resurfaced today when I realized that this is, after all, the forty-sixth anniversary of the event that spawned it. (I feel my bones creaking simply writing the sentence that I have memories that old.) I realize that it is somewhat trite, and that, to you, it is history as ancient as World War Two was to me; nonetheless, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a day which changed the world, also left an indelible impression on me unlike anything else had until that time.

I was reminded of all of that this weekend, since the same assignment is out there for my current juniors. Kennedy's death was, of course, as so many have written, the end of American innocence, the end of faith and trust, the end of a kind of naiveté that had, for whatever reason, sheltered this country from the storms of the century. Untouched (at least our land) by war, undefeated (although, in Korea, tied) in our role as world policemen, unfazed even by the recognition of scandal in our midst (as in the McCarthy hearings or the Quiz Show scandal), we persisted in the illusion that all was right in the world, that America was the greatest good in the world. Perhaps the people of this country were not such children then; perhaps the old black and white TV images of Lucille Ball or Donna Reed are lies, exaggerations much the same as some of our own icons, like Roseanne or the Bundys or the Simpsons.

We are not all the Bundys; surely we were not all the Cleavers. But the image remains: the fresh-faced child with no greater concern than his homework or his first date, in a world and a country which did not know of child abuse, which would have been horrified beyond words at child criminals, which had never heard of AIDS, which left its drugs in the pharmacy or in the hands of a small number of those considered utterly unbalanced, which smoked and ate red meat and wore furs and sold its toothpaste with dancing tubes and its Alka-Seltzer with a singing fizzy guy named "Speedy," which left its cars and houses and bikes unlocked no matter how long they were unattended, and which believed in itself enough to decide, for no real reason other than to satisfy a dream, to send men to the moon.

I was six years old. I have no earlier memories with this kind of detail; for that matter, I have no other memories before junior high which have this clarity. (That is another odd thing about memory: as you get older, it fades away, leaving more and more of those dreamlike half-memories and fewer and fewer of the clear ones.) Today, on the date on which this memory occurred 46 years ago, I offer it to you.

Eternal Tears

The crackle of a classroom speaker.

Dozens of small voices, stilled
by the sudden intrusion,
stop at once.

A silence.

No movement in the room but
the rhythmic metronome of the teacher's ruler
swinging back and forth in her craggy hands.

The crackle sounds once more,
and our faces turn in unison,
in anticipation,
towards its source.

A small, broken voice--
recognizable but not normal,
not the rich, strong voice usually carried into the room that way,
but a fragment of it,
a shell, without depth,
cracking like the speaker itself--
interrupts the silence.

"Bow your heads in prayer," it says.

Confused eyes stare at the oval grill
awkwardly jutting out of an ancient beige wall.
The voice, more broken now, continues.

"We have just received word that the President has been shot."

Vaguely we try to recall just what a President is;
visions of white-haired men in blue coats leap out of history books into
our brains, blur, roll into each other. Names, mostly from holidays,
flash through our minds.

And one more.

Again the electronic crackling,
as if the speaker itself does not wish to hear the news:
"President Kennedy was shot this afternoon in Dallas."
A pause. A sound like weeping. "Pray for him."

Dozens of eyes,
watch the teacher sit in stunned silence at her desk,
tears welling in her gray eyes,
the ruler grasped still tightly in her palm,
some connection to the world which has ended so abruptly.
Her face quivers, the gray in her hair even duller,
and her head slips to the desk.
We look at each other, recognizing
that something is terribly, unalterably wrong,
and bow our heads as well.

Eternity goes by.

No sound in the room but the humming of the clock
and the almost imperceptible click of its hand
every minute.
An airplane in the distance rattles the blinds on the window.
Somewhere a woman is calling someone,
her pained voice reaching out into the bright autumn sky.
Somewhere a baby is crying.
And we sit, heads on our desks, unsure exactly
what it all means,
still as we have ever been, waiting.

And the history book images flood back in:
Abraham Lincoln was a President who had been shot, but that was long ago,
very long ago,
and the quaking voice from the speaker had said, "this afternoon."

Voices from the mind: fathers' voices, mothers' voices,
in dinner conversation,
working around the edge of a roast,
red and dripping,
saying something about a new age, a new life for the country,
a new hope.

The speaker comes to life again, startling us out of our thoughts;
the voice is choking back tears.

"President John F. Kennedy died this afternoon in a Dallas hospital."

Wailing from somewhere down the hall.
Silence in the classroom.
Our faces blank, our minds blank.
All silent.

The speaker fades.
In the halls, there is silence.

Something terrible has happened, something
which will shape and define our lives.
So young, but we know that.
And we file quietly to our buses,
no tears in our eyes.
On this day, the tears are left to the grownups.
On this day, it helps to be a child.

And the buses roll through empty streets,
early afternoon traffic
stilled by the flickering blue light
of the television screens all are staring at,
and we go home to the arms of our waiting mothers,
and the blue lights transfix us too

Perhaps some of us cry then.

Perhaps some of us wait
for the scratchy images
of a frigid November morning
with a horse-drawn carriage
rolling along the street lined
with men in black and
women in dark veils and
the young boy raising his hand
in a silent salute,

or perhaps we wait until the small flame
begins its eternal vigil,
solitary on the hillside,

or perhaps we never cry at all,
and return to our desks
on Monday,
bursting with children's vigor,
forgetting what we have seen
and heard,
not fearing the next crackle of the tiny speaker.

But there are some memories,
stark or vivid,
that haunt and cling and will not let go.
And there are some tears, shed or withheld, that never go away.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

rest in peace, rita b

On Saturday morning, my mother called from New Hampshire with the news that my grandmother, whom I have always called Rita B, was dying. It was not unexpected; every time I've said goodbye since she was in her late 80's I've wondered if it would be the last time, and now she was finally at her end. It was peaceful, my mother said, and she was sleeping, but she would not live out the weekend.

Sunday afternoon I got the call. 94 years and one month precisely after her birth, Rita Brouse passed from this world, and the world is a lesser place for it. She's suffered from Alzheimer's for the past decade or so, and it has been awful to watch such a vibrant woman reduced to something so dependent, so broken, so much a shell of her former self. But for all of that, and even though I have long known it was coming, her death caught me off guard. I suppose death always does. Finality has a way of declaring itself that can never truly be appreciated until it is upon you.

I'm a lucky person. I am 52 years old and this is only the second time I have lost a close relative. The first was my uncle. His loss hurt, but he was only a man I loved and admired. Rita B, on the other hand, was one of the most important people in my world. And death took its time with her, and in the end a lot more than a life was lost.

There wasn’t much left of her familiar home when my grandmother lay dying. She had lived in it almost as long as anyone could remember, certainly far longer than she had been able to remember for a very long time, but it had ceased to be hers, had ceased to be at all recognizable as the home she knew, when my uncle had moved in to care for her.

The walls, where once ornate mirrors and art work hung, where tall bookcases stood filled with hard cover volumes of books she had read, taking meticulous care not to break their bindings so that for all purposes they appeared brand new, are nearly bare now, years of cracked and faded paint showing and nail holes remaining unfilled. One wall is haphazardly covered with his photography, but little adorns the others except a few random notes pinned here or there.

The furnishings, once richly textured couches and chairs, elaborate coffee tables, matching glass-fronted bookcases, and lovely ornate lamps, have given way to a giant wall unit, far too big for the space, folding chairs, and a small Office Max desk paired with an industrial-type six-foot table in one corner on which is stacked my uncle's computer equipment. Near the front doorway, a single low-lying bookcase from the old days remains, a relic, a fossil of another period. Those books still on its shelves are covered by a fine layer of dust, its glass panels having long since disappeared. A garage-sale coffee table holds a television and dvd player, and stereo equipment fills one corner of the small living room which, for all the sparseness of its contents, seems oddly cluttered.

In the room in which my grandmother lay at the end, there are even fewer remnants of the life she had lived. Gone are the great mahogany bedroom pieces, the doilies and the collection of tiny perfume bottles and dainty brushes. Long past is the time when the bed was covered in layers of quilts and coverlets, decorative pillows stacked for artistic effect at its head. It had always been dark, this room, for the ornamented draperies kept out the sun’s harshest light, but now the blank, empty window frames allow the earliest rays into her chamber and block nothing at all until the night’s dimness reclaims things. We grandchildren would have loved to have this light with which to explore the treasures of this room, back when it held any treasures. But in those days the room belonged only to her, and the grandchildren knew without being told that they should not be in her private space.

Those were the days of giant family gatherings and vacations to the ocean, where my family and my grandmother would linger by the seaside for a week at a time in one of the rental homes along New Hampshire’s coast. It didn’t much matter whether it was a nice place or a dive—and we had our share of both—because the sea and the family were all that were important. If Rita B had wanted comfort, she’d have stayed home. What she wanted, what she always wanted, was to sit and relax with friends or with family, to sip what she lovingly called "a baby one," which was a gin and tonic made by allowing the gin to wave at the tonic from the glass, and enjoy what life had given her. The "baby one" was always accompanied by an elaborate spread of whatever Rita could find in her refrigerator or cupboards—patés, crackers, cold pizza, sandwich meats, leftover pasta, pies, fruit, dolmades (those delicious Greek grapevine leaves), and just about anything else she could find—so that almost any time anyone visited, even if you just dropped by to return a book, her kitchen table suddenly became a buffet and the visit turned into a party. And my grandmother understood how to throw a party.

But Rita's life was not a party. There was too much of it that was too far beyond her control. One night, many decades earlier, a much, much younger version of my grandmother waited for her first husband, my mother's biological father, to leave for work, gathered her three small daughters and whatever she could take, and fled the house. It was an action unheard of in that time and place, a bold and powerful reaction to a situation she had no way to speak of to anyone, not in those years. But she feared for herself, and she feared for her girls, so she took action. She moved them into a tenement apartment, took the first of her many waitressing positions, and fed her daughters New England boiled dinners until the very phrase "boiled dinner" caused bile to rise in their throats. If her husband sought her out, he did not look very hard.

She called on the strength of that night many times in her life. The strength of a woman in her fifties whose youngest daughter, a schizophrenic, commits suicide and leaves a note blaming her, but who goes on. The strength of a woman whose youngest son, so beautiful, so gifted, whose only record received accolades from several major reviewers before alcohol reclaimed him and he could not manage a followup, died of alcohol-related liver failure at age fifty. The strength of a woman who long ago buried the husband who gave her a new name and a stable home after her tumultuous first marriage had blown up. The strength of a woman whose friends had almost all died before her, who was almost the very last of them, the last of a generation that had defined a town, that had defined a country.

It was the strength that allowed her to take in a young grandson, abandoned by his mother, my youngest aunt, who later became the suicide, in the midst of an ill-fated move to the west coast that would also see the death of Rita's fourteen year old granddaughter. The strength that kept her working in a stressful, physical job well into her eighties, well beyond the time when most people in far less demanding professions would have called it a life. The strength to fight through the ever-expanding haze of Alzheimer’s for those increasingly rare lucid moments during which she could look at the world and see its beauty.

I sat pondering her life and her death, and I must have dozed for a moment or two, for I had this vision or dream about her. Rita lay curled up on a bed that she would never recognize as her own, dressed in a yellow-stained nightgown and a diaper, dreaming. In her dream she was a young girl, and her frock was green, and each time the swing came forward she knew that it was blowing up and exposing her pretty white tights, but she didn’t care. She wanted to go higher. She arched her back and pushed with all of her might, reaching forward with her legs, stretching them until they almost touched the sky before she began falling backwards again each time to earth. It frustrated her. No matter how high she made herself go, she would always fall back.

Someone called her name and she saw her sister on the grass looking at her with that expression that meant that Ma was mad again.

"We gotta get home," her sister called. "Now!"

And she thought, "I’ve gotta get home." And she allowed herself one final backswing before pressing forward with all of her might and, letting go of the ropes, flying feet first into whatever lay ahead.

I had tickets to a concert last night, two of my favorite singer-songwriters in the world, Antje Duvekot and Lucy Kaplansky. Each has a song that she wrote in tribute to her own dying grandmother. I asked them to play these songs, and they did. I sipped a gin and tonic, even though I don't particularly like gin and tonics, and raised a glass to Rita B.

I'm going to miss you, Grandma. I love you.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

it's not 1993, Mr. President

Dear President Obama,

You appear to have decided that the ultimate lesson to be drawn from the defeat of Bill Clinton's health care plan was that it led directly to losing the house and senate the following year. Therefore, it seems, you are more than happy to push any health care bill through Congress so that you will not have to face the same destructive voices crying that you failed in a central campaign promise. This you believe will prevent your support from eroding further and the GOP's resurgence from taking root.

I believe, Mr. President, that you are wrong on several counts

First of all, to argue that it was entirely the result of the health care debacle that President Clinton lost the Congress is to fail to remember the political reality of the early 90's. Clinton was only elected in the first place because Ross Perot split the vote; he did not have a majority of the electorate behind him, and a large number of so-called "Reagan Democrats" still created a de facto splinter party within the ranks of the left, folks who were far worse than DINO's or even Blue Dogs, since they actually voted for the other guys.

There was not very far for Clinton to fall in order to lose Congress.

Further, his majorities were not as large as yours. And he was weakened from the start by the perception that he was a liar; remember "Slick Willy"? Further, he had used up a lot of political capital on the gays in the military fiasco that turned into the DADT fiasco. And then of course there was the anti-Hillary contingent: the fact that she was in charge of the health care task force provided two strikes against it before it had begun its work.

So he lost seats the next year--as pretty much every incumbent's party does in the off year elections. (Newt and co. promised things they never delivered, BTW, and it was they who next lost favor.)

So you (probably wisely, though for personal reasons I detest the fact) pushed GLBT issues back several months in order to get the monumental economic and health care bills through Congress. Fine. And the Stim passed--maybe not as big as it ought to have been, maybe not with the focuses many of us may have liked, maybe with still too much emphasis on the banks and companies on Wall St that caused the problem in the first place--but it passed, and slowly, slowly, as the money starts to flow outward, things may start to change. (I do wish that you had had the guts to try a BOTTOM-UP stimulus, though; applying those billions of dollars to paying off consumer indebtedness and shoring up bad mortgages would have done more to ameliorate the economy than all of the bank bailouts in the world.)

But now, with the most important bill of your early presidency, your vision is failing you. You have allowed the minority to control the process as well as the argument. You have allowed them to frame this as yet another of their absurdist fantasies, and you have done far too little to mitigate the spread of lies. And you have allowed the creation of the bill itself to be in the hands of conservative Democrats and even Republicans--people who are intrinsically skeptical of true change--instead of in the hands of those who want what the people of this country voted for last November, and what you promised us: change we can believe in.

Bipartisanship is a wonderful ideal, but what kind of "negotiation" can you have with a party that will not give in to anything but their way? And even if they were being reasonable--which all but one or two of them have long since forgotten how to be--what kind of negotiation begins with giving away the best bargaining chips? You and Senator Baucus removed single-payer from the table before anything even began, allowing the GOP to concentrate all of its efforts into painting the completely benign "public option" as if it were the reconstruction of the Soviet Union here in America.

Instead of a "robust public option," then, we appear to be heading toward a bill that only the investors of the major insurance companies will love. Well, they and the GOP, who will, essentially, have gotten their way.

Mr. President, as you go through this final weekend before you make your too-long-awaited major speech on this issue, please keep in mind that it was not great ideas that re-elected George Bush in 2004 (even if one believes his victory to be legitimate). No, the man never had an idea to his name. What he did have, however, was an absolutely energized base. No matter how many absurdist memes had to be spread for them to support him, support him they did, in droves, because they believed in him. He gave them what he told them he would. It was terrible for the world, and even terrible for them, but they were convinced that they wanted it. And, even when he faced a Democratic congress, which should have been able to stand against him and check him, as is its Constitutional duty, he still got his way.

There are voices that you trust telling you to take what you can get. They are telling you that you will risk losing all if you end up with no bill. Mr. President, don't listen to them. This is not 1993. The world has changed. The economy has changed. The issues have changed. What will cause you to lose this time is not the lack of a bill, but the lack of a good bill.

One week ago, you spoke the eulogy for Ted Kennedy. You have the will of the majority of the American people behind you, as well as the majority of the US Congress. Do Senator Kennedy's memory proud, Mr. President. Give him, and this country, the health care bill that he fought so long to get us. Make it happen. If you demand it, we will have it. And that, Sir, will be a monumental win for both you and for the people of America

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

the last stand of american racism

I watched the news reports and my jaw literally dropped. This was more than a wacko with a leg holster and one handgun; this was a crowd of people, and some were carrying semi-automatic rifles. The kind that should be illegal if you don't happen to be in Afghanistan or Iraq. And they were conspicuously protesting outside of a building in which the President of the United States was appearing.

This is what we have come to? This is our new political discourse? This is the way we protest now when we disagree, by bringing weapons within firing range of the President? And what happens when one man becomes twelve becomes fifty becomes five hundred? Are we really supposed to wait and, in the name of the Second Amendment and the fear of the NRA, allow this lunacy to build until, with all of the intensity and hatred and frenzy in the air that has been whipped up by the hatemongers on the right, one of these gun-toting loons does something irreversible?

Is this who we have become?

I do not think that it was all that long ago when it would have been unthinkable to anyone that an American would bring a weapon to a Presidential appearance. I'd say you'd have to go back...maybe nine months. Truly: would anyone on the left have even considered showing up at a Bush rally with a gun? And would anyone on the right have tolerated it if someone had? The Bushies didn't allow you to get anywhere near them if you disagreed with them, shunting you off into "free speech zones" and forcibly removing you from town halls. (Yes, back then, if you protested loudly at Bush town halls, you might find yourself under arrest.) Bring a loaded gun? I don't think so!

The man who began this gun nut protest was a New Hampshireman who, disgracing the state of my origin and simultaneously showing its independent and creative spirit (I'll give him that, anyway--once is creative), strapped that weapon to his leg and walked down the street in plain view of everyone with a t-shirt on which he referenced the Thomas Jefferson quote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants." the same quote that Timothy McVeigh wore on his shirt when they captured him after the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh's shirt also said "Sic Semper Tyrannis," a reference to the statement that John Wilkes Booth shouted as he fled from the scene after killing Abraham Lincoln.

What are we supposed to take from this? With the hate speech ratcheted up to unprecedented levels and protesters showing up at town halls carrying signs bluntly equating President Obama to Hitler (something that only months ago would have been seen as so over the top as to be almost unimaginable), and with dozens and dozens of hate sites springing up all over the web to allow people to vent the venom that right-wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are fomenting in them, who exactly are we to assume the "tyrant" in the Jefferson allusion is?

The online hate groups spew their bile and swell in size. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, in a diary on Huffington Post, says that most are just delusional loonies. But there are indeed, he says, others.
The majority of the hate groups and the conspiracy spinning anti-Obama websites, however, spout hot air talk and are filled with the stock delusional conspiracy stuff about sinister forces taking over the government. Most vehemently deny that they advocate violence, but not all. Some openly scream about taking back the country and arming for an Armageddon type showdown with the government.

And the fact is that, as Hutchinson point out, old fashioned hate groups such as the KKK and the Aryan Nation are also in resurgence. Far from being a post-racial era, the start of the Obama Administration is becoming the Last Stand of American Racism.

The only questions remaining to be resolved involve how this is all going to play out. It is abundantly clear that a great deal of the unrest right now is the result of the racism remaining in much of America. It may be buried under code words like "socialism," but it is racism pure and simple. (When protesters claim that Obama is both a socialist and a fascist, you can't really accept that they are all that well schooled on political theory.) So there is a potentially benign way this could play out: like those who initially claimed that gay marriage would cause the sky to open and fire to rain down and swallow us all and chickens to lay poisonous eggs and disco to rise from its mirror-balled grave--I'm paraphrasing, but it was something like that--they could slowly but surely begin to realize that none of that bad stuff actually happened and just begin to fade away. We haven't won the war about gay marriage yet, but we're starting to pull ahead, and the other side is fading. This too may fade.


If the embers are not allowed to burn out gently, as they naturally do in all fires, but are instead artificially stoked by the continued lies of the right, fanning the flames, something might burn out of control. That too is the nature of fire. You can use it for heat or for cooking or just to look pretty, but it has a mind of its own. It will do as it will do. And if someone in one of those armed crowds gets it into his crazed head that there is a reason to pull a trigger, all hell will break loose, whether or not the President is involved. And if the demonizers on the right continue to pour gasoline on the fire, the chance that some crazed and demoralized loser will do something historically outrageous increases every day.

A year ago, it happened in a Unitarian church in Tennessee, as a man filled with righteous anger by the likes of Rush and Bill O'Reilly finally snapped and took two innocent lives. It happened in Pittsburgh, where a gunman (with many other issues, to be sure) expressed concern about the current administration taking away his guns. (Where did that idea come from?) It happened in Washington at the Holocaust Museum, where an angry 80-year-old, fueled by hatred and racism, killed a security guard. Despondent people, desperate people, angry people...people with guns.

And now these people, in numbers, are gathering where our President is speaking. The Last Stand of American Racism is coming. I pray that it does not go down with a bang, but with a whimper.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

the left and the loons: why i am a liberal

Every once in a while it's nice to reflect on why you believe the things you believe and why you feel the way you do about them. Some of us are unfortunate enough to have personal experiences that directly connect them to left-wing causes. Some do not. But all of us have examined the political dichotomy in this nation and have come down on the Left side of the spectrum.

Why is that?

At the end of a long, thoughtful, interesting discussion about health care on facebook with several of my former students (now all in their thirties), we turned our thoughts inward a bit, and I found myself exploring what happened in my life that led me to feel these things so strongly.

Took me a long time to get to this point. Though I have personal issues (GLBT) that would naturally incline me to lean Left, I spent much of my life trying hard to ride the fence, trying hard to be "independent." In high school--at least before Watergate--I actually leaned right. (Good old NH upbringing.) But every time I did anything as foolish as vote for a Republican, I ended up regretting it big time.

As I watched them systematically refocus America on religious nonsense and economic philosophies that have (in yesterday's news) ended up creating the biggest divide between rich and poor in the history of this nation, and then do everything in their power to thwart a democratically elected President, including hounding him into impeachment, and following that steal the next two elections so that they could finish the task of reframing America into their vision of what it ought to be (a Christian oligarchy) and instead managing to disregard or outright shatter the very Constitution that their Supreme Court appointees claim to hold in such high regard, my disenchantment became disrespect became distaste became disgust.

If the true conservatives still ran the GOP in this country, I'd have no problem. We need two parties for balance, and there are indeed times when conservative ideas need to be heard, and even followed. But they don't. The neocons and the religious right took over in the eighties and nineties, and all that remain today are the wackos. To be fair, there are a few who sincerely try to hold true to the historical tenets of their party. Both Maine senators come to mind, as well as quite a few congressmen I could name. But when there is no room in the GOP for Arlen Spector, well, this is not your father's Republican Party.

In response to something someone posted, I said that we no longer have conservatives in any positions of power in this country; we have the Left and the Loons. I ought to amend that, pithy though it is. We do have conservatives. The thing is: they are now in the DEMOCRATIC party. The GOP had no room for them, so they migrated over to the only party that actually accepts alternative viewpoints. And that, BTW, is why Dems have such a hard time coming to consensus on things. The GOP is lock step because...well, LOOK at them: they could be the IBM folks in that famous "1984" Apple commercial. Better dressed, but still...

The Dems look, sound, and act like America, and it gets pretty sloppy out here sometimes.

Those folks in the town halls are scared, but they are scared because they are being fed lies and distortions by a well-honed lie and distortion machine that has been getting stronger and stronger since Willie Horton proved its effectiveness. It makes the disinformation in the Big Brother commercial look tame. Today it includes FOX NEWS as a media outlet (a channel with the word "news" in its misleading name to confuse people into believing that it is "fair and balanced"), most of the GOP leadership, and such pseudo-celebs as "Joe the Plumber," as well as a mind-bogglingly effective and well-financed behind the scenes group of lobbyists and PACs to do the real dirty work.

Dems don't keep their hands clean. They are not "holier than thou." (The single greatest unfair attack ad of all time is still the "daisy ad," after all.) But these days they look like a church choir next to the garbage that the right pulls on a daily basis. And there is something to be said for motive as well: when the right wing pulls this crap to retain or regain power, its goal is to pad its already plentiful bank accounts (or to wage random unnecessary wars to prove it does not collectively require Cialis). No one claims that left wingers are immune to graft, but I think it is pretty clear that the goals of the Left are far more altruistic.

So, after many, many years of just too much, I learned my lesson from, ironically, FOX NEWS. You can't be "fair and balanced" when one side is clearly wrong. You've just got to say it is wrong and speak up. Anything else is just a lie.

Back when my students were in school, I rarely spoke politics in the classroom, and whenever I did I always felt the need to give time to the other side. There were plenty of students who were unsure what my affiliation was (and I myself would have said "Independent" if asked). During the Bush years, though, that changed. If something is wrong, you can't just look the other way. I acknowledged (always) and respectfully listened to those students in my classes with dissenting opinions--though, as the years wore on, their numbers dwindled to almost zero--but I made no bones about where I stood and why. My bulletin board last fall filled up with Obama For President paraphernalia. I attended the Grant Park celebration. (So did several of my students.) I didn't preach politics in the classroom because that would be wrong--it's not my place or my job--but I didn't back down when the topic came up as I might have in the past. Not this time.

I'm holding this administration to a very high standard. It has already done a good job in some ways and disappointed me in others, but I'm a realist. It's only been six months, and the job is tough. And this is politics: the solutions will neither be pretty nor perfect. But if I look back on this President after his terms (yes, I'm assuming two terms) and fail to see Hope realized, then I will know that the American Experiment is truly waning, and I will begin to consider spending my retirement years in some other place.

Maybe France. That would piss off the neocons.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

my email to senator durbin

"ANOTHER BLOW TO PUBLIC OPTION," the headline on Huffington Post read. "Durbin Open to Dropping It."

I read that and my first thought, which should have been WTF!?, was instead, alas, more along the lines of, {{sigh}}.

"So we'll see how this ends, but I don't want the process to be filibustered to failure, which unfortunately, many senators are trying to do," Durbin added. "I want to make sure that we do something positive for the American people."

And I say again: {{sigh}}.

Why do we always seem to roll over and fall down just when everything seems truly possible?

Then, however, I started getting mad. These are the people we elected to do, among other things, this job--this specific job--passing health care reform, and they are about to let the minority play them yet again?

So, though I actually am not the kind who writes many letters to my congressmen, I could not allow the moment to pass without making some kind of statement. This is what I sent to my senator:

Dear Senator Durbin,

The Huffington Post today has a front page article that states that you are now open to abandoning the public option in favor of co-ops as a measure for "compromise." I sincerely hope that this is not true.

Along with millions of others, I have pushed hard during recent elections to provide for a Democratic majority--and now supermajority--in order to make amends for the disastrous policies that have been visited upon this country by your colleagues across the aisle. Now that Democrats are firmly in place because of a promise--a PROMISE--for "real change," how do you expect to hold onto those voters who put you there if they see that you cannot follow through on that promise?

The GOP, with a weak President, managed to get its bills passed *even when they were in the minority* because they stood their ground. They continue to stand their ground today. They do not believe in compromise. Personally, I feel that it is a worthwhile and positive goal, but that it is not as important as the "real change" that was promised to the American people.

Please, Senator Durbin, do NOT back down from the public option. Encourage the President to take a firm stand demanding that the bill contain such an option, and then rally the Senate--YOUR Senate, regardless of the GOP or the more conservative among the Democrats. If you need to use conciliation, use it. But *don't* let this historic opportunity pass us by with yet another empty promise, yet another failed effort at real change.

I have voted for you every time I have been asked to, Senator, and I have never written to you before. Now, as one of your constituents, I am asking that you remember why you are there and why millions of people replaced the GOP majority with a Democratic one. The ideas of the other side are what my fourteen year old daughter would call "epic failures," but I'm terrified that, if you and your colleagues let us down at this crucial point in time, the result might be a backlash that will end up ultimately restoring them to power.

I am not naive. I know that you are a politician and that politics is, as they say, "the art of the possible." But why, with the GOP reduced to making reprehensible claims about "Obama Death Panels" and other bits of made-up insanity just to get a foothold, is it not, at this moment in history, POSSIBLE to do something truly historic?

I don't know if the message is any good or if it has any hope of doing any good, but I feel better having sent it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

never can say goodbye: letting go of our past

Last night I could have gone to see Todd Rundgren at a local festival. Tonight, Huey Lewis and the News are there. In the past few years in my own town, just down the street, I have seen such acts as America, what passes as CCR these days without John Fogerty, The Grass Roots, Grand Funk Railroad, Tommy James and the Shondells, and Electric Light Orchestra. Nostalgia acts like these can be found in festivals across the country, and they always draw crowds of people who enjoy sitting on lawns or hillsides listening and singing along with songs that take them back to days they wish that they could get back.

In the outrageous outpouring of emotion over the death of Michael Jackson, one thought I heard struck me most: the simple and logical question that a friend had asked on facebook: why do we care so much about someone whose career has not mattered to us in years? And it's true: most of us probably cannot name three songs Michael recorded after "Thriller." So what gives?

I think that our reactions to both Michael's life and his death are linked both to his undeniably intriguing individual characteristics and to the nature of pop/rock itself. As much as Michael the Entertainer riveted us and Michael the Curiosity confused and enthralled us, Michael the Aging Pop Icon held onto our hearts.

It isn't difficult to see (or prove) that, nostalgia aside, pop and rock are youth-oriented industries. That's why Mick Jagger famously said, "I'd rather be dead than singing 'Satisfaction' when I'm forty-five." Well, of course he is long past forty-five and still singing "Satisfaction," and as far as we can tell he has made peace with the fact that he is very much alive. The Stones still sell out stadiums, still release new recordings. But--and please forgive me, Stones fans--they don't matter any more. It has been years, probably decades, since they have released anything with real staying power. When you think of the Stones, your mind does not travel to anything of recent vintage; it takes you to "Wild Horses" and "Brown Sugar" and "Paint It Black," and, yes, "Satisfaction." And it's not a coincidence that it is those songs that the Stones are playing in those sold-out stadiums.

Paul McCartney, too, playing before international audiences in recent years after 9-11 or at the Super Bowl halftime show, did not regale us with ditties from "Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard." No. He played Beatles songs. These men, these giants of the pop rock world, have long since passed the days when their music mattered in that world. That is left to the stars of the moment, and each generation has its share. Next month I am taking my daughters to see Green Day, their favorite band. (I think of it as an alt punk REM.) But even Green Day may be pushing past its prime: the band members are all in their thirties now, and this is as much a young man's sport as pro basketball.

Yet we cannot deny that the musical icons of our youth are important to us in ways that perhaps we don't even understand. And because we--the middle aged fogies who seem so old to those children at the Warped Tour concerts--were, after all, the generation that invented rock and roll, the generation that gave birth to its icons, we have managed to keep them alive in ways that might well be unprecedented.

Think to the 60's and 70's. Your local AM radio station played all the hits as well as all the oldies. It played the Carpenters and the Beatles along with Steppenwolf and the Everly Brothers and the Big Bopper. But how far back did it ever go? On a super-oldies weekend, maybe you'd get 1956 and "Rock Around the Clock" or "The Wayward Wind." You certainly didn't go further back than that. In our youth, we acted as if music began when rock began.

We still do.

And that fact influences everything, even now. The high school kids I teach enjoy their contemporary bands, but many of them also have a deep appreciation for the Stones, the Beatles, the Doors, Eric Clapton, and so many others who are old enough to be their grandparents (if they are even still alive). They listen to a variety of radio stations, some of which broadcast only today's music, but others showcase rock's history. And the music of our generation remains alive.

It doesn't matter if Michael Jackson never again reached the pinnacle he reached with "Thriller." It doesn't matter to his musical legacy that he experienced whatever personal nightmares he experienced that led to his very public personal implosion. Like the other stars of the 60's and 70's, he defined an age. And perhaps more than most of the others, he defined it personally for many of us. We watched him grow up. We marveled at his dance skill and his singing voice. And then, in his incredible self-reinvention with "Thriller," we were, well, thrilled. He was the defining entertainer of his time. And it was no real mystery in the end: as we feel toward the rest of the icons of those days, we simply have a hard time saying goodbye.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

For the Love of a Boy

My daughter is seventeen.

As if that were not enough of a concern, she also happens to be very independent and intelligent, forceful and (sometimes) headstrong. These characteristics, I suppose, are the gifts I have bequeathed unto her, byproducts of my feminism, my own independent spirit, my education, my Unitarianism, and what have you. Ordinarily these qualities make me proud, but they have their drawbacks, and one of them has become overwhelmingly apparent in the latest battle between mind and emotion over the boy in her life.


She has always professed to be lesbian, which has never bothered me in the least. (In fact, I loved it when she announced it at age 13: my reaction was something along the line of Thank God I won't have to worry about her getting pregnant in high school.) She still professes to be lesbian, but bisexual only in the case of this one boy (which is apparently OK since he claims that he is gay, and therefore the decidedly heterosexual relationship between them falls between the cracks of sexual identity...I assume). They met at camp (thousands of dollars so she can learn independence and I get this?) and have now been seeing each other for two years.

Not quite true: he broke up with her for four months late last year. She spent the time deeply, darkly depressed. And when, finally, he came back, she uttered the words that made me choke on my feminist parenting mantle:

I don't care about anything else in my future, Mom, as long as I'm his.

To the boy's credit, he recognizes that this is amazingly stupid. To her credit, she does too. But what can I do? she says. I can't help what I feel. And I am left with visions of the life she has been trying to create for herself with all of her AP courses and planning slipping away in adolescent romantic fantasy.

So far it's OK. SO far she is still talking aboutt he same solid colleges she was talking about before they got back together. So far his presence is not part of the plan. So far. But she's only a junior. And her emotions appear to have won the battle.

My daughter is seventeen

Monday, April 6, 2009

welcome back my friends to the cold that never ends

"I'm dreaming of a white Easter..."

I can hear the carolers outside singing Easter carols as the aromas of gingerbread and hot chocolate filter through my home. Somewhere, the Easter Bunny is getting ready for his annual journey on his magical sled pulled by eight tiny reinmice through a winter wonderland of candy-colored egg-shaped ornaments, and people who almost never go to church are preparing to attend because it seems like the right thing to do.

Haven't we been here before? Say, about 14 or 15 weeks ago?


I don't know if I have ever mentioned this, but...


Friday, April 3, 2009

midvacation silliness

It's getting on toward the end of spring break and I hope everyone has had a good week. I'll be looking forward to seeing you all on Monday. Meanwhile, enjoy this 2009 take on a 90's bit of pop:

Breakfast at Tiffany's from Olde English Comedy on Vimeo.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sending this status update from to four networks at once!

Friday, February 6, 2009

the bluster over filibuster

This is sort of a semi-response to a DailyKos discussion of "The Myth of 60" in a diary which was itself a variation of a theme Kagro X has explored before: that the so-called "magic number" of 60 senators to make things "filibuster-proof" is a bunch of malarkey.

Oh, it would be awfully nice if it were true. Then we could actually find out what would happen in a world governed by the left. But this is Obama-nation, a nation of compromise and post-partisanship, at least as seen from the POV of the left, and thus when we speak whimsically of the filibuster-proof majority we are talking about a concept that, even if it could actually accomplish something, would be doing something that our president does not even want.

However, that is not the real issue anyway. The real issue is far simpler: for all of their talk and threats, there is simply no way that the Republicans will filibuster either of the two most important bills that the administration will be sending to them. They have too much to lose if they do and absolutely nothing to gain.

There is probably no doubt that President Obama made both a philosophical error and a strategic error in his first major attempt at bipartisan dealings with the Republicans. Philosophically, he made the mistake of assuming that anyone on the other side of the aisle actually cares more about rescuing the country than rescuing their party from its self-created and richly deserved governmental exile. The unanimous GOP "no" vote in the House proved that, at least in that chamber, his assumption was entirely mistaken. We shall see, maybe today, whether it is also in error in the Senate.

Strategically, as Rachel Maddow has pointed out on several occasions, he made the elementary negotiating error of giving away too much far too easily and too soon. Handing the GOP what should have been its biggest desire, the $300 billion in tax cuts, essentially as a "gift," might have seemed like immense largess to the president (and in fact was) but has been taken by the GOP as a signal that this White House is weak and can be manipulated. Obama might have predicted that a party built on manipulation and backroom dealing would never recognize an honest front-end offer for what it is. He should have predicted that. He did not, and now there is really no further room for any serious negotiation, and the GOP is left saying that the Dems will not listen to them.

Certainly Obama and the Democrats have, by giving in to their desire for post-partisanship, ended up with a far weaker and less effective bill than they might otherwise have presented to the country. And still it does not seem to "satisfy" the Republican minority.

Every day Mitch McConnell and his cadre of cretinous cronies cackle on and on about whatever their Talking Point of the Moment might happen to be (though half the time it's something that has been settled and even removed from the bill already), threatening the president with the withholding of their votes from the ultimate bill. And the Democrats say they "don't have enough votes" to pass the package, by which they mean they don't have that magic 60. But the thing is: they don't need sixty votes. No one is going to have to stop a filibuster.

Let's explore the reasons why the GOP would never filibuster this bill, or the health care bill that will be coming, Ted Kennedy promises us, before the year is out.

First of all, despite every bit of evidence to the contrary, the GOP senators are not stupid. Some of them are actually quite intelligent. As for the rest? Willfully ignorant, yes. Morally bankrupt, undoubtedly. Self-righteous and greedy? Check. But not stupid. The nation's economy is in the crapper and the GOP has been loudly and publicly blamed for the problem with resounding losses in the last two elections. They are in serious danger of being relegated to the status of meaningless regional party, and they know it. Not a one of them would ever admit it, but they know it. They are a party in as much disarray as the Democrats were when they were struggling through their fractured factionalized days back in the early seventies. You know, the ones that led to Richard Nixon winning landslide victories?

The GOP sees Barack Obama and his 70%+ approval ratings and they know what they are up against. They see their own subterranean approval ratings and they know what they are up against. They are in trouble. If they filibuster the stimulus package, it will be entirely their fault that it fails to pass. If they filibuster the health care bill, it will be entirely their fault that the 50 million Americans without health care remain in ever-present danger of catastrophe. They cannot allow this to be the case.

So what are their options?

With the stimulus bill, they've already done their dirty work: they have loaded it up with tax relief instead of infrastructure programs--with the full cooperation of the president--so that the bill probably cannot accomplish what it sets out to do. Now all they have to do is let the program fail. And the hilarious thing is that its failure, which itself would reinforce the fact that their outmoded ideas are wrong wrong wrong, will be used by them as evidence that they were right all along! So the GOP is left with a difficult decision: whether they wish to vote for it, re-emphasizing their devotion to their so-called ideals, or against it, which is in effect a vote that repudiates everything that they stand for. But they are not in a position to filibuster the thing.

Unless they are in fact stupid.

Oh wait. They do have that Vitter guy, don't they?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

only obama

As I watched Hope congeal on the steps of the Capitol Building on Tuesday, one of tens of millions watching from a distance while millions more watched up close, braving the chill of a winter day to see history being made, as I heard the powerful words spoken by the most powerful man in the world, a strange thought wound its way through my brain.

I had had this thought before; it was not a new one. Probably many of you have had it also. But as I listened to this speech of all speeches, I suddenly realized how vitally important it is to recognize what it all means and to understand what a titanic event is transpiring before our very eyes.

The thought, a simple one, was this:

Barack Hussein Obama is the only president ever elected who could have made this speech and been seen as absolutely sincere. He is the only man ever elected to this office who has ever truly had a chance to heal the partisan wounds of this nation. He is the only man ever elected to this office who might succeed in getting the vast majority of the country to buy into and believe in something beyond ourselves, our parties, our ideologies. More than any of the great presidents before him, this is so. And the reason became absolutely clear as he spoke in that Washington chill.

It lay in his own words that poured out into the enthusiastic crowd:
We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

He was speaking of America, but he might as well have been speaking of a very specific segment of our country, a segment of which he--and he alone among the men who have been elected president--is a part.

Obama's status as the nation's first black president has been played out again and again in the media. Pundits have rammed it down our throats since the campaign began, and certainly since the election itself. We've probably seen enough references to Lincoln, King, Tubman, slaves, Little Rock, Selma, Parks, and so many other iconic symbols of civil rights by now that, like Stephen Colbert, those of us who don't happen to be black wish we were.

(He makes this plea about 5:15 into the video.)

COLBERT: Welcome to the Report. We continue our live coverage tonight. Today, the 20th of January, in the Year of Our Lord 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

(wild applause)

Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. It was very brave of me to admit that. You can already feel the change sweeping across this land as a new era begins: a time of brotherhood, when men of different backgrounds and beliefs will come together to marry one another.

Now a lot of people thought I didn't want Barack Obama to be president; that's not true. I just didn't want him to be President of America. I thought he could do a great job in Nicaragua. If I am sad it is only for the Nicaraguans.

But this man is now our president and, as an American, I pledge to support him unconditionally for as long as he remains popular.

The inauguration began this morning at 11:30. Everyone was there dressed to the nines. Aretha Franklin even managed to steal a bow off a Lexus to wear for the occasion.

(Aretha sings)

Wow. Sorry I got something in my eye. I don't know what that is. Um. Of course the Queen of Soul got a great response from the two million people who came to the city from all walks of life to put aside their differences and stand as brothers.

That's nice. What is wrong with my eyes today? Is there a cat in here? I'm allergic.

Then...Then, Barack Hussein Obama made his power grab. Wow, that is one good looking man.

OBAMA: ...preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

ROBERTS: So help you God?

OBAMA: So help me God.

COLBERT: Oh my God.... Jimmy?

OBAMA: America is a friend of each nation and every man woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity and we are ready to lead once more.

COLBERT: Oh my God. That is so...that just feels so right. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm not angry. I know we have a deal: you watch and I scream. I'm really dropping the ball here. OK, I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.

Jimmy, play something else.


Ohhh...ohhh...ahhhh...Oh my God. Oh, I'm sorry. I just feel like my heart is gonna burst because it's full of rainbows.

LOWERY: When black will not be asked to give back. When brown can stick around. When yellow can be mellow. When the red man can get ahead, man.

COLBERT: That is the best Dr. Seuss book ever. Oh, I loved that old man. I just loved him. He was just so authentic, you know? Ah, why can't I be black? You know, you know just for one day. Why can't I be black today? Could I be black for just a while? Could I put on makeup? Could I put on makeup? I'm being told, no, I shouldn't do that. That would be a career-ending decision. That even talking about it is a bad idea. OK. Oh, fuddle. I've got to get it together.

Come on, Jimmy. Show me something that will turn my heart to ice.

(Pic of Cheney)

OH, GOD! Oh, my God! Whew! Oh! Oh, man! I said freeze, not kill! Man that gave me the shrinkydinks.

But silly comedy concepts aside, what ran through my mind is the notion that only a man of color, a man who does not possess the intense baggage of the atrocities against other races that any white man carries by proxy, who does not carry with him the expectations of a power elite that has banked on Privilege for decades, if not centuries, and counted on our leaders to help it along, who does not (in short) have ties to any of the things that have held this country down for so long, can hope to cut through the brambles and briars and get to the garden which has been nearly choked off. Who else can say, with no irony and with the expectation of being both believed and accepted, that he believes in the notion of emerging from dark chapters of history "stronger and more united," believes "that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself"? Who else ever could have said that?

Barack Obama, when he tells us that he wishes to be the president of all of us, to heal the wounds of the country, to reach out even to his enemies, has credibility because he comes from a people who have suffered. He can offer harmony and Hope because, while he personally has never "toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth," he can speak from Power for those who have. His wife's ancestors were slaves who, as the pundits couldn't stop informing us, helped build the very marble monuments on which he was being inaugurated. He can offer an end to suspicion and disunion because, for the first time in American history, the meek have inherited.

And the fact that he has no ties to the vast corporations who have been running the show forever means that President Obama can be trusted to make non-partisan decisions about everything from defense to Wall Street. He has no one to appease, and when he says,
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

we have no reason to doubt that he means what he says.

The GOP, desperate to maintain anything remotely resembling its former leash on power, will do what it can to impede progress. It already is, with its lame and lamentable efforts to hold up the seating of Senator Franken and the confirmations of Attorney General Holder and Secretary Geithner, and other officers, among other annoyances. And of course they will attempt to throw roadblocks at his grander plans as well, though he had this to say about that:

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.

Our president has challenged us in the most fundamental way to rethink and restart the "story called America." And the challenge is working. This morning I saw a newspaper whose front page consisted of nothing but a full page photo of Obama taking the oath of office. Across the top--no masthead, no date, no anything except these words: America 2.0.

That's what Hope is. That's why his approval rating has been as high as 82% and why more that 3/4 of our country right now is optimistic about the future of the nation despite the sorry state of just about everything.

Another fake news program, The Daily Show, pointed out with tongue in cheek last night that Obama's inaugural address and Bush's second one shared some very distinct similarities:

JON: White House Bureau Chief Jason Jones was in Washington. Jason! Obama's speech today.

JASON: Jon, his speech was incredible. Typical Obama: inspiring rhetoric.

OBAMA: This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

JASON: Mixed with square-jawed determination.

OBAMA: For those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents: you cannot outlast us and we will defeat you.

JASON: Mmm Hmm. And it's what our country desperately needs at this time.

JON: But, I have to say, Jason: Our nation's relationship to the Almighty, a message for our enemies...isn't that...Bush?

JASON: What? No, no, no. I'm not following you here. This president had a new message for a new day.

OBAMA: We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense.

JASON: There you go: pride of country, straight from the tap! Ha? A real self-esteem booster.

JON: But if I may: (in a mock-Bush voice) We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense. Heh heh heh.

JASON: Whoa whoa whoa! Jon, the cowboy days are over. My God, when I even hear that, it makes me want to take off my shoe and just jam it down your--

JON: Right. But those aren't Bush's words! I'm just reading the Obama quote you just played for me; I just did it in Bush's voice. It's the same rhetoric.

JASON: You're the same rhetoric.

JON: But watch this:


BUSH: Freedom is the universal gift of Almighty God.

OBAMA: ..the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free.

BUSH: We will work with our friends and allies across the world to defend our way of life.

OBAMA: We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense.

BUSH: We will usher in a new era of enhanced prosperity and peace.

OBAMA: America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

BUSH: Did our generation advance the cause of freedom?

OBAMA: We carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

JASON: Why are you doing this?

JON: I don't know! It's all I know! What am I supposed to do?

JASON: It's Hope Day One!

JON: I know! I don't like it either!

JASON: I know.

JON: I don't like doing this either!

JASON: It's like: why is cheese delicious on Italian food, but when you melt it on Chinese food it's disgusting? I don't know! Honestly Jon, I guess that it's just when Obama says this stuff I don't think he really means it. And that gives me Hope. Can I go back to the party now?

JON: Yes you can.

Yes, some of these are the same words. But "this president had a new message for a new day," as Jason Jones said. How is that possible? It may not have been the point that Jon Stewart was intending, but I found in that montage additional evidence of what I was already thinking. Bush could say these things and everyone listening could see that he was full of crap, that he was simply mouthing the platitudes of this party and the neocons. Contrary to what Jones says at the end, when Obama says these things, I do believe him. I believe that he will follow through. I believe that he understands the consequences of his actions. I believe that he knows that he cannot do things unilaterally. I believe that he will always act in the best interest of America, and that is something I never believed about George W. Bush.

If any other president since Kennedy had said this:
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

he would not have been received so warmly and enthusiastically. And Kennedy, too, had as many enemies as friends.

What Obama has the opportunity to accomplish is unprecedented in the history of our nation precisely because Barack Hussein Obama himself is unprecedented in the history of our nation. He is not merely a master politician, schooled on the streets of Chicago and tested against the toughest political machine ever created; he is a true leader. The key to being a great leader, often, is being the right person in the right job at the right time, and Barack Obama appears to be that person. His even temperament, so thoroughly chronicled already, is exactly what this country needs to weather its myriad Bush-created crises. The key to being a great leader is to be a good listener; Obama is proving that he does listen, even to former adversaries. The key to being a great leader is not to be True Believer; our last president was a True Believer and look where that got us. Obama is a practical man. If he is a True Believer in anything, it is his family and the United States of America. I doubt that anything else at all is too sacred to be placed on the table.

Some of us may not like that about him. But I say hallelujah. Our partisan biases and petty bickering and personal ambitions have blinded us for far too long to what is important here: making our country work. And I am a True Believer in that. I believe that Obama has the best shot ever at succeeding at it. I don't even believe in God, but I'm praying for him.


it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

xkcd - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and