Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam is dead; and for an encore . . .

So Saddam Hussein is dead. I'm sure somewhere there are hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and almost 3,000 dead American solidiers who are saying to themselves, "Well, wasn't that worth screwing up the entire world?"

I'm sure that every tin-horn dictator around the world has stood up and taken notice, and that no one, particularly in the Middle East, Asia or Africa, will ever flount the will of the international community ever again.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Gerald Ford: Our modern day Abraham Lincoln?

Gerald Ford was truly an accidental president. He served in the office for just over two years, coming to the presidency after Richard Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974 (I remember well where I was: at Mark Light's house for a dance/make-out party, except I was upstairs watching the resignation speech with his parents while my friends were downstairs, uh, dancing and making out). Nixon had appointed Ford vice-president in mid-1973 after Spiro Agnew resigned rather than defend corruption charges while in office. Although Ford drew the customary full-court attention from the press after his passing was announced on Wednesday, he didn't really serve in the office long enough or do enough while he was there to give commentators much to talk about. Given the times, that is an admirable enough record. Ford had no illusions how the country felt about Nixon and the legacy of stench he left on our politics. He was not, as the Washington Establishment has gushed in op-eds, comments and endless television interviews, our modern day Abraham Lincoln. But he deserves credit for putting a lid on the arrogance, corruption and criminality of the Nixon administration. In the end, Gerald Ford as president can best be remembered like a teacher or babysitter who really didn't make much of an impression one way or the other, but didn't really do anything so awful to make you wince every time you still hear his or her name.

Naturally, the most controversial act of Ford's presidency was his decision to pardon Richard Nixon for any and all crimes that he committed while in office. The conventional wisdom that this decision cost Ford the election against the relatively unknown Jimmy Carter in 1976 is correct, in my view. At the time, the pardon was universally condemned outside the small circle of advisors and Republican Party loyalists that were close to Ford (including Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney). Over time, Ford's decision has been viewed more charitably as an effort to end what he called, in his first speech upon taking office, "[o]ur long national nightmare" and move on. Putting aside contempt for Nixon (an inherited trait -- I come from a long and proud line of Nixon haters), it is possible to make a case that, in retrospect, Ford's decision to pardon Nixon was the right call. Enough was enough, and spite was not a sufficient motivation to keep the country distracted by Nixon any more than it had been for the previous two years.

Yet, there are two counter-arguments that make Ford's decision seem less wise. First, Ford pardoned Nixon before criminal charges had been filed against him and without Nixon confessing that he had engaged in illegal behavior. Nixon's tapes revealed that he had a much more direct hand in the Watergate break-in and cover-up than he had publicly admitted (which was, characteristically, nothing). Ford would have been much more visionary and heroic if he had managed to cull some acknowledgement of wrongdoing by Nixon. He didn't, and that was the "party man" in him. Second, and, for me, something the network of press and former government officials commentators have completely missed in their public eulogies on Ford, and that is the double-standard that the Nixon pardon continued and even elevated for government officials acting in violation of the law. Even today, the norm attached to political behavior that everyone skirts the rules and it is only those who piss enough people off get caught is still alive and well in Washington. Ford's decision to pardon Nixon was based, as legend has it, that he his resignation and public humiliation were punishment enough. But I think it was also motivated by the belief of political elites (and the echo chamber that is the Washington media) that they are simply not bound by the same rules as shoplifters, marijuana smokers and other non-violent criminals. Many of the same people who have no problem with Ford's decision also have no problem with the trend in criminal law that now extends wildly disproportionate sentences for relatively minor criminal acts. If someone can tell me why Nixon should have been pardoned (and many others by subsequent presidents) while some petty shoplifter or dope smoker should go to jail for 30 years, I am all ears. That was my first impression upon moving to Washington 17 years ago: one set of rules for the people than run the political-legal-media complex here, and a completely different set of rules for everyone else.

Finally, and appropriately for my last post of 2006, there is the unintended irony of the Decider's comments on Ford's death.

"He assumed power (note the use of "power" rather than "the office") in a period of great division and turmoil. For a nation that needed healing and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most."

Let's just hope that George W. Bush's successor possesses these qualities when he or she takes office on January 20, 2009.

See you in the New Year!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Checkout line celebrity hell

I didn't really know what to call this post other than "Checkout line celebrity hell." I thought about, "Brittany Spears must die," or "Does anyone but her dealer really care about Nicole Richie?" or "Would even a sailor or recently released prisoner think Paris Hilton is attractive if she were an assistant manager at a small town Dairy Queen," or "I think Jennifer Aniston is adorable and a good actress but I am not interested in her love life," but those all sounded too harsh, and if anything tragic did happen to any of these great American women, I don't want the police knocking on my door. If there is anything worse than being Brittany Spears, Nicole Richie or Paris Hilton, it would have to be the person accused of stalking or killing any one of them.. Who could possibly get that worked up about any of these freaks? . . . creepy . . . yikes . . . enough to make a straight man think there might be intelligent life on the other side! I think the best thing that could possibly happen is if Brittany, Nicole and Paris were to go on a cruise and the ship somehow took a wrong turn and ended up in the South Pole. It would be a long time before any rescue team could get down there . . . if they managed to find their way at all. No one dies (at least, as far as we know), and they all go away.

As for Jennifer, too much time on the covers of the checkout magazines and you'll lose your cuteness. Not good for anyone.

So I'm greeted by US Weekly, In Touch and some other "Look at Me, I'm a Dysfunctional, Anorexic Freak" magazine as I put my groceries on the conveyor belt. And the burning questions are:

1. Is Brittany Spears the worst dressed celebrity?
2. Did Brittany Spears have a boob job?
3. Is Brittany Spears going to lose her child by behaving badly?

Some possible answers:

1. This is a fiercely competitive field. She might not be THE worst dressed, but she certainly is in the running. It's sort of like the "Is George W. Bush the worst president ever?" question. There is certainly no one worse, but a case can be made that Warren Harding and James Buchanan were just as bad. Then again, when that is your competition, it's best to simply acknowledge that you really, really reeeeaaaallly suck and go quietly into the night. Brittany Spears, as far as I can tell, is AMONG the worst dressed celebrities (and that includes Shaq and his organ grinder-style red and orange suits). The worst, though? Too subjective.

2. Don't know and certainly NOT interested in finding out. Scary, scary, scary. When a middle-aged, over-the-hill man has no interest in finding out if a young girl had a boob job, there is really nothing more to say.

3. No, because celebrities don't have to follow the same rules as everybody else. So what if Brittany plops her baby in her lap and goes for a spin or parties is up with her Bimbo Brigade? She gets a pass simply because she's famous. It would be nice if she got locked up because that would spare the lives of all those innocent passengers on the cruise ship that would "get lost" if Brittany were aboard.

And what about Lindsey Lohan? Is there no end to her tragic descent? But that will have to wait. Frankly, I'm getting bored writing about these one-note fashion-drug-show business disasters.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Get up offa that thing! James Brown remembered

The incomparable James Brown died on Christmas morning of some sort of viral infection. It might have been pnemonia, it might have been the flu, it might have been . . . who knows what? With James Brown, you never knew what you were going to get, if he was telling the truth, or exactly what the deal really was. But one thing was for sure: the man is one of the great contributors to American music in the 20th century. He could write songs, sing like God had called him on the FM request line and asked if he could do one just for him, put on a show and design back-beats that today's most technically proficient double-bass, 55 tom-tom, 100 cymbal drummers couldn't come up with if someone put a gun to their heads. Any drummer who tells you that a James Brown song is easier to play than a Neil Peart, Buddy Rich or Carter Beauford solo is lying.

James Brown introduced funk to rhythm and blues, and fused black American music with the soul and gospel sounds straight out of the Southern African-American church tradition that added something genuinely new to popular music worldwide. "I Got You (I Feel Good)," Get Up Offa That Thing," and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," introduced truly revolutionary rhythms into the conventional song form -- he pushed the snare into the down-beat instead of the back-beat; shuffled times; and did all sorts of things too weird and unconventional to describe accurately. The man was way ahead of his time.

"The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," "The Godfather of Soul," are just two of the nicknames that James Brown gave himself, and there is no reason to doubt either one. He was 73 years old when he died, and the man could still put on a show with the energy of performers less than half his age. After learning of his death, I browsed through my CDs and records to see if I had some James to take out. I did find an old "Free James Brown" bumper-sticker that my friend "One Beer" Wes Dobbs gave me many years ago, but no music. Yet, I can sing almost every James Brown song word-for-word when I hear it on the radio. So I did the right thing and bought a great collection of his music off of iTunes -- only fitting for this great musician, performer and true American original.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A cheeful Cha-festi-mas to you all

Happy whatever . . . Kawanza, Chanukah, Christmas, Festivus, Solstice, and on it goes.

See you in a few days.

Hey, wait a minute . . . I just noticed that the only word that DOESN'T come up on spell check is Christmas! Do you think that the Decider . . . oh, forget it.

Peace to you all.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The War on Christmas comes to Bethesda

So the other day, my twelve year-old son, Max, informs me of yet another injustice in the halls of North Bethesda Middle School:

"Dad, it's not fair that the only hats we're allowed to wear in school are those stupid Santa hats."

"What's unfair about that?" I asked, knowing perfectly well what was unfair but curious to see how well I had socialized by child.

"Separation of church and state," he responded. "If kids can wear those Santa hats, then I should be able to wear my beanie."

"Beanie? It's called a yamacha," I said. "You won't even wear your beanie to Hebrew school. Why do you want to wear it to regular school?"

"No, I mean my beanie -- my (skate)board hat. I mean, what's the difference. At hat is a hat.

"Okay, a hat is a hat. And this is going where?"

"I want to conduct an experiment. I want to wear my hat to school tomorrow (yesterday) and see if they make me take it off. If they do, I'll tell them the other kids get to wear Santa hats, and that violates the separation of church and state if they can wear their hats but I can't wear mine. I know I've got the laws and the Constitution on my side."

And so off he went to school yesterday, hat on his head, determined to see if he could stick it to the Man. 2.30 rolled around, and I had received no phone call from the school.

"So how did it go?" I asked after he came home.

"Fine. I was walking down the hall, and the principal saw me and said (lowering his voice for dramatic effect), 'Young man, you'll need to take that hat off. That's against school policy.' I told him that if other kids got to wear Santa hats, I should be able to wear my hat. I told him about the separation of church and state. He looked at me for a minute and said, 'I guess you're right. I'll ask them to take them off.'"

"And did they?"

"Yes, they did. I won, Dad. Aren't you proud of me for sticking up for my beliefs?"

Indeed I was and am. See you on the O'Reiley factor.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Decider flunks math . . . again

Surrealism is now the only word to describe the world in which George W. Bush resides. It is certainly not planet Earth. In fact, it might not even be a place within our solar system. I wonder if Martians or any other extra-terrestrial life-forms are even thinking of invading us at this moment. If I were a Martian commander, I might think, "Hey, I'm not getting anyone near the United States until January 20, 2009. Let them get themselves together and make an interesting place to invade. Meanwhile, we're going to chill in Canada or Australia for a while."

Two days ago, the Decider indicated that he wants to increase the size of our armed forces. "I'm inclined to believe it's important and necessary to do . . . [and an] accurate reflection that this ideological war we're in is going to last for a while, and that we're going to need a military that's capable of being able to sustain our efforts and help us achieve peace."

In the spirit of the season, there is only one thing to say: Oy-vey!

Where exactly does the Decider believe he is going to find the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of troops to bring the military up to the level he says is necessary to sustain a multi-war, multi-front conflict? He tells us that "difficult choices and additional sacrifices" await us in the year ahead. And yet he offers no concrete plan detailing the specifics of the "additional sacrifices" that he will ask of us. He sure as hell won't be asking any sacrifices from the wealthiest and most privileged Americans. Asking Americans to slap a "Support the Troops" magnet on their cars is no more a request for sacrifice and communal solidarity than buying a few rolls of Sally Foster wrapping paper every autumn makes one a committed proponent of the public school system.

The most logical place to start building an additional troop base is through conscription. But that isn't going to happen. Charlie Rangel, a Korean War veteran and long-serving Democratic congressman from New York (Harlem, specifically), has talked of introducing legislation to mandate conscription early next year. Rangel has brought this idea up before to a decided lack of enthusiasm, knowing full well that all the talk of sacrifice is nothing more than rhetorical posturing for tough-talking politicians who want others to sacrifice -- and die, if necessary -- in the name of their political ambition.

There are numerous advantages to a career as a professional academic, first and foremost that you don't have to work as hard as people that have "real jobs." Years ago, when I served as our department chair, I had colleagues -- and I am not making this up -- who complained to me that they had to leave the building in order to teach a class, or could not teach two classes in a row on the same day.

Seriously.

I grew up in a retail family, and I learned very early that if my Dad did not go to work and open his store, he couldn't sell anything and couldn't make any money. That made certain essentials, like the mortgage, the cars, clothes, activities and Dewars White Label Scotch, hard to come by. In my business, I come across children of privilege who, at 18, 19 or 21, have never been told no, have never had to work for anything and who are used to having someone intervene to fight battles ("I don't care if Simon can't spell and doesn't come to class and doesn't know your name. He is going to get an A because he wants one and I want one for him.") that they don't deserve to win. I often wonder if the same parents intervened on behalf of their son or daughter when they couldn't get a date to an important social event ("You will go out with my son because he wants to go out with you! You will do it even if I have to pick you up by the short hairs and drag you out myself! And you will have a good time! And if my son or daughter doesn't want to go out with you again, then so be it! You -- you . . . person who is not related to me . . . you have NO SAY IN THIS MATTER. ME, ME, ME, ME, MEEEEEEEEEE . . . MEEEEEEEEEEE!")

And we haven't even scratched the surface of youth sports. At times, I think the motto our youth hockey program should be changed from "Sportsmanship First" to "Every Montgomery County Child a Prince."

We do not live in a time when "sacrifice" has any real meaning, except for people who are on the lower-end of the American socio-economic scale. A person who doesn't have much doesn't know what he or she is missing. People who have everything are much more used to farming out their responsibilities and needs to other people, who they believe are intended to serve them. Around where I live, which, admittedly, is not a representative slice of Americana, a sense of entitlement is pervasive among adults and children. I just had to hear an acquaintance complain to me the other day that, with three kids in an elite private school, she could not afford to have a maid three days a week anymore, and had no idea what she was going to do.

"Have you thought about cleaning up the house yourself, or getting your husband involved, or getting your kids to pick-up after themselves more," I asked.

You would have thought I just asked to her to have sex in the middle of the Nordstrom women's shoe department.

"You just don't get it," she said. She picked her grande skim soy latte with just a little foam and an extra half shot off the counter and stomped off. I think she was upset that our little conversation had made her late for her appointment with her personal trainer, a tid-bit she felt compelled to share with me while waiting in the coffee line. Up until that point, she had been "so glad to see [me]." I even looked "marvelous for 45" (ouch!)

Oh, well. I don't think we had much of a future together anyway . . .

I am in no position to complain about my lot (as a salaried university employee and nominal author, I am going to get paid pretty much the same thing every other week no matter how hard, or not hard, I work.). But I have never forgotten what it means to see people sacrifice things for themselves to improve the lives of their families. I knew a lot people growing up who had served in Korea and Vietnam, and were very careful when talking about American military intervention. They were far less likely to talk about "kicking ass" or turning foreign countries into "parking lots" than their draft-avoiding and service-deficient peers. My Dad, perhaps the most unlikely solider (save me) I have ever known, served in Korea shortly after college. My father-in-law, one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever known, did a tour in Europe towards the end of World War II that involved liberating and cleaning up German concentration camps. He wasn't 21 years old. To this day, neither one holds a special brief for military adventurism.

Not a single member of George W. Bush's civilian war cabinet has served in the military, save the departed Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld (who turned out to be the Robert McNamara of his generation.) The Decider, a man-child of privilege, has no conception of what sacrifice is or what it involves for people continually asked to set aside their dreams, hopes and aspirations to serve as pawns in the chess games of the wealthy and powerful. I am curious to see where he is going to get the bodies to beef up our armed forces. Meanwhile, should the Martians decide to invade us anytime soon (HINT, HINT!!), I, for one, will welcome our new masters as liberators. Really, can Martian rule be any worse than Bushworld?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Live and in person . . . for better or worse!

Attention former fans of Available Jones (you know who you are):

I will be playing with a straight-ahead jazz quartet tomorrow night at the Mayorga Coffee factory in Silver Spring. It is located at the corner of Georgia ave. and East-West Highway (MD 410). The gig runs from 7.30-9.30 p.m.

I am subbing for another drummer, so that is my built-in excuse for any screw-ups that will occur.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chanukah Break . . .

Out from Friday, December 15 to Monday, December 18. See you then!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I read the news today, oh boy . . .

These were some important headlines and important stories from today's news . . . in the Washington Post, New York Times or the AP, not as it might appear, The Onion.

"Bush Won't Be 'Rushed on Iraq'" The Washington Post December 13, 2006

Almost four years after starting an unnecessary war that it is now and, for some time now, has been losing, the Bush administration decides it won't be 'rushed.' That's what the Decider himself said. O-o-o-o-o-o-o-kay!!! Good to know.

"White House to Delay Shift on Iraq Until Early 2007" The New York Times December 13, 2006

Since our current strategery, to paraphrase Will Farrell paraphrasing the Decider, is working so well, it makes sense to adhere to the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

"Less Than 25% Back Bush's Iraq Strategy: Poll" Reuters, December 13, 2006

So then it make sense to delay any effort to address this mess, right?

"Bush: Enemy Far From Being Defeated," December 13, ABC News On-Line

Here's another doosey: the Decider admits that the enemy isn't close to collapsing, which is Bushspeak for admitting that we're losing. But he reiterates that there is no need to make any changes, or at least make any changes anytime soon.

Two years and six days to go before Bush leaves office . . . but who is counting?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

New Tom Tomorow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, December 11, 2006

F- #$*!)%%^- - g awesome, dude!

Note: If the F-bomb offends you, stop here.

So, like, today, I was over in the common dining area in, like, the Mary Graydon Center, which, like, is, like, an open space where, like, anybody can, like, eat. I mean, it's not, like, a common dining area because you can, like, do more than eat there, do you know what I mean? There were, like, soooooo many tables reserved or whatever in the University Club, where, like, professors, staff and, like, invited guests can, like, have lunch or whatever, that I had to, like, find somewhere else to sit down? Does that, like, make sense?

You so would not believe it that, like at this table next to me, these two girls were, like, trying to study for some exam or something that was, like, soooooo hard, and then, like, one says to the other:

"Can you believe the fucking library is, like, fucking closed at, like 2 a.m., or whatever when there's no, like, study days or whatever? I am so thinking of, like, writing a fucking letter to the university saying that, hey, keep the fucking library open so we can study!"

I tried to imagine this letter:

Dear President Kerwin:

Like, my name is Missy or something, and my parents pay a lot of money for me to, like, come here or whatever. Could you please keep the fucking library open past fucking 2 a.m. so that I can study for my fucking exam and so, like, I can have a chance to make a, like, decent fucking grade or something?

Very truly yours,


Missy Airhead
A Concerned Fucking Student

"You are so fucking right," said her friend. "I mean, like, you know, if they are not going to have fucking study days, like, the least they can fucking do is keep the fucking library open, don't you think? Like, how hard is that? Jeezus fucking Christ, I mean really!"

Just then a booming, much more masculine and yet equally stupid voice rang over my shoulder:

"Dude, no fucking way YOU are sitting there! I just tried to call you," intoned Mr. Backwards-Baseball Cap-Not-Into-Personal-Hygeine-It's-Finals-Week Guy.

"Dude, fuck it. I mean, like, what the fuck are you so, like, giving me a hard time about? I'm like, right fucking here," answered the Owen Wilson impersonator.

"So, like, are you writing papers?"

"Fuck."

"Fuckin'-A, dude. I hear you."

I have always been fascinated by the term, "Fuckin'-A." It doesn't really translate from the colloquial to the vernacular. Do any of these make sense?

"Our professor totally fuckin'-A'ed us over on the exam." (No)

"Dude, I would love to fuckin'-A Kate Winslet." (No)

"There is no way I would let Kevin Federline fuckin-A me. He is, like, so gross." (No)

"What the fuckin'-A is wrong with you. I said medium rare, not medium well." (No)

Back to the boys:

"Like, are you going to get all your fucking papers done on time or go the, like, extension route?"

"Dude, fuck, man. My, like, friend, has got extensions in every class or something because he totally bagged the semester. I'm like, dude, what the fuck? And he's like, dude, I'm cool."

"Dude, I'm like, going back to bed because, like, I wouldn't even fucking be up yet if this were, like, a normal fucking day or whatever.

And then . . . . . back to the right:

"OH, FUCKING SHIT . . . you're here," screamed our locked out librarian. "Like, where were you last night at our fucking study group, you whore? Out with the sex offender again? He is, like, so hot that I would, like, so jump his fucking ass."

(Part of me wanted to ask, If he is soooo hot, why would you 'jump his fucking ass'? What is that going to accomplish? But to each, their own.)

"Fuck you, bitch. I am so not telling you anything . . . and like, blah, fuck, blah, like, blah, fuck, blah . . ."

E-fucking-nough! I finished lunch and left, feeling good about the public manners and outstanding vocabulary of these fine AU undergraduates, but a little concerned what I would tell my kids if they, as they like to do, come with me to campus next semester to hang out. Be careful out there, though. You never know who might be fucking sitting next to you next semester at lunch or in the library (where I wrote this). I mean, like, you wouldn't want to end up on here, would you, and look, like, really fucking stupid?

Fuckin-A!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Give Mary Cheney a break

Mary Cheney is the daughter of Vice-President Dick Cheney and First Victorian Prude Who Writes Racy Novels with Lesbian Scenes But Really Doesn't Lynne Cheney. Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the vice-president, Lea Anne McBride, announced that Mary and her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, are expecting their first child sometime next spring. Mary is the biological parent to the child; it is not clear what path Mary chose to become pregnant. And it really isn't anyone's business but her (and her partner's) own.

The Cheneys, Dick and Lynne, are, according to the press announcement, "eagerly anticipating" the arrival of their sixth grandchild. Their other daughter, Elizabeth, has five children though her Biblically-sanctioned and Republican-approved heterosexual marriage.

Mary Cheney and Heather Poe live in Virginia, which voted in November to amend its state constitution to include a ban on same-sex marriage and the recognition of civil unions of any kind. What this means is simple and clear: Ms. Poe will have no legal claim to the child that one presumes she and her partner agreed to have. She will have no legal right to be present for the birth of the child if she so chooses or to make a decision on behalf of her partner should something go wrong during the delivery of their child -- a child that really isn't hers, even though, it is.

There is a lot of hypocrisy to go around here, beginning with Dick and Lynne Cheney's support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and their party's condemnation of homosexuality as some sort of direct affront to God's will and the Republican platform (which the Christian wing of the Republican party views as interchangeable). Mary Cheney worked as a campaign operative for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, which included a substantial gay-baiting component as part of its commitment to traditional values. She previously worked for Coors, which has been a major contributor to the Republican party for years and whose former head, Joseph Coors, has always funded right-wing causes through his charitable foundations. Coors, in fact, was the first benefactor of the Heritage Foundation, which is probably the most influential right-wing think tank in American politics.

I don't want to get in Mary Cheney's head, because that appears a pretty complicated and conflicted place to be. But I will say this: let Ms. Cheney and Ms. Poe work this out on their own. Like most people who move from abstraction to reality in their lives, they will probably find their public voice on this issue and others affecting gay Americans. In the meantime, wish them well and leave them alone. The right to privacy, like the right to free speech, applies to everyone, even those who we believe might be better off doing or thinking something else.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Copernicus, Galileo . . . speak up!

Have you ever read something someone says, found it absolutely nuts, and been more amazed that this person seems to have credibility or standing as a wise person from whom we can all learn?

In the December Washingtonian, the recently retired Catholic archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, gave the monthly, "What I've Learned" interview with the magazine. After some introductory biographical material, the interview begins with a fairly innocuous question of how he explains his faith. Here it is, just so you don't think I making this up:



How do you explain your faith
?

It involves my relationship with the Lord -- and, through that, with other people. . . Maybe tragedies such as the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, as terrible as they are, have great spiritual impact, as they bring out the best in people.

The tsunami resulted in more than 200,000 deaths. How can that be part of God's plan?

Remember that this is not the only life we have. How we walk through this life is important but only part of the journey. Our journey continues after death in a more beautiful and perfect way. Then we enter a life that never ends, at total peace with God. What happens in this life can seem tragic, but beyond being citizens here, we are citizens of the city of God.

But some of these 200,000-plus tsunami dead were children, who'd done nothing wrong in their lives.

Compare what the scripture tells about the life to come: The eye cannot see, the ear cannot hear, the mind cannot imagine the good things God has in store for us. Those children didn't have to live through the challenges and difficulties, the pains and sorrows, the frustrations of this life. The Lord loved them so much that he said, "Come, I want you to be with me right away."

Those children were lucky to be taken away by the tsunami
?

They were spared the problems, temptations, and sufferings of this life. God calls many of us to heaven -- maybe all of us, please God. But some of us have a harder time in this life. These youngsters didn't have that hard time. you might say they were lucky, but I'd say they were blessed.


In the Middle Ages, Copernicus and Galileo were condemned by the Catholic Church for their "heretical" teachings on astronomy and natural science -- Copernicus for his heliocentrism and Galileo for his improvements to natural science and his endorsement of Copernicus's ideas. Religion has always sought to explain what science cannot, and as that universe of possibilities gets smaller and smaller as the boundaries of what we know and how we know it expand, the attempts of religious authorities to explain great events looks more and more foolish. I cannot even imagine what the reaction of religious authorities would be if secular humanists suggested that tragedies such as the tsunami were the product of natural events and not God's will.

200,000 die because God wants to spare them the difficulties of life on Earth and bring them to a better place. There are people -- lots of them -- who think this is true. Unbelievable.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

So, who didn't get the job?

Remember the movie, "The Jerk?" Remember when Steve Martin comes running out of the house, screaming, "The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!?" And he opens up to find his name -- again!

That is my reaction to the release of the Iraq Study Group's report by the Baker-Hamilton commission. After all the build-up, all the deep-thinking by self-appointed and Establishment-designated Wise Men (and Sandra Day O'Connor), the commission's stunning conclusion is that

1. Iraq is a mess.
2. The current approach (whatever the hell that is) isn't working.
3. The Bush administration needs to change its policies.
4. Any change should proceed with caution, since we don't want to make things worse.
5. Whatever changes do take place should take place very gradually, but not too gradually, but not too slowly either.

Damn! And I thought we were winning.

But the most disturbing element of yesterday's well-orchestrated processional of the Baker-Hamilton's commission's trip up to Capitol Hill to release its report greeted me early this morning on the front page of the New York Times. Among the nine Wise Men (and Sandra Day O'Connor) filing into the room was Edwin Meese III, a man who held the title Special Counselor for President Reagan and also served, more infamously, as his Attorney General. Meese's tenure at Justice was marked by regressive social policy masquerading as a return to the "original intent" of the Framers; numerous attempts to undo the law of affirmative action, repeal Roe v. Wade, expand the death penalty to include jaywalkers and turnstile jumpers, reinstate school prayer and on and on. Meese spent most of the latter part of his tenure as Attorney General fending off investigations into shady financial dealings (remember Wedtech, anyone?) and pretending he didn't know as much about the Iran-contra scandal as he really did.

And this guy is a Wise Man? How fan-fucking-tastic is that?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New Tom Tomorrow here

As promised, you can find the new Tom Tomorrow here every Tuesday.

Monday, December 04, 2006

John Bolton is gone . . . and you'll love why!

The Decider "reluctantly" accepted the resignation of United States Ambassador John Bolton from the United Nations earlier today. Bolton was perhaps the most ill-equipped person to hold that post since Jean Kirkpatrick cooler her heels between more lucrative gigs as President Reagan's U.N. ambassador. Kirkpatrick, for those of you too young to remember, was a Georgetown professor laboring in relative obscurity until she made a big splash in the early 1980s defending the Reagan administration's decision to back authoritarian regimes against their totalitarian enemies. Support for the Nicauragan contras? Absolutely! Death squads in El Salvador? Naturally, for what was the alternative? Corrupt regimes here, corrupt regimes there? That was just realism, folks -- defending democracy depended upon defending corrupt and often murderous regimes or, in the case of the contras, "freedom fighters."

Bolton comes from a similar perspective, so good riddance. But you have to love the Decider's statement to the press and public on Bolton's departure:


"It is with deep regret that I accept John Bolton's decision to end his service in the administration as permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations when his commission expires," Bush said in a statement released by the White House.

"I am deeply disappointed that a handful of United States Senators prevented Ambassador Bolton from receiving the up or down vote he deserved in the Senate," Bush added. "They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time. This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country, and discourages men and women of talent from serving their nation."


Stubborn obstructionism . . . ill serving our country . . . yep, yep, yep . . . all said without a trace of irony. In the words of the great Homer Simpson, "It takes one to know one."

Is W the worst president ever?

Since 9/11, The Washington Post has been extraordinarily deferential to the Bush presidency, parroting the administration's line on terrorism and, in particular, its decision to invade Iraq. The Post was there from the beginning, offering little in the way of critical reporting until the Abu Ghraib scandal forced it to take a closer look at what the administration was actually doing with its detainees, as opposed to what it said it was doing with them. In November 2005, the Post did run an eye-opening series by Dana Priest on the "black box" detention centers run by the CIA in Eastern Europe that were used to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan and Iraq, or anywhere else as long as they were suspected of aiding our enemies. By and large, however, the Post continues to cling to the illusion -- really, now, a delusion -- that Iraq can be saved and brought into the community of democratic nations. If not taking that position on its own editorial page as recently as yesterday,it trots out what seem like everyday another chin-pulling, listen-to-me-because-I-talked -to-someone-high-up-who-knows-what's-what op-ed from either David Ignatius, Jackson Diehl or Jim Hoagland letting us know that a solution is just around the corner if we just remain patient and listen to those in positions of conventional power. And, of course, there are the comic book entries of Charles Krauthammer and George Will, two armchair hawks who each avoided combat in Vietnam, and various other high-level officials offering solutions worthy of a graduate-level seminar but bearing no relationship to the political realities of Iraq.

So it came as a great surprise yesterday during my customary five minute perusal of the Post's Sunday Outlook section (which must be the most underachieving commentary and opinion section of any newspaper centered in a world-capital.) to see an above- the-fold photograph of the Decider (looking rather clueless) buffeted by the caption, "What Will History Say?" Four of the five historians and political journalists commissioned to write essays came to the conclusion that history will rank the Decider at (the distinguished Reconstruction historian Eric Foner) or near (Douglas Brinkley, David Greenberg and Michael Lind) the bottom of American presidents. An historian named Vincent J. Cannato, who worked as a Bush speechwriter early in his first administration, cautiones us that history will judge the Decider as a good and even visionary president. We live in complicated times, and events have not yet unfolded that will allow historians to view the Bush presidency in its proper light. Cannato trots out the usual jibes and resentments against what he calls the "left-leaning historical profession['s]" traditional hostility to conservative presidents. Suggestions that Bush might be the worst president ever is simply, in his view, ideology masquerading as history.

Not so fast. Six and one-half years into his presidency, George Bush cannot lay claim to a single domestic policy success, unless you consider more tax breaks for the wealthy in a time of war (something, by the way, that is unprecedented in American history), corruption and cronyism at the highest levels of government (and the Republican Party, including Congress and its shadow world of lobbyists, fundraisers and media mouthpieces), the straight-jacketing of secondary and elementary school education by the No Child Left Behind Act and its ham-handed effort to buy the votes of Christian conservatives by funding church-based social programs. And Bush foreign policy has been a disaster of epic proportions, something that clear-eyed observers of our diplomatic ineptitude world-wide and, of course, the incomparable Iraq debacle (worse, although close, than the War of 1812.). W has not even led by example, offering no personal or familial sacrifice to support his foreign policy decisions. Indeed, I wonder if the presidential limousines and SUVs even have a "Support the Troops" yellow-ribbon magnet on their rear sides or bumpers?

I am not sure what is even left to debate. When you're down there is Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, Warren Harding and Richard Nixon territory, it's time to cut your losses and run for the hills. But go read the Post essays for yourself. You can find what you're looking for here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Stay informed (ongoing)

Go to today's (Friday, December 1) Slate for great pieces by Fred Kaplan and Timothy Noah on Iraq. Eugene Robinson is great in this morning's Washington Post, and makes Charles Krauthammer, who appears next to him on the op-ed page, look even more ridiculous than usual -- no small feat. See the link next to this page to get to the Post.

A Tribute to George Harrison

This past Wednesday, November 29, marked the fifth anniversary of the great, great guitarist and songwriter George Harrison, who, as is generally well-known, got his start with a little bar band called The Beatles. Thirty-seven years after The Beatles recorded their final album, which produced Harrison's arguably most beautiful Beatles song (and guitar solo), "Something," some mystifying need is still out there that compels musicians, critics and fans to debate whether Harrison was merely a good musician in the right place at the right time, or a great musician who deserves to be remembered as one the all-times greats in rock history.

For me, the answer is easy, and inescapably so: George Harrison is one the greatest guitarists ever to pick up the instrument, regardless of genre (some favorite Harrison solos: "Something," "Hard Day's Night," "Fixing a Hole," "And Your Bird Can Sing," "Nowhere Man" "Norwegian Wood," just to get started.), a gifted songwriter who offered a style so original that his songs are immediately recognizable within the first few bars of hearing them (think: "Taxman," "Something," "If I Needed Someone," "All Things Must Pass," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Isn't It a Pity?" "Here Comes The Sun," Wah-Wah," "I'd Have You Anytime," are songs so distinctive from the Lennon/McCartney model [and canon] that they cannot possibly stand in the shadow of his two bandmates, both whom were [and are] talents so uncommon that the only proper analogy is to astronomy -- the rarity of an eclipse, meteor shot, planet viewing -- rather than other musicians), and, finally, an extraordinarily insightful, sensitive and generous man. "The Quiet Beatle" might have been an appropriate nickname for Harrison in 1963; but, if you followed his career at all, it sure wasn't by 1968.

I caught, by accident, National Public Radio's two-hour retrospective and tribute George Harrison's career on Wednesday night. You can listen to it here. And while I am on the subject of Harrison, check out the DVD of the concert hosted in his memory by Eric Clapton released in 2002, "A Concert for George." The guest musicians provide some incredible renditions of Harrison's classic songs; a separate DVD offers some commentary on his career, as well as some archived interviews with Harrison himself.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Is Jim Baker really Mr. Fix-It?

The mainstream news media and the Washington political establishment are falling all over themselves in anticipation of the forthcoming recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, hailing whatever will come from this report of self-styled Washington Wise Men (and Sandra Day O'Connor) as a miracle elixir for the Iraq disaster. As a teenager, I used to look forward to the release of the new Yes album or wonder which of the dozen girls who wouldn't go out with me if their life depended on it would make the high school cheerleading team. In the end, the results were pretty much what or who I expected, and that was a good thing. I wanted to hear the certain stylistic trademarks of my favorite band that set it apart from all the others, and I wanted to make sure that the new cheerleaders were snobby and obnoxious enough to justify my social isolation from their world on my terms.("You couldn't pay me enough to go out with Valerie Britt!" when the truth is you wouldn't have had to pay me a dime.)

There seriously cannot be a person alive who believes that the Baker-Hamilton commission will offer any recommendations that buck the status quo, much less unveil some dramatic, foolproof plan to extract the United States from the quicksand that is contemporary Iraq. More likely than not, the commission will recommend that the Iraqis take more responsibility for securing their borders and taming the anarchy that is their current state of domestic politics and, in what will be hailed by the Washington media as a "dramatic" departure from the Bush administration's current posture towards Iran and Syria, negotiate with these two important and powerful Arab neighbors of Iraq. And Jim Baker will have accomplished what he wanted, which is end his long career in and out of politics as the Wise Statesman he has always longed to be.

After coming to Washington as part of the George Bush I campaign team in 1980 to help stage manage Ronald Reagan's presidency and staying on to serve as Secretary of State after Bush I was elected president in 1988, Jim Baker earned a reputation he once loathes and cannot escape -- that he is Bush family's Tom Hagen, the memorable character played by Robert Duvall who served as the consigliere to the Corelone family in the first two Godfather movies. Baker's fluid political skills led the Washington media to nickname him "The Velvet Hammer." If Jim Baker wanted you out, then you were out, and there was no chance in hell that you would ever find his fingerprints anywhere near the deposed bodies. In 2000, the Bush family pulled him out of retirement to clean up the Florida mess so that W -- the Sonny Corelone of the Bush family -- could by-pass the courts, the law and the democratic process to claim the office to which his family felt he was entitled. Re-kindled talk of Baker's "Mr. Fix-It" moniker soon resurfaced, soiling what he believes -- really believes -- was his exit reputation as the diplomatic smoothie of the Bush I administration.

Now Baker is being hailed as the potential savior of the Bush administration, "the grown-up" who is going to tell the fraternity-boy president that his foreign policy operation is now on double-secret probation. Before anyone gets too excited about the Baker commission's report and recommendations, remember this: this is the same man who, as a member of the Reagan inner-circle, encouraged that administration to straddle the fence on the Iran-Iraq War, largely because friends of Baker stood to make gazillions of dollars off the chaotic state of oil production in those two countries and the business interests that American companies had in Iraq; that, as Secretary of State, Baker abandoned the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan and left the door open for Bin Laden and the rise of the Taliban; that, in 1991, Baker resisted calls for Saddam's disposal and agreed to leave him in power, allowing the now-deposed Iraqi strongman to unleash the Republican Guard on the Shia in the south, killing 50,000 persons even after his army was forced to leave Kuwait; a man who has remained an unapologetic supporter of the corrupt and autocratic Saudi regime; and a man, who as Secretary of State once remarked, "Fuck the Jews. They didn't vote for us," in response to a comment on the unease with which American Jews viewed the Bush administration's approach to Israel. Whether organized American Jewish groups were right or wrong bears no relationship to Baker's impolitic response.

Jim Baker's real record, stripped of his careful manipulation of the Washington media and his above-it-all attitude towards politics, is much closer to another "Mr. Fix-It," the character from the Richard Scarry books who broke much more than he ever fixed.

Be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Not bedtime reading

Seymour Hersh's latest piece on the Bush administration's FUBAR antics is not something I recommend reading before going to bed or threading a needle. You can find it here.

The most recent New Yorker (December 4) features several great articles, including one on Arlen Specter's decision to cave into the Bush administration on habeas corpus; another on Lou Dobbs's emergence as a television populist; and a great Talk of the Town comment from Hendrik Hertzberg on the phony bi-partisanship of Washington.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New Tom Tomorrow here

"This Modern World," written by Tom Tomorrow, is the best political comic going. Starting this Tuesday (today), you can link to the new strips here.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The best of what's around?

The Washingtonian might just be nothing more than the People magazine for our region's upscale, well-educated white professionals who are simply too sophisticated to feign interest in Brittany Spears's marital woes or the latest hijinks of Paris Hilton and her entourage. But it does offer an insight into how the professional political-law-media complex here views itself -- self-important, increasingly money-driven, insular, elitist, entitled, intellectually incurious and bound to a peculiar conventional wisdom that confuses social status with smarts. Put in more specific terms, Washington is high school run amok. And if the Washington Post is the school paper, then the Washingtonian is the yearbook, published twelve times a year instead of one. And just like the cool kids in high school, self-appointed Very Important People in Washington love seeing their names, and increasingly, their pictures, in print.

So leave it to the Washingtonian to fawn all over Secretary of State Condi Rice as one of those important high-level officials "making a mark" on their corner of the professional world. Here is how Rice is described (and I am not making this up):

"When tensions flare abroad, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is quickly on the scene -- the calm public face and articulate voice of the Bush administration foreign policy. In the last year, she has traveled to more than 20 nations, talking with leaders about everything from United Nations sanctions against North Korea to the development of an economically viable Palestinian state.

Rice's goal of 'transformative diplomacy," which she says is 'rooted in partnership, not paternalism -- in doing things with other people, not for them" -- represents a subtle but significant shift in emphasis for the administration.

Time will tell if her mark will be made in reviving peace talks in the Middle East -- or in mistakes she might have made as the President's national-security adviser. . . . But even as she defends an unpopular war, she remains a popular presence around Washington."


When George Bush leaves office on January 20, 2009 -- who's counting? -- Condi Rice will leave with perhaps the most complete record of failure of any foreign policy official in high-government since Robert McNamara. Her tenure as the NSA will remembered for two things: failing to heed the clear warnings given to her on the threat that Bin Laden posed to the United States and the imminent likelihood of a terrorist attack on American soil; and serving as a syncophantic voice on the Bush administration's Iraq war council. Since her promotion to the State Department, Rice has done nothing to improve the position of the United States abroad, or pursue any course of successful diplomacy to deal with the perilous state of affairs in the Korean pennisula, the Middle East or to diffuse the chaos in Iraq.

If Condi is the Prom Queen, then Tony Snow is Washington's Prom King. Gushes the "Making a Mark" profile on the Decider's press secretary:

"If ever the Bush White House needed an aggressive yet engaging personality at the podium, this was the year. (My Note: largely in part to Ms. Rice's incompetence.) Tony Snow . . . turned out to be just the guy.

At White House briefings -- dubbed 'the Tony Snow Show' by correspondents -- he has defended the administration on everything from Iraq policy to sagging poll numbers with a combination of combativeness and humor. He called Bob Woodward's latest book 'cotton candy -- it kind of melts on contact.'

That kind of talk has made Snow . . . a favorite with the GOP. . . .

The White House press corps may give Snow grief, but among Establishment Republicans . . . he's 'like Mick Jagger at a rock concert.'"


Where to start with Mr. Jagger-Snow? Although the White House still refuses to call the civil war in Iraq a civil war, even the mainstream news media, which, until very recently, has towed the administration's line on Iraq since March 2003, has acknowledged the reality of the Iraqi free-for-all. Snow recently said that the insurgency was more problematic than the administration had wished, BUT, refused to call the civil war a civil war, instead saying that the Iraqi civil war was not a civil war because "it's not clear that they are operating as a unified force. You don't have a clearly identifiable leader."

Got that? A civil war isn't a civil war unless each side is wearing clearly indentifiable uniforms (Blue and Gray, perhaps?) with matching regalia. If you don't believe that the civil war in Iraq is a civil war, read Harvard Professor Martha Duffy Toft's piece from last summer piece on the Nieman Watchdog site. Iraq jumped the shark a long time ago, and yet Tony Snow stands there day after day, lying to the public about the carnage in Iraq as if this were just some group of paintball enthusiasts gone a bit over-the-top.

Rice and Snow are not just running interference for presidential policies that involve reshaping the tax code, insisting that their boss wasn't asleep as hostile jets strafed US airspace or offering a smokescreen that no one really believed about their boss's extra-curricular sex life. The Bush administration is sending Americans to die almost every day for a lost cause; thousands of Iraqis, most of whom are civilians, are dying every month because of our decision to invade their country and our incompetence at establishing economic and political order. This is a disaster for which Rice has blood on her hands and Snow, although not a policy planner, has made a conscious choice to serve as the administration's voice. Why the Washingtonian would see fit to place two fluff pieces on these two Bush apparatchiks is a decision that ought to make more responsible journalists shudder with embarrassment.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Whitewashing Chocolate City

The new Washingtonian magazine is the annual "Best of Washington" edition -- the best people, food, houses, college sports teams, manicure salons, cocktails, lawnmower repair shops, neighborhoods, women's accessories boutiques, golf courses, movie theatre popcorn. Hundreds of glossy photographs of people (mixed in among the shots of elaborately staged tacos, purses, swirly cocktails or wine bottles)lucky enough to be among those who own and operate our area's very best of everything are featured throughout the magazine.

Washington is known as "Chocolate City" among African-Americans nationwide because of its thriving black middle-class, the political power concentrated among black politicians and its burgeoning professional and entrepreneurial sectors. So guess how many photographs of African-Americans are in the new "Best of" edition?

Eight.

Hmmmmm . . . go figure.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A schvitz and a soak at the J

Is there any greater place to be than in the men's locker room at the Greater Washington JCC? Where else can you relax, take a soak and a schwitz and hear this:

"What so many of these doctors don't understand," came the voice from the other side of the steam room, a bony but certain finger waving in the air to remind the other three people in the steam room that an important point was about to be made, "is that old people -- and I would not put myself in that category -- don't like going to the doctor. When you get to that age, who the hell wants to take time to hear someone tell them, 'Don't do this; don't do that; slow down; speed up; don't eat this or that . . .' it's terrible. Some of these people down at 'my place' (Note: when old Jewish people use the phrase, 'my place,' it means a retirement community with optional assisted living) need to get to get the hell of their goddamn rooms and see someone. Will they listen to me? Not a chance."

"Take, for example, this guy up on the fourth floor," he continued, oblivious to the rising temperature of the steam pouring forth that was about to reach near-asphixiating levels. But if three old Jewish guys aren't looking to leave, what choice do I have but to stay? "Since he moved in with us, he has had this terrible condition (Note: a 'condition,' as used by old Jewish people, means life-threatening illness or unspeakable disease, such as cancer. For example, the phrase, "I don't know how Murray is doing and I'm afraid to ask. I've heard he has a condition, and it doesn't look good"). . . I don't know, something with his lungs, or his throat . . . but he won't go get checked out. I try to tell him, 'Listen, let me take you to the doctor, get checked out, we'll have some lunch, it will be nice.' He won't budge."

"So here's what these doctors need to do," he continued, clearly building towards the punchline. By this point, I had begun to write my will in my head, sorting out long-held personal resentments with one side of my brain ("Did Verhoff ever give me a wedding present? I can't remember . . . that's it, then; he gets nothing") and, with the other side, looking for tie-breakers to distribute my CDs and books to ("Reteneller has most of the Bill Evans catalogue, so I should probably give those discs to someone else . . . Joey gets the autographed "Seconds Out" Genesis record. I'll give Judy the Billie Holiday stuff, but will she get it?").

The two older guys continued to nod, although for a minute I thought one was just dead.

"Hire pretty nurses!"

Pause. Then one guy old sticks his hand in the air, as if to get the teacher's attention so he could answer a question. "Absolutely," he rasps. "I have been saying that for years . . . is it really so hard to find a nice looking girl to work in an office? What I think happens is that these doctors think, 'All right, my patient is 75 years old, what the hell does he need to look at a woman for?" Well, I got some news for him -- I always need to look. That's how I'm going when my time's up . . . looking, and not at my wife either. I'd say they'll need to bury me face down, but I'm going to be cremated."

"Cremated," asks the other, aghast that his friend has decided to forego the burial ritual. "Why the hell would you do that? It's against Jewish law!"

"So is marrying a blond shiksa, and if I'd known my wife was going to spend every dime I ever made I would have broken that law -- gladly."

"If she converts, you've done nothing wrong."

"Convert? Why? That takes the fun out of it. I want my wife to know I married a blonde-haired girl, and that she didn't convert. That would just make her mad. I've earned it."

By this time, we had been joined by a fourth alter kacher, who shuffled over and sat next to me, wearing a pair of flip-flops that said, "DKNY Girl" across the straps.

"Melvin, is that you?" he asked. "Still with the shiksas? Why don't you just go eat lunch at the place with the girls that wear the shirts?"

"Wear the shirts?" I thought. What the hell was Melvin up to? Whatever it was, I wanted in.

"What place?" Now, even Melvin was confused. "Every place I eat in the girls wear shirts. What are you talking about?"

"The place with the shirts . . . you know the girls with the shorts, the shirts."

I realized where this was going, and it was a frightening thought.

"Hooters," I interjected. "Hooters is the place where the girls where the short-shorts and the t-shirts." I don't know; the idea of a table of little old Jewish men ordering off the Hooters menu was bizarre enough ("Can you tell the chef not to make the wings too spicy or too mild? Tell him I like them a little spicy but not real spicy. Are you writing this down? I don't understand, what the hell is goddman Cajun catfish doing on this menu? This isn't Louisiana. Is your fish flown in fresh? Does this come with a drink? I want no ice . . . just tea, unsweetened . . . no ice . . . are there free refills")? But knowing that one of these guys had even heard of Hooters was . . . well, discomforting . . . let's just say that.

"Of course," said the still unidentified fourth man. I had picked up Melvin's two other friends' names: Sheldon and Marvin. "The kid knows (there is something nice about turning 45 and being referred to as a kid). I bet you get there a lot, don't you?"

"I've been there twice, not my choice either time."

"Of course it wasn't," chuckled Sheldon, elbowing Marvin to demonstrate his "Hey, we're all guys" solidarity with me.

Then Marvin piped up, mercifully moving the subject of Hooters with four old Jewish guys off the table.

"Doctors need more training in marketing to old people. That's what I did for 40 years, marketing. An old person sees a pretty nurse, he's going to come back. And you tell the nurse, 'Listen, these guys, these old guys, they're not going to do anything to you except smile. They can't (pointing down to his groin area for emphasis) do anything else.' Everyone's a salesman, even doctors. Who died from a little flirting?"

"Speak for yourself!" said Sheldon.

Melvin countered. "Bullshit. Some pretty young nurse wants to flirt with me, then she'll have more than she can handle. Trust me. Old, but not forgotten. In my day, I could give the girls a run for their money. Even the shiksas; I knew how to dance!"

And on and on they went. I would have taken them all to Hooters, but I had to get out of the heat. They stayed, laughing and needling each other as I left the steam room and headed for some fresh air. They, once again, had made my day.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sssh! Someone's watching you . . .

I wonder if the Pentagon is as interested in the activities of the disaffected neo-cons on Iraq as it is on groups that have absolutely no influence on public policy. Read more here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Stay informed (ongoing)

The new Tom Tomorrow cartoon is here; Eugene Robinson is great, AGAIN, in this morning's Washington Post; once again, I have no idea what the pedantic Anne Applebaum is talking about in her column on genocide and Dafur; the New York Times has done readers a real service by placing Tom Edsall on the Op-Ed this month as a guest columnist. Edsall is one our very best political journalists, embodying everything a serious political writer should be: curious, smart, perceptive, intellectually dexterious and able to communicate his ideas at an appropriate level. Read his column here (you'll have to sneak past the Times firewall).

The new Atlantic Monthly offers some meaningful topics for discusson over Thanksgiving, including a selection of its 100 Most Influential Americans. Click the Atlantic link on the right-hand side of this page to get to it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The neo-con con job

"Embittered Insiders Turn Against Bush," read yesterday's (Sunday, November 19) headline on the front page (below the fold) of the Washington Post. And just who are these "insiders," and about what are they so embittered?

For starters: Kenneth Adelman. Richard Perle. Richard Haass. Joshua Muravchik.

And they are really, really mad -- embittered, in fact -- that Iraq turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Especially after they were all so supportive and so sure that the Decider, the man they believed had the guts to oust Saddam Hussein, discover and purge his country of weapons of mass destruction, including its burgeoning nuclear weapons program and turn Iraq into a glorious democracy that would set an example for the entire Middle East.

Adelman, a former protege of recently fired Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld whose right-wing bona fides were established when he headed the arms control team of President Ronald Reagan, who, if you remember, did not believe in arms control, is the man who predicted that an American military operation would be a "cakewalk." Of course it was! What other possible result could there have been when the world's most powerful, well-equipped and technologically advanced army took on a popgun militia with only minimal loyalty to its regime? Predicting a cakewalk in Iraq required about as much insight as predicting that a recently released prisoner with a fist full of money would get laid in a whorehouse.

But Adelman and his neo-con colleagues, most notably Richard Perle, another long-standing member of the Washington foreign policy establishment, are stunned at the Bush administration's incompetence in establishing a viable state after Saddam's fall. Joshua Muravchik, an influential foreign policy specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, went so far as to suggest that perhaps the whole basic pretext for the invasion was wrong.

Wrong? Really? Well, just as Bogart and Bergman will always have Paris, Adelman, Cheney and the other delusional, self-satisfied neo-con brigade will always have their celebratory dinner at the Vice-President's mansion shortly after Saddam's fall, when they toasted themselves on their brilliance and foresight. Three years later, all their rhetorical bravado and intellectual pretense has resulted in cataclysmic death and destruction in lives, reputation and moral opprobrium. And of course not a single member of the neo-con inner-circle had any military background or on-the-ground-experience. They were really no different than a self-impressed group of graduate students creating new regimes in their seminar papers, telling the professor exactly what he wanted to hear, yet absolutely indifferent to the powerful forces of political culture and nationalism. The transformation of Iraq was a pipe dream that never, ever had a chance.

The Iraq disaster is also holds a lesson for Washington insiders transfixed with themselves. Coming here 17 years ago, I expected that Washington would be a place brimming with ideas and smart people interested in discussing them. There is some of that, but it is largely limited to people who have no professional interest in government and politics. Washington is high school student government on steroids -- this is a place that is all about jockeying for position, about who you work for, about who is up and who is down, and, ultimately, who gets to sit at the cool kids' table. And the cool kids are the party in power. The Washington Post is the equivalent of the school paper -- it will tweak the cool kids in an appropriately adolescent fashion, but it will never really push the powerful too far because it views itself as part of the governing process. If the Post and the other establishment media really saw themselves as an oppositional force, the would lose their access to government officials and, more importantly, their high status among the city's social elite. And that ain't gonna happen. The value of an idea pales in comparison to a place on the Washington A-list. There are, without a doubt, plenty of smart people in Washington. But they will not to hesitate to sell their soul for a place among the Washington elite.

"Washington insiders" pride themselves on knowing things that you and I do not. I guess that matters if you believe that what they know is worth knowing. As the neo-cons' bbssession with Iraq shows, sometimes what you don't know can be fatal.

Daniel Craig IS James Bond

My son and I saw the new James Bond movie, "Casino Royale," yesterday, our first in-theatre Bond experience together. From the first minute of the opening pre-credit sequence, Daniel Craig establishes this Bond as a pure killer. His blue eyes, far from making him look soft, establish his killer instincts and ruthlessness. If you're looking for gadgets, tricks and invisible cars, you won't find it in "Casino Royale. This Bond kills with his bare hands and his gun, and doesn't quip, smirk or smile in the process. He just moves on. If you're a Bond fan of long-standing -- you can remember seeing any Sean Connery-era Bond movie or even "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" when it came out, you will love the return of James Bond to his roots -- mean, cold-blooded, physical and all business. And all the trademarks that still make Bond different than any other movie in the genre -- the breath-taking locales spanning the world (five countries, at least, by my count), beautiful women, cool cars and mind-boggling stunts -- are there in force. The difference here is that Bond is much more real than ever before, to the extent, of course, that one man can temporarily deflate an entire terrorist network.

"Casino Royale" is a much necessary corrective to the end of the Pierce Brosnan-era. Brosnan was great in "Goldeneye" through "The World is Not Enough." By "Die Another Day" his time had run its course and so had the increasingly implausible, gadget-driven plots that drove the movies. Go see this movie as soon as you can. Do not pass GO; but do collect the $200 -- this Bond would, and would rip it out of your ear if he had to.

A hat trick for Max

I am pleased and very proud to report that my twelve year-old hockey player, Max, rung up his first career hat trick yesterday, including one highlight reel-quality goal that ended with him crashing into the inside of the net. Although I am tempted to say it all comes down to the coaching (me), it doesn't: He got this one with some great passes and support from his teammates, and some nifty moves of his own.

Congratulations, Max!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Underappreciated musicians

"No, I've never heard of him/them/her . . ."

How many times have I heard that since I began listening to music and collecting records and CDs a hundred millions years ago? In the early 70s, when I dove into my English progressive rock phase, I didn't have a lot of friends eager to go with me. In the late 70s, when I started developing an ear for more jazz-influenced music, same deal. While the rest of my friends were listening to Ted Nugent, trying to impress girls by playing Jackson Browne songs on their guitars at parties, I was busy holding forth on the intricacies of "Close to the Edge," or reluctantly conceding points on key arguments over great bass players ("Sure," was a typical response, "Geddy Lee is a great bass player, but you have to admit he is influenced by Chris Squire, who is the greatest") while my friends, much smoother than myself, trotted out their America and James Taylor records to establish their sensitive guy bona fides with their dates. By the early 80s, I was hardly listening to any rock or popular music, so taken was I with my own personal jazz revolution(that would change in the mid-90s, when I saw the Allman Brothers for the first time in twenty years with a friend and was just blown away by what I heard). The great part of that, especially living in Atlanta, was that I could always get great seats to see musicians like Art Blakey, Gary Burton, Steve Reich, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Michel Petrucianni, Steve Kuhn, Dan Wall, David Murray, Cedar Walton, John Scofield, the George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet, Weather Report, Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie and Keith Jarrett. The hard part was getting people to go with me.

So here is a shout-out to some great comtemporary musicians and their recent recordings.

I first heard guitarist Steve Khan as a session player on Steely Dan's "Aja" and "Gaucho" records, and was immediately taken with his tone, phrasing and note placement. In college, my friend Joey Pierce, who shared my interest in music, played a record featuring Khan, Billy Cobham, Tom Scott and Alfonso Johnson called, "Alivemutherforya." The idea was to take some of the up and coming fusion instrumentalists of the time and create a "supergroup" to showcase their musicianship. Well, I was impressed, and began looking for more records featuring Khan. That led me, in the early 80s, to buy a series of records he made with percussionist Manolo Badrena, drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Anthony Jackson under the name Eyewitness. I've bought everything he's ever played on since, including, in more recent years, more straight-ahead and somewhat Latin influenced jazz dates. His most recent recording, "The Green Field," is just astounding. Link to his website here and explore some of the most underrated great guitarists of the last 25 years. You'll see from poking around his site that this is a man with a big and interesting brain!

I discovered pianist Steve Kuhn when I was browsing through a record bin looking for Steve Khan. A record had been misplaced, and it turned out to be "Life's Magic," a trio recording featuing bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster. Knowing full well who Carter and Foster were by this point, and seeing the name Bill Evans mentioned in the liner notes, I bought the record and listened to it for about a week straight, just utterly transfixed by Kuhn's playing on a composition of his called, "Trance." I had the pleasure of seeing him at the Village Vanguard in New York in 1988 with this trio, and he was absolutely spectacular. I worked up the nerve to talk to him during a set break and he could not have been nicer and more accommodating. He actually thanked me for being so supportive of his music. His most recent release, "Quiereme Mucho," is actually five years old -- such are the market conditions of jazz and the difficulty that many musicians have in getting their material recorded and released. A wonderful recording by a simply marvelous pianist.

For jazz, and now, jam band afficinados, John Scofield is hardly an unrecognizable name. Sco is on quite a roll these days, having recently released recordings with Medeski, Martin and Wood ("Out Louder," which is Outstanding) and a tribute to Ray Charles. But his playing is particularly fierce on a tribute to the late, great drummer, Tony Williams, that he, drummer Jack DeJohnette and organist Larry Goldings recently released entitled, "Saudades." DeJohnette is one our greatest living jazz musicians and, to me, the standard-bearer on his instrument. Here, though, it's Goldings that deserves some support. He takes the material on this record and just tears it up. Listen for him on recordings with Michael Brecker and others under his own name. Figures like Jimmy Smith and Dr. Lonnie Smith have so dominated discussion of jazz organ playing over the last 45 years that anyone coming after them has had a hard time getting recognition on their own. Larry Goldings has it going on. Check him out!

Having never met her, I don't know if Patricia Barber deserves her reputation in the jazz world as an ice queen. I prefer the description given to her by a friend of mine "too cool to be real . . ." This stunning composer, pianist and vocalist will leave you intrigued and moved. She has a lot going on in her music and you'll need to listen carefully. But she's not playing math problems. There is a lot of emotional feel in her compositions and her lyrics, while artsy and introspective, fit the mood perfectly. I am partial to "Verse," from 2002, but "Live: A Fortnight in France" is also great (featuring some material from "Verse"), and allows her band to stretch out a bit. I've heard bits and pieces of "Mythologies," her new release, and so far, so good.

These musicians should open your ears a bit. Listen to them and see where it takes you. And, in case you were wondering, I am listening to "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" from 1971 by the Allman Brothers on my iPod as I finish this up. All great music has a connection, and when you feel it you'll know it.

. .. and the return of Trent Lott

The Republican minority yesterday elected Trent Lott, the Mississippian whose thoughtless comments at former Senator (and former segregationist) Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party four years ago cost him a positioned he had always coveted -- majority leader of the Senate. Lott's election is being spun as a "second chance" for Lott to demonstrate that he is not the racially insensitive and cultural retrograde that he has been for the majority of his 34-year career in the House and Senate. John McCain, the ever-wily maverick, called Lott's election a moment of "redemption." I think the return of Lott is just plain weird. So does John Dickerson in Slate, so go read him here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Alfred Kinsey, please come home

Falling into the "Dog Bites Man" school of journalism, this morning's Washington Post features a front page (but below the fold) story, "3 Christian Groups to Condemn Gay Sex," which sets out the opposition of the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) and the state Baptist Convention of North Carolina to . . . drum roll . . . gay sex, gay marriage, gay coffee, gay flowers, gay wallpaper, gay lawnmowers . . . anything steeped in gayness.

Wow! Now THAT is a news flash!

The United States Catholic Conference has reiterated the Catholic Church's position that gays are "disordered," and declared that Catholics with "a homosexual inclination" should be remain celebate and not discuss their sexual orientation in public. Okay . . . whatever . . . heard that a million times before. Gay sex does "not accord with the natural purpose of sexuality," which, of course, is procreation, not recreation or an expression of feeling or merely lust. Gay sex is "sinful" and never "lead[s] to true human happiness." Gay sex is just bad, bad, bad.

What IS noteworthy about the public announcements of the Catholic Bishops or the various statements coming from the Vatican is that they are made at all. The ongoing scandal involving pedophilia -- the most disgusting moral transgression there is -- in the Catholic Church and absolute failure of the Church to deal with this problem in a forthcoming manner negates anything it has to say about the moral dimension of human sexual behavior. There is nothing more sickening than watching these cases continue to unfold and watch the indifference that so many priests within the Catholic hierarchy have shown towards both the transgressors and their victims. How and why the Church believes it has any moral authority on any aspect of human sexuality is simply beyond me. My guess is that most gay men and women disagree with Catholic officialdom that homomosexual "acts . . . do not lead to true human happiness." The closet is a much darker place to be.

The state Baptist convention of North Carolina has announced that "no other sin marches so defiantly across our national landscape." Hmmmm . . . I guess if you discount the persistence of racism in American society, rates of sexual violence against women, rising income inequality, 45 million Americans without health insurance, a tragic war in Iraq based on deception, lies and outright stupidity that has cost almost 2,850 Americans their lives and two or three thousand other public policy problems, these folks in North Carolina might have a point.

Of course, there are, in true Washington Post fashion, some other groups cited in the article to offset the anti-gay position of these denominations. They mention that Jesus offered "radical hospitality" to anyone, including gay people. And there is some mention of the pro-gay rights position that other major religious groups in the country have taken. But I was disappointed that the most authoritative voice on human sexuality in the last 100 years was not cited anywhere in the article.

Alfred Kinsey.

Kinsey blew Americans away over fifty years ago when he published the first major scientific study on human sexuality, specifically on male sexual behavior. And what he found included -- gasp -- that many men were gay, and many that were not had thought about it at one time or another. In fact, he found that most American men, and later women, had thought a lot about sex, and usually in ways that confounded the conventional sexual mores of the time. Kinsey also found that masturbation did not cause blindness or acne, that women were capable of orgasm, that wearing high heels did not cause women to become sterile and that Americans, in general, had been given a lot of bad information about sexuality and sexual health, with much of that teaching coming from religion.

One of Kinsey's basic findings was that sexual desire was intertwined with human existence. And while there is plenty of room to criticize some of Kinsey's methods and his underappreciation for the emotional connection that most people find with sex -- indeed, people are different from lower-order species in that regard -- his basic findings on the nature of human sexuality are no less applicable now than in 1948. Yet, the moral crusaders, carrying the banner of religion, are determined to repress the human spirit and the biological imperative for an unattainable goal -- to deny people their sexual identity and their right to consensual sexual freedom. I am certain that most clergy would find it highly inappropriate for their congregants to have sex in their pews. Leaving the rules of the bedroom to individuals and not to the righteous filled with the spirit seems like a fair trade-off to me.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Stay informed (ongoing)

Michael Kinsley hits the mark again in this morning's Washington Post with his on the anti-democratic and do-nothing nature of the old Washington game of turning to Wise Men and the "Blue Ribbon" commission to solve problems that are the responsibility of our political bodies. Eugene Robinson is great again on the Republicans' unsuccessful inroads into black America. Dahlia Lithwick has an interesting piece on Chief Justice John Roberts' embrace of the news media and his effort to use public communication to his advantage.

Go to The Atlantic and read the on-line journal (The Atlantic Unbound). Some great stuff from James Fallows and an interesting debate on Iraq.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The McCain fraud

When, oh when, will someone in the mainstream news media blow the whistle on the John McCain fraud? Far from being an "independent," "maverick" or, gasp, "moderate" Republican, McCain is as right-wing as they come. Since hinting that he was going to run for president a few months ago, something he plans to make official real soon, McCain has been seeking the good graces of the Christian Right, which, now more than ever, constitutes the "base of the Republican Party.

McCain opposes abortion rights, opposes gun control, supports capital punishment, is willing to give corporate America anything it wants, is increasingly more sympathetic to letting "faith communities" and "people of faith" (credit where credit is due: Ralph Reed came up with that bit of rhetorical sleight of hand; it sure beats "religious zealot" or "Jesus freak") guide public policy and, most significantly, has been fundamentally supportive of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. Over the summer, McCain made some headlines by endorsing the Supreme Court's decision invalidating the Bush administration's unconstitutional scheme of military tribunals and moralizing on the evils of torture when the Decider decided his "war on terror" could not be effective unless we, uh, tortured captured suspects. But when all was said and done, McCain relented to Bush on the torture bill that Bush, in an effort to trump up his tough-guy-on-terrorism image, strategically signed a few weeks before the election. Bump.

It is still a bit early to sort out the details of the Democratic sweep last Tuesday; but this much is clear: the election was a clear rejection of George W. Bush, his administration, the Iraq War, the stench of Republican corruption and, I think, the religious takeover of the party's operational base. But in a crystal clear example of Beltway-mentality thinking, Washington Post reporter Jeff Birnbaum declared McCain one of Tueday's winners:


Republicans may have lost control of the House, and perhaps the Senate, but McCain was able to mine some good news from the rubble. One of the secrets to
the Democrats' success was winning over independents and moderates, exit polls
showed. McCain has long been seen as a champion of independents; in the 2000 GOP primaries for president, that trait proved to be a liability, but it may now be
a benefit.

"After a year in which independents determined the outcome of the election, maybe Republicans will be more interested in nominating a candidate in 2008 that plays well with moderates and independents," said Jon McHenry of the Republican polling firm Ayers McHenry & Associates.

Come again? The Republicans get killed and McCain is a winner? You can't be serious. John McCain stumped for 43 Republican candidates and not a single Democrat; only 12 won. In contrast, Bill Clinton campaigned for 46 candidates; 32 won. What kind of star power is that?

McCain has vascillated on the Iraq War as much, if not more, than Hillary Clinton or John Kerry, and gets very little criticism for it. I suppose his "independent" image comes from such efforts as his work with Russ Feingold to "reform" campaign finance. But the dirty little secret of campaign finance reform is that it benefits incumbents. Challengers have to spend much more money to build up name recognition, establish a political operation and grease the wheels. Plus, as a real-world matter, campaign finance "reform" has been ridiculously ineffective.

In recent weeks, the mainstream media has discovered that some real differences exist between George W. Bush and his father. Unlike his father, W really is a down-the-line right-winger, uninterested in the world around him and determined to take his Messianic vision forward with little or no concern for what it means for domestic or foreign policy. Bush 41 had a largely ineffectual presidency, but, to give credit where it's due, he certainly didn't make the country any worse off, and managed the first Gulf War to appropriately positive reviews worldwide. Bush 43 will go down as perhaps the worst president of the last 100 years, if not of all time. McCain is much closer to Bush 43 than 41. Now that the right-wing has had its come-uppance, it will be interesting to see if McCain can maintain his star status as his campaign goes national or whether this scam will finally end.



Earth to conservatives: you lost a long time ago

Even before George Allen conceded his Senate seat to Democratic challenger Jim Webb last Thursday, big-gun conservative columnists such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks had already begun to spin last Tuesday's election results as something other than a repudiation of the Bush administration's last two years. Never mind that independent voters supported Democratic candidates by a 57%-39% margin, and cited the War in Iraq as the driving force behind their decision. One too many corruption scandals also cost Republican candidates the votes of Independents, perhaps at a rate equal to the Decider's disastrous Iraq adventure. Together, Iraq and corruption combined to cost the Republicans their twelve-year hold on Congress. Voters concerned about "values," i.e., the new political shorthand for abortion, gay rights, religious influence in politics and so on, continued to side with the Republican Party; the only catch is that not very many voters viewed those issues as carrying that much weight in this year's midterm elections.

Never mind. Conservatives, using their comfortable perches on the op-ed pages of the two newspapers they most often deride as "biased" and "liberal" in their coverage of politics and culture, insisted that the election was a message to the Decider to consider some "different options" on Iraq -- with leaving that mess behind not in cards -- and bring some focus to the current flammoxed state of the Republican Party. Naturally, they pointed to the seven states that joined the twenty already banning same-sex marriage as sure-fire proof that cultural conservatism still dominates the land (one of those seven states banning same-sex marriage was Virginia, which offered an amendment banning civil unions -- hetero- or homosexual. It will be interesting to see how this sits with the non-gay population if this provision is enforced against heterosexual couples. Seeing the success of the anti-gay marriage movement as an endorsement of the Christian Right's social agenda is premature. Arizona rejected such a ban. I think even more important than these empty symbolic gestures -- remember that anti-same-sex marriage laws do nothing more than reinforce the status quo in these states -- was South Dakota's decision to overturn its state legislature's recent enactment of the nation's most restrictive abortion law, one that banned abortions for any reason except to save the life of the mother, Missouri's decision to alter the state constitution to protect stem cell research, the failure of ballot initiatives in three states to impose limits on state expenditures and the decision of six states, none which went for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, to raise the minimum wage beyond the current federal standard of $5.15 per hour. So there.

Nonetheless, conservative commentators continue to insist that conservatism eclipsed liberalism as our dominant cultural ethos with Ronald Reagan's consecutive landslides in 1980 and 1984, and, with the brief exception of Bill Clinton's two terms from 1992-2000, and that conservative values now comprise the center of American social and political culture. But there is another way to think about this debate over our cultural center, and I will begin by offering the following scenario:

Separate from the presidential contest of 2008, let us give the American people the opportunity to reconsider all the social, economic and political innovation that liberalism has brought since the New Deal (that's 1932, for those of you not old enough to buy liquor or cigarettes or draw a blank when someone compares Iraq to Vietnam). Why don't we reconsider the following?

1. Should we repeal the minimum wage, the right to unionize and bargain collectively, the 40 hour work week, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, farm subsidies, occupational safety and health regulations and hundreds of other laws that comprise our social and economic safety net since the New Deal?

2. Should we repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended? The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion and national origin and has been amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of mental and physical disabilities and age. The law also has been interpreted to bar sexual and racial harrassment and require employers to make an effort to reasonably accommodate persons who have work conflicts based on religion and disability.

3. Should we repeal the fair housing laws, as amended, that were enacted in the 1960s?

4. Should we eliminate the massive federal subsidies for public education that began with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended, and make public education strictly the responsibility of state and local governments?

5. Should we abolish the Evironmental Protection Agency and the numerous regulations it enforces to maintain clear air, water and land?

6. Should the Supreme Court declare abortion a non-guaranteed right and turn the matter over to the states to decide, permitting them to ban abortion without exception if they so choose?

7. Should the Supreme Court overturn Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and permit schools to operate with regard to race as long as their funding is equal?

8. Should the Supreme Court overturn the School Prayer Cases of the early 1960s and permit states to allow sectarian prayer over the intercom at the beginning of each school day written by public school or government authorities?

9. Should the Supreme Court overturn its First Amendment decisions broadening the rights of political dissenters, protesters and other unpopular groups that have been able to air their grievances in public?

10. Should the Supreme Court eliminate the right to counsel established in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the right to remain silent established in Miranda v. Arizona (1966) and the right to other protections afforded to criminal defendants?

11. Should Congress pass a law forbidding gay men and women to work in federal jobs, including any job in the executive, legislative or judicial branch? Should they be permitted to have security clearances if they do?

These are just a few suggestions. Rather than discuss these ideas in the abstract -- after all, who really wants to listen to another series of boring speeches and discussion about Social Security reform, why not just give it to the people to decide? If the country is as conservative as our conservative commentators and cultural warriors keeping telling us that it is, and if America really wants to returns to its pre-1960s-corrupted roots, let's vote on it.

Here's another thought -- they'd lose on every question. If contemporary liberalism's political albatross is support for gay rights and gay marriage, that tells us a lot about the cultural center of our nation. A generation ago -- around the time that Ronald Reagan was elected the first time -- no one even discussed gay rights and gay marriage. That was my first election, and I cannot remember a single campaign speech involving gay rights or other issue that now comprises, in the eyes of the Christian Right, the "radical left-wing" agenda. Since 1994, the Supreme Court has expanded the rights of gays and lesbians under law, and extended the right of privacy to prohibit the criminalization of consensual sex. It has also turned away numerous efforts to challenge Roe v. Wade (1973). From 1994-2005, seven of the nine justices were appointed by Republican presidents; since 1968, only one Democratic president, Bill Clinton, has appointed a Supreme Court justice, and those appointments, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer, have not altered the ideological balance of the Court. The "extremist" courts the conservatives have been so busy complaining about for 25 years bear the imprint of Republican presidents. A Court consisting of predominately Republican appointees has either maintained or expanded the scope of personal rights involving privacy and held the line on numerous other challenges to landmark civil liberties cases.

Far from endorsing the religiously-inspired conservative agenda, the nation has embraced the social, economic and political change offered by liberalism. From time to time, electoral majorities have put the brakes on the more left-leaning elements of American liberalism or forced reevaluation of policies that might not have been working very well. For conservatives to postulate that the Democrats are dominated by vegan pacifists who want to tear down heterosexual marriage by mandating interracial gay marriage between disabled men is pure fantasy. Conservatives reject the caricature of their party as nothing more than a group of angry, white, know-nothing men who hate gays, love guns and get excited by the prospect of wars that they refuse to fight themselves. No one should take seriously for a second their continuing effort to make the Democrats out to be something that they're not.

The Great American Middle -- political independents -- determined the outcome of the 2006 midterm elections. They have had plenty of opportunity over the years to jump on the right-wing cultural bandwagon and they have not done it. My feeling on the conservative agenda is this: let's put these ideas to the test and see what happens. What conservatives will find is that the ship has sailed on the culture wars, and the liberals won the overwhelming number of them a long time ago.