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.