16 February 2008

What's wrong with America....

Here's one thing:
NEW YORK - Morgan Stanley on Friday said Chief Executive John Mack received compensation valued at about $41.7 million in 2007, a regulatory filing showed, a year when the investment bank's profit plunged 57 percent.
Imagine if, say, the barista at Starbucks did his or her job so badly the store lost 57% of its customers in one quarter.

I don't imagine he or she would be walking away with an equivalent cool amount.

One set of rules for the wealthy, another for the rest of us.

From here.

15 February 2008

“My give a damn’s busted….”

The statement above was in the form of a window-sticker on a shiny, late-model jacked-up F-150 Ford pickup truck, ahead of me at a stop-light on an off-ramp in Escondido, CA.

Now why in the name of god would somebody want to advertise their utter lack of human compassion? Especially when they’re living in one of the wealthiest nations (and neighborhoods) in the world, driving a vehicle that gets about 13/17mpg city/hwy and is rated 3 for CO-2 emissions at a time when their country is bogged down in an unwinnable, $3-trillion war over oil, and global warming is an undeniable and increasingly frightening threat to the survival of human culture as we know it?!

Just what terrible injustice has twisted the undies of this well-heeled driver to the point that he or she no longer gives a damn? And doesn’t the monster vehicle they’re driving alone convey that message well enough?

The window-sticker showed up roughly an hour-and-a-half after two other incidents made me question my viability in this culture. The first occurred in front of our local Von’s. On the way in with my 87-year-old dad, I’d noticed a man and woman gathering signatures at a card-table and because the guy had been asking people if they were Democrats, I foolishly let myself believe their petition was progressive. On our way out, I approached the table and asked what the issues were.

“Are you a Democrat?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said.

“Do you want to switch parties?” he asked?

“Absolutely not,” I replied, my hackles rising.

He went on as if he hadn’t heard. I missed whatever the first issue was but the second got me. “You want to protect marriage from gays?” he asked.

“No!” I replied, starting to turn away. “And your question offends me.”

“Offends you?! What, do all Republicans offend you?” he continued.

Ignoring the implication that all Republicans oppose same-sex marriage, “Yep,” I replied.

“Well all Democrats don’t offend me,” he lied. “And we need to keep gays from marrying.”

“Well good luck with that,” I said, walking away now. “Cuz you’re on the wrong side of history.”

He shouted toward me, “Well I’m not worried: God’s got my back!” I could only shake my head as I got into my car, shaking with anger.

I wish I’d been more articulate—I rarely think fast on my feet, especially when angry and there are few issues that make my blood boil as much as the fundies attacking our families. As I drove away, I recounted the exchange to my dad, who’d missed much of it. “Well, that’s not the way my God would feel,” he said. And once again I thought of how the bigots have hijacked religion in this country and turned it into a perversion.

As we neared my dad’s house, I found myself trailing yet another shiny, like-new Ford-150 pickup—they’re ubiquitous in this area. I was admiring the cool green color of this one when for no apparent reason, the driver pulled to the side of the road. Thinking he was going to chat with a golfer who’d left the course we were passing and was approaching the truck, I turned on my left blinker and pulled around him. As I did so, he started to roll again but I just pulled ahead, then made a quick left on the next street. I looked into my rear-view mirror just in time to see the huge pickup bearing down on us. The guy had turned left to follow me and accelerated until he was inches from my rear bumper. I thought he was going to run us down.

He rode my bumper for the next half-mile, until I pulled into my dad’s driveway. At that point, he slowed in front of the house, to make a point, then roared off.

I have no bumper stickers( yet) on my car to explain his aggression. And I don’t think the driver witnessed the encounter at Von’s, though I’m not sure.

Basically, I have no idea what I did to make this testosterone-fueled insecure maniac so angry he almost ran down my dad and me. But it made me think: in three-and-a-half years in Ireland, among many, many drunken Irish males, I almost got into a fight only twice, and both those times involved me on my bike foolishly confronting aggressive car drivers.

I’m not sure I’m ready to be back in the U.S.A.

[Cross-posted at The Bilerico Project from the Homeland.]
Update on Oxnard shooting....

Even though law enforcement officials are refusing to comment or give details, it's looking like they will charge 14-year-old Brandon McInerney, who shot and killed eighth-grader, Larry King, 15, (pictured above) this past week at an Oxnard middle school, with a hate crime. Prosecutors are also seeking to try the teenager as an adult.

Prosecutors decided to try him in adult court because the law allows them to do so with juveniles as young as 14 who are accused of serious crimes. Officials said McInerney is facing a long prison sentence if he is convicted of shooting his classmate, 15-year-old Larry King.

"The first-degree murder carries 25 (years) to life. The use of a firearm carries 25 to life, and the hate crime carries an enhancement of one to three years," Senior Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox said in an interview. "In Ventura County, we've never had a school shooting like this. It is very tragic."

I must say I was surprised to see that the hate-crime designation carries only an additional 1 to 3 years. For this the right-wing makes a huge uproar every time another jurisdiction seeks such legislation?!

Complete story here, and more here.

[Cross-posted at The Bilerico Project.]

14 February 2008

Dam*ed hypocrites...!

Republican presidential frontrunner John McCain, formerly against waterboarding--after all, the guy knows firsthand what torture is all about--is now ok with it.

“All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today,” McCain said in interview with the New York Times in response to Giuliani comments. “They should know what it is. It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture.”

But on Wednesday, when the Senate voted on the intelligence bill, which includes a provision that effectively bans waterboarding from being used as an interrogation technique by all 16 intelligence agencies, McCain voted against the bill.

The bill passed 51-45, but President Bush has promised to veto it. [Of course he has.]
Gotta throw those contentious conservatives a bone!

To quote my dad vis-à-vis presidential candidates, "You can't believe any of 'em!"

Good thing you can't (yet) be tortured in America for hypocrisy.

13 February 2008


Lawrence King, the eighth-grade boy was shot and wounded by a classmate at E.O. Green School in Oxnard Tuesday, has been pronounced brain dead, authorities said this afternoon.

Oxnard police released a statement this afternoon saying King had died.
[Full story.]

May Mr. King rest in peace, and may his family and loved ones find solace in this terrible time of needless, horrific and incomprehensible loss.

I spent eight formative years in the Ventura area when I was growing up, living and attending high school roughly 20 minute’s drive from where this tragic shooting took place.

For those who don’t know, Ventura is Oxnard’s county seat. And while I understand that such a heartbreak could take place anywhere—or at least anywhere guns are readily available—knowing the area the way I do, I’m sadly not surprised this tragedy happened in Oxnard.I sometimes tell friends that I’m surprised I made it out of Ventura alive. While I’m referring more to the risk of suicide than to murder, in this case the genesis of the each would have been similar: being queer in Ventura was akin to being a round peg trapped in a community of happily oblivious squares. Totally checked out and barely conscious that a larger world existed, I couldn’t imagine cities like San Francisco or Berkeley, where oddballs like me sat in cafes and passionately discussed art, literature, politics, history, and other such reviled-in-Ventura-especially-among-young-folks topics.

Ventura was—and possibly still is, despite the current prevalence of trendy coffee shops—a place where difference was reviled if not outrightly punished and complacent conformity greatly rewarded. I’d never lived in a more progressive location so like a gill-less fish in water had no idea why I was drowning. Looking back, I marvel I got out more-or-less intact and I thank the goddess-of-my-lucky-stars that I wasn’t born male and forced to grow up there. If I had, I can almost guarantee I’d be dead, in prison, living on the streets, or institutionalized now.

Masculine girls can fade into the woodwork and are usually fierce enough to defend themselves if picked on. Effeminate boys, on the other hand, walk around with bull’s-eyes on their backs that draw in every sadistic, insecure-about-his-masculinity asshole for miles, be they the kid’s own father or his jock heads-up-their-asses classmates. And for some twisted societal reason, femininity tends to take the blows rather than physically fight back.

The facts in this sad case remain sketchy, so I may be totally mistaken that Lawrence King was a sweet sissy boy struck down before he had a chance to really live by a warped tormenter with a gun in a place where bullies and available handguns abound.

Sadly, though, having lived nearby where he died, that’s exactly the picture I have.

[Crossposted at The Bilerico Project.]

12 February 2008

For shame....

The Democratically-controlled Senate today handed the Bush administration everything it wanted (again!).

This time, the prize was retroactive immunity for telecom companies who illegally spied on American citizens in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Glenn Greenwald at Salon has been following this story. Today's update is worth reading in its entirety, but the short version is that 19 Democrats broke ranks with their party and their constituents to hand this gift to Bush and Cheney.
UPDATE V: Final passage in the Senate of the Cheney/Rockefeller bill was 68-29. 19 Democrats joined all Republicans to vote in favor of warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty: Conrad, Rockefeller, Baucus, Webb, Kohl, Whitehouse, Bayh, Johnson, Bill Nelson, Mikulski, McCaskill, Lincoln, Casey, Salazar, Inouye, Ben Nelson, Pryor, Carper, and Landrieu. Neither Obama nor Clinton voted on final passage.

10 February 2008

“God wouldn’t create somethin’ less than perfect, now, would He?

The words above, uttered in a Southern Californian drawl by the large woman cutting my hair as we chit-chatted about baldness—of all things!—caught my attention and hit me harder than anything has so far.

I’m no longer in the EU!

In Dublin, Ireland, where I spent much of the last four years, almost no one offering a public service like a haircut would dare throw out such a loaded bomb, then follow it—as she did—with a pregnant pause during which she pointedly held my gaze in the large wall-mirror. Way back in the early 1970’s, I’d spent an unforgettable (though thankfully brief) stint with the “Jews for Jesus,” so I recognized the drill. Respond, “No…indeed He wouldn’t! Our Lord acts with infinite wisdom” or some such drivel, and off we’d be on a self-congratulatory Jesus love-fest.

Responding, as I did instead, with an uncomfortable silence and white-knuckle grip on the arms of the barber chair beneath my plastic poncho, I was readily identified as one of the damned.

So be it.

What is it that makes these obviously-insecure, so-called Christians think that God-talk to perfect strangers—or more to the point, paying customers—is acceptable? It’d be one thing if the Religious Right hadn’t turned the populist brand of American Christianity into a spiteful, misogynist, self-centered and homophobic sort of mass cult. But they have. In retrospect, I wish I’d have parried her query with something like, “I don’t believe in the literal truth of the fairy-tale myths of an ancient people who wandered the Middle Eastern desert thousands of years ago.” But that strategy seemed risky while she held in her hands the fate of my haircut.

So…here I am back in the USA after 3-1/2 years in Ireland. And wow, is it a shock in certain ways, specifically, the obvious advances made by the Religious Right. Jesus bumper stickers on every fourth or fifth car. A Republican presidential candidate who talks openly of rewriting the Constitution to be more Christian--and news commentators don't blink an eye. Even a so-called “liberal” presidential candidate who feels compelled to pander to high-profile homophobic preachers. “God bless America,” has become a standard sign-off for presidential speeches, as well as “God bless you” an everyday farewell for many ordinary Americans.

This has happened gradually enough that even those Americans who express alarm over the trend may be somewhat oblivious to its extent. Nothing like three years in a formerly-religious-now-conscientiously-secular nation to give me perspective.

And with that perspective, I find America’s sanctimonious religiosity extremely disturbing, especially in light of the stuttering economy, the widening gulf between rich and poor, and the country’s widespread and obstinate ignorance about history and the rest of the world. Add to that, a widespread indifference about the Iraq war, which has murdered up to 1.033 million Iraqis, killed at least 4,913 Americans (including contractors), displaced an additional 4 million, and driven America’s national debt to 3.658 trillion dollars (and counting).

Yet turn on the news, and you’d think the worst events facing the nation weren’t the war, a sub-prime meltdown that’s wrecking havoc on the domestic and global economies, and an absolutely staggering level of personal credit card debt among average Americans, but rather Heath Ledger’s untimely death and Britney Spear’s drug problems and custody battles.

The country seems in the grip of mass cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, you have vast numbers of people who live lavishly due to an American financial and military hegemony that ensures control over a hugely disproportionate amount of the world’s finite resources. On the other, Americans ignorant of the world’s true feelings assert “America is number one!” yet want to deport migrants who dare try to escape the poverty caused by America’s global policies by sneaking across the border to pick lettuce, dig ditches, or clean toilets.

An appallingly large number of Americans eschew Darwin’s scientific theory of evolution, yet use a perversion of it to justify their coldhearted domination over those weaker, poorer or more vulnerable than themselves. Many of the same express devotion to a Jew who (may have) preached a gospel of voluntary poverty, humility, and non-violence in the face of social injustice in a far-flung province of the Roman Empire some 2,000 years ago, then these Americans turn around and vociferously support a murderous and completely unjustified empire-building American war that has devastated an entire nation.

The hypocrisy and/or oblivion of America’s Religious Right has driven me to the point where the mere mention of God makes me want to leave the room and have nothing further to do with the person speaking. So, until the actions of these religiously obsessed individuals become more gentle, generous, kinder and forgiving—in short, more “Christ-like”—I’d like to ask them to keep their insecure, death-fearing beliefs to themselves.

[Cross-posted at Bilerico.]

23 March 2007

Gulf of Tonkin II...?

From the Guardian:

The Iranian navy has seized up to 15 British sailors, the Ministry of Defence confirmed today, sparking a diplomatic standoff between the UK and Iran.

Iran's ambassador to the UK was immediately summoned to the foreign office for what the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, described as a "brisk" meeting.

He was "left in no doubt" that Britain expected the immediate return of the sailors and their boats, she said.

However, Iran's government responded by summoning the British charge d'affaires to Tehran to protest at what it said was the illegal entry of British naval personnel into Iranian waters.
I find this more than a little frightening, when you consider that the Bush administration has been (1) lusting for months for an excuse to carpet-bomb Iran, (2) under increasing legal threat from Congress on Attorneygate, and (3) facing, for the first time since 2003, the possibility that Congress will reign in Bush's imperial aspirations in the Middle East.

Also, something I read (can't remember where) suggested that if Bush were going to start bombing Iran with no warning, he'd commence when the moon is either waxing or waning.

I hate to say it, but it's currently a waxing crescent.

17 March 2007

Happy St Paddy's Day...!

And it wouldn't be Ireland if we weren't experiencing gale force winds, near freezing temperatures and rain!

But who cares?! It's almost spring and the days are going from mid-winter's 7 hours of daylight to a rollicking 12 hours worth! (Well, not counting clouds and rain.) Whoo-hoo!!

So, I took some photos today. And I’ll bet those of you who haven’t been to Ireland in the past decade expect Dublin’s St Paddy’s Day parade to look something like this:

Or maybe this:

Or even this:

All photos I took today. But did you ever expect something like this?

And yes, that is a drag queen on the float in the background!
Or this?
And this:

Ireland has changed so dramatically from the poverty-stricken, parochial, papal-dominated and totally white country it used to be, and the Dublin St Paddy’s Day parade really reflects this. But for the Georgian architecture, freezing weather and resultant lack of bare skin, a spectator might think she was watching Carnival! (Well, Carnival in a mostly white country.) Samba bands, wild and colorful masks, dancers on stilts, and irreverent religious iconography reign supreme. It’s so much fun!!

As usual, there were marching bands from US high schools and colleges. I noticed Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, Tennessee and Arizona. And I couldn’t help wondering what expectations those young Americans came to Ireland with, and what impressions they’d take back with them. Drinking age is 18 here, too, and the kids’ adult minders already looked more than a bit jet-lagged. Ha!

So, to America’s Ancient Order of Hibernians, who still won’t let openly LGBT folk march in New York’s St Paddy’s Day Parade, I dedicate this closing photo of blue-robed, samba-playing “nuns” from today's parade in Dublin!