Thursday, August 31, 2006

Vampire Cats

Once upon a time, there was a sweet and well behaved kitten. However, this story is about my cat Starbuck. Posted by Picasa

One day, Starbuck was hanging out, minding her own business, when suddenly she was attacked by a vampire.

Starbuck joined the ranks of the Undead: NOOOOOOO!!! Posted by Picasa

She felt a strange hunger growing in her. She no longer had any interest in Iams Ocean Fish Dinner. No more. Now she wanted blood. Fresh blood. Finding a target, she moved in swiftly for the kill. Posted by Picasa

She mercilessly drained the lifeblood from her hapless victim. Posted by Picasa

Her transformation became complete. Henceforth, she was known around the world as Count Catula. Posted by Picasa

Okay folks, that's it, I'm outta here on vacation. I'll be back Tuesday night. Everyone have a great Labor Day Weekend!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Queering of Dixie?

Last month, Patricia Todd won the Democratic primary in Alabama’s district 54; since there is no Republican candidate, she will run unopposed in the general election for the state legislature, making her the first openly-gay elected official in Alabama history.

The primary victory was not without its hiccups, however. Ms. Todd is white, and district 54 is predominately black. She emerged the winner after a runoff election by 59 votes over a black challenger, but was then accused of breaking a law requiring that financial disclosure forms be filed five days before an election. (Todd filed the day before.)

It turned out, however, that this law had never once been enforced since its establishment in 1988, and that not only did the Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor also fail to comply, the challenger herself did not submit the report on time. A Democratic Party subcommittee then voted to disqualify both candidates. A full committee overturned that decision, based on a state supreme court ruling that late filing is not grounds for disqualification.

The kerfluffle is the result of interference from a Democratic Party bigwig, Joe Reed, who told The New York Times, “This is not about lifestyles; this is not about race. This is about whether she complied with the party rules.”*

Yet he told The Birmingham News, “I don’t apologize in regard to trying to preserve a black seat,” and wrote a letter to county leaders urging them to vote for “blacks in majority black districts” and to “pull out all the stops to help elect” Todd’s challenger. (Imagine if someone claimed we should preserve a "white" seat.) Flyers were circulated during the runoff calling Todd a “confessed lesbian.”

Essentially what happened is that a Dem boss disagreed with the voters over who should represent them, and he tried to rig an election on a technicality.

Joe Murray, writing for the American Family Association, on the other hand, has a different take on the situation: “For almost half a century, blacks in the South enjoyed a hegemonic reign -- that is, until the arrival of the homosexuals," which was apparently in July.

“The homosexual hoedown between blacks and gays had begun,” he writes. “The Todd story shows that there is a power shift occurring in the Democratic Party. Homosexual activists are marching out of strongholds such as San Francisco, South Beach, and Provincetown, and they have their eyes set on other places, such as the Land of Cotton."** (Todd, for the record, is a native of that left-wing fringe state Kentucky and has lived in Birmingham for over 20 years.)

Murray sees Todd’s victory as a result of the machinations of the Democratic Party, in an attempt to liberalize the South by installing people like Patricia Todd – “the homosexual lobby’s lesbian lieutenant,” Murray calls her – in state legislatures. “Todd was a trophy candidate; a candidate funded by the gay lobby, and her victory signals the Democratic wind is blowing in a new direction. Gays in, blacks out.”

“The homosexual lobby is on a quest to raise its rainbow flag over every state house in the Union,” says Murray. Exactly how an unpopular minority group that makes up somewhere from 2-10% of the American population is going to take over the government by winning elections in the Bible Belt is unclear.

The flaw with Murray’s analysis -- leaving aside the fact that he’s capable of writing sentences like, “District 54 will become a Michael Jackson district (i.e., once black and now white)” – is that it was actually Democratic Party bosses who intervened to try to overturn Todd’s election.

What he really doesn’t want to admit is that Patricia Todd didn’t win on some technicality organized by Howard Dean pulling strings a thousand miles away in Washington, D.C.; Patricia Todd got more votes than anyone else. If there's a power struggle going on between blacks and gays (these are mutually exclusive subsets?), somebody ought to tell the black folks in Alabama not to vote for white lesbians.

Oh. They did. And it didn't work.

* The challenger he supported broke the same law.

** We are also after the Lands of Linen, Wool, and Leather, but if you are concerned about The Homosexual Agenda, you might want to consider emigrating to the Lands of Polyester, Rayon and Pleather.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Us vs Them

The atheist turned Christian apologist C.S. Lewis said there’s no such thing as a person who does bad things for the sake of doing bad things, only people who go about achieving good goals the wrong way. If you think about it, it’s true: at the heart of every crime is the desire to achieve or acquire something positive: security, self esteem, wealth, etc.

One of the fundamental problems with “The War on Terror” is that its architects refuse to acknowledge what it is our adversaries actually want. Our government simplifies the issues to a deliberately vague, nonsensical allegation that “they” hate freedom. But no one hates freedom. In fact, shouldn’t it strike Americans as ironic, if not downright hypocritical, that we are over there with our military attempting to force people into a way of life and government that they don’t desire? Whose freedom is really being compromised here?

True, fundamentalist Islam's vision of the ideal society doesn’t match up with Western principles; but why does it have to? Why are we so certain that our values are universal? Why are we so certain that our ways are better for a culture that’s so different?

These are the questions that Bush & Co. either won’t answer or refuse even to consider. Pondering this reality would force them to take into consideration the diversity and complexity of a region we have an unfortunate tendency to lump together under the heading “The Middle East,” as if our allies, the repressive, fundamentalist monarchy of Saudi Arabia, have much in common with our foes, like the secular, relatively progressive democracy of Iran.

And it’s not just “foes” and “allies,” as if we’re schoolkids playing cops and robbers in the backyard; Bush has neatly divided the middle east into pro-democracy and terrorist factions; but our “pro-democracy” fledgling Iraqi government slammed Israel and loudly praised Hezbollah; Hezbollah itself, while participating in terrorist activities, is also a political organization that holds a significant minority of seats in Lebanon’s secular parliament, and is also a highly organized and effective humanitarian group. Terrorist group Hamas won democratic elections in Palestine. Meantime, the terrorists inside Iraq aren’t really “anti-democracy” so much as they are “anti-each-other,” Sunnis and Shiites battling each other in the streets in order to wrest control of the new government. Bush points proudly to the elections in Iraq as evidence that Iraqis want democracy; perhaps, but they don’t want unity. Shiites voted for Shiites, Sunnis voted for Sunnis, and the Kurds voted to separate.

Nuanced, reality-based understanding would completely undo Bush’s Manichaean “Us/Them” theory of global politics.

The way through this mess is to recognize, as Lewis pointed out, that everyone involved ultimately is in pursuit of something good, something positive: in this case, freedom. Now, we don’t and probably won’t agree on the details, but understanding that at a fundamental level we both want the same thing, we ought to be able to find peaceful, constructive ways forward.

As long as the President continues to insist that “we” are good, and therefore everything we want and do is good, and “they” are bad and everything they want and do is bad, we will continue to have slaughter.

There is no “them.” There is only us.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday Photo Blogging: Scenes from a Summer in New York

I can't believe it's already the last week of August! No! Where has the summer gone? It wasn't a terribly exciting one. Here are the highlights: Let's see, first I got some new roommates. Posted by Picasa

I did a little work on the apartment. Posted by Picasa

I can't believe I only made it out to the beach once this year -- but I picked the right weekend. This is The Pines on Fire Island -- it was absolutely gorgeous. Posted by Picasa

The water was as clear and calm and blue as I have ever seen it! Like a bathtub. Fantastic. Posted by Picasa

Starbuck and Rocky consider starting blogs. Posted by Picasa

Each year the Metropolitan Opera presents one free performance each of two mainstream favorites in Central Park and in other locations around the boroughs. This year I attended La Traviata; the other offering was Rigoletto. The performance was great, the weather was divine! Posted by Picasa

Roughly 50,000 people show up to sit in the park for free opera. Posted by Picasa

A beautiful sunset over midtown. Posted by Picasa

Next weekend I will be in Palm Springs, hurray!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Career Update

So, I finally got a raise.

I am now the 350,833,334th richest person in the world.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The A-ha Moment


Lately I've not been in a super good mood. I feel restless, irritable, unfocused. I find it impossible to concentrate. Everything is depressing.

I've been trying to write a blogpost. Start. Stop. Read. Delete. Start over. Repeat. Something about America and its self-destructive inability to see the real issues affecting it, the willful denial that our problems are largely self-made.

Normally writing and thinking come easily to me. What is my problem? I keep asking myself.

This afternoon, while I was on my knees at work, where I've been for 16 months without a raise, scrubbing goo off someone else's file cabinet, I thought: I have a master's degree. What the FUCK am I doing?

As Carrie Bradshaw said in the episode starring Jon Bon Jovi, "I believe in therapy this moment is called the breakthrough."

Monday, August 21, 2006

When All Else Fails, Post a Kitten Picture

I post a lot of pictures of the kitties looking hostile, so here's one of them being cuddly and adorable. There is a post gestating in my brain, but it hasn't found its way into actual words yet, despite several false starts. In the meantime, enjoy my cats. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Friday, August 18, 2006

First Time for Everything

I had a doctor's appointment this morning. Nothing's wrong, it was just time for a check-up.

They asked all the usual questions: any complaints, how's your diet, getting any exercise, etc.

Then they wanted to know about my mental health.

"Are you having any suicidal thoughts?"

Errmmmmm...well, off and on, for, you know, my entire life, yes, but I have religious convictions and don't intend to act on it.

"Okay. Any homicidal tendencies?"

And I said, "What?!?!" because actually I wasn't sure whether she'd said "homicidal" or "homosexual." Either way, it struck me as a very strange question.

"Homicidal. That means, do you ever feel like you want to kill anyone? We're required to ask."

Well...right now, you, for thinking that I didn't know what it meant, instead of understanding that I was so surprised I wasn't sure I'd heard you correctly.

And how do I answer this question? Who on earth would answer yes? I mean, no, the answer's no. Definitely not. Except on the sidewalk, at the airport or in the grocery store. But otherwise, no.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What If?

This week’s edition of New York Magazine features suggestions about how the world might be different today if the 9/11 attacks had not happened. I would like to indulge in a slightly different version of this unhelpful fantasizing: what if we had reacted differently to 9/11?

On September 18, 2001, Congress rejects President Bush’s proposed “Authorization for the Use of Force,” describing it as too vague and unconstitutional, as it grants the executive branch authority reserved for Congress. Instead, in a bipartisan effort, Senators Lieberman and McCain offer a resolution to declare war on the government of Afghanistan pending approval of the United Nations Security Council, which is granted unanimously on September 20; Congress declares war on September 21.

A coalition of international forces, cobbled together by the valiant efforts of Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Secretary of State James Baker, including the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, China, Russia, Pakistan and 26 other nations, commences an invasion of Afghanistan on October 7. The Taliban evacuates the capital Kabul on November 12.

On November 20, Taliban leader Mohammed Omar is captured by tribal leaders near Kandahar, where he has been living disguised as a woman wearing a burqha. He is stoned to death for violating the Koran’s dress code.

On December 5, 2001, acting on a tip, the coalition forces descend on a mountainous area of Afghanistan known as Tora Bora; after intense fighting, Osama bin Laden and his lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as 43 other Al Qaeda members, are surrounded and captured. The world is shocked to discover that Bin Laden, reported to be 6-foot 7, is actually 5’6. He is transported to the The Hague in The Netherlands, where he is charged in the International Criminal Court with Crimes Against Humanity.

On January 29, 2002, President Bush delivers the State of the Union Address: “My fellow Americans, I recognize that the 2000 election was fraught with unresolved problems which led many Americans to question the legitimacy of my administration. I recognize that it is a matter of essential national security that the American people have confidence that their leader was fairly elected. Therefore, I am pleased to announce my support for a new bill in Congress entitled The National Election Standards Act of 2002. Among the many important safeguards of this act are the establishment of non-partisan state election offices and money to purchase a nationwide supply of electronic voting machines which will produce a paper record for verification." Bush also announces the purchase of the World Trade Center site from Larry Silverstein and the creation of the September 11 National Monument.

Following the CIA’s recommendation, on June 2, 2002, President Bush authorizes a strike on a suspected terrorist encampment in northern Iraq. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and 39 followers are killed. On June 17 Osama bin Laden is sentenced by the ICC to life in prison.

By August 1, the United States has finished the preliminary trial process of some 800 captives from Afghanistan held at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Finding sufficient evidence to charge only 48 detainees with criminal activity, the rest are released.

In October 2002, the United States presents evidence to the United Nations that Iraq is maintaining an active illegal weapons program. In November 2002, the Security Council rejects the first draft of Resolution 1441, stating that “dire consequences” is too vague. U.N. weapons inspectors arrive in Iraq on December 2, 2002.

In January 2003, President Bush delivers the State of the Union Address, detailing the amounts of banned chemical and biological weapons Iraq is suspected of harboring and alleging that Saddam Hussein recently attempted to purchase uranium from Niger.

Three days later, Ambassador Joseph Wilson publishes an Op-Ed in the New York Times revealing that Vice President Cheney had personally sent him to Niger to investigate the claim, for which he had found no evidence. The White House promises an investigation.

On March 2, 2003, Vice President Cheney holds a press conference to announce his resignation, stating that he not only withheld from the President Ambassador Wilson’s report, he actively encouraged the inclusion of information he knew to be false in the SOTU. On March 19, Cheney is arrested in connection with the shooting death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in a hunting incident, but is later released when the police rule it an accident.

On March 23, Cheney is photographed entering a rehab facility.

On April 2, 2003, UN inspector Hans Blix formally reports that Iraq no longer possesses any banned biological or chemical substances and no trace of active weapons programs can be found.

During the summer and fall of 2003, the United States engages influential European nations as well as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates to request that Saddam Hussein resign, based on charges of atrocities against Shiite Muslims and Kurds. The Arab League adopts a resolution to support the forced exile of Saddam Hussein on November 14, 2003, if Israel will pull back to pre-1967 borders.

On November 22, Israel declines to give up occupied territories. On November 23, President Bush expels the Israeli ambassador.

On November 25, former Vice President Dick Cheney is videotaped wearing only a t-shirt, digging holes in his Jackson, Wyoming estate and shouting, “I know the weapons of mass destruction are here somewhere. Fucking liberals! Yarrrrrgh!”

On November 26, the website YouTube is founded.

On December 3, Hussein says he will accept exile if Israel will retreat to pre-1967 borders. Israel declines. On December 5, President Bush suspends all US aid to Israel. On December 8, Israel reverses itself and announces a plan for a withdrawal from all occupied territories. The Arab League gives Saddam Hussein 21 days to report to one of a small handful of countries who have agreed to give him asylum.

Saddam Hussein arrives in Bahrain on December 24 and asks for asylum. Some 500,000 UN troops arrive in Iraq on December 27

On January 1, 2004, Palestine declares itself a sovereign nation. Formal diplomatic ties with the United Nations and the United States are established, and diplomatic relations between the US and Israel resume, though President Bush cautions that US aid to Israel is “under review.”

Iraq holds its first open elections in nearly 30 years on March 3, 2004. The United Nations begins a phased withdrawal of occupying forces.

In November, 2004, President Bush and Vice President Olympia Snowe, replacing former Vice President Dennis Hastert, who declined to run for a second term, win a narrow victory over Democratic nominee John Edwards.

In March 2006, a certain blogger makes his Metropolitan Opera debut as Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, a last-minute replacement for baritone Mariusz Kwiecien. In September, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) loses a primary challenge to Jonathan Tasini.

In November 2008, Democratic candidate Al Gore and his running mate Jon Stewart defeat GOP candidate John McCain. In one of his first official acts as President, Gore nominates Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court, following the sudden tragic death of Justice Alito from a heart attack.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The War for Terror

Dear People With Bombs: Just what exactly do you hope to accomplish?

I am so depressed lately. We can't learn. It just seems to me sometimes that mankind is so disastrously arrogant; we refuse to learn from our mistakes, because we refuse to admit we've made any mistakes. And so we go on and on in the same way, making the same mistakes time after time, and congratulate ourselves for our strength and resolve in the face of adversity, when that strength is distilled from pure cowardice and the hubris that refuses to allow us to examine whether what we are pursuing is morally correct or even possible.

Everyone thinks they can kill enough of "the other guy" to intimidate them into backing down. But there is no "enough." The only way to stop the cycle of violence is to stop the cycle of violence by refusing to engage in it.

Israel thinks it can protect its citizens by doing more of what for sixty years now has enraged the people who threaten them, even though it's never worked. Hamas and Hezbollah think they can get Israel to follow international law by slaughtering civilians on buses and in crowded cafes or lobbing rockets over the border.

President Bush seems to think this is all fine. Israel's just defending itself, right? Even though Israel has for forty years been occupying land that wasn't part of the deal. Even though for sixty years, Israel's been making refugees out of millions of people in their own ancestral homeland, walling them into slums and excluding them from participating in the government. Israel is no more a democracy than South Africa was during apartheid.

But President Bush has a singularly warped view of reality, himself. President Bush thinks tens of thousands of lives are an acceptable price for having put one man in jail. President Bush sees no reason to acknowledge that his justifications for the invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation that had not threatened us and, indeed, had no capacity to do so, were -- shall I be generous? -- exaggerated. (Less generous: baseless. Harsh: fabricated.) President Bush thinks if you shoot/bomb/imprison/torture enough terr'ists they'll begin to understand your point of view. President Bush thinks children who saw their mother disappear in the flame of a bomb or were spattered with their father's blood as shrapnel ripped through his brain will grow up to be grateful that we imprisoned Saddam Hussein.

We call that collateral damage, apparently.

Everyone sinks to everyone else's level. The wearing of a uniform and the receiving of an official paycheck does not legitimize acts of violence aimed at achieving a political agenda. Terrorism -- attempting to scare people into doing what you want -- is terrorism.

And what really kills me -- and I use that word deliberately, as I work in Lower Manhattan just steps from the World Trade Center, living my life in Al Qaeda's bull's eye, because it just may -- is that everyone claims to be doing this for God.

But God doesn't ask us to hold strangers blood-guilty for wrongs visited on us. God is not pleased with suicide bombings or rocket attacks or the bulldozing of homes or waterboarding or cluster bombs or laser-guided missiles. God doesn't want us to avenge killing, he wants us to stop killing.

He wants Us. To Stop. Killing.

Not to get "other people" to stop killing. Us. To Stop. Killing.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunday Photo Blogging: From Sea to Shining Sea

It's a bird, it's a plane, it', it's a plane. An American Airlines 767-200, to be precise. Posted by Picasa

In October 2004, I flew from New York's JFK airport to San Francisco, and all across the country we had spectacularly clear weather, and I was able to take some great pictures. Enjoy!

My beautiful city. Posted by Picasa

Coney Island and the Verrazano Bridge. Posted by Picasa

Ohio, or thereabouts. I fell asleep for a while. Posted by Picasa

I'm going to guess...Kansas? Posted by Picasa