Thursday, January 31, 2008

Better than finding a $20 in your pocket

Tonight I decided it was time to clean out my car (a backseat full of receipts and Google Maps print-outs) and I discovered a bottle of white wine in the rear footwell that I didn't even know was there. Score!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My Horoscope Says I'm Good with Leos

Did anyone watch American Idol last night?

Sigh. I'm in love. Not the most flattering picture of him, but this guy was adorable. He cried! Aw.

Let's hear it for corn-fed Iowa boys, whoo!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Doomsday Vagina

From this week's Hal Lindsey Report:

"[Jesus] said, 'I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I prepare a place for you, I will come that you may be with me where I am.' [John 14:2b-3] I believe that that could happen to anyone. I call it The Great Snatch."

Monday, January 28, 2008


You can mock Mike Huckabee all you want for fried squirrel, his populist-sounding but regressive and impractical national sales tax plan and his indefensible flag comments in South Carolina, but when it comes to the economic stimulus package agreed upon by Congress and the President, Huckabee is the only candidate with the guts to call "Bullshit!"

The plan calls for giving $100 billion in "rebates" to middle-class taxpayers, working out to about $600 per individual.

It won't help. Here's why, according to Paul Krugman: "[T]he bulk of the money would go to people who are doing O.K. financially — which misses the whole point....If the money the government lays out doesn’t get spent — if it just gets added to people’s bank accounts or used to pay off debts — the plan will have failed. And sending checks to people in good financial shape does little or nothing to increase overall spending. People who have good incomes, good credit and secure employment make spending decisions based on their long-term earning power rather than the size of their latest paycheck. Give such people a few hundred extra dollars, and they’ll just put it in the bank."

Don't get me wrong; I'm looking forward to my $600. But when I first heard about the plan and started thinking about what I would do with the money, I decided that about 10% would go to savings and the rest would go to SallieMae and the modest credit card debt I racked up from my move last year. Maybe I'd spend about $100 on "new" stuff.

In any event, a single injection of $600 isn't going to do very much to help anyone on an individual or household basis. If you're losing your house, $600 probably won't even give you one mortgage payment. A single month's premium for family health insurance can cost much more than $600. You'd be lucky to buy two plane tickets for that amount. I'm not saying that there aren't people in this country who couldn't desperately use $600; I'm just pointing out that it won't solve anyone's long-term problems.

Even St. Barack doesn't get this one right; his stimulus package proposes a more modest rebate of $250. Though his plan includes more low-income people, I don't see how $250 is meaningful help, even to the desperate. His argument for the lower dollar amount is that it could be disbursed more quickly, but the real obstacle is that the IRS is presently gearing up for tax season. It doesn't matter (much) what the size of the check is; the IRS can't get us our "rebates" until June.

So the proposed "rebates" are too small to be of any particular individual aid and are mostly going to people who won't actually pump it into the economy. But guess what else is wrong with this idea?

“The problem I have is that what we are really doing is borrowing about $150 billion from the Chinese, which is where this money has got to end up coming from." That's Mike Huckabee, speaking recently to CNN, echoing the comments he made at the South Carolina Republican debate. So it's not actually a "rebate"; Congress is not returning some of our tax dollars, they're taking out a loan in our names to pander to us in election season. That $600 I'm "getting" in June is not a refund; I have to pay it back. To China. With interest.

Huckabee also astutely points out the trade deficit, noting that so many products people might choose to buy with their "rebate" come from China. “So I have to ask,” he added, “whose economy is being stimulated the most?”

The former Arkansas governor argues -- and I agree -- that if the government is going to spend $150 billion, they should start some kind of public works project. Pay that money to American companies, who will pay (and maybe even hire new) employees and purchase goods from American companies, and in the end the American people will get something tangible out of the deal (Huckabee recommends the national infrastructure, like bridges and highways). So the employees of those companies get put to work, get paid, and then they'll spend that money right into the economy.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson tried to rebuff Huckabee's claims, saying that the point of the stimulus package is to get money into the economy right away, and a public works project would take a long time to get going. You could say that's a valid point, except that the "rebate" checks aren't coming for five months and aren't going to help, anyway. I'd rather have a plan that worked (even if the effects weren't felt for a year) than a boondoggle that kicked in immediately.

Note also that Paulson did not try to rebut Huckabee's claims that it's all just a loan from China.

I am not stimulated.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

South Carolina 2

Or Barack could trounce Hillary by 30 points, that would be okay, too.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Okay. This is Cool.

I like to check in with my Sitemeter stats every now and then. I'm less interested in the number of hits (averaging 130-150 real vists per day) than in how people find me, which I can determine by clicking on the "Referrals" link.

I am a top Google search result for the Hal Lindsey Report, and have also recently been found (repeatedly) by someone Googling "RELIGION IS A SCAM" and "Republicans Are Idiots."

By far, however, the search that lands more people on my blog is "final 5 cylons," or some variation thereof. Today I was found by someone using


South Carolina

I want John Edwards to win South Carolina.

This has been a deeply distressing week for progressives. We have three talented, brilliant, qualified and capable horses in this race, which should be cause for confidence and optimism. In terms of policies, there is hardly any "daylight," as the pundits put it, between the front-runners. We should be like Democrats in a candy store: we can only pick one, but all our potential choices are good ones. (The Republicans, on the other hand, are looking for champagne in a fertilizer store.)

Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton doesn't see it that way. Frustrated -- that was the term she used to describe Senator Obama -- and scared that she's actually facing some competition in this race, she resorted to political theater of the cheapest variety, grossly distorting her nearest challenger's record and taking fragments of his statements out of context and spinning them 180 degrees. Her claims have been reviewed by every news agency in the country and found totally lacking in merit: it's obvious Obama doesn't agree with Ronald Reagan; he was always against the Iraq war; he was counseled to vote "present" on the anti-abortion bill by Planned Parenthood; and while he's admitted to some minor errors in judgment regarding his relationship with Tony Rezko, it was nothing on the order of, say, the Giuliani-Kerik partnership. Mrs. Clinton is not one to be discussing minor errors in judgment, especially since she has yet to apologize for her Iraq vote.

Obama naturally had to respond to Clinton's distortions, but it was disappointing and unseemly of a man who has promised us a different kind of politics to include jabs of his own at the former First Lady. Granted, his have all been true, but the tone of back-and-forth one-upmanship was unhelpful and unflattering to both.

Senator Obama currently leads in the South Carolina polls, but there's a giant undecided vote floating around out there tonight: 36%, according to a report I heard on NPR while driving home tonight. I am hoping those votes go to John Edwards. Senators Clinton and Obama deserve to be sent a resounding message that we are tired of politics as usual and are hungry for someone to transcend the fray. Frankly, we have bigger concerns than whether Hillary once served on the board of Wal*Mart. Not that anyone should vote for Edwards merely to spite the so-called front-runners; he's a fine candidate in his own right, and is my dream choice for Attorney General in the next administration. (Can you imagine an anti-torture, pro-labor AG? Drool!)

Okay, let's talk about the elephant in the room: Race.

This same NPR report was dissecting the polls and discussing that Obama has 75% of black support in South Carolina, but only 10% of whites. The question posed to the pollster was [in my paraphrase], "Does that not bode well for his national chances, if he can only gain 10% of the white vote?"

Ay caramba. So, essentially, what we're asking here is: if Obama wins South Carolina, does it count because they're only black votes? And this coming from NPR!

Look, folks. This is South Carolina. This is the state that still has the confederate battle flag flying on the grounds of the capital. And we're supposed to extrapolate his 10% support among whites in South Carolina to divine his national chances? After he won 95% white Iowa and finished a strong second in 96% white New Hampshire?

The big issue is not whether one Democratic contender is right and the others are not; they're all on the same page. The question is, who is going to go to the ruins of Washington left by the Bush administration and put it back together in a new and better way? Let's hear fewer -- how about no! -- meaningless personal barbs and more concrete visions for fixing this country. Yes, wonkiness doesn't make for great TV but this in-fighting only helps the Republicans.

* * * * *

I have been pondering lately whether I would be able to vote for Hillary Clinton if she were the Democratic nominee, and I've decided yes, I'd have to. I think actually in many ways John McCain might make a fine president, but there are other matters at stake: there's the Supreme Court, there's the DOJ, and there's the war. I'm not a fan of Hillary, but none of the Republicans are capable of doing the right thing on any of those fronts. This country and this planet cannot afford a president who still thinks there's anything left to "win" in Iraq. We can't afford another right-wing ideologue nutjob on the court, and we need an AG who will actually bring accused terrorists to justice, rather than letting anonymous people rot untried in prison on the basis of a rogue president's authority alone.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Airliners I Have Known & Loved

I like airliners.

I don’t know why. (Feel free to advance a Freudian theory.) Thanks to all the post-9/11 security nonsense and the general mismanagement of the airline industry I don’t particularly enjoy flying anymore, but I still love airliners.

When I was a young teen, I used to ride the bus out to the Portland Airport just to hang out and watch planes. (That was back in the day when you could get to the gates without a ticket and you didn’t have to take off your shoes and belt.) PDX in the ‘80s wasn’t super exciting, unless you had a thing for 737’s, 727’s and MD80’s. Me, I preferred the big ones. (Again, Freudian?) There was a TWA L1011 that flew daily to JFK via Seattle, but it was a redeye and was only seen at Portland late at night; likewise the old Hawaiian L1011s came in at night and left at dawn. When Eastern went belly-up there was an A300B stuck out on the tarmac for weeks. So life at PDX was pretty dull, until Delta started up a mini Asian hub with nonstops to Tokyo, Nagoya and Seoul using L1011-500’s. (The latter flight continued on to Taipei and Bangkok.)

See, I know where these planes went because I also collected timetables. I actually read them. Yes, I would sit and read timetables. Like, more than once. I read them so much that when updates came out, I would notice things, like, Continental reduced its daily flights from Wichita to Houston. So even though the planes from Portland didn’t go anywhere interesting, I loved poring over TWA’s flights to Europe or Eastern’s to South America or United’s to Asia. I had a particular passion for Continental’s Pacific routes; it was some weird thrill to know when the flight from Yap to Truk was. When Delta took over PanAm’s European routes and started flying to random places like Dubrovnik, I about had a heart-attack from excitement.

My collection, of course, was limited to tables I could pick up at boring old PDX, just the big American carriers. But one day, flipping through the yellow pages (this is how we surfed the internet in the 1980s) and looking at the airline ads, I had the brilliant realization that the yellow pages from a bigger city would have more ads. And the Multnomah County Library had the New York City phonebook. So I went downtown and wrote down the 800 numbers for all the foreign airline offices in New York and called and requested timetables. What must my parents have thought when schedules for Air Afrique and Cathay Pacific started coming in the mail? Screw Wichita; now I could memorize the available routes from Geneva to Islamabad.

I about hyperventilated anytime I got to actually travel through a big airport. In 1990, when my high school marching band went to Hawaii for a competition, I took off on my free time…and went back to the airport. That was where I saw my first real-live 747-400 (Singapore Airlines to Los Angeles via Taipei). While I was still orgasming over this milestone sighting, a second one pulled in right next to it, from Malaysia Airlines. That summer I traveled to Japan as an exchange student and about died at Narita; yeah, that was 18 years ago now, but I still remember seeing an Iran Air 747-SP and an Aeroflot IL-62, among others. Most people don’t remember (because they don’t care) the kind of plane they just disembarked from, let alone a plane they didn’t ride on two decades earlier.

JFK, of course, has an amazing variety of airliners, but the terminals are lousy for plane spotting. My favorite was Zurich; the airport has an open-air observation deck on the roof of one of the concourses, which puts you at right about cockpit-level on a 747. I was so homesick there that I used to stare at the New York-bound Delta 767-300’s with a seriously intense longing, as I huffed the fumes. Good stuff.

Wish there was a way to make money with this.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dump Huck

I confess.

Recently I'd been thinking that even though I wildly disagree with Mike Huckabee on a variety of issues, he might not be so bad, since he seemed plainspoken, genuinely humorous and sincere, qualities which cannot be ascribed to anyone else running for the office on the Republican ticket or to Hillary Clinton.

Yes, I genuinely entertained the notion that if Clinton won the Democratic nomination, my options would be Huckabee (if he's on the ballot) or abstaining. I don't think he's dumb; intellectually he's far sharper than the incumbent. He is right to have criticized our "arrogant" foreign policy and the president's "bunker mentality." He is right to have criticized Donald Rumsfeld's prosecution of the Iraq war. He is right to say that Americans would prefer to have a president who reminds them of the guy they work with, rather than the guy who laid them off. He is right to envision a radical overhaul of the tax code (even if his idea in practice probably hurts most the people he's trying to help). He is right to insist on not punishing the children of illegal immigrants. He might reject evolution, but he doesn't deny the impending disaster of climate change and the necessity of conservation and sustainable technologies. (If you go to his campaign website and look on the "Issues" page, the environment is the first subject he raises under the heading "Faith and Politics.")

And what to make of his easy rapport with sheep-in-wolf's clothing and liberal icon Stephen Colbert? He couldn't possibly misunderstand Colbert's lethally satirical parody of right-wing talking-points; was this the rare social conservative who could tap into the incredibly broad disgust with the Washington status quo and, instead of blaming the latte and chardonnay crowd for the nation's ills, actually court them?

But then came this article in The Nation, "The Real Mike Huckabee." Caveat: the premise rests largely on the unsubstantiated assertions of Arkansas Baptist minister Jay Cole, who claims that Huckabee is a firm believer in "End Times" eschatology. It is true that Huckabee has won the endorsement of Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind novels. Hello, red flag. The next president of the United States needs to have a particularly firm grasp of foreign policy, which already was one of Huckabee's glaring weak spots. The prospect, however, of having a president who believes that the Antichrist* will be manifested as the Secretary General of the United Nations is a dismal one. The last thing we need in the White House is a Christian Zionist who believes that Israel must be preserved and protected at all costs in order to provide a safe-haven for the prophesied "in-gathering" of the Jews so that they are all in one convenient location for Jesus to come back and destroy them. And what to make of the calls for conservation and green technology by someone who presumably believes that he might well be "raptured" off the earth before his term is up? If Huckabee's beliefs are in line with LaHaye's, then there are some questions that he should answer for the American public. (Slacktivist outlines them here.)

The proverbial final straw, however, was his comment regarding the confederate flag in South Carolina. To wit: You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole; that's what we'd do.

Christopher Hitchens does a fine job deconstructing the political and historical fallacies in this boast, but I want to talk about something else.

Don't get me wrong; I was never so naive as to think Huckabee was a friend of the gay community, but forgive me for thinking a sincere bigot is preferable to a panderer who courts my vote and then consistently abandons me when the political chips are down. Rejection on misguided principle I can handle; betrayal for political expedience I resent.

Let's first address the states' rights issues to which he alluded; last year, both houses of the Oregon legislature passed a bill establishing domestic partnerships for same-sex couples in the state; the bill was signed by the Governor; a petition was mounted to refer the issue to the voters but was ruled invalid, according to well-established guidelines, by the Secretary of State for insufficient signatures. The law was to go into effect on January 1, but the Alliance Defense Fund, an out of state right-wing activist organization, filed suit on behalf of the petitioners and on December 28, 2007 Judge Michael Mosman, a Bush appointee, granted them standing and suspended the law pending a hearing. Would Huckabee, in this case, support the interference of an out-of-state group coming in and suing us for respecting the dignity of our citizens?

"We'd tell 'em what to do with the pole." So in addition to the ghastly racist pandering and historical revisionism, Huckabee proposes -- for laughs, no less -- that those who dare to speak out against the endorsement of an established symbol of hatred and oppression should be sodomized with a flagpole. This is a comment grossly unbecoming of either a presidential candidate or a Christian minister.

Mike Huckabee, I'm done with you.

And now a challenge to South Carolina's favorite son: do not let this outrage go unmocked.

* There is no such thing as "the" Antichrist. The Bible does not point to only one person as being the antichrist but speaks of a class of persons. John, in scripture references, speaks of "many anti-Christs" who embody the spirit of the anti-Christ 1 John 4:3). John wrote that, such anti-Christs (or opponents of Christ) would deny: "that Jesus is the Christ"; "the Father and the Son"; and would "not confess Jesus came in the flesh."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pork of the Beast

On my way to the grocery store this morning I heard an interview on NPR with the mayor of a small Louisiana town that just got its telephone exchange changed from the "666-" prefix because of its inauspicious "End Times" associations.

So while I was perusing the pork chops a few minutes later I felt I really had no choice but to get this one. It was a sign.

And now for no reason aside from an obvious "awwwww" factor, here's how the cats spend a frigid winter day in front of the fire.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Required Reading

1. "Huck's Free Pass," by Christopher Hitchens.

2. Barack Obama's address to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, yesterday.

**Hat tip: At the Mountains of Madness

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

On the Reliability of Fortune Cookies

Ummm...turns out, not so much.

Which prompts me to recall a classic Simpsons episode from the 5th season, "The Last Temptation of Homer."

Mindy: What's wrong?
Homer: [crying] We're going to have sex.
Mindy: Oh, well, we don't have to.
Homer: Yes we do. The cookie told me so.
Mindy: Well, desserts aren't always right.
Homer: But they're so sweet.

You See, You Can't Interfere With Destiny

Monday, January 14, 2008

Support for Obama Slips, Poll Shows

In a recent unscientific poll conducted by the blog The Last Debate, results indicated previously enthusiastic support for Barack Obama's quest for the presidency in 2008 has waned somewhat within the small but vocal gay community of Raleigh Hills, a southwest Portland suburb.

"I ordered my bumper sticker over a week ago," said an angry blogger who asked only to be identified as "Andy." "If he can't even get me a bumper sticker in a week's time, then I have to say I worry about what other promises he may be unable to keep," said Andy.

When asked if this meant that he was transferring his support to Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, Andy spluttered, "Oh, hell no. But part of me is hoping that Gay Penguin revives his unsuccessful bid from 2004."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Finding Voices

On Tuesday night in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton claimed to have finally found her own voice. I guess it's going around.

* * * * * * * * * *

Project Renaissance is underway. The score for Bach's St. Matthew Passion has arrived and I've begun learning the aria "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein." Last week I spoke to the music director at church and said I wanted to offer it around Easter time, and he said "Great."

I picked the perfect piece, really. It sits beautifully for me and more than anything requires breath control and alignment; it's not a "big" sing and doesn't go higher than an E-flat, so it is totally non-threatening and practicing it is like physical therapy for the voice. It's also therapy for my mind; concentrating this hard, listening and feeling carefully, analyzing and experimenting, I swear it's causing a part of my brain to light up that's been dormant for five years. It feels really good. And it's nice to hear the old voice again.

Recently, though, I spent some time thinking about why I'm doing this. Part of what was so hard for me about the collapse of my career is that -- even to me, who was suffering from it -- acid reflux sounded like no big deal. Everyone has that. Have a TUMS, you know? Pop a Nexium already. And although no one ever said as much, I had an overpowering conviction that the general assumption was this was an excuse I was making for why my career didn't go anywhere; too deluded about my own talent and unable to admit that I just wasn't that good, I had invented some story about a minor health disorder to cover up my mediocrity.

I've been complicit in that fable, too; for the last few years, I've taken to explaining to family and friends that well, it was nice, it was a good ride and I loved every minute of it, but it was time to put that aside and get a real job. And that, my friends, is what's called A FUCKING LIE.

So, yes, a big part of it is that I have something to prove. It happens nearly every week in church; the person who decides to sit in front of me turns around at the end of the service to compliment my sotto voce crooning during the hymns and say, "You have such a beautiful voice, you should be in the choir!" And while that's nice, I have to confess that behind my polite smile I'm thinking, "You have no idea."

Then I began to worry -- and rightly -- that this was perhaps not the best motivation or spirit in which to present a piece at a church service, and that if I wanted the world to sit up and take notice of how great I am, I should probably consider a different venue. Still, I felt called, as one might say, to offer this piece in this place in this year.

What attracted me to this aria was its beauty; I loved it the first time I heard it. There is something positively plangent about it. Each gentle dissonance tugs at my heart. If one were to think of the Passion as a dramatic work, this is the piece that is sung while Jesus' body is brought down from the cross. Ironically, as I begin to study it, I'm noticing that the text directly addresses the conflict I feel between wanting to prove myself and wanting to humbly offer something for the church, and so it has become a personal prayer in its own right about shaping the rightness of my intentions.

Make yourself, my heart, pure;
I want to bury Jesus myself,
that He should forever more
have sweet rest in me.
World, get out; let Jesus in.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Wait...Obama is Black?

Oh, my word, the digital ink being spilled over the issues of race and gender in the Democratic primary.

There is all manner of bizarre speculation about how these factors play into the decision making processes of the electorate but – even disparaging as I am about the average American’s knowledge of and interest in politics – I think they’re not giving us enough credit.

The dumbest of these ponderings has to be Gloria Steinem’s Op-Ed in today’s New York Times, which so certainly will be one of the most talked-about editorials in the entire political cycle, I won’t bother to review it in detail other than to say, whuh? Where does Steinem get off claiming that “Women Are Never Front-Runners”? Has she forgotten that up until last Thursday, and for about the last year, Hillary Clinton was “the front-runner”? And, as I write, she is ahead of Obama in the New Hampshire returns and so may be again?

Does she think we’ve all been living in some sort of vacuum and only discovered a week ago that we had a black man and a white woman in the race and started changing our opinions because there’s some unspoken agreement that black men get to be president first?

I also really can't fathom the suggestion that white folks are supporting Obama because "it's time" we had a black president. After 7 years of President Bush, with all of the problems facing this country (economy, war, security, civil rights), no one is saying "let's try a black guy." We're saying, "We need someone who can fix this country." We'd vote for a Martian, if s/he had a convincing plan for getting us out of Iraq, saving the environment and restoring our global credibility (and if it weren't unconstitutional). Obama's skin color is merely a bonus, a milestone on the long national road toward reconciliation after our shameful past. The same goes for Clinton's gender: a nice, and important, milestone. We'll get there, this year, or some other year. But right now, we've got bigger problems.

I am glad that Clinton did so well in the New Hampshire primary, honestly. Our electoral system has some pretty enormous flaws, and it would be a tragedy if the nominee was crowned after one primary and a really silly caucus. There's a lot of campaigning left, and that's a good thing.

Hillary Clinton is a totally viable candidate. She's smart enough, she's experienced enough, she's tough enough (and that's not a sexist comment; I'm sure we can all think of men who couldn't handle it, either...hi!), and she's got solid policies. I wouldn't let her drive my car, but she's capable of governing the country.

So, on to the next primary, and may the best man win.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The New Hampshire Debates

The big thing that struck me: the Republicans are in some other bizarre universe. Their notions of healthcare, in particular, are astounding, and their understanding of the threat from radical Islam is so shallow and so very, very dangerous. In no particular order, here are other things I came away with:

Mitt Romney: What an asshole.

Fred Thompson: I think he's still "playing" candidate; we hear him using buzzwords, but we don't really hear him elucidating either clear understandings of the issues or workable solutions.

Ron Paul: It really is an outrage that FOX is excluding him from the upcoming debate; he received twice as many votes in Iowa as Rudy Giuliani, and he's 400 times as smart. But I guess when your foreign policy isn't being dictated by Podhoretz and Kristol, this is the price you pay. It was a relief to hear someone on that stage -- incidentally, the only one from either party -- speak honestly about the complex issues in the war on terror, and about America's need to examine its own culpability for the mess we find ourselves in. But then...the gold standard? For real?

John McCain: Of the Republicans, he really is the best option. But that's not saying very much.

Rudy Giuliani: Wow. Scary. He really has no idea what he's talking about. His answers on healthcare and foreign policy were drawn from fantasy-land. It simply is not true that the United States has the best healthcare in the industrialized world; that is not borne out by the evidence. And then he made a very bizzare assertion that yes, private health insurance is very expensive, but if we could just get 50,000,000 Americans to buy it, the cost would go down. Isn't that an argument in favor of group insurance instead of private coverage? He also just clearly does not understand what's happening in Iraq or what motivates Al Qaeda or anything else going on in the Middle East.

Mike Huckabee: Okay, you know, he may have some unenlightened theological positions and he may very well have cooked squirrels in a popcorn popper, but, I take back my claim from the last post. His Evangelical beliefs are not all he has going for him. Of all the Republican candidates, he's the only nice one. I mean, McCain and Paul have their charm and I don't think they're evil, but Huckabee's fun. And he may be a hick from Punkin' Crick or wherever, but he is far more articulate and confidence-inspiring -- and therefore, presumably smarter -- than Romney, Thompson or Giuliani. Sincerity and plain-spokenness go a long way. He absolutely shamed Romney and Giuliani tonight. He speaks to where people are. He is the only one wanting to take up the mantle of public advocate.

Bill Richardson: Well, here's the foreign policy gaffe of the year, so far: he said he'd negotiate with the Soviet Union. He also said he'd focus on "emboldering" the American people, which at first I balked at, but then I looked it up and discovered it was a perfectly cromulent word. He scored major points by admitting he was wrong to say Whizzer White was his favorite Supreme Court justice.

Hillary Clinton: She had her moments; moderator Charlie Gibson set her up for a "gotcha" when he compared her initial opposition to the Petraeus "surge" to the reduction in violence it has achieved, but she knocked that one out of the park when she said, in essence, yes, but it hasn't achieved its stated goal because the Iraqi government has not taken advantage of the reduction in violence to start governing, and in that light, the deaths of "only" 23 Americans in December is "unacceptable." Brava. But...early on there was a question about her "experience" versus Obama's "change" and she bordered on meltdown. Honestly, I thought we were about one deep breath away from a teary tantrum. I was a little scared. And over and over and over, she kept talking about her "35 years" of experience. She's been a senator since 2001. Before that...I am unclear as to what she's referring. When asked about her accomplishments that pointed to her being an agent of change, she talked about how "President Clinton" balanced the budget after the 12 year Reagan-Bush economic disaster. Hmm. Hadn't realized that was her idea. Mostly she spent the evening transparently attempting to misrepresent Senator Obama's positions. None of her punches landed.

Charlie Gibson: Okay, he's not running, but his claim that a professor at a New England liberal arts college makes a six-figure salary was laughed at by the audience.

John Edwards: I thought he did very well; I certainly agree with his populist positions, but...I don't know, I just don't see him as President. I think he is a great advocate for the people, and I hope the next President finds a useful role for him.

Barack Obama: He's in a league of his own. Panic was just below the surface of every single one of Clinton's answers, but Obama was calm and cool all night long. Articulate, concise, respectful of his colleagues, forceful but not bombastic...what's not to love? His only unsatisfactory answer of the evening was when he chose to follow Clinton's lead and refused to identify a remark he'd made from an earlier debate that he'd like to take back. Both Edwards and Richardson benefited from their candor. He was right to politely emphasize that any one of these folks would offer a major change from the Bush administration, but what was clear (and did not need to be said) was that Hillary represents politics as usual; do we really want to return to the acrimony of the Clinton years? Remember the definition of "is"? America wants to move on. Yes, I'm biased, but, wow...I really want Obama to be the face that America presents to the world next year.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Lapping it Up

As an Obama fan, today has been exhilarating. Fortunately it was a fairly calm Friday at work, so I had an opportunity to read the news online and check out a lot of the commentary, and I took full advantage of it. It's almost as if I needed to keep seeking confirmation that this all really happened.

Having suffered now under the agonizing, infuriating madness of the Bush administration for seven years, it is time, finally, as Andrew Sullivan puts it -- and I am not given to quoting him -- to "know hope." I haven't been this giddy since 2004; not since right before Howard Dean fatally released what became known as "the Dean Scream" and the media had a field day and decided to go with the story of him being unstable, leaving us with John Kerry. Kerry's candidacy was cause for optimism -- sometimes -- but not really hope. I hadn't supported his primary campaign because he, like Senator Clinton, was not the agent of change that this country so desperately needs. But Not Bush was better than the alternative. It just couldn't win.

This country took a profoundly wrong turn in the weeks and months following 9/11. It has been enraging to see this President, dubiously appointed by the Supreme Court for his first term, extol the virtues and necessities of freedom and democracy while systematically dismantling civil liberties and ignoring the rule of law. It has been deeply distressing, too, to watch the ascendancy of Senator Clinton who, among all people, should have known not to trust the neocons pulling Bush's strings when she cast the fatal vote in favor of allowing Bush to "disarm" Iraq. I believe she made that decision not for the security of the people of the United States, not for the welfare of the people of an oppressed Iraq, not for the hope of a better Middle East, but out of political calculation: she wanted to look tough. Since then, she has continued to defend her vote, to say that the disaster lay in the bungling of the plan, not in the idiocy of the plan itself. And she must pay.

The Evangelicals have awakened to realize that they are the GOP's useful idiots: Karl Rove dangled gay marriage in front of them so that they'd rush to the polls to re-elect (often gay) men who gave lip-service to scripture but handjobs to corporations (and sometimes to random men in airport bathrooms).

I am also delighted with the rise of Mike Huckabee. After nearly a decade of utterly transparent insincerity from our President, with a boiling hostility and arrogance just barely restrained, a Connecticut blueblood with degrees from Harvard and Yale trying to pass himself off as a "jes' folks" regular guy from Texas, I think it's actually kind of nice that a major portion of the Republican Party is rallying around a genuine "aw shucks" hick who once cooked a squirrel in a popcorn popper.

Here you have a political party that until quite recently has succeeded on message discipline: if we all say the same thing, and keep saying it, it becomes true, or at least, people will believe it's true, especially if we characterize challenges (climate change is real, bin Laden didn't like Saddam Hussein, cutting taxes does not increase federal revenues, Barack Obama was not educated in a madrassa, the U.S. has the worst healthcare of any industrialized nation, etc.) as the idiotic fantasies of pot-smoking, divorced, gay-marrying illegal immigrant members of Al Qaeda. And now...? You don't even have a party. You've got three distinct groups of wackos -- libertarians, hawks, and fundamentalists -- who have suddenly discovered after 30 years of mutually indulgent delusion that they have nothing in common. The Evangelicals have awakened to realize that they are the GOP's useful idiots: Karl Rove dangled gay marriage in front of them so that they'd rush to the polls to re-elect (often gay) men who gave lip-service to scripture but handjobs to corporations (and sometimes to random men in airport bathrooms).

Well, the Evangelicals are mad as heck, and they aren't gonna take it anymore. They will not be fooled by a pro-choice, pro-gay, thrice-married Catholic whose idea of foreign policy is that there is no crisis which can't be solved by a new war. They will not settle for the governor of the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage. When you're dealing with an entire community of people whose lives center around the concept of moral absolutes, you're not going to find them making politically strategic compromises. You've never heard of religious martyrs? These people are prepared to lose an election; they'd rather throw away the vote that was given to them by the "Christian" founders of this "Christian" nation on a sure-fire loser than make a tactical calculation to vote for someone who doesn't really represent them, who will ignore them until the next time they are called to the polls by urgent warnings against lesbian terrorists having abortions paid for by socialized medicine.

If Huckabee is not the GOP nominee -- and right now, I don't think he will be -- I think the big surprise is that many Evangelicals will cross over to Obama. They may strongly disagree with him on a wide range of policies, but in him they will recognize a man of sincerity and integrity. I think they will take a chance and vote for someone who will be straight with them, rather than risk being betrayed and ignored again by an oily politician who came promising things he never intended to deliver.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Rocky Comes Out of the Closet

After work I went out to dinner with some friends. Now, when I come home, I am always greeted by both cats at the door, but tonight only Starbuck was there, and she seemed particularly agitated. "Rocky?" I called out. Nothing. He wasn't in any of his usual hiding places, and this apartment isn't that big. I began to get concerned.

When I opened the bedroom closet door, out he sprang. "Mrao!" he said curtly, as he ran into the kitchen to get some kibble. He'd gone in there -- as he knows he is forbidden to do -- when I'd gotten out my shirt for dinner and then I unknowingly locked him in. (That's why they're not allowed in the closet...and he's made this mistake before, the big oaf.) Then I smelled cat poo. Ew.

But I could not find it. I tore the closet apart, got out the flashlight, but could not find any kitty presents. I decided it must be my overactive imagination.

* * * * * *

So, Obama and Huckabee won Iowa. Color me not surprised. Stupid beltway pundits. I saw this coming months ago. And Clinton came in third. I am beside myself with joy.

Now, let us put some things in perspective: Bill Clinton placed fourth in Iowa in 1992 and Pat Robertson beat Bush Sr. in 1988, for what it's worth. And I think the rest of the country is, after John Kerry, leery of Iowa's taste in candidates. Still, I think what will matter is that Obama won by drawing huge numbers of first-time caucus-goers, independents, and disaffected Republicans. You want to talk "electability"? How about a genuine liberal who gets Republicans to cross party lines? I'm telling you, a Clinton candidacy would have the opposite effect (and here's one progressive who would vote for some Republicans before he'd vote for Hillary). And we've been told all the while that the Democratic race in Iowa was too close to call; Obama whupped Hillary by nine points. So much for her aura of invincibility. Maybe she'd like a nice ambassadorship to Palau.

And I'm sorry, Huckabee is no flash in the pan. Look back over the past few weeks since his numbers started to skyrocket, and look at all the negative media attention he's gotten, all his supposed gaffes, goofy views and silly gimmicks, like trying to dupe news reporters into airing the negative ad he was too nice a guy to run. The pundits have been predicting a Huckabee implosion. He was supposed to be neck and neck with Romney, according to their wisdom. And Romney got stomped. These are the people who told us Giuliani was a many months ago, now? Hello, fifth place; he got fewer than half as many votes as crackpot Ron Paul (that's where the implosion will be, when liberals and independents impressed by an anti-war Republican start taking a look at his totally verkakte ideas). Huckabee's going to be in it for a while. As I've said here repeatedly, he may be completely wrong about everything, but he shares the views of millions of Americans. He has the evangelical vote sewn up.

So, what happens next week? I'm guessing Huckabee will fall way back in libertarian New Hampshire, where the top three will be McCain, Paul and Romney. On the Democratic side, I think the race will be between Obama and Edwards. It will be the same scenario in South Carolina; I think Obama has a strong shot at winning both. Clinton will continue to come in third, the media will write her off, and she will tank. The Republicans will be different; Huckabee will win South Carolina in a walk, but the GOP nominee will probably be determined by Super Duper Tuesday. I think it will be Romney.

* * * * * *

So I got undressed for bed and was about to put my clothes in the hamper when...I saw I pile of cat poo at the bottom.

The lesson here? I know crap when I smell it. Don't vote for Hillary.

Review: Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd

I like Tim Burton. I really like Johnny Depp. But I love Sweeney Todd, so my only option is to write two separate reviews.

The Film

I'm not good with scary movies; if I didn't know the show so well -- and, I know every line -- I don't think I could have tolerated the suspense and the violence. Even then, knowing full well who gets it, when and how, I spent a lot of the film cringing in my seat with my hands over my eyes. Sweeney Todd is a bloody story, and the great thing about a film version is that you can really show spraying, spurting, gushing, pooling blood (in which Burton here relishes) in ways that would be impossible or, at least, impractical on stage. Film also gives the viewer unique intimacies with the performers and the scene, access to shades and subtleties and inflections that get lost in the theatrical chasm between the lip of the stage and the first row of the audience, let alone the back row of the balcony. Two more things about the blood, and then I'll move on: I thought the opening sequence gave too much away, and the blood was too orange for my taste; I'd have preferred something darker.

Tim Burton was exactly the right director for the film version that has been crying out to be made of this stage masterpiece. His vision of early 19th century London was wholly appropriate, dark and gothic, splendidly squalid, filled to the brim with grimy decadence. Clearly he understood the characters and wanted to serve the original; this is an outstanding adaptation. He even successfully navigated the treacherous comic-relief bits, such as Mrs. Lovett's beach fantasy, which often bogs down the stage action.

It goes without saying that Johnny Depp is a formidable actor. The title role is an exceptional test: it's the rare artist who can summon the bloodlusty rage necessary to sustain the plot and yet communicate it in such a carefully restrained way as to maintain credibility and, therefore, terror. There are few who could approach what he as achieved in his interpretation of the role. Mrs. Lovett presents a wholly different yet similar challenge: how to convincingly portray a generally kind, hapless, hopeless romantic type who nonetheless cooks up (so to speak) the scheme to get rid of Mr. Todd's victims? And again, in Helena Bonham Carter we have an actor of rare ability; I found her performance deeply affecting.

I know I said I like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp; did I mention how much I like Alan Rickman? Talk about your luxury casting. Again, the same challenge presents itself: how to portray a nearly impossibly evil human being and make it both believable and, in a way, pathetic? In the case of Judge Turpin, the answer is simple: use Rickman.

The discovery of Ed Sanders, the young actor who takes on the tragic hero Tobias, is proof that God wanted this film made. Another gift of the film medium is that we can get an actor young enough to convincingly sell innocent, naive courage; in a stage production, where a voice has to carry over an orchestra and the actor has to be available for 8 shows a week, we often get a man in his early 20's who comes off, instead, as mildly retarded. Sacha Baron Cohen can do no wrong, and as Todd's tonsorial rival Pirelli gives a spirited, pitch perfect performance. In the other major roles, Timothy Spall was delectably oily (hmm...maybe I should get away from taste-oriented metaphors) as Beadle Bamford; Jayne Wisener and Jamie Campbell Bower made sincere efforts, but were both a trifle palid and young for their roles as Johanna and Anthony.

The Music

You have a major problem when the strongest voice in the cast belongs to a 14 year old boy.

I first came across this show when I was a junior in high school; my voice teacher suggested I take a look at the song "Johanna," written for the character of Anthony. It was a dark and stormy night -- no, really -- and I had just gotten home from Tower Records with my cassettes (hey, it was the early '90s). The musical opens with a distant pipe organ, but I didn't know it was supposed to be distant so I cranked up the volume to what seemed normal. Then the dirge was interrupted by the bloodcurdling shriek of the steam whistle, and I nearly leapt out of my skin and soiled myself. Welcome to the uniquely evocative power of Stephen Sondheim's soundworld for Sweeney Todd.

The new arrangement for the film version is marvelous; the recent Broadway revival was brilliant and clever in its reduced vision, yet sorely lacked the bursts of power provided by the original score. The movie reinstates the orchestral splendor to floor-vibrating effect, but I really missed the whistle.

I think they were right to axe the choral passages from the film version, even though "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" was a major sacrifice. Todd is not Oklahoma!, where people suddenly and randomly burst into sweet, plot-collapsing melodies. Todd is operatic -- and indeed, has notably been produced by actual opera companies and was given in concert form by the New York Philharmonic -- and the singing and the bloodshed never stop. For some reason, I think solos and duets succeed in this format where large ensembles and choruses could not. There is no question in my mind that my exposure to Sweeney Todd in my impressionable teens led me inexorably toward real opera: once you learn the dramatic potential in the combination of great singing and great composition, you thirst for it.

Alas, great singing is what was completely lacking in the film version.

While many reviewers noted that Depp is not the traditional voice type called for by the score, at least one claimed his "rock-star tenor" was effective. I beg to differ, and I must say it is a sorry tenor indeed, of any variety, that struggles on notes within easy reach of any bass-baritone worthy of the name. His physical performance -- his eyes, his face, his hands, his overall body posture -- was perfection. His singing was painful; in fact, it was so bad, it significantly detracted from his acting. It was a distraction that ill-served a carefully considered performance.

People who know Sondheim know he wrote with unusual effectiveness for limited voices; one need only think of Elaine Stritch's raucous turn in Company. But he also knew how to write for gifted singers; think of the differences -- and yet seamless compatibility -- between the roles written for Hermione Gingold and Glynis Johns in A Little Night Music, and the music for Carl-Magnus in the same show. Sondheim knows voices, and Sweeney is a singer's role. Yes, it's the exceptionally rare singer who can do the music justice and also carry the part, but that's largely what makes the show so good when it's right. Burton gave us half a Sweeney. Depp's vocalism, while long on Cockney diction, was woefully short on phrasing, musicality, pitch, and the subtle but vibrant and varied shadings of a true singer.

Bonham Carter, with her breathy tone, came off better. Filling the impossibly large shoes of Angela Lansbury, whose voice was expressive and accurate if not oppulent, is a daunting task. Yet Bonham Carter managed to successfully navigate the chromatic complexities of her vocal lines.

I had high hopes for Alan Rickman, since his speaking voice is so resonant and marvelous, but alas, he, too, was underpowered and uncertain of pitch. Sacha Baron Cohen acquitted himself quite nicely of a role that is nearly impossible to sing well. Since he's playing a fraud, anyway, it rather worked well for him that he was faking the more operatic flourishes. What to say of Jamie Campbell Bower and Jayne Wisener? Any conservatory or university with a music school could field a good handful of good-looking, competent actors who could waltz through Anthony and Johanna's graceful music. What a disappointment to hear their glorious melodies given such short shrift.

At length we come to young Ed Sanders in the oft-under-appreciated role of Tobias. Here is a performer not only fluid as an actor, but innately musical. Every phrase had shape, every pitch had a center, and every tone had vibrancy; this is all the more miraculous considering his tender age. Without disrespect to his esteemed castmates, Sanders put Burton to shame for failing to recognize that there really are singers who can act in this world. And yet, what a near fiasco "Nothing's Going to Harm You" was: one of the few places in the score that cries out for tender, sotto-voce lyricism was sung as though Mrs. Lovett was in the next room, possibly watching television. I am certain this is not Sanders' fault.

Overall? Visual experience: A. Aural experience: C-.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Bad Fag

On July 6, 2006, when the New York Court of Appeals handed down its execrable decision in Hernandez v. Robles, in which it denied same-sex couples the "fundamental right" -- in the opinion's own words -- to civil marriage based on the "assumption" (again, quoting) that "marriage is important to the welfare of children" and because the State of New York had a compelling interest in depriving a segment of its own citizenry their rights in order to encourage the other 90-something percent to have responsible relationships, I joined a throng of angry protesters in Greenwich Village's Sheridan Square to give voice to my rage.

Tonight, all across Oregon, same-sex couples and fair-minded supporters are gathered in candlelight vigils to protest the unnecessary delay that was placed on the state's new domestic partnership law.

And where am I?

Home eating a pork chop.

Look, I'm there in spirit, okay? At the New York protest, it was a) summer and nice, b) on my way home from work, c) light out, d) in close proximity to any number of good bars and I didn't have to drive, and e) there was a good chance of seeing hot guys, like Empire State Pride Agenda's Chris Cormier or Search for Love's Joel Derfner (woof!).

In contrast, the Portland location for the vigil is in southeast. For you non-Cascadians, this is the equivalent of Park Slope. Okay, fine, it's just across the river, but it's in the wrong direction and, like Samantha on Sex and the City says, "I don't do borough." I mean, if someone found an ancient pirate map of Portland, over southeast it would say, "HERE BE ANGRY LESBIANS WITH STROLLERS, YAARRR." Not my scene. Did I mention it's: dark, cold and raining?

So here's my candlelight vigil, Beaverton-style. (Like the shirt? I thought you would.) I'm having a lovely glass of Côtes du Rhône and listening to Barbra. Up yours, Alliance Defense Fund!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year, Same Injustice

Today was supposed to mark the dawn of a new era in fairness in Oregon. Instead, thousands of gay and lesbian residents find themselves in legal limbo.

HB 2007
, passed last year by both the houses of the state legislature, established domestic partnership status for same-sex couples, granting them the same rights, benefits and duties as married couples, excepting access to the word "marriage," which the state constitution limits to one man and one woman. Opponents mounted a petition drive to refer the law to the voters, but the Secretary of State determined that they did not gather a sufficient number of valid signatures. The Alliance Defense Fund filed suit, and on December 28 U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman blocked the new law and granted a hearing for February 1.

Under Oregon law, the plaintiffs needed to gather 55,179 signatures of registered voters in order to get a referendum on a statewide ballot. The verification procedures call for the Secretary of State to make a statistical analysis based on a random sampling of 5.01% of the signatures, which showed the petition failed by some 190 or so signings. The ADF believes it can prove that some signatures were improperly invalidated.

There is much squawking over whether the injunction is an act of judicial activism by Judge Mosman, a President Bush appointee who gained some notoriety at his 2003 nomination when it was discovered that as Lewis F. Powell's clerk in 1986, he advised the Supreme Court justice to rule in favor of upholding Georgia's sodomy laws in the infamous case Bowers v. Hardwick. Basic Rights Oregon says "the judge demonstrated a misunderstanding of Oregon’s initiative and referendum law."

All of these technicalities merely obscure the larger story: the stop-at-nothing tactics of conservative activists to maintain official discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens.

When the fight to secure legal recognition and protection for committed same-sex relationships began, we went to the courts, the branch of government responsible for safeguarding civil rights. The right to marriage has repeatedly been identified as fundamental. Opponents of fairness decried the notion that "unelected, unaccountable, activist judges" should have any say in the matter, and insisted that the regulation of marriage was the proper role of state legislatures. For the most part, the courts have agreed: judges in marriage lawsuits in New York, Washington, Massachusetts and New Jersey all ruled that the legislature needed to handle the issue, although in the latter two cases the courts ordered the legislatures to comply with constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

But then something happened the bigots did not foresee: lawmakers began to act without being ordered to do so, first in Vermont, then in California. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the California bill, saying the marriage issue needed to be resolved by the courts, with no apparent awareness of irony.

Likewise, the Oregon legislature acted in 2007 of its own volition to give committed same-sex couples the maximum available protection under the state constitution. Having long bemoaned the independence of unelected judges, militant heterosexuals were now left to claim that the legislators they'd picked to represent them had overstepped their authority. Oregon has 1,930,382 registered voters and the petition would have required the signatures of fewer than 3% of them to qualify. Even though 97% of Oregon voters ignored or rejected their efforts, heterosexualists still claim that the legislature has thwarted the will of the people.

Their final, desperate ploy is to attempt to prove they found enough homophobes to put the dignity and security of thousands of Oregon families up for a vote. Despite carefully disguising their prejudice as pro-democracy rhetoric, they have displayed only open contempt for guarantees of liberty, the democratic process and their fellow citizens. With no justification other than simple prejudice, they have mounted an assault to deny gay and lesbian citizens even the shameful second-class status of "domestic partnerships." They failed at the courts, they failed at the legislature and they will fail at the polls.

Who knows? They might win this battle. But the tide of the war turned long ago: marriage equality is coming to America, and it's coming soon. The best they can hope for is a delay of the inevitable.

My First Kiss of the New Year