Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Justice Week in America

They arrested Cindy Sheehan for loitering in front of the White House.  Michael Brown who happens to still be on the FEMA payroll explained to a Republican dominated committee that none of the delay with Katrina was his fault.  At one point, he claimed that Governor Blanco specifically excepted New Orleans from her request for Federal aid story on strange Brown claim.  A military court sentenced Lynndie England to three years behind bars today for her role in the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.  Tom Delay was indicted for violating Texas campaign law. By my count, that’s one mother who lost a son to the war who got arrested,  one young woman who volunteered for the army who remains one of the highest ranking individuals to be tried and convicted in the Abu Ghraib scandal, one guy who probably helped kill over a thousand people who’s now getting paid to be a consultant to FEMA to help the agency understand what went wrong when he was director of FEMA, and one guy who was involved with the Clinton impeachment who now screams that he’s the victim of a politically motivated investigation.  That’s a lot of news for a three day stretch.

Cindy Sheehan’s arrest reminds me of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, two suffragettes, who were arrested during World War 1 for protesting in front of the White House.  They were thrown in a women’s prison after refusing a plea bargain. Paul went on a hunger strike.  Their resistance played a role in pressuring President Wilson into endorsing giving women the vote.  The story was turned into an HBO movie, Iron Jawed Angels, with Hillary Swank playing Alice Paul.  Social movements require a variety of movers.  In her day, Alice Paul took a front line role as the one who actively confronted the establishment.  In particular, Paul criticized Wilson for getting the US into World War I on the allies side in the name of “Democracy” and self-determination when American women had no such right yet.  

As a sidenote, Paul who lived until 1977 was the author of the first “equal rights amendment” in 1923 and late in her life opposed the linkage of the Equal Rights Amendment to abortion.   In fact, Paul also supported Joseph McCarthy and either acquiesced to or purposely shied away from the racial integration of her own political movement.  This shouldn’t diminish what Paul accomplished.  It is, however, a reminder that we shouldn’t assume that because someone took a stance that matches our modern notion of feminism, it means that she was “modern” in all ways.  

I don’t know how or in what ways Cindy Sheehan’s role in the pro-peace movement will evolve.  I do know that she has been very good at focusing anger at George the Abysmal and drawing attention to her simple question “What are we doing in Iraq?”  I also believe that the pro-peace movement needs to take a critical next step.  When Martin Luther King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, he did not just call for the end of segregation, he called for a “dream”, a different vision of what America could be.  At least rhetorically, we have come to honor King’s dream.  Republicans and Democrats both take pains to appear in photo opportunities with people of all races that often self-consciously pay homage to King’s dream.  While I often question the sincerity of these photo op moments, there’s little doubt that enough of the vision got embedded in our national psyche that King’s dream outlived him.  I’d like to see leadership come forward from within the pro-peace movement to articulate a vision of what America needs to be.

I have thus far been disappointed in the leaders of the Democratic party on this score.  I lool back at the anti-war movement during Vietnam and remember 1968.  There were two leaders of the anti-war wing of the party, one was Gene McCarthy who focused heavily on opposition to the war.  The other was Bobby Kennedy who once he decided to openly oppose the war and LBJ also began to link it to other deeper issues about the kind of country America needed to be.  In particular, one of his campaign bits was “We can not build our future or our children’s future on the misery of others.”  I was in middle school at the time, but that notion remains a political touchstone for me.  I believed at the time that the Democrats of that time indeed had the high moral ground even if the war happened to have been escalated by a Democratic administration.  In the 37 years since the Ambassador hotel. I’m not sure anyone else has come forward politically to articulate a vision for America needed to change that managed to resonate for me. I confess that I’m one of the few people who thinks that Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” speech identified the problem, he just didn’t necessarily find the right way to get America to hear the message.  Of current politicians, John Edwards is the only one who comes close with his “Two Americas”.  

Today, I believe that the US is suffering from a spiritual crisis not because we don’t say “God” enough in public places, but because we have normalized a belief that free enterprise is the only freedom that matters.  Our public discourse has slipped to a point where “freedom” to do business masquerades as a moral end in itself.  The American system faced a similar spiritual crisis at the end of the 19th century when it began to accept reforms that softened laissez faire capitalism.  With protections for workers, anti-trust, conservation, national parks, America’s leadership recognized that “Justice” mattered as much as freedom.  Instead, we live in a culture where Bill Gates is a computer genius because he made a lot of money from an operating system.  There is an interesting parallel between Bill Gates the “computer genius” and Thomas Edison the “the scientist and inventor” of his time. The more telling thing is that most current Americans have no Einstein, Schweitzer, Dororthy Day, or Mother Theresa to hold up as heroes for something other than being either wealthy or on the cover of People Magazine.  

     The president’s current version of why we’re in Iraq seems to be that Saddam was a bad guy and we now can’t let those oil fields fall into the hands of terrorists.  No one mentioned the latter as a problem in Iraq before the war.  In other words, he can now come up with reasons to stay, but he can’t clearly explain how we got there in the first place in morally defensible terms.  For me, I want someone who can find a way to communicate that it’s the war that’s anti-American and that protesting the war is to defend deeply American values.  

If there is to be a core vision, this is what would resonate with me.  All Americans are entitled to dignity and respect.  Cindy Sheehan identified one element of the necessary level of respect.  If you ask someone to die for his/her country, there needs to be a good reason that can be readily understood. Victims of natural disasters and emergencies must receive the same consideration for aid and support regardless of race or class.  We’ve never had a country where that’s been true.  Those who work hard should be rewarded, but not at the expense of denying basic opportunities and justice to those who have simply had bad luck, haven’t had a chance to compete fairly, etc.  Americans should also strive to live in a world that is safe and sustainable.  At a minimum, being pro-peace implies much more than unilateral withdrawal.  For example, Richard Nixon’s withdrawal from Vietnam was hardly about peace for the long term. I believe that being pro-peace is about having a government that respects all its citizens enough to make sure they all get a fair chance in life.  If people go to war on behalf of a country, those people deserve to know why, they also deserve to have good schools for their children, affordable health care, safe healthy places to live, etc.  Just as important, if you send other people’s children to war, you must send your own.  If it is a national cause, then all segments of society must be expected to make the same commitment to national service.  Similarly, I think there should be sacrifice to supply a floodproof floor of opportunity at all, certainly if you happen to make more than 200 thousand per year.  

Three of my grandparents were immigrants.  I don’t know that any of them ever voted, though they all contributed to their communities.  They didn’t come to the United States for “democracy”, though my grandfather spent much of his life supporting democracy in China.  They came here because they saw the United States as a place where they would get a fair chance despite the fact that they had been born poor and in another country. All in all, they got that and they used it well.  Because he got that, my grandfather, who was far from a perfect guy, felt a responsibility to make sure that others also got a fair chance to succeed.  He lent money to start businesses, paid tuitions, paid for civic projects, and played an active role in his own community.  As he understood it, that was America, a sort of expansion on the GI Bill.  While this sounds classically Republican in some ways, I also know that he would have been horrified to learn that soldiers were being sent to die in a war based on a lie, that Americans didn’t get food and water in a natural disaster, or that politicians (of both parties) simply seemed to sell their votes.  Americans have certainly done those things in the past, but it violates the American spirit and it’s unpatriotic in the most literal sense.

This week, there has almost been too much “news” to comment on.  I just want to stop feeling like I live in a country built on other people’s misery.  The creepiest thing about the Lynndie England case is that in a better society, she’d just be a villain.  Instead, I see her as both victim and villain and wonder why the real villains of Abu Ghraib haven’t been prosecuted yet.  After Terri Schiavo and Monica, I just happen to feel that Tom, I killed my dad when he was still conscious, Delay is the last person who should complain that anyone has politicized the justice system.  At times, I just wonder if political corruption is like flypaper for certain politicians.  I suppose I’ll need to find a good pest control guy to enlighten me about how they get caught stuck to money and away from doing their duty.  I don’t know what Cindy Sheehan’s future is, I do know that it eventually has to shift from anger at George the Abysmal to advocacy for a better America.  I also know that if there is going to be a better America soon, it probably won’t be run by anyone like Michael Brown and that whoever put that guy there can’t be serious about making America better (my pet theory is that the president put him in charge of a department at Homeland Security because he thought Brown knew Arabia since he'd judged Arabian horses).  In the end, none of us are measured by whom we blame, but what we build for those we leave behind.  I’d even settle for a society where “No Child is Left Behind”,  as long as we meant everything that the phrase implied.  If any of that happens, America will have recovered the spirit that led so many people to believe that it wasn’t simply interested in empire but was about a dream.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

FAPE Factor

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my daughter’s mostly middle class high school has forty students to a class. My governor has promised to save public schools by changing tenure for teachers from a two year to a five year process via ballot proposition. There’s also a “live within your means” budget proposition that has some arcane implications for prop 98, the provision that guarantees a set percentage of the state budget for k-12 education. It’s been pointed out that despite the fact that the governor broke his deal on prop 98 that schools actually are getting more money than they did two years ago. The problem though is that there are 45 kids in my daughter’s chemistry class. The teacher told us that he doesn’t have the time to actually grade homework or take questions in class. The next day, there was a story in my local paper that more than thirty schools in my county weren’t meeting No Child Left Behind growth standards. My daughter’s wasn’t one of them.

A week after that I attended an IEP where some fifteen people worked to develop an educational plan for a severely disabled child. The child’s program isn’t working especially well and it runs about thirty thousand dollars a year to educate him. Under the IDEA, any child with a disability is entitled to FAPE, a free and appropriate public education. Any outsider who attended an IEP would likely come away convinced that American society is particularly devoted to the education of its most vulnerable children.
School administrators board members, and teachers too often see the dissonance in the system. They have any number of stories about children who receive hundred thousand dollar per year public educational programs yet no matter how well they do will never live independently. This often happens at the expense of the general fund, meaning that the money to do this comes out of money set asside for all children. Many years ago Congres promised to "fully fund" IDEA and thus make the right both practical and real. They never have.

I even had this idea for a television reality show called FAPE factor where special education teachers and parents compete to see how far they will go to serve a student. The winner manages to avoid hearing. Under IDEA, if the school fails to provide an adequate educational program to a student with a disability, the parent has the right to get a hearing in front of a neutral party. If the hearing determines that the parent prevailed, then the school not only provides what the parent asked for, but it also pays for the parent’s attorney fees at three hundred dollars an hour.

A lot of people are horrified by this. I’m not. I’m horrified by the fact that I live in a society that does not insist on a free and appropriate public education for non-disabled students as well. Instead, we tell the schools that they must bring all students to grade level standards “or else”. The students themselves have no right to insist that they get the resources necessary to get an appropriate education. Under No Child Left Behind, no parents can sue because their child’s chemistry class has 45 students in it and the teacher does not take questions during class. Parents are, however, entitled to find out if their child’s teacher is not highly-qualified in the subject that he or she is teaching. There are, however, no provisions that consider the possibility that non-disabled children are different from one another or learn in unique ways.

The reason for this is simple, Children with Disabilities are guaranteed a right to an education by Federal Law under IDEA. Children without disabilities are not. I was in a restaurant the other day and there was one waiter handling every table in the place. He seemed to be working hard to get all orders taken, everyone served, and all the tables cleaned up in time for the next set of customers. At the same time, it was taking far too long. Clearly, the restaurant needed to have more waiters on shift if they were going to have that many customers. The ratio of diners to waiters was less than twenty to one.

Teachers in my state used to argue that the cost of prison for one year was much higher than the cost of schooling a child appropriately for a year and that prison guards are paid a lot better than teachers. I’m not sure about that. What I do know is that my child should have a right to a free effective public education.

I’ve seen that Jonathan Kozol has a new book. Like Kozol, I spent five years visiting and working with “urban” schools. I learned more than I helped. None of the schools I visited were especially violent. In fact, the kids were notably friendly and cooperative and most of the adults were at a minimum well meaning. I did see a few classes that were unruly and certainly some teachers who didn’t do a lot of teaching. I agree that it’s strange to visit public high schools fifty one years after Brown v. Board of Education where there are no white students. It’s stranger to realize how many people are indifferent to this fact when they find out what you do. The thousands of black faces in the Superdome in New Orleans were not at all unique to New Orleans. In fact, the most segregated school systems according to Gary Orfield, a Harvard professor who studies resegregation, are in the north. By far the saddest situation I saw was in Detroit where school officials were reluctant to even let any outsider visit.

My friend Mr. Pogblog recently urged people to substitute pro-peace for anti-war. This, of course, raises the question of what a “pro-peace” education system would look like. As some of you may know, No Child Left Behind includes a provision that gives military recruiters equal access to high school student names and addresses as any other employer or college might have. In a pro-peace education system, it’s not the employers who have equal access to the students, it’s the students who deserve equal access to college, to employment, or to the military when they make it through high school. Right now, one of those options is easier for students in public urban high schools to access than the other two. We need stop measuring schools based on what the students do on tests and start thinking more about what those students actually get during the course of their educational careers. In a pro-peace society the an effective education is a basic universal right for students who are disabled and those who are non-disabled.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tank Warfare

Story of British Tank break in at an Iraqi Jail  This truly odd story hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet in the United States.  The British in Basra use a tank to smash in the wall of an Iraqi jail to rescue two British soldiers  held by the Iraqi police.  British officials further claim that pro-Iranian militants tied to the Mahdi army have infiltrated Iraqi security forces.  They explain that, had that not happened, this wouldn’t have been a problem at all.The article manages not to mention that Basra is in the far south very close to the Iranian border.  Yes, that’s the same Mahdi Army that answers to Muqhtada Al Sadr who more or less fought openly with coalition forces and seized official buildings in at least three cities including Sadr City.  If you remember, the coalition more or less settled with Al Sadr and he decided to “join” the political process.  Given the Bush administration’s rhetoric at the time, one would have thought that having the Mahdi army join the Iraqi military and police was like the Santa Barbara County DA hiring Michael Jackson as his son’s babysitter or learning that your kids have been hanging out with Kate Moss.

I don’t pretend to know a lot about Muqhtada Al Sadr, but this whole scene gave me visions of an Iraqi remake of the Dukes of Hazzard with Al Sadr standing in for Boss Hogg.  I suspect it’s about as sensible as the movie itself.  They say that there are moments or images in every campaign that come to symbolize where things are headed.  In 1988, Michael Dukakis (no relation to the Dukakis of Hazard or Haverhill for that matter but first cousin to Olympia) posed in a tank to show that he could be tough on defense issues.  Dukakis is a short man with a big head and it only wound up underscoring the fact that George the Abysmal Senior had been a navy pilot during World War 2 and that Dukakis who was too young for WW2 had never seen combat.  Lee Atwater was a smart guy even if he did have to ask God to forgive him on his deathbed for poisoning American politics.  I am, in fact, hoping that they might do a very special Return to Touched By an Angel where Atwater returns to earth to set his star pupil Karl Rove back on the right track. Unfortunately, Rove would likely intercept the Atwater angel by having Bob Novak and Judith Miller report mean things about Atwater’s wife. I imagine two hundred billion dollars of middle class people’s money would buy you all the newspaper columnists you want and poor Atwater angel would just have the power of having seen the light persuasion.  If I were Tony Blair, I guess I would be running around Downing Street right now trying to make sure that there are no photos or videos of this event.  After all, the last time someone left a memo lying around Number 10 someone forgot to fix it.  

Here I had read this nice reassuring blog from  One Hand Clapping assuring me that things must be getting better in Iraq because the insurgents had moved from trying to blow up American soldiers to blowing up civilians.  Somehow that seemed to be a perversely American perspective, since the American troops are there partly to discourage insurgents from blowing up Iraqi civilians who want American style democracy etc.  Maybe they’re blowing up civilians because the coalition soldiers aren’t around to protect them anymore.  

I’d love to see the Iraqi people, assuming they want to stay one country, have a non-corrupt government of their own choosing.  I’d especially like to see them safe.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that that would justify our invasion, but I would at least be able to say that some good came of this whole snipe hunt thing for WMD.  In the meantime, that far left bastion New York City just stopped Cindy Sheehan from completing a public speech because the organizer had to be arrested for not getting a permit to use a “Sound Device” in public.  Maybe I should settle for just bringing the democracy back to New York City and to provide homes for people on the Gulf Coast as  a “good” outcome for this war.  A week ago I was at my high school daughter’s back to school night and learned that her classes had 40 + students in them and that some teachers didn’t even have the time to take questions during class.  Perhaps I need to borrow that tank for my own purposes to go confront my governor about some of his True Lies.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Theobertarian Dictionary Part 4

Billion:  In second grade, they taught us all about number bases.  Western math uses Arabic numbers and we generally use base 10.  While base ten matches the number of fingers we have, other cultures have built number systems around other bases like 12 for the number of times the moon goes around the earth in a year.  Agriculture mattered to ancient cultures and calendars helped guide the planting season.  Nature intertwines with number in most cultures.

  The Babylonians used base 12 or 60 depending on the purpose.  Some Northern Europeans used units of 120.  The Romans used base 10 for counting whole numbers, but always broke fractions into 12s likely because physically splitting anything into tenths  just doesn’t happen all that naturally.  While single twelfths aren’t easy, it’s the first number that breaks into two three and four.  

In American public schools, they called all this number base talk, “New Math.”  Conservatives hated the new math. It wasn’t basic.  It was confusing. It had little to do with regular life which was all in base 10.  Understanding binary and base 8 turned out to be very important in working with computers in those days when the only people who used them really were programmers.  It turns out that large numbers of the individuals who helped to build the computer industry also happened to be products of the new math.

Theobertarian math is different.  While non-theobertarians understand that a billion is ten to the ninth power and that a hundred billion is ten to the eleventh power, Theobertarians clearly work in a different number base at least partly because as good Christians they reject Arabic numbers. As many  are aware, Christian math is different.  Most scientists believe that the earth and the universe are billions of years old.  They also believe that man as an identifiable species is millions of years old.  Many Christians believe that man and the earth are only thousands of years old because they literally count generations in the Bible.  Once you understand Theobertarian math, the discrepancy between science and Christian belief about time gets easier to understand.  Theobertarians do not use base ten when they count backwards.  Similarly, they do not count the billions in a deficit in quite the same fashion the rest of us do.

At the same time, they understand that a billion dollars is a lot of money for one individual to accumulate.  That is the reason they do whatever is necessary to protect people who have made a billion dollars, yet are so willing to spend billions of dollars of non-billionaires money for other purposes.  The total cost of Gulf reconstruction and the Iraq war is currently about 300 billion dollars.  That means that before we do anything else each and every American spends about 1500 dollars more in taxes to pay for the two Federal budget items.  If there are four people in your family, since children who aren’t the Olsen twins don’t generally have incomes of their own for the IRS, you will pay about 6000 dollars before you pay for schools, roads, water, food, shelter, health care, etc.  The median family income in America is roughly forty thousand dollars/year before taxes.  Twenty five percent of that already goes to taxes in some form.  This means that average people will go from having about 30,000 dollars to pay for housing, food, and clothes to 25,000.  I should mention that we don’t pay for the Gulf and the war all in one year though.  I should also mention that there are roughly 6 and a half billion people in the world which if we were to tax each of them for the cost of the war in Iraq would come to a mere 80 dollars a person, not counting the Iraqis.  This just happens to be more than many of them make in a month.  As it also happens, Theobertarians oppose any form of birth control because it’s unnatural.  Better that billions of children grow up in conditions that are immoral than that their parents resort to any unnatural means to control the size of their families.  Fwiw, I’ve never understood why birth control is unnatural to so many Theobertarians yet artificial fertilization is somehow an acceptable way to have children to the very same people.  

Theobertarians insist that it’s possible to do this without raising taxes at all.  In fact, they plan to eliminate the Federal inheritance tax.  I’m honestly not sure how the math works for this.  At a rough level it appears that we don’t tax the dead so we can drop a huge effective tax on future generations.  Many Theobertarians are not planning for future generations because they believe that we are already at the end of days.  In other words, if the calendar is the basis for most number systems, Theobertarian math says we won’t need either calendars or a functional system of numbers.  For that reason, when we are counting liabilities a billion is a trivial figure, but when we count our personal wealth a billion must be protected in any way necessary since well…to be honest I haven’t figured that one out yet.

I understand that there is a new curriculum in the works called instead of the “New Math”, “NeoCon Math”, that will help tomorrow’s youngsters understand how all of this works and how literal the phrase “no child LEFT BEHIND” really is.  I do have this weird feeling though that the part of NeoCon Math we should all be paying attention to is the “CON” part and that’s not new at all.  As the President once said at a fundraiser, “Some people call you a bunch of rich billionaires, I call you my base.”

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Under God

It occurred to me the other day after a Federal District Court judge refused to grant a motion to dismiss in the latest version of Newdow vs. Elk Grove School District  that the case would make an excellent movie. As a baby boomer, I know the pledge at a visceral level.  I grew up saluting a tiny flag that occupied a space just above the left corner of the chalk board.  The flag had just acquired its 49th and 50th stars with the first two non contiguous states west of California.  Even in second grade, I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable about two parts of the pledge.  There was “Under God” which made me feel like I was in church instead of school and there was “liberty and justice for all” which clashed with pictures I’d seen on tv and in the newspaper that told me that blacks in the south and Mexicans in the west weren’t getting either much of the time.  I  think my father had seen the Murrow documentary Harvest of Shame and that  he simply believed that everyone should vote.  

Both my parents had attended de facto segregated schools as children in California.  My father had been to Lincoln Junior High in Sacramento and my mother went to Marina Junior High in San Francisco.  One of the oddities in my father’s 1942 reunion list is that about a fifth of the names are Japanese.  For most of those students, it was their last year in a California public school.   Most of them don't appear in the 8th grade graduation photo.There’s a comment in my father’s 40th  1982 reunion booklet from one of the Japanese students remembering a Mr. Brosin for telling the students at the school after Pearl Harbor that Japanese students were as American as anyone else.  Pearl Harbor had happened in December of that school year.  

I went to a private school in Sacramento, actually Carmichael, called Thomas Parker.  It may have been one of the most educationally conservative schools in America in that Mr. Parker admired traditional education.  In those days, that meant Ginn and McGuffey readers which seemed to conclude every lesson with some sort of Christian moral and learning Latin in the fourth grade.  I was the only non-white student in the school.  Less than a decade earlier, my uncle George had decided to buy property and build a home in the Sierra Oaks area of North Sacramento.  The neighbors circulated a petition to keep him from moving in.  In those days, Elk Grove was farm land that frequently flooded during the winters.  Madeleine Murray (later O’hair), a mother with a law degree,  was in Baltimore challenging the constitutionality of school prayer on behalf of her son William who was getting beaten up by peers for refusing to participate in his school’s mandatory prayer.  Public school  racial Segregation had been  eliminated for all of eight years by Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas which just happened to be the same year that Congress added the words “Under God” to the pledge of allegiance, as a vaccine against the atheism endorsed by communism.  It was only in 1943 that the Supreme Court had ruled in West Virginia v Barnett that schools could not require individual children to say the pledge.  Loving v. Virginia made miscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967 which means that had I been born a generation earlier that my own daughter would not have legally married parents had we lived in any of several states.  

Michael Newdow is very close to my age.  The Newdow case contains  more than a few unusual aspects, but a biological father’s rights are high on the list.  Newdow and Sandra Banning were never married.  In fact, Newdow who is both a doctor and a lawyer has accused Banning of commiting date rape against him. background article on Newdow case Newdow is like Madalyn Murray O’hair, a self-proclaimed atheist, Sandra Banning became a fundamentalist Christian after the birth of their daughter.  One of the very subtle subtexts of the case has been the right of biological fathers in choice of all kinds for their children.  The last time through, Newdow won in the 9th Circuit, the most liberal appellate court in the U.S.  Although the 9th circuit did not discuss the question of whether Newdow who has never had custody of his daughter had standing to sue as his daughter’s biological father, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the case based on Newdow’s lack of standing rather than rule on the Constitutional merits.

It’s possible that no case better expresses the current cultural divide in America today.  Newdow went back and recruited three families with clear custodial and educational rights to revive his case.   Last week, a Sacramento District Court Judge determined that the Supreme Court had not really reversed the 9th circuit’s Constitutional decision in its entirety and essentially claimed that its finding that “under god” remained unconstitutional at least in the 9th Circuit.  In the 4th circuit, there is a ruling that says exactly the opposite.  The case will likely come back up to the U.S. Supreme Court as a first test for the new appointees.  It’s unlikely to come before the court this fall while the court has 8 justices, but one of the issues in the last version was Newdow’s request that Justice Scalia, a devout Catholic who had publicly criticized the “Under God” as unconstitutional position, recuse himself.

In 1995 Madalyn Murray O’hair and her family disappeared along with 600 thousand dollars that belonged to the American Atheist Association.   According to court records, O’hair and her granddaughter were kidnapped at gun point by an ex-convict, David Roland Waters, who forced them to withdraw the money then murdered them.  The granddaughter was the daughter of her son William who converted to Christianity in 1980 and became an evangelical minister, an odd resonance with Michael Newdow and
Sandra Banning.

I won’t predict what might happen to the current version of the Newdow case or to his family.  When I look back at my father’s Lincoln Junior High reunion, I see social progress since 1942.  In 1962, I was the only non-white in my Sacramento private school.  Last week, my daughter played against an exclusive San Francisco Catholic school that was mostly Asian.  Almost all of those kids would have been at Galileo High School in 1944 when my mother entered high school.  King’s Birmingham protests came in 1963.  There has been substantial social progress in 43 years when I was saying the pledge every day in school along with the still new phrase “Under God”.  

I should mention that the Pledge itself has a fascinating history. It was first written by a Baptist Minister, Francis Bellamy (Edward Bellamy's cousin), who also happened to be a devoted socialist in 1891. Just a generation removed from the Civil war, "one nation indivisible" was a significant part of the pledge's message. Bellamy also wanted the phrase "Equality" inserted in the pledge, but it was rejected by his fellow school superintendents. Oddly, for whatever reason, school superintendents as a group have always fallen on the wrong side of the pledge of allegiance controversies. The original pledge also referred to "my flag" rather than "the flag of the United States of America", suggesting that the country belonged to those who said it rather than the other way around. The "liberty and justice for all" end of the pledge was a clear marker of Bellamy's socialism. In 1954, the Knights of Columbus campaigned to add the words "under god" and transformed the pledge from a statement of a promise to all regardless of race, country of origin, and social class into a cross between a prayer and a loyalty oath. The pledge's own history embodies the paradox of liberty in 20th century America and Mortimer Adler among others has pointed out that it calls for "liberty" balanced with "Justice".

In 2005, unlike Michael Newdow,I’m less worried about the “Under God” part of the pledge than I am about the “Liberty and Justice for All” part. If we don’t commit ourselves to that as a nation, what’s the point of the pledge anyway?

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box." Edward R. Murrow on television.


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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Theobertarian Dictionary Part3

First off, I was surprised that the president accepted some responsibility for the government’s failures with Katrina. What he really means by that, I don’t know. In regular life, it means that you’ll pay for the damage, fix what you broke, or resign from your job as a gesture of contrition. I just don’t realistically expect the President to offer to do any of those things. They got Bill Clinton to give up his law license. Perhaps this President can give up saying the word “Freedom” in public for six months or making references to “Accountability” or the “hard work” of being president and keeping the country safe. What are you supposed to say when you’ve got a leader who sold himself as the guy who’ll keep America safe who lets the department of homeland security look like the Baylor men’s basketball team of three years ago. Mmmm….that coach got fired, but he later got a job coaching minor league basketball. Okay, wrong comparison. How about Enron? Kenneth Lay’s not running Enron anymore, Uncle Ken is just waiting to be indicted. Another wrong comparison I guess. Maybe we should compare him to the guys who advocated for the war in Iraq based on false information about WMD, based on grossly inaccurate resource estimates, and based on underestimating the possibility of an insurgency. I have it, give the president the Medal of “Freedom” and have him resign or give him a job at Halliburton. Of course, corporations probably won’t hire a guy who routinely won’t cut short a vacation in the middle of a major emergency. They will hire guys who find ways to circumvent accounting rules or shortchange stockholders and I suppose if you look at the history of Harken oil maybe he does qualify.

Wow, I’m being way too negative. I am pleased at this first step towards reality by the president. I just want to be clear though that in the Chancelucky dictionary “responsibility” is not something one says, it’s something one does, that’s why you take it or accept it. Real responsibility might have consisted of convincing his own party’s senators to approve a Katrina Commission to look at what really did go right and wrong in responding to the disaster.

I did promise some definitions of my own and as soon as I can think of a name for the point on the political compass they represent, I’ve fooled with “loony left”, “everyday fairness”, “chanceluckyism”, etc. Nothing yet strikes my fancy. As soon as I find a label, I’ll have counter definitions for some if not all terms in the Theobertarian dictionary.

Accountability: Theobertarians often talk about “Accountability” but they never actually write it down or even spell it out. The simple reason is that they indeed do spell it differently. When they say they believe in “Accountability” they don’t mean the one that means taking direct responsibility for one’s actions, they mean “AccountaBILLity”.
All things that go wrong in America and that have ever been wrong are on account of Bill.

If you were from Mars, you might ask which Bill, do you mean Bill Bennett, that nice man who wrote that book on the Virtues between betting more than most people make in their lifetimes at casinos in Las Vegas? Of course, the confusion is understandable, Bill Bennett’s account with the casino is in great shape, which may make you wonder how a man whose career was in public service and with Universities happens to have three million dollars to gamble away recreationally, but we’re not talking about that Bill when we talk about AccountaBILLity. By the way, the Book on Virtues is +7 and we understand that if it rains, it’s good for an overlay.

They mean Bill Clinton, the president who allowed a female intern to perform oral sex on him and who did strange things with cigars that may have even come from Cuba. At least that’s according to Kenneth Starr who took more than a hundred million dollars in public money to actually prosecute virtually no one and write a report which if there were a video version would have to be rented in a back room behind a curtain in your local video store. The Independent Prosecutor did such a remarkable job that the Republicans discontinued the position after he was done with it. Because Bill Clinton did this terrible thing while keeping the nation at peace, running budget surpluses, etc., it is clear that 9/11, the flood in New Orleans, the lack of Medical insurance for ordinary Americans, the inability to find Osama, and the breakup of Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt’s marriage are all a matter of AccountaBILLity.

This explains why the President says he takes “responsibility” for the Federal failures in Katrina, but is proposing to investigate himself instead of letting or encouraging Congress to do it. On AccountaBILLity, he has learned the lesson that Independent Prosecutors, especially incompetent ones, can be a pain. That, of course, wasn’t his first time around an independent prosecutor. If you remember Lawrence Walsh, the very good prosecutor, and Iran-Contra, George the less Abysmal responded by pardoning everyone before the independent prosecutor could actually bring charges against anyone significant. After all, they were simply selling drugs through the Contras and selling missiles to the Iranians out of a deep sense of patriotism to the United States.

Oliver North didn’t get pardoned, he got immunity from Congress. After he was convicted for misappropriating money, he appealed based on the grant of immunity and got off. Right after that, the Theobertarians wisely nominated him to run for the senate in Virginia. That was even before they had AccountaBILLity on their side.

As Karl Rove put it so eloquently,”I never actually said that and you can quote me on it.” If you looked in a regular dictionary and looked up “accountaBILLity” it would probably list “accountability”. “responsibility”, “honesty” all as possible antonyms.

A Theobertarian joke told to me by my friend Bud,

John Roberts won't tell anyone what he thinks of Roe versus Wade, but at least we know what George Bush thinks.

What's the president think about Roe versus Wade?

He doesn't care how anyone gets out of New Orleans.

hit cymbal with drumstick.


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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Deer Valley Sept. 2005 (volleyball)

At the beginning of the day, all the buzz was about Stephanie Browne, the 6'5" Monte Vista junior who transferred from Springfield, Ohio.  The other talk was about Michael Brown, a guy who has exactly the same qualifications to be a high school volleyball coach as he did to be the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). I have it on good authority that the President plans to replace him with Bobby Brown. of Being Bobby Brown, to make it clear that does indeed care about poor black people. Aparently, Kanye West managed to say that he wasn't interested. In the meantime, the Secretary of State went to her native Alabama to show hurricane victims the new Ferragamos she bought in New York City at the exact moment their homes were being destroyed. As Tom Delay said to two children whose mailing address is now section C row 9, Astrodome in Texas, "This is kind of fun in its way isn't it?"  After all if this had been a baseball game, they'd be paying eighty dollars just to sit there for a couple hours to watch Terry Puhl and Art Howe.  Instead, they hang out in the 8th Wonder of the World, oddly they stopped calling it that after New Orleans built the Superdome, and listen to pitches from army recruiters who just happen to have great jobs for them and having Barbara Bush tell them that they’re better off.  Please understand, that I also think it's quite possible that various state and local officials also screwed up here.  It's just that none of them told me exactly four years ago today to vote for them because they'd keep my family and me safe.

Yes, it is odd to be on one side of the country enjoying the pleasures of watching your kid play high school volleyball while another section of your country is filled with refugees.  As we climbed into the car at six in the morning, I told myself that life goes on.  In the meantime, we figure out how those of us who are more fortunate might help those who might have been us. New Orleans was identified as a top 3 likely disaster site in the US.  San Francisco was also in the top 3, though I can't remember if that was for possible earthquakes or for having been 49er fans last year.  Volleydad's initial relief plan was this.  I would look on one of J Tawa's lists from last year and find the names of the best volleyball players in the Gulf Coast area then invite the families of any kids who don't play my daughter's position to come live with us until their eligibility ends.  Mrs. Boris unfortunately doesn't approve of my taking advantage of the suffering of others.  As she put it, "How would you like it if the President say had used 9/11 to exploit in the midterm elections? You'd be angry.  Especially,if he did things like appointed a bunch of hacks to work in the Department of Homeland Security which he actually opposed or if he refused to testify to the 9/11 commission which he also opposed, or if he never actually caught Osama Bin Laden and shot Pat Tillman instead then let the army lie about it."

I tried to disagree with Mrs. Boris, "Do you have to be so political?" I asked her.  "I was just talking about volleyball.  Next you'll tell me that the price of gas has something to do with the politics of the Middle East.  If gas is six dollars a gallon and it becomes an issue to drive to all these tournaments, we'll just give up groceries or health insurance or soemthing."

We did carpool to Deer Valley as did most of the parents.  When we got there, we also   learned that one dollar from each three dollar admission to the tournament had been designated for Katrina relief victims who had better than a 9'6" vertical. I'm kidding about the 9'6" vertical thing.  It was a nice touch on the part of a tournament that I thought was very well run.  Deer Valley is physically one of the nicest high schools in California.  It has tennis courts, a gorgeous Olympic sized pool, two full gyms with dividers in between to eliminate ball on problems, and polished hardwood floors.  Just in front of the gym, there are big color pictures of the Abernathy sisters, Deer Valley volley alums who went to Cal and Arizona.  There's even a Burger King right next to this school for 3500 students which is like putting a casino next to a senior center.  

    The tournament itself was 16 teams starting with 4 team pool play and then an 8 team playoff for championship and consolation.  My daughter's team was seeded sixth in a field that field that included last year's D3 Norcal champs, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Carondolet, Northgate, and Liberty.  My daughter's high school team had a down year last year and I honestly wasn't sure what to expect this season. Last year, when she was a freshman, she had set a goal for herself of making the team and my wife and I did the helicopter parent by hovering near tryouts and the early practices.  This year, we backed off, not even coming near the gym during tryouts and barely watching practices.  In other words, we've been considerably saner.  One effect though was that we had no idea what to expect of this first tournament.

    I did take advantage of the fact that her team didn't play in the first match to wander the tournament a little.  There were actually two 6'4" plus players in the tournament and both were quite good.  Granada had one who I think plays for Players during the Club season.  In the other gym, Stephanie Browne's Monte Vista team was playing Liberty.  It was immediately clear that Browne is a very good player.  She handles the ball surprisingly well, she's a very good consistent hitter though not a lights out hitter yet (at least when I saw her, she was actually getting dug fairly consistently), and is clearly going to give some college coach a lot to brag about.  The Granada player is also good, though has a ways to go as a hitter.  

    As I stood on the sideline eavesdropping, every other conversation seemed to be about Monte Vista's big time leftside hitter.  She's deserving of the attention, but one of the ironies is that Liberty won the match reasonably easily.  Monte Vista finished third in its own pool and wound up 10th in the tournament, which doesn't mean they won't have a great season once all the pieces come together.  I don't blame anyone for this, but the sad thing about prep volleyball talk is that it's like the commodities exchange.  So much of the attention is speculative that there's a tendency to ignore the actual matches and the teams and players winning them.  The single most entertaining team to watch at the tournament was Sacred Heart, which might have had one player who could claim to be anything close to six feet tall. Sacred Heart is one of those teams that digs anything and everything and for whom points never end.  They have a great libero, who actually may be taller than one of their middles though that middle suddenly gets a whole lot taller when she actually hits the ball, a smart quick setter, and at least a few arms on the team from the left and middle. In other words, Sacred Heart is a team with a bunch of fine players whose names generally don't get whispered in awe in gyms, on volleyboards, or those endless lists.  Of course, I don’t know any of their names. Grrrr…. Because no one says them much.

I point out that high school football and basketball aren't as much like this.  Yes, a big deal is made of Mcdonald's All American types, but if some boy scores 63 points in a basketball game, people tend to pay attention and it makes the papers even if he's 5'10" and not especially quick.  People in Indiana would probably remember Steve Alford even if he didn't go on to play for Bobby Knight and even I remember Damon Bailey and I've only been to Indiana once in my life. Even people who don’t post as BJ, remember Rick Mount.  Slow guys from Indiana even have their own movie, Hoosiers.  We honestly don't know who's going to be like Booby, the star runnng back in Friday Night Lights, maybe it would be okay to celebrate athletes for what they're doing now rather than for what they maybe might be able to do in 6 years.  That can be fun too.

Many years ago, our older one played in a state final match against Bishop Montgomery.  Hedder Illustre, a 5'5" leftside had 30 kills in the 5 game match.  Katie Oslovsky who was a 6'3" junior who went on to great success at USC also played a big role in the win.  Today, everyone would be talking about Katie Oslovsky and the fact that she was a certain fab 50 or whatever.  At the time, Illustre was named MVP of the final and Oslovsky didn't quite make the all tournament team.  The article in the LA Times talked about Illustre. She had her day in the sun and deserved it.  Today it would be Oslovsky makes case as big time hitter, Illustre also had 30 kills and she'll probably have to be a DS in college and isn't even among the top 100 prospects in the country, so who cares.

My daughter's team had its first match against Foothill, the 4th and bottom seed in the pool.  Foothill was one of those odd high school teams with four to five really tall players and three or four players who are extremely small.  Foothill took an early lead as their middles put balls right through spots where blockers normally put their hands up.  Midway through the first game Foothill had a 16-14 lead.  One of the newcomers on my daughter's team then ran off 8 straight points from the service line including three aces.  After that, Foothill struggled and lost in 2.   I then walked back in and saw a completely transformed Foothill team give Carondelet, the second seed in the tournament a huge scare.  The second game was 31-30 Foothill and the level of play was very high as the Foothill hitters found their zone against a smaller Carondelet team.

In the other gym, Acalanes , coached by former St. Mary’s player and Foothill alum Meg Hauser, which came in as the fourth seed in its pool beat Castro Valley, Liberty, and Monte Vista.  Sacred Heart, which had already somewhat amazingly played 8 matches this season, swept through a pool that had an athletic Deer Valley team and James Logan.  
One of the best things about the tournament was that the competition was very even bottom to top.  In the four pools, there were two three way ties.  Albany which finished well back in this tournament beat Carondelet just two days earlier.  

My daughter’s school had a very tough three game match with a well balanced Granada team with another big front line, then lost in three to Carondelet  after they adjusted by triple blocking the leftside.  Carondelet does  a bit of everything well.  I like their middle, 22, and they showed poise in tight matches throughout the day.  In the playoffs, we watched Sacred Heart basically toy with San Ramon with a defense so tight that the ball looked like it was on a yo yo string.  My daughter’s team was reffing and this display left them  awestruck.  

Acalanes was a medium-sized team with a good left handed jump server and very steady defense.  They’ve long been a regular presence in the NCS D3 playoffs.  This is one of their better teams and they made their way through a very tough morning pool.  My daughter’s team felt lucky to win the match in 3 and essentially better the number 6 seed they had at the beginning of the day.

One of the most fascinating things about volleyball is that it’s all about matchups sometimes.  Sacred Heart had looked indestructible all through the day, but my daughter’s team found itself up 15-13 in the first game.  That seemed to convince them that they didn’t have to be awestruck.  Their coach had asked them the simple question before the match, “How bad do you want this?”  and the team responded.  Before I forget, I should mention that I got some of the info for this from, a nifty high school sports site that would be even better if more of us sent them scores and rosters.  I’d even know more of the player names.  They sent a writer/photographer to cover the tournament and he even had some nice things to say about my daughter and her team. which made Mrs. Boris and I glow the whole hour forty five minute drive home.  

In this case, height mattered.  You can only free ball or hit from the back row so many times and six foot tall hitters do indeed have an advantage against smaller blockers.
Somehow, it only took two games, though it was two games of some very long points with Sacred Heart players going into the far corners of the gym for balls.  My daughter’s team won in two and it felt like the whole frustrating prior season when they started three sophomores and a freshman had melted away.

On the other court, Northgate won its first game with Carondelet 25-10 and Carondelet came right back to win a tight second game, with Northgate winning the third.  It was a good final.
Northgate was a d2 norcal semifinalist last year, losing to Mitty, and returned 11 seniors.

  Northgate has a gigantic team. no they don’t have anyone 6’4”, they have 15 players on varsity, and vociferous parents.  At one point, the player taking care of the score was on her cellphone during the match and the parents started yelling at her to put the phone down.  The teams were very evenly matched. Something that was probably true of 12 of the 16 teams.  Northgate has an excellent libero and a very steady group of hitters led by Karly Lathrop and Shana Flickinger.  There were probably more mistake points, net calls, etc. than in the semis, particularly for my daughter’s team.  At times, matches at the end of a long tournament are about pure desire.  At one point, Northgate’s player missed a serve receive opportunity it went straight back over her head.  An alert Northgate player dove behind the service line to save it and then yet another player freeballed it high and long to the other backline.  Two backrow players on the other side, possibly in shock that it hadn’t been an ace,  watched it land on the line,  Northgate won in a fairly easy third game.  In both the first and third games, missed serves at very bad times made big differences.  If anything won the match, it was Northgate’s steady, intelligent, backrow play.  At one point, it became clear that they would challenge serve by moving their 3 player backrow up six feet from the backline, essentially shrinking the court.  

     We drove home happy.  This is the four year anniversary of 9/11.  There are currently 140,000 American troops in Iraq, most are a year or two older than the girls playing in this tournament.  Roughly a hundred thousand families in the southeast are homeless.  For one day that went from 6 am to 11:15 pm, I was just grateful that volleyball goes on both for those players whose names everyone seems to know and the many excellent players whose names we never learn.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Being a Fan

     This may seem a little strange, but I root for Barry Bonds.  I have no idea why I do, other than the fact that he plays for the team I grew up rooting for and that he’s clearly very good at what he does.  At the same time, there are any number of reasons I shouldn’t root for the Giants Barca Lounge Leftfielder.  That is, if you happen to believe even a third of what is said about the guy.  To put it simply, he doesn’t go out of his way to be nice to the media, though that’s no reason to dislike anyone.  There’s also strong circumstantial evidence that he used steroids in some form.  Of course, I pull out the whole innocent until proven guilty thing for Barry.   Did he go about the rehab thing the right way by choosing his own doctor and sticking with him even when the first surgery resulted in complications?  Probably not.  Still I root for the guy.

     If you had to insist on a reason, it comes down to something like familiarity and connection.  I grew up watching Bobby Bonds, Barry’s father, as he tried to succeed Willie Mays.  Bobby was a very good player, one of the best combinations of speed and power to ever play in the majors, but a drinking problem and a lack of plate discipline kept him from true greatness.  I felt a lot of Bobby’s pain.  It just never felt fair to tell a twenty one year old that he would be a failure of sorts if he didn’t match the standard set by one of the four or five best players of all time.  After achieving stardom as a Pirate, Barry Bonds came to the Giants and finished his father’s mission by becoming the only Giant to seriously rival Mays who also happens to be his godfather.  Two years ago, Bobby died while Barry was chasing Mays’s career home run total.  This isn’t a bad reason since it goes across generations and reminds me that I’ve been a Giants fan since I was seven years old and I saw Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, and Marichal all on the same field.  Of course, if this really were my best reason, I’d be a huge fan of Moises Alou.

     After all, Mosies’s father Felipe not only played for the first Giants team I saw, but is now the manager.  Moises also is a very good, though not great, player.  Sometimes, I think it was that business of Moises telling the reporter that he urinates on his own hands to keep from getting blisters from all those high velocity swings of the bat.  Maybe, I just found the human bobblehead that is Barry Bonds someone I’d prefer to high five after he hits a home run.

     When I  read  blogs and columns from the other side, I repeatedly attack the logical consistency of trying to support George the Abysmal, our current Yellow Jersey wearing leader of the tour de Gulf.  In this race which runs from the Gulf Coast to the Persian Gulf, you see how many people you can kill before you have to explain anything about how it happened.   Often, I can’t understand how these other people who collect photos of bus yards in New Orleans, track tickets to Springsteen concerts, and study typefaces on old letters a la Richard Nixon prosecuting Alger Hiss, can’t see breaks in the Presidential credibility levee big enough to drown any hope for democracy anywhere.  To them, the President may ride through streets filled with offal, but he’s always mounted on one of those white Arabian horses that the FEMA director helped procure for him.

     Once in a while it occurs to me that they feel about yellow jersey George the same way I root for Barry Bonds.  They’re fans, which happens to be a shortened version of “fanatic”.  To be a fanatic means that logic and reality don’t matter in the moment.  
There is, however, one difference.  Whatever his shortcomings when it comes to Q factor, Barry Bonds always performs on the field and has the numbers to back it up.  George the Abysmal has had an August about as good as his friend Rafael Palmeiro, who went home recently to end his slump maybe with the help ofViagra.  When Barry stops performing, even his fans would say “We loved rooting for you, but Barry it’s time to retire. Even Jerry Rice retired when he couldn’t be better than a 4th receiver.”

If a guy keeps getting people killed and keeps claiming it’s someone else’s fault, isn’t it time to at least bench him?  At least in baseball, K stands for strikeout.  I see three clear strikes, 1) the August 6th 2001 presidential briefing that the President ignored then tried to keep classified. Al Qaeda Prepared to Strike  2) the War in Iraq and the Downing St. Memo (would someone just do the math?  If any of it followed rules that CPAs and auditors follow…an honest court would shut the war down)  3) Katrina.  Does anyone understand that even if the Governor and Mayor made big mistakes that doesn’t absolve the administration from its mistakes? After three strikes, you’re out.  What should it be when K stands for Killed?

If you’re a hitter and strike out a lot, even the Texas Rangers send you back to the Bush leagues.


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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Soap Opera News Cycles

I suppose there’s only so much room on a front page if you always have to leave space for pics of Natalie Holloway and Brad and Angelina stories, but is it possible that three things spun out of the news?  Is there a war in Iraq or do the insurgents call time out because of Katrina?  I did see something about the attempts at constitutional compromise failing.  If I understand it, they’re going to send it as is complete with clerical supervision and Sunni objections.  There was also that small matter of close to a thousand people dying in a stampede. What became of that nice man Karl Rove?  I heard that he was helping the White House find new ways to blame state and local officials, but wasn’t there some sort of investigation going on?  Finally, I know that Cindy Sheehan and friends boarded a bus to DC, but is there no more anti-war movement? Tracking Gold Star Families for Peace

I’ve never been much of a soap opera fan.  The daytime ones seemed to push cartoons off the air when I was a kid.  I didn’t care who shot JR, etc. though I did watch Dynasty and Beverly Hills 90210 for a while because I had family members who did.  My daughter won’t let me watch Degrassi with her.  Therefore, I can’t claim to be an expert on this, but the Regular Media has started covering news stories as if they were scripting a soap opera.  If something catches the public’s attention in a soap opera, all other story lines die or at least disappear in odd ways.  Sometimes it’s really maddening, like Bobby Ewing coming out of the shower and realizing it was all a dream or various boyfriends and girlfriends on 90210 fading away with their teen topical story lines.  I was always one of those viewers who would wonder what happened after some minor character did the 12 step program even if some major character was about to choose between Brandon and Dylan or if Alexis Carrington Colby was househunting during the hurricane with Dick Cheney.  

Right now, I see this pattern.  Something happens.  There’s a bunch of interest.  There are a few public opinion polls that usually tell you that the public is incredibly uninformed.  There are a lot of stories with a minimum of analysis or history.  There are more public opinion polls about whose fault it might be, that have little or nothing to do with the facts.  They report on various public figures making claims in their own interest.  There are no follow up questions.  Something more interesting comes along.  Story disappears.  You wind up in Iraq for two plus years talking about a constitution and you can’t find a single story that talks about the history of Iraq as a “creation” of post-World War I policy that may have had more than a little bit to do with access to oil.
In the case of Cindy Sheehan, did anyone ever seriously answer her question?  And btw, is there any point when we will be hearing from Patrick Fitzgerald? Even when they write soap operas, there’s someone who charts the characters’ storylines even if the character doesn’t make it back on screen.  Of course, they kill the character off, if the agent demands to renegotiate or wants Evian in the dressing room. In our version, news locates dirt then runs it through the spin cycle until some other stain catches our attention.

This is what I know, there’s been terrific followup on the whole Brad-Agelina-Jennifer-Orphan story.  I know where Brad and Angelina are living.  I know who Jennifer is dating.  I know the birth history of various non-American refugee children who will be asking their mother about the Billy Bob tattoo and that vial around her neck that seemed to have blood in it.  I can count on People and the Weekly World News to follow up for me.  Isn’t there like one reporter who can say do a Cindy in Louisiana helping hurricane victims story, a Judith Miller gets visited in prison by Paul Wolfowitz and Ahmed Chalabi for a party catered by Martha Stewart, or tell me what’s happening in that Iraqi village near the Syrian border now held by Al Qaeda?   Maybe People or US has a spare staffer from the Vince Vaughn beat.  Even though it made me feel morally superior for god knows what reason, I honestly would trade knowing about Condaleeza Rice’s shoe size in Ferragamos for some actual timelines etc. on Iraq or Plamegate. Is it really true that all of the Gulf's emergency equipment wound up in the wrong gulf?  

It occurs to me that Soap Operas were called that because their central purpose is to keep people watching so they could literally sell “soap” to Betty Friedan’s the problem that had no name housewives.  In that case, the number of people watching seems a perfectly valid measure.  When it comes to the news, shouldn’t the measure be the number of people paying attention and the number who could actually consider themselves informed based on what they get or are they now in the same business as the soap salesmen,putting it all through the spin cycle?

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Rebuilding New Orleans Right

After some looking around, I wound up giving to Habitat for Humanity, at least for now. This is a bit odd, but I've always loved that scene in theHarrison Ford movie "Witness" where the Amish community gets together to raise a barn. Ever since, I've had this vision of community-based American utopia that includes pitchers of lemonade, people rolling up their sleeves, and then returning the favor, say as opposed to finding someone to blame.

This got me thinking about the whole reconstruction of New Orleans as opposed to New Orleans during reconstrcuction after the Civil War. As Barbara Bush accidentally put it, living as a refugee in the Astrodome may be doing "really well" compared to how some of these people were living before and during Katrina. Should we just fix the holes in the levee, pump out the water, and put up houses and businesses, we might be recreating the same race-poverty scab that Katrina tore open so painfully. What would it take to rebuild or recreate New Orleans right? What would happen if we dedicated ourselves to building a better city a la Marshall Plan or landing on the moon?

There is no question that the mouth of the Mississippi will need a port city of some kind. In addition, there is no question that New Orleans has a special cultural place in America. Should there be a New New Orleans, it would be some sort of moral crime to replace the city of Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Scott Joplin, and Paul Prudhomme, and Henriette Delille with Starbucks, Wallmart, and thousands of masonite clad houses. When business and politicians get involved in this sort of thing it tends to turn out more like Beale Street in Memphis, rather than something vital and actually communal instead of commercial. If 10,000 people really did die in Katrina, our vision for the rebuilding of the city should be a monument to what we have learned from the tragedy. Is there a way to rebuild or build anew that might promise the following?

If we rebuild or recreate, the new city should
1) Be safe as in have state of the art emergency systems and facilities
2) offer open opportunity for all of its citizens
3) continue the role of the old city as a unique cultural center not a an extension of strip mall America
4) Be environmetally conscious
5) Be energy and transportation efficient for the coming century
6)International and multicultural
7) Have a decent football team

While it goes well beyond a patch and fill rehabilitation, I believe six of these goals are doable. The football team may be a bit tougher, I still have too many memories of fans with paper bags over their heads. To do this, however, would take unprecedented commitment of resources and ultimately a community vision that hasn't existed much in America since the Puritan city on the hill, the Shakers, the Amana community, and other groups that saw America as a canvas for perfectability of the soul as well as the wallet.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about some details of New Orleans history. A few things stick out. The city was built where it is by the French because in those days, it stood on high ground above the Mississippi. One reason New Orleans is American at all is that Napoleon, after reqacuiring it from Spain, sold it to us so he could pay for his wars in Europe. (Strange, how circular history can be). Second, much of the city's rich cultural mix is rooted in sadness. The city served as a center for the slave trade. The Cajuns started out as "Acadians" who were more or less ethnically cleansed from the British parts of Canada. The French planters who came to New Orleans itself had been driven out of Haiti by one of history's few successful slave rebellions. One odd result of all this was that New Orleans developed a unique culture around race built around the emergence of the Creoles, people of mixed black and European heritage. Henriette Delille, one of the first American Saints, was Creole. Homer Plessy, the plaintiff in Plessy v. Ferguson, the separate but equal case, was Creole as well. One of the interesting things about the case was that Plessy was only 1/8th black, but still fell on the other side of the line, a small blow to the Creole sense of difference. When Chief Justice Rehnquist died, he was one of the last people who had in early career actively opposed Brown v. Board of education,(as an overextension of the 14th amendment) the case that formally overruled Plessy. So there's another bit of circularity.

Clearly, there are two strains of New Orleans that must be saved. American food and American music would have been far blander had it not been for New Orleans. Yet, the paradox is that the city's musical and culinary greatness is rooted in its own tortured past. Joplin's ragtime was a serious music forced by the color line into the city's brothels. King Oliver and Louis Armstrong would likely be sitting in the Astrodome today. Actually, Armstrong might have been one of the "looters". One of my saddest thoughts is about the trumpeter Buddy Bolden the jazz pioneer who did not quite make it to the age of recording. Not only have we lost his music, we may have lost the place that made it possible. I haven't even gotten into the city's role in zydeco, the blues, rock and roll, Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Domino, Dr. John, the Nevilles

I am not so sure about the whole strata of race culture that New Orleans embodied. I don't know that anyone's dared to comment on this, but one thing I noticed about the pictures of the vast majority of the refugees is that as a group they are much darker and therefore much poorer than many American blacks. It occured to me that the parallel world of the Creole still exists in New Orleans and in America for that matter.

Culturally and poltically with a line running through Huey Long, New Orleans has caught many of the deepest paradoxes of our history. It was even part of the first county in America with a Chinese sheriff, well before it ever got a black sheriff. The Creoles were perhaps the largest and most successful communities of free blacks in pre-civil war America, yet they are also a symbol of how brutal and hypocritical the color line was since the Creoles were as European as they were African.
Should we rebuild or replace New Orleans, will there be a way to preserve its cultural greatness, while eliminating so much that is painful about that city's history? This is a great opportunity to ask ourselves what our vision can be not just for that region, but for the future of this country as well.

The cynic in me says we can't do it. The American in me says that we must. What became of that dream of America embraced by Martin Luther King, RFK, et. al.?.

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Zimmerman Virus Ch. 2 (Alternate History) redraft

Don Drysdale was starting in the World Series against the Yankees. Drysdale, a tall intimidating righthander, happened to be just the sort of pitcher Herb Walker could hit back when he was a minor league first baseman. Almost everyone was predicting that the Yankees would win this most recent edition of the subway series easily. They had Mickey Mantle, possibly the best switch hitter of all time, Roger Maris, the man who had broken Hank Greenberg’s home run record with 59 just two years ago, Whitey Ford, the left handed pitcher who always seemed to win. The Dodgers had two great pitchers and a little shortstop who stole a lot of bases. Herb Walker seemed to be one of the few people who was aware of the fact that speed and pitching sometimes were all you needed to win.

As he looked over to the metal clad warehouse from his desk. Herb Walker shook his head. American port security was hopelessly bad. Inspectors were paid less than four hundred dollars a month. Even at that there weren’t enough of them. A handful of policemen patrolled Baltimore harbor itself.

In thirteen years in the family business, he’d earned more running guns to Europe than he would ever have running the basepaths. Still, whenever he listened to games he ran through counter factual possibilities like his maybe being a 39 year old veteran subbing for Joe Pepitone and getting to hit off Drysdale. It wasn’t too old to still be playing. “Look at Satchel Paige” thought Walker as he remembered seeing a newsreel of Paige just before his retirement in 1951 telling Edward Murrow, “I never had a job, I just kept playing.”

It usually started like this, “If only the Homestead Grays had not been invited to join the national league as a “separate but equal” team in 1935.”

The team instantly became a point of pride for all negroes in America. Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Ray Dandridge, Cool Pappa Bell, Double Duty Radcliffe had all joined the team by 1937 and the Grays won two straight world series despite the fact that they never played home games. After that, the rest of baseball had to keep parity by signing the best players they could find regardless of race. Branch Rickey, the Cardinals general manager, traded for Satchel Paige, who had finally infuriated the Gray’s owner Cumberland Posey by yet again trying to renegotiate his contract, in the middle of 1939 to make the Cardinals the first integrated team. Paige and Mort Cooper paired to win the pennant for the Cardinals and soon every team wanted salt and pepper lineuups. Until then, a very good white player had a realistic shot of making the majors. Instead, the good field, not so good hit, Herb Walker found himself locked into the minor leagues after a solid career at first base at the University of Connecticut where he had captained his team to the college world series.

Two men came into the interior office of the Harriman Shipping Line where Herbert Walker kept a desk that served as his connection to the legitimate business world.
“I thought we agreed” Walker’s voice had a slightly whiny quality when irritated as if he were speaking from his palate.

“Who’s going to know, it’s Sunday morning,” said the darker haired one, a man Walker knew as Pat. “You’re the one who says that no one pays much attention to the docks on Sunday morning.”

“I thought you guys would be in church,” Walker said it ever so derisively.

“Not if we have a more important mission for the lord,” Pat answered.

Walker wondered how a man like Pat could ever be part of a contract killing. He looked and sounded more like someone who might be a television newscaster. Walker had in eleven years in the business not to ask direct questions of his clients’ plans.

An article in the Atlantic had called them “Evangekillers”, men who talked constantly about angels and salvation but who thought nothing of killing innocents in the name of god. Religious fanaticism, though, was nothing new in the world. It’s just that they now had automatic weapons and plastic explosive. Walker had more than once speculated on what would happen if men like Pat and his friend ever got their hands on a nuclear weapon.

"Whatever,” Walker opened tilted his head and pointed with his right index finger not at but in the general direction of Pat and the other evangekiller, a dark-haired man with a mustache and narrowed eyes who went by Gordon.

“This has to be a professional operation, that shipment needs to reach its destination by November. If that's going to happen, we follow the plan, my plan,"
Walker's forceful voice always sounded more peppy than authoritative.

“I was a marine. I know how to get the job done,” Pat retorted.

Walker decided not to mention that he’d spent four years in the Navy Air Corps after he washed out of the minors. He hadn’t expected Christian partners quite like Pat. Most people thought of radical christians as people with little education who had come to the Lord because they had little hope in their lives. In other conversations Pat had hinted that he’d gone to Yale and that his father had even served in the U.S. Senate at one time. Walker shook his head, if only he’d had those opportunities, he certainly woudn’t be involving himself in weapons deals or trying to sound like a rural southerner like Pat.

The pair of evangekillers left his office, but not before Gordon gave him a threatening look.

“Assholes,” he muttered to himself. “Pat probably spent his time in the Marines procuring booze for the officers.”

Walker turned the game back on. The Dodgers were leading in the 8th inning 3-1. All of Brooklyn was ready to celebrate for the City’s remaining national league team. Horace Stoneham had made the mistake of moving the Giants to Minneapolis three years earlier. Next year, the league had announced plans to have expansion teams in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Alone again, Walker was left to ponder the biggest what if in his life of all and how his life and family had been changed so drastically by the Nye Committee and its junior counsel Alger Hiss. His grandfather Samuel had been chair of the American Munitions Board in 1918, the fourth year of the war, just when the US had almost made the decision to join the war. His father had been a board member and banker with extensive trade contacts with companies that did business in both the United States and Europe. Had the Nye Committee not declared his grandfather a war criminal, his father might have even become a senator. He might have gone to Yale just his father and granddfather had. Instead, in March of 1936, the New York Herald had run its headline.
“Remington sold hundreds of millions of dollars in ordinance to both the British and the German Army. Munitions Board Implicated.”

His grandfather had made a fortune prolonging the war and lobbying the US to get involved too. As far as anyone could determine, boosting sales to companies in which he held stock had been his only motive.

“The Greediest Man in the World” had been the headline in the Washington Post.

Even the Hearst papers had jumped in. For some time, they had been the biggest advocates for his grandfather and father's claim that Hiss had framed them with forged evidence by manufacturing a typewriter to match the one at the Harriman lines and his grandfather's office machine. Only towards the end did the Hearsts abandon his grandfather after he had refused to come out of his Connecticut mansion while a French woman who had lost her husband and two sons to Remington ammunition in the summer of 1918 sat in front of his gate for a week and a half until he would come out and look her in the eye. Three weeks later, a group of children had killed thirty six of their schoolmates in New York’s PS 109 with a cache of guns bought through mail order. Walker’s grandfather had nothing to do with any mail order sale of any bullets or weapons, but his name had been linked to every mention of the massacre. Also linked to the massacre was the hero, M. B. Laden, the Streaking Sheikh, who had talked the boys into surrendering their weapons after the police chief had gotten the idea to bring in their favorite baseball player. After the police had taken them away, Laden had stayed behind the school to console families and ultimately made a short speech,
“This is not a religious matter. No real God endorses the killing of innocents. These were young boys, as American as any of us. This is not about Christianity, it's about a world filled with more guns than charity. If we are to remain a great nation, we must do it as one people, one team."

The "We have a team" speech transformed Laden from a retired baseball player to public speaker in a matter of months.

In the meantime, Walker's father's shipping lines had been identified as the carrier for all of his grandfather’s cargo. A Broadway play was staged called “Death Ship". Despite the success of the play, Traven, the playwright refused to be interviewed or allow his face to be shown in public. Gossip had it that Traven was M.B. Laden, which clearly wasn't true, but it further enhanced the Laden mystique.

Walker had to change his own name at the age of 13 and his plans for prep school became instead three years in East Texas with distant relatives. It was there that Herbert Walker had first vowed to make his fortune and one day restore his family’s name.

By the end of the morning the shipment would be on a Liberian cargo ship. Pat had insisted on a Liberian manifest because he claimed to have yet another trusted acquaintance. If all went well, Herbert Walker would in three years have made the jump from running a gun smuggling crime family to being in the oil business. His would be the only American company the Ottomans would deal with.

If all went well, Herbert Walker’s son, Herbert Jr. might some day be president. Joe Kennedy had gone from being a bootlegger to having a son who had a chance to run against Bin Laden in 1964. Maybe in 1996, Herbert Jr. might run. That was, if only his eighteen year old would stop drinking and get serious about his life. Then for a moment, it dawned on Herbert Walker why Pat irritated him so. That arrogance, that refusal to listen. It was like he was seeing an older version of his own son. He hoped to hell that Herb Jr. never hooked up with the Evangekillers.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Another Involuntary Cat Sequel

Phoebe the cat ran off for was it the third or fourth time right around July 4th. Since then, we haven't been sure if she had died, gone feral, or simply found a house she liked better. It would figure that in th midst of the biggest refugee catastrophe yet(maybe that's why they call it a "cat4" hurricane) we would get a call once again thanks to the chip implanted in the back of her neck.
"We've discovered that we have your cat. We love your cat. My husband's been sick and the cat's been giving us a great deal of pleasure. Would you consider letting us keep your cat?"

"You mean the cat actually doesn't run away from you?..."

a few moments of silence and very little thought on my wife's part.

"No, please if she has a good home there, we don't have to have her back."

So there it is, our voluntary cat who each time ran off in a different compass direction from our house finally got the message through to us that she didn't consider herself "our" cat.

In the meantime, we had to take one of the cats who liked our household to the vet today to be put down.

Bear with me in this segue. I haven't yet figured out how to contribute to helping those left behind by Katrina. Money is the obvious answer, but then I say "Red Cross" and I hear any number of objections to some things Red Cross has done in these situations. I then learn that one of FEMA's designated charities for the disaster is actually administered by Pat "The Hitman" Robertson.

At a much more personal level, I've been tossing around the idea of offering to take a family in for a bit, should anyone send them out to California. I found one website trying to set up matches and it repeated all my basest fears about what might happen or could happen with its disclaimer language.

If my heart is open to helping these victims of Katrina, why does it close up so quiclkly when I start thinking about what and how much to do? I've committed myself to doing something though by week's end, which makes me not a whole lot different from the President. The difference, I guess, though is that I'm not the president. Should I really wonder why Phoebe the cat didn't want to stay with us? :{ And is it strange that people so readily take in homeless cats, but the prospect of taking in a homeless family seems so dangerous?

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