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Monday, April 9, 2012

Republicans Need Lithium

See Cartoon Details Below.
For a long time I've been watching the intransigence between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, listening to the blame game about which party is full of the most recalcitrant, non-compromising bad guys and reading "Can't we just get along?" punditry, all the time knowing, from personal experience, that there are certain situations in life where it is impossible to compromise because one of the two warring sides is completely nuts.

Personal experience case in point: A good friend of mine here in France has a certifiably insane and increasingly dangerous ex who, while living off of his 4th girlfriend (who had just birthed his 4th child) and harassing my friend with daily threatening and insulting emails, phone calls, voicemails and texts (while still managing to play numerous World of Warcraft sessions), stalked and won the adoration of a female Parisian lawyer famous for defending abused women. As soon as he hooked up with this famous attorney, he dumped his girlfriend along with their 12-month old child and soon convinced his new attorney girlfriend that my friend had psychologically abused him and their child. (Child #3 of 4 total - I know, this is complicated.) His fearless defender of women, horrified by his invented tales of abuse, kidnapped his and my friend's child and then managed to put my friend into the Goute d'Or jail (not the best of Paris neighborhoods) for two days and then in the Medieval prison under the Palais de Justice (where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before being executed on the guillotine) for 2 more days of garde à vue (detention), where my friend was interrogated as well as sent to two psychiatric hospitals for evaluation. My friend was jailed because her crazy ex and his now wife (he didn't waste any time getting this woman to marry him) filed a criminal case against her for psychological abuse (a new law in France that was designed and promoted by... drum roll... the crazy ex's new lawyer wife).

Now... even though my friend had proof that her ex had been treated for bipolarity and alcoholism, had attempted to jump out of her 6th-floor apartment window because the Aliens were talking to him through his dental fillings, had successfully jumped off his parents' apartment balcony and broke both of his feet, had been picked up by the cops during a psychotic event where he stripped down naked in a park to play in the kiddie sandbox... the court-appointed psychiatrists and social workers said to my friend, "If you and your ex could just learn to communicate better with each other..." Can't we all just get along?

I always think of this story when I read all the ad nauseum discussions about bipartisanship.  And I can't help equating the Republican party with my friend's crazy ex. By my armchair shrink definition, bipolarity has become a Republican disease. They are so obsessed with getting that uppity black guy, his wife and their picaninny children out of the sacred White-only House, that they will forfeit the American economy and the American people to do so, even to the extent that they will stop supporting issues and legislation (i.e. healthcare mandates) that they previously supported, if our Muslim Kenyan Socialist Marxist president decides to support those issues too. It's like all of them are creatures of an up-is-down Bizarro World, recent transplants from another planet called Htrae. Religious fanatics, legislating against marriage equality, hire rent boys, wear diapers while they pay prostitutes for sex, make unwanted sexual advances on Congressional boy pages, etc. Religious/small government fanatics declare they want the government out of their healthcare but create legislation where the government requires women, against their will, to have a vaginal probe and to look at their babies on the probe screen before having an abortion. Small government fanatics claim Obama is the biggest spendthrift in the entire Bizarro World but it was George W. Bush, their hero, who spent like a drunken sailor and left Obama with gazillions in debt to clean up. Religious fanatics claim that same-sex marriage will destroy 'traditional' marriage but they rally behind a 3-time-marriage-loser like Newt Gingrich.

Like I said, they're fucking nuts.

Then this morning I read a Dailykos article that quoted a John Cole article (bold emphasis mine):

I really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane. Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years.
How do you succeed when the other party is insane? In my friend's case, after about $30,000 of donated money and more than a full year of not being able to work while she fought her criminal case, she finally won (the criminal case against her was dropped due to lack of evidence and her ex and his lawyer wife were given suspended sentences for kidnapping her child for 3 months), but she's still fighting to get the courts to grant her request for supervised child visitation to protect her child from this crazy guy. (Yes, even after kidnapping his child, the French courts still allow him to have his child every other weekend and during school holidays.) Luckily, just two weeks ago, the ex placed himself into a mental institution. But I'm sure it's not over yet. He's only in there for another week and he probably did it just so he could accuse my friend of making him insane. Time will tell. But hopefully something will be done to stop him before this happens. (That guy is in prison for killing his 3rd wife and his 2nd wife died when her car went over a cliff, out of which he miraculously was able to jump. Disclosure: my sister is the attorney in the custody battle for those poor kids' maternal grandfather).

Unfortunately, we can't commit the entire Republican party to a mental institution. And if you're hoping that a younger generation of Republicans will rise to replace the Old White Guys now in charge and bring the Grand Old Party back to its previous Grandness, just take a look at the douche bag to the left and you'll lose all that hopey-changey stuff real quick. But maybe a permanent Lithium fog, piped into the right side of the aisle of the hallowed halls of Congress, is in order.




Puck cartoon image courtesy of the Library of Congress. Details: Puck massaging the scalp of a deranged-looking Richard Olney who is sitting on a bench in a padded cell in the "Hopeless ward for incurables" and holding a rattle of William Jennings Bryan as a jester. On the floor are loose papers, one labeled "Olney's letter indorsing [sic] Bryan." And from the William Jennings Bryan Wiki: "The sheer volume of political propaganda cartoons featuring Bryan is a testament to the amusement and fear he caused among conservatives. ... As Keen puts it, 'The art of propaganda is to create a portrait that incarnates the idea of what we wish to destroy so we will react rather than think, and automatically focus our free-floating hostility, indistinct frustrations, and unnamed fears.' Bryan embodied these fears of the Republican Party of the time, which is clearly evident in the lengths they went to deface his character in these cartoons. ... Other cartoons can analyze overall judgments of Bryan’s continuous failure to win the Presidential Election and Bryan can be seen as some sort of puppet or smaller figure in comparison to other presidential elect opponents."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The GOP Primary From a Muslin Point of View


Muslin Voodoo Doll***
I'm an American who's been living in Paris for five years, so you can assume that I'm a socialist (at least that's what my parents from the leftist state of Arizona call me). I also live in a neighborhood full of Islamic humans, but I haven't checked under their jalabiyas to see if they're socialists too, since that's probably haraam and there'd be a fatwā out on my ass before you can say Barack Hussein Obama.

The other day, on my way to meet my Egyptian friend Apet* for coffee in my neighborhood, I passed by my favorite terrorist pizza joint (the swarthy beardy owner waved at me as I went by) and a couple of halal meat shops (the butchers waved their flesh-stabbing bloody knives in greeting). I'd picked a French-style bistro for our rendezvous, so that Apet could give me a top-secret document (her wedding invitation) and we could finalize our plans for the Islamification of America (since we'd already achieved our goals in France my neighborhood).

At first blush, visiting Americans from Iowa would be thinking that my neighborhood Muslins (as one of my Republican friends spells them) were surely plotting their deaths, but little do the Iowans know, it’s The French who really want to kill them. Don't fucking show up at a Paris restaurant looking for dinner at 7:30 or you will be atomized by a piercing Gallic stare and your body will be riddled with meany French words. If you're looking for an early-bird special at 4:30, you might as well just snort some Anthrax right now and be done with it. (Or stay in Iowa and go to Luby's.)

Since it was around 4:30, the French bartendrette eyed us warily as we entered the bistro and only loosened up after we ordered two coffees. But soon we were passing out from the ammonia fumes she was using to clean the bar mats, so we walked across the street to another bistro, hoping they wouldn't try to kill us too. 

I ordered a Perrier, even though I really wanted a giant Caipirinha. But it’s about respect, you see. I didn't want Apet to know I'm an alcoholic infidel. Being an infidel is excusable, but an alcoholic one is a bit much. She had the Obaman Audacity to order a coffee and a croque-monsieur (without unhalalified ham, s'il vous plaît). I sat quivering, waiting for the waiter to pull the pin on his apron grenade, but he only arched one of his eyebrows (which can maim you, but not quite kill you). That's ok, he got back at her. She got ham in her croque anyway.

So while Apet daintily pulled the ham out of her sammich, she and I got to talking about how Obama had really, really filled everybody in the Middle East with hope way back in 2008, but now those same people are really, really pissed off at him. If The Muslins knew who Sarah Palin is (or more accurately was), they’d be answering “!!ليس جيدا”** to her “How's that hopey changey stuff workin' out for ya?” 

What's the crux of The Muslin World's disappointment, according to Apet?

Apet: “The way Obama kisses Israel's ass is horrible.” 
Me: “Yeah, I know. But right now in the GOP primary, the Republicans are accusing him of hating Israel.”
Apet: “WHAT? That's crazy! Do Americans really believe that?”
Me: “Do you mind if I order a Caipirinha? This might take a while.”


*Apet is a nom de guerre. It also means The Hippo Goddess.
** Goggle (As a Republican friend likes to spell it) translation (so I’m SURE it’s correct) of “Not very well!!”
***Little Muslin Voodoo Doll made by jazzy1453 & available on deviantart.com. I would check out all of jazzy's dolls if I were you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The No-Bullshit Guys in Politics

I talked with my brother on Skype the other day and he asked what was going on politically/economically in France right now. I gave him a run-down - not much detail because I don't pay as much attention to French politics as American. But we shared a chuckle at the Sarkozy/Obama open mic gaffe where they trashed Netanyahu and my brother said, "I always liked Netanyahu. He's a no-bullshit guy."

Well, I had to disagree, since I'm hating on all the pro war-with-Iran, pro Likud, pro settlements, anti-Palestinian crap that the GOP dishes out (and up until recently, what Dennis Ross and the great American-Israel lobby AIPAC has been advising Obama) and the fact that the crazy religious right in America think that they have to be "Israel's friend" so they can be guaranteed a seat when Jesus makes his second coming and hands Israel back to the Christians. Grrrrrrr. And all the bullshit about "poor Israel... such a tiny country, surrounded by a giant Arab world that wants to completely destroy them... They need our help and weapons and lots of foreign aid!" makes my head explode. Israel is probably sitting on enough nuclear warheads, murderous white phosphorous (that we sold them) and other weapons to completely destroy the Middle East. They also require ALL Israeli adult citizens (men and women) to serve in the military, so they have a ready-made army.

Poor Israel, my ass. (Enter anti-Semitic accusations, stage, er, right)

But what got me thinking was my brother's comment, "no-bullshit guy." This is an American trope, an image of a straight talkin' guy who's direct, succinct, tells it like it is, says what he means and means what he says, doesn't waste your time or his on frivolous conversation, speaks no platitudes, never sugar coats anything, doesn't see gray - just black and white, etc. This kind of guy is revered, he's refreshing. I get it. My brother owns a metals fabrication and construction company. I grew up in the construction industry. It's full of no-bullshit guys. Shit either fits or it doesn't. Buildings either stand or they don't.

Then I thought of Dick Cheney, the ultimate no-bullshit guy. It was his no-bullshit delivery of his neoconservative stance that made me curious about him. I wanted to know why he thought his world view was the only world view. He said it with such force, he must be right. Right?

I thought of another neoconservative, John Bolton. He was openly hating on the UN while he was the US's UN appointee. These guys don't hide themselves. You can go to the PNAC website (Project for A New American Century) and read all about why they wanted to take down Saddam Hussein way back when Clinton was president and why they believe that America must control the Middle East to secure our gas/oil resources. And in line with those beliefs, they all want war with Iran now. Because, of course, Iraq was such a great success.

I like no-bullshit guys too. But no-bullshit guys can be mistaken. Just because somebody can speak clearly and state their position intelligently and with extreme conviction doesn't mean they're right. A good example is my friend Sandee, a former Republican politician, who has always had the knack for making statements with such conviction that you have a tendency to believe her. But one time, after having some cocktails, we walked out to our cars and I noticed that she had mistakenly picked up my car keys off the bar table so I picked up hers and didn't say anything. We arrived at our cars, jabbering away as always, and she started to try to open her car door using my keys. I interrupted her and said, "Sandee, those are my car keys." "No they're not." she said, as she continued to talk and fail at opening her door. "Yes, they are." "No they're not." "Yes they are." "Oh, they aren't my keys. Oh. Ha!"

The many times that she categorically denied the fact that she was trying to use my keys to open her car door made me want to believe her, even though I was standing there holding her keys.

Neocons are no-bullshit guys. They firmly believed that we had to attack Iraq and they still believe that Iraq was a success. They firmly believe we have to attack Iran too. They're eloquent. They have high-level degrees from prestigious universities. They speak with conviction. It's not propaganda to sway the ignorant masses. They don't give a shit about the ignorant masses. They have an agenda and they are going to implement it. Period.

But they're fucking wrong. Don't be misled. They are holding your keys, remember that.

P.S. - The ideal no-bullshit woman doesn't exist. Because women, and their positions, are supposed to be less-than. They are supposed to start every sentence with a qualifier, "I don't know everything there is to know about this, but...". If women are direct and succinct, they're ball busters. Oh, and they're probably gay.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's Who and What You Know That Makes a Difference

Yes, my friends, I'm still alive. I haven't written in a while. So sorry. But I'm back from a summer spent in the states and am again enjoying Paris and loving my students.

What do I think about politics these days? More philosophical than disgruntled. I went from angry to disgusted to apathetic. I couldn't write a damn thing. It was all too ugly and so predictable. Corporations run America. I already knew that. They've now run it into the ground. I predicted that. Too many old white men are in politics and have zero connection to their constituents until they need campaign money and votes. After that, fuck you. Politics is about power - the getting of it and the holding of it. And business is about greed. The United States managed to fuck the entire world with useless wars, unapologetic torture and rendition and financial gambling run amok. Dazzled by the sparkly, shiny U. S. of A., other old white men in different countries followed our jack boots into financial and moral crises that would have shocked fiddling Romans, pre-burn. And religion. Ho, religion. Fanatical Christianists want religion (and only THEIR religion) to trump the state and although they consider abortion to be child murder, the moment a child is born it's on its own. As a matter of fact, if that newborn baby doesn't have a job, healthcare or food, too fucking bad. They also have no concerns with killing Iraqis, Muslims or anybody else they decide they should hate. No wonder my previous post was about escaping to an island.

But, what the hell. I'm still here. Might as well make the best of it.

So, the best thing I could do was to look at our current global mess from the standpoint of a Buddhist sage. (I know there's one inside me. I know there is!) Like what the ancient Japanese monk at a Zen Buddhist monastery in Tempe Arizona said when he first heard the news of 9/11: "Through conflict, we get to know one another." Well, now Americans know all about Muslims, or so they think.

I went back to Arizona for the summer because my mother had just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, metastasized to her bones. She's 87. My dad is 89 and has probably had most kinds of cancer and is tottering around with a walker, festering lesions of skin cancer dribbling blood, and very, very grumpy about how the dishwasher needs to be loaded. My parents and I always had a difficult relationship and hadn't spoken in two years. When my brother asked if I could come and help him care for them this summer, I wrote a mile-long diatribe about how I couldn't put myself in such a toxic environment and then the next morning, while he was still sleeping, I sent another email saying, "Never mind!"

Here's the deal. I have this mouthy angry leftyness and my parents (and all of my brothers and sisters) are various shades of Republican. There was never any intelligent discourse between us - a mirror of the ridiculous, reactionary, sensationalized, ignorant talk-show punditocracy that America has become. How could I survive four months in such a cesspit? I mean, here are the books on my parents' coffee table:

And with Faux News on 24/7, it's enough to make a lefty like me jump off the nearest mountain.

But, I lived to tell the tale. And I affirmed a few things too. My brother must have told my parents to STFU about politics and religion while I was there. So my mom was super cool and my dad eventually got there, after I figured out a way to get him to take dementia drugs so that he wouldn't yell at me anymore about how I put the milk in the refrigerator (or call Obama "that nigger in the White House").

The thing that really was affirmed for me during this stay was my belief, developed early on while slaving in Corporate America, that customers are won, and kept, one relationship at a time. And in the same way, the world will evolve and get better, one relationship at a time. It's really who and what you know that colors your outlook.

For instance, my mother knows several people of the gay persuasion - her hairdressers, friends of my sister, an artist friend of mine. And because she knows them, she can't relate to the Republican Christianist obsession with banning gay marriage and adoption. "Leave those poor people alone! Let them live their lives the way they want to!" Amen, mom.

I daintily tiptoed into a discussion about my fear of the Christianist right's hijacking of the Republican party and their agenda for making America an exclusively Christian nation. I showed her the whacko people behind Rick Perry's campaign and Prayer Day (Including Robert Jeffress who says the Catholic Church is a pagan satan cult), and to my surprise, my mother said, "I'm Catholic. And we don't proselytize. I don't give a damn if you worship your left toenail, as long as you don't tell me what I should believe in or how I should practice religion. Religion has no place in campaigns or in government." Now this is the woman who hated John F. Kennedy but she also hated how his Catholicism became an issue during his campaign.

My mom told me that if it wasn't for the fact that she thought it was important to vote in the primaries, she'd register as an independent. That's how sick of the Republican party she is. She looks at the current lineup of presidential hopefuls with disgust. It's just as much a circus for her as it is for me. She won't watch "those damn debates" and instead listens to commentary the next day. On Faux News, of course, but oh well.

She also agreed with me that Bush Jr. "spent like a drunken sailor" and that we just need to "bring our troops home from those stupid wars." Ahem.

So, all is not lost. My parents still think that the left hates capitalism and that all they want to do is rob from the rich in order to pay those lazy slackers, the poor. My parents suffer from a strange psychological dissonance that most of the right suffers from - the belief that the rich are cool and some day, they (all the blue collar workers and middle class Americans) will some day be rich too, if they just bootstrap their way up to the mythological "American Dream." And when they are rich, they don't want to be burdened by all those damn regulations that ensure the quality and safety of our food, air and water, nor do they want to pay those terrible taxes that somehow more than 250 of the biggest, most profitable corporations in America don't pay at all.

But even with that, there's still hope. They have a granddaughter who's a teacher who recently said to my sister (her mom), "Sorry mom, if you are a teacher in America, you can't be a Republican." If my parents meet other real-life people, good, honest working Americans who have lost their homes or jobs due to no fault of their own, their opinions may not completely change, but they will be nuanced. Reality won't be so black and white anymore.

I realized through this experience that it's unrealistic for me to think I can carry the burden of the maligned, murdered, tortured and abused people of this earth. I will go crazy (and almost did) looking at the way the world is operating and think that I somehow must change it all. I can only make a difference one person, one discussion, one charitable act at a time. I can have reasonable discourse about issues. I can influence my MBA students to be ethical in their work, to seek careers they are passionate about and that caring about others is not a weakness, but a strength. I can influence the evolution of the world, one friend, one student, one stranger, one parent, at a time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Search of an Island

When my ex boyfriend and I first came to France, we stayed in a friend's apartment who was out of town on tour with his band. We dragged all our suitcases up five floors of stairs and I unwittingly carried a suitcase with kitty litter in it, not knowing that the suitcase was open. There was a trail of kitty litter following me and my boyfriend, exhausted from our long flight, cleaned it up as best as he could before we went to bed.

The next morning, on our way out to grocery shop, we ran into the building busybody and self-appointed concierge. He was furious and yelling at us. My French was pretty limited at the time, but I figured out that he was angry about the kitty litter because it has salt in it and can ruin the wood floors and that he had gotten it on his shoes and tracked it into his apartment. He said he spent the morning mopping the stairs and cleaning his apartment. All I could do was say how sorry I was and listen to his diatribe. He finally calmed down and asked where we were from and I told him the United States. His face changed. Suddenly he was all friendly-like. Thank God. We were able to escape him that morning and from time to time would run into him. He was always friendly, but also strange.

One day, when it was very cold outside, I noticed that all the windows in the stairwell were wide open, on every floor. So, I closed them on my way down the stairs. Of course, he caught me doing it. "No no no!" He cried, as he went back and reopened them all. I tried to remain smiling so as to escape him quickly, but he needed to explain to me why we must keep all the windows open. "It's because those foreigners have moved in," he said with a sneer, "and we have to get rid of their smell." He was talking about a North African family who lived across from him on the third floor. George Bush was still president at that time, so I imagine that Mr. busybody thought that because I was American, I must hate those dark people as much as he did.

It was also the time of the French presidential elections. France has an interesting system where a multitude of candidates can run for president and there is a first election where the two front runners are determined by popular vote. Then a second election takes place a couple of weeks later to decide between those two. The third runner-up holds quite a bit of power, as he decides which of the two will get his party's vote. Sarkozy and socialist Ségolène Royal were the two front runners. Third place was occupied by Jean-Marie Le Pen, an extreme-right conservative and nationalist. Of course, when you hear nationalist, you can just assume that he's anti-immigrant. And of course, you know he threw his votes towards Sarkozy, as a socialist in the presidential seat was unthinkable to Le Pen. Sarkozy, probably driven by his own beliefs and also pandering to the extreme right to maintain their vote, proceeded to cancel social programs intended to calm the troubles in Paris immigrant neighborhoods through partnership and education, and decided to use threats and force to "manage the problems." He promoted police thuggery versus police and public cooperation. Using the fear of the outsider, this time Muslims, to stir up support from the extreme-right's base, he's now instituted a burqa ban. This should please the nationalists.

At the front door of my friend's apartment building a few years ago, after my lesson on the need for open windows and the evils of the darker side of humanity, Mr. Building Busybody started rambling on and on about the elections. It was a natural segue from his hatred of the outsiders (oh and by the way, he was Czechoslovakian or something) to his love for Le Pen. What a big surprise.

Today, as the Republican party in my own country throw candidates like pasta against the wall to see which one will stick, I fear for the 2012 election outcome. With this morning's news about the Wisconsin Republicans jamming through their union busting bill and NPR's chief stepping down because of another "sting" by that snide little bastard O'Keefe, my stomach is turning. But these stomach problems aren't new for me. They started with my disappointment with Obama and the Democrats squandering their 2-year majority and now the cramping sets in as I watch with horror as the religious right and corporate kings take over America and mean-spirited buffoons like Limbaugh, Palin and Beck dominate the media and lead the nation's discourse.

I thought I escaped this horror story by moving to France. But I was sorely mistaken. No matter how much the stereotype of France as a socialist country is accepted by the ignorant and misinformed, the extreme right is on the rise in this country and according to public opinion polls, Le Pen's daughter, Marine, could beat Sarkozy in the upcoming election. Just like Democrats in the US, the socialist party here in France can't get their collective (pun intended) shit together, so I don't see any hope of a candidate of value coming from them. No matter who the candidates are, I've discovered recently, as my French improves and as I am helping an American friend of mine build her legal defense to fight both the kidnapping of her child by its French father and a fraudulent criminal case filed against her by the same person, that the outsider, and not only of the North African variety, is disliked here. This hatred lies in the hearts of the French people and is easily stoked by candidates to win votes.

I met a young girl in her twenties the other day. She's obviously brilliant, speaks several languages - English, French and Chinese - is passionate about soldiers and the making of war and is an avowed neoconservative. We argued about war. I said, "But what about the millions of people displaced and the hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead from the Iraq war?" And she replied that people die all the time from many things, so what's the big deal? She also said that there are far too few of her type of people around. I replied, "No, there are far too many of you." I also met a young girl of the same age who told me that she had lived for a year on an island, just below Thailand, that is dedicated to people living a life of "voluntary simplicity." I hadn't heard that term before. She explained that it's like a societal version of Burning Man. It's an alternative to Capitalism and these people are dedicated to a life that's founded on collaboration rather than competition.

I think I may need to find that island.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Death Panels and End-of-Life Planning

I was living in California when my grandmother, Elsie McIntyre Mitchell, was hospitalized for the last time. My family called me and said that she wouldn't last very long, so I took a week off from work and flew to Arizona to sit next to Elsie in her hospital bed. It was hard to look at her, puffed up from years of Prednizone, osteoporosis making her bones crumble each time she moved. She had been a looker, with shapely legs ending in sling-back toe-less heels, dancing with a harmonica in her mouth as she played Irish ditties. I can still see her eyes get wide and then crinkle into a smile as she watched me watch her bend the notes. I think she was buried in her favorite dress. It was white with little green 4-leaf clovers all over it. She believed in the luck o' the Irish (even though she was British/Scottish) and used to send us out into the fields of her Canadian farmhouse to find 4-leaf clovers and report back with any leprechaun sightings.

After Elsie died, when we went through her books, we found hundreds of dried 4-leaf clovers pressed between the pages.

One day in the hospital, she turned to me and said, "I can't wait to see who you marry." I always used to think that what she said was prophetic, that I would find someone to marry who she would have loved. So far, I haven't been that lucky. Perhaps, while looking for some 4-leaf clovers, I will meet somebody out in a field.

The other thing that she said to me in the hospital, over and over again, was that she wanted to go home. She knew she was dieing and she was miserable in that hospital. She wanted to die in familiar surroundings, in the bed she'd shared with her husband for an amazing number of years. With the smells of every apple pie she'd ever made, still lingering in her kitchen. I felt helpless when she told me this. I wanted to grant her this last wish. But neither me nor my family really knew if it was even possible. Based on what I know now, I would have made it happen.

If Elsie's doctor had taken the time to sit down with her a few months earlier and bring up the difficult subject of how she wanted her doctor and her family to handle the end of her life, she could have made her wishes clear to all of us and perhaps could have spent a few more moments of happiness before she passed on.

It's THIS type of End-of-Life Planning that was a part of the recent health reform bill and it's THIS that became one of the biggest and cruelest Republican lies. Betsy McCaughey, the champion of anti-death panelators, tried to push her bullshit on the Daily Show, of all places, pandering to the audience with flirty little glances and never answering Jon Stewart's questions. She was just adorable. And a big fat liar. She, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the rest of Fux No-News entertainers called the funding of end-of-life planning "death panels" a million times so that the Republican base became thoroughly convinced that my grandmother, instead of receiving vital information that would have eased her mind through her final days, would have been taken off of the monitors, taken off of the drugs, kicked out of the hospital and denied care "because she was too old to spend money on."

For a while, I've wondered why this had to be in the bill at all. Didn't doctors just do this counseling anyway? Elsie's doctor didn't. He was a good doctor too. But we rarely saw him. Maybe he just didn't have time, like most doctors these days who, because of insurance companies, have to shove as many 15-minute patient appointments as possible into one day, in order to make any money. But it's the government that Republicans said they didn't want in between them and their doctor. I guess they prefer those nice insurance companies.

Then today I watched Atul Gawande, a cancer doctor, interviewed on The Rachel Maddow Show and then again on The Colbert Report (I'm kind of uncomfortable with the fact that he's on a book tour but is called in as an opinionator on Maddow and the guy interviewing him pushed his book too. Should that bother me? I dunno.) and I finally understood why this had to be part of a bill.

By legislating that doctors need to be paid for the time they take to help people plan for their end-of-life care, insurance companies would be required to cover expenses for the doctor's time. This would work as an incentive for doctors to a) get educated on end-of-life planning and b) offer this service to their patients. Patients wouldn't be forced to do anything. The doctor would just advise them that there were a few things about dieing that they might want to know, some things they could do that could ease the pain for themselves and their loved ones.

My grandmother suffered in that cold hospital room for a few weeks longer. She was well cared for. But at night, all of us got to go home and she was left all alone. This is a terrible thing, I think. If she had been in her own bed, in her own home, she could have been comforted by our presence and the scent of her familiar life around her. Instead, she finally lapsed into unconsciousness and my mother had to make the decision to turn off the life support and essentially, end her mother's life. My mother has never forgotten this.

End-of-life planning could have helped my grandmother and could have prepared my mother for what she had to do. There are many grandparents who are still alive today, who would benefit from this type of counsel. It's unforgivable that Republicans have purposely lied about and blocked this section of health care reform. Unforgivable. Look at my grandmother's face. Wouldn't you have wanted to help her go home too?

Rest in peace, Elsie Mitchell. I miss you, but I hold the many beautiful things you taught me, close to my heart. There are still as many "damn fools" in the world now as there were when you were here. I don't think any of them know how rare and magical 4-leaf clovers are and there's not a leprechaun in the bunch. But I promise, if anyone ever asks me to marry them, I will make sure they are not just worthy of me, but also worthy of you.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Looking for JIM HIGHTOWER's List

Early in my Liberal Indoctrination Period (LIP - as my parents used to threaten, "Don't give me any LIP, young lady!"), I read Jim Hightower's book, Thieves In High Places. If you're familiar with Hightower, you'll remember that when he first made an entrance on the Internets, he wrote only in CAPITAL LETTERS. It's as if he had to shout because he is so short. When I went to his website just now, I noticed he's STILL writing in caps, but somebody must have had a sit-down with him because thankfully, the entire website isn't written in caps, just 40% of it. But, he's OLD, so we must give him a break.

In contrast, there was this fascinating section of the book, hidden somewhere in the middle, that was written in the teeniest tiniest almost unreadable font - a list (pages and pages and pages) of all the sneaky legislation that the Bush administration had managed to slip past the sleeping or Nintendo-playing American voters and the completely useless (or completely useful, from BushCo's point of view) press. That list horrified me. Therefore, I've never forgotten it.

Now, let's speed-dial forward to the 2008 presidential election. For the last two years, in the back of my mind, I've been hoping that somebody, even a disgruntled Republican, would publish an equally horrifying (or completely delightful, from my point of view) list of sneaky legislation that No Drama Obama and his Marxist Minions had managed to pass, late on Friday nights, behind the collective back of the media, because by noon on Friday, they (the Media, not the Marxists) were all drooling over their whiskeys and slurrily lamenting to each other about the demise of the esteemed institution of journalism due to pajama-clad, teetotalling (or perhaps teatotalling) bloggers.

(Of course, I'm not insinuating that alcohol is behind the demise of journalism, because alcohol and journalists have been best friends for decades - those same decades where journalists actually researched and reported things and managed to write in long-form, an almost extinct style. But these days, true journalists are hard to find, and those left to do the reporting are asleep at the wheel and probably not from too much alcohol. More likely, they've drunk too much inside-beltway Kool-Aid or are very tired from chasing after Sarah Palin.)

Anyhoo! (Wow, I got a little sidetracked there.) No such list of Obama's stealth legislation, to my knowledge, has surfaced.

In 2007, while BushCo was still busy destroying the Middle East and the world's economy, Nancy Pelosi announced the 100-Hour Plan, detailing the actions her party would pursue in the 110th Congress. I got all excited, hoping that she had just Xeroxed Hightower's list and would start at the top and not sleep until all of BushCo's sneakiness was overturned. Alas, no such luck.

(But Nancy CAME THROUGH WITH HER PROMISE and passed all but one of the items on the list - recommendations of the 9/11 commission - IN 87 HOURS. I'm writing in caps not because I want to be just like Jim Hightower, but because I'm pissed off that Democrats fail so miserably at getting this positive information etched into the brains of the American people, including my own. Republicans can make "death panels" a nationwide household phrase, remaining top-o-mind to this day, even though it's a complete lie, but Democrats can't even get "Increased Minimum Wage" on a hand-written poster.)

Anyhoo! (Wow. I really got sidetracked there.) All of this blabbering is just a lengthy prelude to the current question on my mind... Now that Democrats lost their House majority, will they finally resort to sneakiness? Will they start shoving things through late at night and during recesses? Oh please please please? CAN I SEND THEM HIGHTOWER'S LIST TO USE AS A REFERENCE? (Maybe if it's in caps they might see it.) I imagine the real question isn't just will they get sneaky (as in, do they have the will), but also, can they?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Breaking My Silence on Meg Whitman

I've been tracking the 2010 political race almost as much as I've tracked previous races, but with one exception: California Republican candidate for Governor, Meg Whitman. Why did I ignore her race? Because my niece is working the campaign.

I'm already walking a thin line with my family when it comes to politics. It would be a huge understatement to say that my family and I don't see eye to eye. But I love and admire my niece, so I wanted to stay out of her way. But tomorrow is D-Day and I sincerely doubt that my tiny little blog will get enough attention to sway any votes.

My niece came out of the womb smarter than all of us (even if she didn't have any hair. :-) She graduated from Santa Clara with a double major in communications and political science. She has a passion for politics that seems to be in the genetic code of the females in our family. She's been in love with the same guy, a Democrat by the way, oh, since high school or maybe earlier. But she had the maturity to pursue her dreams - first by taking a semester in London and second by going to work in Washington, DC right out of college - even though these things took her far away from her boyfriend, now husband. Obviously, I'm proud of her.

I've scratched my head a few times, wondering how she could be so smart and still be a Republican. I just figured that she was of the fiscal conservative, pro-business type and not the fringe Tea Party ignorant hater type.

I was relieved that at least she's working for a candidate that isn't a freak show. Whitman isn't a religious fanatic with the burning desire to force Christianity upon America, its government or its people. She's not an experienced politician but she's an experienced business woman - and since big business has traditionally voted Republican, this is a major asset for her campaign. Especially since California is in a fiscal crisis and Whitman has a track record for growing businesses and charitable organizations and her own wealth. To me, the pursuit of wealth isn't bad, as long as it's balanced with giving. And Whitman has done a great deal of that. She's a woman and I want to see more viable women run for office, from both sides of the aisle. She has a brain, which is refreshing, compared to O'Donnell and Palin, who are an embarrassment to all women.

Even while avoiding any news about Whitman, I couldn't avoid one of the ugly ads that played over and over again, ad nauseum, while I was watching Jon Stewart's Daily Show online. I "spoofed" my browser to make it look like I lived in the US so that I could watch the full episodes of Stewart and Colbert. With this spoofing, came the ads before, during and after the shows. The ad is about "Bobble-head Meg." It pisses me off to no end. I don't even know the content of the ad, because I can't get past somebody making a candidate into a bobble head. It's sexist. It's personal. And it distracts from real issues. These kind of attacks have plagued all women candidates. I will look forward to the day when the press and opponents of female candidates can stop making attacks related to their gender, personal appearance or clothing. O'Donnell is a joke of a candidate, but this recent stuff about her one-night stand a million years ago was disgusting. I know, she's from the religious right and so, they aren't aloud to have one-nighters in their past, supposedly. (My God, I can never run for office.)

I also don't like how Whitman's referred to as "Queen Meg" in a song by the band SCHWARZENATOR. They like to dismiss her work track record as irrelevant and imply that it can't be translated into managing "the 8th largest economy in the world." Yeah, but the action figure movie star the band honors was perfectly qualified for the same job.

So, what are the real negatives about Whitman (caveat - I haven't researched them all)? In her pre-political life, she supported environmental causes with huge funding. Unfortunately (I say this from a Democratic POV), probably in order to maintain the business vote, she changed her stance in this area.

She also may have an anger problem, at least she did have (shoving a female employee), which cost her company a six-figure settlement. But after that size of a settlement, if anybody else had a legitimate gripe or had just been nudged by her in the hallway, they would have been coming out of the woodwork with lawsuits. So, this may have been a one-time mistake that she learned from.

She also is using the unfortunate Glenn Beckish Tea Partyish "Take Back" slogan: "My bus, right there, it's called the 'Take Back Sac Express' because we're going to take back California for our children and our grandchildren." Ugh. From whom? Who is the unspoken boogieman? Could it be insinuating that she needs to take back California from the scary brown (or gay) hoard? I hope not. perhaps she means that she, a Republican, is taking California back from Schwarzenegger, a Republican? I don't get it, probably because there's nothing to get. I would bet it's just a clever way to make the "thar tekkin' arr jobs!" people feel like Meg's on their side.

Her stance on same-sex marriage? She voted for Prop 8. Terrible. But probably strategic, politically. She needs the conservative hater vote (sorry, but that's the only way to put it). I don't know how she would get around this, except to a) be a Democrat or b) take a brave, compelling, humanistic stand. Her reason for voting against prop 8? She thinks marriage is a religious term that should be between a man and a woman. As Chris Kelly translates, "Marriage is strictly a religious idea, and that's why I voted to have it written into state law." (From queerty.com) She's also under the false impression (I'll be nice & assume she's just uninformed, which is STILL no excuse), as unfortunately many voters are as well, that civil partnerships give same-sex couples all the rights they need. There's a long list of rights that come with marriage that don't come with civil unions, starting with no social security benefits can be paid to the surviving partner of a civil union and federal immigration laws do not offer the foreign civil union partner the same visa or citizen path that is available to married couples. (Many more differences here.)

I can't believe that the Christian right hasn't attacked her as a secret gay lover, though. After all, she was the one who imported the Teletubbies TV show to America. She HAD to have known that Tinky Winky, with his purple color, triangular antenna and handbag was secretly indoctrinating America's children to turn them into The Gay. Luckily for Meg, Jerry Falwell died and there was nobody to take up his Tinky Winky Torch. (And soon, all those secret gay children will be grown up and with a radar beam from Tinky Wink's triangular antenna, they will begin to vote. Mwahahaha!)

And then, of course, there's the 8-year employment of an undocumented (or false-documented) immigrant as a housekeeper. It's hard for anyone to believe that Whitman and her husband "didn't know" that their long-time employee was in the country illegally. But if she did know, she fumbled by letting the housekeeper go (how this happened is still open to speculation). She would have gained much more respect if she, knowing she was going to run for governor and that an undocumented employee was a liability, helped her employee get a work visa and made this process public. She could have preached to big business about the benefits of assisting qualified workers to gain legal status. She would have gained the respect of Latino voters, who are often dismissed as liberals or as inconsequential to the campaign. But In 2008, Latinos represented almost 22% of the registered voters and turnout in California and also in California, in 2008, Latinos represented 29% of the Democratic votes for President and 13% or 317,610 Republican votes (Stats Word File). 300K possible Latino Republican votes probably shouldn't be ignored.

The undocumented worker conundrum is problematic. Since the far right has decided to use it as an emotional rabble-rousing fear and hate football, all normal, productive solutions-oriented discussion has become impossible and any candidate is in between a rock and a hard place on this issue. Undocumented workers, whose only crime is that they want to live in a better place and make more money, are hired all the time, by people of all political persuasions, including the loudest mouths in the anti-immigrant movement. Some of the biggest mouths have been busted (Dobbs for one, but there have been more) and then crucified for their hypocrisy, as they should be. Whitman's opposition to Arizona's recent anti-immigrant law and her choice of moderate, Latino Republican Abel Maldonado as her Lt. Gov. running mate, positions her as a more sane voice in this hot potato issue, but all this was drowned out by the salacious media story of her former housekeeper.

If I were really researching this candidate, I'd dive into some of the allegations that:
  • Her charitable trust has supported only environmental causes that are backed by big business (but I have to say, the group she supports, the Environmental Defense Fund, has a long list of amazing accomplishments)
  • One of her recipient organizations was preserving meadows in Telluride, Colorado, where she and her husband own a condo and a dude ranch (I guess this could be seen both ways - because she's part of the community, she wants to help that community or she only cares about the meadows because it would infringe on her land. I'd go for the former, based on her past environmental track record.)
  • Her trust has been used as an off-shore (Caymans) tax haven. This doesn't surprise me, because all billionaires (and their accountants) constantly look for tax havens. I don't like it. I wish billionaires would pay their fucking taxes instead of devising ways to avoid them, but there you go.
  • A too-close relationship to Goldman Sachs. I don't have time to dive into this, but she has promised to eliminate any investment conflicts of interest if elected, by using a blind trust. This is a common and viable path that has been and is still used by elected officials on both sides of the aisle.

I don't live in California anymore, but if I did, I'd vote for Jerry Brown. I'm a Democrat, after all. But if I did live in California, I wouldn't be terrified and looking for an escape route, if Brown lost and Whitman were elected. It's why I'm voting (at the last minute, of course) in the Arizona race, since Governor Jan Brewer has made Arizona a pariah state and is a menace to sane Arizonans, especially those with brown skin. I have to vote, because the alternatives are frightening.

But Meg Whitman doesn't scare me. I just disagree with her. I'm sure that those in the know can add other negative issues or educate me on those issues that I've dismissed. But the bottom line - she isn't a freak show. And that's refreshing in this insane campaign.

I also really like that she once managed Mr. Potato Head. Since Meg Whitman and I are only one year apart in age, I imagine that she and I were sticking eyes, ears and noses into potatoes at around the same time. She in Long Island, me in Philly. She, like me, also graduated from high school in three years instead of four. High five!

You see, after attending Stewart and Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (in Paris - couldn't go to DC), I'm looking for sane candidates and trying to find the common denominator on which we as individual citizens, along with our elected representatives, can begin to build trust and discover solutions. I can see me, Meg and my niece (unless she's horrified at this idea), casually chatting at Meg's conference table, playing with Mr. Potato Head. We all might be surprised at the outcome.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Loathing of Juan William's Fear

I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My dad had guns and ammo ready for the inevitable day when The Blacks would enter our home to kill us. Years later, after we moved to Arizona where The Blacks were and are still hard to find, I helped my dad sell his guns to a hunter-cowboy (as in hunter-gatherer, since cowboy hunter could have more than one meaning). My mom feared communists more than black people (evidenced by the proud hanging of a portrait in her living room of a black New Orleans clarinetist - her appreciation of music trumped prejudice) but had a special loathing for The Black Communist, Martin Luther King.

So, I was raised in the world of fear and loathing of The Other, which I don't think was an exceptional experience in the 60s and 70s. Somehow, I knew that this fear wasn't right. But there's a difference between the visceral fear of the outsider that rises from the primitive nether regions of our being and the (hopefully) secondary impulse of reason or (hopefully not) knee-jerk, thoughtless action. Rational thought overcomes irrational fear. If we're conscious of the fact that all humans have irrational primitive fears, then we know that reasoned thought should always sit between the irrational fear and any action we choose to take.

At the age of 13 or so, I snuck out with my friends, dressed in my forbidden jeans and fringed tie-up knee-high moccasins and wandered around Philly's hip 69th street - full of record stores, head shops and, um, black people. I was fearful, but fascinated. Was I a little hipster wannabe hypocrite (admiring soul music but fearing the soulful)? Well, yes.

What I'm getting at here is that I'm guilty. Yes, I'm a liberal and a progressive and I support movements to protect "outsiders" or the disenfranchised from abuse. But, I'm still guilty of having primitive fear of The Other. Hell, I'm afraid to leave my apartment to go to the grocery store sometimes, which is irrational. But I know, after much thought, that there really is nothing to fear and because of this, I doubt I'll ever picket the grocery store or join the anti-grocery-store movement. (Just for fun, substitute New York Mosque for grocery store in the last two sentences.) I also hang on to things my ex boyfriend used to say to me about lesbians (there's a lot of unreasonable jealousy and domestic violence in lesbian relationships and lesbian hairdressers will make me look gay) and have a hidden fear of hanging out with lesbians. But I vehemently and actively support the gay marriage movement and follow gay blogs and have lots of gay friends who follow my blogs. Am I a gay-wannabe hypocrite (admiring the gay life but fearing the gayness [uh-oh!])? Well, yes.

One day this summer, while going through security at Charles de Gaulle airport on my way to Athens, I was behind a guy who refused to unzip his carry-on for the security lady. She kept demanding in French, and demonstrating with her hands, that he unzip his bag. He just kept babbling in another language and then got his phone out and turned away from the guard and nervously started dialing. She asked in French, "What language do you speak?" and he mumbled Italiano and ducked away again for some more furious dialing. I couldn't help him with the Italian, but he wasn't looking for any help from me. I just kept thinking, "This isn't rocket science, just unzip the bag like the big getting-annoyed guard is asking you to."

I moved around him and started to put all my clothes and jewelry back on and gather up my bags. My travel companion was still going through security, so I leaned against the wall next to another security guard to watch the show. By now, the guard was summoning other guards and the crazy guy was ducking and dialing and walking in ever-larger concentric circles. Finally, as he swept by me, I heard him frantically talking to someone on his phone...in Arabic. How do I know this? Because I have neighbors who speak Arabic all the time, while the three daughters (one in full burqa and the other two in tight, sexy Western clothes) translate my English or lousy French into Italian and then Arabic so their mother can get my jokes.

My travel companion came up to me and we walked towards the gate. I joked that a terrorist had been trying to get through security ahead of me. We laughed. And then I surreptitiously kept an eagle eye out for the guy for the entire time we waited for our plane to board. I didn't want him to be on my plane.

I looked for his fellow conspirators in the waiting area. What was I looking for? Young men, with or without beards, who looked like terrorists. Go ahead, you can call me Jan Brewer or Sheriff Joe Arpaio or... Juan Williams.

This nervous guy was somehow allowed to enter the boarding area. I was sure he'd be carted off to the dungeon under the airport. But there he was, still nervous. He stayed at the far end of the boarding area so I was praying to The-God-I-Don't-Believe-In that he would board another plane. I didn't jump up to board our plane first (which is what I always do). I waited until the last person boarded and then saw him coming our way. I boarded, but in the process of getting into my seat, I didn't actually see if he got onto the plane. I worried, a little, throughout the flight. I felt the fear, then used rational thought to stop me from making a fake trip to the bathroom to see if I could spot him and then heroically dive on him before he could ignite his underpants.

I do all this worrying under the guise of a perfectly calm, liberal face.

You know what else I'm guilty of (if you missed it, read above)? This: "Me? Prejudiced against lesbians and Muslims? That's impossible. Didn't you just hear me say I have lesbian and Muslim friends?"

Anyway, enough (for now) about me and my hypocrisy. Let's talk about Juan Williams. As I listened to him make his job-losing statement about his fear of people in Muslim garb, I first thought, "Yup. Me too. Thanks for being honest." Then I thought, "This could be a Shirley Sherrod moment." You know, where she was telling a story about her own prejudice and how she came to terms with it and changed her behavior. But, unfortunately, that wasn't the case.

The sin here, with Juan Williams, is not that he has such thoughts, but that he, as a respected American journalist, legitimized irrational fears in a public forum, on a network which is known for right-wing inflammatory rhetoric, to an audience that is known to be gullible, without offering a path towards redemption for having these irrational fears. He did clarify that America must protect the constitutional rights of all citizens and prevent bigotry, but, and of course there's a but, we can't forget the connection between 9/11 and Islamic radicalism. So, he rationalized his fears and gave them legitimacy. And anyway, the hate cat was already out of the bag.

What was missing in his non-apology? Oh, discussion of and outreach to non-radical Muslims.

How do we get past irrational fears of The Other? By getting to know The Other. There are two paths we can all take after 9/11. Batten down the hatches, sound the alarms, be ever watchful against this vague enemy and wait for the ever-impending doom. (This is a great way to keep Americans off balance, by the way, and distracted from what our government is really doing and also fills the coffers of the military industrial complex.) Or, we can, as a government and a nation of people, go meet every Muslim we can find and put together a plan, in partnership, where the voices and actions of sanity drown out the voices of radicalism and terror. There is huge power in partnership and positive, forward movement based on greater understanding. It is also a lot cheaper, and it causes fewer lasting wounds, to get to know The Other, than to bomb them.

Will Shirley Sherrod ever forget her prejudice against white people? I doubt it. After all, it wasn't just a slight or insult here and there. It was generations of abuse that exists in her individual consciousness and in the collective unconscious of her people. Will Jews forget The Shoa? Should Native Americans forget how we purposely killed them and forcefully moved them to reservations? Should anyone ever forget that America, in concert with Iraqis and in collusion with other nations, tortured people? No. But instead of hating the past, we eventually need to learn from it and move towards healing the future.

Will I ever evolve my irrational fears of The Other? Probably. Because I don't have a generational abuse issue in my DNA. Some Americans would disagree with me on that - the ones who pretend to be victimized (i.e. reverse discrimination, Fred Phelps and Juan Williams claiming their constitutional right to free speech has been violated, and "we want our country back!" and "thar tekkin' arr jobs!" and "that Mosque is on hallowed ground!!"), but in truth, we have no Shoa, no small pox blankets, no enslavement that could hinder our evolution from irrational prejudice to enlightened oneness with all human beings.

Just living in my ethnic neighborhood in Paris, full of Muslims, Halal shops and restaurants (especially my favorite Terrorist Pizza place) has opened up my eyes and heart. (Not quite enough yet to stop me from counting swarthy bearded men in airports and train stations - but give me time.)

I think that redemption is within me, if I choose to apply the light of reason to my darkest thoughts and reach out to The Other.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Review: Charlie Wilson's War (book)

After I read three books about Afghanistan (Taliban, Stones Into Schools, Three Cups of Tea), Jayne Martin of injaynesworld, suggested that I read George Crile's 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.

So, what do I say? I've been pondering it for days. I guess I'll start by talking about what I thought and felt as I read it...

I wondered, throughout the book, about the author's political leanings. But this was as hard to discern as Charlie Wilson's (Wilson's Wiki). Wilson was a Democratic US representative from Texas (of all places) and an advocate of typically liberal issues such as utility regulation, ERA, the pro-choice movement, Medicaid and minimum wage. At the same time, he was an unapologetic and even proud womanizer, drug user and alcoholic. But he was also a fervent anti-communist with a strong dislike of the Soviets and a friend of right-wing dictators like Nicaragua's Somoza and Pakistan's Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Nobody is a purist, but this guy seemed to be all over the map. But what lured him into the plight of Afghanistan's insurgency against the Soviet occupation was his strong passion for the underdog, particularly his own. His childhood dog, that is. A politician poisoned his dog, so Charlie drove to the black neighborhoods and picked up enough voters to make the politican lose by just 16 votes. That was when Charlie first learned, at the age of 13, how to kick somebody's ass through politics.

It's interesting, my use of the words "kick somebody's ass." Ass kicking seemed to be the overriding theme of the book and such an attractive phrase in America (just look at our film industry) and yes, in my own mind. Because once, I was the underdog and was saved by a couple of ass kickers.

From 1985 to 1991 I worked for a Huntsville, Alabama engineering software and hardware firm called Intergraph. Intergraph is and was a major defense contractor and while there, I gave some electronics design demonstrations to several nameless US government or military "spooks." Intergraph was heavily involved with NASA and the space program but also involved in mapping, GIS and Patriot missile systems for the first gulf war. It was full of the swashbuckling, cowboy, no-holds-barred kind of guys - starting with the company owner. I was saved twice, by two different guys, from abuse and harassment on the job. In addition to having a kind of slavering admiration of manly men men, I was really grateful to these two for helping me.

So, when I started reading this book about Charlie Wilson, I could feel all those old feelings bubbling up inside of me. Awe. Attraction. Admiration. But I'm older now. And not so easily seduced. I now know the down side of hanging out with these types of guys and it's not pretty. After the victory and glory, they still are fallible, sometimes dangerous, human beings.

Charlie Wilson and his counterpart in the CIA, Gust Avrakotos, were portrayed as the quintessential stereotypical American cowboys: fearless, rough necks, socially crass, rule breakers, straight talkers (i.e. no bullshit), patriots and manly men. They cussed, they worked around obstacles or pushed them roughly out of the way and they crusaded fearlessly to help the underdog Afghans defeat their mutual enemy - dirty commie Soviets. Using politics, spy-novel secrecy and American money and technology (i.e. Military Industrial Complex), they dual-handedly fought and won a proxy war against the meanies by helping Afghan tribesmen shoot down Soviet jets and helicopters who were implementing a scorched-earth policy: destroy everything (people, homes, dogs, crops...) in their path, from the air.

It's a high, being a cowboy. It's like cocaine - short spurts of genius followed by longer periods of depression and neurosis, which makes us want more cocaine. It's like sex - the more perverse we get, the more we seek out bigger perversions. And war is just as addicting as cocaine and sex. It's an adrenaline rush. It's manly. We get to kick some (insert enemy here) ass! We get to rule over our sex partners. Compared to this, peace is a sad and dull replacement. It's no wonder that the peace movement is looked upon as ineffective and weak. I suppose you could get high meditating, but I've never gotten THAT high meditating.

I may be anti-war, but I have war inside myself. I don't fight with guns, just words. But words can be as harmful as bullets and my anger can sometimes be nuclear. In the face of my declared enemies (neoconservatives, Bush, Cheney, AIPAC/Zionists, fundamentalists of all types, organized religion, Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin, Colter, Fox News...), I don't wish them dead, but I want them to just "go away." I seek their annihilation from public discourse. I want MY world view to be THE world view and everybody who doesn't agree with me just needs to get the fuck out of my way. It's why I and the author of this book and many Americans, secretly or openly admire ass kickers. I suppose I'm tame, since I'm just an unknown blogger and not bombing buildings, but I'm not productive. I'm not getting anything done. I'm not helping people evolve towards peace.

According to the book, the unsung hero of the Afghan/Soviet war was a low-level, nerdy (meaning, not a swashbuckling, sexy cowboy) CIA desk jockey named Michael Vickers. Avrakotos was smart enough to know that Vickers was smarter than him and thus employed him in Charlie Wilson's War. Vickers was the antithesis of Wilson and Avrakotos: quiet, polite, calm, methodical, a friend of numbers, taking the time to analyze all possible facets of a situation and then defining the perfect, and I mean perfect, strategy. Then he could quietly and methodically sell that strategy, anticipating every objection and backing up all premises with facts and numbers. If it wasn't for Vickers, Wilson would have made an expensive mess of things, crashing through the world visiting weapons manufacturers, both viable and not so viable, until he found the right camel-mounted heli-killing cannon. Avrakotos, even though he pushed the CIA way beyond their hands-off approach, leaned in the direction of secrecy. Vickers was smack dab in the middle. He took big risks that were backed up with facts instead of Charlie-style emotion and he convinced CIA elite to more openly support the fight.

The book didn't really say whether Vickers joined in on all the emotional war dances inside Avrakotos' CIA war room. I don't know if he too had life-sized posters above his desk of romantic, exotic, Lawrence of Arabia-style Afghans sitting on camels toting their Stinger missiles. But, I doubt he did. The interesting thing about Vickers is that he knew the precise moment when his plan began to work and because his plan was perfect, he knew when he was finished. He also looked around at the structure and history of the CIA and knew he would never go anywhere there. He was not just a war strategist. He applied his skills to his own life. He quietly and calmly left the CIA and left Avrokotos feeling like he'd lost his right arm.

Where would the world be if somebody hadn't kicked Hitler's ass? Would the Soviets still be in power and currently running the Middle East if the Afghans and our Stinger missiles hadn't kicked their collective ass? Where would I be if my two Intergraph anti-heroes hadn't kicked some ass to save me? I don't know the answer to the first two questions. I'm not a scholar of history, international relations or war. But I do know the answer to the last question. I might not have needed to be saved, if I had developed my inner Vickers. I didn't need to kick anyone's ass or find someone to kick ass for me. I just needed to pluck the war out of my own body, set aside my emotions and calmly, like a nerd, plot my career strategy and leave that crazy place.

I don't blog much anymore. I got too emotional. I didn't feel like I was moving anything or anybody towards any kind of new world view. With a little time and some deep thought, I've achieved a broader vision. Like Charlie and his addiction to self-destructive behavior, today's world is addicted to the myth of the Charlie Wilson style warrior. Charlie Wilson and his pals unquestionably assisted in the downfall of the Soviet Union, so there is some merit in this story. But until the world evolves towards a more peaceful approach to world affairs and takes the war needle out of its arm, nothing much will change. When the mystique of the peaceful warrior becomes more powerful in the world's collective consciousness, more time and money and energy will be spent building than destroying.

Until then, I need to go inward, point my finger back at myself and replace my hidden but waning admiration for war power and my addiction to the false power behind my own war of words, with the attitudes and building blocks of peace.

As an interesting aside, when I entered keyword tags for this post, all the keywords I needed to use - war, Afghanistan - had been used before in my previous posts. Except for peace.