June 22, 2016

  • How American Politics Went Insane

    Go here:  http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/how-american-politics-went-insane/485570/


    to read one of the best-written, most cogent, most inspiring articles I've ever read in a long time.

    No pun intended, but it will make you sick.  Read it anyway, if you dare.

June 16, 2016

  • Obama's June 14 speech

    I'm kind of cheap when it comes to paying for on-line readership, but who can afford to pay for very many of the newspapers and magazines one wants to look at on the web?  So anyway, the New Yorker magazine lets me see a few articles for free each month, and I was delighted to read John Cassidy's analysis of President Obama's remarks on Tuesday.  I'm reprinting it below, with huge apologies to The New Yorker for sharing its content with my readers.  First, a few of my thoughts.  Barbara and I were sitting at the dining room table, focused on other matters but listening to the President as sort of background noise.  I was afraid that Obama would be in for (unfair) criticism for what sounded like a self-congratulatory recitation of the fight against ISIS in view of the escalation of terrorizing events on U.S. soil.  But when Obama came to the rousing and angry finish, my ears perked up and then even more of me perked up.  I stood at attention in front of the TV and soaked it all in.  One final remark:  although he didn't mention specifically the internment camps for citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, I'm sure he was thinking especially of them when he got to the part about how we've historically mistreated some of our citizens.

    And now, here is Mr. Cassidy's report:

    This morning, I took a mental-health break from coverage of the attack that took place in Orlando over the weekend. But, at lunchtime, when I turned on NY1 to check the local news, there was President Obama, looking as ticked off and impassioned as we’ve ever seen him. Gone were the lofty detachment and professorial tone that sometimes characterize his oration. In their place were flashing eyes, hand gestures, and a tone that varied from urgency to anger. Speaking for about twenty-five minutes, Obama delivered a ringing defense of his approach to terrorism and a stinging denouncement of Donald Trump and all that he stands for.

    Whether Obama intended to deliver such a consequential address, I’m not entirely sure. At times, he appeared to be ad-libbing. But his remarks, which were delivered from a podium in the Treasury Department, where he had met with his national-security staff, turned into perhaps the most important address he has given this year. Indeed, historians may look back on it as one of the defining speeches of his Presidency.

    Obama didn’t utter Trump’s name. He didn’t need to. Instead, he began by saluting the Orlando victims and their families. He described the shooter, whom he also didn’t name, as “an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized.” By their nature, lone-wolf attacks are hard to stop, Obama pointed out, and he praised the law-enforcement and intelligence efforts that go into preventing them. But, he added, “We are all sobered by the fact that, despite the extraordinary hard work, something like Orlando can occur.”

    At this stage, Obama was his usual self: calm and meticulous. Referring to some written notes, he delivered an update on the military campaign against isis (isil, in the President’s parlance), saying, “This continues to be a difficult fight, but we are making significant progress.” The group, he said, was “under more pressure than ever before,” and had lost more than a hundred and twenty of its military commanders and nearly half of the populated territory that it once held in Iraq. “And it will lose more,” he added.

    Turning to the home front, Obama issued another call for “common-sense” gun-control measures, which he rightly insisted were consistent with the Second Amendment. “We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents,” he said. “People with possible ties to terrorism, who are not allowed on a plane, should not be allowed to buy a gun.” About now, the first glints of irritation, or anger, appeared in the President’s eyes. “Enough talking about being tough on terrorism,” he snapped. “Actually be tough on terrorism and stop making it as easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons.”

    With that, Obama paused for a few seconds, as if gathering himself for what he was about to do. “And let me make a final point,” he said. “For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle in the fight against isil has been to criticize this Administration, and me, for not using the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ That’s the key, they tell us. We can’t beat isil unless we call them radical Islamists.”

    For a moment, Obama looked down. “What exactly would using this label accomplish?” he said, raising his eyes, looking around the room, and gesticulating with his left hand. “What exactly would it change? Would it make isil less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction.”

    Obama’s tone had changed: it was harder and more than a little scornful. “Since before I was President, I’ve been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism,” he said. “There’s not been a moment in my seven and a half years as President when we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn’t use the label ‘radical Islam.’ Not once has an adviser of mine said, ‘Man, if we really use that phrase, we’re going to turn this whole thing around.’ Not once.”

    Trump, of course, is one of the Republicans who has castigated Obama for not using the term “radical Islam.” He did it as recently as Monday. Obama didn’t overtly link his riposte to Trump, but it was clear where he was heading. He said that U.S. Special Forces fighting on the ground in Iraq and Syria know full well who the enemy is, as do the intelligence and law-enforcement officials who spend “countless hours disrupting plots and protecting all Americans, including politicians who tweet”—here, he paused for effect—“and appear on cable-news shows.” There was, he added, “no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point; it’s not a strategy.”

    To be sure, it isn’t just Trump and other Republicans who use the term “radical Islam” and its variants. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has criticized “Islamist extremism.” The French President, François Hollande, has used the phrase “Islamist terrorism.” (Hillary Clinton also said, on Monday, that she was willing to use the term “radical Islamism.”*) Obama insisted that for him to resort to this sort of language would validate claims by groups like isis and Al Qaeda that America is at war with Islam. “That’s their propaganda; that’s how they recruit,” he said. “And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them.”

    By this point, Obama was gesticulating emphatically with his hands, first one and then the other, for emphasis. “We’re starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we’re fighting, where this can lead us,” he said. Then he alluded directly to Trump: “We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States to bar all Muslims from emigrating to America. We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop?”

    The shooters in the attacks in Orlando and Fort Hood, and one of the killers in San Bernardino, were all U.S. citizens, Obama noted. “Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith? We’ve heard these suggestions during the course of this campaign. Do Republican officials actually agree with this?”

    “That’s not the America we want,” he went on. “It doesn’t reflect our democratic ideals. It won’t make us more safe; it will make us less safe, fuelling isil’s notion that the West hates Muslims, making young Muslims in this country and around the world feel like, no matter what they do, they’re going to be under suspicion and under attack. It makes Muslim Americans feel like their government is betraying them. It betrays the very values America stands for.” Again, Obama paused. “We’ve gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear, and we came to regret it. We’ve seen our government mistreat our fellow-citizens, and it is has been a shameful part of our history.”

    In the wake of the Orlando massacre, the White House, out of respect for the victims and their families, had cancelled an appearance that the President was scheduled to make with Hillary Clinton on Wednesday. But this was a much more consequential political intervention than a campaign speech. It was a Commander-in-Chief—flanked by a four-star general, Joseph Dunford, who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and by James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence—making the case that Trump, and Trump’s approach to fighting terrorism, represent every bit as big a threat to the United States as the terrorists themselves do.

    “This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion,” Obama continued. “We don’t have religious tests here. Our founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights are clear about that. And, if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world but we would have betrayed the very things we were trying to protect: the pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties. The very things that make this country great. The very things that make us exceptional. And then the terrorists would have won. And we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen.”

    He could have ended there. Instead, he recounted a recent appearance at the Air Force Academy’s commencement ceremony, where he was struck by “the incredible diversity of these cadets.” Some cadets were American-born, and some were immigrants. Some were gay, some were female, some were “proud, patriotic Muslim Americans, serving their country in uniform, ready to lay their lives on the line to protect you and to protect me,” he said. “That’s the American military. That’s America. One team. One nation.”

    “Those are the values that isil is trying to destroy,” he continued. “We shouldn’t help them do it.”

    By this stage, Obama was perhaps belaboring the point. But he was clearly intent on insuring that these values weren’t forgotten amid the political back-and-forth—and indeed that they helped to define the coming Presidential campaign. He again cited the country’s diversity, its ability to draw on the talents of all of its citizens, and its principle of not judging people on the basis of faith, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. “That’s what makes this country great,” he said. “That’s the spirit we see in Orlando. That’s the unity and resolve that will allow us to defeat isil. That’s what will preserve our values and our ideals that define us as Americans.” At this, the President was almost done. “That’s how we are going to defend this nation, and that’s how we’re going to defend our way of life,” he concluded. “Thank you very much.”

June 13, 2016

  • Orlando

    Hate is self-poisoning.  If you find yourself in a hateful mood, it's more than likely that you need help.  Because you're poisoning yourself.

    The last thing a person needs, if he's feeling hate, is a gun.  The last thing the world needs, is for that person to have his hands on a gun.  The world needs for that person to get help.

    De-stigmatize mental illness.  We all need help, on occasion.  How do we will ourselves to get the help we need if it feels disgraceful to be mentally ill?

    There are so many useful and easy things to do here.

    1.  If a politician is endorsed by the National Rifle Association(NRA), then vote against that person.  That's useful and easy to do.

    2.  Ban assault rifles.  What good are they?  That's useful and easy to do, if you're a congressman who's not bought and paid for by the NRA.  Do your job, congressman.

    3.  Put away the hate.  Do you really think you feel better when you're busy hating?  Read the story of the two wolves.  Then put away the hate.  I promise you'll feel better.

    4.  Read Edwin Markham's poem, "Outwitted."  You think that's hard to do?  It's easy to do.  And useful.  Here, I'll make it even easier for you to find it.  Here it is:

    "He drew a circle to shut me out, 
    heretic rebel, a thing to flout. 
    But love and I had the wit to win, 
    we drew a circle that took him in."

    5.  Pay attention to what the churchgoers in Charleston did, after Dylan Roof did his nastiness.  That's easy to do.  And useful.

June 9, 2016

  • Oops!

    In a comment that I posted just yesterday (on the "Roots" post) I wrote this: 

    I want to post a poem by William Ellery Channing called "I Call That Mind Free." If you wanna read something great, feel free to look it up, because I don't see any free time coming up for me in the foreseeable future!

    Well, I just tried to look it up, and every version I saw was:

    A.  Different.
    B.  In awkward, stilted, 19th-century prose
    C.  Not only was each rendering different from each other, but none matched what we read in church Sunday.

    What we read in church was understandable, moving, inspiring, and reminded me so much of Muhammed Ali's significance that I wanted to post the poem as an "In Memoriam" sort of offering.

    Oh well.  I tried.  I'm still trying.

June 3, 2016

  • The 2016 "Roots"

    I well remember the "Roots" miniseries of four decades ago.  It was an unsettling, but entertaining, cultural event that told the story of slavery through the eyes of Alex Haley, and I found the time to record and watch the 2016 remake.

    It was painful, but rewarding in the last 40 minutes of the 8-hour remake, to bear witness to what happened to Africans as a result of being transported to America into lives of slavery.

    I said to Barbara just today, "I neither encourage you to or discourage you from watching the four episodes."  I don't know if she'll have the patience to endure the many hours of depiction of the horrors that African-Americans endured as slaves.  The catharsis that I experienced during the satisfying final 40 minutes were just barely worth the torture of watching unremitting cruelty.

    I've just read about what the critics think, and predictably, the reactions correspond to the political leanings of the reviewers.  My take, and I'm trying not to be influenced by my biases, is that the remake is more realistic, which is why it was so painful for me to watch.

    We're still in terrible shape in this country.  But progress is being made.

    Barack Obama is the president.

    Donald Trump is about to become the Republican nominee for president.

    Hmm.  Progress will still be the defining noun, as long as the voters reject Trump in November.

April 13, 2016

  • Listen to Bono, Please

    I'll clean this up later, if it needs cleaning up.  I've been trying to say much the same thing for at least a couple of years, but every time I try, I sound like Pollyanna.  Pay attention to this Associated Press article regarding U2's Bono appearing before the U.S. Congress:


    U2's Bono Tells U.S. Senate Amy Schumer and Chris Rock Could Stop ISIS
    4/12/2016 by Associated Press

    Bono speaks at the Amnesty International Tapestry Honoring John Lennon Unveiling at Ellis Island on July 29, 2015 in New York City.
    U2 frontman Bono brought his star power to Capitol Hill Tuesday as he called on members of Congress to take swift action to deal with the global refugee crisis and violent extremism.

    In testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Bono drew a bleak picture as he described the flood of people fleeing their homes in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The human torrent threatens the very idea of European unity, he said, as he urged lawmakers to think of foreign aid as national security instead of charity.

    "When aid is structured properly, with a focus on fighting poverty and improving governance, it could just be the best bulwark we have against the extremism of our age," Bono said.

    Bono Urges World Powers to 'Act Smarter, Think Bigger and Move Faster' on Refugee Crisis

    Wearing his trademark rose-tinted glasses, Bono said members of Congress need to confront an "existential threat" to Europe that hasn't been seen since the 1940s. Countries such as Poland and Hungary are moving to the right politically, a shift he described as a "hyper nationalism." The United Kingdom is even considering leaving the European Union.

    "This is unthinkable stuff," he said. "And you should be very nervous in America about it."

    Africa, in particular, is grappling with what Bono called a phenomenon of three extremes - ideology, poverty and climate.

    "Those three extremes make one unholy trinity of an enemy and our foreign policy needs to face in that direction," he said. "It's even bigger than you think."

    Bono said he understood the financial stress the U.S. and other nations are under as they debate how much foreign aid to allot. But he warned the bills will only get bigger without action.

    U2's Bono Has Written a Song for Paris

    "If you don't do it now, it's going to cost a lot more later," he said. "I do know that."

    Bono also suggested using comedy to fight extremist groups. "It's like, you speak violence, you speak their language. But you laugh at them when they are goose-stepping down the street and it takes away their power," he said. "So I am suggesting that the Senate send in Amy Schumer and Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen, thank you."

    In Syria, five years of violence has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced another 11 million from their homes. Nearly 174,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea since the beginning of this year alone and 723 are missing or dead, many drowning in the cold, rough waters, according to the International Organization for Migration.

    Before sitting at the witness table, Bono posed for photos with three members of Code Pink, who wore pink tiaras and held cardboard torches and signs reading "Refugees Welcome."

    Cameras whirred furiously as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the subcommittee chairman, quipped, "So this is what it's like to be chopped liver." Bono joined a congressional delegation led by Graham that just returned from Africa and the Middle East.

    Bono co-founded the One Campaign, an advocacy group that works to end poverty and preventable disease.

April 9, 2016

  • Merle Haggard (1937-2016)

    I never met Merle Haggard, but he's a big part of the reason I was able to retire before the age of 50.  None of the obituaries I've read have revealed the fact that he was a generous tipper.  He often gambled at Binion's Horseshoe Club, where I worked for 16 years as a craps dealer.  Merle played blackjack, but the dealers of both games pooled their tips each night, and when Merle was in the house, we could count on earning at least $100 in tips that night.  About 3 to 5 times our average.

March 10, 2016

  • Fantastic Lies

    "Fantastic Lies" is an important documentary film that airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPN.  An excellent review of the film can be read at http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/tv/article64745877.html

    I've always been sensitive to, and sympathetic to, tales of false accusations that lead to destroyed lives.  Personally, I've been fortunate.  And grateful for that fact.

    The film is about the supposed rape of a stripper who was hired for a party 10 years ago by the Duke University lacrosse team.  Her accusation was bogus, but just about every news outlet in the country ran with the story, and it took a year for the three accused lacrosse players to have their names cleared.

    I learned about the film this morning during drive time.  Marina Zenovich, the film's director, was interviewed by David Greene and what jarred me most was what she said at the end of the interview.  It was something like

    -- But we mustn't lose sight of the fact that most accusations of sexual assault are true, and to use this case as an example of the larger issue (of false accusations) would be a profound injustice to the victims of actual crimes who have had the courage to come forward --

    I used -- -- instead of quotation marks because I'm paraphrasing from memory.

    I'm not at all disagreeing with the lady, but it's still true that I view the Duke lacrosse case through my own personal lens -- as do we all -- and false accusations always get my attention.

February 26, 2016

  • Anomalisa

    How are you with cliches?

    I thought so.  They grate on me, too.  That's why I loved Charlie Kaufman's latest movie, "Anomalisa."  It bashes cliches by smothering you with them until... the lead "Michael Stone" character, voiced by David Thewlis, escapes from the gloomy world of sound-alike puppets and into the company of the fresh-syntaxed anomaly we know as Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

    Michael has flown from Los Angeles to Cincinnati for the purpose of giving a motivational speech to an audience of customer service representatives.  Treat them all as individuals, he'll say in the speech, even though to Michael the world is populated by conformists who all sound alike because they DO sound alike.  Actor Tom Noonan supplies the words mouthed by all of the other puppet characters in the film.

    Michael has a wife and kid back home -- both of whom speak as Tom Noonan does, of course -- but he's fallen out of love with them, just as he's fallen out of love with his ex-mistress, who has a drink with him early in the movie, and just as he's fallen out of love with everyone else in the world.  That's true even though the world (in the person of the hotel manager who also sounds like Tom Noonan) tells him that everyone in the world is in love with Michael.

    And then Michael actually finds love, or so he thinks, when he hear's Lisa's unique voice.

    You'll be touched.  I was, anyway.

    The movie's an ode to individualism, tinged heavily with sadness over the fragility of love.  Did you know that puppets can fall into and out of love?  I didn't either.

    Don't forget to stay through the end of the closing credits.  Seems the movie was funded through Kickstarter.  Movie studios need to have more faith in Charlie Kaufman.  I haven't seen all his films, but I won't be missing the next one.

February 14, 2016

  • The Supreme Court

    Antonin Scalia is dead.  RIP, good sir.

    So now what?  It goes without saying, the filling of a vacancy on the Supreme Court should not be politicized.  It also goes without saying, the filling WILL be politicized.

    President Obama will do his duty, and nominate a successor.

    The Republicans in the senate, led by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, will do what they see as THEIR duty, and refuse to confirm.

    What else is new?  We have gridlock.

    I'm disgusted.  So are we all.

    It's actually hard to blame McConnell.  It's also hard to blame Obama.

    We're kind of up shit creek.  I'll go on record as predicting that no nominee will be confirmed.

    All the more reason to vote our conscience in November.