mardi, mai 31, 2005

I Wonder If They Voted Bush Cheney

This is a photo of a house that is approximately one block away from my sister-in-law's house in beautiful and homogeneous Stillwater, Minnesota. The black lawn jockey, the very large flag: it's a nice juxtaposition.

vendredi, mai 27, 2005

The Newsweek Scandal Done Really Well

Sorry I have been gone for so long. My work...I have to tell's no joke right now...It is no joke.

I have to tell you, I'm a huge Hendrik Hertzberg fan.

Huge. Like Gi-normous.

This morning, I read, from this week's New Yorker, this wonderful commentary on the Newsweek scandal.

Here's the fabulous conclusion:

The worst of these horrors are typified by some that came to light just last Friday, in an extraordinary report by Tim Golden, in the Times, about the routine use of torture at the Bagram Collection Point in Afghanistan, in 2002. The most heartrending passages of Golden’s story, which was drawn from a two-thousand-page confidential Army file provided by an anonymous source, describe the death by torture of a slight, shy, illiterate young Afghan villager who was shackled by the wrists to the wire ceiling of his cell for days, struck more than a hundred times in one day for the amusement of captors who found his agonized screams of “Allah!” funny, and beaten on the legs until the tissue, in a coroner’s words, “had basically been pulpified.” By the time he died, most of his interrogators had concluded that he was guiltless. In common with the Abu Ghraib case and others, only a few lower-ranking officers and (especially) enlisted soldiers have been disciplined in connection with this and other abuses at Bagram.

The indulgence of this sort of depravity goes to, and comes from, the top. President Bush pushed aside the Geneva Conventions. A memo prepared on the order of his White House counsel, now Attorney General, suggested limiting the definition of torture to acts that bring on “organ failure.” And his Secretary of Defense personally authorized “interrogation techniques,” such as the use of dogs and forced nudity, that were expressly designed to outrage the religious customs of detainees. It was a short step from that to fake menstrual blood, sexual humiliation, and abuse of the Koran—other instances of which had been reported long before the current one. Nobody in a position of real authority has ever been held accountable for any of it. Against this background, words like “hypocritical” and “cynical” are inadequate to describe the White House campaign to demonize Newsweek. “Nauseating” is more like it.

We have to be respectful of Muslim sensibilities and Muslim beliefs, and the surest way to do that is to be respectful of our own. Otherwise, we’ll do worse than simply forfeit any hope of support from alienated potential allies in the Muslim world, like Imran Khan. We’ll lose sight of what we’re fighting for, and, little by little, become the mirror of what we’re fighting against.

mardi, mai 24, 2005

A Day Late...Going Nuclear

I wrote this on Saturday to post yesterday, but the day got away from me. After the compromise, it is significantly less topical, but I thought I’d post it anyway.

In January, the House of Representatives changed its ethics rule requiring ethics probes to go forward if there was at least a tie among ethics committee members.

Late last month, House Republicans reversed the decision because of concern that ethics scandals were taking a toll on the party image. (See, e.g. Tom “The Hammer” Delay).

The rule change lasted about three months.

There is potential this week to change another rule concerning how our national legislative bodies conduct their business. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist may bring to the floor a bill that will prevent application of the filibuster rule to judicial appointments.

As it stands now, in order to force a vote on a judicial nominee, you need 3/5th of the Senate. If Frist and the radical right get their way, only a simple majority will be needed.

Republicans hold 55 seats in the Senate today, five shy of the 60 needed to end a filibuster. I am concerned about the rule change (the majority of Americans agree with me). Here’s why I’m concerned.

1. The filibuster rule is a good one. It prevents tyranny of the majority, and it compels moderation in judicial appointments. Moderation is sorely needed. The presumption is that the Democrats are being unreasonable when they filibuster some nominees. The Republicans have been masterful in keeping the attention focused on Democratic filibusters and not on whether the nominees who have not made it to the Senate for a floor vote should be appointed to serve as federal judges for life. Stated simply, some folks should not be approved.

2. Priscilla Owen is a perfect example.

3. The Democrats have not been unreasonable. For example, this character got confirmed. And it would have been eminently reasonable to deny his appointment.

4. Most of all, the rule change represents an unbelievable grant of power to a Republican President who has demonstrated a tremendous ability to make horrible appointments. Like this one.

5. A change to the rule could have a devastating impact on the Supreme Court. Especially if a Justice like Justice O’Connor (annoyingly moderate) or Justice Stevens (pray for the health of Justice Stevens; pray for his health and send him vitamins). In fact, pray for Justices Ginsburg, Kennedy, Souter and Breyer too.

6. It is still more evidence that the Republican Party and the religious conservatives who run it, will stop at nothing (will leave no rule unchanged, will tamper with any amount of votes) in order to achieve their ends. Nothing is sacred except the outcome. Nothing.

7. Last, one nominee (and I realize that if it were not Owen, it would be someone else) should not trump long standing rules and procedures.

As is evident by the January change to the House ethics committee rule, Republicans will achieve their extremist agenda by any means necessary.

It goes like this:

we need to keep Delay...

Delay is unethical...

the rules would require a probe...

the probe would unearth the unethical behavior...

change the rules.

Image and public outcry compelled them to do an about face on the ethics rule change. Americans have the ability to prevent the nuclear option from ever reaching the floor of the Senate too. All we need to do is let them know that the bomb they threaten to detonate will impact more than the filibuster rule – it will impact the image of the Republican party (BTW, 2006 is closer than you think – I’m rested and ready to retake some seats).

PBU 21

jeudi, mai 19, 2005

May the Force Be with You

For those of you who are fans of the Wars in the Stars movies, please enjoy your theater experience this weekend.

I Happen to Like New York

I married a Minnesota gal[1], what can I say?

Lately, I’ve been dreaming of New York. I go there for work from time to time. I was there last week.

I got off the plane, took a cab to Manhattan and met friends for dinner here.

While I waited for my friends to arrive, suitcase and all, I went to Tower Records, where this band just happened to be playing. I’m listening to their new CD now. It's clean.

Ah, the city:

Cab from JFK to Manhattan (tip and tolls): $75
Drinks for five: $150
Dinner for five: $350
A night in the city: Priceless

But, in order to live in the Big Apple, I’d need oodles and oodles of cash. Literally more cash than I can even see from my deeply entrenched middle class existence. And that is not likely to happen, so…

Plan B: when our little angel is in college (she’ll enter in the Fall of 2019, y’all) I’m hoping I can talk my wife into living in the city for two years. By then, my (fairly) virtual workplace will be completely virtual, and we’ll be able to work many jobs from anywhere in the United States. As it is, my company is headquartered in California. I have only had one boss who lives in Minnesota (my current boss – the others were in California and New York), and one of our Senior Managers lives in Colorado. The project team I’m on (with one of our nation’s largest residential lenders) has a key member who lives in rural Oregon even though her company’s headquarters are in New Jersey. She lives in Oregon because she likes it, and she works for a company in Jersey because they like her no matter where she lives.

So we can get a (small) place in the city for a couple of years and live out my dream.

Pretty good plan, no?

[1] “Gal” as used here, is meant referentially and not in sexist way it can sometimes be used.

mercredi, mai 18, 2005

Hard Times in the Land of Pawlenty

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we have this group called the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. So, in a state with its share of suffering, these folks band together and donate $1,000,000 a year toward the noble cause of preventing tax increases.

One of the things the TLM does is request that candidates running for office sign a pledge not to raise taxes. It is a litmus test for all Republicans who seek to hold statewide office. If you don't sign the pledge, you will not win the party nomination.

Our current "Governor," (elected with the unreal mandate of 45% of the vote) Tim Pawlenty, signed the pledge and has kept his word. He has to keep his word. Everyone over the age of 30 remembers what happened to King George I after his "read my lips no new taxes" promise kinda sorta maybe led to a little old tax, y'all.

I detest the pledge and here's why: it places the interests of the individual (the officeholder) in potential conflict with the interests of the state.

I have long seen our "Governor" as too ambitious for his own good. If the classic maxim: dress for the job you want, not the job you have, were rewritten for politics, it might read: govern for the job you want, not the job you have. And the "Governor" has been so by the book
Republican and so impressively substandard that he closely resembles another politician who has no problem putting his own interest ahead of the interests of those he governs. He is not leading Minnesota so much as he's preserving his chances to lead America. You can't serve two masters, and he's only serving one.

So, he signed the pledge, and here is what has happened since:

Stagflation (see this too)

In order to fund tax cuts for the wealthy, Bush has decreased federal aid to states.

In other words, the state has less money (tax revenue is down, and federal aid is down).

Our expenses have remained the same or increased (due to inflation).

Revenue is down and expenses are up.

What's a "Governor" to do?

He can't raise taxes, so he's:

1. Borrowing money. Don't pay it now without interest, pay it later with interest. When the mess arrives, you'll be Vice President of the United States! Brilliant! Borrowing money to pay for things that are needed but that you are unwilling to increase taxes to pay where have I heard that before?

2. Seeking revenue from the expansion of gambling! It's regressive; it's anti-family, but hey, it ain't raising taxes! Brilliant! Pledge kept; revenue burden born by the few, not the many; and the poor don't vote! Now, all he'll need is Sominex, and he'll be just fine.

3. Increasing fees (note, NOT taxes, feeeeeeeeeees).

4. In the last biennium, he solved by decreasing aid to counties and cities, which in turn caused them to seek alternative revenue streams in the form of property tax increases. If the result of my policies is a tax increase, have I increased your taxes? Asked differently, if I promise not to hit you, but I push a button causing my robot to hit you, I've still kept my promise, right?

Did you catch that? Bush decreases aid to states. "Governor's" like Pawlenty decrease aid to cities. Which direction does the poop roll again? It's enough to make you nostalgic for the days when politicians were proud to proclaim that the buck stopped here, ain't it?

So, as it turned out, the "Governor's" interest are in conflict with the interests of the State. He signed a pledge, so he can't raise revenue by increasing taxes. It's clear he needs to raise revenue, that's why he's borrowing money, looking to gambling, and increasing fees. So, two questions:

One, whose interests do you think will win out? Those of the "Governor" or those of the governed?

Two, is this good government or is this just the government we deserve?

For more on this subject, read this.

lundi, mai 16, 2005

The Best American Movie I've Seen in Five Years

A few Saturdays ago, I woke up at 6:30 - which is not unusual for me. While my women slept (until 9:30), I watched Do the Right Thing for the first time in at least 10 years. It was just as powerful as I remembered it.

What made Do the Right Thing a great film (instead of a good film) was its recognition that human behavior is complex and that difficulties can arise when different races are joined in a tense setting. When Mookie, reacting to the death of Radio Raheem, throws the trash can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria (where he worked), the audience was divided between those who asked "what the hell was he thinking?", and those who shouted "fight the power." When Mookie returns the next day to collect his pay from Sal, the film ends without clarity. Will Sal rebuild in Brooklyn? Will Mookie and Sal reconcile? Are Mookie and Sal friends? Were they ever? What does it mean when Sal says that there is going to be "another hot day" in Brooklyn?

Yesterday, Mrs. Duf and I went to a wonderful lunch here, then crossed the street to see Crash. Crash is the best American movie I have seen in at least five years. Like Do the Right Thing before it, Crash recognizes that easy discussions of race fail to do the subject justice.

Crash is set in modern day Los Angeles and just about every ethnic group is represented. While Do the Right Thing dealt with black and white relations, Crash considers the whole racial terrain: African-Americans, whites, Latina, Hispana, Persian (at times misunderstood to mean Arab or middle east), and Asian, and even adds class issues as well. The film leaves you wondering if you know any of the characters or their motivations. Will they align with stereotypes or defy them? Sometimes it is both, and that, in part, is the genius of the film. What can we guess about the black man in the Lincoln Navigator? What about the Latina or Hispana man installing new locks at the District Attorney's house? What about the Persian man who owns a mini mart or the two black men walking down the sidewalk "looking like UCLA students?" Is a bad cop always a bad cop? Is a good cop always a good cop?

Crash has a wonderful script which uses its central metaphor well and convinces you to believe the coincidences that compel the characters to "bump" into each other from time to time. It's well directed by Paul Haggis (a Canadian no less) and beautifully shot, and benefits from absolutely superior performances, most notably from Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock (yep, I'll stand by that), Thandie Newton [sigh! and a thousand times sigh!], Matt Dillon (I'd nominate him), and a really, really, really touching and outstanding performance by Michael Pena (Oscar worthy times two). Pena (who is featured on the outstanding movie poster) is a star in the making, believe that. There is no bad performance in the film, and Brendan Fraser, Tony Danza, Shaun Toub, and Bahar Soomekh (the second most beautiful woman in the world) also stand out.

I always want the memorable American films of the year to be about something. There is so much to discuss here. Our favorite films tend to steer clear of substance. And while I recognize the inherent value of films that seek to entertain (LOTR, Harry Potter, Independence Day, etc.), I prefer films that challenge and films that reveal. Something about America is revealed in the challenges presented by Crash. It does not chicken out. In fact, part of what makes it difficult to watch is that is doesn't hold back. Racism in all it's ugliness is right there in your face. There is a temptation to give an overly-glossy, shiny-happy ending (the movie Collateral was perfect/excellent until the last 15 minutes when it chickened out and became very average, almost forgettable - I kept wondering what Collateral would have been like if either Luc Besson directed it, or if they didn't send it to test audiences to mess it up, or it was produced in France or Germany instead of the U.S.), but Haggis avoids it, and the film is all the more powerful as a result. Like Do the Right Thing, it leaves you wondering what is going to happen the next day.

I can say little more without ruining the film for those who will see it. I'll conclude by saying that I will hype this film as much as I can. I wish all Americans would see it, and, like its powerful predecessor, I wish it would inspire a oft-needed (and now as much as ever) conversation about race in America.

Run, don't walk, to see Crash.

mardi, mai 10, 2005

I Can't Blog with A Boot on My Neck

The man is trying to work a brutha into the ground, y'all.

No time to philosophize, no time to write.

Instead of my overwrought and verbose ramblings, please check out this Move On Flash RE Social Security. It's nice. It's clean. It's tight.

And, on an unrelated note, love your neighbors no matter what, k?

vendredi, mai 06, 2005

Praise to My Mom; Praise to Working Moms

My father died when my brother and I were 8, so we were pretty much raised by our mom.

Being raised by a single mother was not always easy. My mom was working on her Master’s Degree and working full time when we were pre-teens, and that meant that mom was often tired, stressed out, over-extended, and not at her best.

It took me until I was 34, the first time I was with my daughter by myself, that I had a sense for what it might be like to be a single parent. I had my daughter by myself for one weekend, my mom raised two twin boys by herself for ten years. Not easy, and if you allow me to say it (and remain humble) she did an excellent job.

I don’t say it to my mom very often, and I don’t think my mom reads my blog, but I’m thankful for the mother I had.

Anyway, for Mother’s day, I found an article that describes well the world of the modern mother/parent. Enjoy the article, and enjoy your weekend.

jeudi, mai 05, 2005

I Don't Want to Talk about It!

I’m a little miffed today because I forgot to change the water in my Butter Bell. I’m getting old.

On an unrelated note, if you like hip hop at all or poetry a little, please, please, please listen to Saul Williams, buy Saul Williams, follow Saul Williams around the country. Saul Williams is the truth.

The Twins lost a heartbreaker to the Cleveland team (I refuse to apply the disgusting appellation) last night.

Um….what else…looks like Blair will win.

Um…I’ve got a Creeping Charley problem on my front lawn…

I’m trying to think of anything to talk about besides what I refuse to talk about which is the Kansas Board of Education. I refuse to link to a web site to promote the flat-earth agenda. Somewhere in Kansas there is a school without current, adequate or ample textbooks, but let’s get stupid instead. When I was a student in the Kansas Public School System, my school did not have current, adequate or ample textbooks. Don’t dispute carbon dating. Don’t provide proof that the zillion or so skeletal remains from thousands of architectural digs, are really only a few thousand years old. There can never have been a Pleistocene era because the Bible says otherwise. All the bones and art and leafs and all that stuff, it’s all a figment of the scientific world’s imagination. The holocaust never happened. Iraq is chock full of WMDs. Believe the hype. And while we’re at it never mind that a significant (if not in number, at least in spirit) number of students who attend public schools are not Christian. Just be stupid all the time. Do stupid things and say stupid things. Legislate stupidity and just do everything you can to spread stupidity everywhere all the time and never stop and why did I start typing this I’m just making myself upset and the first thing that happens when I get upset is that my grammar and syntax start to slip I said I wasn’t going to do this ick

mardi, mai 03, 2005

Five Questions...Five Answers... a Movement

Aerenchyma at A Time and Place, was kind enough to ask me five questions. It’s all part of a interview vibe that’s shaking down the “sphere.”

I’m pretty much quoting verbatim Aerenchyma’s explanation of how it all works.

One blogger poses five questions to another blogger. That blogger answers the questions, then agrees to ask five questions to three other bloggers. And so on and so on.The questions given to me by Aerenchyma and my answers are below. If you'd like to be the next to be interviewed, leave me a comment saying 'interview me'. I will respond by asking you five questions here. You need not have your own blog to participate. You may submit your answers here as well. The questions will be different than the ones below.

Aerenchyma Inteviews Duf -

1. If you could invent a tool that could do any single job, what would that tool do?

“I’d hammer out justice; I’d hammer out freedom; I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters, all…all…all all all over this land.”

Enamored though I am of the Wife Robot, I would go a different route.

I’d invent a tool that would make salt water potable (or is that a machine?). I’d make it part of the public domain too. I’d give it away.

2. If you could be anyone in history, who would you be and why? Would you live his or her life differently?

Man oh man, this is a very difficult question. First, I’d still be African-American. Here’s the list I’m thinking through – W.E.B. DuBois, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Roy Wilkins, Satchel Paige, Langston Hughes, Hiram Revels, Jesse Owens, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Phyllis Wheatley, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, Jackie Robinson. I would really, really, really want to be Frederick Douglass, but, alas, I think I would pick:

Thurgood Marshall, and no, I would not live his life any differently. I would pick Marshall for impact on history, for coolness of life in general, for being on the Supreme Court, something I would love to do. But mainly I would pick Thurgood Marshall for always wearing white socks.

If I weren’t African-American, and I could pick one person, I’d pick Paul Wellstone. Yes, I would live my life differently, but only in one respect. I would maintain my own jet and staff my own flight crew.

3. If you could convince one person of one thing, what thing would you convince that person of and who would that person be?

This is an amazing question. In my mind, there is no one person who, after being convinced, could effect immediate or lasting change. Convincing Randall Terry or Karl Rove or George Bush I or II or Tom DeLay or Bill Frist or Pope Benedict XVI or Rush Limbaugh or that Anne Coulter, or any person deeply compromised by ignorance to take a more enlightened path, would only see them replaced within their movement by people who will perpetuate ignorance/stay on message. So my temptation is to swing the court by convincing a conservative justice to become a liberal. But even there, I imagine a short-lived impact. Someone would die or retire only to be replaced – these days – by someone who would be just as conservative (or moreso), only young too.

So, in keeping with the great maxim to think globally and act locally, I would go small here and convince my daughter, the apple of my eye, and my adorable little angel to lead a life of total health. This is what I mean – to devote herself to mental and physical health, to emotional health, to spiritual health and to all the things attendant to that life: to pursue happiness, to have a strong and healthy self-esteem, to be confident and fit, to eat well, to avoid substance abuse and peer pressure, to be her own person, to follow her dreams and on and on…

4. If you could only vacation in one place for the rest of your life (with the exception of visiting family), where would it be?

The earth? Okay, that’s cheating.

This is sublimely ignorant, and there is so much of the world I have not seen, but of the world I have seen, the place that, for me, offers the most enchantment and wonder and natural beauty and diversity of experience is Alaska. I’d pick the whole darn state, I guess. My travels, brief though they were, through Denali and Seward and Valdez and even Anchorage, my ride on the train, my time walking on glaciers, seeing bald eagle and the salmon run, the waterfalls, the arts, the crafts, the history, the indigenous peoples, the mountains, the eternal sunshine (seasonally), the mavericks and the explorers, the wanderers and the settled, flora and fauna and roads so bumpy and beset by major, major potholes such they are nigh on not traversable, all of it combines together to make Alaska my pick.

5. If you could have one amazing talent, what would it be?

Okay, so I can go selfish, or I can go altruistic. Selfishly, I’d pick the ability to birdie or par a golf hole whenever I wanted. Either that or I would want to be the best juggler in the world (ever).

Altruistically, I’d pick the ability to convince people to do anything. Sure, I’d misuse it from time to time ("publish my book," "mow my lawn," "give me those fries"), but mostly, I’d use it to start a global movement of love and justice. I’d use it to address poverty and homelessness and despair and I’d use it to promote education reform and pursuit of community excellence. I’d use it to convince smokers to stop and to convince them not to throw their butts on the ground. I’d convince corporations to be citizens of the world, and not profit motivated robber-barons. I know that’s saccharine, but it’s true.