Michelle Obama, You Were Right

14 09 2011

I’ve been trying to watch at least part of the Republican debates in the name of remaining well-informed. Frankly,the fact that one of these people might be president disturbs me, but their audience disturbs me more. Last week, in response to a question about the 234 executions carried out during Rick Perry’s tenure as governor of Texas, the crowd broke into cheers. Cheers?!

My issue is not over the death penalty itself. I have my opinions on the issue and I think responsible people can intelligently debate its pros and cons all day long. What I found so jarring was the raucous applause and whoops from the audience. We’re talking about killing people, not a great football play. Whether or not you believe a criminal deserves to die for their crimes, I think we can all agree that executions aren’t exactly cause for celebration.

Last night I had another of those “what country are these people living in” moments. A hypothetical question was posed to Texas Representative Ron Paul about what should happen to an individual who is uninsured and suddenly needs expensive medical care. Ron Paul tends to get a little long-winded, so the moderator pushed him asking if society should just let the man die which lead to several calls of “Yeah!” from the audience. Not as much glee as the death penalty mention some days before, but still creepy.

It isn’t just the fact that the idea of someone dying really pleases a few of these audience members. The thing that blows my mind is that not one of the candidates stepped up to say one of our strengths as a nation is our compassionate nature and that there would be something out there to keep citizens unable to afford insurance from being forced to go without necessary care. Looking out for one another doesn’t mean the “nanny state” is taking over. It means that we are part of a community – local, state, and national. Remember? “E Pluribus Unum”  – out of many, one. It’s on the national seal. (That was our motto before the 1950’s when “god” was added to our pledge to the flag and our money and the national motto became “In god we trust.”) A conservative can still have a soul, but you’d never know it. Empathy is apparently a facet of godless, socialistic, liberalism which must be abandoned as quickly and completely as possible.

In early 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama’s wife Michelle was taken to task by Republicans (and supporters of Hillary Clinton) for saying that America could be a mean country. Well, Mrs. Obama, I have to say that you were at least partially correct. A country which cheers execution, calls for those can’t afford that which will save their lives to lose their lives, and lacks any feeling for those who don’t plump up some corporation’s bottom line is a mean, mean place. The thing is, that mean place is not where I grew up. I don’t even recognize it. When I was growing up, if someone lost their job due to downsizing, lay-offs, and etc they weren’t the problem, whatever lead to their job going away was. A social security check, and the check and medical benefits of a union pension were the well-earned reward my grandmother and many others of the “greatest generation” received for decades of hard, honest work building our modern society. No one ever said they didn’t deserve it or were stealing from their children and grandchildren. Times have gotten harder, but I don’t think getting meaner as a society will solve anything. I’m hoping that logic will overcome whatever makes seemingly ordinary people cheer death and view compassion as a curse.

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What Do House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the iPad Have In Common?

24 01 2011

 

 

 

Both are small and partially made of plastic? No. Both are viewed as smug symbols of elitism by some Tea Party-ers? Maybe. It sort of depends on who you’re asking. The answer is that the public will be receiving both the iPad 2 and Pelosi 2.0 this year. If you’re wondering if this post is going to be both a bit of political theorizing and some nerd-girl swooning over a yet-to-be-released, shiny, new tech toy, the answer is yes. Why? Because I’m just that geeky.

Yes, technophiles are waiting with bated breath for the announcement of the iPad 2’s release date and many, myself among them, will head out to reserve one as soon as they are able to and then, once the happy day arrives, they will wait in insanely long lines for hours to, at long last, hold in their hands the second generation iPad. The clouds will part, beams of sunlight will pour warmly down from the heavens, celestial choirs will sing, and it will be Christmas in … whenever… for thousands of Apple lovers. The announcement has been expected for months and there are various theories about when it will come, many stemming from people with too much time on their hands analyzing every one of the few details they can get ahold of.  Those details are very few indeed and speculation is rampant, so take it all with several grains of salt. I’ve been casually following the iPostulating at Beatweek and I’ve also looked at Mac Rumors, where I pulled this picture from, and while there is a lot that’s just talk, these are some features that are generally accepted due to the surfacing of the photos of what are supposed to be iPad 2 cases made in China. Apparently, somebody doesn’t know how to keep a secret.

No doubt some of the silence surrounding the release date has to do with Apple’s co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, taking another medical leave of absence – this time without setting a date when he’ll be back. Jobs took a medical leave in 2006 in order to undergo treatment for pancreatic cancer and another in 2009 to undergo a liver transplant. With a medical history like that, the level of concern expressed by everyone from stock market analysts to run of the mill Apple fans is understandable. I join the chorus of those wishing Mr. Jobs a speedy return to health.

So nobody who’s able to confirm anything to the rest of us knows when the iPad 2 is coming or what fabulous things it’s going to be able to do when it gets here, yet many people are anxiously waiting, blogging, and talking about a device that Apple won’t acknowledge even exists yet. The question then becomes why. Why are so many people so excited by the sequel to the iPad? History. Apple functions on a very predictable schedule and has for several years now. They come up with a great product and then, within a year or two, the second generation is released and they have:

* Fixed all of the inevitable bugs that go along with anything 1.0.

* Created a buzz which results from their 1.0 being so good – a device that has become the gold standard in its category or damn close. For example, nobody says mp3 player. We all talk about iPods.

* Figured out what “it would be awesome if this thing had/could do ____” and added that feature to the second gen. product if it’s at all possible.

A bit of patience tends to be rewarded if the newest Apple gadget is your heart’s desire. As a bonus, most of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc generations don’t change a whole lot from the second gen. device – maybe they’ll have more memory or look a little cooler – until

there’s a major innovation (think classic to iPod touch) that really warrants an upgrade, so your second generation product stays current for a few years and you get your money’s worth which always feels rewarding when you’re dealing with techno toys. Since the iPad’s debut I have been waiting for all of the reasons I have described. As I recall, the iPad didn’t have much in the way of new device bugs. There were, however, things people wanted to see added or improved. The speakers could’ve been stronger. Many people want to see a camera added. I’m not among their number, but nobody called to ask my opinion. More

memory is a plus. The biggest thing I heard about was the screen’s glare issue, so that might be dealt with. The newest iPhone has a super high-resolution Retina Display screen. While this article says the iPad 2 won’t have it, an improvement in resolution and less glare is all but a given, especially given that an ad for Amazon’s Kindle e reader took a swipe at the iPad over the glare-prone screen. Throwing my own hat into the release date guessing game, I’ll say that we’ll have an announcement before June and I’ll have my iPad 2 in hand by December 1st.

On the political front, the House Minority Leader’s public image upgrade is looking to be on about the same time-table as my future iPad2. Starting well before the mid-term elections Nancy Pelosi had become the arch-villain in the Republican’s fairy tale of why everything that’s wrong with DC and perhaps even the world is the fault of the evil, no good, country-destroying, monolithic left. Even though sensible people on either side can take a look around and see that laying the blame for problems that were quietly growing in complexity for decades – even reaching back to the Reagan years in some cases – at the feet of Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and Harry Reid, or even the Democrats as a group as the foolishness it is, Nancy Pelosi has become the personification of every one of our nation’s ill and all that’s hated about the nature of bureaucracy in general for many on the right. Her name was invoked to great effectiveness in campaigns by conservatives against then-incumbent Democrats during the mid-terms and conservative commentators on TV and in radio take every opportunity to skewer her for whatever’s making them unhappy at that particular moment. Glenn Beck was already joking about poisoning her in 2009. Some might say the character assassinations have worked a little too well. Last April, a man was arrested for threatening the then-Speaker of the House and I’m sure that not the first or the last threat she’s received. Unfortunately, it seems death threats are par for the political course. That’s nothing new of course – Abraham Lincoln kept a file of his in his desk at the White House – but just because it’s an old idea doesn’t make it acceptable. In short, whether you like Minority Leader Pelosi or not, you have to admit that she’s become politically radioactive – a pariah even among some members of her own party.

Despite her notoriously gaffe prone, generally nervous performances in press conferences and such which I attribute to a touch of stage fright (You can actually see her freeze up before she starts to trip over her words.), she is, contrary to popular belief, not a dumb woman. You don’t work you way up through the congressional leadership and become the most powerful woman in American political history by being an idiot. While the American public at large might decide to vote a likable doofus into the presidency, our Representatives take voting for their majority leaders, minority leaders, and speakers of the House very seriously. They vote for the one among them who can get things done and, whether you like the results or not, Nancy Pelosi got a lot done and she was able to keep most of the House Democrats in rank even after the Republicans took control at the beginning of the month. The fact that only three broke ranks to vote for a repeal of Healthcare Reform is a testament to her abilities. Still, she can’t do much when her public image is this toxic. She has to do some damage control… and it looks like she is. She has, for the most part, been able to avoid a lot of media attention with the exception of a few interviews. There are not many pictures of her coming out, so she’s generally under the radar. She wasn’t front and center at the memorial for the victims of the shoot in Tucson. She was the only member of the congressional leadership to attend the state dinner that was held for China’s President Hu Jintao, but I challenge you to find a picture of her there. Even the fact that she stuck around after losing the Speakership reflects well on her and casts a new light on someone reportedly only in it for the power and the parties and such. By just lying low and keeping as quite as the House Minority Leader can be expected to be, she’s keeping herself from become the story. That doesn’t sound like much but in six months, when the 2012 election cycle really gets underway, it will be much harder for Republicans to use her as the poster woman for why all liberals should be despised if she hasn’t said or done anything overly controversial in the last several months. If she can stay in the background while Speaker Boehner and the Republicans try to get their agenda legislated and take the political flak that comes with doing so, she’ll begin to look more like a person and less like the demon she’s been cast as. In fact, the Republicans might come to regret posting that “Hire Pelosi” sign over the RNC. They underestimate her at their own peril.





Old Enmities, New Violence

13 07 2010

There was violence in the streets in Belfast yesterday. It was the same old grievances being acted upon by a new generation of fighters. I just don’t get it.

As a small child, I remember watching the news as Ireland and North Ireland fought bitterly on the screen. It really upset me because the place where the fighting was going on didn’t look very “foreign” to me. The buildings and homes looked just like areas of the city in which I lived at the time. The people didn’t look very “foreign” either with their jeans and sweatshirts and baseball caps and sneakers. I asked my grandmother why they were fighting and she tried to explain the split between Protestants and Catholics and how two groups who were so similar could hate each other so much and for so long. She did a pretty good job, but that didn’t make the fighting any more sensible to me. I must have been being a pain because my grandmother finally looked at me and said “Every little boy and girl in the world is born the same. No one is better or worse than anyone else. Those people weren’t taught that.” I remember that so well I can almost hear and see her saying it.
Time marches on – I’m now an adult, or should be anyway, with a great interest in world events and foreign policy and my grandmother has been gone for several years now, but this conflict makes no more sense to me now than it did all those years ago in the kitchen of our small, old house. It’s so senseless and it’s been going on as long as I’ve been alive and for ages before that. There are plenty of conflicts that are older than me – Israel/Palestine springs immediately to mind – but, while I find it hard to justify any of them, this one strikes a particular chord with me. I’ve read about it and talked about it and learned about for years, but at the end of the day, I’m just as confused and disgusted as I was when I was following my grandmother around our kitchen peppering her with an endless stream of questions.

There are some articles from the BBC here, here, here, here, and here. I’m sure there will be a statement made by someone of governmental importance and I’ll update with that once I find it.





The Unbreakable Bond Between Bullshit and Politics

27 04 2010

Here in the US, it has become popular to deride the government as a haven of overpaid, out of touch, ignoramuses who are, rather than doing the good, honest work for the interests of those who elected them, spend their days in DC taking whatever piece of… cattle excrement… which is currently popular with their buddies on the same side of the political aisle, polishing it up ’till it’s all bright and shiny, and attempting to pass it off to the voting public as something far better than the pile of crap it really is. This is the sentiment driving the teaparty-ers, and, for that matter, the left-wing activists as well. Actually, if we’re honest, haven’t we all felt that way about the government at least a little bit in the recent past? Many politicians promise to “clean up Washington” and many have been elected on that platform. So many of us would love to see a bullshit-free political sphere.

But is that actually possible? I think not. In fact, I’m willing to go so far as to say that we need a little bullshit in our politics for it to function properly – sort of like DC’s very own yin yang theory.
I mean, how would anything get done without a little bullshit – “No, really, I’d loved to support this bill, except it was written by someone who’s not from my party, so that makes it entirely unacceptable and generally evil.” As much as we hate DC politicking now, it would be exponentially worse without all of the meaningless platitudes, forced smiles, paper-thin bipartisan partnerships and all of the other bullshit they do to make it look like they really are trying to work together. Nobody would be even close to electable. Take away all the “charisma” – a synonym for being able to bullshit the masses with ease – and politicians, by and large, are very much like overgrown, spoiled children – like that girl, Veruca, in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

only older, greyer, and wealthier.
If, through some miracle, anyone was elected to any public office without the aid of bullshit, they’d have a hard time getting the public to buy into any legislation because they wouldn’t be able to hide the fact that nothing in life is free like they can now. We would plainly see all the good and bad and where the lobbyists had worked their magic and so on. Who would be able to stomach it? All of this is nothing more than the usual business. It’s gone on as long as this country has – deal-making isn’t a 21st century thing after all – but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a messy business indeed. I won’t even go into foreign policy sans bullshit. Diplomacy wouldn’t exist. Yes, without a little bullshit here and there, this country, and perhaps the world, would cease to exist as we know it. I therefore conclude that bullshit is an essential part of our political system.