Friday, April 27, 2007

Who's your enemy? part 2

Yesterday, Jack Cafferty had this to say on CNN: Watch It!

Click the following to access the link:
Video: Cafferty: The war and the veto*


A new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows only 22 percent of Americans think the country is going in the right direction. Sixty-six percent say we're not. And the overriding issue in those poll numbers it the war in Iraq.

Read any sampling of public opinion over the last few years. Americans want this war over. They want our troops home.

Both houses of Congress have now passed the funding bills necessary to continue the war, but with a timetable to begin winding things down.

It's funny, isn't it?

The public and the Congress seem to be in agreement. But none of that matters to President Bush. Remember, he's the decider. And he's decided we're not going to set any timetable for withdrawal.

On the contrary, tours of duty for combat soldiers have just been extended and Bush says he's going to veto the funding bill.

Isolated and almost alone in his determination to continue the insanity that is the war in Iraq, Mr. Bush clings to a 4-year-old failed policy that has cost this country its reputation, more than 3,000 of its finest young people and a half a trillion dollars of your tax money.

Thousands of our soldiers have been crippled for life.

And, of course, finally, it's not working -- not on any level. There is no effective Iraqi government. There's no democracy. There's no political solution. Nothing. Just bloody day after bloody week after bloody month of violence, death, destruction.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

"We Have Met the Enemy"

On Earth Day 17 years ago, Walt Kelly published the line in his comic POGO (click),

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."

(click for ref.)

We have come full circle:

The Huffington Post said as much 2 years ago

in recounting the horrors of the torture American troops inflicted on Iraqis.

Now we find that an American Colonel (click for story) may have aided prisoner insurgents and apparently engaged in sex with the daughter of a prisoner.

Meanwhile, our soldiers have spent weeks building walls between Iraqis which they now will have to spend weeks tearing down since protests and the Iraqi PM oppose them.

The Okefenokee Swamp, home of Pogo, has nothing on the quagmire in Iraq.

W. Bush claims that if we set a timetable for withdrawing the troops from Iraq, it will give victory to our enemy. But just who is this enemy? Iraq is an artificial confederation of three very different people and areas: Shia, Sunni, and Kurds. All are now engaged in a civil war. Our enemy from 911, Al-Qaida, has infiltrated the country and added to the chaos.
So who is the "enemy" that will win if we leave Iraq?

There is no way to predict who will emerge victorious from this civil war. The only thing certain is that it would not be our enemy per se. All three of the dominant groups could befriend the U.S. What is creating hatred and resentment of the U. S. in Iraq is our continued occupation, our support of ongoing corruption, our greed for Iraqi oil, and our arrogance, our insistence that we know best what is good for Iraq.

Our action and our arrogance are what make Pogo's line as true today as when we tried to bend Viet Nam to our will. We are our own worst enemy, and Bush is enemy commander-in-chief.

Let us hope Congress finds and enforces a new way...


Friday, April 20, 2007

Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?

Do I dare to eat a peach? Read Andre Aciman's Call Me By Your Name, and T. S. Eliot's line from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" will take on quite a new meaning. Aciman, who is an authority on Marcel Proust, channels the master in the telling of this romance between 24-year-old Oliver, a graduate writer, and the budding 17- year-old Elio-- son of a professor with whom Oliver is working.

The boy tells the story, albeit from the distance of decades later. In a sense, he presents a remembrance of things past, a conjuring much like Proust's of a world of sensation and sensuality, of longing and ecstasy one summer on the coast of Italy. From the sound of cicadas to the intimacy of the odor inside a recently worn bathing suit, it is a world of ultra-awareness. We are filled with this boy's exuberance, anxiety, and joy. Only in the short, final section of the book in which Elio sums up the years since that summer, does the novel lose its rapture.

Elio, as narrator, brings to mind Olivier-- the boy in Andre Gide's the Counterfeiters, who, upon attainment of his desire, wanted to die, knowing that he would never again feel such fulfillment. This magical summer on the Italian Riviera is too intense, too utopian ever to continue into less glowing seasons.
Paradoxically, their exchange is also too deep ever to disappear. To quote a poem by D.H. Lawrence,

Time will dim the moon
Sooner than our full consummation here
In this odd life will tarnish or pass away.

Such is the entwining of Elio and Oliver.

Aciman's dazzling word mastery is as powerful in the telling of this love story as it was in his acclaimed Out of Egypt. Here, in his new work, his first novel, the gay romance stands out as sublime in comparison to the heterosexual relations in the story. Aciman makes a sacred rite of this teenager's discovery of self, Eros, and love. The novel likewise provides the reader with an exquisite trip into the human psyche.

Jack Miller

Published in the July 2007 issue of  The Gay and Lesbian Review 

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bedtime for Gonzo

The testimony of the AG was a disgrace.
Not only did he say "I can't recall." over 70 times; he could not give any reason for the firing of the 7 or 8 U. S. Attorneys. We have either illegal political interference (no doubt originating in the White House) in ongoing investigations, or pure incompetence. The latter was the best defense Gonzales' supporters could come up with. Even conservative Republican senators called for him to resign.

AG A. G. struck me (I watched most of the hearing) much as Bush does when he speaks publicly: as a nincompoop.

The NY Times has an excellent editorial:

April 20, 2007

Gonzales v. Gonzales

If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had gone to the Senate yesterday to convince the world that he ought to be fired, it’s hard to imagine how he could have done a better job, short of simply admitting the obvious: that the firing of eight United States attorneys was a partisan purge.

Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch.

He had no trouble remembering complaints from his bosses and Republican lawmakers about federal prosecutors who were not playing ball with the Republican Party’s efforts to drum up election fraud charges against Democratic politicians and Democratic voters. But he had no idea whether any of the 93 United States attorneys working for him — let alone the ones he fired — were doing a good job prosecuting real crimes.

He delegated responsibility for purging their ranks to an inexperienced and incompetent assistant who, if that’s possible, was even more of a plodding apparatchik. Mr. Gonzales failed to create the most rudimentary standards for judging the prosecutors’ work, except for political fealty. And when it came time to explain his inept decision making to the public, he gave a false account that was instantly and repeatedly contradicted by sworn testimony.

Even the most loyal Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee found it impossible to throw Mr. Gonzales a lifeline. The best Orrin Hatch of Utah could do was to mutter that “I think that you’ll agree that this was poorly handled” and to suggest that Mr. Gonzales should just be forgiven. Senator Sam Brownback led Mr. Gonzales through the names of the fired attorneys, evidently hoping he would offer cogent reasons for their dismissal.

Some of his answers were merely laughable. Mr. Gonzales said one prosecutor deserved to be fired because he wrote a letter that annoyed the deputy attorney general. Another prosecutor had the gall to ask Mr. Gonzales to reconsider a decision to seek the death penalty. (Mr. Gonzales, of course, is famous for never reconsidering a death penalty case, no matter how powerful the arguments are.)

Mr. Gonzales criticized other fired prosecutors for “poor management,” for losing the confidence of career prosecutors and for “not having total control of the office.” With those criticisms, Mr. Gonzales was really describing his own record: he has been a poor manager who has had no control over his department and has lost the confidence of his professional staff and all Americans.

Mr. Gonzales was even unable to say who compiled the list of federal attorneys slated for firing. The man he appointed to conduct the purge, Kyle Sampson, said he had not created the list. The former head of the office that supervises the federal prosecutors, Michael Battle, said he didn’t do it, as did William Mercer, the acting associate attorney general.

Mr. Gonzales said he did not know why the eight had been on the list when it was given to him, that it had not been accompanied by any written analysis and that he had just assumed it reflected a consensus of the senior leaders of his department. At one point, Mr. Gonzales even claimed that he could not remember how the Justice Department had come to submit an amendment to the Patriot Act that allowed him to fire United States attorneys and replace them without Senate confirmation. The Senate voted to revoke that power after the current scandal broke.

At the end of the day, we were left wondering why the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer would paint himself as a bumbling fool. Perhaps it’s because the alternative is that he is not telling the truth. There is strong evidence that this purge was directed from the White House, and that Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s top political adviser, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, were deeply involved.

Yesterday, Mr. Gonzales admitted that he had not been surprised by five of the names on the list because he had heard complaints about them — from Republican senators and Mr. Rove.

In another telling moment, Mr. Gonzales was asked when he had lost confidence in David Iglesias, who was fired as federal prosecutor in New Mexico. His answer was an inadvertent slip of truth.

“Mr. Iglesias lost the confidence of Senator Domenici, as I recall, in the fall of 2005,” Mr. Gonzales said. It was Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, of course, who made a wildly inappropriate phone call to Mr. Iglesias in 2006, not 2005, to ask whether charges would be filed before the election in a corruption inquiry focused on Democrats. When Mr. Iglesias said he did not think so, Mr. Domenici hung up and complained to the White House. Shortly after, Mr. Iglesias’s name was added to the firing list.

We don’t yet know whether Mr. Gonzales is merely so incompetent that he should be fired immediately, or whether he is covering something up.

But if we believe the testimony that neither he nor any other senior Justice Department official was calling the shots on the purge, then the public needs to know who was. That is why the Judiciary Committee must stick to its insistence that Mr. Rove, Ms. Miers and other White House officials testify in public and under oath and that all documents be turned over to Congress, including e-mail messages by Mr. Rove that the Republican Party has yet to produce.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

And here's another version ot the testimony (from Salon)

The attorney general's "tremendous credibility problem"

Republicans and Democrats alike pummeled Alberto Gonzales in a daylong hearing that left the future of his job in doubt.

By Michael Scherer

Apr. 20, 2007 | Here's a piece of advice for those Bush administration officials who have not yet been called to atone before Congress: When you take your seat at the long table in the marble-paneled room, just answer the questions as clearly as you can. Don't get smart. Don't talk back. Admit your mistakes. And whatever you do, don't imitate Thursday's performance by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Just minutes into his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales was already pushing the wrong buttons, alternately minimizing his sins and overselling his strengths. Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican, was talking about a press conference last month, during which Gonzales said he was not involved in discussions over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, a false claim for which Gonzales has since apologized. "I know you're familiar with this record," Specter was saying, as he warmed up for a question, "because I know you've been preparing for this hearing."

Gonzales had, in fact, been preparing for weeks. But for some reason, he could not just sit still and listen. Like a fifth-grade student unable to avoid talking back to the teacher, he abruptly interrupted Specter. "I prepare for every hearing, Senator," the attorney general said. Then he took a sip of water.

Specter, who once worked as Philadelphia's district attorney, was stopped cold in his tracks. He glared down at Gonzales, who sat hunched before a microphone in an unremarkable charcoal suit and red tie. He would not let the comment pass. "Do you prepare for all your press conferences?" the senator barked, his tone suddenly combative. "You interjected that you're always prepared."

One of eight children born to two migrant workers in San Antonio, Texas, Gonzales had graduated from Harvard Law School, served as a Texas Supreme Court justice and then as the White House counsel, before taking over the Justice Department. As recently as two years ago, he was considered a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court. Now he sat in a chilly Senate hearing room, sticking his foot in his mouth, while his entire career hung in the balance. The camera shutters clicked.

"I apologize," he eventually told Specter, after several aborted attempts to explain his preparations. The depths of his mistake had finally sunk in. Gonzales had picked a fight with one of the only Republicans on the panel who still expressed any sympathy for him. He had come to Congress to apologize for messing up in public statements, and here he was messing up again. "I'd like you to win this debate," Specter said, "but you're going to have to win it."

By the day's end, it was hard to see that Gonzales had won anything. The U.S. attorney scandal, which is still unraveling, appeared as likely as ever to significantly stain Gonzales' tenure at Justice, if he doesn't resign in the coming weeks. He was criticized by every Democrat on the committee, as well as most of the Republicans, who often delivered the most stinging rebukes.

"Your ability to lead the Department of Justice is in question," said Alabama's Jeff Sessions, who normally toes the White House line.

"You have a tremendous credibility problem," said South Carolina's Lindsey Graham.

"We just don't have a straight story," said Iowa's Chuck Grassley.

By the time the floor was given to Oklahoma's Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative members of the committee, everything seemed to be headed south for Gonzales. "It was handled incompetently," Coburn said about the group firing of the attorneys. "It's generous to say that there were misstatements. That's a generous statement. And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences."

With that, Coburn joined New Hampshire's John Sununu and Oregon's Gordon Smith to become the third Republican senator to openly call for the resignation of Gonzales. His reasoning had a simple elegance to it. Gonzales had told the committee that several of the eight U.S. attorneys had been fired for management problems. Kevin Ryan was dismissed in California for "poor management in the office," said Gonzales. Michigan's Margaret Chiara had been fired for "poor management issues, loss of confidence by career individuals." By arguing that "management" ability was the rationale for firing, Gonzales effectively laid the planks for his own gallows. "Why would we not use the same standards to judge your performance in handling this event that you applied to these same individuals," Coburn asked. The Democrats were even more direct. As Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, put it during the lunch recess, "The great irony is the U.S. attorneys being fired end up being far more qualified for their job than [Gonzales] is for his."

As it stood, Gonzales did not bring many answers with him to the committee room. He could not identify the specific individuals who had recommended firing the eight attorneys. He offered no significant insight into the role of the White House. He could not remember any details from a meeting he participated in less than five months ago. In fact, he admitted that he did not even know the reasons he fired several of the attorneys, when he signed off on the plan late last year.

Before lunchtime, he said the words "I don't recall" 39 times. Even his written statement appeared to provoke the ire of several senators. After Gonzales described his involvement in the process as "limited," Specter challenged him with the fact that there were at least five documented meetings in which he had discussed the attorneys' performance with his staff. "As we recite these, we have to evaluate whether you are really being forthright," Specter said.

Rather than concede the point, Gonzales attempted to establish that he used the word "limited" in the context of the many things he does every day. "You are talking about a series of events that occurred over approximately 700 days," Gonzales said. "I probably had thousands of conversations during that time." None of the senators seemed impressed.

Such talk has been a trademark of the Bush administration, which has always resisted admitting mistakes. But in this new era of Democratic control, there appears to be a bipartisan consensus forming that the old tactics of evasion and deflection have run their course. Since the beginning of the year, Republicans have resisted directly signing on to Democratic investigations into the White House's handling of everything from the Iraq war to global warming. But Republicans have joined with Democrats in demanding full and honest answers to their questions. As Specter explained at the end of the hearing, "Your credibility has been significantly impaired because of the panorama of responses you have made."

Gonzales' struggles on Thursday will fade soon enough from the headlines. But whatever his fate, he will not be the last Bush official to face a grilling under oath. And those who come next may find the U.S. attorneys debacle instructive: Tell the story straight, or suffer the consequences.

-- By Michael Scherer

Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales reacts during closing remarks by senators at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.

On the Net:

Senate Judiciary Committee:

Good night, Gonzo.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Kitty Carlisle Hart: We'll miss you!

We are so glad and privileged to have seen and heard this aristocrat of performers in the intimacy of the 14th Street Playhouse. She was an inspiration.

Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images
April 18, 2007

Kitty Carlisle Hart, Actress and Arts Advocate, Dies at 96

Kitty Carlisle Hart, who began her career in the theater in a 1932 musical comedy revue on Broadway, acted in films and opera and was still singing on the stage, into her 10th decade, as recently as last fall, died Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 96.The cause was heart failure, her daughter, Catherine Hart, said. Outgoing and energetic, Miss Carlisle became in her middle years a visible advocate of the arts, lobbying the New York State Legislature and the United States Congress for funding. For 20 years, first as a member and later as chairman of the New York Council on the Arts, she crisscrossed the state to support rural string quartets, small theater groups and inner-city dance troupes.

At another moment, she could be found performing on a cruise ship plying the Greek islands, as she was during her 90th year. Just last November, she sang George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” at the annual gala fund-raiser for Jazz at Lincoln Center. That followed a series of engagements in New York and other cities celebrating her 96th birthday. Miss Carlisle, as she was know professionally, also became a favorite of the first television generation as a regular on the game shows “To Tell the Truth” and “What’s My Line?”

As a young girl, she was taken around the capitals of Europe by her mother, whose ambition was to establish her daughter in a “brilliant” marriage, preferably to a prince. There were piano lessons, voice lessons and a grounding in the dramatic arts.

When a royal husband did not materialize, Miss Carlisle remembered, her mother would tell her, “You’re not the prettiest girl I ever saw, and you’re not the best singer I ever heard, and you’re certainly not the best actress I ever hoped to see, but if we put them all together, we’ll find the husband we’re looking for on the stage.”

She found that husband in the dramatist Moss Hart. They were married in 1946. In the years before he died, in 1961, they were at the center of New York’s glittering theatrical life.

The revue in which she broke into show business, “Rio Rita,” played the Capitol Theater on Broadway four or five times a day as the stage show between movies. She also played the “subway circuit” for one-week stands in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The show then went on the road for eight months.

Her next role, as the prince in a musical based on Strauss’s “Fledermaus,” won her a screen test and a Hollywood contract. In 1934, Miss Carlisle made her first movie, “Murder at the Vanities.” That same year she appeared in a movie called “She Loves Me Not,” in which she sang “Love in Bloom” with an up-and-coming crooner, Bing Crosby. She was paired with Crosby again that year in “Here Is My Heart.” In its review, The New York Times called her “a charming and gifted young woman who promises to make her mark in the cinema.”

The same was not said of her opera ambitions. Asked to sing “Alone” in the Marx Brothers spoof of the genre, “A Night at the Opera,” she was horrified to learn that she was expected to move her lips to the sound of someone else’s recording. She refused. For the next three days, her agent argued for her right to perform with her own voice. She won. For years, the song became something of a signature for her.

The collaboration with the Marx Brothers was as close as she came to opera until 31 years later, when, at the age of 56, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Prince Orlofsky in “Die Fledermaus.”

When Paramount found no more roles for her — “I was a meteoric bust,” she wrote in “Kitty: An Autobiography” (Doubleday, 1988) — Miss Carlisle returned to Broadway as the lead in “White Horse Inn” in 1936 and in “Three Waltzes” the next year. Brooks Atkinson, the drama critic for The Times, wrote that the show was “distinguished chiefly for the admirable singing and acting of Kitty Carlisle and Michael Bartlett.”

Miss Carlisle accepted jobs wherever they were offered, often in summer stock. She sang “The Star Spangled Banner” at many World War II bond rallies and appeared in the 1944 film “Hollywood Canteen.” In her later years, Miss Carlisle was seen around town with her latest beau, Roy R. Neuberger, the financier.

Until the end of her life, Miss Carlisle remained a svelte, attractive woman with dark, neatly coiffed hair that she said she colored herself. With a full mouth outlined in bright red lipstick, she burst easily into warm laughter. She was known for her grace and charm, but by her own account she was slightly eccentric, a trait she treasured because she believed it gave her a lot of leeway.

She practiced singing every day, exercised every morning (and was the first to tell anyone that she had beautiful legs, which she did) and believed that discipline was the key to life. In her last decades, she became a popular lecturer. She often told her audiences, “With a soupçon of courage and a dash of self-discipline, one can make a small talent go a long way.” In recent years, Encore Productions re-released her Decca operetta recordings from the 1940s and ’50s.

In her later years she performed occasionally in a one-woman show, “My Life on the Wicked Stage.” It was full of anecdotes about her friends Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Robbins and George and Ira Gershwin. She also appeared on stage in a Broadway revival of “On Your Toes” and made film appearances in “Six Degrees of Separation” and Woody Allen’s “Radio Days.”

“I’m more optimistic, more enthusiastic and I have more energy than ever before,” she said just after her 79th birthday. Energy, she said, came from doing the things she wanted to do.

“You get so tired when you do what other people want you to do,” she said. When she was 90, she started work on a second book.

She was indeed an optimist. As a girl, she once said, she would try to lift her mother out of her frequent dark and angry moods. “Oh, mummy,” she imitated herself saying, “it won’t rain and there will be a picnic and everybody will have a wonderful time.” She wrote in her autobiography that she started each morning by smiling at herself in the mirror.

She also wrote that she had captivated men. The playwright Norman Krasna wanted to marry her, George Gershwin proposed to her, and the financier Bernard Baruch wanted to leave his wife for her, she said.

She refused everyone, however, until she met Mr. Hart, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who, with George S. Kaufman, wrote “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and “You Can’t Take It With You” and who directed “My Fair Lady.”

Mr. Hart, a man of sparkle and wit, largely directed their lives as well, organizing their homes and their dinner parties, even choosing his wife’s wardrobe.

When Mr. Hart died of a heart attack in 1961, Miss Carlisle was devastated, she wrote, but she went on to live by his precept that “you can’t escape from life, you escape into it.” They had two children, Christopher, a producer, who lives in Hollywood, and Catherine Hart , a physician in New York. They and three grandchildren survive her. In her later years, working for the arts council, saw herself as a “Johnny Appleseed for culture,” especially in rural parts of New York State. “Wherever we go, the arts flourish,” she said. “It’s a cliché now that people say they want to make a difference, but I’d like to think that I somehow made a difference.”

In 1998, she was named a ”living landmark” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. The next year, she was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

Miss Carlisle was born Catherine Conn in New Orleans on Sept. 3, 1910. Her father, Joseph Conn, a doctor, died when she was 10 years old. Afterward, her mother, the former Hortense Holtzman, sold their house and took her daughter to New York and then to Europe, where the young Catherine was enrolled in Mont Choisi, a school overlooking Lac Léman in Switzerland. She ended her education at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, where she won a certificate.

She wrote that her mother, as critical as ever, saw her first performance, looked her straight in the eye and said, “My dear, we’ve made a ghastly mistake.”

She delighted in proving her mother wrong. “A career takes more than talent,” Miss Carlisle was fond of saying. “It takes character.” And perhaps stamina. Still working as a nonagenarian, she took her stage show on the road last fall, appearing in Atlanta, St. Louis and other cities.

“I’m 96,” she told The St. Louis Post Dispatch in October, “and I’m loving it.”

Kitty Carlisle Hart in 2003. The actress and arts advocate died on April 17 at the age of 96. More Photos »

Friday, April 13, 2007

Another W (or Fart Proudly)

W. As in Paul Wolfowitz.

Wolfowitz is the man who, as Deputy Defense Secretary, as architect of the Iraq war, promised our nation that Iraqis would welcome us with roses, that Iraqi oil would pay for the war.
His reward for such Wisdom, the presidency of the World Bank, arranged by President W. himself.

How has this Wolf managed the W. Bank, the mission of which is to end world poverty? Debatable. He did end one person's poverty, his mistriss of many years and tears, Shaha Ali Riza, an Arab feminist. He arranged for her to move to the State Department, to get a tax free salary of almost 200 thousand dollars, more than Secretary Rice.
Riza. Rice. Hmmm.

In this new job Riza got to work with Cheney's non-gay daughter and help that icon of America, Karen Hughes, project to the world a brave new image of the U.S.
Ah, Republican values: family, economy, liberating Iraq. Wolfie has mastered it all. And Ms. Riza surely puts Ms. Lewinsky to shame. How's that for feminism? And as for her Islamic roots, Riza shows the world how best to love what is Jewish.

It is just one more success story from the fairy-tale book of George II: "My Old Pet Goat."

Thanks to the Village Voice for the following:

He gets to play soldier one last time. We'll never forget him.


Cherie A. Thurlby/Defense Dept.

Pompous circumstance: Paul Wolfowitz, who never served in the military, salutes real soldiers honoring him Friday with a ridiculous ceremony at the Pentagon. Below are his daughter Rachel and ex-wife, Clare, sandwiched between Don Rumsfeld's wife, Joyce (right) and General Peter Pace's wife, Lynne. Not pictured is Wolfowitz's girlfriend, Shaha Ali Riza.


See also Richard Cohen:

Wolfowitz: Mission Accomplished?

To quote Ben Franklin,

Fart Proudly!


Thursday, April 12, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

How glad I am to have heard this man speak at Emory U. a few years ago. From Dresden to Iraq, Kurt Vonnegut saw the evil in our world, and offered us a humanist's alternative to it.

Enjoy his interview on Jon Stewart's the Daily Show. (click)

Kurt Vonnegut: America's darkest humorist

Photo courtesy of Edie Vonnegut

from Rolling Stone.

Playing chess with Kurt Vonnegut

Why should the pawns be the first to die, Vonnegut asked the 12-year-old. Let's see the knights and bishops take some heat!

Andrew Leonard

Apr. 12, 2007 | (Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday night in Manhattan. He was 84.)

When I was 12 years old I played chess with Kurt Vonnegut on a Thanksgiving Day in New York City.

I remember the moment more clearly than I can recall the last 10 Thanksgivings. The miasma of haze from a battalion of New York chain smokers, smoking like no one will ever smoke again. The buzz of conversation from buzzed writers zipping around my head like crazed dragonflies, beautiful and incomprehensible. Bursts of laughter, the reflection of light off martini glasses.

Vonnegut, his face of hangdog kindness with eyes locked in a permanent sad twinkle.

My father and Vonnegut were good friends. One trickle-down side effect of this was that, in between devouring Asimov and Heinlein and a score of other lesser science fiction lights, I was also handed by my Dad "The Sirens of Titan" and told, "Heinlein's a fascist, read this." Another perk was having him crouch down on the floor that Thanksgiving, eschewing the give and take of New York conversational tango, and invite me to play a game of chess.

On a whim, he suggested that we rearrange the board. Why did the pawns have to go in front, those sacrificial lambs about to be chewed up by the slaughter-house of the front lines, those powerless vassals of the high and mighty? Let's force the feudal lords out of their foxholes and into the hurly-burly!

Let's put the pawns in the back row, he proposed. Let's put the knights and bishops and kings and queens in the front rank!

Oh, the thrill of chess sacrilege!

Of course I was game -- how could I not be!? As we explored the craziness inherent in this new lineup, I had only a shred of comprehension as to how this casual act of ad-libbed creativity was of a piece with everything that Vonnegut represented, as an artist, as a writer who willed strange new worlds that spoke directly to all-too-familiar human dilemmas. Mostly, I figured him as a really nice guy who enjoyed messing with the head of an extremely dweeby 12-year-old.

And, well, shaking up the board like that was kind of weird.

And I liked it.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Skip forward 12 years, to 1986. Not my best year -- a year of mistakes, a year that I can look back on now and see as a key demarcation line between an endless American childhood and something approximating adulthood. But at that exact moment, dreariness and self-doubt reigned. I was living in Gainesville, Florida, working as a greeter at a Chinese restaurant and a hired hand for a catering company, waiting to hear whether a judge would let me escape an act of extreme stupidity and flee the country back to my budding obsession, Taiwan.

Then one day, a close friend called me up and told me that Kurt Vonnegut was giving a speech in Tallahassee. We should go, she said!

I was a little doubtful. It seemed like a strange way to connect back to him. In the intervening decade, I'm not sure I'd even seen Vonnegut a single time -- divorce had split my family up and splattered it across the East Coast. What would it be like to see him as a fanboy where once I had faced him across a topsy-turvy chess board? Would it be depressing? I was already depressed enough. I didn't relish the opportunity to unfavorably compare myself with the 12-year-old version of me.

But my friend was convincing. So we trooped off -- along with another friend -- to the Florida Panhandle, to see what Vonnegut looked like from a distance.

I'd be lying if I said I could remember a single word he said. But I remember we laughed and felt enlightened. Vonnegut had an incomparable way of mixing bleak pessimism with avuncular warmth. He could inspire even in the moments when he was underlining, highlighting and italicizing just how fucked up and criminally insane the world really was.

At the end of the speech, my friends urged me to lead all of us to the stage and see if we could chat with the great man himself. I was reluctant, but I had no actual choice. After a decade of dining out on the anecdote of how I dallied with Vonnegut in my parents' living room at age 12, I was in no position to shy away from him now.

There was a gatekeeper. She was reluctant to let us pass. The moment was fraught.

I told her, tell him the kid he played chess with on Thanksgiving is here.

It was weird enough to work. He appeared. His sad twinkle was intact. His warmth was overflowing. The two-hour car ride back to Gainesville was glorious, if only because, on that hot humid Florida summer night, Vonnegut proved that he was exactly as I remembered him.

One hell of a decent human being. We will no doubt hear, in the days to come, some insidious echo of the culture wars as the Vonnegut legacy is appraised and battled over. Already, the New York Times obit, (which, I hasten to note, fully gives the man his due), includes the sentence "His harshest critics called him no more than a comic book philosopher, a purveyor of empty aphorisms."

I'm sure Ann Coulter will have something even meaner to say.

All that is so much chaff. Kurt Vonnegut was a good man, a kind man, a mensch. Our world is a shallower, drearier place, without him. But anyone who has enjoyed any of his work, or been lucky enough to bask in his twinkle, can still rejoice, because we will always have him, in all his idiosyncratic twisted-chess perversity. The world is less without him, but it will always be more because of him.

-- Andrew Leonard

Rock the (Cat's) Cradle.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Bare Bones

 Bare Bones

What does it take to have a life-long, loving friendship with a bisexual philosopher ruled as much by passion as reason?

First and foremost it takes an infinite list of shared loves and values: philosophers, poets, music, art, films, adventure, non-conformist, creative urges and actions, Walking your Talk. And sacred time together to enjoy and share life, including going on the road together for unexpected adventures.

Then, it takes touch. Letting go of inhibitions, loving the other's body as the temple in which the person's mind/psyche lives. Accepting the other's body not unlike the way we accept our own, as a given. The exact right amount of sexual intimacy, no less, though possibly a bit more than needed.

Come to an understanding of what it means for two psyches to collide, to move to a higher plane than selfishness. A reconciliation of differences, an embrace of similarities to the point of enrichment. A living dialog about everything.

Trust and Honesty. Trust that you will do what you say you will. Trust even in small things, to be considerate, not take each other for granted, or abuse the friendship. Trust that allows you to let down your guard, remove your mask, take off your pants and experience something new. Trust that you will honor this love you have in words and in actions.

 At least once in your lifetime a passionate kiss. A kiss not because one or the other wants it, but because you both want it, hopefully while you are both alive.

January, 2012

It is not sex that gives the pleasure, but the lover.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Asheville Spring '07

Shoji Retreat, Asheville.

photo by Jameson

We celebrated spring by playing in the snowfall in Asheville, and soaking in the hot tub at Shoji (click).

Here are some photos:

Asheville Spring '07

We all enjoyed the local brew, the food, the art, and the nightlife of alternative Asheville. The city's progressive attitude and awareness was everywhere evident, from Malaprops Bookstore to the dancers of Scandals and other clubs.


The mountains of North Carolina
and the city of Asheville.

Here are a few photographs of previous treks to the Blue Ridge:

Looking Glass Falls

Brother John at the Devil's Courthouse

Dillard House Field

All Photos by Jameson

Asheville News


Our Photos of Asheville and friends


Blue Ridge Mountain photos

Our Asheville page

Happy Trails...


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Do the Locomotive

Vincent Kessler/Reuters

The black and chrome train with three double-decker cars bettered the previous record set in 1990. (see article below from the N Y Times)

From streetcars to commuter trains, at least the idea of riding in something besides an automobile is entering the heads of Georgians. Here's yet another letter to the AJC:


For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 04/04/07

Transit: Georgia behind the times

The same day that the AJC editorial board makes a strong plea for commuter rail in Georgia ("Sign it, already, Editorial, April 3), Europe announces that a train in France has clocked 357 mph, a speed that would get you from Atlanta to Savannah in about 45 minutes. The last time I drove that way, I hadn't passed the clogged junction of I-75 and I-675 in 45 minutes.

Despite the federal funding, Georgia's yellow-smog road crowd continues to oppose the most sensible transportation for the 21st century. What is it that fuels such stubborn resistance —- highway lobby greed, or just plain ineptitude?


And from the New York Times:

Published: April 4, 2007

BEZANNES, France, April 3 — A French high-speed train broke the world speed record on rail on Tuesday, reaching 357 miles an hour (574.8 kilometers) in a much publicized test in eastern France, exceeding expectations that it would hit 150 meters a second, or 540 kilometers an hour.

The train, code-named V150, is a research prototype meant to demonstrate the superiority both of the TGV high-speed train and of its probable successor, the AGV, which is also manufactured by the French engineering group Alstom. The performance on Tuesday came close to but did not break the world speed record for any train, set by an electromagnetic train in 2003.

The French railroad company SNCF and Alstom publicized the event as a test of “French excellence,” building on national pride for the 25-year-old bullet train.

The train reached its maximum speed in about 16 minutes at a site about 125 miles from Paris on a specially chosen sector of tracks of the new Eastern Europe TGV line, which will begin service between Paris and Strasbourg in June. The V150 train, with a reduced number of train cars and larger wheels, incorporates technological elements from the AGV.

SNCF and Alstom insist that the demonstration does not fulfill any immediate commercial purposes, but others say the speed could serve as a selling point in Asia and other markets.

“This world speed record is intended for research, to improve security and performance,” said Anne-Marie Idrac, the head of SNCF upon leaving the train. “And today the train that runs the fastest is the Eastern TGV. We don’t see the market today for such high speed.”

Alstom, the world high-speed train leader, with 21 percent of the market, is hoping it might parlay the record into sales, as its competitors — Siemens of Germany and Hitachi of Japan — have cut into Alstom’s lead in the competition for the market.

But Alstom has 70 percent of the market for trains that reach 270 kilometers (168 miles) an hour or more, Patrick Kron, Alstom’s chief executive, said in an interview.

“There are big developments to come in Europe, but also Latin America where we just announced we are competing for an order in Argentina,” Mr. Kron said.

High-speed trains are a potentially lucrative market in developing countries — China and India are the biggest markets, with China spending about 15 billion euros a year on its rail network, while India is looking at developing a high-speed train system.

Crowds gathered on bridges overlooking the rail tracks to watch the train race by, and national television broadcast live images from the train.

“It’s quite an achievement; I hope it’s going to help us sell a lot of TGV’s,” said Arnaud Delahaye, a 32-year-old technician from nearby Reims as he watched the V150 train from behind fences after its arrival at a purpose-built control center.

The Maglev from Japan holds the world record for a train with a speed of 581 kilometers (361 miles) an hour recorded in 2003; it uses electromagnetic technology, where the train does not actually touch the rail. This technology is more costly, typically runs shorter distances and is less compatible with existing rail networks.

High-speed trains have not caught on in the United States as they have in Europe, where TGV travel is generally considered faster transportation than air travel for distances that the TGV can cover in less than three hours.

France operates 400 TGV trains on about 1,100 miles of track built especially for high speeds.

Chugging On,