7/30/2008

Political Support?

Maybe you've noticed the political ad for Barack Obama on the sidebar and wondered if I'm getting back into politics.

The short answer is "no" but recent events have made me decide to take my tacit support for Obama public.

Let's face it, I'm not a big fan of either party really. However, all things being equal the Democrats are much less scary than the Republicans and their big business/theocracy agenda. So, I've been quietly supporting Obama because I like him better than Hillary Clinton whose husband was instrumental in the DOMA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Lately, though, John McCain has show his real colors and begun a Rove helmed, Lee Atwater style smear campaign against Obama. Lately, he's produced ads that equate Obama with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. He still has his anonymous email spammers sending out emails saying Obama is a muslim and his wife a racist. He has Fox news spouting "Hussein Obama" every two minutes while the gullible masses soak it in. In short, he knows he cannot compete against someone who has some original ideas, is personable, intelligent, and basically doesn't scare puppies and small children with his crypt keeper smile.

In the meantime, Obama has taken the high road and refused to belittle McCain. A very easy task as George W. Bush and Karl Rove can tell you. In 2000 in South Carolina they used some dirty tricks that cost McCain the nomination. Remember the famous "push polling" done when they insinuated that McCain had fathered black children out of wedlock? This accusation ultimately killed McCain in the still tacitly racist and moralist South.

But who spread that rumor on the ground? None other than Charlie Condon, Attorney General for the state of South Carolina. Condon spread the rumor that McCain's adopted Bangladeshi daughter was actually African and that McCain was her biological father and had never married her mother.

Who is now in the employ of John McCain helping to spread similar lies about Barack Obama? None other than Charlie Condon who continues to stir the race pot in the "progressive" South. How could someone hire a man who slandered his own daughter just 8 short years ago? It's a man desperate to win with very fluid morals and very little respect for his own family name.

So, with the toilet swirling direction of John McCain and his Good Ole Boy system, I've decided to actively support Barack Obama. Hopefully, those who profess to be wearying of "smear politics" will now completely abandon McCain and company and send the message that we will no longer stand for this Rove/Atwater style hijack of the political process and the national debate.

7/28/2008

True Colors... shining through...

With a nod to Cyndi Lauper, McCain has recently been letting his true colors come shining through. Despite his carefully crafted misanthrope persona in the Republican party when McCain is faced with becoming irrelevant in the campaign he resorts to mainstream Republican campaign tactics.

Recently, he has decided that attacking Barack Obama on his record won't win the election. As Obama has met with world leaders and delivered spine tingling speeches McCain has enjoyed sausages with backwoods Republican lapdogs like Lindsey Graham and enjoyed walking around supermarkets. (Thanks Jon Stewart!)

Now, McCain has decided that his only course is to employ the unsavory rhetoric of political spammers by questioning Obama's patriotism.

How sad that McCain values winning an election over sticking to his principles. Interestingly, Obama has not questioned Mr. McCain's sanity (as President Bush did a few years ago). If for no other reason that that, everyone should vote for Obama and leave McCain and the GOP sleaze machine in the dust along with their redneck rabble fans.

7/26/2008

Book Review

The Lords of Discipline The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was introduced to this book at Pat Conroy by my high school algebra teacher. She was reading the book just after it came out and suggested that we all read it. I think I may have been the only one who did.

I immediately fell in love with this work. Conroy's descriptions of Charleston are priceless. Some of my favorite quotes come from this book.

I return to this work yearly to explore my old friends once more and with each reading I find a nuance that I had overlooked in the past.

From the opening passages where Will McLean says that "walking the streets of Charleston in August is like walking through gauze or inhaling damaged silk." To the tragic, yet triumphant ending this book remains a fascinating snapshot of a period in southern history that is both specific and timeless.

A wonderful primer on the love/hate relationship many intelligent and progressive Southerners have with their own beloved part of the world.

View all my reviews.

7/21/2008

A Fish Out of Water...

There are times lately when I wonder if I'm drifting into a deep depression. I often find myself feeling anxious and irritable and at times utterly distraught.

I know that much of that comes from the fact that finding work here in Arizona has been one disappointment after another. Despite my various skills the job market here seems to be much worse than back east. Some days I send out as many as 10 or 15 resumes daily and yet I've only gotten one interview and then received a form letter telling me they decided to go with someone else.

Part of it is that the economic divide out here is much more pronounced that back east. Much of that has to do with the fact that the South went through so many years of economic depression after the Civil War that even "rich" families struggled. Here, there has never been that trial by fire. People here come from everywhere else and they bring with them some very interesting ideas about life, people, and work.

I've found that people are more accepting of social difference, but much less accepting of economic disparities.

Just today on the forums at my paranormal group I found many of the people whom I truly like personally being rather snide and uncaring of the economic plights of others. They think that people making minimum wage or barely more than that should just accept their lot and shut up complaining.

I suppose part of the feelings I have come from the fact that my background seems so different from most of the people I know here. In South Carolina, almost everyone I knew came from the same economic background or at least similar. Here, that's not the case at all.

My father was a mill worker. He began working in the mill when he was 16 years old. At the time, unless you were wealthy, there was no chance of going to college, in fact there was little chance of even finishing high school. He worked in the mill until World War II began. He then joined the army and fought overseas until the end of that war, taking part in the Normandy Invasion and every major European battle.

When he mustered out of the service he came back to South Carolina and picked up where he left off. He resumed his job at the mill and worked there until the mid 1980's. During that time he took one sick day. Other than that he never missed a day of work.

A cotton mill in the South was not a pleasant place to be employed. There was no air conditioning and the temperature climbed to well over 100 degrees in summer. In Winter it was cold and drafty. He came home each day covered in cotton residue and sweat.

During that time we lived hand to mouth. My mother had to take a job at a time when most women did not work outside the home. She worked as a clerk in a shoe store making a bit more than minimum wage. Her employer was actually exempt from paying minimum wage because he had only two employees, but he paid more than that because he valued his employees and knew they could not survive making only a few dollars an hour. He lived modestly so that his employees could survive.

Meanwhile, the major corporations shipped more and more work overseas. By the mid 80's the cloth manufacturing business was dead in the United States. Three weeks before my father was eligible for retirement the mill shut down. He was not give any sort of retirement benefits or package. He was just told to shut off the lights on his way out. He was the last man out the door, literally, before they were locked forever. I still have a Christmas ornament made from the last thread spun in that mill.

When I was a kid we didn't have a lot. I lived in a trailer park and all my friends as a small child also lived there. We didn't have any class conflicts because, well, we were all in the same boat. For vacation, if I was lucky I'd get to go to Florida and maybe Disney World for a couple of days but for a lot of my early years my "vacation" consisted of a trip to Myrtle Beach, sometimes going down in the morning, changing into a swimsuit in the bathroom and coming back that night.

Later, on things got a little better. My brother moved to San Diego and my parents would scrimp all year to buy me a plane ticket so I could spend the summer with him. Those were some of my favorite memories of childhood - going to such an "exotic" place like San Diego!

I was lucky to get to attend college thanks to loans and a new program for children of people who'd lost their jobs when the mills closed. That enabled me to have a better job than either of my parents when I went into medicine. Still, after almost ten years of call and stress I was at my wits end.

Since then I've had a few other jobs, some I loved and some I didn't. I've worked for people who truly cared about their employees like Bob and Sutji Gunter at Midlands Antiques and I've worked for people whose saw their employees as strictly cogs in a money making machine.

Now, I find myself desperately seeking work and finding that it simply isn't possible. Because of the transplant I've been out of the job market for three years. I finally decided the other week to "upgrade" my skills by returning to school only to find that I can't take any classes because everyone is "wait listed" for seats. So, what do I do?

It's in this environment, that I run across the cavalier attitudes of so many of my friends in the paranormal group who cast disdain on people who don't have the opportunities they do and seem morally opposed to people working in low paying jobs getting any sort of decent wages or benefits.

That attitude stuns me and I've never run into it before in the South. Sure, it's the most Republican area of the country, but Southern Republicans thrive on the social dogma of the party - racial divisions, homophobia, religious intolerance. They are not so wedded to the economic policies of profits over people. It's a strange dichotomy and I seem to have traded one for the other.

So, right now I feel like a fish out of water. I feel "homesick" at times but I don't know if I'm "homesick" because I truly miss the South or I just want to escape the foreign attitudes I run up against here.

Maybe I just miss the familiar arguments and all those points that various friends and I have agreed to disagree on over the years. After all, when you've known people for 30+ years sometimes you can argue about something and know that it will pass. However, when you find yourself on the defensive with people you've just met it's much more unsettling.

Fish out of water, out on a limb, working without a net. My life right now feels like all of those things. Honestly, were it not for a couple whom we met through the paranormal group and who've become dear and kind friends, I'm not sure I'd be able to last out here right now.

For now, I'm trying to stay positive but it's difficult. I think I need water, the smell of a marsh, someone to say "oh, hon, it's all right" in a soft drawl. But, in the meantime, I'll pray for this thunderstorm I hear in the distance to break and be content with the torrents of a desert monsoon.

7/12/2008

The Fluidity of Language

Everyone has heard of Jesse Jackson's "accidental" comments on Fox News where he accused Barack Obama of "talking down" to African-Americans and shared the fact he would like to "cut his nuts off".

If you read the NY Times coverage of the event they got the "talking down" part but pretty much glossed over the desire of Jackson to castrate a major party candidate and member of his own race.

According to a column in the NY Times today the reason they didn't mention the more graphic and more revealing comment was that they're just too nice.

But I’m sympathetic to Winfield and Strum, editors trying to maintain a civil New York Times in uncivil times.

As potty-mouth language spews from the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, from rappers, rock bands, Hollywood movies, the Broadway stage, modern literature, cable television, the Internet and people on the sidewalk talking into their cellphones, The Times and other news media face a tough choice — just where to draw the line on words once thought unfit for what used to be called polite company.

That's from Clark Hoyt the Public Editor for the Times. It also points out just how out of touch they are with the real world and the changing social norms.

After all, he used the word "nuts" I doubt few people would cringe at that word today. My grandfather used that word!

When we can turn on the TV to "America's Funniest Home Videos" or "Most Outrageous" and see man after man getting slapped, punched, kicked, or otherwise struck in the nuts - are we really too squemish to say the word?

Mr. Hoyt makes the point in his lament of the decline of "polite" language that language is fluid. Words that were once perfectly acceptable are today taboo. Words that were once taboo are today perfectly acceptable.

After all, it was perfectly proper 200 years ago to use the word "piss" in polite conversation. You find it in medical books, diaries, letters, pretty much anywhere someone needed to refer to the act of urination or to urine.

Today, however, that word is taboo. I'm sure the Times would throw itself into a moral quandry over whether to print it.

Sixty years ago Clark Gable said, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." at the end of "Gone With the Wind". That single profanity shocked the nation and outraged polite citizens from coast to coast. I can still remember my mother saying how shocking it was to hear "that word" on screen.

Yet today, damn is nothing. It finds its way even into the most austere newspapers. So, in sixty years the stigma of such a "curse word" has diminished.

Hopefully, the folks at the Times will realize when a major figure says he wants to cut the nuts off of a candidate for the Presidency of the United States then the words he used are news. They show us a glimpse of this man's very bizarre psyche and show him for the common thug he really is.

After all, Jackson often bragged about tampering with white patrons food when he waited tables in the 50's in Greenville, SC. Not exactly what Ghandi, Thoreau, or King had in mind with non-violent protest, Jesse.

The Storm Passes

It is impossible to ever have worked in surgery and not know the name Michael DeBakey. After all, on almost every procedure you will use "DeBakey Forceps" an instrument used for picking up and handling tissue better known as "DeBakeys". If you're working on chest trauma you're going to probably use a DeBakey clamp to shut off the blood flow on large arteries like the Aorta.

But beyond the instruments you will hear surgeons talk about the "Texas Tornado" and his legendary temper and his almost God like skill in surgery.

Michael DeBakey enjoyed one of the longest active careers of any surgeon. He was born in 1908 in Lake Charles, Louisiana and his drawl was famous among surgical residents who endured his biting criticism when performing poorly in the O.R.

During World War II he worked with the Surgeon General's office and helped to develop the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (M.A.S.H.)

In 1948 he took a position at Baylor in Houston, Texas. From there he would achieve some of the greatest advancements in cardiac surgery. He developed artificial grafts to replace diseased or damaged arteries. He developed one of the first artificial hearts which led to his famous feud with the other great cardiac surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley. DeBakey claimed that Cooley's artificial heart design had been stolen from the one under development at Baylor. Cooley had previously worked for DeBakey on the development of the design and after review the American College of Surgeons took DeBakey's part and censured Cooley.

DeBakey's nickname, "The Texas Tornado" came about both by benefit of his legendary temper and also because of his legendary work ethic. DeBakey dedicated his life to surgery and his patients. His temper was usually triggered by inefficiency or errors on the part of his residents on whom he depended to handle his massive case load.

Dr. DeBakey died Friday night at the Methodist Hospital in Houston. He had practiced at Methodist since its split with Baylor in 2004.

''You fight (death) all the time, and you never really can accept it," he once said. ''You know in reality that everybody is going to die, but you try to fight it, to push it away, hold it away with your hands."

DeBakey was preceded in death by his sons, Houston lawyer Ernest O. DeBakey, who died in 2004, and Barry E. DeBakey, who died in 2007. In addition to his wife, Katrin, and their daughter, Olga, DeBakey is survived by sons Michael DeBakey of Lima, Peru, and Denis DeBakey, of Houston; brother Dr. Ernest G. DeBakey, of Mobile, Ala., and sisters Lois and Selma DeBakey, both medical editors and linguists at Baylor.

7/04/2008

It's Called INDEPENDENCE Day!

Let's get something very clear. The name of the holiday we're celebrating today in the United States is Independence Day. It is not "The Fourth".

Why, you may ask is that distinction important? Very simply put, it is because we have lost sight of the original cause of celebration. Especially since 9/11 "the fourth" has replaced Independence Day as we've moved from a celebration of the basic freedoms on which this country was founded to an increasingly militaristic display that is actually an extension of our main military holiday, Memorial Day.
Even the most inane celebratory functions can not resist the urge to turn this into a holiday celebrating our military prowess (or our delusion of said prowess). Moments ago I received an email "E-Card" from an old friend. I opened it thinking it might be a belated birthday greeting only to find my eyes and ears assaulted by blaring patriotic music and an appeal to "remember our brave troops on this day".

That's all well and good. However, my friend is mistaken in her belief that this is a military holiday or in any way connected with the military.

Independence Day celebrates one thing and one thing only - our establishment of the United States of America through a daring act of treason. Thanks to some folks who thought outside the box in 1775-1776 we broke with Great Britain over a number of issues - not the least of which was money.

In the Summer of 1776 in the midst of a rebellion these individuals representing the 13 original British Colonies met in Philadelphia. Under the hand of Thomas Jefferson the Declaration of Independence was given form. Introduced on July 4, 1776 this document has served as the truest explanation of the "soul" of the USA for over 200 years.

Take a moment to read the famous Preamble:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Wow! Most people remember that first part, but how many remember the latter part? Let us not forget our country was founded by revolutionaries. Somehow along the way we've forgotten that bit of history.Today any dissent from the "status quo" - that is the despotic rule of a single political party in large areas of the country, a President who has trampled upon rights and liberties and engaged in illegal acts against his own people, even expressing concerns about current foreign policy and wars - any dissent is seen as "unpatriotic", "unamerican", or "hateful".

Read those words again? Those labels were applied to the men who wrote those words. Well, maybe not "unamerican" but certainly treasonous. Would those same men find speaking out against the abuses of our government wrong? Hardly!

So many Americans today shrug their shoulders at the usurpations of our own petty tyrant and say "Well, times have changed, sacrifices must be made to keep us free and safe."

Interestingly, the very words in that Preamble arose out of the same sort of crisis. In the 1750's Great Britain and France fought an extended "World War". In Europe it was known as the Seven Years War. In the American Colonies it was known as the French and Indian War. During this time France attempted invasions of British Colonial territory in America. British troops were sent to America to help the colonists fight off the French. They eventually won and Great Britain gained Canada as a colony as well. But what of the French? They were still in Louisiana and had outposts in the Carribean. Not to mention the huge French populace in Quebec.

Great Britain decided the best thing to do was keep some troops in the colonies in case hostilities broke out again or the French tried to use their Native American allies to raid settlements along the borders. Very reasonable if we use today's arguments for "security".

But, all those troops and that American "Surge" were pretty expensive. So, Parliament (not the King) decided to raise taxes on goods in America to help pay for all this - after all - they had the good sense to know you can't do all this with no money.

The American colonists, however, objected to any new taxes. Rumbling and protests began. Much like their progeny 200+ years later, they liked the "security" part as long as someone else footed the bill.

Skip ahead to 1775. Protests have turned violent, harbors have been closed, and finally when the government attempted to seize militia armories open rebellion began and the American Revolution was launched.

If we use today's sensibilities that the "government knows best" how to protect us from terrorists or harm, that they know best how to manage our money by bankrupting the country, and that they know best how to protect us by curtailing our basic freedoms; then certainly we cannot fathom why our forefathers broke with Great Britain on July 4, 1776.

Perhaps that is why Independence Day has become "The Fourth" and no longer do you hear the Declaration of Independence read publicly. Perhaps that is why this has become a "military" holiday where we celebrate our military might and forget those stirring and bloody words of 1776 in a haze of fireworks, beer, and barbecues.

After all, those guys would be considered "unAmerican" today!

So, while the rest of the country celebrates "The Fourth" I'll celebrate Independence Day with the spirit of revolt and change that our Founding Fathers embodied. I will still hold that all men are created equal and are entitled to equal protection and equal rights under the law.

Today I will celebrate by continuing to speak against the abuses of our government with "extraordinary rendition". I will speak against the theocritization of our government by people like Cathi Herrod who deny all men are created equal. I will speak against unjust wars because I do believe all men are entitled to life - even if they don't live here. I will fight against draconian laws that deprive people of liberty because of misguided policies. All of those are very American qualities as evidenced by the Declaration of Independence.

So, will you join me or do you prefer the hot dog, fireworks, and platitudes about "freedom" by country music singers?

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