"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On giving thanks

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and I'd like to write something poignant and profound about how thankful I am to still be alive, considering that five years ago after being told I had a terminal lung illness, I would not have given you good odds on the possibility of my being here to write this today. Or how I'm thankful (and quite amazed!) that after a long and divisive election process, we're witnessing a transition of power practically unheard of in the history of American politics: the president and president-elect acting like co-presidents, consulting and cooperating on the day's biggest crises, that gives me great hope for the future of our country. Or how I'm thankful for all my online friends here, and how I wish y'all a wonderful weekend with your families and loved ones.

But I'm having a hard time latching onto the Thanksgiving holiday in a meaningful way that doesn't sound clichéd, so instead let me submit a guest commentary from someone who uses words much better than I do: Leonard Pitts, Jr. of The Miami Herald.

Because it's not just about turkey, apple pie and football. Happy Thanksgiving, folks.


I was crammed into a middle seat. The guy in front was practically in my lap, and I had my arms drawn in tightly as I pecked furiously on the keyboard. God glanced over. "What are you working on?" He asked.

"A column," I said. "About you, in fact."

He lifted an eyebrow. "Oh? What did I do now?"

"Well, not you per se," I admitted. "It's about this atheist group, the American Humanist Association. They stirred up folks in Washington, D.C., recently by running a billboard on the buses. It said, 'Why believe in a god?'"

God was curious, so I passed Him the computer. Just then, the plane lurched violently. The guy next to me spilled his drink and muttered a curse. God paid no attention. When He finished reading, He passed the computer back. "That's not about me," He said. "It's about defending their right to free speech."

"Sure," I said. "What else would I do?"

God shrugged. "Why not just answer their question?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well you know," He said, "you've got that Thanksgiving holiday coming. Might be appropriate to remind people of whom they're thankful to."

I considered it. "That could be a good idea," I said.

He gave me a look. "OK, OK," I said, "all your ideas are good. But you know, proving you exist is a heavy-duty philosophical chore. I suppose I could go with the complexity-of-life argument, talk about how if people see something as unremarkable as a cardboard box they assume it had a maker, but if they see something as intricately designed as a person -- or heck, an amoeba -- some folks say, Oh, it just...happened."

God was unimpressed. "I don't need you to prove I exist," He said. "I am the great I am, remember? Besides, that billboard doesn't ask for proof of my existence. It asks, why believe? Isn't that a fair question?" He gave me an expectant look.

I looked past Him, out the window. We floated above a deck of clouds, the sun falling toward the horizon, the whole world the color of gold. It was like poetry in midair. I said, "I believe because I've seen you. And because I've heard you."

The plane jolted again. Two rows behind, a baby started shrieking, hitting notes I'd have sworn were impossible for a human larynx. The man ahead of me shifted heavily in his seat. My tray table pressed hard against my stomach.

God gave a smile that I couldn't read.

"It's not all poetry in the sky," He said. "Where you see poetry, somebody else sees only a flaming ball of gas circling the earth, light refracted through crystals of ice and pollution in the air. Where you see eternity, someone else sees an ocean. Where you hear my voice, someone else hears thunder."

"What are you getting at?" I asked.

"What do you see then?" He said. "What do you hear when no one else sees or hears? When you walk in places where no one knows your name? When you curse the brokenness of your own life? When flood and famine strike the wretched and the vulnerable? When the diagnosis is cancer? Do you see me then? Do you hear me then?"

It took me a moment. "Sometimes," I said finally. "Not always." I thought about it a second, then added: "But I'm always trying."

"Why?" asked God.

I looked past Him. The sun seemed to be sinking into the clouds. The sky was growing dark. "Because nothing else makes sense to me," I said.

God smiled.

The captain announced that we were about to land. We were asked to shut down and stow our electrical equipment. The guy in front returned his seat to its full upright and locked position. The baby kept squalling. Moments later, the plane touched the tarmac. It had been an awful flight, and I was glad to be home.

"Thank God," I whispered.

"You're welcome," He said.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Musings of an entry-level life form

I've always enjoyed watching Boston Legal, for many reasons; the characters (especially William Shatner as Denny Crane) are quirky and memorable, I love seeing the exterior shots of the Boston area where I grew up, and the writing is in-fucking-credible. David E. Kelly loves to rip story lines right from the headlines, and isn't afraid to skewer the likes of Big Tobacco or the pharmaceutical industry, or take on other ethical challenges like assisted suicide or neglect of military veterans -- all in a very "theater of the absurd" sort of way.

I also like that the show often espouses an unapologetically liberal point of view, and this week's episode was a classic: it featured former Saturday Night Live star Cheri Oteri as a woman fired by her boss for voting for John McCain -- not, as her boss claimed, due to her political views, but because this fact demonstrated that she was an idiot and therefore too stupid to work for him. (As you might imagine, this plot has rankled the living shit out of the right, which only makes me enjoy it more.)

In his presentation to the judge, James Spader as attorney Alan Shore makes the following argument (emphasis added):
The unassailable right to vote is the core principle of any democracy. And people have the right to cast their ballot for whomever they want– for good reasons or for bad reasons or for no reason at all. Let’s face it, your honor, we as a nation are horribly uninformed when it comes to politics ... today our news programs consist solely of sensational headlines and sound bites. People forgo newspapers for the internet, where instead of relying on credentialed journalists, they turn to these bloggers – sort of entry-level life-forms that intellectually have yet to emerge from the primordial ooze. This is how we’ve gotten the elected officials we’ve gotten.

I think I ... er ... kinda like that.

As you may know, this is the show's fifth and last season, and in fact production on the big two-hour finale was just completed last week, followed by a bittersweet wrap party Saturday night at LA's Cicada Restaurant. (Oh, to have been a fly on that wall.) I'll miss the show, but just like my other favorite legal drama "Law And Order", I'm sure it will be around in reruns for quite a while still. Let me close with a tribute to some of the show's best moments, set to a Matchbox Twenty soundtrack.

Then I'm going to go have a cigar and a scotch on the patio, and climb back into the primordial ooze.

PS: If anyone's keeping score, this entry is the 500th post since I began the blog just over three years ago. Yay me!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Breaking News


On Tuesday night, just minutes after their party's longstanding tradition of losing elections lay in tatters on the ground, millions of shell-shocked Democrats stared at their television screens in disbelief, asking themselves what went right.

For Democrats, who have become accustomed to their party blowing an election even when it seemed like a sure thing, the results were a bitter pill to swallow.

The head-shaking and finger-pointing over the demise of the Democrats' losing streak, which many of the party faithful had worn like a badge of honor, reached all the way to the upper echelons of the Democratic National Committee.

"Believe me, I'm as shocked by these results as anybody," said DNC chief Howard Dean, who indicated he has received hundreds of calls from incredulous party members. "We did everything in our power to screw this thing up."

Dean pointed to several key elements the Democrats put in place to ensure defeat, ranging from "a rancorous primary campaign" to "the appointment of me."

"Somehow, despite our best efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, we won," he said. "I came in here with a mandate to blow this thing and I didn't get it done."

Carol Foyler, a lifelong Democrat who owns a loom supply store in Portland, Maine, said she has been "nearly catatonic" since the election results were announced. "For the past eight years, I've fixed myself some herbal tea, turned on NPR, and ranted about the Republicans," she said. "All that has been taken from me."

Elsewhere, Sen. John McCain offered this comment on Sen. Barack Obama's victory: "My friends, I've got him just where I want him."

Source: The Borowitz Report

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

America Fuck Yeah

I love this country.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Now what?

My God, is it over yet? After countless months of campaign rhetoric, it all comes down to today: by the time you read this, chances are very good that Barack Obama will have been officially elected the 44th president of the United States. And it won't be just a narrow victory that the Republicans can steal (again) with their dirty tricks and armies of lawyers; I say it will be a freakin' landslide -- what Newsweek's Markos Moulitsas calls "the utter rejection of conservative ideology." After eight years of dwelling in darkness, folks like me can finally come out of the closet and once again breathe the sweet, fresh air in a nation where "liberal" is no longer a dirty word.

OK, so what happens next?

76 days from today when he is inaugurated, President Obama will assume the most challenging job that has probably faced any individual in modern times, and expectations for his performance are sky-high. Between the battered economy and a huge deficit at home, two wars that have stretched our armed forces perilously thin, the rise of terrorism and a decline in America's global image coupled with a changing power dynamic abroad, the man is going to have his work cut out for him. The pressures will be enormous and he could stumble, which would no doubt delight his naysayers. Thankfully, however, he will not have to deal with these issues in isolation; a crisis tends to mobilize people and bring them together, and he will have the best and brightest minds in the country available to help solve our many problems.

But for the first time in years, today I have optimism as I look forward from this historic moment. It's finally time for the change and reform we have hoped for, time to end the arrogance and deceit of the Bush administration. As diplomat Richard N. Haass puts it, "My reading of things is that the American people are ready to be leveled with."

Let the leveling begin.