Monday, June 18, 2007

Not all flames smoke

Seems the word “fag” means a cigarette in merry old England. Who knew?

My friend and fellow blogger Brendan turned me on to a raucous (though fortunately not coprophagous, despite the unsettling title) blog from across the pond, and after posting only two small comments, I have been overwhelmed with praise!

This cannot be a good thing: the ego boost fleeting, the addiction to praise driving me to ever higher cleverness, til last I am reduced to the base status of pontificating pundit. I can even now hear the sirens singing...

Monday, June 4, 2007

Procrastinational President Unaspiring

Wordsmith award of the day goes to (the speechwriter for) Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who while deriding Bush's feint to the left in announcing plans for a new effort against global warming, accuses Bush of deliberating starting an initiative he knew he could not complete:

“A better way of putting what the White House said yesterday is that the president's goals are not aspirational, they're procrastinational.”

Excerpt taken from the June 3, 2007 article in the LA Times by Maura Reynolds titled A sudden barrage of ideas from Bush.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Extortion at the World Bank

It takes a man with powerful friends to shake down the World Bank. For those with an Orwellian taste for newspeak, check out the official statements of Paul Wolfowitz and the World Bank board of directors regarding his resignation.

For those with a weaker stomach, they say respectively:

“I'll leave if you beg me to stay, otherwise I'll stay and make your life a living hell!”

“Love you, mean it. Now get the hell out!”

Why they bother I'll never know. Who is fooled by this theater of the absurd?

My favorite Wolfowitz quote is:

Finally, I want to say a special word of thanks to the many people inside and outside the Bank who have publicly or privately expressed their support for me and asked me to stay. One of the most moving was a phone call I received from the democratically elected President of a Sub-Saharan African country. It was a private call so I will not quote him by name. But he thanked me for doing so much, in his words, to make the World Bank an institution “that listens, that cares, that understands and that takes action.” If that is true, and if I have “touched the hearts of Africans,” as he told me, then the last two years have been worth it.

Honi soit qui bien y pense!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Unrequited Love

Because I liked you better
  Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
  To throw the thought away.

To put the world between us
  We parted, stiff and dry;
‘Good-bye,’ said you, ‘forget me.’
  ‘I will, no fear’, said I.

If here, where clover whitens
  The dead man's knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
  Starts in the trefoiled grass,

Halt by the headstone naming
  The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
  Was one that kept his word.

        A.E. Housman, More Poems, XXXI

He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?
  He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand, and tore my heart in sunder,
  And went with half my life about my ways.

        A.E. Housman, Additional Poems, VII

Friday, May 4, 2007

Who shall guard the guardians themselves?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?    — Juvenal, ca. 100 AD

Our Constitution has not been this stretched since the Civil War. The current President once famously looked into the eyes of Vladimir Putin and declared him a "good man", who has ever since been steadily dismantling democracy in Russia. The President has himself put suspects in Guantanamo, beyond the reach of our courts, because they were apparently self-evidently "bad men". Now apparently numerous of these "bad men" are being released without a trial.

It is time to admit that no one, saint or sinner, can look into another's eyes and see anything of value. Due process, habeas corpus, public trial by jury, right to face the accuser, right to see evidence, right to competent and independent representation, these are the best we can do. Torture, kidnapping (rendition), and secret detention are being shamefully associated with our country.

America is at its best in hope, and at its worst in fear. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, words this President might have done well to utter on 9/11 (instead of "bring it on!"). Congress can end the fear and start the long process of stitching our Constitution back together. Hope, not fear, will overcome our enemies and win back our friends.

The U.S. Congress must immediately undertake the following:

  • Restore the right of habeas corpus and oversight by the Federal courts over all prisoners in U.S. custody once removed from an active battlefied.
  • Declare categorically that torture is not only illegal, but repugnant and anti-American, and that any official engaging in it can face criminal prosecution.
  • Close the internment camps at Guantanamo which are seen overseas as the Abu Graib of the West.
  • Restore the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law open to the public.
  • Restore the balance of our tripartite government, which has tilted perilously far to the Executive. Declare in a Congressional resolution that Executive "signing statements" are vacuous: it is the Congress that legislates, not the President.
  • Denounce, from whatever quarter or political party, false charges of insufficient patriotism or support for the troops in combat. Such McCarthyite chicanery is foolhardy and dangerous when weighty matters of national importance are discussed: this is truly the last refuge of a scoundrel.
  • Remind the people that civilians run our military, not a junta, and that it is not only their right but their duty to question the strategy and direction of war, set benchmarks for Iraq's government — and for our own.
  • Refuse to confirm out of principle any interim appointment not submitted for Senate confirmation at the first opportunity.
  • Assume the burden of oversight that our Constitution demands of the Congress.

Members of Congress, you should take Sen. Robert Byrd's advice and keep a small copy of our Constitution in your vest pocket at all times, so that you will be reminded daily what it is that "shall guard the guardians themselves", for mere mortals are not up to the task. You can show your respect to this great document by passing the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007. This issue is too important for partisanship. Please act now before it becomes one, or our red/blue population will start to tear apart.

Our troops are fighting to defend the Constitution against foreign enemies. We must do our part to defend it against domestic ones. Only in working together will America again earn the admiration of the world. Our Constitution can unite the people. At these divisive times, it is the only thing that can. The alternate scenario, rounding up all the coins in circulation and scratching off the E pluribus unum motto, is too horrible to contemplate.

I am not usually a believer in the efficacy of petitions, but desperate times call for desperate belief-suspending. Please sign the ACLU petition to restore the right of habeas corpus.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Ô Centrafrique, Reprends ton droit au respect!

The Central African Republic gets no respect.

Its founding president Barthélemy Boganda (a Catholic priest) attempted to unite the newly dissolved colony of French Equatorial Africa into a post-colonial state, but had to settle for the smallest and poorest part in 1958 after the the other parts of the former FEA refused to take part.

The CAR has since been all but forgotten about by the rest of the world. It is written about so rarely (even in African publications such as Jeune Afrique) that almost no American even knows where it is (though its very name describes the location!) It is the hidden jewel north of Congo (formerly Zaire), south of Chad, west of Sudan (sharing a border with the Darfur region), and east of Cameroon, a beautiful and well-kept secret of a country of over 100 tribes living more or less peacefully together, albeit under the strong neocolonial influence of the French.

Having been so long ignored, it is sad that the first major article about the CAR in the New York Times, titled “Wedged Amid African Crises, a Neglected Nation Suffers”, describes the almost inevitable decline of law and order long seen elsewhere in Africa. It would not be absurd to see this as the logical consequence of the slow decline of French interest (and money) in the region. Every crisis in Central Africa has started with the same common trigger: soldiers not getting paid.

I was fortunate enough to spend two years there teaching secondary mathematics in the U.S. Peace Corps. At the time, everyone but the French decried the none-too-subtle hand of French neocolonialism, and we all believed that once they left, the CAR would “retake its right to respect”, as the national anthem urges. It was in hindsight perhaps a bit naive. I guess we will find out whether Camus was right that it is better to die on one's feet than live on one's knees, though in fairness I did not see anyone on their knees literally or figuratively while the French were there.

The strangest part of all this is that the most salient feature of (southern) CAR culture was laughter. They were constantly telling (and retelling) the same jokes, snapping their fingers, boasting in crescendoing hyperbole. If some wali [woman] gave me lip over something I was supposedly doing wrong, I would just smile and say, "Mama" like a mischievous child, and her anger would melt and we would both burst out laughing and follow up with the obligatory and ubiquitous slapping handshake, each contributing one half of a snap with the middle finger (harder than it sounds). The louder the snap, the better the bond. I never got it before, but you just can't stay mad at someone whose hand you have just clasped, rubbed, and snapped in one graceful motion. The snap just hangs in the air like a moment of clarity.

Being from German stock, I wasn't raised with excessive laughter, and never felt authentic in this ritual (which I dutifully participated in anyway to ease my stay there), but now I miss it. When I tell the same joke more than once to the same person here, I get a groan instead of a laugh. I think I like the Central African way better.

I hope when the turmoil stops, Central Africans will still be able to laugh. It is after all one of their greatest strengths. I am glad I was there to hear it firsthand.


Thanks to Brendan Keefe for sending me the NY Times link above.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

At least Ann Coulter would say it to my face!

If Ann Coulter should ever call me fag,
She'll be denounced, although she won't have lied,
A bigot's claims are easy to ignore,
Thus vainly thinking she's a witless hag,
The merits of her argument untried.
Who's also made a faggot of Al Gore,

John Edwards she has called a faggot too,
"I'm not a fag but even if I were..."
From victim to accomplice she has turned
In four small words, poor Johnny boy is through,
A straight man he must avidly aver
to be, lest by the South unfairly spurned.

"I'm not a fag", her victim proud denies
Misplaced rebuke containing deeper truth
Revealed is Liberal hypocrisy
"Good thing that I am not" he thus implies,
Her drive and wit perverted and uncouth,
Yet drives me to accuse society

Hell bent on saving us weak thin-skinned gays
From seeming slander when some bigot call
Us fag, when faggot's what we truly are
I'm proud of it and in so many ways
O'ercome oppression, learned to stand up tall
From so far down and risen up so far

Soft bigotry and shame but not from Ann
Comes slander camouflaged as friendship from
Our straight friends, closeted, afraid to say
That gay is fine until their son's a man
And brings his boyfriend home to parents dumb,
For this great freedom parents paved the way

Has wickedly repaid them with a curse.
Ann Coulter's feckless stabs do not compare
With those that truly wound us where we lie,
With foes like Coulter it would be much worse
To turn on friends whose real opinion dare
Not speak its name, whilst hard-earned ego die.

    — Dan Weston, 7 March 2007

The structure of this ode is inspired by the brilliant Sonnet 138 of William Shakespeare.

It is also an earnest plea to both our well-meaning limousine liberal friends and our own leaders in the gay-rights movement to spend less time protecting our feelings and more time defending our rights. It is the right to marry, not kind words from bigots, that I seek. Eyes on the prize!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Thought and Action

I am a strong advocate of lifelong education, I just despair of ever putting it to good use. Some quotes for today:

You are on the battlefield. It is no longer the time to polish your gun, you must shoot.

  — Stendhal as quoted by Prosper Mérimée, HB (1850). Translation taken from Simon L. Altmann, Rotations, Quaternions, and Double Groups, Ch. 15.

It is not society's fault that most men seem to miss their vocation. Most men have no vocation.

  — George Santayana, The Aristocratic Ideal, Ch. IV. Quote taken from Wikiquote.

Those who act without thinking seek failure. Those who think without acting find it.

  — Dan Weston, Rantings of a Crazed Lunatic, "Thought and Action".

Thursday, February 1, 2007

To Boldly Go...

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Should it not be to go boldly? Or perhaps even boldly to go?

The mission objectives are in reverse order of causality: first you go, then you seek, lastly you find and explore. The order must therefore be a crescendo of purpose. James Tiberias Kirk is the new Ulysses: To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Boldly is a not merely a descriptive, nor even restrictive, adverb. It is an essential adverb, the very purpose of going: not primarily to go anywhere, not even to go boldly, but to be bold in going.

A bad-ass James T. Kirk, powered by the finest starship a bad-ass Federation (read: America) can provide, is boldly going to show those aliens that there is a new bad-ass in town, bringing with him a New Galactic Order, along with a Prime Directive seemingly invented only so that when we (of course we, not Kirk anymore) break it — and are seen to be breaking it — aliens will understand that they cannot use legalistic casuistry to defeat us: the sword is truly mightier than the pen.

The phrase to boldly go where no man has gone before is written to hit the high notes when read aloud: bold, no, fore. We are the strong, we are the first. The man is in there to acknowledge (then dismiss) the obvious fact that every alien in the galaxy got there before us, but presumably none started out boldly. They slinked into space to conquer and pillage, or (worse) to join some larger community of soft-minded naifs who think that wishing makes it so.

We are no mere overlords like the Romulans, no mere warriors like the Klingons, no mere profiteers like the Ferengi, and certainly no mere prophets like the Vulcans. We are all this and more: we are missionaries.

We go boldly, but we do not go first. We follow the Macedonians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Spaniards, the British. We bring the Pox Americana.

Kirk dared to ask in Star Trek V: “What does God need with a starship?”. What indeed.

George W. Bush is the new James T. Kirk. Don't worry about splitting that bold infinitive. Go boldly forth, O Great Decider. It is, alas, what you do best.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Those Living In Glass Closets Should Not Throw Stones

The outing of Grey's Anatomy star T.R. Knight by costar Isaiah Washington in an unprovoked outburst during a press conference at the 2007 Golden Globe Awards in which he falsely denied having called Knight a “faggot” during an argument on set, as well as the very moving sight of a visibly shaken T.R. Knight responding to it on Ellen Degeneres' show, has prompted me to dredge up an old e-mail exchange with my good friend Brendan Keefe, responding to his blog entry Closet Cases, itself commenting on a 20 Oct 06 Salon article titled The glass closet about the Mark Foley incident asking the question: “As Foleygate shows, Washington has a unique definition of what it means to be ‘openly gay.’ Should the media keep playing along?”

The answer is, accoring to Salon:

Within the mainstream media, the general standard for reporting on the sexual orientation of those who are at least partially closeted is a combination of newsworthiness and the guideline used by many gay activists, the "Barney Frank rule." Based on a rationale offered by Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Massachusetts Democrat, when he threatened to release a list of closeted gay Republicans in 1989, the "Frank rule" maintains that outing is acceptable when done to a closeted public figure who is working against the interests of the gay community at large.

I agree with that rule. Here is my story:

When I was hired by a Defense subcontractor, in order to obtain a needed security clearance for my job, I was forced to go from office to office telling coworkers whom I hardly (at that time) knew that I was gay. This was presumably to forstall any risk to being “blackmailed.” It was deeply embarrassing for me to inflict my private life without context or prior acquaintance onto unsuspecting colleagues left speechless by my spontaneous need to confess. I might well have rung a leper's bell first to let them know I was coming.

Before you get too outraged, remember that the only reason I even had this “privilege” at all was because only months before, the gay news magazine Advocate featured a cover story by maverick columnist Michelangelo Signorile exposing the Pentagon's then active purging of gay personnel, even as one of its assistant secretaries of defense, Pete Williams, was gay and appeared to be accepted as such by then President George Bush and then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. The subsequent worldwide attention put Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney on the spot, who refused to fire his outed gay underling and offered the following explanation:

I have operated on the basis over the years with respect to my personal staff that I don't ask them about their private lives. As long as they perform their professional responsibilities in a responsible manner, their private lives are their business.

Cheney's statement upended overnight the witchhunt of civilian gays in the Executive Branch and, together with the timely intervention of the openly gay Mass. Rep. Barney Frank and the very strong support of my employer (for which I will be forever grateful), I got my security clearance and enjoyed seven very successful years in the Defense industry.

Now that I have switched to the Entertainment industry and want to marry my longtime “domestic partner”, as the State of California labels him, I am stopped by the likes of David Dreier.

According to Wikipedia, my fellow Californian David Dreier, Republican member of the United States House of Representatives since January 1981 representing the California's 26th congressional district, who at one time was so powerful that he was slated under Dennis Hastert for Majority Leader, voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (signed into law by President Clinton), against gay adoption, and against inclusion of homosexuality as a protected status in hate crime and employment discrimination legislation.

That track record has proven too much for his political opponents, gay rights groups, and most recently Hustler magazine, who have “outed” him as a homosexual.

Rep. Dreier has yet to comment on his sexual orientation. But Mr. Dreier, when you voted against my would-be marriage, you gave up your right to privacy. It is no longer your right to hide the truth, and no longer your privilege to be the first one to tell it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

LA Times: At Least He Didn't Have Sex!

The Los Angeles Times has suffered these last three months a precipitous drop in quality. We now awaken each morning to garish fonts and tabloid fare. The front page, once the near-exclusive domain of international news, is awash with anecdotal “human interest” stories. The news is laced with editorial. The editorials seem designed more to shock than enlighten.

Today (21 Jan 2006) brings an editorial so morally strange that you need to read the entire piece to be sure it is not intended ironically. Titled Bush's fourth quarter, the Times argues: “As the president prepares for the State of the Union, the biggest issue facing the U.S. is his own credibility.”

Leaving aside the absurd subtitle that George Bush's personal credibility is somehow more important to Americans than the fact that our soldiers are dying in an unpopular war in Iraq, the paragraph below (clearly meant without irony) is a moral scandal:

To be fair, this is never an easy time for a second-term president. Bush is in the uncomfortable position of having to rely on the likes of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr to define his legacy. But then, at least he's not spending his days forced to deny having sex with "that woman," dealing with allegations that he illegally funneled arms to a Central American insurgency or fending off efforts to get at his incriminating tapes.

No sex for President Bush? Our country has lost over a trillion dollars (yes, that's about $10,000 for every tax-paying American) on George W. Bush's Iraq adventure. For that amount of money, I would have slept with him myself!

But not for the 3000+ troops who have died so far. That price would be much too high for me to live with. “When Clinton lied, no one died” started as a cute bumper sticker a few years ago. It doesn't seem so cute anymore.

That President Clinton was impeached and President Bush has not (yet) been is says a lot about American politics. That the Los Angeles Times editorial board has favorably compared the staggering and ongoing loss of blood and treasure with an Oval Office escapade by President Clinton says a lot about the L.A. Times.

Perhaps they should have put the editorial in all capital letters, like ‘DEVIL WINDS’ STOKE FATAL FIRE. It would have had a lot more credibility.