Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Low Crimes and Misdemeanors

The President has ordered Congress back to Washington for a joint session of Congress, to address the most pressing domestic issue of the day: jobs.

Ordinarily, this would not be newsworthy. The President, it seems, has given thousands of toothless speeches about jobs this year to little or no discernable effect.

What makes it newsworthy is the GOP’s response to the Presidential summons. Top House Republican leader Boehner has informed the President that the date of the joint session of Congress needs to be moved to accommodate a GOP primary debate scheduled elsewhere for that same night.

Forget about the fact that he GOP wants to the President move the address to a Friday night, when no one will be home in front of their TVs to watch it.

What’s important is that this is the same GOP that, by and large, claims to worship the Constitution like Moses coming down the mountain.

And Article II, Section 3 of that venerable document states explicitly, that “[The President] may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper.”

The ABC News tonight ended their coverage of the story with, “…so far, not even the date of the address has been confirmed.”

Yes, it has. It’s happening whenever the President says it is. There’s not even a conversation to be had. The President has full legal authority to order Congress back to Washington as he sees fit in the case of national emergency, which is how the GOP has been describing the jobs situation for months.

I say, if sitting Republican candidates fail to appear before the President as ordered, the matter should be turned over to the Attorney General for review.

The Constitution isn’t like the Bible, you don’t get to pick and choose the passages you want to live by. Once you swear to uphold it, to do anything less would seem to be an act bordering on dereliction of duty at the very least, and at worst a deliberate breach of their oaths of office.

Obama should sack-up, deliver his address as scheduled, and if any of the empty seats in the room were supposed to have been filled by the lcandidate lawmakers in question, throw them to the mercy of the Constitution they claim to revere but ignore in practice.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Next: Christians to launch new campaign against puppies that are not cuddly

The headline cried out, in larger point-size than your average headline, Inside the Christian crusade against porn!

It goes on to breathlessly ask the question that’s been on virtually no one’s mind, “Is Christian therapy for porn addicts working? Or does it confuse sin and addiction?”

The answer is a simple mash-up of the question: No, Christian therapy for porn addicts confuses sin and addiction with human nature.

The subhead on the story’s main page was equally as overwritten: Can the Christian crusade against pornography bear fruit?

Now, when one calls up images of the Christian Crusades, it isn’t morally indignant suburbanites that come to mind, it’s rapacious, invading hordes of murderous thugs. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but historically, the women and children the Christian crusaders of old were trying to “save” usually ended up sexually assaulted and murdered, their villages put to the torch and any surviving men impressed into service.

All in the name of God. God is great, no?

Digressing from my digression… I’m not even sure I like the label “sex addicts,” because it casts a really wide net whose interpretation is loose enough that it could be applied to almost any sexual activity beyond marital coitus for the purpose of procreation.

I was reading a recent article in Newsweek about sex addiction and thought roughly the same thing.

The Newsweek piece went on to bluster with great umbrage that they “...had big, big trouble finding non [loosely-described sex-trade users—wait till you see how loose],” Farley says. “We finally had to settle on a definition of non-sex-buyers as men who have not been to a strip club more than two times in the past year, have not purchased a lap dance, have not used pornography more than one time in the last month, and have not purchased phone sex or the services of a sex worker, escort, erotic masseuse, or prostitute.”

By that definition, no wonder they had trouble finding non-users. By throwing “using pornography” into the mix—up to two times a month!—they made their control group almost impossible to assemble. I mean, if somebody whacks-off to Field & Stream, does that necessarily make Field & Stream pornography?

When I say it’s a slippery slope, I’m not just making a weak pun.

Plus, nudie images are as abundant—and free—on the web as poorly-articulated political opinions and YouTube clips of cats playing the piano. The actual porn film industry is dying because everything they used to charge for, people can now find gratis on the web. As a newspaperman, it’s strange to find myself in any group that includes people who get laid as often as porn stars, but these are strange times we’re living in.

Moreover, erotic images date back to as long ago as man started sketching images on cave walls. No ancient society that has survived intact enough to be studied has ever been found to be free of sexually-explicit imagery.

The urge to surge is universal and timeless. Is whatever dogma-based “therapy” the Christians are wheeling out to combat the sin of Onanism—which has been around considerably longer than Christianity itself—likely to succeed?

Human nature says no.

History says no.

History does suggest, however, that the attempt to suppress one’s most primal instinct tends to lead to aberrant, amoral, animalistic behavior. Do I have to say anything more than The Catholic Church + pedophilia?

Christians, please, direct your energies to more attainable, worthy goals. According to your own Good Book, Christ never once beefed about jerking off, but you couldn’t get Him to shut up about making peace and feeding the hungry.

You don’t suppose He was trying to tell His followers something about priorities, do you?

Friday, August 19, 2011

No vacation until the job is done!

The President should not go on vacation right now. The wackos and dingbats of the chattering class are correct this time, it looks terrible. Purely as a political calculation, it’s a horrible blunder and it’s not just the right-wing that thinks so.

As they say in politics, the Optics couldn’t be worse. It doesn’t matter that all the bang and clatter of the presidency follows him wherever he goes, whether it’s Martha’s Vineyard or Camp David. The Left gave Dumbleyou shit for years about his frequent brush-clearing extravaganzas; we’d be hypocritical to make excuses for similar behavior from our guy.

Hell, we ought to hold our guy to a higher standard than Bush. Wasn’t that what Obama campaigned on in the first place?

At a time when the Average Joe is having a hell of a time just meeting his monthly obligations—let alone paying off his debts—and those are the lucky ones... this isn’t a wise time to flaunt the perks of office. He’s giving the GOP candidates and punditry talking points and photo ops with which to pillory him in next year’s election. Like he won’t already have enough strikes against him.

What happened to the crafty motherfucker who stole our hearts in 2007-8?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

From drowning-man to Aquaman in no time at all

This year, there is a three-week window between the end of preschool and the beginning of Kindergarten. This window coincides with when The Missus is required to be back at work, so I’m flying solo on parenting from 9-5 until the first week of September.

Which is working out pretty much as I expected. It’s awesome and awful at the same time.

Awful is trying to find time to squeeze in all the shit that makes me me, shit that precludes The Boy’s active presence. Like writing, for instance. Or getting any work done. Or trying to strangle recognizable tunes out of my guitar.

It’s leaving me burning the midnight oil, in addition to [burning] the candle from both ends.

The awesome part is everything else.

I’ve got three weeks to crash-prepare him for the Big Kid world of Kindergarten, where he’ll be rubbing elbows with young ’uns from his age all the way up to eighth grade. In most areas he’s ready to go, but there are a few chinks in his social armor still, and I plan to weld them together before I release him into the wild.

Toward that end, I have a loose agenda for every day, which naturally, circumstances have conspired to keep me from hewing to. Day One, Monday of this week, fell apart when a Pal of The Boy’s from preschool came over to spend the day at the last minute. His Mom was in a scheduling pickle and the boys really like playing together. What could I do? Split the difference. We hung out with the Pal all day, but just added him to selected parts of our already-scheduled agenda.

After Cars 2 (Pixar, please: Sequelize The Incredibles! The kids would be teenagers now; the script would write itself) we went to a restaurant where I let the boys wreak havoc because of the low customer count at 2pm at this particular place.

Then we came home where more havoc requiring my full attention ensued, as well as comedy: a friend gave us a magnetic Jesus for the fridge, with different magnetic suits of clothes to dress him up in. From the front room, I overheard this conversation coming from the kitchen.

The Pal: Who’s that?

The Boy: That’s Jesus.

The Pal: Who’s he?

The Boy: He’s dead.

Then The Boy went on to explain that Jesus has super-powers, where he lost his audience entirely. The Pal can’t believe The Boy has never seen an episode of Sponge Bob, and The Boy can’t figure out how his Pal could have grown up without watching superhero cartoons.

Hey, they’re a good fit, not a perfect match. Not that The Boy knows that. He still thinks he likes all his friends equally. He has yet to have a friend fuck him over for sport… but he does start Big Kids’ school next month, so that day is coming.

Tuesday things stuck closer to The Plan, a quick trip to the vet for our constipated pooch notwithstanding. As promised, there were superheroes right after Mommy left for work; there was an hour for me to play guitar; there were puzzles and games and not a damned lick of work accomplished.

But we did play chess, he for only the second time ever. And the damned kid—he’s five—remembered where every piece went and how they all moved, even the Knight. I was delighted. Then it was all about strategy. By the end of the game, he had grasped the concept of thinking a couple of moves ahead, and it was terrific the couple of times he captured my pieces when I didn’t see it coming.

Now I am no kind of chess ace. I kept having to check the rules for even the most basic things, like what is up with all the weird rules for how a pawn can move and capture. The game also got more interesting when The Boy asked what happens if his pawn makes it all the way over to the other end of the board. After a quick trip to The Google, we had a ball capturing and re-capturing each others’ Queen.

I didn’t let him win this time (figure I’ll go about 50/50 until he is beating me honestly every time, probably in about six months) and we spent an awful lot of time after that working on losing (and winning) gracefully. That part is still a work-in-progress, and is the weakest part of his game at the moment.

But chess is important in developing tactical thinking, and so far The Boy has had absolutely everything handed to him so he has never had to learn to be crafty. And getting ahead, or even getting by, in this world requires a certain level of craftiness.

We also watched the brand-new Lady Gaga video. Heads-up, fellow parents: Not entirely appropriate for five-year-olds, but The Boy loved it just the same.

The other thing I was/am determined to work on during this period is playing catch. The Boy has a mother of a throwing arm, but until yesterday had only ever caught a ball thrown to him by sheer luck. I still remember not being able to do sports as well as the other boys when I was in school, and decided he’d suffer the same fate only over my dead body. Especially since I had three whole weeks to work on it.

It must have been funny for the neighbors, watching us in the front yard. Him, trying to figure out how to avoid the ball being tossed to him, and me, the guy who never met a sport at which he didn’t suck, trying to teach something I myself am no good at.

But even though I know fuck-all about sports theory, I do understand systems. If I study something long enough, I’ll begin to see patterns emerge and strategies will form to exploit those patterns. Thus it was I taught my son to catch.

I watched the mechanics of every dropped ball, and one-by-one addressed and redressed them. Approaching it as a systems analysis instead of a sports exercise was the key. Eventually, I honed my instructions to, “Keep your eyes on the ball, and think about your hands.” And I’ll be damned if he didn’t catch it every time he applied that formula.

Every single time.

We have taken our first giant step toward making sure our son is not the kid who is picked last for every team sport in P.E.

And now it’s almost time for swimming lessons, where in the last three weeks he has progressed from being afraid to put his head underwater, to nailing every challenge that is thrown his way, except where physical grace is called for. But when all that is required is bravery, The Boy is stepping up admirably.

And today he played a crappy game of chess, but I played even worse and lost to him.

We’re only three days into the three weeks of 24/7 cohabitation, but so far, confidence is high. Based on his performance so far, I expect by the first day of class next month, this kid will be prepared to not only succeed at his new school, but run the damn thing if that’s what he decides he wants to do.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Boy’s current playlist:

Demonstrating great taste in pop music since 2005.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Little Candidate Who Cried “Sexism”

Or: Sexual Harassment is where you find it.

I will make this brief because I’d much rather be watching TV right now, or writing about The Boy’s last day at preschool. Instead, Tea Party Dingbat-Like-A-Fox-News-employee Michele Bachmann has got my dander up.

I watched a little bit of this week’s GOP primary debate. Ron Paul, as usual, sounded mad as a hatter even when he was saying things with which I agreed. Rick Santorum got in a good one when he asked Paul if his Libertarian ideals were so broad as to encompass, say, polygamy?

Booya! I know somebody must have fed him the question, but it was a beauty. I was shocked Fox didn’t go with a Mitt Romney reaction shot.

Anyway, I missed the question Michele Bachmann was asked that has caused such a stir [Moderator Byron York of the Washington Examiner asked Bachmann about her 2006 remarks that she studied tax law because her husband told her to, even though she hated the idea. Bachmann said at the time, "But the Lord said, 'Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.'" York then asked, "As president, would you be submissive to your husband?"].

But the moderator was only asking about one of her own dingbat quotes from a couple years earlier. Having gone on the record that her faith requires her to subjugate her will to that of her husband’s, the questioner reasonably asked the candidate if she would continue to remain the good Christian, submissive wife, should she gain the White House.

Now if a male politico had gone on the record that his religion made him run every big decision past his wife first, it would be considered fair game to publicly revisit that questionable decision-making process should he decide to run for the highest office in the land.

How is it any different if another candidate has stipulated that his or her religion required all decisions to be subject first to their spouse’s approval?

That’s the thing that Bachmann has said, and even posed in gender-neutral language, it is stupid on the face of it.

Bachmann is essentially saying that if elected, America is going to get a two-for-one deal in the Oval Office. You may recall how well America responded to that proposition when Bill Clinton floated it in his first presidential campaign.

So the topic was definitely fair territory for a political debate, where the moderator’s questions are usually framed around statements the candidates have previously made for the record. It was in that context that the “offending” question was asked.

Calling any question they can’t two-step their way around “sexist” is just a load of crap that is very popular with the Right’s female candidates right now. The GOP has long been seen as the party of Old White Men until just the last couple of election cycles, and now that they are finally fielding viable female candidates for high office, they find they can wield the liberals’ own rhetorical club to bludgeon them, and are doing so with glee.

The real issue, the one that is actually kind of important and is being completely, successfully obfuscated by all the hew and cry about sexism, is that the Republicans have a handful of serious presidential contenders who swear their first fealty to the Bible, not the Constitution.

That is a fucking problem.

All this sexism bullshit is just a smokescreen, and the mainstream media is too cowed by the fact that a huge majority of their audience considers themselves Christian to call the candidates on it. For instance, if the media truly were sexist, they would have made much more of the fact that Bachmann alone, of all the candidates, left the stage during every commercial break to get her make-up touched-up, even after being asked by Fox to stop fleeing the stage every time they threw to commercial. If one of the male candidates had done the same, I doubt seriously he would have been given the same free pass by an admittedly bloodthirsty mainstream media. Remember John Edwards, caught on-camera fussing with his hair? Everybody ran with that.

Gee, maybe Bachmann is benefitting from “reverse” sexism. She doesn’t seem to have any complaints about that, however.

The real problem doesn’t have a damn thing to with supposed sexism by the media. I didn’t buy it when Hillary was hollering it in the last Democratic primary election and I buy it even less now.

The real problem is Bachmann’s adherence to an ancient set of writings that specifically and repeatedly place her entire gender in a secondary role to that of her male counterparts, wholly on account of the simple fact that she was born a woman.

It’s not the media that is sexually harassing Ms Bachmann, it is her religion.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Meet my new favorite band:

The fabulous Yabanci Brothers, performing their genre-shattering smash, ‪Arkadaşım Eşek‬.

Monday, August 08, 2011

We’re Spartacus!

I turned on the TV yesterday afternoon to Spartacus in-progress on TCM.

I recognized I had tuned in just a couple of scenes before the “I’m Spartacus” moment, where all the rebelling slaves claim to be their leader, the man named Spartacus, to save him from dying alone at the hands of the Romans. It’s a magnificent movie moment, courtesy of writer Dalton Trumbo—breaking Hollywood’s infamous Black List by penning the screenplay under his own name—director Stanley Kubrick and actor/producer Kirk Douglas.

If anybody ever asks you who broke the Black List in Hollywood, point to a picture of Douglas and say, “That’s Spartacus.”

But I digress. I called for The Boy, who was playing in the next room. He came in and we watched the rest of the movie together, from “I’m Spartacus” (below) to the crucified rebel leader watching his wife and newborn son flee Rome with citizenship papers in hand, his mission accomplished even as he lay dying.

I don’t know. What is the right age to let your kid see images of the Apian Way lined with crucifixes on either side of the road as far as the eye can see? I took a chance on almost-six. If we were a proper Catholic household, the sight of a dying man nailed to a tree would have become commonplace long before now.

The Boy seemed to take it all relatively in stride, although it initially took some convincing to get him to believe this was something people actually used to do to each other.

I spent the rest of the night trying to teach him to say, “I’m Spartacus!” on demand.

He starts his last week of preschool today, then I have him at home for three weeks, then he’s gone, man. Into the system.

Kindergarten. At a school where all the K-8 kids mingle with each other on the playground during recess.

I want to send him in there accompanied by a detachment of Blackwater goons.

I worry that because of his 95th percentile height, he’s going to be mistaken for a kid much older than he is. I’ve seen it happen in parks and pools for the last couple years. A kid about The Boy’s size will come up and want to play with him, and I eventually have to explain to the ten-year-old that The Boy is actually only five, not “special.”

He’s gonna learn to have to do his own talking pretty soon. But something happened last night to make me think he may just be up to the challenge.

I was trying to put him to bed so The Missus and I could watch Breaking Bad with a clear conscience. The night before had been a disaster. He had refused all entreaties to cooperate with the getting-ready-for-bed process and I eventually ended up literally dragging him kicking and screaming to the bathroom. Much drama ensued, much gnashing of teeth of shedding of tears, and apparently the shenanigans continued with his mother long after I went to bed.

I was determined tonight would be different. Better.

I went into his room about 7:30 and we played war games with little plastic effigies of an airline passenger jet and the China Clipper for a while. About ten to eight, I said, “Hey, you know what time it is.” He glanced at the big, old-fashioned round schoolhouse wall clock and said pointedly, “I know.”

I taught him how to read that clock. It’ll be obsolete before he gets his learners’ permit.

Knowing one of his favorite tricks is to demand to be fed after the evening tooth-brushing has occurred, I suggested we hit the kitchen for a treat before bed-time.

He took his treat and retired to the front room coach. His body language was hollering in all caps, “I expect to be here for awhile.”

Treat finished, I told him, “Let’s go. Time to get ready for bed.”

“Noooo…” he sulked.

I explained again how much Mommy and Daddy needed to watch Breaking Bad, but how irresponsible it would be for us to let him see it, because of the potential for graphic violence. (This after Spartacus.)

He said he didn’t want to go to bed. He swore up and down he wasn’t tired.

I decided to outlast him by being tediously logical and unflappable and boring. I said, Okay, what do you want to do instead? Knowing from past experience that he can usually be counted upon to fold under direct, specific questioning.

Instead, he said, I want to talk.

And stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t have a prepared answer because this is a card he had never played before. It was a masterstroke and I told him so. I told him I hadn’t been prepared to accept any answer he had to give me, but he had come up with one I couldn’t refuse. High-five.

So, I said, what do you want to talk about?

He said he didn’t have any idea.

I said, Look, you called this conversation. It’s up to you to get it going. Now, what do you want to talk about? You want to talk about you?

He said Yeah.

I bore in: What about you do you want to talk about? Your hair? Your nose? Your arm?

He said Okay.

I asked him, Do you think that’s going to be a very interesting conversation to me?

He said No.

I said, How about if we talk about my hair, my nose, my arm? Is that going to be a very interesting conversation to you?

Again, he admitted, not so much.

So I said, What we need to talk about is something we’re both interested in. Like superheroes, or Mommy, or our big dumb pooch Jake…

Superheroes, he said!

And I don’t honestly remember how we got from that, to discussing the concept of unlimited alternate realties, other than that he brought it up. It’s a central conceit in one of his favorite not-for-kids cartoon superhero DVDs. We’ve watched it maybe eight or ten times, every time but the first time at his request.

He was talking about all the different earths and I stopped him and asked, did he understand where all those different earths came from?

He admitted he did not.

I explained it was a popular theory that every time we made a choice, we created another world where we had made the opposite choice. Seizing the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone (really wanted to get to Breaking Bad), I used the example of the going-to-bed fracas of the night before. I said, Remember last night, when you were bad, and we had that big fight and everybody ended up sad?

He said that he did.

I said, Well, when you made that choice, you created two worlds: ours, where you disobeyed and everybody went to bed sad, and another where you behaved and everybody went to bed happy. Then I took my clasped hands and spread them apart and said, Do you see how making that choice created two worlds?

He nodded, looking somewhat chagrined.

Then I thought about it for a second and said, And there was another choice made last night. I made the choice to drag you to the bathroom which made you really mad, then we all got sad; if I had made a different choice, and been just a little more patient with you instead of forcing compliance, none of us would have gone to bed sad, either. I spread my hands again to illustrate. One choice, two more different worlds.

Then what could I do? I apologized. I explained that I, too, should have made a different choice last night. We both had a shot at making a better world and we both let it slip through our fingers.

We agreed to make better choices going forward and try to make sure that every world we split off into is the best one it can possibly be.

Then I accompanied my 5-year-old future astrophysicist to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, helped him change him into his PJs and packed him off to bed to be read to sleep by his Mommy.

And nobody cried, and no unnecessary drama was had, and every choice we made that night did indeed lead to the best-possible-world scenario, as far as I can tell. I wouldn’t have changed anything.

Who’s Spartacus? When we make the right choices, we can all be, and live to tell the tale.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

America’s very very bad, no good week

• 30 American servicemembers killed in one attack in Afghanistan, including members of the Navy Seal team that sent Osama bin Laden to hell. Killed while engaging in a war that America lost any legitimate claim to pursuing long ago.

• The climax of the budget battle embarrassment that ended with America’s credit rating being downgraded anyhow for the first time its founding, based on the perception of “political instability.” Hard to argue with that one.

• The partial shutdown of the FAA due to additional partisan budget bickering, unnecessarily laying off thousands of working-class Americans at a time of unprecedented financial crisis.

George Will just summed it up excellently on ABC’s Sunday morning show: America is collapsing under the weight of its contradictions.

It’s easy to point fingers at the Tea Partiers or the tax-and-spenders or our useless, emasculated excuse for a president and call names, but in the end, it only adds to the sound and fury that is obfuscating the fact that America is quantifiably in decline. Steep decline.

I’m coming to the conclusion that there is no resolution to be had, short of another foreign-born attack on American soil. Nothing less than a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11—a disaster with a clearly-identifiable bad guy, an ‘other’ to focus our rage on—is going to have the purchase to even momentarily distract us from the self-inflicted wounds our country is suffering, and unite us again in common purpose.

God help us.

Friday, August 05, 2011

I accept the newfound man...

...and set the twilight reeling

—Lou Reed

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Family is a choice

Monday, August 01, 2011

Summer comes to Boise with a vengeance

Even the squirrels have lost their will to live...