Star Trek: It’s Dead Jim. Let it Lie

The Thinker by Rodin

I didn’t think it would happen to me. But I’m finally Trekked out.

Star Trek was so 20th Century anyhow. It’s a new millennium. Let’s evolve. Let’s acknowledge that Star Trek was one fairly cool TV show and surely a powerful meme for a lot of us. But its time is over. It’s time for Trekkies to get a different life and move on.

Admittedly I’ve been on the downward slope for a long time. I usually wasn’t allowed to watch the original TV show it, and caught most episodes on reruns. Much of it was, and still is, excruciatingly bad, but for its time it seemed brilliant. (Compared to “Land of the Giants”, “Time Tunnel”, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and “Lost in Space”, the competition, it was positively brilliant.) Now the sets look cheap. William Shatner is a horrible actor and painful to watch play James T. Kirk. Occasionally a really good director could make him convincing. Nicholas Meyer, who directed Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan managed to do it. But usually Shatner reverted to form. After a while it was increasingly painful to watch the wreckage.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was a vast improvement, but even it stumbled in its first year and suffered from some continuity problems. (It got better when Riker got a beard.) STTNG revived my interest in the show. As a liberal Democrat I was very much a Jean Luc Picard fan, and to this day I am astonished by the quality of Patrick Stewart’s acting. I know there are a lot of Captain Kirk bigots out there, but Jean Luc was the captain that Kirk was not. Kirk was hot tempered and emotional and survived on tricks. Jean Luc was compassionate and thoughtful and you felt the presence of his command.

The movies were off and on. The even ones tended to be good, the odd ones sucked. STTNG movies have suffered from a similar fate.

I knew I was in trouble when the Star Trek: Nemesis came out and I couldn’t be bothered to see it. My loss I guess. I’ve heard it was pretty good. But as happened to the original cast, STTNG cast is old now too. Even my heartthrob Marina Sirtis is suffering from a sagging face and breasts.

The one thing that might bring me back is a movie with the Borg in it. Star Trek: The Borg Encounter is in production right now and should be out this year. The Borg were absolutely the creepiest villains ever created. I loved all the shows and the movies with the Borg in it. Even Sauron (from “Lord of the Rings”) cannot seriously compete with the Borg for the dubious title of most awful enemy of all time. Klingons and Romulans don’t even raise my eyebrow anymore.

I didn’t like it when STTNG ended but it had seven years and it was about time. I was seeing the same plots over and over again. It went out well.

I tried to watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine but couldn’t get into anything other than the Ferrengi. It was too shoot ’em up for me, but the Ferrengi were hoots:Republicans and Libertarians of the 23rd century run amok! They were the perfect way to laugh at the Reaganism and neo-conservatism of the time.

I was disgusted with Star Trek: Voyager. I thought it was cool to have a female Captain but that was about it. Blasting them across the galaxy was just a gimmick. But it didn’t take long before it became more plot repetition. We’d seen these plots before. Actually we had seen them many times. The words were spoken by new characters, but nothing had really changed.

I watched a couple episodes of Enterprise but other than the Vulcan’s curves and one cute dog there was not much there to spur me to watch more. I got out of the habit. Going back in time didn’t seem to make it any more interesting.

Its time is up. Thank you to Gene Roddenberry and the rest of the crew for a nice ride. I enjoyed the couple of conventions I attended. It was nice to meet Majel Roddenberry one time, and lots of cool Trekkies. I’ve enjoyed some of the better fan fiction. When you were good you were really, really good. Sometimes you were really bad. You also had a lot of mediocrity. But it’s dead Jim. It’s time to put Star Trek into its historical package and evolve.

Another Victim of Parochial Schools

The Thinker by Rodin

Hi my name is Mark and I am a victim of parochial schools. During my nine years in parochial schools I witnessed abusive behavior by the Catholic Church that seemed both weird and natural at the same time. Because I grew up in a devout Catholic family in upstate New York in the 1960s the sort of behavior I witnessed was not at all unusual. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was a frequent parental mantra of the time. Getting or witnessing a spanking at home from my mother seemed entirely normal, if somehow weird. I knew of other children who got much worse, including getting whipped with leather belts and the occasional shiner.

So I was not surprised that the sisters at our parochial school practiced this philosophy. The values in school modeled the values at home. I understand that parochial schools today, at least in this country, have now become violence-free institutions of learning. I am relieved to hear this, if it is true. I can tell you that I witnessed behavior from sisters representing the Catholic Church in the 1960s and 1970s that today would be considered physical and emotional abuse of children, and would put people away in jail for years at a time.

Now granted elementary and middle schoolers are little volcanoes that are frequently erupting. Many of the boys in my class were in fact little savages constantly getting into trouble. To keep the tuition low I doubt the good sisters got much in the way of an education in child psychology. I’m not even sure they were ever accredited to teach. But anyhow who needs to read psychology books when you have the Bible and the Baltimore Catechism with the answer to all of life’s persistent questions? Those of us who grew up Catholic know that somewhere in that Catechism were the answers to every conceivable moral or ethical question. There is no moral ambiguity in the Catholic faith.

The sort of behavior I witnessed was primarily a lot of physical abuse. For example, an overactive boy (these were the days before ADHD was recognized) running too much on the playground would get real sweaty during recess. This would infuriate our sister who would have the boy come up to the front of the class, bend over her desk, and wack him very hard, repeatedly, in front of the other children, with two yardsticks doubled up together. The boy would usually howl and sometimes cry. Such punishments were reinforced with the moral lesson that such behavior was sinful and against the rules of the school, thereby humiliating the student and causing emotional abuse.

The reason I bring up this unpleasant topic is because I am reading the book “Adult Children of Abusive Parents: A Healing Program for Those Who Have Been Physically, Sexually or Emotionally Abused” by Steven Farmer. It is an eye opener for me, although it should not be. One of the points of the book is that if you feel you were abused then you were. There is no question in my mind that I was both the victim of physical and emotional abuse meted out by the sisters at our parochial school. I am a somewhat dysfunctional adult because of this toxic environment that I endured for nine long years.

The book talks about certain roles that those of us who suffered this abuse bring forward into adulthood. I see elements of many of these roles in myself. For example I often find myself in the caretaker role of trying to make things better for everyone, almost obsessively so. In addition I often find myself emotionally distant. When conflicts arise in my life (particularly if it involves strong emotions) I run away from them and hide. I prefer a safe room somewhere so I don’t have to deal with the associated feelings. These are very powerful roles that I cannot seem to break, and probably won’t be able to break without spending a lot of personal energy and going through a lot of therapy. But it seems to be something I will have to work on, or I will likely make the rest of my life a lot more miserable than it would otherwise be.

I am actually looking forward to seeing the new movie The Magdelene Sisters. It depicts the lives of some “fallen women” in Ireland sentenced by their families and the Catholic Church to forced labor in Catholic laundries. I am hoping it will provide some sort of catharsis to my own feelings about the abuse I experienced and witnessed.

While I am glad that child abuse appears to have vanished from our nation’s parochial schools (although apparently not from its rectories, as numerous news accounts of abusive priests make clear), I am also still angry. Maybe I am an anti-Catholic bigot. If I come across that way, well tough – deal with it. I have noticed that the pews of Unitarian Universalist Churches are full of traumatized ex-Catholics. I have spoken to many fellow victims and the stories are similar. A significant number of those I went to school with I have learned, anecdotally, are carrying the physical and emotional abuse into adulthood and wreaking havoc on a new generation of children.

We have freedom of religion in this country. It is probably a good thing, since the theocracy experiment hasn’t worked out well elsewhere in the world. But when I think of my experience with Catholicism, that I know is replicated in many other religions in this country, I often think certain religions should be banned. In my opinion Catholicism is one very toxic meme. I won’t debate today the theological arguments but it is obvious that it has caused generations of wholly unnecessary suffering for millions, if not billions of people. I do acknowledge that Catholicism can be a beautiful religion. I can still be touched by the feeling of sacredness I get when I am in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, DC. The theater and drama of a high Mass can be quite a show. But in my opinion this religion is at its core rotten and evil.

But it is a meme that will keep going on. I am sure 2000 years from now, no matter how technologically advanced, we will still have a Pope. People will still be shuffling off to church to repeat the same words over and over again. It would be nice if, like a surgeon, I could remove the bad parts of the religion and leave its beauty intact. But that can’t happen. It is a hierarchical, top down directed religion that at its core tolerates no dissent and requires orthodoxy to many beliefs that are wholly unreasonable.

It is, in some ways, similar to an abusive parent. If you are a round peg of a person, you must become a square peg or you are not welcome. Junior must be whipped into shape with a belt by his Dad to stop his sassing. Similarly you, if you are gay, must not actually practice your homosexuality or you risk sin, the wrath and scorn of your clergy if it becomes known and possible banishment and excommunication. And if you are a divorced Catholic and your marriage was not annulled by the church, no matter how bad the physical, emotional and sexual abuse you encountered, don’t you dare take communion and don’t even think about getting remarried in the church.

Leaving the church is a very hard thing for most Catholics to do. Most are born into the faith and going to church is as much a part of their lives as is eating and breathing. It’s a fundamental part of who they are. Like the sexually abused child who later in life unconsciously seeks out co-dependent relationships, Catholicism warps the growing mind in dangerous ways. The institution is one large mortal sin, but too puffed up in its own pretentiousness to recognize it. And unfortunately we can expect a continued trail of human carnage from it and similar institutions for millennia to come.

Welcome to the new world of Polysexuality

The Thinker by Rodin

Polysexuality. That’s what I’m calling it. I claim ownership to the word, even though someone else may have used it before me. I created it because I don’t know what else to call it. I call it loosely “whatever my daughter is going through” in defining her own sexual orientation. I’m still scratching my head over the whole thing. I’m sure she will figure it out in time but I don’t think she will ever fit into any neat category. But a clue as to what’s going on occurred today when we ventured all the way into Bethesda to see the film Camp.

“Camp” is a movie about a bunch of kids who are outcasts in their regular life who come to Camp Ovation during the summer for two months of theater work. It’s based on a real camp that apparently has been a gateway for many talented performers who subsequently developed successful acting and singing careers.

As a movie it has some nice moments but it suffers from rather poor directing and sloppy cinematography. Its total budget appears to be not that much higher than The Blair Witch Project: on a large screen it seems grainy, which makes me wonder if it was shot in 16mm film. The actors are all complete unknowns and it is pretty obvious because although many can sing real well the acting isn’t all that great, due perhaps to the poor directing. The young actors often seem like they are trying too hard to really act.

It was a very good film in the eyes of my daughter Rosie, who sees herself as outside of the mainstream in her school. Her life is full of similar people from her own school. She lives in this universe, so she thought it was a great film. If you are a teenager like her then you will probably strongly identify with the characters in the movie: so go see it.

The movie centers on the character Vlad, a really cute and buff guy, as best this heterosexual man can tell. At Camp Ovation though he is the odd man out because it seems he is the only straight guy in the whole camp. Naturally he bunks with a gay guy who clearly has the hots for him, but can’t do anything about it. This is the same gay guy who we see early in the film going to his Junior Prom dressed as a drag queen. Naturally that doesn’t go over well at his high school and he gets beat up.

This is just one of many complex polysexual relationships the film flits with. I felt really out of my element in this movie. I am still trying to understand why someone who is gay would dress up as a drag queen in the first place. I realize not all gay men do this but enough of them do it to make me feel very perplexed. If I were gay I think I would be into the manly aspects of masculinity and I’d be looking buff and dressing buff. I doubt I would be dressing like a drag queen and showing the world that I have a feminine side.

But of course lots of homosexual men can have feminine sides. They happen to be not just gay but they are also sensitive, and women get to exhibit a sensitive side in this culture, not men as a rule. So perhaps that explains why so many gay men are dressing up in women’s clothes. And if this were the end of it I wouldn’t be writing.

But there are other more complex relationships in the movie, not all of which are sexual. There is the girl who acts as a personal slave to another girl, and at some point gets cruelly spurned. Since Vlad is the hot guy there is another girl after his form, but Vlad seems to be having some ambiguous feelings with the gay guy Mike that culminates near the end of the movie when it appears they might go skinny-dipping. It’s good to see a deep and meaningful relation between a gay guy and a straight guy depicted in the movie. I’m not sure how many of those happen in real life, but my guess is not very often. But of course Vlad is heterosexual so that doesn’t go anywhere, although it appears it might. And the gay guy Mike ends up bedding another woman in the camp because, we learn later, he thinks it might be a way to make him feel closer to Vlad.

And there are other characters: a washed up song and musical writer who spends most of the movie drunk, a black older brother/younger brother duo that seems strange but just is (I thought “Young Michael Jackson” when the young boy does his dance number), a fat girl with body image problems, and a timid black girl who has to find her voice and her courage to bring forth her talent. As I say it is full of interesting characters and certainly gave me a lot to think about, even if the acting was inconsistent and sloppy at times. Some of the musical numbers were quite well done.

My daughter is charting her own path. As I mentioned in a previous entry I don’t care too much how she pops out. If she is heterosexual, bisexual or lesbian I will still love her regardless. And there is nothing I can do about it anyhow. Each person has to decide for themselves their sexual orientation. It’s hard for me to believe that she will end up a lesbian. She would be the funkiest lesbian I will ever meet because she certainly doesn’t seem to hold any of the stereotypes. But more and more I don’t think any of those words are useful anymore to describe her or people like her. Even transgender seems inappropriate. She doesn’t seem like a man trapped in a woman’s body. She is more than anything else right now just a kid charting her own path and trying to make sense out of sexuality. But I suspect when she figures out what or who she is it will be none of the above. The word doesn’t exist yet, which is why I coined the term “polysexual”. Perhaps like some of the characters in “Camp” she is male, female, transgender, heterosexual, bisexual and lesbian all at once and all at the same time.

An empath is someone who can experience the same feelings as those they come in contact with. Perhaps a polysexual is something of a sexual empath. They don’t have to necessarily have sex but they intuitively understand on a gut level all aspects of human sexuality and can move easily from one universe to the other.

It’s way to early to say for sure, but I might have a polysexual for an offspring. And if “Camp” is any guide, she is by no means alone.

Dean is Oxygen for the Democratic Party

The Thinker by Rodin

I think it was 1980 or so when then Gov. Ronald Reagan was just starting his run for the presidency. He was in a candidate’s forum in New Hampshire and was getting dissed by the host who said “Turn Mr. Reagan’s microphone off.” To which a very upset Ronald Reagan lashed out “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!” The crowd went wild with approval. Here was a Republican who could only take civility so far before his true nature came out. And it connected with the voters. It may have been the defining moment of his whole campaign. It cast him in the eyes of Americans as not quite the man they thought they knew. They liked the genuine article.

Actually I was a bit enamored with George Bush (Sr.) at the time. I didn’t vote for Reagan in 1980. But I did admire Reagan’s spunk. Arguably because of it the Republican Party caught fire too and the rise of the neoconservatives began. Like them or hate them, they shook up their fathers’ dour little party, usually out of the majority, took the presidency, captured the Senate in 1984 and in 2002 hit the trifecta: all three branches of government fell under their sway. All, perhaps, sparked by one dissed and somewhat pissed Ronald Reagan whose spirit came through at a defining moment and connected with the average voter who, until then, saw him as just another governor.

The Democratic Party is a lot like the Republican Party in 1980. Joe Lieberman reflects the careful centrist, trying to ride in the wake of Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s successes and hoping that there is something there in the center that can win the Democrats the next presidential election. And as my blog readers know, I think the 2004 presidential election is eminently winnable for the Democratic Party, barring some major changes to the economy and in the war on terrorism that are highly dubious.

To use a metaphor, the Democratic Party is burning the embers and is nearly out. There is nothing the neoconservatives would like more than to kill us altogether. What we Democrats need though is something to spark the embers and feed a little, no a LOT of oxygen into the fire. We need our Ronald Reagan.

And I think we have him in Howard Dean. The DLC and the DNC don’t like to admit it, of course, but Howard Dean scares the hell out of them. He is shaking the Democratic Party from the bottom up. The DNC will, of course, claim to be neutral about who wins the presidential nomination. But of course they aren’t. They want someone who is familiar and who plays well against all the key demographic brackets. Perhaps Kerry will do, although he is very Northeastern. They’d be happy with Lieberman or Edwards.

But these candidates have neither much soul nor passion. They’re just kind of like milquetoast: dry and uninteresting, but really packaged like most Democrats we’ve seen lately. They are not the fancy new labels on the shelf; they are more of the same Geritol. Lieberman is clearly a good debater and could twist Bush around a flagpole in a debate, but Gore did the same thing and it didn’t seem to matter on Election Day.

Howard Dean has soul AND passion. It’s not that his followers are all that passionate about his policies. The liberals running after him at the moment have only a vague notion that the guy has much more in common with Lieberman than he does with the late Paul Wellstone. Dean is basically a centrist. This will become clearer as people understand him. Right now they just see a man not afraid to speak his mind clearly and forcefully and to let the chips fall where they may when he believes he is right, like on the foolishness of our war with Iraq or on balanced budgets. Democrats and, I think in time, the general public will connect to a man with spirit. Bush doesn’t have any.

Go Howard go! Stir us up! Get us to your meet ups. Keep doing unconventional ads like your latest spunky ad against Bush right in the heart of Texas. Tell it like it is! We need to hear not just the truth; we need to feel your passion. We need to be stirred up. We need to put aside politics as usual and find our spirit and our courage that has been nearly whipped out of us by the relentless Republican and neoconservative onslaught. We need to believe we can and will not just win the presidency, but take back the nation and the country in 2004.

That won’t happen if Lieberman or Kerry wins the nomination. They might well win the White House but they won’t change the congress. That will take a lot more. That will take an infectious spirit and leadership that in the current pack only Howard Dean possesses. He is the Democrat’s response to the Ronald Reagan phenomenon. He is oxygen for the Democratic Party. Let’s welcome him for crying out loud and give him wide berth. And let’s keep our fingers crossed that Dean has the savvy to be different but not obnoxious. It’s a fine line but one he has to stay on.

What can you do? Contribute to his campaign! Please! Yes, Republican fat cats can write big checks but Dean is proving he can raise in volume and small contributions what Republicans do in relatively small volume and large sums. Send him $25, $50 or $100. I’ve contributed $100 so far and will continue to do so unless he screws up in a major way. Dean is the real cowboy of this race. Bush has always been a cowboy pretender. If you want spirit and passion in your president, look no further than Howard Dean.

Continue reading “Dean is Oxygen for the Democratic Party”

Why current marriage laws are immoral

The Thinker by Rodin

The gods must be highly amused.

News items: At a press conference yesterday President Bush said in one breath “I am mindful that we’re all sinners, and I caution those who may try to take the speck out of the neighbor’s eye when they got a log in their own”. Then in the next breath he said, “I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman, and I think we ought to codify that one way or the other.” He and his aides are working hard to figure out a way to figure out a way to make sure those pesky, immoral homosexuals stay deep in the closet by outlawing gay marriages permanently through a constitutional amendment.

Not to be outdone, the Catholic Church, an institution rife with homosexual priests, significant numbers of whom are apparently also pedophiles, and whose leadership has spent the last 2000 years detached from anything resembling reality, had the gall to state on the very same day: “Homosexual relationships are immoral and deviant, and only traditional marriages can fulfill God’s plan for the reproduction of the human race.” As if, of course, the point of marriage is to make babies only. If that were the case my wife and I, who are both sterilized, should now be divorced. Clearly our marriage is now a moot point in the eyes of the Catholic Church, not that we were married there. (God forbid!)

Metaphorically I’d like to do the Monty Python fish slapping dance on both the President and the Pope. What can I say? When it comes to government or religion, apparently you have to abandon all common sense or you can’t get in the game.

Let’s examine our constitution which promises equal rights and justice for all. Just in case we didn’t get it from first reading, we subsequently ratified the 14th amendment to the constitution in 1868 known as the “equal protection” amendment which states: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In short the intent of our constitution is to treat all citizens equally. It obviously hasn’t always worked out that way, but that was the intent. Gradually though, as was clear from the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on state sodomy laws, states trying to discriminate against one class of people are finding they have no constitutional grounds to do so. And this just freaks our politicians out. That’s apparently their mission in life: to provide favors to one class of people at the expense of another class.

I’m trying real hard to understand what is so immoral about homosexuality. In particular I am trying to figure out why the government should care. I can understand why a backward, xenophobic religion like the Catholic Church would be up in arms against gay marriage. This is an institution which sees refusing to evolve as a virtue. No matter how wacky its thinking was 2,000 years ago, it needs to be faithful to it, is what passes for reasoning in this institution. But the government? Why wouldn’t it want to encourage gay marriages or gay unions?

What are the consequences if we have no civil unions or marriages for gays? One might be the myopic belief that by scorning gays for their sexual orientation they will see the light, the good fairy will come down, fill them with some sort of grace, and they will magically convert into happy, healthy heterosexuals. Soon they are living in the burbs like Ward and June Cleaver and raising little Wallies and Beaves. Fortunately, not one in a hundred homophobes believe this crap anymore.

So law by itself apparently can’t make homosexuals become heterosexuals. So homosexuals are going to keep being homosexuals even though it ticks off the anally repressed majority. We “moral” people can pray that all homosexuals will lead lives of celibacy and quiet contemplation instead of acting on their completely natural urges. This is one way for them not to be immoral and thus give us no offense. One could look at the Catholic priesthood as a positive example but apparently all that repression just makes the longing worse and encourages the sorts of deviations we seem to fear the most. Eventually human nature wins out and people couple with the gender or genders that turn them on.

By not allowing gay marriages and civil unions society in effect encourages homosexuals to sleep around. From a public health standpoint that encourages the spread of disease. One would think it would be intuitive that government would want to encourage people to have long term, monogamous and healthy relationships instead of lots of short term, sexual relationships. So I would think gay marriages or gay unions would be seen as a logical and moral response by society to encourage everyone to live in peace and respect the rule of law.

If we are hung up on the word “marriage” let’s purge it from the law. Traditionally marriage has been a religious ritual, not a governmental function. In a way by the government sanctioning marriage, it is violating the separation of church and state. In medieval times you didn’t need the government’s permission to get married, just your local cleric’s permission. Let’s have civil unions if people want the legal protections of marriage. Let religions sanctify these relationships in marriage ceremonies for those with religious inclinations.

Clearly I will never be a politician because this is plain common sense.

Bush Jumps the Shark

The Thinker by Rodin

So has Bush jumped the shark? Or is shark jump sometime in his future? Or is the guy such Mount Rushmore material like that he’ll never jump the shark?

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “jumping the shark” goes back to the TV show “Happy Days”. It captured the moment when the Fonz (played by Henry Winkler) went from cool to ridiculous. This happened to the Fonz in some episode I never saw when he was apparently in a surfboarding contest and he … you got it.

In retrospect that was the moment he became ludicrous and he was no longer cool. The show didn’t survive too many years after that.

Now it is almost irresistible to pinpoint those “jump the shark” moments in the life of any celebrity. With Richard Nixon it was at Disney World when he proclaimed, “I am not a crook”. (He couldn’t have picked a more perfect place to make this announcement either.) We saw it with Bill Clinton when in a deposition he said, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” (Or perhaps it was “I never had sex with that woman!”)

Admittedly with Bush the call can be a hard one. For example, on July 14th Bush inexplicably said: “The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region.” In case you were snoozing earlier this year, inspectors left Iraq not because Saddam kicked them out but because we warned the U.N. that invasion was imminent.

In retrospect I believe it will be shown that Bush jumped the shark on May 1, 2003. On this day he landed on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, somewhere off San Diego, emerging from a fighter aircraft in a flight suit. Pompously parading down the flight deck with a huge banner in the background that said “Mission Accomplished” Bush basically said we had won the war and there was just a little cleaning up to do. You know small things like bring civil order, turn on the lights, prevent looting and instill democratic values. Small stuff apparently. Just a few addendum to the nation’s checklist, hardly worth mentioning really!

Since that time more soldiers have died or were wounded in Iraq that occurred during the war itself. Last week, unfortunately, saw more American soldiers dying in Iraq that any week since Bush proclaimed “Mission Accomplished”.

The carrier episode, particularly in hindsight, was the defining moment. You can rest assured as this war of attrition drags on and on that you will see this video clip used endlessly against Bush in the general election next year. Michael Dukakis’s moment emerging from the turret of a Massachusetts’s National Guard tank has nothing on this wholly preventable photo op.

Forget about jumping the shark for a moment, talk about jumping the gun! He, or rather his staff should have known better. (Bush clearly isn’t the brightest light bulb in the house.) But I guess they couldn’t help themselves. Why did they do it? Was it to push the president’s momentary popularity up a couple more points? They should have had some inkling it couldn’t be sustained. The whole thing with the flight suit was also way over the top; it invited the criticism it received, particularly when we learned the carrier was within 50 miles of San Diego and was essentially doing a holding pattern just so the Commander in Chief could be seen landing on the carrier in a very hirsute fashion aboard a military fighter jet.

The message was: Bush is no wimp and will get the job done.

Except, of course, the job had just begun. What many of us believed going into the war was that the winning the peace was the hard part, not securing a military victory. With Saddam’s army a third of its size from the Gulf War, and with no allies for Saddam to turn to, and with us being the only superpower, the only question was how quickly we would win.

But it appears that Bush is a lot more wimpish that he let on. One need only look at the dodging he is doing on the bogus claim trumped up in his State of the Union speech wherein he said Iraq had acquired uranium recently from Niger. If nothing else the man has a talent for dodge ball. Let Tenet take the heat, no Condi’s assistant National Security Advisor (although inexplicably don’t make anyone resign), but certainly don’t expect Bush to personally take any responsibility. Clearly the buck passes at his desk. But this charade won’t last much longer because, well, he has jumped the shark. His sagging approval ratings certainly suggest it.

Harry Truman wasn’t afraid to dodge responsibility. Neither, for that matter, did Reagan on Iran-Contra or the mass murder of our marines in Lebanon. Maybe Reagan wasn’t held accountable but he knew to cut his losses and acknowledge responsibility.

Bush hasn’t learned that lesson and he is too pompous and full of himself to admit anything resembling humility. His balloon has burst but he is totally clueless that the air is rushing out.

Senior Space Cadet

The Thinker by Rodin

I hardly know the lady. We’ve been working together off an on for a big project for a couple months. It became clear when the project started in earnest that she wasn’t quite there. I might have called her a space cadet except she is over 50. Even stranger, she is a senior civil servant, a grade GS-15, one grade higher than I am and as high as one can get in the civil servant system without becoming an executive.

She dresses immaculately and drives herself to work every morning. She parks on the street but seems oblivious to the tickets that accumulate on her car because she has forgotten how to feed a meter. She can find her way home well enough and on the surface seems to be doing her job quite well. But she will interrupt conversations with completely inane remarks. She attends meetings but rarely contributes anything. Originally not knowing any better we gave her plenty of action items. But they rarely got done. We do her action items now. She seems to have the ability to find her way to our meetings if they show up on her calendar. But she is there in body only.

She can be very lucid on certain topics like her daughter, but new information coming in does not seem to get processed. She can stop in the middle of a hallway and just stay there like a zombie. Her speech is often halting and she will repeat the same things over and over again.

She is more than likely mentally ill. I have been told it wasn’t that long ago that she was another high charging senior employee, fully earning her pay that likely tops $100,000 a year. Now I’m not sure she does anything resembling productivity. And it doesn’t appear that she has any idea that her behavior has changed.

If she leaves through a different entrance and needs to get back in she can’t find her way to the entrance. The guards take her by the hand and escort her to the main entrance. She couldn’t navigate her way to the building across the street to attend a meeting. When these events happen she doesn’t appear upset or anything. She just stops where she is at and if she stands there long enough she may turn around and go back to her office.

I hear she is divorced and lives alone. We all know about her college age daughter since that is her one topic of conversation. Much of the time she seems lucid and in the present. And then an inanity will come out of her mouth or she will stop where she is like a deer looking into the headlights of an oncoming car.

Presumably her supervisor has observed her behavior but it doesn’t appear that anyone is doing anything about it. It’s hard to know what to do in a situation like this. Employee actions and grievances are a laborious process that requires utmost respect for the employee and frequent redundant notices. But it’s not clear whether if her boss called these issues to her attention they would even register. Short term memory seems to be gone. I’m not sure she could add two numbers together.

The only thing I know is that I am covering a lot of her slack. At first I resented it and now I am sympathetic. She makes me feel the fragility of our species. In her case though she is clearly mentally ill but she doesn’t seem to know it.

How did it happen? I have no idea. One person suggested she might have had a mini-stroke that destroyed some part of her brain. It seems plausible. I am more concerned about what should be done about her problem. Right now those of us around her simply choose to note and not do anything about the problem. But one of these days the law of averages will catch up on her, and she will be hurt by someone, or herself, because she has lost a fair amount of her wits and her common sense.

There are lots of mentally ill people out there. I’m wondering if she is some sort of future street person. Hopefully her daughter has noticed her symptoms and is thinking through her issues. But if she doesn’t see parking tickets she probably is also ignoring creditors. Perhaps one day she will come home to find all her stuff on the street corner.

I have no lessons to derive from this. But it makes me aware of the fragility of life, and how I will be lucky if I can escape one of these common mental or physical impairments and keep my wits into my doddering senior years. I wish there was someone who could do something for this woman. I just don’t know who, nor do I know exactly what it is she needs.

The Rest of the Story

The Thinker by Rodin

I try to keep this web log focused on my what I hope are interesting and perhaps even profound observations. I try not to put in it all the trivialities of life that I deal with on a day-to-day basis. But I thought maybe for a change I should fill in some of the gaps so you know just what it is I DO during the days and why this web log stays blank for days at a time.

I’ve been especially busy this week, although I did manage to take yesterday off as a day of much needed leave. But even on my day of leave I was busy keeping doctor’s appointments, shuffling my daughter to summer school, buying bulk items at the superstore and picking her up at a remote friend’s houses. I just didn’t have as many distractions, and for that I felt blessed.

My workdays start at 5:20 a.m. when the alarm clock goes off. I dress in the dark while my wife snoozes, eat a hurried breakfast and I am out the door by 5:53. I need to be at the Reston South Park and Ride commuter lot by 6 AM to catch a vanpool that takes me to work. We sail down the Dulles Toll Road and with luck and the wind at our back I am in my office at 6:45 AM.

This week though I had to relocate to a new office. We were abruptly moved to another building in February 2002 and since then we’ve been gypsies. For three months due to lack of space I shared office space with another guy. When a small office (no door) opened up I pressed my case and with some politicking I was able to inhabit it as long as the lady whose office it was (she was on a long term detail) wasn’t inhabiting it. It was a neat little office: I had a commanding view of the National Archives. I’m unlikely ever to get a better view in the remainder of my career.

But the lady is moving back and I had to relocate. The division that I work is currently scattered over three floors. Once upon a time we were all together in one place – imagine that! We were promised that we would be brought back together again, but strings of promises went unfulfilled. Now I hear that in about three months we’ll be consolidated back in the same area I just vacated.

But I elected to move upstairs to a nice cube along a window that had been long vacated and it seemed I had all the permissions. So Tuesday morning I moved up there only to discover someone else had plans for that cube. So I was shuffled to another larger area, with no window, that is pretty nice. But I also know it will be a transient place.

But if that weren’t enough no sooner had I moved into THAT space when I learned that my move was causing inter office political ripples of some sort. My boss wanted to know if I wanted to move back down to the sixth floor: several offices were vacant. I asked: if we’re moving back there permanently pretty soon would this be my permanent space? Well, no. So I opted to stay where I am and I’m still not even sure this space is semi permanent. But at least I am with my own kind. Room 702 is full of IT (Information Technology) folk. And knowing the way things work in our agency I could be where I am now for years so I might well be in my new permanent space, I just don’t know it yet. Clearly space management is not one of our organization’s strong suits.

As a project manager I shuffle a lot of projects. With a recent degree in Software Systems Engineering it would be nice if I did some of it. But no, my main task at the moment is honchoing an IT opportunity fair for the Department of Health and Human Services. So about 70% of my otherwise busy day is clogged with that: questions from vendors, watching our appointment and registration systems book up, attending meetings, holding conference calls and basically just trying to get other people to do things in a timely basis. What I really do is manage chaos (yes, I know that is an oxymoron but it fits). Ideally I like to get some exercise time during my lunch. But there was no chance for that on either Monday or Tuesday. And no chance to do it at home either.

Meanwhile, other projects are coming due. A long overdue assessment of some enterprise reporting solutions needs to come to a conclusion. So I spend time meeting with the testers and going over issues, pros and cons, and working on PowerPoint slides for my presentation on Monday. While trying to do that email streams in and the phone (once it was reconnected on Wednesday) starts ringing often. Usually phone calls are from vendors with questions about the IT Opportunity Fair. I am the casualty of the moment of the profit motive. As the new outreach coordinator (a position to which I did not aspire) every vendor smelling profits wants to talk with me. I really wish I wasn’t paid to talk to them because I got other crap to do which seems a lot more pressing.

In short there is almost no time for a respite. It’s go from the moment I get in to the moment I leave. And every day I have to sit and judge what I’m working on. What is really important today and what can I safely slack off on? I decided this week I can slack off on finishing the quotes I need to renew some service and support contracts. But that will hit the fan soon too.

The van comes by and picks me up about 4:30 p.m. I am usually home about 5:30. (And on Thursday I was drafted to drive the van; that meant long walks to and from the Department of Agriculture, where the van resides during the day.) But no rest for the weary for this parent. It’s usually something. One night it was take Rosie to see a doctor. The other night it was take her to church (both directions) where she is participating in a play. This usually means I grab a quick dinner by myself after I get home.

So when there is free time it is an hour or so in the evening to catch my breath. You’ll forgive me if I am not up to blogging; at that point I just need to veg a little.

Now I hope I don’t sound like I am whining. I am paid very good money and my days may be long but I have a good job and I tend to work pretty close to 40-hour weeks (although add on commutes and it is more like 60 hour weeks). I have time to attend to both my daughter and my wife and I’m grateful for this too.

Still, as busy as these weeks get sometimes, there is something about the awful franticness of it that invigorates me. I got home from work on Thursday close to exhausted but exhilarated in some sense. I wonder if a juggler gets the same thill when thrown one more ball and still managing to keep them all in the air. It is better to feel exhilarated I guess, than annoyed. Much of this sort of work is boring but if it comes fast enough I don’t have time to notice it.

So I’m recharging this weekend, or trying to. I will leave shortly to go running, but I have already spent close to two hours taking my daughter to the orthodontist and now she is at church again practicing for the play.

And that, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.

Idea: Term Limited Marriages

The Thinker by Rodin

At first glance this is probably going to sound nuts. To say the least this idea goes against our traditional view of society that a marriage should be “for better or for worse” and should last “as long as you both shall live”. But given that the average marriage lasts seven years and the divorce rate in this country is about 50 percent, it may be that most couples don’t take the commitment with the needed sobriety. Or it may also be that the system of marriage itself is wacked and needs some major adjustments.

Let’s just hypothetically say that when a couple went to the courthouse to get a marriage license they could check off the terms: 1 year, 5 years, 10 years or life. There could also be a checkbox: renew automatically or expire after term.

As an incentive to keep the marriage together, there would be legal penalties if the marriage ended early in divorce. Any attempt to leave the marriage prior to the expiration of the contract would require a penalty of some sort. But perhaps since healthy marriage is considered to be of a benefit to society, maybe there should also be government rewards for renewing contracts, say a $100 tax credit per year, payable upon renewal of the marriage contract.

If divorce occurs before the contract is up and one party is found at fault then the one “at fault” should perhaps pay a penalty of some sort to the government. As a working number let’s make it a civil penalty of $1000. If the marriage is dissolved by joint agreement with no “at fault” finding then both parties would pay the penalty equally, in addition to any regular fees required by divorce courts to process paperwork. Given the current divorce statistics this would mean a nice revenue stream for state and local governments.

So what is the upside? From my perspective it encourages spouses to actively work on their marriage and to address issues that might be causing a marriage to flounder. If marriage is for life then there is little incentive to work on relationship issues until some sort of crisis occurs. Then, if the behavior is not too egregious, perhaps it can be worked out in counseling or therapy. But knowing there is a deadline coming up when a marriage can terminate, both parties have reason to address their relationship issues seriously.

Admittedly children raise a layer of complication and I haven’t thought out those issues in any detail. Perhaps the law would state that if children result from the marriage then marriage contracts would renew by default, or that both parties would agree to binding arbitration on the matter of child custody. Clearly we want to encourage healthy marriages with children and discourage broken homes. (Hmm, suggesting that children of broken marriages must be go into orphanages might be quite an inducement to work on marital problems! This is just a wild idea; not one to seriously contemplate.)

Another upside is that if a marriage is just not working out it allows both parties to get out of it with a minimum of feelings hurt and no penalties when the term expires. “Well, we tried and gave it our best and it just didn’t work.” Both parties would then feel free to move on with life and grow in a direction they need to grow.

Admittedly I am a real “think outside the box” sort of person and I suspect if this idea were entertained seriously I’d be having bricks coming through my windows on a regular basis. But the idea holds some appeal to me. I notice in myself I want to continually dodge relationship issues with my wife; if nothing else something like this would force me to concentrate on the matter rather than let problems fester.

Your thoughts?

Our Emerging Post Ethnic Society

The Thinker by Rodin

They’re rioting in Africa, they’re starving in Spain.
There’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch.
And I don’t like anybody very much!

But we can be tranquil, and thankful, and proud,
For mans’ been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off, and we will all be blown away.

They’re rioting in Africa, there’s strife in Iran.
What nature doesn’t do to us, will be done by our fellow man.

– The Kingston Trio

Last weekend I sat down at watched “Gangs of New York”. I am not much one for violent movies and I’m sort of amazed I made it through this particular movie, since it is heavy on the violence. But at the same time it is a compelling portrait of mid 19th century life in Manhattan’s lower east side. The movie suggests that Five Points was the hot epicenter of this nation’s melting pot; and the major activity in that area was one set of ethnic gangs beating up other sets of ethnic gangs. The folks in “West Side Story” were playing with matches compared with these people.

Yes it was a difficult movie but somehow riveting and hard to turn off. But it did get me thinking and hoping that maybe in this country most of these ethnic tensions are behind us. I hesitate to declare victory too early but maybe, just maybe, we are finally figuring out how to live with each other despite our differences. This is a marked difference from much of the rest of the world.

It’s not like, God forbid, that we are living in one giant diverse multicultural neighborhood. Here in Northern Virginia we have our ethnic enclaves. The Vietnamese and Koreans are in Annandale. Hispanics have clustered in Herndon. African Americans are pretty hard to find here in Fairfax County, but you can find pockets of them along Richmond Highway in Alexandria, and here in Reston in places like Dogwood. We WASPs fill out much of the rest of the county, with heaviest proportions in the higher income neighborhoods like McLean and Great Falls.

So we are not quite yet a melting pot. But there are signs we are getting along with each other. I live in a bedrock, largely Republican bedroom community, an exurb of Herndon called Oak Hill. But it’s not hard to find people of different colors or ethnicities around here. African Americans are hardest to find, but there are lots of people who are oriental, Indian or Persian. What we don’t have a lot of are people with modest incomes. To own one of the many McMansions in our neighborhood, you can’t do it working at the Walmart. But in spite of some major cultural differences, we do have a number of similar values including a deep appreciation for the importance of education, commitment toward our children and safe and supportive neighborhoods.

As a federal employee I am surrounded by diversity every day. Among the federal employees I know in my agency, a majority might actually be African American. Among all the people in my agency (there are a lot of contractors) we WASPs are a distinct minority. But it doesn’t seem the least bit weird to me any more. As I ruminated in this entry it is seems weird now to be away from it.

I read a lot of news and I’ve been struck by the ethnic and religious conflicts of late. India vs. Pakistan is one such example. Inside Pakistan itself there was recently a huge terrorist bombing of a Shi’ite Mosque killing dozens of people. It is assumed that terrorists from the Sunni minority were responsible for the incident, mainly because the Shi’ites have been persecuting them for a long time. To put this conflict into terms we can understand, the difference between Shi’ite and Sunni is like the difference between Catholic and Protestant. Apparently there is still quite a ways to go before they can learn to coexist in peace and Pakistan is beginning to resemble Northern Ireland.

But of course the world is rife with ethnic and religious conflicts. We haven’t done the best job of managing these conflicts in our own country either. I think it is becoming clearer that we are getting better at learning to live with each other.

It occurred to me recently that while the melting pot metaphor is not really an accurate one for those of us living in the United States, we are a fairly unique laboratory (Brazil being the other one) where lots of ethnicities are learning to live together in peace. In fact, over time this may be our greatest strength.

As “Gangs of New York” makes clear it has not been a pleasant journey at times. Nonetheless it is fascinating to look at historical trends at work. By the time I pass on it is likely that Americans of European ancestry will no longer be in the majority and may not even be in the plurality. Current trends suggest that a hundred years from now if any ethnicity predominates in this country it is likely to be Hispanic. But just as likely is that there will be a rough mixture all of us.

I feel good for my daughter’s generation. She has known nothing but diversity since the day she came into the world, and she has learned to appreciate and respect the diversity around her. It is not just ethnic diversity that she has learned to respect, but religious and political diversity as well. Recently the Washington Post ran an article suggesting the post ethnic age was at hand. It may well be that to my daughter’s generation it won’t really matter what someone’s color, or ethnicity or religion is. We will all share enough of the same culture and lifestyle where these things will recede into the background. Instead perhaps we will live Martin Luther King’s dream where we will all be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.

If I could design the ideal America I would do my best to select equal numbers from all ethnicities and religions. No one group should predominate. In such a society we have no choice but to work through our problems together. I feel sorry for the Sunnis in Pakistan, who are very much a religious minority and will likely always be a religious minority. But I feel good about the diversity in our own country. When our soldiers fight in places like Iraq the locals are seeing a multicultural hue of colors, and people of all faiths and ethnicities. This in itself can seem like a threat to foreign eyes, but I hope it is also a wake up call of what the world can and should look like.

We are modeling the future of the world here and now in the United States. I hope we are getting it right this time.