Monday, September 30, 2013

Observations on Penn State 9.30

Something about Penn State has been on my mind for the past few weeks that in a way relates to our current political mess. One of this country's, maybe the world's, biggest problems is that some of us have become so isolated in our ideological cocoons that we talk over, more likely yell over, each other. There is no room for honest debate or that most heinous of things, compromise.

I mentioned before that John Amaechi, a 1994 graduate of Penn State, had been named the Grand Marshall for this year's homecoming. Amaechi is also a former member of the NBA who after retiring announced he was gay. Ever since the homecoming announcement two small but vocal groups have criticized the decision. The first group is made up of the usual bigoted homophobes who for the most part choose to remain anonymous. They don't concern me because, as the saying goes, haters are going to hate.

The second group, made up of alumni, does concern me because they show how the times we live are beginning to effect even the most close knit communities. There is a group of angry Penn State alumni that, for lack of a better term, have become known as 'Penn State truthers.' These alumni don't hate Amaechi because he is gay but because of statements he had made in the days after the Sandusky scandal first broke. Amaechi said that he was personally ashamed of the situation and openly regretted ever having anything to do with Sandusky's Second Mile charity. Since the homecoming announcement Amaechi has received racist and homophobic e-mails and twitter messages and has considered not attending homecoming at all. John Amaechi is one of the Penn State graduates I most admire and I find saddening that he is now being attacked by some of his fellow graduates.

Ryan Jones, senior editor of The Penn Stater, wrote about the situation and put what I was thinking into words.

"The past two years have provided a harsh lesson on how easy it is for others to hold the actions of a few against an entire community. We've all heard countless references to 'Penn State’s guilt,' as if an institution can do anything, and as if such careless language doesn't have repercussions for everyone affiliated with it. We know this; we've lived it.

Too often now, such generalizations are directed at fellow members of this community. Alumni think this; students don’t understand that. Our internal discourse has taken on the worst aspects of our national political discourse: so much shouting, so little listening. No matter what side you’re on, you can see where that’s gotten us. If it continues, we only hurt Penn State. Which is to say, we only hurt ourselves."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Observations on Art 9.25

I was beginning to think all the time lapse film makers out there had taken some sort of collective holiday because I hadn't seen any really good ones lately. Than I saw this. Photographer and filmmaker Jason Phipps and his crew climbed nearby Trego Peak to capture their unique view of this year's Burning Man.


Burning Man 2013 Time-Lapse:
Seen Miles Away From A Mountain Top
by Jason Phipps
Published on Sep 14, 2013

This video captures Burning Man 2013 from an elevation of 5495 feet above sea level and over 4 linear miles from the center of Black Rock City. Old Razorback, aka Trego Peak, provides a unique vista of this incredible annual event. Climbing to the peak of Old Razorback has become a challenging and rewarding tradition for our team. This is a view that most will never experience in person. It is our passion to share it with the world through the lens of a camera. Climbing 1,888 feet in less than a mile over steep, unstable mountainside is a dangerous and exhilarating mission. This year we deployed cameras during the build week, capturing the growth of the city and ending it the night of the burn. We express gratitude to the family and friends that joined us for this epic climb. We could not do it alone. Many thanks to our team this year: Mark Phipps, John Phipps, Dallon Phipps, Kevin Johnson & Meghan Johnson. We also offer heartfelt thanks to OpenOptics (Inspired Flight) and Dusty Nix for designing such an incredible sound score for this year's rendition.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 9.23

Last Thursday, before they even got to voting for a government shutdown, House Republicans reached one of their all too frequent lows when they voted to cut $39 billion from the food stamp program. In effect the richest nation in history voted to let 3 million of its poorest citizens starve. It's easy to put the blame on conservative House Republicans for the simple reason that they were the only ones to vote for the bill. Not one Democrat voted for it and even 15 Republicans voted against it. The bill doesn't literally cut people from the program but uses multiple requirements to do the dirty work.

My personal favorite part of the bill is the rule that allows states to require drug tests before providing assistance. We all know it's those drug addicts buying lobster with their food stamps that are causing the problems. I'll consider such a rule the day someone has to pee in a cup in order to buy a gun. Another part of the bill eliminates a system that lets people receiving other forms of government assistance automatically qualify for food stamps. In simple terms that means millions of unemployed Americans could lose their eligibility.

Jason Kirell is an Afghanistan combat veteran and food stamp recipient who wrote a small piece in The Huffington Post. In it he wrote this:

"Are you fucking kidding me? I didn't risk my life in Afghanistan so I could come back and watch people go hungry in America. I certainly didn't risk it so I could come back and go hungry."

Republicans are always fond of saying support the troops but I suppose that only pertains to troops in a war zone.

notes - You can read a summary of the so-called Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 here and a complete roll call here.

update - Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee voted to cut food stamps. From 1999 to 2012 his business, Stephen & Lynn Fincher Farms, received $3,483,824 in federal government farm subsidies including $70,574 last year. During debate on the bill Fincher quoted the bible saying "the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Observations 9.20

And so it's time for Democrats, progressives, and liberals to sit back and watch as the Republican Party destroys itself. The only problem with this is the Republican Party may also destroy the world economy in the process, it may be worth it.

This short statement on the Republican budget, released by The White House yesterday, is worth reading. Maybe if the Republicans bothered to read it they could save themselves before they takeoff on what even the The Wall Street Journal called a kamikaze mission. I doubt they will bother. Italics are my own.

September 19, 2013
H.J. Res. 59 – Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014
(Rep. Rogers, R-KY)

The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.J. Res. 59, making continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2014 and for other purposes, because it advances a narrow ideological agenda that threatens our economy and the interests of the middle class. The Resolution would defund the Affordable Care Act, denying millions of hard-working middle class families the security of affordable health coverage.

If the President were presented with H.J. Res. 59, he would veto the bill.

The Administration is willing to support a short-term continuing resolution to allow critical Government functions to operate without interruption and looks forward to working with the Congress on appropriations legislation for the remainder of the fiscal year that preserves critical national priorities, protects national security, and makes investments to spur economic growth and job creation for years to come.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Observations 9.16

The primary for New York's mayoral election was last Tuesday and I have to say New York City politics just confuses the hell out of me sometimes. New York City is so big that when I look at the politics of the city it's as if I'm looking at completely different nation. Viewing it as an outsider, I may live in it most of the time but I never totally consider myself a New Yorker, I have to say New Yorkers don't always look at the grander scheme of things. It's as if they don't see the effect what happens in New York City has on the rest of the country. They don't see it even as they take it for granted.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn would have been the first woman mayor of the city, a married lesbian Mayor of New York City. I know she would have had to beat the Republican nominee in November but after two terms of Rudy Giuliani, followed by three terms of Michael Bloomberg, there isn't a chance in hell the city is going to elect another Republican mayor.

A married lesbian mayor of New York City. Think about that. Think about the effect that could have had on the drive for same sex marriage around the nation. We'll never know because 49% of lesbian and gay voters went with the winner Bill de Blasio compared to 36% for Quinn. There are plenty of reasons being thrown around for Quinn's poor performance among LGBT voters. The primary one being that we have moved beyond voting for someone simply because they are gay or lesbian, we now vote the issues. That may be the case in New York but in an election as historic as this election could have been, how a Quinn win would have looked around the country,  it reeks of New Yorkers saying we got ours now you're on your own.

I don't totally buy that argument and as always I have a theory of my own. Looking at the numbers it's something that seems fairly obvious but I haven't heard it talked about much and in fact I didn't get a very good reaction from friends when I mentioned it. I don't think being gay cost Quinn the election nor do I think it was her stand on some issues. I think she lost the election because she is a woman. What is even more boggling than her poor performance with LGBT voters is the even lower number of women voters who went with Quinn, just 19%. Reading the numbers I just think men, including gay men, didn't vote for Quinn because she is a woman and women didn't vote for her because she is a lesbian. What got me in trouble was saying that I thought a gay man, a Christopher Quinn, would have won handily. Maybe I'm totally wrong but I'd rather believe that is the reason Quinn lost than believe LGBT voters turned on her, and history, to prove a point.

But this is a city whose Democratic Party that gave Anthony Weiner 6% of the vote. I'm sure there is a lesson in that number too but it's a lesson I don't want to learn.

9/17 update - After I posted this a friend of mine pointed out a column by Joshua Greenman, a New York Daily News opinion writer. I have to admit I don't always read the Daily News so I missed it. I may have to read him more often ...

"Let’s be honest. Even in 2013, it’s really hard to project yourself as a tough-as-nails character with uniquely mayoral mettle when you’re a woman. Perhaps doubly so when you’re a lesbian woman. That put Quinn in a box. She had to be strong but simultaneously struggled, no doubt coached in this direction by campaign consultants, to project charm."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Observations 9.12

Just a some numbers I find fascinating and also more than a bit sad. Other than that I'm not going to comment, you can make of them what you want.

"In the United States women now receive 62 percent of the associate's degrees, 58 percent of the bachelor's degrees, 61 percent of the master's degrees, and 51 percent of the doctoral degrees." That comes from Al Gore's book "The Future." On average 51 percent of all degrees given the world over are received by women.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts is an organization that "seeks to explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities." VIDA is best known for its count which keeps track of how many women and men are published in major magazines. You can read the full count here but I'll give you a sample.

In 2012 Harper’s had 76 bylines by men and 17 by women, The Atlantic had 176 bylines by men and 47 by women, and The New Yorker had 445 bylines by men and 160 by women.

As I said at the beginning, sad.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 9.9

Over the weekend I tried very hard to not pay any attention to the news. Let's just say it's been all too depressing lately, primarily the Syria debate. Cable news and politics in America has gotten to the point that Syria itself isn't the news, not chemical weapons, not the tens of thousands dead, or the millions of refugees. No the news about Syria is primarily about the debate about Syria. Much like Edward Snowden himself became the story and overshadowed the NSA spying the Syria debate is about the debaters themselves. Who is for or against an attack, who was for or against the Iraq war, one big round of look at us because we matter. Another way of putting it is I always found politics entertaining but now, at least at times, it seems politics has become just another form of entertainment. But don't worry, I still love Rachel.

Last Thursday Rachel Maddow finished her show with a commentary. She did it after Donald Rumsfeld appeared on Fox News and called President Obama a "so-called commander in chief" and it should be required watching for every American. The transcript hasn't been posted yet so below is my own attempt at transcribing the finish of it. I should note that in this case I don't guarantee my work. You can watch the full commentary here.

"If you're an architect or a conspirator or one of the primary actors in the Iraq war. In arguably the grandest and most craven foreign policy disaster in american history. Your opinion is no longer required on matters of war and peace. Please enjoy painting portraits of dogs or something. Painting portraits of yourself in the bathroom trying to get clean. Please enjoy the forgiving company of your family, your loved ones, and your god. But we as a country never, ever, need to hear from you about war ever again. You can go now."

You can go now, if only.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 9.4

Because of  my brief post yesterday at breakfast today I was forced, forced, to come up with some sort of definitive opinion on Syria. What is going to happen is the easy part. There will be some limited bombing, that's just a given. What is harder is what I think of it. As I said in my post, damned if you do damned if you don't.

Off the top of my head, and with too little coffee, I think it's something that needs to be done. That isn't to say I like the idea. To just stand by and watch, debate, to do nothing as the slaughter goes on, I just can't stomach that. Rather be damned now than be damned by history. What is more important is what happens next. I don't mean more bombing or arming the opposition, whatever that is, but what we can do to help the millions of refugees with winter approaching.

I was going to make this an update to yesterday's post but than I read an article from Foreign Policy, I know, called "Muse of the Revolution"  which is about Libyan novelist Hisham Matar and written by Syrian writer Amal Hanano. It's very good and you should read it. I wanted to pass on the following paragraph.

"How do you measure time during a revolution, during a war? The seasons pass, and no one places bets on a date for Assad's fall anymore. Syrian time is measured by massacres and tragedies and the growing number of dead. Remember when it was 2,000? 10,000? 40,000? 70,000? 100,000? Remember?"

If nothing else history has a good memory.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Observations 9.3

Some quick thoughts on Syria with the assumption you already know the background. Syria, the debate on Syria, and any attack on Syria is just a classic damned if you do and damned if you don't situation. I say classic because really both sides are right and both sides are wrong. The Middle East is now a tragedy even by standards of the Middle East with the hopes and dreams of a year ago turned to dust and blown away.

Any comparisons between Syria and the lead up to Iraq are overblown as the excuse of Iraq's WMD was a lie from the beginning. Syria has, and always had, those weapons and now has used them. Still the same arguments are being used today as were used than and they all sound so hollow. Also I don't trust any of the talking heads who ten years ago pushed for total war and now are totally against even a limited attack as if it somehow wipes their war slate clean.

After two arguably failed Middle Eastern wars an attack, even a limited attack, on Syria is the last thing this country needs to debate. At the same time Assad's using the world's deadliest weapons against his most defenseless citizens is a horror on a scale all it's own. Is it more of a horror than a war that has  killed 100,000 and created 2 million refugees created in two years? I have no idea.

I also have no idea what the correct answer is. As I alluded to at the start, in all likelihood there isn't one.