Saturday, February 28, 2009

Random NOLA

Here is my next addition to Random NOLA, which is a blog posting category that features a photo that I've taken from places around the city of New Orleans that make up a part of my day. They won't be pre-arranged. And I'm going to try to make them pictures of inconspicious scenes, but potentially identifiable to the attentive native. In other words, don't expect to find pictures of the Superdome or the St. Louis Cathedral or other such easily identifiable places. Where possible, I'll also try to keep street signs out of the picture, too. The goal is not only just to share a brief, random part of the path of my day, but also to see if true NOLA-philes can figure out exactly where in the city this scene is located. So, without further ado, here's the next "Random NOLA" Photo. Click on the picture to enlarge it. Give it your best shot and put your guess in the comments section:

Friday, February 27, 2009

Post Mardi Gras Roundup

Well, the Mardi Gras week has ended and the hectic pace of partying followed by reintegration into the more mundane realities of work and life has slowed. A few thoughts and comments:

(1) I witnessed on Mardi Gras day a bunch of young punks jump up and grab some throws off of a Truck Float following the Rex Parade. I, probably foolishly, ran up to these kids as soon as I saw what they did and grabbed what they had stolen from their hands and gave it back to the Truck float riders. It ticked me off for a variety of reasons. First, the parade had come to a complete stop and had been stationary for a while, so it only made sense that the Truck float riders would refrain from throwing stuff (this was the complaint of the punks when I confronted them -- that the float riders weren't throwing anything, as if that gave them the right to "take" something from the riders.) Second, we were at the very beginning of the route on Napoleon and Danneel, and so the truck riders were facing a long, long ride and probably needed to husband their limited store of throws. All these things I can relate to as someone who himself rides on a float in a parade. Third, it's just bad Mardi Gras form to behave that way and ruins the spirit of the whole Mardi Gras parade experience. Fourth, and this is the most troublesome aspect of it to me, was that the young punks were white kids and the float riders were black, and the punks clearly seemed to be rationalizing their gross behavior as a reaction to their perception that they were being ignored by the float riders because of their race. It was an ugly moment. But the punks didn't threaten me because I got the feeling that they knew they were being cads. Furthermore, I probably startled them because I was wearing my Thoth headgear and mask when I first confronted them after their despicable act. I just hope that my little intervention made some impact for the good and in defense of the Mardi Gras spirit. Anyway ...

(2) Barack Obama's address to the joint session of Congress was simply superb. And Jindal's response was painfully and embarrassingly bad. I actually felt really bad and sorry for Jindal. And, frankly, if I'm honest, I actually wanted Jindal to do well. After all, he does represent Louisiana and it was a chance for Louisiana to make a positive impression. But Jindal blew it. I know he can perform much better, and perhaps the moment was simply too much for him at this time, but his horrible performance reaffirmed some of the worst stereotypes of bumbling and inept Louisiana politicians. Too bad. But, dang, that Barack Obama is smooth, smart, and charming. It's so refreshing to see that in our President after 8 years of less-than-bright, if somewhat folksy, George W. Bush-cum-Alfred E. Neuman speeches.

(3) I was somewhat astonished at the brazenness and ambitiousness of Obama's budget plan. I have to say that I give the man kudos for boldness, and I can even support what this means for the truly massive, profound, and long-term liberal shift in public policy that his plan represents. But my enthusiasm for this transformative liberal agenda is somewhat tempered by the price tag. I would like to see much, much more by way of fiscal discipline and an approach to balanced budget making and a reduction of federal deficits. But I still have confidence that Obama knows he's got to take this on if he wants to be retain his hold over the imaginations of the American public. We can't keep borrowing against our children's futures. So, we'll see.

Those are just some off-the-cuff thoughts for the moment. I'll have more to say later on, I'm sure. But let me end with this:

My B-2/3 is once again showing and selling her exquisite hand-made functional pottery tomorrow at the Arts Market of New Orleans in Palmer Park. The hours have been pushed back because of weather concerns to 12pm-6pm. But we'll be there. Please brave the weather and do stop by to say hello and watch my B-2/3 throw at the wheel.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thoth Pics

OK. So I finally managed to download some of my Thoth pictures. Here are a few of them ... The first two are pre-parade in the staging and costuming area. The first of these is yours truly, fully-costumed, and the second is just a random shot of Thoth crew members getting ready. The second two are shots of me with my squirrely girlies and my B-2/3 right at the float staging area on Tchoupitoulas Street before boarding the float. The last two are pictures of the crowds from my vantage point on the float. Finally, as ever, the last is a YouTube video of some of my graduate students bead-bombing and book-bombing me.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hail Thoth!

Had a great ride today. I am, as usual following this parade, completely and utterly exhausted. It was a lot of fun. My grad students are the best! I have never, ever, in my entire life as a Mardi Gras participant -- and I'm a native New Orleanean who has participated in Mardi Gras for most of my entire life of 40+ years -- witnessed what my grad students did. They are so creative! Along with their own beads, they also threw Latin American Studies textbooks up to me on the float! Not only reverse throwing protocol, but very cool specialty throws, to boot. Who would ever even think of college textbooks as Mardi Gras throws? I thought it was awesome. I kept the books and will mark in them that they were part of Mardi Gras 2009.

I saw so many people on the route that I know, including blogger Schroeder from People Get Ready, who snapped some pictures of me. I'd love to see them, Schroeder! I also saw blogger Leigh C. of Liprap's Lament - The Line, who passed along to me the best drink I had on the ride -- brandy milk punch. Thanks for that yummy deliciousness, Leigh C., and let me know how I can get your cup back to you, as it was a very nice cup, and in my mindlessness I just held on to it. Outside of blogger friends, I have a range of groups and networks: there are my children's classmates and their families, there is my own family, there are my undergraduate students, there are my graduate students, there are my faculty and office colleagues and their families, there is my JHS Blue Jay network, there are my LatiNola friends, and finally my neighborhood peeps. My brother-in-law, who rode next to me this year, told me that I should run for Mayor as it seemed like every five minutes people were calling out for me along the route. It's a lot of fun having so many folks come out to see you, but it's hard to keep up with them all and I know that I miss some of them. So, if I missed you, I apologize. It wasn't intentional. What you always need to remember is that for us up on the floats, it is never-ending cacophany. Unless the parade actually stops for an extended period of time, we never get any down time from the noise. It's a kind of aural and visual overstimulation of the kind I've never experiended in any other situation. Not even Saints games come close to what I'm talking about. So we miss some folks in the blur. Heck, today I almost missed my own wife and kids; so please don't hold it against me if I missed you.

Again, all in all, an awesome ride. Pictures to follow. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of Mardi Gras. I know the Hucks will!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

From the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" Department

My B-2/3 (better two-thirds) pointed out to me this little wire service story that appeared in this morning's Times-Picayune. Notice anything particularly hilarious about it? Hint: look at the print highlighted in RED:

With hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work and the economy in a nosedive, the U.S. peanut industry expected sales to soar this year.

Americans tend to turn to peanut products to stretch their food dollars in tough times, avoiding more expensive protein sources such as steak and ground beef.

Enter an ongoing salmonella outbreak that has sickened some 600 people in 43 states and been linked to nine deaths, and those rosy predictions after a record growing season have been dashed.

"They've tainted our entire industry," said Shelly Nutt, executive director of the peanut producers board in Texas, the nation's second largest growing state behind Georgia. "Public perception is killing us."
We both got some good belly laughs out of that one. My B-2/3 and I got the "Nutt" part, but it was my 10-year-old who added to our mirth by pointing out that the "Shelly" part worked nicely into the joke as well. After all, what is a peanut if not a "Shelly Nutt"!

Come, Now, Friend Cao ...

I'm disappointed. Not by Anh "Joseph" Cao's vote against the stimulus package, per se. I can abide that vote as I think that there are principled reasons for not voting for the measure. Rather, I am disappointed in the explanation Cao gave in his letter to the Editor in today's Times-Picayune (can't find it online yet) regarding his vote. In short, even though I think Cao's letter was earnest and sincere, it didn't really make a case for his "no" vote on the basis of those principled reasons. I am afraid to say that his letter was not convincing at all, and, in fact, underscored his inexperience and his impotence as a legislator.

I'll get more into this when I can actually reference his letter directly. (I don't have the print copy of the TP in front of me, and I can't find the letter online). But suffice it for now to say that Cao's principle argument for not supporting the legislation was that it didn't serve his district in terms of wealth and job creation. The implication is that had it done so, his vote would have been different. But this argument reveals a couple of things to us about Cao, none of which reflects positively on him.

First, it simply drives the point home that, if there was nothing in the bill to benefit Cao's district, then it is also true that Cao either did nothing or could do nothing to change this. It points to Cao as a passive "taker" of the stimulus as opposed to an active "shaper" of the stimulus. And it defies logic that Cao, had he really wanted to, could have used his potential role as the lone GOP Congressperson to support the measure, to extract something for his district that he would have been proud of. In short, it points to Cao's political impotence and to his political naivete. Not good. We in Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District should expect more from Cao. And Cao, himself, should actually be presenting himself as more proactive on behalf of his district instead of coming across as a rather helpless and ineffective bystander in looking out for his district.

Second, Cao's argument underscores a real lack of vision about what is good for his district. In fact, Cao's argument that there weren't specific goodies in the bill that targeted his district directly seems to indicate that Cao, himself, would consider supporting a stimulus only to the extent that it serves the narrow interest of his district without reference to what a stimulus might do for the overall national economy that is also critical for the wealth and job creation of his district. Cao apparently fails to see how a responsible stimulus that really puts the US on a much more solid economic footing overall is actually good for Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District, even if that stimulus doesn't have specific earmarks or pork projects for his district. To put it another way, if Cao had considered how the stimulus might benefit state budgets or regional development efforts, he might have come to a different conclusion about the benefits of such a stimulus on the economic health and welfare of his own district.

UPDATE: Tuesday, February 17, 2009: 9:00PM - Here's Cao's letter. Read it for yourself.

UPDATE THE SECOND - Cao's letter, as is typical for most GOP stimulus package opponents, laments the apparent lack of fairness and transparency in what is supposedly a back-room deal that is foisted upon Congress without adequate time to study and debate the measure. Cao writes:

The passage of the stimulus bill was neither fair nor transparent. The entire process was characterized by traditional Washington back-room dealing and was intended to ram through a trillion-dollar spending frenzy with as little debate and scrutiny as possible.
To read this, one would get the impression that Cao and others simply had no time to read and ponder the stimulus plan's fine print. But what rankles any honest observer is that this complaint is also accompanied by the charge that the stimulus is "loaded with big government spending and dubious initiatives that will do little to help the average American. The costs of the stimulus bill far outweigh the benefits." How, if this stimulus was rammed down Cao's throat with little to no debate and scrutiny, is Cao so certain that the bill is loaded with big government spending and dubious initiatives? It seems to me that Cao would have had to study the bill fairly thoroughly in order to know this. If it is true that Cao didn't have time to study the bill's fine print, then his claim to know what the bill is "loaded" with is really disingenuous. If it is true that Cao didn't have time to scrutinize the bill, how would he really be able to know that the benefits aren't worth the costs? It seems to me that Cao is simply parroting standard GOP talking points. Disappointing. Again, I'm very willing to entertain a rationale for opposing the stimulus on the basis of specific reference to fiscally irresponsible elements of the bill; but Cao doesn't give any specific references that he himself discovered, all the while claiming that they exist and that he is aware enough of them to find fault with the bill and to vote against it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Random NOLA

Here is my next addition to Random NOLA, which is a blog posting category that features a photo that I've taken from places around the city of New Orleans that make up a part of my day. They won't be pre-arranged. And I'm going to try to make them pictures of inconspicious scenes, but potentially identifiable to the attentive native. In other words, don't expect to find pictures of the Superdome or the St. Louis Cathedral or other such easily identifiable places. Where possible, I'll also try to keep street signs out of the picture, too. The goal is not only just to share a brief, random part of the path of my day, but also to see if true NOLA-philes can figure out exactly where in the city this scene is located. So, without further ado, here's the next "Random NOLA" Photo. Give it your best shot and put your guess in the comments section:

Shotgun Wedding Announcement of the Year

From the Wedding Announcements section of the Sunday, February 15, Times-Picayune, in the "Living" section, page D-2, we are informed of the marriage of Miss Erin Ashley Malone and Mr. Michael Frank Rourke. In this announcement, in the penultimate paragraph, we get a new twist on the whole "shotgun wedding" theme. Check this out:

The couple met while attending LSU Engineering College. Erin and Michael were engaged in December 2007, in a duck blind in Lafitte, while the bride's father shot their limits.
Gulp! I can only imagine what it must be like for the groom, on the verge of declaring his eternal love to his fiancee and issuing a marriage proposal, to be doing so with the ringing sound of his future father-in-law's shotgun lingering in the air, in the midst of that acrid smell and billowy smoke of spent gunpowder, as hapless and helpless ducks are falling dead from the sky in droves. No room for getting cold feet and having second thoughts in that scenario!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Anh "Joseph" Cao and the GOP War on Obama

It seems more and more clear to me that the GOP has declared partisan war on Obama and has never, ever planned to deal with the President on good faith, in spite of Obama's efforts to reach out to them and include them in working on this country's dire problems when he basically has enough votes in the House and Senate to ignore them completely.

Little tidbits keep trickling out from the mouths of some GOP politicians like Judd Gregg and Arlen Specter and Louisiana's own David Vitter that all point to this fact.

Let's just forget the stimulus legislation and any other policy initiatives for the moment and focus simply on the strategy, I wonder what Anh "Joseph" Cao thinks of this kind of politics? A politics which shows deceptive, bad faith contempt for a President who wants to do the right thing by trying to include the GOP. A politics which places party over country. If Cao is the kind of person I think and believe he is, I would imagine that it's getting harder and harder for him to face himself honestly in the mirror before he goes to bed at night and feel good about his party's strategy and his small part in this game.

Anh "Joseph" Cao, don't give in to this cynical, small, and puny politics. Don't sell out your soul and your country in this way. Either stand up to it as a member of the GOP, or abandon it by joining the Democrats.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Calling Anh "Joseph" Cao: Switch Parties and Join the Democrats

Since I'm pretty sure that Anh "Joseph" Cao's office apparently checks out The Huck Upchuck, I would like to use this blog to exhort Cao to take a long hard look at his partisan affiliation with the GOP and to consider switching parties and joining with the Democrats. There are plenty of good, pragmatic reasons for his doing so. For one, if he hopes to have any chance at re-election in two years, he'll have to compete as a Democrat. He and everyone else, including the GOP, know this. It is also true that his social justice views align much more closely with progressive Christian liberalism than they do with reactionary Christian conservatism. But I would like to emphasize another point to Cao: the Republican base loathes him. If he thinks that he can be Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District representative and win the favor of the Louisiana state GOP over some more reliably partisan Christian conservative, he's got a rude awakening coming to him. Sure, he just voted to oppose the stimulus package and to snub President Obama in a very Obama-friendly district, after giving very strong assurances of his likelihood to support the stimulus package. That's not very wise politics, even if one gives Cao the benefit of the doubt that this decision was more the result of hewing to conscience rather than to partisanship. And Jeffrey over at the Yellow Blog does have an excellent point that Cao could have actually done something by way of inserting measures into the stimulus legislation to ensure that the stimulus legislation actually did serve his district in ways that would have elicited his support. But here's the thing ...

I like Cao. I think he is, at core, an honorable politician and, more importantly, an honorable, empathetic person. He is someone who I believe really does have the best interests of his district at heart. I think he finds himself attracted to the GOP because of a few other issues, some of which he says shaped the basis for his opposition to the stimulus measure. I also think he feels some loyalty to the GOP for sticking with him and helping to get him elected in the first place in a very Democratic district. I can understand that. I want to remind Cao, though, that, whatever the GOP might have done for him, it was Democratic voters like me that made the difference. He should consider some loyalty to that as well. So, if Cao does read my blog, I want to appeal to his sense of intellectual honesty and decency to realize that the Democratic Party is also filled with people who are progressive pro-lifers, who are concerned about "family values" of all kinds, including fiscal responsibility, and who welcome diversity of opinion and even ideological disagreement within the party enough to have helped put him in office. We Democrats scrap amongst ourselves and might disagree mightily over policy issues, but we tend not to vilify any kind of pragmatic politics within our ranks. His election is a testament to that.

On the flip side, though, I wonder if Cao, when he really looks at the current GOP, can find the same kind of welcome? In today's GOP, crossing party lines for reasons of conscience is anathema to acceptance. Which is odd, because the GOP fashions itself as a party that respects the calls of conscience. In fact, I think it's pretty clear that not buying into right-wing party orthodoxy is actually cause for vilification and outright hostility. Just look at what happens to intellectually honest conservatives like David Frum, or Andrew Sullivan, or Charles Buckley, or Douglas Kmiec. I find it hard to believe that the GOP didn't twist Cao's arm in some way regarding his vote on the stimulus package. Now, Cao may feel some loyalty to the GOP and may be drawn to the GOP on certain issues, but I can assure him that the GOP's base despise folks like him. I regularly look at some of the more popular conservative blogs and I can assure Cao that he is considered at best a RINO and at worst a stealth Democrat. Here I am, a liberal Democrat who voted for Obama and who is also a cheerleader for Cao. And yet I challenge Cao to visit conservative blogs and find out what the GOP base thinks of him. The fact is that, all the hoopla about Cao being the future of the party, the conservative base does't like Cao and doesn't trust him. Example 1: That "Resume of a Democrat" meme I have been associating with Cao? That's not mine. That's what a FREEPER said about Cao. Example 2: A conservative reader of my blog wrote in a recent comment to one of my previous posts about Cao, and the prospect of Cao's switching party affiliation:

"I agree he should switch parties. He fits in with the looters and exploiters -he's absolutely perfect for your state!"
Cao should take a long, hard look at where he stands on issues, especially when those issues challenge GOP party orthodoxy and really consider where he would find a more welcoming reception. Immigration. Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. Public Education. Poverty eradication. Foreign aid. The reality of structural inequality. Environment. I have a pretty solid idea where Cao, the empathetic person and compassionate Christian, if not the cynical politician, falls out on all of these issues; and I can guarantee Cao that his allies on these issues, issues that resonate with the core of his human character, are to be found within the Democratic Party. It is crystal clear to me that Cao's conscience as well as his social justice inclinations really do align him more with progressive liberal values; and it is also equally crystal clear to me that the pressures he faces as a member of the GOP to compromise his core values as a human being will chip away at his soul, as much as they will chip away at his electability.

Cao can be a pro-life Democrat in the FULL meaning of being pro-life and find more of a welcome in the Democratic party than he can if he were to be a FULL pro-life advocate (i.e. oppose war, capital punishment, etc.) in the GOP. Cao can promote fiscal responsibility and lower taxes as a Democrat and find that his positions on such issues are not deal-breakers within the Democratic Party as much as voting FOR a fiscally responsible tax increase would be a deal-breaker within the GOP.

I consider myself to be a progressive liberal Democrat, and I don't fault Cao for voting against the stimulus package. I myself worry about the long-term fiscal impacts that this package will have on the country. But I certainly don't feel unwelcome in the Democratic Party for having this view. Furthermore, on questions that are really infinitely much more important to me as a person and human being, questions such as eliminating structural violence and endemic poverty, the integrity of the family in the face of assaults on it from globalization and neoliberal economic policies, solidarity with the poor, giving equal voice to the dispossessed and marginalized in shaping our social contract, treating all people with respect and dignifying their beings regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin, etc., the Democratic party and its social policy positions are infinitely much more aligned with my core values than the GOP is. If Cao is the kind of person, as I believe him to be, who shares these core values with me, he should join with me as a Democrat.

In fact, I am part of a Maryknoll Affiliates group in New Orleans. We meet monthly to discuss these issues and our roles in society as those committed to being in solidarity with the poor. And we plan actions on behalf of justice based on our values. I invite Cao to come to our meeting to see how his values align with ours and with progressive Christian liberalism.

I am part of a local non-profit called LatiNola, which seeks to empower and serve the local Latino Community and which is rooted in a commitment to justice, freedom, and equality. We meet monthly to plan events that seek to serve this community, regardless of the immigration status of the members of this community. I encourage Cao to join us and to see how his values align with ours and with progressive social liberalism for immigrant communities.

Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, with the same intensity and earnestness that Monsignor Archbishop Oscar Romero implored those in his country who would scoff at the principles of justice, equality, and human solidarity, I implore you: If you are really committed to serving your district, don't condemn yourself to being a one-term Representative by sticking with a Republican party whose fundamental positions on the critical, human issues of our day are much more at odds with what I believe, at the gut level, to be your positions on these issues.

Care about us enough to give yourself a chance to serve the 2nd Congressional District for more than two years. Join us.

Random NOLA

Here is my next addition to Random NOLA, which is a blog posting category that features a photo that I've taken from places around the city of New Orleans that make up a part of my day. They won't be pre-arranged. And I'm going to try to make them pictures of inconspicious scenes, but potentially identifiable to the attentive native. In other words, don't expect to find pictures of the Superdome or the St. Louis Cathedral or other such easily identifiable places. Where possible, I'll also try to keep street signs out of the picture, too. The goal is not only just to share a brief, random part of the path of my day, but also to see if true NOLA-philes can figure out exactly where in the city this scene is located. So, without further ado, here's the third "Random NOLA" Photo. I would say that this is perhaps the easiest one yet; but give it your best shot and put your guess in the comments section:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Anh "Joseph" Cao: The Resume of a Democrat, Part III

Anh "Joseph" Cao is, apparently, more of a Democrat than even I can claim to be. As of now, my inclination on the stimulus package is to oppose it on the grounds of fiscal sanity. And yet Cao says that he is likely to support it because his "'conscience dictates and the needs of the 2nd Congressional District dictate.'" Got to give the man props for his "compassionate" conservatism.

I just love the rich irony captured in this passage from the Times-Picayune's report:

If Cao supports the stimulus plan, he will likely not have much Republican company. Though hailed a party hero by Republican leaders in Congress after his upset defeat of Democratic incumbent William Jefferson, Cao would be a party renegade on the biggest vote since he arrived in Washington.
Heh. Not if you consider Anh "Joseph" Cao to have the "resume of a Democrat"!

Then there's the utterly and breathtakingly moronic Steve Scalise, who is quoted as saying in defense of his opposition to the stimulus package:
"They are trying to sneak in a lot of things -- major policy and spending changes -- without any public input," Scalise said. "That is not the change of direction we've heard about for so many months."
Ummm ... does Steve Scalise even acknowledge that the "public" had some pretty major "input" on November 4, and that the "public" spoke loud and clear on that day?

But you want to know why I really, really, really like Cao? Because, when asked about Scalise trying to "keep Cao in line" with the GOP as part of Scalise's duties as assistant Republican whip, Cao had this to say:
"Steve Scalise doesn't know kung fu. I know kung fu. He can't whip me."
Go get 'em, Anh "Joseph" Cao!

When Push Comes to Shove, What's Bi-Partisanship?

It's Anh "Joseph" Cao, and not Judd Gregg.

More on Cao later, but as for Gregg, he is giving Obama even more political cover for when that day comes when Obama simply has to shrug his shoulders, say that he sincerely tried, and move forward on his agenda without the GOP.

Here's how I see it: Obama is faced with probably one of the most difficult environments for starting out as President in my lifetime. He has made some blunders along the way; but he acknowledges them and takes responsibility for them. Score one for Obama in the court of public opinion.

Obama reaches across the aisle to try to work with the GOP in crafting some kind of path out of this current fiscal mess he inherited from a GOP administration that spent and borrowed like a drunken sailor. And the response from the GOP? Playground pettiness. It comes across like this: (1) Obama invites the GOP to share ideas and participate in the debates, and they do. (2) The debate produces legislation that represents a willingness on the part of the Obama administration to compromise. (3) The GOP gets all pissy and partisan because it didn't get everything it wanted and seeks to snub the President by voting against him to a person. (4) Obama stays cool, stays respectful, and stands above them, but forges ahead in spite of them. Result: The GOPers in Congress are exposed for the empty and obstructionist partisan shills that they are while the country suffers. Score another one for Obama in the court of public opinion.

And the icing on the cake: Obama welcomes Republican Senator Judd Gregg as a member of his Cabinet, indicating a willingness on Obama's part to accept that Gregg is who he is, that he will bring in different ideas, and that Obama will listen to him without the expectation that Gregg will compromise his integrity to carry Obama's water. And what does Gregg do? He realizes that he's the one that can't work with Obama, even though he readily supported the fiscal orgy that came with the Bush Administration, while Obama can claim that he was perfectly willing to work with a supposedly fiscal conservative like Gregg. Score one hundred for Obama in the court of public opinion.

You want to know what I see? I see this: SCORE: Obama 102 - GOP 0

I see Obama trying hard to be everyone's President, even to the point of alienating many in his own party, only to have that effort rejected by the GOP for what clearly seems to be purely partisan reasons.

And I say this as someone who has the jitters about the fiscal policy of the Obama administration and who tends to lean against the stimulus legislation and TARP2 on the principle of budgetary sanity. As much as I tend to oppose this direction of the Obama administration, (and as much as this aligns me with the GOP's opposition on this front, too) I can't help but think that I am sharing the stage with a bunch of politicians whose sole motivation seems to be to inflict partisan wounds on Obama instead of engaging the issues respectfully with the President. We seem to be arriving at the same position for very different reasons and with a very different attitude behind our reasons.

Well, I have some news from the GOP: the sorties aren't working. And the more that time passes in this vein, the more Obama comes out of this process looking truly Presidential while the GOP comes out of it looking petty and pathetic and puny.

SomoS on Sunday

Dang! I've got to post more regularly. But early spring is always a beast of a time for me at work. In any case, I'd like to point everyone to an upcoming event that you should all try to make. It's called "SomoS on Sunday" and it promises to be a spirited, fun social event with Latin music, dance lessons, and some snacks. For more information, click here -- and scroll down for the cool graphics. If you want to support the efforts of the local Latino community to become more engaged in the civic life of New Orleans, or if you just want to have a great time on the dance floor, please come by. There is a progressive cover charge, but it's relatively modest. And there will be drink specials, including, I believe, $3 apple martinis.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Random NOLA

My next addition to Random NOLA, which is a blog posting category that features a photo that I've taken from places around the city of New Orleans that make up a part of my day. They won't be pre-arranged. And I'm going to try to make them pictures of inconspicious scenes, but potentially identifiable to the attentive native. In other words, don't expect to find pictures of the Superdome or the St. Louis Cathedral or other such easily identifiable places. Where possible, I'll also try to keep street signs out of the picture, too. The goal is not only just to share a brief, random part of the path of my day, but also to see if true NOLA-philes can figure out exactly where in the city this scene is located. So, without further ado, here's the second "Random NOLA" Photo. Give it your best shot and put your guess in the comments section:

Waterboarding as Torture

It has always astounded me that there are defenders of the practice of that interrogation technique known as "waterboarding." In my mind, it is clearly torture; but I have heard time and time again from its defenders that it is not torture. The reasons often given to defend waterboarding as not being torture include: (1) it doesn't cause permanent physical harm or damage; (2) it is used on soldiers in their training so it can't be torture because we'd never subject our own to torture, even in a training setting; and (3) curious civilians subject themselves to controlled waterboarding to see what it's like, thus implying that it can't be torture since no one in his right mind would ever voluntarily subject himself to torture. I am sure there are other explanations, but these are the three most common ones I have heard. I find them completely unpersuasive, if not downright cynical.

Before I get into my rebuttal of each of these charges, I'd like to point out that those who claim waterboarding is not torture are implicitly accepting as a baseline that there is such a thing as torture. So, then, the question becomes what kinds of activities make up this thing called torture that everyone agrees exists. And because there does appear to be agreement on the existence of torture, we should be able to come up with some kind of mutually agreed upon definition of torture. To those who would say that waterboarding is not torture, I would ask: what, then, IS torture and why would you classify this as torture? From there we can proceed to defining torture in a way that would allow us to put waterboarding (and any other interrogation practice) up to the scrutiny of the definition. In the interest of erring on the side of moral correctness, I would argue that interrogation techniques that seek to cooerce another are assumed to be torture unless proved otherwise. Thus, the imperative of proof rests on those who argue that waterboarding is not torture. It is not incumbent upon me to prove that waterboarding is torture, but rather upon waterboarding advocates to prove that it is not torture.

Even still, let me try to rebut some of the arguments put forth by those who claim that waterboarding does not constitute torture.

First, to the argument that waterboarding doesn't cause permanent physical harm or damage, I would ask for proof of this assertion. Perhaps it doesn't leave visible marks of torture, but there are plenty of folks who are tortured who don't manifest visible marks of torture. One could argue, for instance, that electric shocks can be administered without causing permanent and visible physical harm. But electric shocks would generally be considered torture by even the most die-hard waterboarding apologists. And what's to say that waterboarding, because it certainly produces stress on the body and on the psyche, doesn't weaken the body and the mind's health? I can imagine that excessive sensations of drowning and actual water filling the lungs must do some damage to the body and the mind. It might not be so evident in the immediate aftermath of the administration of the technique, but it could easily manifest itself in phsyical and mental conditions later. Another example: breaking bones or pulling out fingernails or dislocating joints. All of these behaviors would probably be considered torture by everyone, but broken bones heal, fingernails grow back, and limbs can be put back into joint. So where's the permanent visible damage here? Finally, I read somewhere that eventually interrogators can just plug censors and probes into certain parts of the brain to stimulate the experience of excruciating pain without ever actually leaving physical marks on the body. Someone just pushes a computer button and the person on the other end might experience a "virtual" (though no less real) feeling of having bones or testicles crushed without anyone ever touching the bones or the testicles. Is this not torture?

Second, to the argument that we use waterboarding as a training technique on our own soldiers, therefore it cannot be torture since we wouldn't subject our own soldiers to torture, I would say that's hogwash. We subject our soldiers to these techniques precisely because we consider them torture and we want to train soldiers in how to manage and deal with torture. Then there is the psychological reality that soldiers in training know and trust that they will not be killed in their training exercises and also know that this training will eventually end. So the experience of waterboarding or any other interrogation practice used in training exercises comes with the knowledge of the trainees that this will end and that there is always an "out" if they cannot tolerate it. And, then again, we don't know what kinds of long-term psychological or physical outcomes this "training" will produce among our own soldiers. So to argue that we perform waterboarding on our own soldiers as if this is some kind of equivalent practice is just foolish. It is foolish because it doesn't prove anything relative to causing permanent physical or psychological harm; and it is foolish because it equates one practice with another even though the context surrounding the practice is very different.

As to the third defense of waterboarding that I pointed to previously, that civilians curious about waterboarding have subjected themselves to the technique, thus proving that it can't be torture, I would reiterate the point made above concerning the context of the experience. Such civilians are curious about the experience because they may not be able to fathom what the experience is like. We can all imagine the physical pain that comes with electric shock or smashing fingers or broken bones or dislocated joints because we may have experienced these sensations well enough to know the physical and psychological pain of this. But perhaps those who submit themselves to waterboarding just find it hard to imagine the kind of trauma it induces. But, I've had a near-drowning experience and, based on that, I would NEVER subject myself to waterboarding. The trauma of suffocating and drowning was worse than any other imaginable pain I've endured. I would much rather have my fingernails pulled out than experience waterboarding. Just because some civilians are curious about something doesn't mean that what they are curious about is not torturous. And the fact that those who subject themselves to a very controlled experiment almost always come out of the experience traumatized and conceding the torturous nature of the experience must count for something.

I know that this has been well-covered territory, but common sense at all levels points to the practice of waterboarding as torture. It's up to its apologists to prove conclusively that it is not -- first by defining torture themselves, and then providing convincing evidence that waterboarding as a practice does not meet that definition.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Reflections on Silence

"Silence is golden" -- so the saying goes. Well, I'm not so sure. Not real silence, anyway. Real silence is lonely, alienating, and full of despair.

Think about it. When have you heard real silence? I mean the absence of all sound. I can't say that I have ever heard real silence; but I think I got pretty close to it.

I remember in the first few weeks after Hurricane Katrina, after having snuck back into the city sometime in mid-Sepetember of 2005, I took a drive out to New Orleans East with some friends. We went to visit St. Gabriel Church and the neighborhood where it sits. We drove up in front of the church and got out of the car. We were the only people around for miles. The first thing one noticed upon getting out of the car was the silence. It was enough to stop you in your tracks. I was almost hesitant to breathe for fear of making too much noise. I had never experienced quiet like this.

There were no engines running, no horns beeping, no zooming sounds from passing traffic.

There were no air conditioners humming, no traffic lights switching on and off, no electrical power lines buzzing.

The lack of such mechanical sounds was to be expected, though. But what really sucked the life out of me was that there were no other sounds of life.

There were no other people walking, talking, whistling, what have you.

There were no birds chirping. No cats roaming through the bushes. No dogs barking.

As far as I could tell, there weren't even any flies or mosquitoes buzzing about.

Nor were there leaves rustling. Nothing. There was just silence. And when someone spoke, it was like a rifle shot -- so sudden, so startling, so out of place. I could see how silence could engulf someone.

If one closed his eyes and listened intently, the only thing one might have been able to hear (and I don't even recall hearing it myself) was the breeze blowing. I guess, if the sun burning would have produced a sound, one might also have heard that. But that would have been it.

And I remember feeling great sadness at the lack of sound, or, perhaps better said, at the presence of such profound, lifeless silence.

If given the choice between blindness or deafness, I think I might choose blindness.

I came to an understanding that hell, or what some might call simply "the absence of God," is utter silence. One might find God in silence, but one still has to hear God in the silence -- and that still requires hearing something. Imagine hearing nothing, not even the voice of God. Utter silence.

I prefer at least a whisper.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Steelers Win!

Some of the best last 5 minutes of championship football that I've seen. Steelers are back on top of the record books as the only team with 6 Superbowl victories. The Cardinals have no reason to be anything but proud of the way they played. All in all, a good Superbowl experience this year. The commercials, on the other hand, were mediocre at best. Too many cheezy horse spots. Certainly not up to Superbowl standards. Well ... onwards to the next season.