Thursday, August 28, 2008

Childhood Lessons

I was watching my usual gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Democratic National Convention last night. I know it is nothing more than a precisely choreographed infomercial with fake drama and I shouldn't give credence to such things, especially being the anti-party, independent voter that I am. But I can't help it, I am an admitted political junkie. I'll even watch the Nazi....err, I mean Republican Convention next week. Only for that one I'll have to change the channel several times a night as my blood pressure rises and I can feel my neck veins about to pop out because of the stupid crap that will be flowing forth from the mouths of morons.

Anyway, that's not my point today.

I was watching Joe Biden's speech last night and he pointed out his mother in the audience, then went on to talk about the important things in life she taught him. One of those lessons was the usual thing about how nobody was better than him and he wasn't better than anyone else.

Now I understand why parents tell their kids this, and there is probably a good chance that I will try to impart the same lesson on my soon-to-be-born daughter. I want her to have the confidence in herself that I was lacking as a kid without the cockiness of a spoiled brat. The simplicity of the "good as anyone, not better than anyone" lesson is probably a really effective way of imparting this.

But isn't this a pretty dishonest thing we tell our children? And won't they realize that we were blowing smoke, eventually, after they get older and have more life experience?

Aren't lots of people better than other people? By the same token, aren't lots of people lesser humans than others?

Name anyone and I can name someone who is better than that person and someone who is worse than them. Except for maybe Hitler, I doubt I could think of anyone worse than Hitler.

Isn't accepting the fact that some people are better than you a part of being a grown-up? Knowing that you are a better person than some others is also just a fact of life, not always an uppity attitude.

I have no problem accepting that Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, John Lewis, Sargent Shriver, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, my wife and the founding doctors of Médecins Sans Frontières are/were better people than myself.

I also know I'm a better human being than Stalin, John Gotti, Dick Cheney, Robert Mugabe, Mother Theresa, Cindy McCain, Vladimir Putin, Ralph Reed, the entire Bush family and all 265 guys that have been the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

Each list is a lot longer, of course. These were the ones I thought of off the top of my head.

I don't believe that not thinking of myself as equal to the people on each list is a bad thing.

But I'm sure that won't stop me from feeding my daughter that other line of crap.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Better Hate Than Never

I almost forgot to restart my regular Monday Hate feature after getting home from my trip. Looks like I'll get it in just under the wire...

Well, I had a great time in the absolutely beautiful country that is Taiwan, so my list of things I'm hating this week won't be too long. But I've got a couple.

Coach seating on an international flight. Sure, sitting in coach is not great no matter where you fly. But on a flight lasting about 13 or 14 hours, it is absolutely inhumane. There should be a law that all flights lasting more than 6 hours should have a bar on them. A real bar, where you could hang out and mingle with people and listen to some nice jazz or something.

The fact that I don't know a foreign language. Traveling always reminds me that I'm a lazy American who never put in the time or effort to learn to speak something besides English.

Hillary supporters who say they will vote for McCain. Great idea! You are so pissed off about her not getting the nomination that you'll vote for a guy who has an anti-feminist agenda and will load the Supreme Court with guys who will for sure take away every single one of your reproductive rights. Just brilliant! If there was ever an argument for taking away some people's right to vote...


Friday, August 22, 2008

Belgian Hypocrisy

I love the Olympics. Or rather, I love the idea of the Olympics. The idea of the youth of all the countries of the world coming together in the spirit of friendly competition just warms my heart.

But I can't watch this year.

What has happened leading up to and during these Games is exactly what those of us who were against China being awarded them in the first place said would happen. Which is basically that China continues to act like China and they don't give a rat's ass what the rest of the world thinks about that.

The International Olympic Committee told us when they awarded China the Olympics that this would be a way to bring them into the mainstream of the world and that they would improve their human rights record, give more press freedom, fix their pollution problem, make the world a sunnier place for gumdrops and rainbows and sugarplums and blah blah blah...

They supposedly got a lot of promises from China about these issues, so the IOC told us. About how many of these promises did China keep do you think? I'll give you a hint, it is a number between 1 and -1.

China certainly pretended to keep promises, as they are wont to do. They did, in fact, set up three locations for public protests to take place during the games, albeit far from the venues where any athletes or fans would actually see them. And anyone wanting to use them would have to get a government permit. But hey, it's a step, right? Wrong.

Out of a reported 300+ permit applications, not a single one has been approved. And any Chinese citizen that has applied for one has been arrested and taken off to reeducation camps, including two very frail elderly women, or they have just simply disappeared.

And this doesn't even count the dissidents that were gathered up before the Olympics. Then there is the brutal crack down in Tibet, a country that China has illegally occupied and oppressed for over 50 years, as well as China's continued support for the regime that is conducting genocide on the people of Darfur and the military junta that continues to crush the people of Burma.

And Beijing still has the foulest air in the world.

So with all this going on, what has IOC President Jacques Rogge's panties in such a bunch that he feels the need to speak out? The way some kid from Jamaica celebrates after a race. Really. He has kept completely silent as the host country of his Games continues the wholesale oppression of its own citizens, as well as those of other countries. But some runner gets a little too exuberant after a race and suddenly the man who had a major hand in giving the Olympics to one of the worst human rights-violating nations in the world is offended.

What a morally empty human being.

Rogge said that sprinter Usian Bolt should "show more respect for his competitors."

Well Mr. Rogge, maybe you should show more respect for the suffering people of China, Tibet, Darfur and Burma; and to human decency.

Until then, you've got no right.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Formosa Bound

I'm off to Taiwan for two weeks for a business trip. When this message posts, I'll be in Seoul for my layover between flights. No way in hell I'll be blogging while I'm gone. So expect nothing from me before August 21st, at the earliest.

Don't like to leave my wife right in the middle of pregnancy, but this was a great opportunity. Besides, she has been rockin' cool and supportive about the whole trip since the possibility first came up.

I married well.

I'll talk to you when I get back.


Monday, August 04, 2008


No Monday Hate post today. Just a moment of silence for long-time Atlanta Braves sportscaster Skip Carey, who died yesterday.

In my screwed up childhood I had music as an escape, something I've written about too much before. But I also had baseball in Atlanta. I basically grew up in Atlanta-Fulton County stadium during the summer. And when the Braves were on the road we listened to Skip Carey call the games. He started as the Braves broadcaster the same year my family moved to Atlanta when I turned six. Skip is a big part of the soundtrack of the good part of my childhood.

My mom and my (1st) step-dad had painted a huge fishing net red and made a banner that said Barry's Basket, for outfielder Barry Bonnell. Yes, we were that dorky family. Skip Carey nicknamed my parents Mr. and Mrs. Fishnet.

At least he did in my memory as an 8-year-old. I may have completely made that up.

I do know that, the Braves being a completely sucky team for so many years, in the middle of a particularly bad losing streak that he once said at the beginning of a game something along the lines of, "Like lambs to the slaughter, here come the Braves."

Thanks from the 8 year-old me, Skip.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Accelerate - Or: You Can Go Back To Rockville

I really love the newest REM album, Accelerate. I really do. I had pretty much expected to never say those words again. A happy surprise.

It took me a while to come around to the fact that I really like the new album, which is why I'm only mentioning this now. Why did it take me so long? Well, my relationship with REM over the last decade or so has been somewhat damaged. Buying a new REM record had become an exercise in disappointment and anger.

I know anger seems a bit strong, but let me explain why.

Anybody who knows me knows that I have had an absolute love of the boys from Athens since I was about 14 years old. They were my best friends in high school, for reasons I've written about before (here and here). But the things that have come out of them lately severely tested the bonds of friendship.

Let's come up with an analogy of what its been like buying REM albums over the last several years, shall we?

Imagine you are at home and your best friend is on the way over. You are excited as hell, as you haven't seen him for a while, and you can't wait until he arrives.

The doorbell rings and you leap to greet your very favorite person in the world. You open the door with great anticipation...

...And your best friend swiftly kicks you in the nuts.

"What the fuck was that? What the heck is wrong with him?"

On the next visit he kicks you in the nuts again. Harder.

After that you start to question if you should even answer the door. But he's your best friend, maybe he's just having some problems. You should stick with him through thick and thin, that's what best friends do.

You don't even tell people that he's been kicking you in the nuts, even though others have asked you if something is wrong with him lately. They point out that he doesn't seem himself. You claim to not have noticed and even go as far as telling everyone that he's as cool and awesome as he's ever been.

You feel so dirty for lying. Not so much for lying to others, but to yourself.

On the next visit from your best friend you have your hands over your nuts, ready for the kick. But you still answer the door in hopes he won't do it again and your friend will be back to normal.

This time he pokes you in the eyes, you move your hands to your head and he kicks you in the nuts again. Really freaking hard.

At that point you finally smarten up and stop answering the door. You can only keep your hands over your crotch for so long and you know he's going to kick when you let your guard down. It's best not to hang out with your best friend anymore. You've got pictures and memories, that should be enough.

In the ensuing years you hear how he's doing. It seems that he was pissing off a lot of people besides you, as a lot of his old friends have abandoned him. He's been seen hanging out with a different, and much smaller, crowd. A more pretentious one that likes to smoke cloves and listen to Philip Glass music. You don't even like knowing such things. It makes you sad.

You figure your best friend is lost to you forever.

But then other friends start telling you that he's come back from the wilderness. They claim he has stopped kicking his friends in the nuts. You want to believe, but can you? It's been over seven years since you stopped answering the knock on the door. Can you ever be friends again?

So you invite him over. You put on a cup and a face mask.

He comes to the door and there is no nut-kicking right away. You sit and have cocktails and conversation. He is saying lots of nice things, and it seems like old times in some ways. But you are having a hard time concentrating on what he's saying or trusting him because all you can think about is the times that he kicked you in the nuts.

So you don't let your guard down for a long time, keeping your hands over your nuts and not trusting completely that he isn't there to kick you again. Eventually you come around to the fact that he really is just there to hang out with you and be your friend again.

And that's why it took me so long to realize that the new REM album is fantastic.

Welcome back, friend.